Defending champs heading home instead of playoffs

SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy made no plans for October. He fully planned to be working.

Instead, he will be busy in the coming days and weeks with player evaluations, sit-downs with his returning coaching staff, organizational meetings and a visit to the Arizona Fall League.

The reigning World Series champions are headed home early this year after high hopes of another special postseason run.

There were devastating injuries to Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, not to mention all the others, and an offense that couldn't produce the clutch hit that carried this club to walkoff wins and an improbable title last fall. Pitching performances were wasted because of quiet bats.

Forget the victory parade through the city for thousands to celebrate. Not this year.

Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean discussed what went wrong Thursday and what they plan to change moving forward — those sparkly World Series rings shining from their right ring fingers as a reminder of what went oh so right only 11 months ago.

The biggest questions facing Sabean and Bochy this winter are what commitments they will make to ace Tim Lincecum and fellow All-Star Matt Cain? Will slugger Carlos Beltran be back? Will catcher Posey and second baseman Sanchez return to their top form come 2012?

"Our pitching's going to get expensive, that's the punch line and we have to take care of that first," Sabean said.

Sabean expects left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to stay put, whether that means exercising his $5 million option or renegotiating with the reliever.

San Francisco has 13 arbitration-eligible players, and Sabean said they won't all be tendered contracts. There are also eight potential free agents, including Beltran.

"I made it clear since I got here this is a team I will consider strongly," said Beltran, who plans to weigh his options in free agency.

Sabean said the Giants will need a solid backup plan at catcher as not to overtax Posey when he returns, and perhaps a second baseman for insurance as well considering Sanchez's injury history.

Cody Ross will be a free agent and would like to land a two-year contract.

Barry Zito is expected to compete for the fifth starter job in spring training, along with fellow left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, the team's most reliable starter down the stretch in 2010.

The Giants are also asking Aubrey Huff to work harder, too.

Huff, rewarded with a $22 million, two-year contract last winter after hitting .290 with a team-leading 26 home runs and 86 RBIs, batted .246 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs this season.

"You go into the next year, that can't happen again or you have to make changes. He has to come in ready and he's expected to get back to the form that he was at the year before," Bochy said. "He was embarrassed. He was humbled by what happened. He's determined to get back where he was. He accepted full accountability for what happened to him this year and maybe not working as hard."

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