The first thing, always, is to see what you've got when once you sort through the debris and shrapnel. Regrettably, when discussing the Giants' available talent, one almost has to have two discussions: what they really have, and what it seems likely that the thoroughly incompetent GM and field manager think (if that is the term) they have. For simplicity, I will stick to the first kind of discussion; but understand, then, that this is not necessarily a realistic guide to what the team will believe and do, just what one observer thinks they ought to think and do.
Let's start with the easier half of the equation, pitching.
For the starter role, there are the three givens, Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner. There are four names to look at for the remaining two slots: JSanchez, Vogelsong, Surkamp, and Zito. Let's take a brief look at each.
JSanchez has a career Quality of Pitching (an ERA-like measure) that is virtually league average (3.93); he has only pitched better than average in two seasons, 2009 and 2010 (and in one of those, 2009, not better by much). It is safe to say that he is not a preferred choice. Vogelsong famously defied all expectations; even so, his 2011 ERA (2.68) is deceptively low, for his QoP is 3.49 and that is what tends to predict future results. Now even so, that's a good half run better than league average; but the concern is that his second-half numbers look nontrivially worse than his first-half numbers. Still, without going into detail, he looks good enough to assign to one of the two slots, but with the proviso that one needs to be prepared for the possibility of a big letdown in 2012. Surkamp arrived with quite a reputation, at least from AA work, but his glossy ERA (2.95) conceals a QoP of well above league average, at 4.14; on the other hand, he is a rookie, and is probably pitching well past his prior professional innings limits. I think one has to at least pencil him in as the other starter. That leaves Zito. There may well still be functionality left in Zito, but not as a starter on a seriously contending team built on pitching; but it seems very unlikely that the team will simply release him, and very little more likely that that, even eating a lot, they could work out a trade for anything worth getting.
Sum: JSanchez needs to be traded this winter, and Zito put in the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, I will first assume that Giants' pitching free-agent candidate Javier Lopez will promptly be re-signed. That sort of violates the "see what you've got" dictum, because they haven't "got" him for 2012, but for now let's assume it. (I also assume that they either pick up Affeldt's option or negotiate a new deal with him.) Of the seven bullpen slots, the ones that should be solidly set are, in no special order: Wilson, Romo, Lopez, Ramirez, and Affeldt. Then we presumably are obliged to add in Zito, in a role that might be LOOGY or might be long man (or both). That only leaves one slot open for all of these candidates: Casilla, Runzler, Edlefsen, and Joaquin. Sad to say, neither Runzler nor Edlefsen has exactly burned their way onto the candidacy list, and Joaquin's minor-league record and age suggest that he also will have to wait. Casilla's GasCan tendencies, while still present, seem muted, possibly by the new pitches Righettit is said to have taught him; one has to be prepared for major regression, but at least pencils him in for 2012.
So: SP, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Surkamp; RP, Wilson, Romo, Lopez, Ramirez, Affeldt, Zito, Casilla. Pretty much a case of dancing with the gal what brung ya (or, if we're rolling out old saws--which is itself a curiously mixed metaphor--don't fix what ain't broke).
Now the offense, which is much more the part of the equation needing careful consideration.
I will start with what I will call the "primary player" at each position; I don't like the terms "regular" or "starter" because they implicitly deny the need for a couple of "starte-quality" guys beyond any hypothetical "starting 8" to regularly fill in to give sane days off.
1B: Aubrey Huff. Huff is basically a median-grade first baseman. One might like a somewhat bigger offense there than his career 890 or so, but such things don't grow on trees, and he is signed for another year. A way I like to look at these things is to mentally switch men's positions to see if that gives balance (that is, imagine A's bat at B's position and vice-versa). Jumping out of place here, I am going to be putting Brandon Belt in an outfield corner, probably right; now if--rather a big "if" but it just has to be assumed--Belt is pretty much the bat that his many fans are convinced from his one minor-league season, then if we mentally put that offense at first and Huff's in right, we have rather respectable numbers at both positions. So Huff plays first in 2012, then Belt moves in. And never think that Huff will be benched or released.
2B: Freddy Sanchez. That is just a given, and his bat is fair-to-good for a middle infielder and his glove unexpectedly satisfactory, too.
SS: Mike Fontenot is analogous to Aubrey Huff: median to somewhat above median. One always wants the best player in the known universe at every position, but given the Giants' current paucity of trading chips and not-unlimited budget, there is really very little that can be added to what Fontenot brings to the table, which is a bat slightly, but only slightly, below FSanchez's and a glove that is decent enough to regularly make the routine plays. Much is made of Fontenot's supposed platoon differentials, but most authoritative analysts, from Bill James down to Tom Tango, seem to agree that most players, played full-time on a continuing basis, will eventually--as the data sample size increases--tend to pretty similar platoon diferentials. If the Giants would just stop jerking Fontenot (and so many other of their players) around with irregular and infrequent play time, they'd get materially better output all round.
3B: Panda. Period.
C: Posey. Semicolon; we just assume he will be back and fully capable. We can't afford at this stage to assume anything else. Meanwhile, it sure as shootin' would help a lot if the team would wake up and ask Panda to catch a day or two a week. Posey needs at least one day off a week, and a second day in which he plays a less-demanding position wouldn't hurt. I'd have Panda catch two days a week (relieved by the "utility infielder" described below) and on one of those days, let Posey play 3B (assuming, as I do, that he could pick it up easily enough, the skill set being remarkably similar to that for catching).
LF: Possibly Belt, depending on what we think about RF; if not, we will come back to this later.
CF: Andres Torres. Torres became a new man about four or five years ago when his medical condition was finally addressed with medication. Since then, and especially with his return to the majors in 2009 and 2010, he was a player whose value, sheerly on offense, has been, I think, underestimated by many. Admittedly, he had a forget-it season on 2011, but then so did an awful lot of pretty good ball players on the Giants. Torres' main strengths on offense lie in the two that usually vary least from season to season: strike-zone judgement as reflected in walks, and power. His performance in the third, batting average, is unremarkable, tending to about .265 in a good year. Indeed, though he has been, and probably will be again, the team's leadoff batter, his abilities are in fact best used in the lower-middle part of the lineup, maybe #6 or even #5: his OB%, even in his good years, is under .350, usually considered the threshhold for a leadoff type. But for lack of a better, and considering his speed, that's probably where he'll go again. And his fielding needs, I trust, no comment; it's a crime that he doesn't already have a Gold Glove.
RF: The candidates are Belt, who must play LF or RF, and Schierholtz, who, if used in the RF he plays so well, forces Belt to LF. The problem here is that when finally, at long last, given some fairly steady play time, Schierholtz did indeed hit rather better than during all those years he was jerked around by the Giants--but not dramatically better. The unfortunate fact is that even on a heavily pitching-oriented team, Schierholtz's bat is at best a wing-and-a-prayer substitute for what is expected from a corner outfielder. His offense is something from one to two wins less than should be fairly readily obtainable.
The thrust here, then, is to find a new corner outfielder: right field if available, but even a so-so glove in left would be acceptable. Whichever corner the newcomer plays, Belt plays the other. As a RF, Belt has the arm, without much question, and the hands and ball sense; his foot speed is not ideal, but it's a lot better than his galoot build suggests. The easiest find would be, in effect,the equivalent of a healthy Pat Burrell; but even better would be a different type of bat, a poor man's Rickey Henderson: leadoff-level OB% backed up by enough power to have a high net offensive value. For the first, there are a couple of potential free agents (notably Willingham); for the second alternative, I don't know any names at all offhand, but I think none of the free agents.
But a squad is more than eight men. The next two important roles are what we may loosely call "fourth outfielder" and "utility infielder" (neither a phrase I like, because those phrases implicitly understate the importance of the roles).
OF4: This is a man who would play 4 days of 6, rotating through the three OF positions so as to give each man a day off, plus a 4th day again filling in for Belt, who then plays 1B to give Huff his 1 day in 6 rest day off. For this role, I suppose we must make do with Schierholtz, faute de mieux; certainly he can at least play the blazes out of all three positions.
IF: I submit that the scorned Bill Hall is actually an excellent candidate here. Hall is on a mutual-option for 2012, at (I think) $4 million; I daresay that could be renogiated down some and that he would be glad enough to stay on even at a reduced salary (but that is an assumption--though Uribe got $3.25 mill when he re-upped with the Giants). Hall has an offense value probably close to Fontenot, and thus not far below FSanchez; it isn't so obvious because most of it is in power (again, rather like Juan Uribe), with a modest .250 BA and a slightly below-league-average walks rate. Moreover, those who believe in UZR will find that as a SS and 3B--which is what we'd be looking at--his fielding numbers are pretty good. (He could "play" 2B either direct, or, better, by playing SS that day and letting Fontenot play 2B.)
Finally, there are three more positions that need filling, whose role is to play rarely, acting as emergency backups for double on-field injuries, as extra pinch hitters (beyond the two "primary" players on the bench in any game) in extra-inning games, and as general reserves. Those three need to be a shortstop, a center fielder, and a catcher. I would say they could be Crawford, Christian or Ford, and either Whiteside or Stewart, with HSanchez coming up as soon as his development allows.
Now, what is the summing up?
Leftover pieces of, presumably, some value to use in trades (ignoring detritus like Burris) would be JSanchez and Keppinger. (Pill can be put in whichever category you fancy--I'd say "detritus" as far as other clubs--not auto-hypnotized by sheer desire--are concerned.) Some others from the minors might have some chip value, too. The one burning need is a strong-offense corner-outfield bat.
A plausible lineup of just the "primary" men would be (# = S, x = L):
# Torres, cf x Belt, rf Posey, c # Sandoval, 3b NEW, lf x Huff, 1b FSanchez, 2b x Fontenot, ss
Given the rotation and bullpen specified above, I'd be thoroughly comfortable rollong that lineup out and expecting to take the division and compete very solidly in post-season.