What's next for the Giants?

The Giants aren't quite out of the running, but they're close enough that Tim Kawakami is ready to write their epitaph:

    ... But they had a very successful season, after four straight dismal campaigns. They played deep into September. They woke up some echoes. They were fun to watch, and, for the most part, they are young.
    The only bad part: I'm not sure they're ever going to get better pitching than this and nobody's sure how and whether they'll significantly improve that dormant offense.

    We'll see what happens with Brian Sabean and his management team. I'd guess they're all coming back, since things went so good for so long in 2009.

    But when push came to shove, the Sabean Giants went back to old habits: Rely on the veterans! And the old guys were not good, just as not-good as they'd been all season.

    Good thing they have No. 8-hitting Aaron Rowand signed for three more years. Batting eighth in this line-up! $12M a year!

Rowand's OPS in 2005 and '06? 740.

Rowand's OPS in 2008 and '09? 749.

These past two seasons with the Giants have been exactly in line with his career.

So why are the Giants paying him $12 million per year for three more years?

Because in 2007, Rowand put together one of the greatest salary drives we've seen. And because a lot of teams were spending crazy money that winter. Well, teams spend crazy money most winters. But Rowand was coming off a big season with the Phillies, and by gosh if he's not one of the grittiest sonuvaguns you'd ever want to meet.

That said, Rowand's not a lousy player. He's simply overpaid by a few million bucks. He's also been the Giants' second-most valuable player this season, behind only Pablo Sandoval (well behind Panda, but still). The Giants' problem really isn't Rowand. It's been their first basemen and their second basemen and their right fielders and their shortstop.

It's hard to see much of that changing next year, though it would actually be hard for the Giants to score fewer runs next season, even if they try. If, you know, the Panda keeps being the Panda.

Can they get better pitching than this? Well, it's not real likely but it's not out of the question, either. Tim Lincecum's been the best pitcher in the league for two years running and I wouldn't bet against three. Matt Cain and Barry Zito are due for a bit of regression next season, but the Giants have gotten little from their fourth and fifth starters, which might well change if Madison Bumgarner wins a rotation spot and (or) the Giants retain Brad Penny.

The bullpen ... well, it's overachieved a bit. Kawakami's probably right. The Giants are probably going to fall victim to the Plexiglass Principle next season. But there's no reason they can't be respectable, especially with Rookie of the Year candidates Bumgarner and Buster Posey presumably taking on meaningful roles at some point.

Put it this way: Two years ago, Lincecum was the only reason to watch the Giants. Today there are plenty of reasons, and there will be next year, too.

Update: A note from Jonah Keri ...

You mentioned SF's struggles at SP4. Check out Sanchez's numbers for the year - already pretty solid, about a 2-win performance.

Now check out his second-half numbers, if you buy the splits stuff.

Now check out his K rate and to a lesser extent his HR rate.

Sanchez is the classic example of a SP who needs only shave a walk a game off his performance to become really good. In many cases that's easier said than done but...here's a pre-arb guy pitching league average or a tick better, 26 years old, with one of the best K rates in the league. This is an asset.

Jonah's absolutely right. Throw in Bumgarner or Penny, and the Giants will again have an excellent rotation. And their depth might even allow them to trade for an actual, you know, hitter or something.