Okay, maybe a better question is, can the Giants' offense be decent. But I thought it was finally worth looking at now that the Giants appear to be done remaking their offense, with the additions of Mark DeRosa earlier in the offseason and Aubrey Huff on a one-year deal earlier today.
The deal, which is reportedly for $3M, will presumably push Mark DeRosa to left field, with Pablo Sandoval retaining his job as the everyday third baseman. This also presumably returns Juan Uribe, who also re-signed with San Francisco on a one-year deal earlier in the offseason after a relatively big year in 2009, to the utility role that he thrived in last season.
The Giants will now have a different starter on Opening Day at five positions, with DeRosa replacing Fred Lewis, Huff replacing Travis Ishikawa, Freddy Sanchez replacing Emmanuel Burriss at second base, Buster Posey replacing Bengie Molina at catcher, and Nate Schierholtz replacing Randy Winn in right field. There have been talks that the Giants would prefer to add a veteran catcher to start the season, as they have questions about Posey's receiving skills for the beginning of the season. Indications are that he should be around league average offensively, at the very least, next season, so if the Giants want offensive help there then he's probably the best option.
Huff and shortstop Edgar Renteria had their worst offensive performances in 2009, but with a little bit of luck, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants show a somewhat improved offense next season.
While the Giants are certainly putting a good deal of faith in young star Pablo Sandoval to anchor the lineup, it appears that San Francisco is once again going to be depending on veterans, specifically Aaron Rowand, Huff, Renteria, DeRosa and Sanchez, to get runs on the board. While none of these guys seems likely to light the world on fire next season, there's reason to believe that each of these guys could come up with a league average offensive season, maybe better.
Huff was over 30 runs above average offensively as recently as 2008, and he could benefit from a move to the National League, as well as some healthy regression in his BABIP from last season, although the decline in his line drive rate is mildly concerning. Renteria is in a similar position to Huff: not that far removed from being really, really good offensively (22.8 wRAA in 2007), but awfully bad in more recent years (-29.7 wRAA in 2008-2009). Renteria seems less likely to bounce back offensively, but he could benefit from some regression in his BABIP and HR/FB as well, and obviously the standard for offensive production at shortstop is obviously much less than at first base.
Rowand is due for a monster season in 2010, if you look at the pattern of his wRC+ from the past six years: 136, 96, 92, 131, 97, 96. Once every three years, Rowand blows up, and otherwise, he's a slightly below average hitter. Get ready San Francisco, Aaron is due to make up for $19.2M you paid him the past two years. In reality though, Rowand doesn't appear to have much downside, he's likely to maintain performance similar to what he's had the past couple seasons, at least with the bat.
DeRosa and Sanchez are similar in that they both emerged as quality regulars and line drive-happy hitters once given the opportunity, but they're vastly different offensive performers otherwise. DeRosa depends on a patient approach and good power, while Sanchez is one of the better contact hitters in the league, but his career walk rate is below 5% and his ISO is a measly .118 for his career. DeRosa saw a drop in his line drive, contact and walk rates in 2009, but he maintained his power and they aren't any major apparent changes in his approach, so there's reason to believe that he should bounce back somewhat, providing a solid OBP, decent power and pretty good defense, making him a solid everyday left fielder.
As for Sanchez, his dependence on getting balls to drop for hits is rather concerning, especially considering that his contact rate was down to 84% in 2009, the same mark he posted in his horrid 2007 campaign, and that's down from the 88-90% range that he has posted during his good offensive years. Neither of these guys is likely to return to their peak levels, but near league average performance, maybe slightly above average for DeRosa, seems like a reasonable expectation, and it's clearly one that the Giants hold given the money committed to these two.
In these five guys we see five veteran hitters who have had monster seasons in recent memory, each of them has posted a wRC+ over 128 in the past three seasons with the exception of Sanchez, who posted a 123 wRC+ while winning the NL batting title in 2006. So clearly there's some upside in these hitters, even if it's not particularly likely to be reached. It seems more likely that each of these hitters will produce around league average offense, with Huff and DeRosa the most likely to beat that mark, and Renteria and Sanchez the most likely to miss that level.
The young guys, primarily the trio of Sandoval, Posey and Schierholtz, will likely be the place where San Francisco is most likely to find impact bats. Sandoval, 23, has already reached that level, as he posted a .396 wOBA, about 35 runs above average, last season in his first year of full-time duty. Barring a major sophomore slump, something that isn't anticipated by the majority of baseball, it seems likely that Sandoval will be the lone offensive star in San Francisco's lineup.
But Schierholtz and Posey offer glimmers of hope, as their performance in the upper minors has shown. Schierholtz has destroyed AAA to the tune of a .325/.362/.569 line in 835 plate appearances, and while the walk rates are underwhelming, he's also make contact at a pretty good clip. While his scouting reports indicate that he's never really been projected as a star, given his AAA performance it wouldn't be particularly surprising to see him thrive at the major league level, and at the age of 26, he's about to enter what should be his prime. Posey is obviously the bigger name of the two, he's regarded as the best all-around catching prospect in the game, and he managed to hit his way to AAA in 2009, where he posted a .390 wOBA, albeit in limited playing time, only 151 plate appearances. But given his outstanding reputation as a hitting prospect and his track record of fantastic offensive production, it seems that Posey is in position to establish himself as San Francisco's other star position player, along with Panda of course.
I know that it's far from a pefect science, but one way of looking at it is using Baseball Musings' Lineup Analysis and CHONE projections, with a lineup of Posey, Huff, Sanchez, Sandoval, Renteria, Schierholtz, Rowand, DeRosa and the average NL pitcher. It calculates a projected runs per game based on a list of nine players and their "slash" stats (OBP, SLG), and I used the CHONE ones as I mentioned before. The Lineup Analysis says that the lineup above would score 4.55 runs per game, a number that would have put them sixth in the NL and 17th in the majors, an 80 run improvement after the 2009 offense's showing.
Now, obviously the Giants couldn't possibly use the same lineup over the 162-game season, and CHONE projections are just that, projections. So while this is one very flawed way to look at it, it seems quite possible that if the Giants can stay healthy, they'll be able to improve to near the middle of the pack offensively. Will the Giants have a good offense next season? That's pretty unlikely. But it likely won't nearly resemble the completely punchless group that held the Giants back in 2009. So if they can maintain their great run prevention, next season could be a good year by the bay.