Do you see Brandon Crawford as the long-term answer at shortstop for the Giants?
-- Philip W., Sparks, Nevada
I certainly do. Though Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons may dominate the position in the National League for a while, I maintain that Crawford's good enough to win an NL Gold Glove Award someday. I don't know what else to say except, "Watch him play." He possesses the requisite range, arm and intelligence. Having proven time and time again that he can make spectacular plays, Crawford also is developing the consistency to make the vast majority of routine plays, which are a shortstop's top priority.
He reminds me of my all-time favorite Giants shortstop, Chris Speier -- inventive, yet fundamentally sound. Crawford's offense tailed off toward the end of last season, but he was playing hurt (toughness: another asset). I'm confident that he'll continue to progress offensively. Ehire Adrianza is extremely talented, but I'm not convinced he's as solid all-around as Crawford, who contributed significantly to the Giants' 2012 World Series triumph.
The Giants need help finding players to add depth to the bench. I think Joaquin Arias is great and the signing of Michael Morse will put Gregor Blanco back as the fourth outfielder and defensive replacement late in games, a role to which he is more suited. Are there any free agents that are quality hitters who will come at a low cost? Is Michael Young an option?
-- Greg C., San Jose, Calif.
I doubt that Young's an option (see below). As for other available free agents ... well, to repeat what general manager Brian Sabean often says, you see the same names I'm seeing. The list of position players remaining on the open market includes (but is not limited to) Rick Ankiel, Jeff Baker, Jason Bay, Yuniesky Betancourt, Sam Fuld, Cesar Izturis, Paul Janish, Reed Johnson, Lyle Overbay, Placido Polanco and Ty Wigginton. The Giants were rumored to be interested in Baker during the Winter Meetings and they've allegedly eyed Betancourt in the past. Personally, I like the versatility of Polanco and Wigginton, along with their ability to handle a bat. They're also 38 and 36, respectively, and Wigginton's coming off a dismal year (.158 in 47 games with St. Louis). Here's an intriguing off-the-radar player who an extremely wise man recently mentioned to me: Felipe Lopez, a 2005 All-Star with Cincinnati. Lopez hasn't played since 2011, but he is hoping to launch a comeback. After a couple of years off, though, he might not be much of an upgrade over Tony Abreu.
With the signing of Morse, along with Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan seemly set in the outfield, what does the future hold for Gary Brown -- fourth outfielder, trade or release?
-- Gary D., Columbiana, Ohio
For the immediate future, the Giants will continue to hope that Brown, their top selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, will begin to solve right-handed pitching more frequently and thus realize his potential. Morse isn't necessarily an impediment to Brown's future; he's signed for only one year. It's all up to Brown.
With Eric Surkamp gone, who do the Giants have as potential sixth starters in case of dead-arm or injury?
-- Matt R., Benicia, Calif.
Aside from Yusmeiro Petit, not much. The list of non-roster invitees, which Giants management inexplicably guards like the President's codes for launching nuclear devices, is likely to include a starter or two. Otherwise, you're looking at Petit, who went 4-1 with a 3.56 ERA in seven late-season starts; left-hander Edwin Escobar, considered the most thoroughly developed member of the Giants' stable of young pitching prospects; and Michael Kickham, who endured the proverbial "learning experience" as a rookie (10.16 ERA in 12 appearances, including three starts). Hey, Jerome Williams is a free agent. You know, the former Giant. Why not take a shot at him?
Why aren't the Giants going after Young? I understand he's not the youngest guy out there (37), but he is what you'd call a real Major League hitter. I hear he wants to start, and he can do so with great versatility (basically anywhere on the infield). But since the Giants aren't going to sit Brandon Belt, Marco Scutaro, Crawford or Pablo Sandoval, I assume they don't want to give Young a Major League contract. Do you think Sabean is playing the waiting game to prove to Young (and his agent) that his starting days are over? In my opinion, signing Young as a super-utility guy would be ideal. He'd be more expensive, but more talented than Arias/Abreu and would pose a threat to get on base every time he'd step to the plate. Neither have his defensive skills deteriorated.
-- Archie A., Pleasanton, Calif.
Archie answered a lot of his own questions, primarily the one about Young's belief that he still can start. Too bad, because Archie's right -- Young would be an outstanding super-utility player for San Francisco, or any team for that matter. But since a handful of clubs are considering Young as an everyday or at least primary player -- the Brewers, Dodgers and Rockies reportedly have interest -- he's unlikely to gravitate toward the Giants.
Did you ever cover Major League baseball during the Candlestick years? What is your favorite Candlestick Park memory?
-- Berto A., Sacramento, Calif.
I covered games at Candlestick as a visiting writer in the 1990s when I was a newspaper beat reporter assigned to the Astros and Reds. I also attended hundreds of games while growing up in Menlo Park, Calif. I worshiped at the temple of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. As quickly as possible, because I could write a book about this, here are a trio of indelible memories of attending games at Candlestick -- maybe not my ultimate top three, but these came to mind most readily.
May 24, 1969: My very first game. Giants 5, Pirates 2. Mike McCormick pitched a complete game. Bobby Bonds and McCovey homered off Bob Veale. Willie Stargell homered for the Pirates. I was hooked.
Oct. 2, 1971: Game 1 of the NL playoffs (they didn't call it the League Championship Series yet). Giants 5, Pirates 4. McCovey and Tito Fuentes homered; Perry went the distance. I still don't know how my dad got tickets.
Sept. 3, 1973: Giants 11, Dodgers 8. Trailing, 8-1, the Giants scored six runs in the seventh inning. Then Bonds hit a grand slam in the ninth. You watch a game like that and you'll believe in anything.
Trust me, I could go on and on.