This is the view from the deck of my Condo in Scottsdale at about 1PM today, February 9th. Another beautiful Arizona day.
I arrived in Arizona on Wednesday, February 7th, at about 4PM. The weather in San Francisco when I left was in the mid 50's and drizzling. The weather at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix when I arrived was full sunshine and 76 degrees. Quite a bit of difference. Baseball and great weather.....the 2 main reasons I fell in love with the Scottsdale/Phoenix area when I first started coming out here in 1987.
I am really looking forward to spring workouts starting next Thursday on the 15th. Not only has it been 4 1/2 long months since I have seen Major League Baseball, but there are also a lot of new Giants (and returning Giants) that I am very interested in getting a look at. Lots of questions with this year's team, starting with the return of two "old" Giants who were very popular in their first terms with the team.
What kind of shape is a 35 year old Rich Aurilia in? How about Russ Ortiz, is he really thinner with a re-vamped motion that will actually fuel his productive return to MLB? Ortiz was signed for the Major League minimum (raised to $380,000 for 2007), so any contribution he makes to the team will be gravy. Richie however, will need to have a productive year (at least as good as 2006) because he is slated to be a major piece of the 2007 puzzle. Does Richie have a productive year or two left in him? Lots of questions.
Another big acquisition was lead-off man and CF, Dave Roberts. The man has never played more than 129 games in his career. That is one game LESS than Barry Bonds played last year alone.....in a year where he could hardly run for the first half of the season. Can Roberts stay healthy and put up the same type of numbers that he did last year? If so....that is a great improvement at the lead-off position. If not, Randy Winn will have to continue playing out of position both in the field and at bat.
Then there is Ryan Klesko.......another relatively cheap addition that doesn't necessarily have to be relied on to return to his form from a few years back. If he can stay healthy he can be a valuable bat off the bench. If, by some miracle, he can recapture his old form....he can carry a team.
How about Benjie Molina? Were his defensive woes in 2006 just a one year aberration? Can he get back in shape and once again become a Gold Glove catcher.....or has he strictly become a hitter with no mobility on defense? And is his reputation regarding handling of pitchers really deserved? If so he can be a great asset to the Giants VERY young pitching staff.
And speaking of pitching, the addition of Barry Zito was one of the biggest signings in the league this year. Can Zito justify that huge contract and become the staff leader the Giants so desperately need? Can or will he help Noah Lowry to become more consistent and live up to his 2004 hype? How about the return of both Damien Moss and Tyler Walker? Are they done......or can the Giants catch lightning in a bottle with one of them?
Then there are all of the returning Giants. What is up with Matt Morris? Is he done, or was last year really a down year caused by the rib injury that only became public after the year was over? Can Matt Cain become the savior as everyone has been predicting? Can or will Jonathan Sanchez step up and make it very hard for Russ Ortiz to win that 5th spot in the rotation?
What about the bullpen? I read that Armando Benitez threw off the mound for the first time yesterday and that he actually GAINED a few pounds from last year. Gained weight? You gotta be kidding me. That's a great way to take the pressure off of two gimpy knees. Will he even break camp with the team? Other than Benitez and Steve Kline who are both 34.....Vinnie Chulk is the "veteran" of the bullpen at the ripe old age of 28. How will the kids react to a full year of the big leagues? Can Scott Munter get his "bowling ball" sinker back? Can Jack Tashner return to form as a lefty out of the pen? Can Brian Wilson or Billy Sadler step up and become the closer if/when Benitez blows up or is traded? And the big draft choice......will Tim Lincecum "announce his presence with authority" and force the powers that be to make some hard decisions about bringing him up to the bigs so early in his career?
Then we have the position players. Can Pedro Feliz EVER layoff the breaking pitch in the dirt or was the one year contract a mistake that only keeps Kevin Frandsen from playing? And what about Frandsen? Is he as good as I think he is? Or was his performance in the Arizona Fall League where he was 1st or 2nd in virtually every offensive category a fluke?
Can Durham repeat last year and stay relatively healthy now that he is no longer expected to contribute speed to the game? Can Randy Winn show the form that resulted in his getting his long-term contract or was 2005 a contract year fluke? How about that 5th outfielder? Will Linden get enough playing time to show his stuff? Or Ellison? Or will the presence of both Klesko and super-sub Pedro Feliz make a 5th outfielder unnecessary?
And the big question, Barry Bonds. Will he ever sign the amended contract? And when he does.....is he really in as good shape as we have been reading? Will his knees hold up for another full season? Will he come close to his prior production or even his production in the second half of 2006? Or will will get a record and not much else for our money?
Lots of questions. Even more than in a "normal" spring. Not so much as to WHO will be on the 25 man roster (except in 2 or 3 cases) but more a matter of WHAT can we expect from those who show up to Pac Bell Park (sorry...I don't like name changes) on April 3rd. If half of these questions are answered in a positive manner....I think the team will "compete". If none of them are......they will be horrid. If a high percentage are positive....the team could be very good. It's just too early to tell.
I know many fans are expecting crap this year. After living through being a Giants fan in the 70's and 80's.....I just can't go into a season expecting the worst. If I did, I would never have been able to stay a fan for all these years. Lots of questions.......lots of reason for optimism......and also lots of reason for pessimism. Both sides of the spectrum can be well justified. I am really looking forward to the questions to start being answered on Thursday.......and throughout the Spring.......and throughout the regular season for that matter.