New Faces Key to Giants’ Early Success

The San Francisco Giants spent the 2013-2014 offseason refraining from making big splash moves in the free agent or trade market. They didn’t hand a massive ten year contract to a middle infielder and they refused to shell out four years for a mid-tier starting pitcher. While other teams shelled out sums of money that bordered on the horrifying to lure free agents, the Giants remained relatively quiet, making only a few low-key signings to minimal years. Perhaps the specter of Barry Zito’s mega-contract, expired just a few months ago, hung over the Giants as they tried to avoid any long term commitments.

The Giants have begun the season 10-6, and have taken four out of six early contests from the Dodgers, who are heavy preseason favorites to win the National League West. Contributing to this small sample size success has been an assortment of new faces that the team brought in during the offseason. We’re not just talking about the more high profile guys, like Tim Hudson or Mike Morse, either. No, the Giants have received solid work from a number of scrap heap pickups who made the team out of spring training, some of whom were shoehorned in because of injury. Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza, David Huff, and the artist formerly known as Juan Gutierrez (you may now call him J.C. Gutierrez) have all played a part in the Giants’ winning record through the season’s first few weeks.

Hudson, who was signed to a two-year deal during the winter, has started off like gangbusters, a good sign seeing as how some feared that his career might be done after his gruesome ankle injury last year. Hudson has two wins and a 2.35 ERA in three starts and he has yet to walk a batter. He’s been easily the Giants’ most consistent starter so far this season and his veteran presence is welcome, I’m sure. His ability to keep the ball in the park and batters off the bases should earn him a lot of success at AT&T Park this year.

Mike Morse, the team’s other “big” signing, has also been hot out of the gate, hitting .306/.382/.510 and endearing fans by walking up to A-Ha’s ever-lovable “Take on Me” whenever he comes to the plate. Morse was brought in for his power, but Giants fans should also remember that, when at his best, Morse isn’t simply a one-dimensional power hitter. From 2010-2012, Morse hit .296 with Washington, with a very reasonable 22% strikeout rate, so he’s not just an all-or-nothing, swing for the fences power guy. If he’s rewarded with good health, the Giants will be rewarded with a good all-around hitter in the middle of their lineup for pennies on the dollar.

Now for the scrap heap guys. First and foremost, Brandon Hicks, who blasted a home run off of Clayton Kershaw in spring training, and then later launched a pivotal home run in a comeback win against Arizona in the season’s opening week. Hicks has played an adept second base in the absence of Marco Scutaro, and he’s shown an ability to draw walks, which is always good. His long term outlook is sketch, though, as he’s had a career-long battle with strikeouts. In seven minor league seasons, Hicks hit only .247 and struck out a ton. A’s fans may remember him fondly from 2012, when he hit a couple of big late-game home runs for them that summer. However, he struck out a ghastly 31 times in 70 plate appearances and that tends to get you on the bus to AAA in a heartbeat.

Ehire Adrianza had three hits in this afternoon’s loss to the Dodgers, including a double that nearly kicked off a rally in the eighth inning. Adrianza beat out Tony Abreu for the utility infielder job this spring, and since he’s out of options, he’ll probably stick around for a while. He’s just .248 career minor league hitter, so don’t expect some dirt-to-diamonds find here, but so far he’s looked like a serviceable utility guy.

J.C. Gutierrez used to be known as Juan Gutierrez, and he once had the dubious honor of being a member of the 2010 Arizona Diamonbacks bullpen, which is largely seen as one of the worst collection of relievers in the history of mankind. He throws 95, however, so he’ll keep getting chances. He got off to an inauspicious debut with the Giants, coughing up a lead and earning the loss against Arizona in the season’s second game. Since then, though, he’s been lights out, and he’s struck out ten batters in nine innings. Dave Righetti and company have had success in the past with turning wayward, hard-throwing journeymen into assets, so it’s definitely a possibility that they can do the same with Gutierrez.

Finally, David Huff made the Opening Day roster because of Jeremy Affeldt’s injury and he has pitched six solid innings in relief so far. He immediately found himself in Giants fans’ good graces when he got some big outs in two separate wins versus the Dodgers. If the Giants need an emergency starter, Huff will be there. If the Giants need a LOOGY early in the game, Huff will be there. If the Giants need a mop up man in a blowout loss, Huff will be there. Huff has been a miserable failure as a starter in his career, but he’s posted a 3.27 ERA as a reliever, so he could eventually have utility in higher-leverage situations out of the bullpen if he sticks around.