Giants hope to regain championship form in '14

San Francisco confident heading into camp that club will return to league's elite

Giants hope to regain championship form in '14

SAN FRANCISCO -- This is the season when the Giants break the tie, so to speak.

They've maintained essentially the same nucleus of players for two years. That group won the World Series in 2012 and sank to a 76-86 finish and a share of third place in the National League West a year ago.

Naturally, the Giants believe that their title, not their tumble, truly reflected their skills. They're confident that they'll return to the league's elite if their key performers remain healthy. Center fielder Angel Pagan, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, catcher Hector Sanchez, left-hander Jeremy Affeldt and right-handers Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain and Santiago Casilla spent time on the disabled list last year, and second baseman Marco Scutaro (left pinkie) played hurt for more than half the season.

The Giants escaped last place in mid-September. Had they remained there, they would have been only the second team to finish in the cellar one year after winning the World Series.

Vogelsong referred to his personal struggles last season but could have been speaking for his teammates when he said, "I don't want it to go away. I want it to be pretty fresh in my mind because it's driven me all offseason."

Thus motivated, the Giants signed two free agents who also sense that they have something to prove. Injury-riddled Michael Morse, their projected left fielder, will be counted on for an offensive boost. Right-hander Tim Hudson will attempt to overcome a gruesome fracture of his right ankle and should help solidify the starting rotation if he succeeds.

A glance at the respective rosters suggests that the Dodgers, San Francisco's archrival and the defending division champions, are clearly superior. Yet the Giants have retained the attitude that they should win.

"I would say that's probably how everybody feels," catcher Buster Posey said.

Pitchers and catchers report

Friday

Full squad reports

Feb. 18

First Spring Training game

Home vs. A's, Feb. 26, 12:05 p.m. PT

Opening Day

Away at D-backs, March 31 at 6:40 p.m. PT

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. How's the rotation?
Only Madison Bumgarner performed consistently last year, as the starters posted a 4.37 ERA, their worst since 2006 -- Cain's first full big league season. Hope developed as Cain finished strong, Tim Lincecum threw a no-hitter and Vogelsong pitched capably in two of his last three starts. Should Hudson approach the form that has helped him win 205 games, the starting five should be formidable again.

2. What's up with Sandoval?
Conventional wisdom and offseason reports appearing on social media suggest that Sandoval will report to Spring Training in excellent physical condition -- the better to propel himself into free agency after the season ends. Regardless of what motivates Sandoval, the Giants need a big year from him. He hasn't exceeded a .300 batting average or 20 home runs since 2011.

3. Can a Morse code S.O.S. be avoided?
The Giants need the version of Morse who averaged .296 with a .516 slugging percentage and totaled 64 homers from 2010-12 with Washington before injuries muted his 2013 output. Giants left fielders ranked last in the Major Leagues in runs (56), homers (five) and OPS (.651) a year ago.

2013 record
76-86, tied for third in the NL West

Projected batting order
1. CF Angel Pagan:
.282 BA, .334 OBP, .414 SLG, 5 HR, 30 RBIs in 2013
2. 2B Marco Scutaro:
.297 BA, .357 OBP, .369 SLG, 2 HR, 31 RBIs in 2013
3. 3B Pablo Sandoval:
.278 BA, .341 OBP, .417 SLG, 14 HR, 79 RBIs in 2013
4. C Buster Posey:
.294 BA, .371 OBP, .450 SLG, 15 HR, 72 RBIs in 2013
5. RF Hunter Pence:
.283 BA, .339 OBP, .483 SLG, 27 HR, 99 RBIs in 2013
6. 1B Brandon Belt:
.289 BA, .360 OBP, .481 SLG, 17 HR, 67 RBIs in 2013
7. LF Michael Morse:
.215 BA, .270 OBP, .381 SLG, 13 HR, 27 RBIs in 2013
8. SS Brandon Crawford:
.248 BA, .311 OBP, .363 SLG, 9 HR, 43 RBIs in 2013

Projected rotation
1. RHP Matt Cain, 8-10, 4.00 ERA in 2013
2. LHP Madison Bumgarner, 13-9, 2.77 ERA in 2013
3. RHP Tim Lincecum, 10-14, 4.37 ERA in 2013
4. RHP Tim Hudson, 8-7, 3.97 ERA in 2013
5. RHP Ryan Vogelsong, 4-6, 5.73 ERA in 2013

Projected bullpen
Closer: Sergio Romo, 38/43 saves, 2.54 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Santiago Casilla, 2.16 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Jeremy Affeldt, 3.74 ERA in 2013

The new guys
LF Morse: He'll probably be replaced by Gregor Blanco for defensive purposes in the late innings. Manager Bruce Bochy said that Morse might occasionally play first base, where he has appeared in 130 games during his Major League career. All Morse really wants to do is stay healthy after a fractured right pinkie, strained right quadriceps and a left wrist ailment limited him to 88 games last year.

RHP Hudson: The Giants aren't overly concerned about Hudson, since he's not coming off an arm injury. Besides taking the mound every five days, the 38-year-old is likely to contribute as a mentor to the Giants' starters. "What he does on the field is obvious. I think we can probably learn more from him with what he does off the field," Cain said.

LHP David Huff: The 29-year-old was likely to compete for the No. 5 spot in the Yankees' rotation before they sent him to the Giants for cash considerations. His best chance to make the Opening Day roster is probably as a long reliever. Huff has been too easy for left-handed batters to solve. They've compiled a .311 average, a .381 on-base percentage and a .519 slugging percentage off him in his career.

Prospects to watch
RHP Kyle Crick: This will be the first Major League camp for Crick, 21, who's rated the organization's top prospect by MLB.com. Frequently compared to Cain due to their similar physical stature, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Crick finished 3-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 14 starts for Class A Advanced San Jose last year. He proceeded to post an 0-1 record with a 2.87 ERA in seven Arizona Fall League outings with Scottsdale.

RHP Clayton Blackburn: A non-roster invitee like Crick, Blackburn also will be in his first big league camp. Ranked No. 2 on MLB.com's list of Giants prospects, Blackburn went 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA for San Jose last season. The 21-year-old also struck out 138 and walked just 35 in 133 innings.

LHP Edwin Escobar: He has been mentioned as a candidate for a promotion to the Majors if injuries or ineffectiveness befalls the starting rotation. This will be the second big league Spring Training for Escobar, who turns 22 on April 22.

RHP Derek Law: The Giants are excited about Law, who excelled in 11 Arizona Fall League appearances for Scottsdale. He allowed only one unearned run and eight hits while striking out 16 in a span of 12 1/3 innings. That followed a regular season in which he finished 5-3 with a 2.31 ERA and 14 saves for three affiliates, topped by San Jose. In 46 games, Law struck out 102 and walked only 12 in 66 1/3 innings.

OF Mac Williamson: Physically imposing at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Williamson led the organization's Minor League system with 25 homers last year while hitting .292 in 136 games for San Jose. The 23-year-old also struck out 132 times in 520 at-bats.

On the rebound
2B Scutaro: Scutaro played through the soreness and stiffness of his injured finger but never was the same after he was hurt on June 11. A clutch hitter down the stretch in 2012, Scutaro should benefit from the return of Pagan, who himself missed much of the season with a left hamstring injury that required surgery.

LHP Affeldt: Two trips to the disabled list with right oblique and left groin injuries disrupted Affeldt's season, which finally ended with surgery to repair a sports hernia. After averaging 68 appearances per year from 2007-2012, Affeldt pitched in just 39 games last season.

RHP Cain: The three-time All-Star endured a trying first half, recording a 5.06 ERA in 19 starts. Cain regained his form with a 2.36 ERA in his final 11 starts, but he must again demonstrate that he can sustain season-long consistency.

RHP Lincecum: Still capable of dazzling efforts, Lincecum is continuing to adapt from being a power pitcher to one who relies on finesse and deception. As long as he can synchronize the mechanics of his delivery and avoid throwing ball four, he'll remain effective.

RHP Vogelsong: Bad luck plagued Vogelsong last year. He was hit by a pitch from Washington's Craig Stammen on May 20, which fractured his right hand and sidelined him for nearly three months. Vogelsong also endured the physical erosion that befell almost every Giant who participated in the World Baseball Classic.

C Posey: It's odd to categorize an All-Star performer as being "on the rebound." Yet Posey himself would admit that he endured a dropoff in productivity in 2013. He's confident that adding 10 pounds of muscle in offseason workouts will help him approach his 2012 NL Most Valuable Player form.

Long gone
RHP Chad Gaudin: Despite Gaudin's significant contributions as a reliever and starter, the Giants declined to retain him, concerned about the carpal tunnel syndrome that ended his season in mid-August. Gaudin signed with Philadelphia as a free agent last month.

LHP Barry Zito: A hero of the 2012 championship club, Zito finished 5-11 with a 5.74 ERA in 30 appearances (25 starts) last season as his seven-year contract expired. He received a $7 million buyout instead of an $18 million club option.

OF Andres Torres: Removal of bone spurs in Torres' left Achilles last Aug. 28 ended his season prematurely. He hit .250 with two home runs and 21 RBIs in 103 games, prompting the Giants to spurn the $3 million mutual option on his services. They instead paid him a $500,000 buyout.

1B Brett Pill: The Giants released Pill last month so he could sign with the KIA Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization. He had nothing to prove at Triple-A, batting .344 with 18 homers, 79 RBIs and a 1.010 OPS in 68 games with Fresno last year.

OF Francisco Peguero: Despite hitting his first Major League home run to set up a ninth-inning victory in last year's season finale, Peguero didn't sufficiently impress the Giants. He was picked up by Baltimore and reportedly will be given a chance to start.

RHP Guillermo Moscoso: A midseason pickup from the Cubs, Moscoso (2-2, 5.10 ERA in 13 appearances) neither embarrassed nor distinguished himself and was cast into free agency.

LHP Jose Mijares: A helpful presence in 2012, Mijares sealed his fate by allowing 15 runs in 15 innings spanning his final 21 outings last year. The Giants declined to tender him a contract, freeing him to sign with Boston last month.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.