As full-squad workouts hit full throttle, it is interesting to note that the San Francisco Giants will be fielding the same team that beat the Detroit Tigers in last October’s World Series.
Usually, teams change personnel even when they win a title. The Giants kept their outfield together, with Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence. They re-signed second baseman Marco Scutaro, 37, to a long-term deal.
Are the Giants putting their roster together with their heart? Maybe, but general manager Brian Sabean says that loyalty is how the Giants do business. So with Matt Cain as their opening day starter, the Giants will take aim at their third World Series title in four seasons.
This spring, with a set lineup, the Giants’ issues are few. They wonder how Sergio Romo will do as closer for a full season. They expect Tim Lincecum, banished to the bullpen last season, to return to the rotation, and they believe that Pablo Sandoval, who hit three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series last season, will lose the 10-15 pounds he needs to lose before the start of the season.
Other news, notes and observations:
* It is too early to tell who is going to be the Orioles’ second baseman, but given the Orioles hit a combined .213 at that position in 2012, improvement is likely, no matter who gets the job. While the Orioles try to figure out the options with Brian Roberts, Alexi Casilla and Ryan Flaherty, they aren’t the only team in the American League East with second base unsettled. The Rays have three candidates (Kelly Johnson, Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez) to play second and Blue Jays will use spring training to determine if their second baseman will be Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio.
* Pitcher Kyle Lohse, a 16-game winner last season, is still unsigned. Part of the reason is that he’s asking for too many years and teams aren’t willing to pay for that and give up a draft choice, as well. Prediction: Lohse will sign with the Padres, although the Cardinals, Royals, White Sox and Yankees are still possibilities as well. The Padres played well in the final two months of last season, but they need an experienced pitcher to lead a promising rotation.
* It’s legit to ask which teams have a chance to be this year’s version of the Orioles and A’s, teams that were surprise playoff teams last season. Could the Indians be that team? Last year, they had one of the worst outfield defenses in the American League. This year, they have three center fielders in the lineup, with Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center and Drew Stubbs in right field. That means Nick Swisher moves from right field to first base and former Oriole Mark Reynolds goes from first base to DH. The question is the rotation, but the Indians look much like the Orioles of a year ago: improved defense, lots of depth and good-looking prospects. The rotation will have Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Zack McAllister and pitchers such as Travis Bauer, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, all blue chip prospects. And, the Indians even have lefty Scott Kazmir trying to make a comeback. The Indians think Jimenez can fix his mechanics and be a consistent winner.
* The Braves have always been known for their pitching, but can their rotation pick up with where it left off last season? After July 4, the Braves’ rotation combined to have a 2.65 ERA. Throw in one of the best bullpens in baseball, and it’s easy to see why the Braves are going to be difficult to beat. But, the Nationals did it last year, and it’s going to be a good race with the Braves this year.
* Roger Clemens, who was found not guilty last summer on federal charges of obstruction of justice regarding his alleged use of steroids, is in the Astros camp, working with young pitchers. A couple of years ago, when Clemens was in spring training doing the same thing, the Astros asked him to leave camp because he was a distraction. Whatever you think about Clemens, I know this from covering him for two decades: He inspires young players with fun coaching and concise communication.
* With Ben Revere in Philadelphia and Denard Span with the Nationals, the Twins have two of their best players in the National League East. But the Twins got three pitchers in trades for their center fielders, and they are expecting prospect Aaron Hicks, a five-tool guy, to be their centerfielder as early as the second half of the season.
* As NBA legend Michael Jordan turns 50, it’s time to remember that he tried out as an outfielder with the White Sox in the spring of 1994. I covered him that spring for USA Today, and the quote I’ll never forget: “I’m amazed at how outfielders can instinctively tell which direction they should start running as the pitcher starts his delivery. There’s a lot to learn in this game.’’ Jordan hit .202 with three home runs and 51 RBI for Double-A Birmingham in 1994, his only season as a pro.