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SF Giants Spring 2013: New Energy and a Familiar Question

Spring Training for the San Francisco Giants is getting as predictable as Tommy Lasorda's favorite ethnic food. Or Alex Rodriguez ruining yet another very expensive lie-detector machine.

Really, what would Spring in Scottsdale, Arizona be without Willie Mays and Will Clark roaming the clubhouse and batting cages, casually dispensing wisdom and humor? And once again San Francisco's post-modern Spring in the desert routinely includes an excess of outstanding starting and bullpen arms and a minimum of drama over who will go north in late March.

There's great energy in San Francisco's 2013 Arizona clubhouse: Tim Lincecum's new commitment to excel in a starting role matches his new haircut; Buster Posey is the defending National League League MVP and one of baseball's most dynamic players; and the Giants are one World Series win away from legitimizing the word "dynasty".   

But there's another, painfully familiar, question following the Giants around the greater Phoenix metropolitan area: will San Francisco have enough offense in 2013 to support their outstanding pitching?

That pesky issue was also barking loud going into Spring Training 2012, and included the following sub-questions: a) will Buster Posey rebound from his 2011 injuries (indeed he did); b) can Brandon Belt step up and become a run producer at the plate (he's on the way); c) will Pablo Sandoval avoid injuries (no, but it all worked out); and, d) are there enough run producers in the line-up?

Answer: no, there were not enough run producers in the line-up in 2012. Until Angel Pagan fully took over the lead-off spot, Pablo got healthy again, and the Giants traded for Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence. But that was way back then.

As we enter Spring 2013, this season's "where's the offense?" focus is in left field, traditionally a power and run-crunching position for most MLB teams. Apparently Giants COO and President Larry Baer changed the combination on the team's underground vault at 3rd and King Streets before GM Brian Sabean could sneak out the final $12 million required to get a full-time left fielder.

As a result, the Giants' solution to the left field problem was to inexplicably re-sign the declining Andres Torres for $2 million to platoon with the light hitting Gregor Blanco. Sounds promising, no?

There were dramatically compelling reasons the Giants cut Torres loose after the 2011 season, a short year after winning the 2010 World Series. Let's dust off the record book and revisit Torres' 2011 season as a Giant:
> a .643 OPS in 112 games (lifetime .708 OPS);
> a .312 OBP and a .221 BA (lifetime .320 OBP, .241 BA);
> 95 SO in 348 AB

Torres' 2012 season with the Mets was equally disappointing:
> a .664 OPS in 132 games;
> a .327 OBP and a .230 BA;
> 90 SO in 374 AB.

The odd thing about the idea of platooning Torres and Blanco in left field is that both hit left-handed starters better than they do right-handers. In 2012 Blanco hit .261 and Torres hit .296 off of lefty starters, but when facing right-handed starters Blanco hit .237 and Torres hit .179. That defines the opposite of what you're looking for in a platoon scenario.

Defensively Torres has never been above average in any area except for his throwing arm, which is way below average. Blanco, however, does bring real speed and extraordinary timing in the outfield. His amazing catch in the 7th inning of Matt Cain's June 2012 perfect game is something no Giant fan will ever forget. I rank it in the top three defensive plays in Giants history.

While both Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco each contributed to San Francisco's 2010 and 2012 World Championships, the seemingly eternal ongoing offensive needs of the Giants need to be fixed. And a Blanco-Torres combo in left field doesn't remotely get that job done.

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow has often made the following observation about the evolution of an MLB team each season: the Giants team that starts Spring Training will be different than the one that starts the season on Opening Day. The 25 man roster on Opening Day will be different than the team on the field come August 1st.

And don't be surprised if the post season roster looks different than the August 1st team.

It's the natural cycle of the game– and of teams that evolve right along with the game. At some point this season San Francisco will have to make a mid-course correction in left field. Maybe via a trade or maybe when a young Giants' minor leaguer is called up and claims his spot in the big leagues.

But the question of more offense for the San Francisco Giants in 2013 will have to be answered, and right now the blinking neon arrow is pointing directly at left field.

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