February 5

Aubrey Huff’s quick wit is always at the ready, and after 2011, it’s gallows humor.

At a Q & A session during Saturday’s Giants FanFest, a little girl asked Tim Lincecum how he felt when Buster Posey was injured by Florida’s Scott Cousins in a home plate collision.

That drew an “awwwww” from the crowd, and Posey drew laughs when he made a sad face. Then Huff said his first thought was, “there goes the offense.”

In retrospect, Posey’s awful night in May was the turning point of a season that ended with disappointment; along with the shoulder injury to Freddy Sanchez. On the flip side, their return to health and effectiveness are keys to a Giants rebound in 2012.

Both can at least laugh a little now.

Posey moved about easily Saturday, and by all accounts his rehab is going well. He is also considering using a different catcher’s mask to reduce the risk of concussions, a concern before the home plate collision last May.

During our Q & A session, Sanchez told me his rehab from shoulder injury is going well, although his constant workout regimen is tough. The real test will be when he needs to make a throw to first from behind the second base bag, while heading toward the outfield. He has had surgery on both shoulders, partly due to his all-out style of play, and Sanchez says he won’t change that.

Even if both Posey and Sanchez return, there is no guarantee they will make the same contributions. Things have changed.

Posey gave the Giants a huge edge in 2010 because he was almost exclusively a catcher. Now he might catch four days a week to reduce the risk of injury. However, the offense was so bad last year that Posey’s bat is welcome, no matter where he plays.

Sanchez is close to a .300 hitter when healthy, but staying on the field has been an issue in his career. There’s no guarantee he can play 150 or 160 games this year. In addition, he is 34 now, and his range isn’t quite what it used to be.

Nonetheless, a healthy Sanchez will be an upgrade from anything the Giants ran out to second base last year. Also, his presence in the two-hole should help make the offense more efficient.

Posey and Sanchez are two of the biggest question marks on a team with many.

Can the offense re-emerge from the Dead Ball Era of 2011 ? Can Huff return close to his form of 2010? Can Brandon Belt step up to the next level as a major league hitter — or can he even get enough playing time to get into a groove ?

Can Melky Cabrera approach the impressive numbers he put up in Kansas City last year, on a team that will probably play more pressure-packed games ? Will a change of scenery help Angel Pagan, and can he make a contribution from the leadoff spot ?

Can Brandon Crawford handle the job of an every-day shortstop, and can he provide more at the plate than a Johnnie LeMaster ? Can Pablo Sandoval continue to take his physical fitness seriously now that he has a three-year deal and an All-Star game under his belt, or will he have too much girth for his belt to take ?

Can Brian Wilson recover from the wear and tear of 2010 and 2011 ? He admits to pushing himself to the max to get a World Series ring in ’10, something he doesn’t regret. Can Ryan Vogelsong repeat his impressive All-Star campaign of 2011, or will the back of the baseball card rear its’ ugly head ?

The odds of having all those questions answered positively are not great, but if most are, the Giants have a real shot to win the NL West.

During our Q & A session, Vogelsong said his experience in Japan was a big help in his career. Sanchez, a teammate of his in Pittsburgh, said Vogelsong was a hard thrower then but has now learned to be a true pitcher.

Vogelsong and Sanchez, by the way, might want to take their act on the nightclub circuit. They cut it up for the fans on the Club Level. Sanchez relayed how he hit a home run with a Vogelsong bat. I asked him how long he kept it and he said, “until it broke.”

Someone asked Vogelsong about his tattoos, of which provided only partial information. A couple are related to his strong faith. I asked him about Ryan Roberts of Arizona, who has tats going up his neck: he said “I don’t know, I haven’t checked him out.”

There were plenty of laughs and fewer complaints at this year’s FanFest. There were about 5,000 fewer fans, and the entire field was available so people could roam around. Autograph lines were still longer than toilet paper lines in Stalinist Russia, but no one should be surprised at this point.

That November night in Texas seems a long time ago, but there’s no doubt the Giants still have a massive, enthusiastic fan base. Last year’s string of mishaps and injuries showed how difficult it can be to repeat a championship, but for players and fans, there is reason to hope for a bounce-back year.


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