Bochy ready for a spring of transition
Only catcher and shortstop positions set in post-Bonds era
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Manager Bruce Bochy knows that the Giants are headed for a spring of transition, no matter what player moves the team makes.Even if the Giants add a proven hitter or two to bolster their underwhelming lineup, Bochy might spend much of the Cactus League season trying various players at numerous positions, since only catcher Bengie Molina and shortstop Omar Vizquel are assured of occupying their respective spots. "Hopefully, somebody steps up in the spring and takes over a job," Bochy said on Wednesday at baseball's Winter Meetings. "Usually, you go into Spring Training and you're pretty well set. But this is a spring that will be pretty important, I think, for a couple of players." Randy Winn is guaranteed a starting berth in the outfield, but exactly where he'll play is subject to several factors. Winn could move to center field if Nate Schierholtz, who impressed Giants management by hitting .348 in the Arizona Fall League, wins the right-field job. Or Winn could stay in right if the Giants fill the other two spots with some combination of Dave Roberts, Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis and a fresh acquisition. Bochy wouldn't commit to platooning the left-handed-hitting Roberts with the right-handed Davis, although that's an option. The infield is similarly unsettled. Tentatively, Dan Ortmeier has the best chance of claiming the first-base job, but general manager Brian Sabean hasn't ruled out obtaining another first baseman to improve the offense. Kevin Frandsen, who batted .370 in September, and Ray Durham, who hit .218 in a miserable season, will compete at second base. Frandsen could also play third base, the Giants' most noticeable void, unless they find a more established alternative. It's still possible that Pedro Feliz, the free agent who has started at third for most of the last three seasons, could return if he'd agree to a one-year contract. "We have some moving parts, which is a good thing," Bochy said. The Giants lack formidable hitters, which is a bad thing -- and it explains why they've considered dealing promising right-hander Tim Lincecum to Toronto for right fielder Alex Rios. Asked to name his likeliest in-house candidates for the 3-4-5 spots in the batting order, Bochy named Winn, Molina and Durham, with Schierholtz and Rich Aurilia, who'll probably fill a utility role, as possibilities. Such is life in the post-Barry Bonds era. But the Giants must do something to reverse the results of 2007, when they played more one- and two-run games than any other team in the Majors and finished 39-55 in those contests. Bochy reiterated that the Giants will employ such tactics as the stolen base and hit-and-run more often as they adopt a scrappier approach to generating runs. "When you lose a player like Bonds, you're going to be a different ballclub. ... That's not easily replaced," Bochy said. "But one good way to replace it is to change the style of ball you play." Upgrading the bullpen is another way to survive more of those tight decisions. Bochy believes that right-handers Brian Wilson, Tyler Walker and Brad Hennessey can combine to preserve late-inning leads, with Wilson emerging as the top candidate to serve as closer. Wilson recorded six saves in seven late-season chances last season and finished with a 2.28 ERA and .188 opponents' batting average in 24 appearances.
"If he comes in this spring and throws the ball like he did, it's going to be his job [to close]," Bochy said.Opposing left-handers hit .318 and .316 off left-handers Steve Kline and Jack Taschner, respectively, another glaring '07 shortcoming. "Hopefully, that's an aberration," said Bochy, whose first season as San Francisco's manager was doomed by below-average performances from numerous players. The Giants' starting pitchers were mostly exempt from this malaise, ranking fourth in the National League with a 4.24 ERA. But as club management weighs the merits of trading Lincecum, the Giants can't be sure that they'll maintain this asset in 2008. "We have some needs," Bochy said. "And, of course, most clubs need help from the pitching side."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.