true-sf-giants-new-era-cap.jpg“If you don’t win the last game of the season, no one will remember what came before.”

Those were the words of Brad Pitt’s “Moneyball” character, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, after his team lost to the New York Yankees in the playoffs to end the A’s 2001 season.

One day after the San Francisco Giants lost their final game of the season, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy held a news conference to talk about how the once-defending World Series champions, who will defend no more this season, will rebuild, regroup and retrain during the off-season so that the progress made last year is not forgotten.

The team finished with an 86-76 record–eight games behind the National League West champions, the Arizona Diamondbacks–and scored only 570 runs this season, making it one of the team’s worst years in terms of runs, second only to the 556 runs logged by the 100-loss 1985 team.

The season was marked by a series of injuries that sidelined some of the team’s strongest offensive players and changed its dynamics, but it was not until Saturday, when the Giants fell 15-2 to the Diamondbacks, that postseason play was ruled out.

“To get down to the last week and still be alive–I consider that a success,” Bochy said.

Despite the pressure brought by high expectations coming off last year’s ultimate win, Sabean said that the players maintained the right kind of attitude but that there is definite work to be done.

“To win 86 games is an accomplishment in itself,” he said. “We’ve set the bar pretty high as to what our expectations are.”

As the team’s management takes inventory of its players — 13 of whom are eligible for arbitration–its biggest concern is protecting the bullpen, Sabean said.

The team will have approximately $124 million to spend on player salaries, Sabean said, but management’s first challenge will be to identify which players will advance to spring training and beyond.

“You’ve gotta be selective,” he said, adding that they will have to decide how many years they can hold their star pitchers–Matt Cain, who becomes a free agent at the end of next season, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong–and build the budget for the rest of the roster around that.

The No. 5 pitching rotation spot remains uncertain, with Jonathan Sanchez eligible for arbitration. “That will be a big decision,” Sabean said, adding that they will stay open-minded in spring training while trying to lock up that position.

Barry Zito, who also had a tour on the disabled list this season, is under contract and will be in spring training, Sabean said.

Looking beyond the mound, management must also make decisions regarding filling the shoes of catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Freddy Sanchez, whose seasons were both cut short in July by serious injuries.

Jeff Keppinger has been fielding in Sanchez’s place and is a reliable player if Sanchez does not come back at full strength next season, but Sabean said that playing Keppinger will depend on the budget that develops, given he is somewhat of “a luxury item.”

Keppinger has been a consistent hitter, which is something the Giants need. Last year’s strong offensive players who weren’t sequestered because of injuries–most notably Aubrey Huff–failed to deliver this season.

“No matter what we have on the field … we have to start defensively,” Sabean said. “We have to run the bases better. We’re gonna have to be resourceful to do that.”

Huff took responsibility for his slump this year, Sabean said, noting that the first baseman started off on the wrong foot by skimping on workouts last winter.

“He owned up to what happened” and challenged himself to do better, Sabean said. “He’s determined to get back to where he was.”

“He’s going to have to come in ready,” Sabean said. “He’s going to have to pull some weight.”

If not, rookie Brandon Belt–who moved up and down between the Giants and its minor league team throughout the season–is a strong contender for Huff’s position.

What next year’s team will look like will take shape slowly over the coming weeks, not just from the training perspective, but also from a contractual one, because players who are eligible can declare their status as free agents six days after the World Series.

Sabean and Bochy said that for now they are focusing on addressing the matters at hand.

“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered about what we have in the pipeline,” Bochy said.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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