Around the Horn: Outfield

Success of outfield? It's a 40-year-old question

The following is the sixth in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Outfield.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It all comes down to No. 25. Again.

Barry Bonds' 41-year-old knees are at the heart -- well, make that ligaments and cartilage -- of the Giants' 2006 season, and if those creaky old bones can stay viable, so will San Francisco.

After undergoing four knee operations since last year, including three on his right knee, plus a serious bacterial infection, Bonds' athleticism has nearly run its course. So 2006 could be his last season.

Bonds has vowed he will retire from baseball rather than endure more surgeries on his knees, and while the Giants hope he can play perhaps 120 games, there's no guarantee he can play 50.

The man proved he can still hit with thunder last September, cracking five homers in 14 games and helping to keep San Francisco in the National League West chase until the final week, and combined with Moises Alou, Randy Winn and Steve Finley, the club boasts a formidable outfield foursome.

Entering Spring Training, Bonds is presumably strong again thanks to offseason workouts, and his decision not to play in the World Baseball Classic was probably a wise one considering what's at stake.

He can focus totally on the regular season, not pushing himself to be ready for March action, other than in Cactus League play. It's undoubtedly the slugger's most important spring, and the Giants medical staff will closely monitor his every practice session.

Health concerns also swirl around Finley -- he'll be 40 on March 1 --and Alou, who turns 40 on July 3.

Finley, acquired in a trade with the Angels for third sacker Edgardo Alfonzo in the offseason, had a left groin problem last May, and then went on the 15-day disabled list in late June with a right shoulder strain.

He considers his .222 average injury-related, not a sign of offensive deterioration, proving it with a .291 average in May, then rebounding from the shoulder problem by batting .271 in September.

Now with his seventh team over a 17-year career, Finley has 297 career homers -- the same as Alou -- and had been remarkably durable until 2005. He is expected to start more than 100 games, giving Bonds and Alou valuable rest time.

Finley has no qualms about joining the Giants.

"Before the season starts, there's a lot of teams that look good on paper, and this team is one of them," said Finley. "You've got to stay healthy and play well together. Around here, there's a lot of young talent and a lot of veteran guys who can play.

San Francisco Giants
Starters: Two pairs lead rotation
Bullpen: Health would be a boost
Catchers: Matheny always focused
Corner IF: Youth at first, vet at third
Middle IF: Dependable duo
Outfielders: 40-40-40 club
Bench: Experienced reserves

"The key is if us veteran guys can set the tone and establish the way we're going to do things, the young guys follow. It's a good group of guys, and [manager Felipe Alou] is great."

Moises Alou, on the disabled list twice last year with a strained right calf and hamstring, is expected to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and could miss most of the Cactus League competition.

Whether that's a plus or minus is uncertain. The Giants don't want Alou to aggravate his chronic calf problem; then again, getting into shape earlier for the WBC could be a conditioning blessing.

Youngest of the starters is 31-year-old Randy Winn, who had a spectacular 2005, hitting .359 overall with 14 homers and 26 RBIs after being acquired July 30 from Seattle.

Winn had a flat-out amazing September, earning Player of the Month honors after hitting .447 with 51 hits and .877 slugging percentage. Eleven of his homers came that final month.

The Bay Area native has played in 150-plus game a year since 2002.

Coming into camp, there's a quintet of young outfielders vying for a fifth spot: Jason Ellison, Todd Linden, Dan Ortmeier, Freddie Lewis and Nate Schierholtz.

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.