SAN FRANCISCO -- Don't start filling out the 2012 lineup cards just yet, but Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday that Nate Schierholtz will likely enter the season as the starting right fielder.
Schierholtz had a career year at the plate in 2011 despite nagging injuries and a season-ending fracture in his right foot. He batted .278 with a .756 OPS, and continued to play outstanding corner-outfield defense.
Bochy often sat Schierholtz against left-handed starters, but he has repeatedly expressed his belief that Schierholtz is fully capable of being an everyday player if he stays healthy.
"I thought Nate really made a lot of progress this year, especially with the bat, so that's the plan right now," Bochy said Thursday. "He plays a tremendous right field, and in this ballpark, that's critical for us. He's going into the season, for me, right now, as the starting right fielder."
That doesn't help solidify the rest of the Giants' outfield situation, however. It's entirely possible that either Brandon Belt -- or even Aubrey Huff -- could play left field next year. San Francisco is likely to make a run at re-signing free agent Carlos Beltran, and the club still needs a starting center fielder. There are a number of potential options on the open market.
Sabean also said 2010 postseason hero Cody Ross "will be given due consideration" this offseason. Ross or Andres Torres would be an ideal fourth outfielder given their ability to play all three spots and hit anywhere in the lineup.
Huff knows he must improve next season
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's hard to consider Aubrey Huff's 2011 season as anything but a huge disappointment, particularly following an excellent 2010 campaign in which he was a key offensive producer on a team that won a World Series title.
Huff admitted as much after Wednesday's season finale, and general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy didn't shy away from saying that Thursday, either. Huff finished the year with a .246 average and .676 OPS, both the second lowest of his career. He only hit 12 home runs and drove in 59 runs, his fewest since 2001.
According to fangraphs.com, Huff, who's under contract for $10 million next season, finished with a -0.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
"It's a touchy subject, because we expected more out of Huffy, and he certainly did, too," Sabean said. "But we were hoping that he'd come out of it. And that's got really nothing to do with his salary. I mean, if you look at his baseball card before last year, this guy's been a run producer. He got himself in a funk."
Sabean explained that Huff's funk might have been a product of poor offseason preparation -- something all parties involved know can't be repeated heading into 2012. Sabean said Huff will have to come to Spring Training ready to compete and "pull more weight," or else he will risk losing his job to younger players like Brandon Belt or Brett Pill.
"It's going to be important that Aubrey gets back to form. We're here to win. He knows that," Bochy said. "We stumbled this year, so if we have to make changes, as you saw at the end of August, we did it. And he knows that."
For his part, Huff has taken full accountability for his down year, saying he began the season with mechanical problems before his problems became more mental than anything. Bochy described Huff as "embarrassed" and "humbled."
So, Huff will enter this offseason having to prepare for anything. He will use the same workout routine and the same trainer he employed before the 2010 season, and Bochy said Huff might return to play the outfield next year after playing first base almost exclusively this season.
"I take a lot of blame for this season. I wanted to do some damage. If I did what I did last year, or even half of what I did last year, we'd probably be sitting in a better spot," Huff said Wednesday. "It's baseball, man. It's a weird game. You can never explain your year. All I can do is go into the offseason and work my tail off and try and come back and do better."
Giants won't rush young players to Majors
SAN FRANCISCO -- As well as Buster Posey's quick ascension to the Majors went in 2010, the Giants have seemingly been discouraged from making similar moves after what they saw in 2011.
Citing the offensive and mental struggles of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, general manager Brian Sabean said, "We're all learning that we're probably moving players [through the Minor Leagues] too fast now."
That means you shouldn't expect to see a few players on the big league roster early next year: lefty Eric Surkamp, catcher Hector Sanchez and outfielder Gary Brown.
Sabean said Sanchez was promoted from Class A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno earlier this season to see if he could hold his own as a defensive backstop, then promoted to the Majors to compete with catchers Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside. But, in Sabean's view, Sanchez was simply overmatched.
"He just needs some experience back there handling the staff. I think he's going to be a nice player," added manager Bruce Bochy. "You have a switch-hitter that can hit from both sides, he has a good arm, and I like the way he receives the ball. It's all the little things that he's got to get better at, and that's just catching at a higher level. It's nice to have a kid like this in our system, so if something does happen, we can have him available."
As for Surkamp, both Sabean and Bochy said he simply isn't ready, and the young lefty's weaknesses quickly became apparent after a moderately impressive start. He couldn't make Major League hitters swing and miss like he did at Double-A Richmond, and as a result, his walk numbers climbed while his strikeouts dwindled.
Brown is perhaps the most interesting case, however, as he will either begin next year with Richmond or Fresno -- something Sabean said would be discussed in upcoming organizational meetings, even though the speedy center fielder isn't currently on the 40-man roster. He is considered the Giants' future leadoff hitter, and some more time in the Minors -- especially the unfriendly hitting conditions at Richmond -- might prove to be beneficial.
"Bochy can tell you, as a manager, his biggest fear is dealing with their failure, and what you need to do to 'protect' them," Sabean said. "The old-school way was, going back to Brown, you had a hell of a year in A-ball. Well, guess what, you're going to Double-A, and you're going to have a hell of a year in Double-A. Then you're going to Triple-A and earning your way to the big leagues."
Don't look for September callup Justin Christian to be the long-term answer in the leadoff spot, either. Sabean described Christian as a "callup-type of player" and "an extra man in the big leagues."
Giants will likely bring back Affeldt in '12
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jeremy Affeldt's 2011 season came to an unfortunate end in early September when he sliced open his hand while cutting frozen burgers in his backyard. Fortunately for him, it doesn't look like that will be his last act as a Giant.
Asked if the the club would consider declining the left-handed reliever's $5 million club option but still re-sign him, general manager Brian Sabean didn't answer the question, but assured Affeldt would remain with the Giants.
"I expect him to be in uniform with us next year. I don't know exactly how that's going to happen, but the option is the option," Sabean said. "If we have to pick it up, we could end up picking it up. If we decide to renegotiate in some form, that could happen, too."
Affeldt returned to his dominant form of 2009 before the injury, posting a 2.63 ERA and 1.15 WHIP to go along with 54 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings. The left-hander's return might be the first step toward clarifying next year's bullpen picture.
Keeping Affeldt and Dan Runzler, whose left lat strain sustained Wednesday wasn't a serious injury, gives the Giants two lefty relievers. That means there isn't as great a need to re-sign free agent Javier Lopez, and the club can place its focus on other relievers, locking up its starting rotation to long-term deals or acquiring a much-needed bat to boost its lineup.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.