Scouting the competition: The Giants

Here's a look at the San Francisco Giants. Will the Braves ask if they are interested in Edgar Renteria to replace Omar Vizquel? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has more.

The Barry Bonds era is now over in San Francisco, and Giants' executives now have the duty of constructing this team in a different and younger way. But to turn around a 71-91 record may take time, more than Giants' fans are going to want to wait.

This team needs to make some critical decisions, and with almost a third ($29 million) coming off the $90 million dollar budget the Giants will have the ability to make some major moves.

Ironically the biggest problem on this team in 2007 was a lack of power and run production. The Giants were 14th in the National League in batting average (.254) and home runs (131), 15th in runs scored (683) and on base percentage (.322), and 16th in slugging percentage (.387). And now they have to go out and replace the so-called home run leader in Bonds.

Bengie Molina was a solid free agent addition last year. General Manager Brian Sabean called Molina the Giants' MVP in 2007 after he hit .276 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI. While catcher is a strength, there are free agents at first base, shortstop, third base, and of course left field.

Ryan Klesko had the majority of starts at first base, but he hit only .260 with 6 home runs and 44 RBI. The Giants may turn to Dan Ortmeier, who started 20 games there late in the year, to replace Klesko.

It'll be a tough call on shortstop Omar Vizquel, who will turn 41 next April and has hinted at retirement. He still can play well in the field, but it does not help the Giants' goal of getting younger by bringing him back.

If they search for a younger player, the Giants may turn to the Braves and discuss Edgar Renteria. He's a solid veteran who would fit perfectly in the San Francisco lineup and infield. The Giants could have a starting pitcher available, and that's what the Braves are going to be looking for this winter.

Pedro Feliz had a decent season, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 72. But he hit only .253 and had a horrible OBP for a third baseman (.290). Feliz turns 33 next April, so he might be looking for one last big contract. The Giants have not ruled out bringing back both Feliz and Vizquel, but expect them to scour the free agent and trade markets for potential upgrades.

There have been rumors the Giants might be players in the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes. They obviously have a lot of money on hand, but if the entire $29 million went to one player that could seriously curtail the ability to further improve the overall roster – unless owner Peter Magowan raises the payroll.

The Giants have options to replace Bonds in left. They could move right fielder Randy Winn or center fielder Dave Roberts there. Both are veteran players (Roberts will be 36 and Winn turns 34 next summer), but they will both be in the mix for outfield jobs next season.

Rajai Davis was acquired for starter Matt Morris from Pittsburgh late in the season and made quite an impression. He made 31 starts in center field and hit .282 with 17 stolen bases in 142 at bats. It could give him an edge on one of the outfield jobs, particularly center field.

But the Giants could turn to former Brave Andruw Jones to roam center field. It has also been rumored they may have some interest in Jones, who could be a big bat in the middle of the lineup to replace Bonds.

Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz are two younger players who will also get consideration for the outfield, but the Giants need to bring in at least one veteran player to help that area.

The pitching staff is pretty decent, but it might have to be used to help the offense in a potential trade. Barry Zito had a better second half and the Giants are encouraged he'll live up to his big-money status. Matt Cain was 7-16 in 32 starts, but he had a 3.65 ERA and pitched 200 innings.

Noah Lowry is the prime trade suspect. He was 14-8 in 26 starts but had to miss the last month with a bone spur in his elbow. The Giants chose to not operate on Lowry, and he is optimistic he'll be ready to go next spring. If he is medically cleared, Lowry could be the top target by teams looking for pitching. The Braves could have an interest in Lowry if the Giants want to discuss Edgar Renteria. Lowry, if healthy, could be the perfect third starter behind John Smoltz and Tim Hudson.

Lowry may be available because the Giants do not want to trade Cain or Tim Lincecum, the hot shot prospect who thrived in his rookie season. Lincecum was 7-5 in 24 starts with an ERA of 4.00, but he had 150 strikeouts in 146.1 innings pitched. The Giants believe Lincecum and Cain are both top-of-the-rotation starters, so it's doubtful they'd part with either pitcher.

Russ Ortiz is gone (again), so the Giants will have a little competition for the bottom rotation spots. Kevin Correia moved to the rotation late in the season and did well (2.54 ERA), so he'll be a leading candidate. Jonathan Sanchez has outstanding stuff and if Lowry is traded he could also move into the rotation. Travis Blackley and Pat Misch are additional candidates.

The bullpen looks to be in decent shape, despite blowing fourteen leads after the seventh inning. Brian Wilson throws gas and had a 2.28 ERA in 24 games, with six saves and nine holds late in the season. He may get first crack at the closer's job, although Brad Hennessey (19 saves and a 3.42 ERA) did a decent job in that role last season. Tyler Walker, the Giants' closer in 2005 (23 saves) will also get a shot after a decent 15-game stint in the final five weeks of the season.

Steve Kline, Jack Taschner Vinnie Chulk, Randy Messenger, and Scott Atchison provide decent depth, but expect the Giants to possibly bring in another veteran to this group.

As for the Giants' free agents, Atlanta could think about bringing Ryan Klesko back as a backup to first baseman Mark Teixeira. Pedro Feliz is a versatile player, able to play first and third and the outfield. The Braves might be tempted to bring him in for the right price. Feliz might be a good insurance policy for Chipper Jones and a decent bat off the bench.

The Giants will be a very interesting team to watch this winter. They have a lot of money available and have a lot of needs. It will also be worthwhile to see if the Braves talk to the Giants regarding Edgar Renteria, who would be a perfect fit in a revamped San Francisco lineup. If Noah Lowry is healthy, he'd have to be attractive to the Braves to fill that third spot in the rotation. The Braves may push for Cain, but Lowry is more realistic. Would a Renteria and Chuck James for Noah Lowry and Vinnie Chulk deal be possible?

Pending Free Agents: Barry Bonds, Pedro Feliz, Ryan Klesko, Mike Matheny, Omar Vizquel, Russ Ortiz, Ricardo Rincon, Tim Worrell

Eligible for Arbitration: Brad Hennessey, Vinnie Chulk, Kevin Correia, David Cortes, Tyler Walker


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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