Here is a link to my Thursday column. The full text runs below:
Time to pay our respects to the Giants. They deserve respect.
They mattered almost all season. They showed courage and brought drama to their fans even at the end when their roster looked minor league. They matter right now as a contender in 2016. This team always matters.
It is not my job to make excuses for the Giants, but it doesn’t take a genius to notice they lost significant players to significant injuries. This is not an excuse. Certainly Bruce Bochy doesn’t make excuses. But still.
Hunter Pence, essential to the Giants, was hardly a factor because of injuries. One assumes he’ll be ready in the spring, but that injury to his oblique which kept him from swinging a bat makes you wonder.
The Giants lost Brandon Crawford when they most needed him in September after he got hit on the leg with a pitch. He also injured his oblique. Crawford may be the best shortstop in the major leagues. Great fielder. Significant hitter with power. Essential to the Giants. As essential as Pence. Frankly as essential as Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. A cornerstone Giant for years to come.
You lose Crawford and Pence you have trouble.
Same goes for Joe Panik even though his replacement Kelby Tomlinson is a good player. The Giants lost the middle of their infield at a significant moment of the season. Most teams do that and fold, don’t force the Dodgers to sweat into the final six games of the season.
The Giants are the toughest, most determined team in the big leagues. It’s who they are.
The Giants lost two leadoff hitters for long periods — Angel Pagan and Nori Aoki.
They lost Matt Cain to injury. Some might say they didn’t lose Cain because they never had him. Will they ever have him again as a dominant pitcher? Or will he always be fighting his release point and giving up monster home runs and handing the ball to Bochy and trudging off the mound?
The Giants lost other players I won’t name. I’m running out of space.
But the Giants’ fall — and it was a fall — wasn’t all about injuries and fate and bad luck. Their fall involved bad planning. Hard to say the Giants planned badly as they usually plan better than everyone, have the best group of planners in baseball. But the Giants planned badly in one area.
Had Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans planned better, the injuries might not have devastated. The Giants went into the season depending on Cain, Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson. In retrospect, that plan was folly.
No need to pile on, but Cain was coming off elbow surgery, Lincecum hadn’t been good in a while and was remaking his delivery yet again, and Hudson was 100 years old. Sixty percent of the starting pitchers had big issues. You don’t repeat as World Series champs with that many question marks in the rotation. It got so bad the Giants had to press Ryan Vogelsong into the rotation. Sad to see that gallant competitor getting his brains beaten out.
With the Giants it’s all about starting pitching. When the template works, they somehow get into the playoffs — when they actually get into the playoffs — and then the pitching kicks in and the Giants morph into superheroes. But they never had enough pitching for the superhero phase to happen.
Where do they go from here?
They have a good team. We’re talking the non-starting pitchers, although they may need a closer. The infield is admirable — Brandon Belt, Panik, Crawford and Matt Duffy. Posey catches. Enough said.
Assume Pence is healthy. Terrific right fielder. After him the Giants have things to consider. Pagan is not a reliable center fielder. Excellent player when he plays, but he no longer plays enough games. The Giants need a center fielder. And I don’t mean Gregor Blanco, who’s not an everyday player.
Aoki may be suitable in left. He did well as a leadoff hitter before getting beaned. He is a substandard fielder. You saw him doing the hula on high fly balls. Marlon Byrd, if they keep him, is a bench player.
But, really, the Giants need starting pitchers. Crux of the issue. After Bumgarner who do they have? Even with Bumgarner who do they have? He took on such a pitching load the past two seasons he frankly seemed exhausted in the Tuesday night showdown with Clayton Kershaw which never became a showdown. It was a smack down. He needs help.
Mike Leake was supposed to make a difference. He didn’t. It may have been one of those things. He’s good — not great — and it’s possible the Giants can’t afford to lose him. He’s a free agent after this season and will get a huge salary bump from his current $3.5 million. He may be back. Hard to read Sabean’s mind.
Jake Peavy was a warrior at season’s end and has another year left on his contract. Chris Heston is full of potential. So a pitching core exists. But the Giants need a stud, someone like Bumgarner. Bumgarner is Pitcher No. 1. They need Pitcher No. 1A.
Take a step back. Notice the Giants will discard lots of salary after this season. Lincecum $18 million. Hudson $12 million. Marco Scutaro — remember him? — $6 million. Cain, by the way, will cost the Giants $20 million a year in 2016 and 2017. Barry Zito contract, anyone?
So, the Giants have money. They will look at free-agent starting pitchers. Let me recommend Scott Kazmir, great competitor, lefty, winner. And isn’t it interesting he was right across the bay and the Giants needed a starter and they didn’t get him? Probably didn’t even talk to the A’s about him. Why can’t the Giants and A’s just get along?
Other noteworthy free-agent starting pitchers the cash-flush Giants might consider: Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, Jaime Garcia. And, oh yes, Zack Greinke can opt out of his Dodgers contract. Wouldn’t that be a laugh riot, Greinke coming to San Francisco?
Sabean and Evans are doing their due diligence, as they like to say. This offseason they’d better be extremely diligent. It’s due.
Now, I want to come back to the respect part of this column. It, too, is due. The Giants mattered until finally they no longer mattered late on Tuesday night. Some teams never matter. The Giants get credit for taking their best shot. For having a best shot to take.
A proud team lives with failure. Proud fans live with failure. Failure is part of every team’s landscape. And when it’s all over, when they put away the bats and the balls, the proud players and the proud fans wipe their hands across their mouths and move on.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.