Right about now, there’s a news conference going on. Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean are taking questions about the 2009 season, and the rumor is that they’ll also be talking about the new extensions they received. Going into the season, most of the folks around here had the Giants at .500 or below. Heck, one regular said he’d do something "outlandish and crazy" if the Giants win anywhere near 90 games. The Giants won 88. So this season is an obvious success.
A lot of people would have been happy with .500. It would have been measurable progress for a rebuilding team. The Giants exceeded expectations. They took our modest goals, and surpassed them. It goes without saying that the season is an unqualified success.
So why does it feel like there’s a sneeze-cloud of pessimism over the salad bar of the offseason? Why are there so many grumblers after a season in which the Giants blew our collective minds? Why the feeling of impending doom?
This could be a 600-page book, really, filled with psychoanalytical ramblings, pie charts, and anecdotes. I’ll try and keep it simple: I feel uncomfortable about the offseason because I still don’t think that either of the two folks speaking at the press conference right now learned anything about what makes a bad offense bad. I think there’s going to be a lot of talk about "execution" and "fundamentals." Here’s what I’d want to hear in a press conference:
Why did we struggle to score runs? We made too many outs, we didn’t hit for a lot of power, we made too many outs, and we made too many outs. We gave away too many at-bats by being too aggressive. Can you believe that Pablo Sandoval led this team in walks? That’s insane. He was swinging at balls over his head this April, and he ends the season as our most patient hitter. Something has to change.
There’s no way, though. We’ll hear about Eugenio Velez’s magical resurrection after he was brought back from Fresno (.321 on-base percentage in the second half), we’ll hear about how Bengie Molina did everything he could in a role everyone agrees he’s not suited for (.285 on-base percentage), and how when Freddy Sanchez was in the lineup, things started clicking (.295 on-base percentage for the Giants). These are the things they’ll hope stay the same for next year.
There should be an opening at shortstop. There won’t be. Renteria was hurt, therefore it doesn’t count that he’s been an impressively awful hitter for two straight years who can’t make up the value on defense with his limited range. There’s going to be a spot open at first base, but that might be filled by our current third baseman, who would move over to make room for the player who could easily replace Renteria. There’s going to be at least one outfield spot up for grabs, and it will almost certainly go to a mid-priced free agent veteran who won’t represent any sort of upgrade over the under-30, in-house options. There’s going to be an opening at catcher, unless they decide that the worst on-base percentage in the National League is something the Giants would be lost without.
That’s a team with a lot of openings. That’s also a complete lack of faith that the short-term moves will be successful in fixing a bad offense.
I’m optimistic about Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito gave me hope that they’ll be able to contribute for a full season in 2010. I’ve always enjoyed Sabean’s non-Benitez bullpen additions, for the most part, and with a core of Affeldt/Romo/Wilson coming back, there’s a chance that the pitching will be as strong next year. The feeling, then, isn’t of impending doom; it’s of impending stasis. It’s a fear that the next year is just going to be more of the same: fantastic pitching wasted by an ineffective offense. And, heck, maybe they’ll have the exact same season, and maybe 88 wins will win a playoff spot next year. It's more likely, though, that a similarly built team will fall short of the playoffs again.
I want to be so, so wrong. I want to look like an idiot by March, and I want to look even dumber in October. I want the failures of this post to be repeated, recounted, and rubbed in my face like the messy little basset hound I am. But I’ve watched Brian Sabean build an offense after he was spotted the greatest hitter of the last 50 years, and I’ve watched him build an offense without that player. I’m almost convinced that Sabean uses batting average, RBI, and general scouting reports as his primary player evaluation tools. I’m almost convinced that Bochy uses his eyes and his gut feelings. And I’m certainly convinced that the Giants’ offense needs a hell of a lot more.
Comment starter: Was the season a success, and am I a loon for being anything other than optimistic?