Buster Posey

Giants bats wake up without the pressure of games mattering

I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, Debbie Downer or Bummer Brenda, but I’m not celebrating this recent Giants offensive explosion — especially games like Monday’s where Cody Ross and Carlos Beltran combine for 12 hits and 6 HR or something.

Why? The Giants current offensive explosion, such as it is, could spell trouble for the Giants in 2012 for a couple reasons. You could call these potential pitfalls “Giants temptations.”

Oversigning Carlos Beltran

The Giants would have been better off not trading for Beltran (so they wouldn’t lose Zach Wheeler, who looks better with every 86 mph fastball from Eric Surkamp). Beltran’s production while in the lineup has looked quite pretty compared to the rest of the position players (kind of like his face, as seen in the photo above), but the Giants need to fight the temptation to once again drink from the fountain of veteran. Beltran will be 35 next season. He doesn’t particularly like playing in cold weather (even admitting as much to reporters one evening). And I’m probably going to end up writing this at least 10 times, but he played 145 games combined in 2009 and 2010.

Would it be a terrible error to sign Beltran for a Huff-like 2-year contract? Maybe not, although the opportunity for expensive disappointment would exist for any team banking on Beltran to play even 250 games combined in 2012-13. That’s why very few teams will want to go over two years. If Beltran continues to hit home runs every once in a while as September mercifully draws to a close, it’s conceivable San Francisco could be the only National League team to do add an extra year on there. That’s why the above subhead reads “oversigning,” not “overpaying.” Beltran doesn’t want to be a DH. The Giants enjoy old seasoned right fielders. Mentally prepare yourselves for 3 years and something like $39MM (with a $4MM buyout in year 4, perhaps).

Re-signing any of the other vets for more than a year … if that

— Cody Ross didn’t have all that bad a year, compared to what should have been expected. He walked more often than last season, his slugging percentage wasn’t that far off (.386) what he put up in ’10 (.413) and his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .270 in ’11 compared to .324 a year ago. His fielding looked worse this year than it has throughout his careeer, but he was the only Giant to play over 100 innings at all three outfield positions.

— Mark DeRosa has played 64 games over two seasons with the Giants, and has only hit 1 HR since coming to San Francisco (and that came last year). He’s great with the media (bonus points) but he freely tells anyone who’ll listen that he isn’t capable of hitting for power anymore (minus slugging percentage points).

— Pat Burrell almost broke the magical 50% mark when it came to homering, walking or striking out this season (currently he has 7 HR, 30 BB and 93 SO in 210 PA), and he’s fun to chat about for many, many, many reasons. One or two reasons related to baseball, even). He’ll go down as one of the most memorable Giants ever who played less than 200 games with the club.

— Andres Torres was never quite himself for a variety of reasons (early heel/foot injury that lingered, ADHD) … or is that who Torres is? One thing that never was lost was Torres’ ability to play center, but he was a mess both offensively and on the bases this season.

— Along with Mike Fontenot and Jeff Keppinger, both 31 and both scrappy slappertons who do what they do decently enough, those are the current Giants position players who aren’t under contract but are over 30. Beltran for two years isn’t what I’d do if I worked for the Giants, smoked cigars indoors and had a gray goatee, but it’s understandable. And I doubt any of the non-Beltran guys previously mentioned will be signed for more than a year. But the Giants need to take a stand for the “Way” Bill Neukom trumpeted when he took over for Peter Magowan:

The Giants must become more athletic

And getting athletic won’t happen by re-upping the players who are 30-plus besides Torres — and Torres missed over 40 games due to injury. Brian Sabean won a World Series and has reached the playoffs on numerous occasions. But at least anecdotally, he fails to consistently target position players based on a sporting landscape where a steady decrease in productivity is normal between the ages of 30 and 34. In Sabean’s world, players figure it out at age 27 or 28, then continue to exist in a time warp until the age of 36, or in some players’ cases (O-Cab), 37.

Sure, older players make great pinch hitters and (if they’re respected) can police a clubhouse, for whatever that’s worth. But they don’t cover as much ground defensively, and better range in the field leads to lower ERAs and shorter innings (and if you believe in things like “momentum” and “mojo,” it would make sense that less time on defense and quicker innings for one’s pitcher makes it that much easier to succeed offensively … like I said, if you believe in those sorts of things). Older players might not get injured more often than their younger counterparts, but their injuries take longer to heal.

Neukom’s so-called “Giants Way” focuses on conditioning and playing hard. In the post-steroids age (okay, post-blatant-steroids age), it pays to have five fast guys in the field (OF, 2B, SS) and three power guys at the corner infield and catcher spots who can be a little slower/older. The fact that the Giants have been getting by with old and/or slow shortstops for so long is a testament to Barry Bonds and the Giants’ fantastic pitching over the past few years.

This franchise has done some great things, but to evolve in today’s game — especially with HGH testing likely coming to MLB starting in 2012 — naturally athletic players should be the fallback. Up until now qualities like consistently putting the bat on the ball, sure-handedness and September experience have been deciding factors when adding players. It’s time for the Giants to consider athleticism to be a known quantity equal to or even more valuable than gritty, gamer-ish intangibles. Make athleticism part of the scouts’ “eye test.” That doesn’t mean building a team full of track stars who can’t play, but a team full of so-called solid players who also happen to be “of a certain age” isn’t what the Giants should focus on.

Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are all 27 or younger. It’s time to build a team that grows along with them, not a team that’s behind the times, holding them back.

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