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San Francisco Giants: Do you see mug as half-empty or half-filled?

By Mark ONeill
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This being January most baseball fans are more than three months removed from watching their respective teams actually play ball. San Francisco Giants fans are luckier than all, because not only did their season extend a full month beyond September, they have been celebrating ever since.

With the bombardment of news regarding both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres retooling their respective teams, there is an obvious unease in the air. Giants fans are understandably pondering the ramifications of watching these two arch-rivals notch one acquisition after another, while San Francisco management flails somewhat desperately at available options, all the while drawing a blank.

Whereas Around the Foghorn has been more than happy to bandy names about while asking clarifying questions and keeping its finger on the pulse of winter transactions, make no mistake in your assessment of whether this site believes the mug to be half-empty or half-full, when it comes to describing the “plight” of the Giants for the upcoming season.

That half-empty/half-filled term cropped up in the comments section Saturday by a reader who felt that I, like many fans, was whining at the seemingly imbalanced approach to improving 2014’s version of the Giants as compared to other teams’ efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only is San Francisco’s mug better than half-filled, it has been topped and quaffed three times in the past five seasons, and is poised beneath the spigot, ready to receive another infusion of suds for the start of the 2015 season.

Time out! Isn’t this same site which was questioning Brian Sabean and his allegedly “hidden agenda,” especially now with the revelation that Billy Beane, Oakland’s intrepid general manager, has netted Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist?

This is true but only in the interest of responding to a strongly supported set of financial facts, which in all fairness, are practically beyond my ken and most of those visiting this site, but which bore further investigation.

Asking questions should not be perceived as doubting.

Clarifying questions must always remain within the boundaries of any legitimate sports venue.

May 26, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) smiles, possibly contemplating those three golden rings he now possesses. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Without further delay here is a very bare-bones explanation as to why the Giants are in excellent shape for the shape they’re in, beginning with the number two position on the diamond, one Buster Posey by name.

Give the Giants this one individual and you provide the team with the single most important component at any position possible, and you have done so with the best in either league when it comes to leadership and his track record. The only stat involved here is the number of world series rings Buster has accumulated in the five years he has been in the business. That number would be three.

Over at first base is fellow-Southerner Brandon Belt, a relatively less flamboyant first baseman than his replacement last season, Michael Morse, but a force nonetheless. Belt is not as likely to don super-hero garb as Morse, being content to see baby giraffe gear sprinkled all over AT&T Park, but that does not lesson his importance in the upcoming year. He will hit thirty home runs this season.

Belt has been primed for this explosion since August of 2013, when he made a couple of key adjustments in his batting approach, leading to not only an immediate improvement in his power at the end of said season, but to a torrid start to the 2014 season before he had his thumb pulverized by a pitched ball.

Brandon Belt will hammer thirty home runs and knock in ninety RBIs. Take it to the bank.

Fans have watched this lanky Texan (like Morse, Belt is six-foot, five-inches tall) grow into his cleats, and this season those cleats are going to ascend to the pinnacle of success.

At second base is Joe Panik, who managed to dissuade Giants management from pursuing further answers to the question of who was going to replace Marco Scutaro, by doing just that. He is not flashy and he is not pretentious. He is willing to play second, third or anywhere Bruce Bochy needs him.

Again, this is not about stats because there are better players at his position, statistically. It’s about having a guy at second who is a good fit with Brandon Crawford at shortstop, and who stepped in last season at a critical juncture, and helped the club not only recover from its tailspin, but garner a third MLB title in five years.

Brandon Crawford keeping that shoulder pointed at shortstop.

The aforementioned Crawford returns for his fourth full big-league season, as a veteran of two world series rings in his three years as the club’s primary shortstop. With his blue-collar approach and his opportunistic use of Barry Bonds’s knowledge last March down in the desert, Crawford transformed himself from a stellar defensive specialist, to a comparable status with his bat.

Having declared this to be a non-stats-permeated piece, I will now go on to point out that Crawford’s ability to strengthen his approach against left-handed pitchers, as instructed by Bonds, led to a hike in his power numbers (nine HRs, ten triples, 69 RBIs) in 2014, that makes him a force with which to be contended from the lower part of the batting order.

Newcomer Casey McGehee, a player I started to covet last season when he was still a member of the Miami Marlins, will never replace Pablo Sandoval in our hearts, but he will do a fine job of replacing the Panda at third base. Again, if you are looking for bling, look elsewhere.

McGehee is built like a brick backstop and has as tough an exterior as you will find outside the catcher’s position. He has a strong arm as he led the National League last season in double plays started from third base, at 34. He does not necessarily hit home runs, which is challenging enough to do at AT&T Park, but a lot of those missed homers do not miss being doubles.

In right field is Hunter Pence who leads not only on the field, but in the dugout and locker room as well. What he lacks in terms of power numbers  (Pence hit 20 home runs in 2014) or WAR (3.6), he more than compensates for in terms of leading by example, exhibiting the ultimate Charlie Hustle attitude at all times on the field of play.

Aug 12, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers (21) tags out San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) at home during the first inning at AT&T Park. Pence may have been  out, but he gave it his best, which is what he does best.   Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Not only does Pence not get down, he constantly goes about the business of uplifting his teammates with not only his unique style of play, but his inspiring sermons in the dugout and his post-game addresses which have occasionally been available to media outlets. These leadership qualities are not to be found on ESPN’s stats sheet so don’t go there, but they remain an integral component of the Giants‘ success nonetheless.

In center field is Angel Pagan who seems to earn more in the way of derisive comments concerning his fragility these days, than accolades for his inspiring brand of play. There’s that word “inspiring” again. Why is it that Pagan is so seemingly fragile? Is it because he throws himself into his game in such a way as to be apparently unaware of his own frailty?

Giants fans know the answer and wouldn’t have it any other way. Pagan is  so important to the Giants’ success that many ruled San Francisco out of the picture last October because Angel was missing in action. Though the Orange and Black did find a way to get it done, Angel Pagan provides not only a veteran presence in center field, he is crucial as the team’s leadoff batter. As for injuries, he has had his share, so he is due for a year of good health, especially if Bochy has the luxury of being able to rest him regularly.

Left field for many remains a disappointment, but not for those who recognize that Gregor Blanco still did a fine job filling in, not only for the left field position when Morse shifted to first, but the center field position as well when Pagan went down. There is more to a player’s status on a team, than the number of home runs he hits.

Blanco, supported by Juan Perez, provided many unexpected moments both in the regular season and in the successful world series drive with his glove and his bat. In lobbying for a Ben Zobrist-type player, Around the Foghorn did nothing more than explore possible options Sabean might have followed, as opposed to mandating that change was essential.

With backups Joaquin Arias, Matt Duffy, Andrew SusacTravis Ishikawa and several other options, the Giants’ bench is also an experienced unit with postseason experience enhancing its resume.

Suffice to say, as far as the starting lineup is concerned, the San Francisco Giants face no shortage of whatever beverage you choose to imbibe in, in order to ensure that the cup remains brim-filled with the chemistry which keeps the Giants successful.

Enough for today; tomorrow the pitching staff.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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