2015 Giants storm back to AT&T Park


AT&T PARK — Wintry rain and howling winds bombarded AT&T Park on Friday afternoon, an almost haunting vision just months after the Giants and their fans lit up the field with celebration en route to a third World Series title in five years.

Yes, Spring Training is on the horizon. And, to many Giants fans’ disappointment, an offseason filled with top-tier free agents clamoring for a contract with the quasi-dynastic club never materialized.

No Pablo. No Jon Lester. No James Shields. Not even Ben Zobrist. A sign, maybe, that the 2015 season won’t buck that even-year trend.

GIANTS PITCHING Veteran pitchers give Bruce Bochy plenty of options

The so-called quiet offseason for the defending champs, though, kept with another trend maintained by Brian Sabean and the front office: Don’t give away the farm, just plug the holes.

In July 2011, after the Giants’ first World Series win, the Giants traded top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets for power-hitting outfielder Carlos Beltran in one of those trades that still stings. Simply put, Beltran tanked and Wheeler is now rising to the front of the Mets’ rotation, along with as Matt Harvey.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

Since then, the Giants’ front office has kept cautious around expensive free agents and found ways to snag veterans for cheap that fill gaps without much flair.

The 2015 offseason was no different. San Francisco lost two power hitters and fan favorites, Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, and signed bats Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki to fill those spots.

As much of his 2015 Giants squad gathered on the suite level of AT&T Park for media day interviews Friday afternoon, Manager Bruce Bochy spoke of the additions:

“We might not have the power, but we have guys who, as we say, keep the line moving. They get on base.”

Aoki signed a 1-year, $4.7 million contract with the Giants with a $5.5 million option for 2016. He’ll probably platoon with Gregor Blanco in left field.

Aoki is speedy in the outfield — though fans might remember his missed catch in Game 1 of the World Series that scored Gregor Blanco off Joe Panik’s bat — and could start in the leadoff spot.

Madison Bumgarner, who faced Kansas City’s Aoki several times during his 21 World Series innings, said of the outfielder:

“He’s a tough, little scrappy hitter. He’s going to find a way to get on base. It’s good to have people like that. You don’t always need the Miguel Cabrera’s of the world. You need people to get on base. And I feel like he’s going to be that type of player to go to battle every time he’s in there.”

Aoki is averaging a career .353 OBP and 52 walks.

Said Panik of Aoki:

“He’s very fast. Very good outfielder and he get’s on base. And that’s what we need. We have some guys in the middle of the order that have some pop…The lineup is built to keep the chain moving and score runs, manufacture runs, and that’s how we were able to have success in the postseason.”

McGehee has Panda-sized shoes to fill over at third base. The Giants not only lost a fan favorite in Sandoval, but a franchise power hitter and ace third baseman.

A big concern going into 2015 is the new lack of power, though Aoki told Buster Posey that he was going to hit at least 20 home runs this season. Also, McGehee, said his new teammates and manager, could be a surprise pop in the middle of the lineup.

One factor contributing to McGehee’s apparent lack of power, said the infielder, stems from his latest home field, Marlin’s Park:

“The ballpark in Miami was even bigger than this one, played bigger … some of the lack of power was by design.”

Though AT&T is no power-hitter’s paradise, McGehee could surprise with juicy hits. One alarming statistic: McGehee hit into a whopping 31 double plays last season, a problem that already plagues the lineup as is.

Beyond the outside hires, the Giants had a busy offseason maintaining its core. Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, Sergio Romo, Gregor Blanco, Travis Ishikawa and Hector Sanchez all re-signed with San Francisco. The Brandons — Belt and Crawford — and Yusmeiro Petit all signed contracts to avoid arbitration.

So, yes, there are no big free agent names waltzing into China Basin this year. What the Giants bought this year, like most, was base-runners, prolonged clubhouse chemistry and, perhaps, a few under-the-radar players that will shine into October.

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