Your 2006 Giants: Big 6 Questions
- What will Bonds be healthy enough to produce in 2006? While I don't think his presence is necessary to making the playoffs, given our potentially great rotation, good bullpen, and poor divisional opponents (I'm waiting for the Dodgers' injured list to start growing anytime now) I think this should be possible even without Bonds in the lineup as long as the other players hit like they are capable of, I think Bonds is crucial (duh!) to the Giants going all the way. So far, so good, Bonds is happy with his brace means that we Giants fans are happy with his brace. I think all bets are off until he starts playing regularly and putting pressure on that knee.
- Which Schmidt will show up, 2004's version or 2005's version? This is probably more important to the Giants NL Division hopes than Bonds, so maybe I should have put it first but Bonds (to steal from Mr. October) is the straw that stirs this lovely orange and black concoction. If he is on and pitching like he has most of his Giants career, then anything Morris, Lowry, and Cain can do is not as critical so then they can pitch with less pressure on them. If he is wildly off like he was in early 2005, then the rotation will depend greatly on Morris, and while I think he is good, he's just not Schmidt good, you know?
- Will any of these regulars play without injury or poor performance taking away a lot of games: Alou, Durham,Winn? These players are the key supporting offensive players behind Bonds. If they can hit like they have proven they can hit and stay uninjured, then the offense should be running along nicely enough to win a lot of games, given our potentially strong rotation. Last year, it didn't work out, Alou and Durham missed a number of games, Grissom could only hit very poorly, and Alfonzo, after seemingly returning to his pre-Giants days as a Met for the first two weeks of the season, apparently the fountain of youth stopped flowing and he declined into a year-long hitting funk worse than anything he had before as a Giant (and that's doing some).
- Which Finley will show up, 2004's version or 2005's version? The spector of age and injury in the outfield makes Finley's performance important. He plays a pivotal role on the 2006 team. He needs to be able to hit like he did in 2004 so that the offense won't take such a big hit when Bonds, Alou, or Winn is taking a game off, like it did in 2005 when Ellison or Linden came into the game. If he hits like he did in 2005, then the margin for error for the rest of the hitters is reduced greatly, as he will be getting a lot of at-bats this year in place of the starting outfielders. In addition, he adds a needed left-handed pressence to the bench or the lineup.
- Will new regulars Feliz and Niekro play as good as they are capable or as bad as they are capable? As good as the top of the lineup can be with Winn, Vizquel, Durham, Bonds and Alou, the bottom of the lineup can become this big gaping hole if Feliz and Niekro don't hit like they have shown they are capable of doing. Feliz started off the year nicely but perhaps the wear and tear got to him last season and he started fading offensively by the middle of the season. Niekro had a great start but after his injury he was not able to hit at all. Was that the injury's fault or did the league catch up with him? Given that he has been able to hit - and well - all through the farm system, he has shown that he has been able in the past to adjust to the league while the league was adjusting to him and adjust to a new level.
- Will the bullpen hold together? Last year Benitez failing and then falling injured, set off a domino effect through the bullpen. None of the relievers expected to pick up the slack was able to, not Brower, not Herges. It fell to Tyler Walker, who was the reliver at the bottom of the totem pole in 2004 to pick up the slack at closer, which of course meant that there were no set-up men to speak of. This year, we have Worrell, who did a admirable job of stepping in a couple of years back plus Munter, Taschner, and Accardo look like they are able to do well in a expanded role on a short term basis if necessary, should any of the big boys - Benitez, Worrell, Kline - falter.
Sabean felt that depth was one of the big problems with last year's roster composition and he has worked this off-season to correct that. In the starting rotation, the addition of Wright into the mix gives the Giants 6 legitimate starters going into the season - should any of the opening 5 falter or falls to injury, the 6th starter can move into the mix. In the bullpen, the addition of Worrell provides a "proven" closer should Benitez falters again for whatever reason plus Accardo and Munter show signs that they might be able to handle the job as well. In the lineup, Finley provides a good backup should Bonds or Alou succumb to any injury.
However, there is no equivalent backup in the corner positions of the infield. Vizcaino could man shortstop adequately - offensively and defensively - in place of Vizquel and Kevin Frandsen looks like he might be able to come up and take 2B should Durham be out for an extended period. However, there is no legitimate 1B or 3B in the farm system to come up should Niekro or Feliz, respectively, falters and Vizcaino would be horrendous for the offense if he started at either corner IF position.
But Sabean can only do so much when you don't have all the money in the world to spend and Benitez, Bonds, Durham, Finley, and Schmidt are taking up $51.1M of their $85M budget and Alou, Morris, and Winn another $15M, leaving about $20M to spend on the rest of the team. And if Niekro does falter, the Giants could always bring up Travis Ishikawa and give him a shot, assuming he is doing well at AA early in the 2006 season.
Sabean is knocked, and factually so thus far, for not deliverying young players via the farm system. But it is interesting to note that four pre-arb players should be on the 25 man roster when the season start - Cain, Lowry, Niekro, and Munter - and up to five others - Accardo, Ellison, Hennessey, Linden, and Taschner - could make the roster if the numbers game don't work against them. Plus there was previous talk about Eliezer Alfonzo and Angel Chavez perhaps making the team. And some think that Frandsen could play in the majors right now, though he probably wouldn't be a starter. So if things continue to develop well, nearly half the team could be composed of pre-arb players at some time in the not-too-distant future.