SCOTTSDALE, Arizona—Bruce Bochy is coming off just the second World Series appearance of his 16-year career as a manager. He feels a lot better about it this time, and not just because his Giants beat the Rangers in last year's Fall Classic while his 1998 Padres were swept by the Yankees.
The Padres went on a salary purge in the 1998-99 offseason. By the time they reconvened in spring training the following February, eight key members of the pennant-winning team had left as free agents or been traded: starting pitchers Kevin Brown, Joey Hamilton, and Mark Langston, catcher Carlos Hernandez, third baseman Ken Caminiti, shortstop Chris Gomez, left fielder Greg Vaughn, and center fielder Steve Finley. The Padres went 74-88 in 1999, a 24-win drop.
"It was kind of tough," Bochy said. "We got to the World Series and it was hard in knowing it was going to be almost impossible to get back the next year."
Bochy won't have to worry about that this time. The Giants return their roster almost intact after winning the National League West on the final day of the season then beating the Braves, Phillies, and Rangers to win the franchise's first World Series since 1954, four years before it moved west to San Francisco from New York.
The only significant contributors missing from the world championship team are infielders Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, who left for the Dodgers and Reds, respectively, as free agents. The Giants believe that veteran Miguel Tejada, signed as a free agent, will be an adequate replacement.
It is no disrespect to say the Giants were not the best team in baseball last season, even though their 92-70 regular-season record was second in the National League to the Phillies. The Giants needed a late finishing kick and a collapse by the Padres to win the NL West. The Giants went 21-11 in their last 32 games to make up a six-game deficit.
That led some observers to wonder whether general manager Brian Sabean was wise in not making more roster changes. However, Bochy and his players are adamant in their belief that Sabean did the right thing.
"I've always believed that if you are the world champions that you try to bring back everyone you can and give it your best shot at defending your title," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "That's the right way to do it. I know a lot of people were questioning why Brian didn't make any moves over the offseason. Well, he didn't need to make any moves. The team we finished last season with won the World Series, and he already made all his moves last season."
Sabean made over a middling lineup in 2010 with in-season moves. Catcher Buster Posey, promoted from Triple-A Fresno, went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Left fielder Pat Burrell was signed as a free agent after he was released by the Rays. Right fielder Cody Ross was claimed off waivers from the Marlins.
"We have a special group of guys," Bochy said. "They play the game the right way, they get along really well and they have good chemistry both on the field and in the clubhouse. They know me, I know them. It only made sense to bring back as many guys as we could."
Bochy paused and added, "We've still got our pitching staff together, and that obviously is very important for us."
Pitching carried the Giants last season, as they were second in the major leagues in runs allowed with an average of 3.60 a game, trailing only the Padres. There should seemingly be room for growth on the staff, as right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are 26 and left-hander Madison Bumgarner is 21.
"Those guys carried us all the way to a world championship last year," Huff said. "It was almost unfair how much we relied on our pitching staff. We, as an offense, need to give them more help this season. We can't keep putting them in position day after day where they have little margin for error because they aren't getting any run support."
The Giants' offense wasn't even middling last season, scoring 4.30 runs a game. That placed it ninth in the NL and 17th in the majors. However, the Giants believe a full season of Burrell (.304 TAv in 341 PA last season), Posey (.300 in 443), and Ross (.289 in 82) will make a significant difference. Super utility man Mark DeRosa is also healthy after posting a .195 TAv in 104 PA last season while hampered by a wrist injury that required surgery.
"We're good from one through nine now, and we have some depth," Huff said. "At this time last year, we couldn't say that. It's going to make a difference over 162 games."
The Giants also had good karma going in the final months of last season. After that late-season tear, they went 11-4 in the postseason when seemingly everything broke their way. Ross, more than anyone, understands the magic carpet ride the Giants were on, having gone from Marlins discard in August to Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series in October.
"We're not going to play all season like we did at the end of last year, that's impossible to duplicate," Ross said. "I think all we really need to do is go out and play the game the way we know how. We learned last year that we have a lot of people who can step up and carry the load. If we do that and work hard every day, I believe we'll make our breaks during the course of the season, win our share of games, and have a good chance of defending our title."
Rumors and Rumblings:
One of the Giants' biggest concerns this season is the potential hangover effect for their young starters from pitching in three rounds of the postseason last fall. "It's something we're already watching closely in spring training and will continue to watch all season long," pitching coach Dave Righetti said. … Scouts who have watched the Royals play in the Cactus League say that their bevy of prospects has more than held their own against major-leaguers this spring. Said one scout: "It'll be interesting to watch them in September when a lot of these kids are up in the big leagues. It might be a fun September for a change for that club." … The White Sox' Dayan Viciedo has taken off this spring now that he is playing more in right field than on the infield corners. Manager Ozzie Guillen says he may have no choice but to put the 22-year-old Cuban defector on the season-opening roster. … Left-hander Matt Maloney doesn't get nearly as much attention as the Reds' other young starting pitchers, but he has caught manager Dusty Baker's attention this spring. Baker says Maloney has a legitimate shot to win one of two open spots in the rotation. … Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny is the favorite to be the Nationals' No. 5 starter, though right-handers Yunesky Maya, Luis Atilano, and Garrett Mock and lefty Ross Detwiler are also under consideration.
The Dodgers are looking for a fifth starter now that right-handers Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla will begin the season on the disabled list, and John Ely rates the edge over Tim Redding for the job … The Rockies had a scout watch the Twins' Kevin Slowey pitch in a B game this week, leading to speculation they are interested in the right-hander, especially with starter Aaron Cook sidelined by shoulder tendinitis. … The Mets are getting close to reaching the point where they will release both left-hander Oliver Perez and second baseman Luis Castillo, if for no reason than to clear the clubhouse of potential distractions. … Rookie right-hander Mark Rogers, if he can overcome some spring shoulder soreness, is likely to begin the season in the Brewers' rotation while Zack Greinke recovers from his broken rib. … Andy LaRoche has put himself in position to win a utility infielder job with the Athletics with a strong spring after washing out as the Pirates' third baseman. … One scout who has watched Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain this spring has been most impressed, saying, "He is throwing the ball great and looks like the guy who had a chance to be a dominant reliever before they started jerking him around between the bullpen and the rotation."