Can the Giants win it all without any injuries?
-- Casey B., Nev.
Thank you for teeing up the question I try to address in each year-ending Inbox: The prediction for the upcoming season. At the very least, the Giants should be legitimate postseason contenders. Obtaining free-agent closer Mark Melancon should help, even if he merely approaches his effectiveness of recent seasons.
"He just made the whole staff better -- trust me," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after Melancon's four-year, $62 million deal was officially announced. Melancon and the rest of the bullpen will buttress one of the best starting rotations in the Major Leagues. That alone should encourage the Giants and their fans.
Injuries are inevitable, even for highly successful teams. The reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs (try that phrase on for size) lost slugger Kyle Schwarber immediately last season and still dominated. The Giants must improve their depth to withstand prolonged absences of essential performers.
As for the incumbent regulars, perhaps being another year removed from injuries will enable second baseman Joe Panik and center fielder Denard Span to thrive. Obviously, the Giants will be much more equipped to stack up against their opponents and prevent the Dodgers from winning a fifth straight National League West title if they get a full season from Hunter Pence, the right fielder who appeared in just 158 games from 2015-16.
The Giants have another window of opportunity that they must force open to win World Series No. 4 in the franchise's San Francisco era. Catcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford and pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are among the game's very best at their respective positions. Few teams can match that array of talent. The Giants must nurture that core by keeping their top performers healthy and adding key players at appropriate times (such as a left fielder). Maintaining a slight but significant sense of urgency would help. The 2010-14 championship stretch has receded far enough into the past to require the Giants to get hungry all over again.
The Giants won three World Series with a slew of homegrown talent. What has happened to the organization's Minor League system, which currently has so few high-level prospects? What does the club have to do to reinvigorate its farm system?
-- Bob F., Truckee, Calif.
Those championships you cited are partially responsible for state of the Giants' system. By winning much more often than not in recent years, the Giants have typically made their first picks near the end of each Draft's first round, consequently selecting less-heralded performers. Consider: The Giants accomplished a rare feat by drafting three consecutive first-rounders who developed into All-Stars and excelled in the postseason: Tim Lincecum (2006), Bumgarner ('07) and Posey ('08). Lincecum and Bumgarner were taken 10th overall; Posey was fifth.
It's worth pointing out that other products of the Giants' system who helped them win big weren't highly regarded prospects. Crawford, Brandon Belt, Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo were drafted in the fourth, fifth, 24th and 28th rounds, respectively. Christian Arroyo, Tyler Beede and a handful of other current prospects should do just fine under the Giants' care and feeding.
Pardon my ignorance, but I never hear about the contract status of Bumgarner and Posey.
-- Ryan S., Halifax, Nova Scotia
You're about to hear a lot more about Bumgarner's contract. He's playing under the terms of an extremely club-friendly five-year, $35 million extension that includes team options for $11.5 million in 2017 and $12 million in '18 and '19. By today's standards, the four-time All-Star is grossly underpaid. Even Giants management knows this, though not much may happen with Bumgarner until Cueto decides whether to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract following the 2017 season. Bumgarner will have considerable bargaining leverage no matter what, but it'll skyrocket if Cueto re-enters free agency.
Posey will play for $21.4 million in each of the next five seasons. He's in line for a $22 million club option that has a $3 million buyout in 2022.
Where is Angel Villalona in the Giants' plans? Is he at Double-A Richmond or a free agent?
-- Steve F., Sunnyvale, Calif.
Villalona, 26, is a Minor League free agent. The first baseman-designated hitter was formerly the Giants' leading international prospect and signed for a then-club-record $2.1 million bonus in 2006. Villalona's career trajectory would seem to discourage a return to the Giants. For that matter, it's difficult to fathom any organization making a significant commitment to Villalona, given his career trajectory. In 650 Minor League games since 2007, he owns a .248/.309/.414 slash line with 84 homers and 364 RBIs. He batted .143 with one homer and five RBIs in 24 games for Richmond last season.
None of this is complete without some mention of Villalona's background. While playing for Class A Advanced San Jose in September 2009, an injured Villalona returned home to visit his family. A fatal shooting at a nightclub resulted in Villalona's arrest. He reportedly paid the victim's family $139,000 before charges were dropped for a lack of evidence.
Any chance of getting Matt Duffy back? That's good clubhouse mojo.
-- Susan P., Livermore, Calif.
Probably not until he becomes a free agent in 2021. You're right about his character, though. Duffy's quietly tough and eternally positive attitude makes him an excellent teammate, even if the club's struggling or he's slumping.
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.