Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines an overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
Projected 2012 Lineup
A strong young pitching staff should keep the Giants in contention, and if Posey, Belt, and Sandoval are all healthy, this club actually has a strong young offensive core.
Signs of hope: The Giants once again featured championship-caliber pitching, as the staff’s 3.89 Fair Run Average trailed only the Phillies’ 3.74. Their fielders finished with a .717 Defensive Efficiency, the fourth-best figure in the big leagues, though they may have enjoyed easier opportunities than most thanks to the hurlers’ knack for inducing weak contact—Matt Cain, for one, has recorded a .265 BABIP this season and boasts a .269 lifetime mark in over 1300 innings. Cain and Tim Lincecum’s predictably superlative run prevention has been reinforced by unlikely reclamation project Ryan Vogelsong, who has amassed nearly three wins despite having given all appearances of bidding the big leagues adieu after 2006, Madison Bumgarner, the 21-year-old lefty who has not only avoided a sophomore slump but has come within a fraction of a win of being the Giants’ best pitcher according to WARP (4.7), and a strong bullpen highlighted by setup men Sergio Romo (who has struck out 58 of the 119 righties he’s faced, against only four walks) and Santiago Casilla. Pablo Sandoval recovered from a down year to outdo his 2009 season on a rate basis, though he missed a month and a half at midseason with right wrist surgery and gained back much of the weight he’d shed over the offseason as the campaign wore on.
Signs of disaster: The Giants have looked as impotent at the plate as they have in command on the mound, mustering only a .244 TAv that beats out the Pirates and Padres by a single point. The Giants developed a reputation as an offensively challenged team that was overly reliant on pitching even during their 2010 title run, but that club actually finished with a .257 TAv, just a few points below the .260 league average and closer to the top team than the bottom. This year’s edition took its inability to score to a new, significantly lower level. Sandoval (and to a much lesser extent, Nate Schierholtz) was the team’s lone offensive bright spot, and with Barry Bonds a distant memory, the days of one offensive force being enough to propel a San Francisco team to the playoffs are long gone.
Signs you can ignore: Bruce Bochy largely treated Brandon Belt’s arrival on the major-league roster as a sign he could ignore, burying him behind Aubrey Huff at first base after his initial struggles despite Huff’s continued poor play. Huff’s off-season extension and status as a World Series hero made it difficult to displace him, but even a manager as veteran-happy as Bochy wouldn’t be able to turn a blind eye to Huff next season if the first baseman doesn’t rebound. Belt hit .309/448/.527 in Triple-A Fresno this season, a slight improvement over his 2010 line at that level, and his age-24 season could be a good one if he gets a chance. You can also ignore the collective .206/.278/.317 performance the Giants got behind the plate from Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart, since Buster Posey will be back in action next season.—Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
It's clear the Giants need some offense, and they could go a long way toward solving that problem by signing free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes.
Reyes would give the Giants one of the game's best leadoff hitters, who can score 100 runs and steal 40 bases while playing excellent defense at shortstop. Reyes' enthusiasm and energy would set the tone for the Giants' young hitters in the middle of the lineup and create more fastballs for them.
Obviously, Reyes' fragile hamstrings are a bit of a concern, but the Giants have a major void at shortstop and should have some extra revenue considering they have the third best attendance in baseball this year. The Giants can also boost their offense by re-signing Beltran. However, a weak market for free-agent outfielders could drive up the price for him, and the Giants could end up pursuing Josh Willingham or Michael Cuddyer instead. —Jim Bowden
Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 94-68
As long as the Giants have everybody in their current rotation, they retain the ability to take the NL West. Even with the league's 16th-ranked offense, the team managed to safely clear the .500 mark this season, though that wasn't enough to stop Arizona. With dependable starting pitching and a bullpen that remains deep, if not of 2010 quality, San Francisco's ceiling will generally be determined by how much offense it can put together. Losing Posey can be chalked up to bad luck, but outside of Sandoval, the Giants didn't have any real plus bats this season. Belt should have a better year, and the Giants need to try and keep Beltran
Worst-case scenario: 68-94
The offense can't get much worse than last place, but San Francisco remains susceptible to the loss of a starting pitcher. The Giants looked similarly vulnerable after last year, but managed to pull Ryan Vogelsong out of a hat. However, the team won't pull a rabbit out of a hat every time a pitcher goes down, and when they inevitably are less fortunate with the injuries, there's not much there after finesse lefty Eric Surkamp. A Kevin Millwood-type signing or two would help ensure that any nasty rotation surprises don't sink the Giants, because there's no scenario in which the lineup is the team's savior in 2012. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory
It's no secret that the defending World Series champions will lose that title because of an anemic offense, and unfortunately, there is no clear answer, at least down on the farm. The upper levels of the Giants system are far from impressive, and while first baseman Brett Pill has been fun to watch in September, his strong minor league numbers are a mirage of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The most exciting position player in the system, center fielder Gary Brown, just finished a tour of the high Class A California League, giving him a late 2012 timetable at best, so while finally giving Belt the at-bats he deserves will surely help, an overall youth movement won't solve the team's offensive woes, as the talent just isn't there. —Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
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