We wrap up our preseason previews with a breakdown of the defending champs. Can they possibly hoist the World Series trophy for the third time in four seasons? Let's jump right into the 2013 San Francisco Giants ...
Under-the-radar offseason transaction
While I don't love the Giants' supporting corps (more on that in a moment), the decision to sign outfielder Andres Torres to a one-year deal was a sound one. Torres has spent time at all three outfield positions, and he boasts speed on the bases. As well, the switch-hitting Torres is more capable from the right side of the plate, which means he'll make a useful platoon partner for Gregor Blanco.
Fantasy sleeper: Brandon Belt
"Belt has a .259 career average, along with 16 home runs and 15 steals in 598 MLB at-bats. All very unappealing to the average Fantasy drafter. But Belt had a .343 batting average and 1.052 OPS in 670 minor league at-bats before his 2011 callup. He was bounced back and forth from left field to first base in 2011, before settling at first last season. While Belt saw gains in average and steals last year, his power actually dipped -- going from nine home runs in 187 at-bats in 2011, to seven home runs in 411 at-bats last year. But he showed flashes of his would-be greatness, with four home runs in June and three in September. He will likely lose starts again to Buster Posey at first base, but with Cabrera gone and the Giants going with Torres and Gregor Blanco in left field, there's a chance manager Bruce Bochy just shifts him to the outfield on those days instead. If Belt gets regular at-bats, and isn't taken out of the playing-every-day rhythm when he has to yield first base to Posey, he could get into a nice groove and rediscover his power swing from the minors. Even if he doesn't, though, Belt has shown he can hit for average, contribute in steals and manage plenty of doubles, which should produce an overlooked player who returns plenty of value for his late-round selection." -- Nando Di Fino [Full Giants fantasy preview]
The Matt Cain-Buster Posey battery. When the San Fran ace is pitching to the reigning NL MVP, is there a better battery in all the game? No, there's not (unless and until Adam Wainwright returns to vintage form).
Posey led the majors last season in OPS+ despite manning the most premium defensive position and despite being just 25 years of age. He also has the skills to continue performing at an elite level as he approaches what should be his prime seasons, so long as he stays healthy.
As for Cain, he was underrated earlier in his career because of his paltry win-loss records (a function of poor run support), but he's a bedrock ace in every sense of the word. Cain has logged at least 200 innings pitched in each of the last six seasons. Since 2009, just Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay have lower ERAs than Cain's 2.93 mark.
What bodes especially well for 2013 (and beyond) is that Cain is coming off a season in which he posted a career-best K/BB ratio of 3.78 (his previous top mark was 2.90 in 2010). In 2012, Cain showed the best control of his career while also continuing to miss bats. Oh, and Cain has never been on the disabled list.
When you have an elite hitter behind the plate and a first-order ace on the mound, that's a nice head start on a championship roster.
Depth. By "depth," I don't mean the bench (although it's not optimal). Rather, I mean the supporting cast that's in place in the lineup and at the back of the rotation. Core hitters? Posey and Pablo Sandoval and likely Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan are up to the task. Imposing front of the rotation? Cain and Madison Bumgarner compare favorably to anyone. Beyond their front-line talent, though, the Giants have some concerns.
In the lineup, production from the outfield corners is a worry. Gregor Blanco is a skilled defender and base-runner, but he lacks the power native to his position. As for Hunter Pence, he's coming off a season in which he authored a batting line of .253/.319/.425, much of that in hitter-friendly Philly. Elsewhere, the middle infield isn't going to produce (don't buy into Marco Scutaro's post-trade bump -- he's solid but not that good, particularly at age 37).
In the rotation, will Lincecum bounce back to a meaningful degree despite a decaying fastball? Can Barry Zito again aspire to adequacy? Can Vogelsong, at age 35, turn in another quality season despite last year's decline? Pressing questions, all.
First place in the NL West. Posey and Cain perform like Posey and Cain, Bumgarner takes the next step, Lincecum pitches more like he did in the second half, Vogelsong staves off decline, Sandoval stays healthy, Belt continues to develop, and Pence bounces back. Another deep run into the postseason follows.
Third place in the NL West. The good things listed immediately above? Most of those don't come to pass. While the NL West isn't a great division necessarily, it is a balanced one. Even a modest amount of slippage could put the Giants behind L.A. and Arizona in the final standings.
Most likely scenario
Second place in the NL West. Last season, the Giants edged the Dodgers by just two games in the Pythagorean standings (those matter when projecting forward), and the Dodgers spent the winter adding Zack Greinke. As well, they'll enjoy full seasons from the many players whom they acquired during the 2012 campaign. Expect a tight race, but right now the Dodgers look better on paper.
Obligatory: Highly placed sources say games aren't played on paper.
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