Three Questions – San Francisco Giants

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

I paid a lot for Pablo Sandoval last spring, WTF?

Yeah that was a tough one to swallow.  He certainly didn’t come close to expectations, but at the same time he wasn’t the season killer he is made out to be, either.  Season killers are multiple month injuries on April 12th.  You can overcome guys who underperform expectations, but still play 152 games.  Plus it isn’t like his season was a complete & utter disaster, he had streaks of excellence mixed in, namely his April and August where he posted 1.008 and .907 OPS marks, respectively.

In many leagues, Sandoval’s down season (.268/.323/.409 w/13 HRs) will actually create a buying opportunity as owners overreact to what essentially amounts to a sophomore slump at age 23.  Most guys aren’t even in the big leagues at 23 and Sandoval has 1400+ plate appearances under his belt.   We have seen the best of Sandoval and we have seen the worst of Sandoval and with his price being driven by the latter, now is the time to invest.  In the SiriusXM/FSTA Draft during their conference out in Las Vegas on Monday, he was taken in the 8th round (101st overall) of a 13-team mixed league.  Last year he was a 3rd-4th round pick.

Third base is still pretty thin so his value won’t completely plummet, but I would consider that 8th round value to be the high end of where he will go in drafts so you might be able to get him a few rounds later depending on your league.  Once you get past the top 10 of Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Aramis Ramirez, Pedro Alvarez, Martin Prado, Michael Young and Casey McGehee then I think Sandoval is just as good of a pick as the other guy.

He won’t offer nearly as much power as Mark Reynolds, but his overall profile is much more stable.  He doesn’t carry the age/injury risk of Scott Rolen & Chipper Jones and factoring in reasonable improvement regression, he should be better than them even if they manage to stay healthy.  Bottom line is you should pay for a guy hitting .300 with 18 home runs and 75+ runs scored and driven in, but be willing to go the extra buck or two for the potential he has as a 24-year old still coming into his own.

Andres Torres was a prototypical fantasy All-Star last year, what about 2011?

At 33, we’re not dealing with a growth profile here.  Torres’s 570 plate appearances last year eclipsed his career total by 115 spread across parts of five seasons.  That said, he gave us a taste of 2010 in 170 plate appearances in 2009 when he had six home runs and six stolen bases along with eight(!) triples.  After an amazing July, he sputtered down the stretch no doubt suffering some fatigue from his first whole season.  For 2011, it is going to be all about cost.

I’m confident he can put together another solid power/speed season as a “glue guy” for any fantasy team, but is the price tag going to be that of a glue guy or second tier fantasy star?  Early returns are mixed.  His ADP (average draft position) at one popular mock draft sites is off the charts ridiculous.  He is checking in as the 35th outfielder off the board (116th overall) ahead of guys like Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells and Nick Markakis.  While I said I don’t doubt he can repeat 2010, drafting him ahead of those guys means he has to repeat for me to get proper returns on my investment.

In the industry draft I mentioned earlier, he went in the 20th round (250th overall) which actually hits the other end of the spectrum as a great value.  I doubt he will go that late in most drafts, but anything before 15th-16th round is really ramping up the risk on your end.  He is a great story who has overcome his ADHD to have success in the big leagues, but you still have to remember he is a 33-year old strikeout machine with solid speed in a lineup that is still only decent at best.

Look for a .260-76-12-55-22 line which has value, but let your team construction dictate if he is a fit or not.  If you have a lot of high risk/high reward youth on the team, then Torres is a great stabilizing vet who’s downside isn’t  going to kill you.  But if you have a veteran-laden team on offense, then bet on the upside of a Travis Snider or Logan Morrison before taking a low ceiling Torres.

Is there anyone off the radar who could make an impact for the reigning Champions?

Yes there is and it is someone who has already been covered in depth here, first baseman/left fielder Brandon Belt, who was my favorite player to watch that Arizona Fall League back in November.  As presently constructed, the Giants lineup is essentially Posey, Sandy and Six Old Dudes.  Now those old dudes came through huge last year, especially in the playoffs and helped bring home a title, but older players aren’t bastions of health.  Injuries create opportunities which is where someone who is just about ready for the big leagues, like Belt, comes into play.

The reason Belt now has left fielder attached to his defensive description is because first base, his normal position, is pretty well sealed up for the time being.  Aubrey Huff parlayed his excellent 2010 season into a deserved contract and though he is 34, he has averaged 152 games per season since his age 26 season.  In that time, he has played fewer than 150 just once.  That said, age is fickle.  But the real opportunity could come in left field where Pat Burrell was something of a savior for that lineup in 96 games last year but is neither young (34), agile (-39.7 career UZR) or super healthy of late (122 & 120 GP the last 2 years).

Belt was a breakout prospect last year crossing three levels before heading to Arizona where he continued to stay hot.  Only 13 of his 136 games came at AAA-Fresno so he will start the 2011 season down there to get some more seasoning so he isn’t someone who should be drafted as anything other than a minor leaguer right now, but don’t be surprised if he earns an early summer call-up to spark that offense.

Make no mistake that the Giants won the World Series because of their pitching and that remains their overwhelming strength for 2011.  The offense is far from perfect and the veterans will have to produce with Posey if the team expects to contend out west and if not, GM Brian Sabean will have to find guys who can with Belt being the best minor league option for the Giants.

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