The Giants biggest strength got even stronger last season when they made the trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for left handed starting pitcher Matt Moore. Moore adds to a staff that includes top five MLB starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner and 2015 off season free agent signings Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Free agent closer Mark Melancon (1.64 earned run average, 47 saves, NL leading 67 games finished in 2016) comes over on a lucrative deal as a free agent from the Washington Nationals. Outfielder Angel Pagan, coming off a productive 2016 season- albeit one that was shortened due to injury- was not retained, instead opening the door for Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson to earn the everyday job in left field. Backup catcher Nick Hundley comes in to give the team a reliable backup to star and franchise icon Buster Posey.
The Giants bullpen was among the worst in all of baseball last season. Down the stretch of the season, they seemed to cough away game after game, something that had to frustrate the likes of Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija. A team that seemed well on its way to a National League West division title went just 35-44 throughout the months of July, August, and September. They had to win their last four regular season games, including the last three against the NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, just to earn a road NL Wild Card game against the New York Mets.
Adding left handed pitcher Will Smith in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers was a start to correcting the problem. The Giants' philosophy of continuing to trust in their own players, either home grown or previously acquired, proved to not be a wise one when it came to their relief pitching this past season. Pitchers Sergio Romo, Santiago Castilla, and Javier Lopez, all a huge part of the team's three World Series Championships, simply did not get the job done last season. Melancon is a tremendous upgrade, with 2016 rookie Derek Law looking to build on a fairly strong campaign. Holdovers include right handers Hunter Strickland and George Kontos, with left hander Josh Osich coming off of mixed results in his first full big league season. If I was the Giants, I would have invested in one additional proven right handed reliever, perhaps a Joe Blanton, Neftali Feliz, or Daniel Hudson. They did, however, bring in David Hernandez, Neil Ramirez, and Bryan Morris, all of whom could help form a more improved version of their biggest 2016 weakness.
The Giants top four starting pitchers pitched a total of 848 innings and struck out 794 batters in 2016. Having that type of quality starting pitching is nearly impossible to find and the Giants should consider themselves in very good shape because of it. Bumgarner and Cueto were in top form in 2016, finishing with ERA's of 2.74 and 2.79, respectively. Samardzijia had his moments last season and Moore almost single handedly carried the Giants past the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series. Veteran Matt Cain keeps with the philosophy of having faith in your own as he is the favorite to be the Giants fifth starter. Left hander Ty Blach, who pitched eight shutout innings the second to last game of last season against the Dodgers, is also under consideration. Cain has not been the same over the last four seasons, partially because of injuries. But he has been downright awful during the past two, pitching to ERA's over 5.00 each season.
The Giants are counting on Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and first baseman Brandon Belt to carry an offense that could have potentially used an extra bat. Hope is that all three can at least drive in 80 runs like they did last season and at least the .275 they did (Posey hit .288). Right fielder Hunter Pence has been very consistent when he has been healthy, but unfortunately has not been over the past two seasons so it would be good for the Giants to certainly get a full season from Pence. Center fielder Denard Span had a very down season and the Giants are going to need him to perform closer to his career batting average of .281 and on base plus slugging of .742. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez was acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Twins last season and finished off a breakout season, hitting .288 with a .758 OPS and 16 home runs.
Second baseman Joe Panik hit a dismal .239 in 2016 after two seasons of batting over .300. Left field will be interesting for the Giants, with Parker and Williamson likely to platoon. Combining their minor and major league stats from last season, they hit 38 home runs in 2016. The lineup I would use for the Giants would be Span CF, Crawford SS, Posey C, Belt 1B, Pence RF, Nunez 3B, Parker/ Williamson LF, Panik 2B. 2016 NL Wild Card hero Conor Gillaspie leads a decent bench which includes veteran Jimmy Rollins, backup catcher Hundley, Gorkys Hernandez, and Kelby Tomlinson. Michael Morse, Justin Ruggiano, and Gordon Beckham are all looking to crack the roster as well.
A dark horse candidate to make the Giants starting rotation is top pitching prospect Tyler Beade. Along with Blach and left hander Andrew Suarez, the Giants have some quality starting pitching depth which could help out this season. Another benefit of having Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzijia, and Moore is how the younger pitchers could all likely spend the season in Triple- A. Infielder Christian Arroyo could be ready this season, but I think the Giants should let him dominate the high minors instead of risk his development. Left hander Steven Okert has great stuff and could possibly gain a spot in the team's bullpen to start the season.
The Giants may have the best four starting pitchers in all of major league baseball. Perhaps some in New York and Chicago may disagree but the debate is real. What scares me about the Giants is the doubts about where they will get their offensive production from outside of Posey, Crawford, and Belt. Panik and Span need to be the players they were prior to last season and Pence needs to stay on the field the entire season like he did in 2013 and 2014. The bullpen will be better, especially if a couple of the non roster invitees can contribute. I like the Giants, but I cannot commit to them, in spite of their starting pitching. I think the Las Vegas number of 87.5 is reasonable, but it is more of a best case scenario. I am holding out hope on the Giants until I see that their offensive players are better in 2017 than I saw in 2016. If that happens, they can win the NL West and once again be a force in the postseason. I have the Giants at 83-79, third place behind the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers.