The Giants' ability to produce impact players from within has been central to their impressive success in recent years. The evolution of the Brandons from solid regulars to stars, and the development of another not very widely heralded prospect, Joe Panik, into a very solid starter are the most recent examples of this. The Giants have also gotten a bit lucky with their farm system. For example, although it is unlikely to look this way at the end of the season, Matt Duffy, a player about whom a year ago all but the most intense Giants fans had heard nothing, is quietly having a better year (.279/.324/.388) than the major star, Pablo Sandoval (.251/.317/.371), who he replaced. In an era that is more competitive, with more teams, and more safeguards against dominance by wealthier teams, the Giants continue ability to produce quality players from within is an extraordinary accomplishment and one that goes a long way towards explaining those three rings.
If, however, recent, and not so recent World Series history tells us anything, it is that anything can happen this week. The Royals bullpen could blow three leads, Bumgarner could get roughed up in the first inning of game one. The Giants could continue to score runs on wild pitches and errors by the pitchers as they did against the Cardinals. A light hitting middle infielder like Joe Panik or Alcides Escobar could hit a big home run or two to win a game. The kvetching that these are not the best two teams in baseball, whatever that means, notwithstanding, this should be a fun World Series with lots of interesting stories and players, but the way each team got to this point is a reminder that predicting what will happen next is a mug's game.
Duvall is never going to be a big star and probably will never hold down a full time job in the big leagues, but he has brought needed power to a Giants bench that includes Joaquin Arias, Joe Panik and Ehire Adrianza who have combined for zero home runs in 286 plate appearances and Hector Sanchez who has three home runs in 168 plate appearances. Duvall is, like all those other players, a role player but he plays a different role. Duvall cannot catch or play the middle infield. He plays an adequate first base, but his real position is hitter.
The Giants were not going to play .667 baseball for the whole season, as they had through their first 63 games, but they certainly looked like a team that was too good to play .250 ball for a month. The easiest way to explain a collapse of this kind is to attribute it, in one for or another, to a change of luck and injuries. Luck and injuries certainly have played a role, but that is only part of the story.
Lincecum, however, is only under contract for another year and a half, but has been pretty bad over from 2012 to today. During this time he has an ERA of 4.77 and walked almost four batters per nine innings. He has also occasionally shown signs of his old self. He has averaged a strikeout an inning, was dominant coming out of the bullpen in the 2012 post-season and even threw a no-hitter last year. It is possible that some pitching coach somewhere thinks he can fix Lincecum and would like his team to get him. The Giants are unlikely to get much back for Lincecum, but a team might take his salary off their hands, and free up his spot in the rotation so that it can be upgraded.
The Timmy-Cain-Panda-Posey-Bumgarner Giants may never win another championship, but keeping that nucleus together is smart economic thinking and good for the Giants. If the Giants resign Lincecum and Pence, they will be poised to be a strong contending team in 2014, especially if they are able to add an above average hitting outfielder or a league average starting pitcher. It is unlikely that any trade of those two players would have left the team a similarly strong position for 2014.
Given the new structures and trends in baseball, player development may be more important than ever, but player development takes time. Between 2007-2011, the Giants had a very productive farm system, but have hit a bit of a downturn. That may change in the future, but is unlikely to change in the immediate future. Teams like the Giants who are looking to improve mid-season may look less to make big trades for name players and more towards adding international players or trying to bring players out of retirement, but as quick fixes these are less reliable and more difficult than simply trading for a player approaching free agency was in the past.