"Say there, Grant," no one has ever asked. "Don't you remember the last time a Giants team was given absolutely no chance to compete? Hello, 1997?" Interesting point, questioner made up to introduce this post. That's still my favorite Giants season of the past 15 years. Let's go through and compare both teams at each position.
C - Bengie Molina isn't an All-Star, and his on-base percentage is usually pretty wretched. Still, he gives a little pop from the catcher's position, which is more than the remains of Rick Wilkins provided. Brian Johnson came in at the trading deadline and provided some fluky-clutch goodness, but Molina is a better bet.
1B - Faced with starting a non-prospect like Desi Wilson, Brian Sabean traded for a youngish first baseman whose value had bottomed out after a down season. This player's minor league career indicated that he could be an average MLB hitter, even if he was likely to be below the positional average for first base. That move worked out so horribly that there was no way Sabean would make the same mistake this offseason by filling the first base hole with a sense of urgency.
The Snow trade was widely reviled by the internet baseball nerd consortium, but at least Snow had a MLB season under his belt (1995 - .289/.353/.465) that was as good as Dan Ortmeier's best season in the minors.
2B - Jeff Kent was good...but he wasn't Hall-of-Fame good yet. His .250/.316/.472 line was about what the Giants had a right to expect in 1997. There's a small chance that Ray Durham could better that line - he did from 1998 to 2006, after all - but the odds are that Durham ain't gonna find what's been lost, and Kevin Frandsen probably won't come too close to a .472 slugging percentage at any point during his career.
SS - Jose Vizcaino hit .266/.323/.350 in 1997, which is about what the Giants should have expected. Vizquel will probably put up similar numbers, but his defense is still an improvement on vintage Vizcaino's defense.
3B - If the Giants get the production from third in 2008 that they did from the Bill Mueller/Mark Lewis combo in 1997, it will be a small miracle.
CF - Darryl Hamilton had a fine year with the glove and bat, but Aaron Rowand will supply a bit more power to go along with the sweet fielding.
RF - Glenallen Hill had a sub-.300 on-base percentage, and he had the defensive mobility of that AT-AT from Empire Strikes Back with its legs bound together. Randy Winn is Randy Winn, but that's better than Glenallen Hill.
SP - Shawn Estes had the best year of his career, as did Kirk Rueter. If Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum combine for 390 innings of 125 ERA+, we'd probably all consider that a successful year. The 2008 Giants have more depth, though. Barry Zito, Noah Lowry, and Kevin Correia/Jonathan Sanchez are better options than Mark Gardner, Osvaldo Fernandez, and William Van Landingham, for sure.
RP - Rod Beck had a pretty nice season, Fred McGriff aside, and Julian Tavarez and Doug Henry had nice first halves. Still, the bullpen was mostly a disaster until the team traded for Roberto Hernandez. The 2008 Giants have more potential, but it's tough to call this one.
Lessee....that's five positional advantages for 2008, three for 1997, and one push.
It's settled: The Giants will win the division in a thrilling fashion! I don't see any problems with my analysis. Nope. No flaws in the methodology, no egregious exclusions. Nothing like that.
Comment starter: What scrub will hit the memorable home run against the Dodger lefty?