The San Francisco Giants, reigning World Series champions, enter 2013 looking very much like the team that ended 2012 soaked in champagne and dancing around the locker room. The team returns its entire rotation, the core of its lineup, and even most of its bullpen. The Giants even reached into the past with their biggest offseason signing -- bringing back 35-year-old Andres Torres (a member of the team from 2009-2011 before being traded to the Mets) on a one-year deal. While the Dodgers, their NL West rivals, revamped a lineup with big-name stars and high-priced free agents, the Giants made far smaller headlines and quietly re-signed Marco Scutaro. They also added Chad Gaudin to their relief corps.
For all their real baseball success, the Giants aren't exactly teeming with Fantasy All-Stars (outside of catcher Buster Posey, who should be the first catcher taken in most drafts). Last season, for instance, the Giants hit the fewest home runs in all of baseball. And that was with a juiced-up Melky Cabrera (now with the Blue Jays) in the lineup for 113 games. The deadline acquisition of Hunter Pence, who has five straight seasons of 20 or more home runs, should give the lineup a bit of a full-season power boost. And Pablo Sandoval, who has produced seasons of 25 and 23 home runs, was limited to just 108 games in 2012 thanks to a broken hand and strained hamstring. The darkhorse for power, however, could end up being first baseman Brandon Belt, who had a 1.052 OPS over 189 minor league games before making the leap to the majors in 2011. Granted, he hit seven home runs in what was essentially full-time play last year, but Belt is still young (24) and 2013 will only be his fourth season of professional baseball.
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Thanks to the out-of-nowhere flop produced by Tim Lincecum last year (10-15, 5.18 ERA, 1.49 WHIP), the Giants' rotation looks a little shakier than usual. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner will anchor the rotation at the top, followed by Lincecum -- who we still scratch our heads about, as there has been no real reason given for his sudden downturn last year -- the resurgent Ryan Vogelsong (a 3.05 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in his two seasons since retuning from Japan, but a messy track record before he went East) and Barry Zito, who shows flashes of brilliance without warning at various points during the season, but has managed a 4.00-plus ERA every year since joining the Giants in 2007.
The bullpen should be a source of strength again. Brian Wilson, who missed 2012 with Tommy John surgery, has departed, but the team has a borderline-elite closer in Sergio Romo, and a nice set of complements in Santiago Casilla (who saved 25 games for the Giants last year before giving way to Romo), Jeremy Affeldt and Gaudin. Even 27-year-old George Kontos emerged as a high-strikeout, low-ratio middle reliever.
Sleeper ... Brandon Belt, first baseman
Belt has a .259 career average, along with 16 home runs and 15 steals in 598 MLB at-bats. All very unappealing to the average Fantasy drafter. But Belt had a .343 batting average and 1.052 OPS in 670 minor league at-bats before his 2011 callup. He was bounced back and forth from left field to first base in 2011, before settling at first last season. While Belt saw gains in average and steals last year, his power actually dipped -- going from nine home runs in 187 at-bats in 2011, to seven home runs in 411 at-bats last year. But he showed flashes of his would-be greatness, with four home runs in June and three in September. He will likely lose starts again to Buster Posey at first base, but with Cabrera gone and the Giants going with Torres and Gregor Blanco in left field, there's a chance manager Bruce Bochy just shifts him to the outfield on those days instead. If Belt gets regular at-bats, and isn't taken out of the playing-every-day rhythm when he has to yield first base to Posey, he could get into a nice groove and rediscover his power swing from the minors. Even if he doesn't, though, Belt has shown he can hit for average, contribute in steals and manage plenty of doubles, which should produce an overlooked player who returns plenty of value for his late-round selection.
Bounceback candidate ... Tim Lincecum, starting pitcher
It seems almost dirty and way too obvious to put him here, but there aren't many other candidates on the Giants -- Sandoval was hurt and nearly everyone else had decent enough seasons. Lincecum, though, was a terribly frustrating enigma in 2012. He entered the year with a 2.98 career ERA and two Cy Young Awards. He produced a 5.18 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 186 innings. If you're looking for a silver lining, it's that Lincecum still managed to strike out a batter per inning. And he made 30 starts for the sixth consecutive year. But his home run, walk and hit rates surged. And then there was his fastball. He lost 2 mph on the once-reliable pitch. At 28, this was ... unexpected. And unwelcome. Usually, these leaps in numbers indicate some sort of injury. But either Lincecum is insane and didn't tell anyone about pain he must have been experiencing all year long (he was bad right from the start), or there is some other reason, which we have yet to discover. There were plenty of theories, but none were ever confirmed. So we head into 2013 with the hope that whatever threw him off in 2012 has passed, and Lincecum returns to his old form in 2013. Unfortunately, because he has traditionally been pretty bad in spring training (a 5.04 career spring ERA), we will have to wait until the season starts to know for sure if Lincecum is truly back to his old self. If you believe in him and want to take a risk, there could be no bigger payoff in 2013 than a late-mid-round/$8 Lincecum returning to his old self and producing a ton of Fantasy value.
Buyer beware ... Marco Scutaro, second baseman
Marco Scutaro had a career year in 2012, hitting .306 (a career high), with 32 doubles, seven home runs, nine steals and 74 RBI. The 37-year-old went batty after a deadline trade sent him from the Rockies to the Giants, hitting .362 with an .859 OPS in 61 games with San Francisco. He even took home NLCS MVP honors. And then we rode that momentum a little too far. Scutaro went from an NL-only middle infield fixture to a legitimate starter in mixed leagues. This was fine for the second half of 2012, but this perception of Scutaro as having mixed league value carried over to 2013, and it may be overrating him a little too much. Scutaro's upside is a .275 average with 30 doubles, eight home runs and five steals. While it helps that he has shortstop and second base eligibility -- two positions that are relatively shallow this season -- owners in mixed leagues (especially Roto formats) with fewer than 16 teams shouldn't really be thinking of Scutaro as much more than a desperation play late. He won't hurt your team, but that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of him as a standard contributor.
While the Giants have flipped some solid prospects in trades for Pence and Scutaro recently, they still have an intriguing -- if not promising -- group of players who could have varying degrees of impact. The farm system is anchored by Kyle Crick, a 20-year-old former first-round pick who has drawn comparisons to Matt Cain. He will head back to the lower levels of the minors in 2013 and probably won't make any kind of impact until 2014, at the earliest. ... Gary Brown was the team's 2010 first-rounder and while he took a step back in 2012 at Double-A (average, power and speed all dropped), he still projects as a solid major leaguer with 40-steal potential, a little bit of power and a high average. He'll start in Triple-A this season, but if the Blanco/Torres combo fizzles, Brown could be a mid-season add to the San Francisco roster. He's got tremendous keeper appeal. ... Heath Hembree's name was briefly thrown around when Brian Wilson was injured last year, but the Pacific Coast League was rather unkind to the 24-year-old, as he finished with a 4.19 ERA (but encouragingly low 1.16 WHIP). Hembree throws in the high 90s and could be part of the Giants' bullpen by June. ... Roger Kieschnick is a big power hitter who hit 15 home runs in 58 games in the minors last year, in a season cut short after he fractured his shoulder running into an outfield wall. He may be closer to the majors than Brown and could be a nice sleeper keeper pick.
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