Giants hoping 2014 is a bounce-back year
Rotation gains Hudson, while offense looks for boost from slugger Morse
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' much-needed offseason makeover consisted of adding only two players. But that's sufficient to give the club a fresh look if the pair of additions, Tim Hudson and Michael Morse, bring the impact that distinguished them in previous years.
Hudson, who will turn 39 during the 2014 season, doesn't have to be a Cy Young Award contender. All the Giants need from the career 205-game winner is a consistent, unyielding presence -- the type of veteran influence who can help restore the swagger to a formerly elite starting staff.
Morse won't rub off on the Giants enough to make them a bunch of sluggers. For that, they would need Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda in their primes. But he'll deepen San Francisco's lineup if he merely approaches his career-best 2011 season, when he hit .303 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs for Washington -- or even the following year, when his corresponding totals were .291/18/62.
Ideally, Hudson and Morse will revitalize the Giants' nucleus of players, many of whom contributed to the team's World Series triumph in 2012. Or they'll sink into the morass that engulfed the club throughout last year's 76-86 performance.
Here are 10 issues that will separate success from failure as the Giants' season unfolds:
10. It starts at the top: With Angel Pagan batting leadoff, No. 2 hitter Marco Scutaro was an offensive dynamo. With Pagan sidelined, as he was through most of last season following hamstring surgery, Scutaro was a table-setter bereft of silverware. The Giants need this tandem (combined age: 70) to galvanize the offense once again.
9. Throw it and catch it: The Giants committed 107 errors last season, tied for third-most in the National League. But that only partially reflected their defensive inconsistency. Plays that weren't made, not necessarily plays that were flubbed, compromised them too frequently. Expect manager Bruce Bochy and his staff to emphasize defense from the first day of Spring Training.
8. A star is born, right?: Hunter Pence's remarkable September (11 home runs, 32 RBIs) helped him coax a five-year, $90 million deal from the Giants. The right fielder doesn't have to duplicate those totals each month -- who can? -- to earn his salary. But the Giants will rely on Pence to maintain a level of excellence that hasn't been expected from him before.
7. Fast-moving conveyor Belt: First baseman Brandon Belt's offensive production has steadily risen year by year in most significant offensive categories. As is the case with Pence, the Giants want Belt to keep asserting himself at the plate. He'll enter 2014 having implemented the adjustments he made last year -- standing deeper in the batter's box and refining his batting grip -- which should help him.
6. The road to Romo: Erasing doubts about his durability -- or just plain ability -- Sergio Romo made the NL All-Star team en route to recording 38 saves. If opponents haven't solved the riddle of his slider by now, they never will. But the bridge from the starters to Romo has become a little creaky. Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez can't set up Romo by themselves. The Giants need a healthy Jeremy Affeldt and one or two others from the array of rookies, youngsters and non-roster invitees to bolster the bullpen.
5. Hudson's river runs deep: Assuming the right-hander can overcome the fractured right ankle that limited him to 21 starts last year, Hudson should fit nicely with the Giants. Their other starters know plenty about the art of pitching, but watching Hudson work every five days will deepen their understanding. Of course, Hudson wants to do more than give tutorials. Winning remains his passion.
4. Betting on Buster: After enduring a precipitous drop from the offensive output that earned him the NL's 2012 Most Valuable Player Award, catcher Buster Posey vowed to work on increasing his strength during the offseason, which in turn will boost his stamina, which in turn should help him rejoin the pantheon of the league's most feared hitters. Posey hit .244 after the All-Star break last year. He won't let that happen again.
3. Anticipating a mighty Morse: Giants left fielders ranked last in homers, runs and on-base plus slugging percentage last year, so almost anything Morse provides should be a bonus. But he must remain healthy. A variety of injuries limited him to 88 games last year. Morse must hike that total by at least 40 or 50 games to approach the average output he maintained from 2010-12 with Washington (.296 batting average, 21 homers, .516 slugging percentage).
2. Will the real Panda please stand up: Since 2009, when Pablo Sandoval batted .330 with 25 home runs in his first full Major League season, he has struggled to combine power and consistency, due not only to his weight but also frequent injuries. He hasn't exceeded 20 homers or a .300 batting average since 2011. However, Sandoval will become eligible for free agency after this season. It's easy to theorize that the inducement of the open market -- or a lucrative pact from the Giants -- could spur Sandoval to control his weight and increase his production.
1. Get the rotation moving: Go ahead and say all you want about pitchers' wins being a team-oriented statistic. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong don't consider themselves sub-.500 performers, which was their fate a year ago. All three are fierce competitors; all three will maintain a resolve to reverse their 2013 records. Their turnaround is essential for the Giants to close the gap between themselves and the Dodgers, whose pitchers have replaced San Francisco's as the NL West's best.