Defending champions going home instead of playoffs

BY foxsports • September 29, 2011

Bruce Bochy made no plans for October. He fully planned to be working.

Instead, he will be busy in the coming days and weeks with player evaluations, sit-downs with his returning coaching staff, organizational meetings and a visit to the Arizona Fall League.

The reigning World Series champions are headed home early this year after high hopes of another special postseason run.

There were devastating injuries to Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, not to mention all the others, and an offense that couldn't produce the clutch hit that carried this club to walkoff wins and an improbable title last fall. Pitching performances were wasted because of quiet bats.

Forget the victory parade through the city for thousands to celebrate. Not this year.

Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean discussed what went wrong Thursday and what they plan to change moving forward - those sparkly World Series rings shining from their right ring fingers as a reminder of what went oh so right only 11 months ago.

''To win 86 games is an accomplishment in itself. Because we were challenged all year,'' Sabean said. ''So I give all due credit to the manager, the coaching staff and the players themselves for having the right attitude, playing it out until the end. And overall, I think we've set a bar pretty high as to what our expectations are, which is how to conduct ourselves, our professionalism and more so this culture we've created - you come through the clubhouse door, you're ready to play. I can't say enough about our veterans or how our young players responded to what the mantra is in there.''

The biggest questions facing Sabean and Bochy this winter are what commitments they will make to ace Tim Lincecum and fellow All-Star Matt Cain? Will slugger Carlos Beltran be back? Will catcher Posey and second baseman Sanchez return to their top form come 2012?

''Our pitching's going to get expensive, that's the punch line and we have to take care of that first,'' Sabean said.

Sabean expects left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to stay put, whether that means exercising his $5 million option or renegotiating with the reliever.

San Francisco has 13 arbitration-eligible players, and Sabean said they won't all be tendered contracts. There are also eight potential free agents, including Beltran.

''I made it clear since I got here this is a team I will consider strongly,'' said Beltran, who plans to weigh his options in free agency after joining the Giants in a July 28 trade from the New York Mets.

Sabean said the Giants will need a solid backup plan at catcher as not to overtax Posey when he returns, and perhaps a second baseman for insurance as well considering Sanchez's injury history.

Cody Ross, last year's NL championship series MVP, will be a free agent and would like to land a two-year contract.

''I'm definitely open to coming back if it's a fit,'' Ross said.

Sabean reiterated president Larry Baer's recent statement that struggling $126 million pitcher Barry Zito will remain on the team rather than buying out his huge salary. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland has struggled in his five years across the bay in San Francisco and was left off the postseason roster for all three rounds in 2010. He is owed $19 million next year, $20 million in 2013 and has an $18 million team option with a $7 million buyout in 2014.

Zito is expected to compete for the fifth starter job in spring training, along with fellow left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, the team's most reliable starter down the stretch in 2010 before an injury-shortened season this year.

Sabean is likely to receive an extension this fall - meaning Bochy probably also would get a new deal. Both are signed through 2012.

Slugger Pablo Sandoval, a first-time All-Star this summer after his 40-pound offseason slimdown, will remain on the same winter workout plan in Arizona after several weeks of rest for his strained left shoulder that hurts him batting right-handed. Sandoval also will be part of a tour to Taiwan in early November.

Although the Giants challenged Sandoval to lose weight last winter, they are asking Aubrey Huff to work harder, too.

Huff, rewarded with a $22 million, two-year contract last winter after hitting .290 with a team-leading 26 home runs and 86 RBIs, batted .246 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs this season.

''You go into the next year, that can't happen again or you have to make changes. He has to come in ready and he's expected to get back to the form that he was at the year before,'' Bochy said. ''He was embarrassed. He was humbled by what happened. He's determined to get back where he was. He accepted full accountability for what happened to him this year and maybe not working as hard.''



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