Just a souvenir ball away from winning the World Series, the Giants are the opposite of the nearly intact Angels. That's not necessarily a bad thing. They're a team in flux, having lost their manager, second-best player, second-best pitcher, and even weakened an already weak outfield. They also made two excellent free agent moves and a challenge trade of starting pitchers that freed up some payroll space and shouldn't hurt much on the field. The bullpen is deep, the minor leagues are full of arms, and they still have the best player in baseball.
So why does this team look so bad on paper?
Looking bad going into the season is nothing new for the Giants, but without the magic toothpick of Dusty Baker guiding them, I'm tempted to say that for once they may meet lowered expectations. Felipe Alou was a fine choice once it became clear that Dusty was intent on raising the hopes of Cubs fans everywhere, but no one is really sure how to look at Alou's tenure in Montreal. He succeeded when he had good talent and failed when he had none. He was a firebrand early in his tenure and a burned-out absentee manager toward the end, having put up with years of ownership and management incompetence.
On the injury front, the Giants are one team that always looks healthier than it is. There is no team with a more competent medical staff, or one with more pull. In a game last year, Athletic Trainer Stan Conte spotted something he didn't like in Jason Schmidt's motion and had enough clout to get Schmidt pulled in an important June contest. Most teams are too focused on the short term to realize that move–in combination with a number of others that can be traced back to Conte and assistant Barney Nugent–resulted in Schmidt being healthy enough to pitch deep into games. Going solely by pitch counts, the Giants should have expected a full training room or surgical ward over the last few years. But it's not magic that their rotation is very healthy–it's Stan and Barney.
Even with that medical team, three pitchers get yellow flags. Schmidt has a high-effort motion and seemed to be struggling with his mechanics at various times during the season. He's benefited from having excellent trainers around him his entire career, but there are too many negatives surrounding Schmidt to warrant a green light. It's the same with Damian Moss. Consider both of these to be dim yellow lights. Robb Nen is a brighter yellow light, coming off what was called "minor" shoulder surgery. It was clear throughout the playoffs that Nen was struggling, but again, excellent care kept him effective while not risking his long-term future.
Bonds' long-standing hamstring problems earn him a yellow light. Bonds heals much faster than normal humans, so any injury seems to affect him less than it would anyone else. Still, all the age comparables are negative, and I'm forced to go with another dim yellow. No team relies more on one player than the Giants do on Bonds. If he suffers a serious injury, they're toast.
Like Bonds, Benito Santiago is another player without a true comparable in terms of career path–the closest may be Carlton Fisk. Still, any 38-year-old catcher is an injury risk. Alou would do well to play Yorvit Torrealba more, as a way to leverage his solid backup catcher and to keep Santiago fresh and productive deep into the season.
Marvin Benard will still be dealing with the after-effects of a serious knee injury. While he's said to be on schedule, he's still worthy of a yellow light. Tony Torcato may see some significant time in right field if he heals slowly, or Alou could get creative and shift a few people around, with Pedro Feliz cracking the lineup.
Edgardo Alfonzo is in a similar situation to Benard. He's a year removed from serious back concerns, but there's always a chance of recurrence. Due to the injury, the Giants got a big discount for a player of Alfonzo's talents, and if any team can take on an injury risk, it's the Giants. The longer Alfonzo goes without back problems, the less I worry.
Overall, I'd expect the Giants to once again be one of the healthier teams by any measure. Someday, baseball executives will realize that having someone like Conte on their team may be nearly as much of an advantage as having a GM like Billy Beane.
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