Giants in search of another title run
SAN FRANCISCO — Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro made a pact over the winter as they weighed their baseball futures: They vowed to keep in touch during free agency.
They did just that, and both landed right back where they thought they best belonged — with the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Not a bad place to be lately. The Giants' starting lineup features World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, reigning NL MVP Buster Posey and, of course, the guy with a perfect game at the front of the rotation in Matt Cain.
CEO Larry Baer, general manager Brian Sabean, manager Bruce Bochy and all their players realize just how rare it is to keep almost an entire roster together. Especially after a championship season.
"I think that's the best thing we have," Pagan said. "The chemistry's the same. The atmosphere's going to be the same. The way we got along last year, it doesn't get any better than that."
Sabean has kept his club intact, determined to make another special October run after capturing two World Series titles in the past three years.
"When you get a good group that you can keep intact everybody involved is a little bit more comfortable to start a season," Sabean said. "What's interesting is a lot of these guys we didn't have in the past in the organization and a lot of these guys we didn't have for a whole year. It'll be interesting to see how they all jell at the beginning of the season and carry it out through the whole season."
It started with bringing back lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt on a three-year contract, then Pagan for four years. Scutaro, the NL championship MVP, reached agreement on his three-year deal a day after Pagan got his multiyear deal in December.
There are so many key returners for the Giants, who pulled off remarkable rallies in the division series and NL championship series before a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers to capture another improbable championship.
"No question it's a pretty big advantage," Bochy said of the continuity.
Pagan received a $40 million, four-year contract, Scutaro earned a $20 million, three-year deal and Affeldt came back on an $18 million, three-year contract.
San Francisco even added a familiar face from the previous championship run from 2010, signing energetic outfielder Andres Torres as someone who can play all three positions.
"He's going to help us a lot, and hopefully he's part of another championship team," Pagan said of Torres, who was sent to the Mets in the trade that brought Pagan to San Francisco before last season. "That's what we're here for."
Scutaro, 37, hit .362 with three homers and 44 RBIs in 61 regular-season games with the Giants after he was acquired in a July 27 trade with Colorado. Hunter Pence, another midseason acquisition after being traded by the Phillies, is another reason the Giants were able to win six games last fall when facing elimination.
"There are many different ways you can try to improve your team," right-hander Ryan Vogelsong said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what this team can do for a full season."
The Giants came back from a 2-0 deficit to Cincinnati in the division series and then rallied from 3-1 down in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, who visit San Francisco for the Giants' home opener.
"It's exciting, because we have the same team that won the World Series," Sandoval said. "We know each other and we're going to come here to defend. We don't have to adjust to anything, just play our game. I hope all the guys stay healthy. If we're healthy, and not hurt, I think everything's going to be easy."
Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda, batted .369 during the postseason with five doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs. That's after he spent two stints on the DL last season and underwent surgery for a broken bone in his right hand. He'd already had the procedure on his left hand.
"We got the hamate bone out of the way. There's no way he can hurt that again with both hands, so that's nice," Bochy said.
After ending last season as a reliever — and a reliable one at that — two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is determined to redeem himself and prove his worth as a starter in a contract year.
He cut his hair short, a new look as he starts anew. He worked out with a personal trainer during the offseason to add about 10 pounds of strength, and tweaked his mechanics.
"I tried to use last year as a gauge and not really anything to try to focus on," Lincecum said. "I know last year wasn't where I wanted to be, so when I feel like my body's in a right position and doing the things it needs to be, I'm going to get the success or at least what I want out of it."
Lincecum enters the last year of a $40.5 million, two-year deal that pays him $22 million this season, yet he isn't necessarily thinking about his future as much as rediscovering his dominant form of the past. He went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA in 33 starts and 186 innings last season, his sixth in the majors.
Then, Bochy moved The Freak to the bullpen for the postseason in a move that worked perfectly.
Lincecum, who pitched and won the Game 5 World Series clincher at Texas in 2010, allowed one earned run on three hits with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings for an 0.69 ERA as a reliever during last season's championship run.
"We're just looking for Timmy to pitch like the years that he had," Bochy said. "He had great years with us throwing strikes and locating well."
Posey will look to build on his sensational comeback season. He surprised most everybody in his first year back after suffering season-ending leg and ankle injuries in a May 2011 collision at the plate.
"We really didn't know how much we could use him," Bochy said. "With the job that he did winning the Most Valuable Player I'd say he exceeded what we thought we might have in Buster in 2012 coming off that injury. The credit goes to him in how hard he worked to get himself back to that point."