Last year's National League Champions still have a lot to prove. While they participated in one of the most exciting World Series in recent years, their odds of returning to that point just don't look that good. One of the big changes the Giants have made this offseason is in their manager. Dusty Baker went out the door, and in walked Filipe Alou. Alou is a better baseball man when it comes to the basics of the game, but if he can motivate the way Baker did is still up in the air. They've also lost five key players, and while they have made substitutions, the replacements just don't look as good.
The biggest blow to this team came with the departure of Jeff Kent, and a lesser blow fell with the loss of David Bell, Reggie Sanders, Tom Goodwin and Kenny Lofton. GM Brian Sabean worked hard to find top notch replacements. These players include Edgardo Alphonso, Ray Durham, Neifi Perez and Marquise Grissom.
The key newcomers are really Durham and Alphonso. Neither of them has Kent's power but both are good hitters who have a lot to offer. Still, to major league pitchers it's going to be a relief to throw to Alphonso instead of Kent, in the number three hole.
Alphonso is usually among the league leaders in hitting and turned in a .308, 16 hr, 56 rbi season last year. Which when compared to Kent's .313, 37 hr, 108 rbi season, looks rather puny. His RBIs should go up, but without the power, Barry Bonds will have to carry the team even further.
Ray Durham, is a player who can be a real spark plug. Playing both second base and outfield, he brings good average, decent power and speed to the table. He can either bat leadoff, or might be a good option batting behind Barry Bonds since he would likely provide better protection than Benito Santiago will.
If Durham bats one or two, the job of protecting Bonds will once again fall to 38 year old Benito Santiago. Santiago was third on the team in home runs last season, trailing only Bonds and Kent. His 16 home runs were his best total since 1996. If Benito can't keep up the pace no one in baseball is going to pitch to Bonds.
Because of this, GM Brian Sabean has been looking for another bat. Rumor had placed his eyes on Jose Hernandez, but with Hernandez agreeing to terms with Colorado, Sabean will have to look elsewhere. One player who might be a decent choice and a candidate for a bounce back season might be Jose Cruz Jr.
The offense will miss Jeff Kent, but whether it will miss David Bell is still to be seen. Rookie Pedro Feliz is the heir apparent, and he is difficult to rate. He's only had about 370 major league bats over the last three seasons. He has the power to hit 20-25 home runs, but his average and strikeout ratio are a concern. A good spring should cement him in the lineup.
The Giant pitching staff should be solid if not overwhelming. Last year's best starter has been traded for Damian Moss, who has huge upside, but is not ready to step into the shoe vacated by Russ Ortiz. That leaves a pitching staff which is worse than last year's, though not by much.
The mantle of staff ace falls on righty Jason Schmidt, who only won 13 games last year. After him come right handers Livan Hernandez, and Ryan Jenson, and lefties Kirk Rueter and Damian Moss.
Ryan Jenson was a real surprise last season, coming in as rookie at the back end of the rotation. He won 13 games with an uninspiring 4.51 ERA and 105 strikeouts. Both he and Moss should get a lot better with some seasoning.
Hanging over the staff is the possible indictment and criminal prosecution involving Livan Hernandez. Most likely, this will be resolved before spring training, but it has potential to change the way the Giants staff shapes up. If it does, the Giants have a trio of highly regarded rookies waiting for a spot in the rotation.
The bullpen is also a slight bit weaker than it was last year, considering the loss of Aaron Fultz, and Jay Wittisick who ate 100+ innings combined last season. While Fultz is not likely to be overly missed, Wittisick had a very good season. At this point, the question of who is going to replace them has not really been addressed.
The Giants have tried hard to replace Jeff Kent. They traded for the future with Damian Moss, but their outlook for 2003 is not as good as it was in 2002. Unless Brian Sabean can find another hitter for this lineup who can protect Bonds better than Santiago, the offense will be weaker than last season. What this means is that the staff, already weakened by the loss of Ortiz and Wittisick, will probably have to succeed without the kind of run support they had last year. That should give any Giants fan cause for concern.
I’d pick the Giants to finish third in the NL West.
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."