"The charm of baseball is that, dull as it may be on the field, it is endlessly fascinating as a rehash" - Jim Murray, Legendary LA Times SportswriterAll right, let's do what baseball fans love to do, especially in these dark wintery days. Let's evaluate what the Giants prospects are for next season and speculate on what moves they should make to regain their championship form.
Before we look forward, a final look at the 2011 season might be helpful in determining how close or far the team is to returning to the playoffs and another chance at baseball's big prize.
After their electrifying and unexpected 2010 playoff run and World Series triumph, obviously some disappointment arose with the team's performance this past year. Winning 86 and losing 76, the 2011 Giants finished six games off their 2010 championship 92 — 70 regular-season pace.
Conveniently for our analysis, that's exactly one win fewer per month. A game a month really amounts to very little. In fact, they only finished four games behind the World Champion Cardinals (90 - 72) in the race for the National League wild-card spot.
The team's woeful offense this past season seemed to magnify the comparatively small differences between their 2010 and 2011 performances. High and probably unrealistic expectations also contributed to what many might consider a disappointing season. But before we get too downhearted, we need to remember exactly how competitive Major League baseball really is.
A good example is the Atlanta Braves who between 1991 and 2005, made the playoffs every year, an incredible 14 season run. [Because of the strike, there were no playoffs in 1994] But despite being at the post-season dance all those times, the Braves won only one World Championship in the strike-shortened 1995 season.
After winning the championship in 2010, the Giants understandably brought back most of their players, some of whom under-performed significantly in 2011 compared with the previous season. Probably the biggest culprit was Aubrey Huff who saw his 2011 numbers drop precipitously. He batted .246 with 12 HRs and 59 RBIs compared with hitting.290, 26 HRs and 86 RBIs in 2010.
Many analysts said the Giants overpaid Huff [two years at $10 million each) to bring him back after a "career-year". But a closer look at his lifetime numbers suggest 2010 was hardly a career-year for Huff. At .290, his batting average surpassed his career average (.279) by only 11 points. His 86 RBIs marked only his fifth-best season totals and his 26 homers, only his fourth-best season high.
The margin between victory and defeat in baseball can be very small. A bad hop, a bad call or other bad breaks can change a player or a team's fortunes in a hurry. With injuries to key players like Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, the 2011 Giants certainly had their share of bad breaks.
Still the club needs to improve in some areas. With their outstanding pitching staff still intact, the amount of upgrading they need to do in order to field a more competitive team is relatively small. Sure fans would love the team to sign another big hitter or two but limitations brought on by having to carry salaries for unproductive players like Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand —who's no longer even a Giant, make obtaining a big-time free-agent hitter unlikely.
Probably their best shot at an available free-agent slugger is retaining Carlos Beltran. Though his slow start and hand injury limited his usefulness to the team in 2011, he also demonstrated his ability to carry a club offensively when he gets hot. If they can re-sign Beltran and add a true lead-off hitter, the team should perform significantly better offensively next season, assuming their key injured players also return to form.
For the Giants to improve in 2012, it's not so much a matter of obtaining new players, as it is staying healthy and putting guys in positions where they can realistically succeed. Andres Torres is not an effective lead-off hitter. He's much too impatient at the plate and although speedy, he lacks significant base-stealing abilities. His poor 2011 performance not withstanding, Aubrey Huff can hit and provide some power but not enough to bat third or fourth in the lineup.
Though the lack of offense was at times maddening and even though the team didn't make the playoffs, as a season-ticket holder and fan, I still enjoyed the 2011 Giants season. It turned out being mostly a celebration of their magical 2010 Championship year. After waiting more than half a century for that to take place, taking another year to savor it was fine by me.
But what do you think? What are the Giants chances in 2012? What moves do you think they need to make? Let's talk baseball!