Well, it would appear that the Giants are in full rebuild mode, as far as their pitching staff goes at least. The early favorites for the 1st overall draft pick have very little to be optimistic about offensively, but they certainly have a pitching rotation that 1-4 has the potential to be one of the National League’s best in 2008. An anemic offense returns six regulars from the 2007 season (not including Barry Bonds). While the pitching staff may be impressive, wins will be few and far between due to lack of run support. The Giants have just one regular position player under the age of 30 (Dan Ortmeier), so it may be beneficial for them to hold some open auditions over the course of the season for their more promising, young position players. A word to the wise, stay away from most Giants position players, at least until the latter stages of the draft.
The Top Tier:
The San Francisco Giants have no players worthy of a top tier grade, although Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain could elevate with impressive seasons.
The Second Tier:
Tim Lincecum (SP): Tim Lincecum was certainly impressive in his rookie season, showing plenty of flashes of the All-Star talent he possesses. Any pitcher who could post an over .500 record on that team should be commended. Lincecum’s 7-5 record was solid, as was his 4.00 ERA, which should only improve with more experience. His electric stuff helped produce 150 K’s in just 146.1 innings. The lone troubling stat of Lincecum’s was his 65 BB’s. I would expect his ratios to improve since a pitcher traditionally is never more erratic than in their first season. I would also expect Lincecum to put up better numbers than anyone on the staff. Project 13-15 wins, a 3.50 ERA, and over 200 strikeouts from the fireballing righty.
Matt Cain (SP): Few pitchers had worse luck than Matt Cain last season. A 3.65 ERA is certainly better than average and would normally net a fair amount of victories. This, however, was not true for Matt Cain in 2007. He was saddled with a putrid 7-16 record due to the ineptness of the Giants offense. While the Giants offense certainly hasn’t gotten any better, I find it hard to believe that a pitcher could be that unlucky two seasons in a row. He K’ed 163 in exactly 200 innings, but walked 79 in 2007. If Cain can maintain or improve upon his ERA and cut down on his walks (which his career trends would suggest will happen), I can easily see him winning up to 15 games in 2008.
The Third Tier:
Randy Winn (OF): Randy Winn rebounded in a big way in the 2007 season, and was probably the Giants’ most consistent producer offensively. Winn hit .300 on the nose and added 14 HR’s, 65 RBI, and 15 SB’s. Winn would make a great 3rd or at least 4th OF option in deeper leagues. He fills all of the categories admirably and is a true roto player. While it may be true that Winn produces best when he’s a secondary option and has protection in the lineup, somebody will have to produce to some level on this Giants team. I feel like Winn should come close to repeating his 2007 statistics in ‘08.
Bengie Molina ( C ): Molina was surprisingly good at the plate in 2007 and his numbers actually improved from the previous season, despite a move to a pitcher’s ballpark. While he may in fact be the slowest man alive, he puts up highly impressive power numbers for a catcher. He accumulated 19 HR’s, 81 RBI, and a nice .433 SLG. He’s also gone against conventional wisdom by continuing to improve well into his 30’s. Is there something in the water in San Francisco? I know what you’re thinking, but judging by his body type I’d say Molina’s done it the Babe Ruth way: Beer and Hot Dogs. Expect him to maintain his .275 average and add at least 15 HR’s and 75 RBI in 2008.
Noah Lowry (SP): Noah Lowry, while unheralded amongst the rest of the talented Giants pitching staff, was without a doubt the Giants best pitcher in 2007. He somehow was able to achieve a 14-8 record and did it while maintaining a nice 3.92 ERA. I’d have Lowry higher than the third tier, but there a few things about him that trouble me. Over the course of his 4 year career, he’s been wildly inconsistent. His ERA has fluctuated greatly, as high as 4.74 and as low as 3.78. The same is true for his win total. One stat that would suggest a downturn for Lowry was his 87/87 K/BB ratio. Putting that many guys on base allows too many easy runs to score, and this is particularly troublesome due to the lack of run support he’s likely to receive. For now I give Lowry a third tier grade, with the potential to actually get worse in 2008. For now project a modest 10-12 wins with 4.50 ERA.
Ray Durham (2B): Durham has been a tough fantasy player to gage over the last 4 or 5 seasons, but I think it’s likely that he’s hit the wall this time. Durham posted nearly identical numbers in 2004 and 2005, and it seemed as though he leveled off at .280-15-65 with a handful of steals. Durham came out of nowhere in 2006, however, to post the best numbers of his career. He put up a .293 average along with 26 HR’s and 93 RBI, not to mention an excellent SLG of .538. Durham, however, was awful in 2007. He hit a paltry .218 with a .295 OBP. His power numbers also dipped dramatically as he accumulated just a .343 SLG with 11 HR’s and 71 RBI. At the very least his SB total improved to 10. The thing about Durham, though, is that he’s been counted out before. He proved the naysayers wrong in 2006, but does he have it in him again?
Brian Wilson (RP): It seems as though Wilson has been anointed the new closer in San Fran. He only has two seasons of major league experience, but he was quite impressive in 2007 especially. In ‘07 he posted a 2.28 ERA and K’ed 18 in 24 innings. It’s hard to say how effective he could be, but the Giants have been fishing for a closer ever since the retirement of Robb Nenn. As with many first time closers I’d expect him to struggle a bit, plus his save chances will probably be few and far between. A closer is a closer, however, and I’m sure that he’ll be owned in most leagues if he can hang onto the job.
Barry Zito (SP): Yikes! Do you think that monster contract might have been a mistake? I guess that’s just the way of major league baseball nowadays, you’ve got to grossly overpay to fill a need, but I digress. Zito was a massive disappointment in 2007. All signs actually pointed to an improvement for Zito in ‘07. He was making a lateral move to another pitcher’s ballpark in AT&T Park and he was moving to the NL where he was seldom seen before, and where there’s no designated hitter. It seems as though the high expectations got the best of him as he posted just an 11-13 record which was complemented by a below average 4.53 ERA. His strikeout number decreased once again, going from 171 to 151 to 131 over last three seasons. He also walked an alarming 83 in 196.2 innings. The one thing in Zito’s favor is that it appears he’s hit rock bottom. There’s nowhere to go, but up, and if he must go up, then there’s definitely a possibility that he can reach his past greatness. It will be interesting to see how close he can get to his former Cy Young form.
Aaron Rowand (OF): It was much too difficult to fit Rowand into a tier. He has a number of things going for and against him. He had a career year in ‘07 hitting .309 with 27 HR’s, and 89 RBI. He also posted a .374 OBP and .515 SLG in an All-Star season. The problem with this, though, is that it’s hard to say whether or not those numbers were an aberration. It certainly isn’t uncommon for a player to put up those types of numbers in a contract year. He’s also moved out of the matchbox that is Citizen’s Bank Ballpark and into the vast, spacious AT&T Park. While Rowand has never been “the man” in an offense, he will have to be precisely that in San Francisco in ‘08. It will be interesting to see how he responds. He’s always been surrounded by great talent, whether it be Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko with the White Sox, or Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley with the Phillies. It’s certainly a possibility that Rowand could rise to the challenge and put up huge numbers, but I think it’s more likely that the absence of Barry Bonds and any protection in general will affect him adversely. Only time will tell.
Merkin Valdez (RP): While Valdez may not technically be considered a prospect anymore at age 27, his lack of major league experience qualifies him for this section. Valdez will be coming off Tommy John surgery, and there has certainly been a fair share of successful Tommy John recovery stories in recent years. He’s been highly touted in the system for years, but has yet to get his big chance. Due to the lack of depth in the bullpen and the lack of a proven closer, it’s quite possible that Valdez will get a good look this season. At this point, he’s a dark horse candidate to secure the closer’s role at some point during the season. If he’s able to impress, he could become a hot pickup in fantasy this season.