Maybe the proverbial World Series hangover carried over into the general manager’s office. Or maybe the law of averages was just catching up with him after a 2010 season in which it seemed he could do no wrong.
Whatever the case, nearly all of the hitters Brian Sabean signed last fall flopped as the Giants produced a historically bad year of offense that left the reigning champs out of the playoffs. And with the team’s internal evaluation meetings now well underway, it shouldn’t escape notice that the member of the organization that most needs to improve his batting average is the general manager himself.
Coming off the championship season, Sabean opted to largely stick with the same hitters who made that dream run possible. The Giants re-upped free agents Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell, and signed arbitrational-eligible players in Cody Ross, Andres Torres and Mike Fontenot. Free agent shortstop Miguel Tejada was brought in to replace Juan Uribe, who spurned San Francisco to sign with the Dodgers.
But Sabean’s decisions backfired in a big way, as all of those players regressed noticeably from 2010, even rivaling their career-worst seasons in many cases. The disappointing performances of those players coupled with the season-ending injuries of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez resulted in the Giants scoring their fewest runs (570) in a non-strike year since 1985, the franchise’s lone 100-loss season.
So what’s the prognosis for a significantly-improved offense in 2012? Murky, at best.
Fortunately for Sabean and the Giants, the underperforming 2011 signees were all inked to one-year deals with the exception of the first baseman Huff (two years, $22 million). Don’t expect any of the others to be back in a starting role, and maybe not at all.
But with Sabean already making it known that his first priority is to secure the team’s standout (and expensive) pitching staff, he will have to be creative (read: frugal) in piecing together an offense.
The Giants have big question marks at shortstop, centerfield and leftfield, and they have a cavernous hole at the leadoff spot in the order.
How the team evaluates a trio of its unproven players – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Brett Pill – will be a central part of the offseason decision-making.
Even if the Giants decide to hand Crawford the reins at shortstop after he hit .204 in 196 at-bats as a rookie, they will no doubt seek to bring in a capable veteran as an insurance policy. First basemen Belt and Pill have both been asked to play outfield when they suit up for winter ball, and the team will be keen to see if either can make a run at a potential leftfield opening in spring training.
San Francisco is expected to be a player in the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes, but the team is unlikely to craft its entire offseason around re-signing its free-agent right fielder – lest the star sign elsewhere late in the game and leave the Giants without other options. Manager Bruce Bochy has already penciled Nate Schierholtz in as his right fielder, a strong sign the team is already making contingency plans.
But Sabean’s biggest task is to unearth a leadoff hitter – via free agency or trade. The single biggest reason the offense sputtered in 2011 – scoring 127 fewer runs than it did the year before -- was that the Giants leadoff men batted a combined .232 while reaching base at a woeful clip of .292.
Look for Sabean to find his 2012 leadoff hitter first – and then to let the position that player plays (centerfield? shortstop? leftfield?) dictate the subsequent signings.
After swinging and missing repeatedly in signing hitters last offseason, Sabean is stepping up to the plate again. The Giants need him to refine his batting stroke this offseason, lest they let another remarkable year of pitching go by the wayside.