3 Thoughts on the Winter Meetings #SFGiants

1. I meant to write about this during the playoffs, but didn’t get around to it. But, the Dodgers are scary. And we just saw why. They now have smart and savvy people calling the shots, along with boatloads of money. Imagine if the Yankees hired Billy Beane. That’s who the Dodgers are now. It’s the most special of all the sauces.

This is not to say that NL West race is over, or that the Giants are screwed. The Giants seem to have their own special sauce, and it takes great, thank you very much. And, as always, it’s important to remember that no one wins the World Series just because they made some moves in December.

But the Dodgers just got a lot better.

A lot.

2. On finishing second. It is frustrating that the Giants seem to be making a habit of being everyone’s second choice (see Lester, Jon, and Tomas, Yasmany, and Abreu, Jose). Every rumored name we keep hearing about (Brandon McCarthy, Ervin Santana, you name it) is getting snapped up by some other team.

Two points to make here: First, the Giants are thinking about the Jon Lester’s of the world, which means the team has resources and a willingness to spend. They didn’t lose out because they’ve had poor offers, they’ve lost because someone else was more appealing for whatever reason. Second, the Giants are very disciplined in this process, which is a really good thing. $120 million would have brought back Pablo and been a very stupid thing to do. They didn’t do it. Sometimes that no compromise attitude means losing the bid, but it also means staying within the game plan, and if I had one fear this off-season it is that the Giants would stray from the game plan.

3. What now? At the beginning of the offseason I wanted Pablo back and a couple of pitchers, primarily Ervin Santana. Both are gone. The hot rumors of the day seem to indicate that the Giants are pursuing James Shields. Also, Chase Headley is still available. If they get both of those guys for a combined total less than Lester’s money, that would be a huge win and represent an upgrade over my original hopes.

-SB

3 Ideas, Or Life Without Pablo #SFGiants

1. The Straightforward Approach:

The simplest way for the Giants to move forward is to get more pitching this offseason, perhaps bring in a cheap vet or two to fill some holes in the field, and let the season play out, leaving room to maneuver come July. Some possible names:

  • My favorite pitchers this offseason for the Giants are “second-tier” guys who won’t break the bank but could do really well in San Francisco. Guys like Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, and Brett Anderson.
  • This approach could also include the Giants returning guys like Peavy, Vogelsong, and Romo.
  • For the lineup you’d probably see Alex Rios, Alberto Callaspo, and maybe even Chase Headley.

Not all of those guys will be here next year, but if you hear these kinds of rumors and/or see these deals get done, it means the Giants are playing it straight.

Pros/Cons: the ultimate pro here is the idea of bolstering the pitching staff. If the Giants do that I think they can play Matt Duffy at third (or whoever) and Gregor Blanco in left and be ok. It keeps things flexible, allowing the Giants to play Buster Posey at first more, and use Brandon Belt in left, getting Andrew Susac into the line more as well. The cons are that this is not going to feel exciting to a fan base mourning the loss of its beloved Panda.

2. The All-In:

The all-in will get fan’s blood pumping, utilize the World Series cash, and if everyone is healthy potentially provide a roster that could be the best in the NL. Who does this include?

  • Jon Lester.
  • Yasmany Tomas.

One or the other (or both!) of these fellas means the Giants have thrown all caution to the wind and are desperately pursuing that elusive repeat World Series title.

Pros/Cons: on the positive side this would more than make up for losing Pablo in the eyes of many fans. It is the kind of headline grabbing move(s) that teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers love to make. The two biggest cons are (a) this is not how the Giants typically operate. One fear I have is that their success will lead them to deviate from the kind of moves that have made them so successful. Going all-in could pay off, but it would also change the mindset of a franchise that has done too many things well recently to chuck the plan. (b) This kind of move would make it impossible to keep all of the Belt/Crawford/Panik/Bumgarner/etc core around. Someone will eventually have to go.

3. The Curveball.

The Giants could go a totally different route and make some interesting trades.

  • What if they built a package around Brandon Belt for Cole Hamels?
  • What if they worked something out with the Reds and acquired Jay Bruce and/or one of their pitchers (like the dreaded Mat Latos)?
  • What if they cashed in any and all prospects to get a Jordan Zimmerman, or a Justin Upton?

The point here is that the Giants have money and they don’t have to spend it in free agency. They could take contracts off the hands of other teams.

Pros/Cons: the pro here is that the Giants get better in 2015 without having to play the silly free agency game. Brian Sabean has made some poor trades as we all know, but he’s also pulled off several incredibly lopsided trades in the Giants favor. Perhaps he has another rabbit up his sleeve. Negatively, the Giants would mortgage the future for the present. The Giants have an underrated farm system, but it is not as deep (or at least not perceived to be as deep) as other teams. There are many other organizations that could put together attractive deals for all the names listed above. Can the Giants do the same?

Conclusion: All of my recent posts should reveal where my thoughts are on this one. I think Pablo gave the Giants a gift by turning their offer down. The Giants now have flexibility to spend money in many different spots. I’m all about the straightforward plan, reinforcing the starting staff, and keeping things flexible for Bruce Bochy to sort out in April and May. There’s no reason to go all in at this point, and the Giants can make a trade in July when they have a sharper sense of what they really need.

So, bring back Romo, sign Santana or Liriano, take a flier on Brett Anderson, and if there’s still room, go find a glove to fill in at third base.

-SB

Sad Pandas #SFGiants #PabloSandoval

You are sad. It’s ok. You are a human being. A human being who allowed yourself to grow attached to men wearing shirts that say “San Francisco” on them.

There will be no more Panda sighting on the shores of McCovey Cove.

I’ll admit to being bummed. Although, I am not as bummed as if Pablo had of signed with the Dodgers or Padres.

But, I also admit to be kind of excited. What does this all mean? If Pablo came back, this offseason would have been pretty boring. Maybe a Peavy or a Vogelsong return, but that would have been it.

Now, it’s crazy town. You’re going to hear about Jon Lester. Yasmany Tomas. Chase Headley. And who knows what else. At least it will be interesting.

3 Thoughts:

1. Several other writers have pointed out the uniqueness of Pablo. How do you really measure his value? He represents such an interesting figure in recent Giants’ history, and yet signing him to a long-term deal could have been devastating. Can you imagine not being able to sign Crawford or Bumgarner because of Panda’s contract? On the other hand, who the heck is going to play 3B? This was a true conundrum from day 1.

In the end, the Red Sox have probably screwed themselves up both now and into the future. Which means they are going to trade Pablo to the Dodger after the 2016 season and then win the World Series in 2017 because baseball. (By the way, I live in Boston and sports radio here has been saying “heck no” to the Panda for weeks. They think he sucks. I think this is hilarious).

And the Giants may have screwed themselves too, but we have four more months of rumors and craziness before we can really know. Remember, it is rarely the team that “wins” the offseason that wins the real season.

2. The word is Pablo wanted a change. Pablo wanted money. Pablo wanted to be courted. Pablo wants to be BFFs with David Ortiz. Pablo wants to DH. All of that may be true.

I have my own theory.

As much as people in the Bay Area love the Panda, and as much as he as meant to this team, he is not Buster Posey. It was Posey’s presence who moved Pablo to 3B in the first place (remember he was a catcher). It was Posey who led the team to their first title in 2010 while Pablo sat on the bench. It was Posey who got paid the longest and richest contract in franchise history.

The Giants are Posey’s team.

The Red Sox are David Ortiz’s team (with Pedroia a close second), but I think Pablo wanted to be seen as vital. As a hier apparent. As “the man.” He was never going to be the man in San Francisco. He might not ever be the man in Boston but he could be. And that, as much as anything else, is why he left, in my opinion.

3. What next? The hot rumor of the day has the Giants going after Yasmany Tomas and Jon Lester. Tomas is another conversation for another post, but Lester gets your attention in a second.

If they didn’t have the money for Pablo how do they have it for Lester? It’s different money in terms of value, but it still begs the question. If the Giants get Lester then that’s pretty much it for the offseason.

I’d love to have Lester, don’t get me wrong, and it would certainly fulfill my hope to fortify the rotation, but I also think the Giants now have the flexibility to do several things:

  • Ervin Santana and Chase Headley?
  • 2 pitchers?
  • Bring back Romo?

I’m all in for Santana and Headley. But, it’s going to get weird now, hang on tight.

-SB

Life With and Life WithOut Pablo #SFGiants #PabloSandoval #Pitching

Since the New York Yankees won 3 straight World Series from 1998-2000 no team has been able to repeat even once.

I’ve written about my theory as to why this is true here, here, and here. Basically, it goes something like this: a team adds more pitching to a good team and is able to win the World Series, only to see a drop off the following year. That drop is usually due to not adding MORE pitching to help sustain the level of success seen in the championship year.

Of course, this is a simplified theory. There are probably a lot of reasons team’s struggle to repeat including the new CBA, complacency, injuries, the marked improvement of some other team, and the signficant fact that WINNING A WORLD SERIES IS REALLY HARD TO DO.

The Giants are outliers to my theory for a couple of reasons. The 2010 team pitched as dominantly as the 2009 and 2011 versions. The biggest difference there was Buster Posey. Again, a simplified explanation, but also true. When Buster played they won, when he wasn’t in the lineup they struggled.

The Giants saw a drop off occur in their pitching after the 2011 season. Simplified theory, part 2: Tim Lincecum started to suck. 2014 saw the team improve relative to the 2012-2013 versions, but it still is a ways off from where they were before.

I write all of this as a backdrop to the conflict I feel in my soul about Pablo Sandoval. Here are two links (one and two) that will tell you about the Pablo rumors swirling, just in case you’re still in World Series mode.

Now, somewhere in the bowels of Giants’ headquarters there is a white board with three columns on it. One column is labeled Left Field, another Third Base, and the final Starting Pitcher(s).

Underneath each header is a list of names of baseball players. Based on the Giants’ history and preferences I am almost certain that there are the following names at the top of each column: Alex Rios in LF (followed by Michael Morse, and internal options), Pablo Sandoval in 3B (followed by Chase Headley, Alberto Callaspo, and internal options), and Ervin Santana,  Jake Peavy, Francisco Liriano, Ryan Vogelsong, and a long list of other names under SP(s).

There are some years and dollar figures next to each name and there’s a scrolling feature for each column that allows Brian Sabean and the brain trust to mix and match, like a lock tumbler.

Of course there are a myriad options for the crew to consider: Peavy at 2 year, $15 million allows us to do x, y, and z, and so on it goes.

But, at the end of the day, there are two plans: Life With Pablo and Life Without Pablo.

And if I’m sitting in those meetings I can go either way.

Life With Pablo

Life with Pablo is going to take at least 5 years and it is going to cost at least $85 million. I’d be happy with that, but it’s probably going to take more than that and each dollar/year higher than this makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

But there are so many reasons to go there. People love Pablo. He puts butts in seats, and this is no small thing, especially for this group of owners. He is the most marketable/recognizable Hispanic player in a market that needs to be relevant to Hispanic fans.

Then there’s the reality that Pablo represents who the Giants are in many ways. You look at him and wonder “how does this work?” And yet it does. And that’s how A LOT of people look at this team and the run of the last 6 years.

He also is the embodiment (ha ha) of the kind of hitting approach that the Giants have used so successfully the last two championships: see pitches, make the pitchers work, foul stuff off, put the bat on the ball, put the ball in play, makes something happen.

The stat heads freak out about this kind of stuff, but if Posey is the steady hand at the wheel, and if Pence is the spiritual leader, Pablo is the heart and soul of this team. It is difficult to quantify that. His contract might detract from other future moves or prove to be a bummer at the end of the deal, but if there really is a three-year window of opportunity, Pablo helps you win in that window.

Life with Pablo probably means bringing back Ryan Vogelsong. Not that he’s a bad guy, but that’s the extent of the pitching reinforcements that Giants fans will see.

Life with Pablo means essentially running out the same team that you saw this year and hoping for some rebounds from Cain, Lincecum, etc, and while it’s possible it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

This is where my non-sentimental, logical baseball guy comes out.

The best way for the Giants to repeat next year is to reinforce the starting rotation. Most championship teams add pitching, or have pitching emerge over the course of the season that leads to an improved run production. This phenomenon is more predictive of success than offense, and correlates more to the actual results than how well the team’s offense produces year to year.

All that to say, the Giants are in a great position to repeat because most of their core lineup is in tact, which means they can invest their limited resources in pitching.

If they were to add even one quality starting pitcher, in addition to a fully restored Matt Cain, they would be well on their way to seeing a significant uptick in their pitching production.

So, logic would dictate that the best plan is:

Life Without Pablo

Life without Pablo would mean enough resources to go after several quality pitching options. The Giants could do a larger deal with Ervin Santana (who I think would flourish at AT&T). The Giants could do multiple deals with Francisco Liriano and Ryan Vogelsong. Or Liriano and a high risk/high reward type like Brett Anderson.

Life without Pablo would mean Gregor Blanco, starting left fielder. It would mean going cheap at third base. Alberto Callaspo? Adam Duvall? Matt Duffy? I’m not sure, but something along those lines. (Although the teams says there are no internal options).

Life without Pablo could also mean the return of Sergio Romo, who they would be able to pay, and who would be very important for relevance in the Hispanic market.

Conclusion

A part of me will die if Pablo goes to Boston or to the Dodgers (especially the Dodgers, who could also steal Romo, by the way).

The Giants have a lot of interesting options coming up through the system for the outfield, but there doesn’t appear to be anything compelling happening at third base. It’s such a rare thing in baseball these days to have a core guy play third base as well as Pablo does while hitting clean up. Even if he’s fat, it seems worth it.

But, those pitching numbers are hard to deny. And if the Giants could add two good options to the rotation for the price of a Panda how do they not do it? (For the record, whatever the Giants do I really, really want them to gamble on Brett Anderson. And I get very excited by the potential upside of Liriano and Anderson).

Life with Pablo is about stability and praying that someone (Lincecum, Petit, someone) steps up and boosts the staff from within. Life without Pablo is about adding the pitching reinforcements a team needs to make a strong run at repeating.

I can be convinced either way.

What should the Giants do?

Thinking Ahead (2015!) #SFGiants #RosterMoves

Evaluating a team’s needs after a Championship is one of the toughest things to do in sports. Think of the Giants decision makers right now: How could this year have gone any better?

I suppose the Giants could have kept up their torrid opening month’s pace and won 107 games. They could have swept their way through the postseason. Either way the result is the same: another ring and another parade.

What if, for the sake of a thought exercise, the Giants had Matt Cain at their disposal? Let’s say he was pitching at his career average level. About all we can surmise is that the Giants wouldn’t have traded for Jake Peavy. And that, certainly, could have set off a disastrous chain of events. Perhaps a trade for Chase Utley or Asdrubal Cabrera, which would mean no Joe Panik. The Giants won a World Series by essentially losing all the starts that Matt Cain would have made. Furthermore they found Joe Panik. Recipe for success.

All that to say: evaluating a team is so much easier after winning 76 games. I think this why the Giants have had a hard time repeating, and maybe that’s actually a good thing. It allows for the brass to take a good honest look at things and act accordingly.

Nonetheless, evaluation must happen, and so here’s my (very preliminary) best shot at thinking about the 2015 San Francisco Giants.

The Lineup

  • CF: All indications are that Angel Pagan will be ready to go and the starting CF/leadoff man in 2015. When he’s been healthy he’s been good and the Giants have won. It’s truly remarkable that they made it through the stretch run and postseason without him. The big questions for 2015 are (a) can Pagan stay healthy, and (b) can the Giants do some things to keep him around all year? If yes, I expect a productive year from him and this spot in the lineup
  • 2B: Joe Panik will be your opening day second baseman. As great as Joe was (and I love this dude), know that there are going to be ups and downs next year. There will be a stretch where you will wonder about starting Matt Duffy. There will be a stretch where he goes to the bottom of the lineup to find his swing. But, I think Panik showed why he should be a fine major league player for a long time. He plays good defense and showed a solid approach at the plate that will be able to get out of slumps and find ways to help even when the hits aren’t falling. A subplot here is some guy named Marco Scutaro (remember him!). I sort of hope (and I guess the Giants have the same hope) that he retires, which would save the Giants about $7 million. It sounds like he’s going to try to play, and if he can resemble his old self in any way, he would be a great utility/back up guy to spell Panik against tough lefties or when he simply needs a day off.
  • C: Buster Posey. Enough said. But while we are at, I will mention that the Giants have a couple of interesting things going on here. As we will see in a moment, the big decision this offseason (pun intended) focuses on Pablo Sandoval. If Pablo bolts, that opens things up for the Giants financially (they can spread the wealth). If he stays (which I think will happen) the Giants will try to keep their roster as flexible as possible, which has the potential to be a great thing. The Giants need to think about letting Posey play 1B about half the time, April through August. In order to do that, Brandon Belt will need to get some time in left field. It also means trusting Andrew Susac to catch. I would trust him. Doing so will allow Posey to stay fresh for the September/October run the team surely hopes to have next fall.
  • 3B: Again, Pablo Sandoval will be the biggest story of the offseason. MLBTrade Rumors has Pablo coming back the Giants, but Sports Illustrated sees him going to the Red Sox. That seems to be the early odds around the game. My guess is the Giants bring him back a little longer and a higher price than might be comfortable. But, there are a couple of things to remember here: First, the Giants don’t have that many things to do this offseason, so the timing is good. Yes, they need to pay some other guys, but there aren’t gaping holes in this roster. Pablo is fat, but he is also 28, and there just aren’t many 28-year-old, middle of the order, gold glove caliber players out there. In fact there are none. Plus there’s no one knocking on the door in the farm system. Second, locking up Pablo ensures that the Giants will have a core of Pagan, Panik, Posey, Panda, Pence, Brandon, and Brandon (plus Blanco and other bench pieces) for at leas the next two years, and all but Pagan for the year after that. That means the majority of this core could be together for another 3 years. That might be what tips the scale (pun intended) in favor of spending the money to keep the Panda around.
  • RF: Hunter Pence. It’s pretty remarkable how little there is to say here. He plays every day and he plays well. The end.
  • LF: What is ironic, and sometimes lost, in the Giants run of the past 5 seasons is that for 15 years the Giants invested everything they had in Left Field, and they never won the World Series. And then since 2007 they’ve had no stability in LF and they’ve won 3 titles. Part of that is just interesting, but part of that is highly illustrative. It’s not that LF is not important, but it’s obviously not as critical as other spots on the diamond. And this is actually important, because there is a faction that argues the Giants let Pablo go, figure out a cheap 3B option (Chase Headly or Alberto Callaspo), and go big in LF and sign Yasmany Tomas or even try to get Nelson Cruz. I think that’s foolish. It’s much more difficult to figure out 3B well and mix and match in LF, than it is the other way around. Plus, leaving LF flexible allows the Giants put Belt there when Posey is at 1B and not lose Belt’s bat. It also would allow the Giants to carry Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez AND possibly Gary Brown (if they want speed and defense) or an Adam Duvall type (if they want power). I don’t think they bring Michael Morse back (although another cheap deal wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world). I’d rather see the Giants spend on Pablo and go cheap and flexible in LF because it seems to be working.
  • 1B: Brandon Belt. As you may have noticed, I favor roster flexibility with Belt being in LF from time to time and Posey manning first base. I like the Giants ability to mix and match and find something that works, rather than being rigid and trying to have one guy be the answer at every position. But, most of the time, and certainly when the pressure is on late in the season this is where you want Brandon Belt.
  • SS: Brandon Crawford. If he doesn’t at least make the Gold Glove finals next years I’m going to eat my hat and write a series of nasty letters to various baseball writers. Plus, he’s getting better at the plate. What’s not to love.

Bench:

Gregor Blanco OF
Juan Perez OF
Gary Brown OF
Travis Ishikawa 1B/OF
Matt Duffy INF
Joaquin Arias INF
Marco Scutaro INF
Andrew Susac C
Hector Sanchez C

Obviously, there aren’t enough roster spots for all these guys. I would like to see the Giants commit to Gary Brown over Juan Perez (although Perez has shown he can handle the playoffs which is no small thing for a team trying to repeat), so if they only carry two OF my two are Brown and Blanco (for a nice righty/lefty speed and defense combo). However, if they go with flexibility all three could be in play. If they don’t bring Morse back that could open a spot for Ishikawa. I’d prefer the INF be Scutaro and Arias, because that would allow Duffy to develop at AAA. But, I also think Matt’s ready to do this full-time if need be. Finally, let’s all hope that Hector Sanchez can get healthy both for his personal well-being, but also because he creates a couple of opportunities for the Giants. He allows Posey to play more 1B and he could be a trade chip.

Starting Rotation:

In my mind, this is actually the biggest issue for the Giants this offseason. Pablo will dominate the headlines, but what the Giants do here will determine how successful they are at repeating next year (more on this in a later post).

The Giants could do nothing and actually field a starting five. It could look like: Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Lincecum, Petit. They are all back next year.

However, this doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, and we all know the Giants like depth, so there will be moves. I think Peavy is gone, Vogelsong could return, Petit and Lincecum will battle in the spring for the 5th spot, and the Giants could add someone else to the mix. But who and for how much are the interesting questions. There is no one knocking on the door right now in the system, but it’s not inconceivable that we start to see the next wave of good, young pitchers late in 2015 and ready to go for 2016. 

  1. Madison Bumgarner. No doubt here, although hold your breath on him staying healthy, strong, and effective all year. My guess is he’s fine in 2015, but wear and tear could become an issue later on down the road.
  2. Matt Cain. I have very little doubt that Matt Cain still has several good years in him. The question is how good? I think he probably has 2 elite years left and then several good years after that…he’ll be the fly ball version of Tim Hudson from 2017 on. His injuries are not the red-flag-structural sort, but more of the wear-and-tear-from-a-decade-of-professional-pitching sort. I’m counting on him being a horse next year.
  3. Here comes the really big decision and the most important move of the offseason. The Giants could go cheap here and bring back Ryan Vogelsong (not the worst idea and it may be what they have to do if they sign Pablo), but I think they need to do more than that. Trade Rumors has the Giants signing Ervin Santana (which I would be ecstatic about at 3 yrs/39 million), and SI has the team picking up Japanese import Kenta Maeda (which I would be less ecstatic about, but it would be interesting). They could also go high risk, high reward here and bring in Brett Anderson or Brandon McCarthy. My preference/prediction is Santana, because I think he’s the best pitcher, for the best deal, and he will be a bridge guy (Lincecum and Hudson are gone after 2015), while the Giants wait on Kyle Crick, Tyler Beede, et al. to figure it out). Remember, the Giants have a 2-3 year window with the majority of the current core, so it wouldn’t hurt to invest in a 3 year pitcher if he’s the right guy (and I think Santana is the right guy… and it would be the right park and the right team behind him…just hope the price is right).
  4. Tim Hudson. Hudson could be worse next year. In fact, his overall numbers will likely be worse because it’s hard to imagine him replicating the stretch he produced to start 2014. But, he could also be better. Why? How? Well, consider that he had massive ankle surgery late in the season in 2013. I think part of the reason he slowed down was that his ankle rehab prevented him from a normal offseason workout. He should be able to get his body ready to go, be more consistent throughout 2015, and hopefully finish stronger than he did this year.
  5. Tim Lincecum/Yusmeiro Petit. The Giants are hoping Lincecum can figure something out and be the guy here. I actually think he would benefit from a move to the ‘pen and the team would be better off giving 175 innings to Petit in a starting role and 100ish to Lincecum in a super reliever role. Who knows, maybe Timmy finds himself in bullpen (wouldn’t be the first time) and can become yet another weapon for Bochy late in games.

 Bullpen:

The big question in the ‘pen is whether the Giants bring back Sergio Romo, an integral part of the “Core 4” who have gotten huge, late outs in all 3 World Series runs. Romo, though, could command closer money from a team desperate for help closing out games (and that is A LOT of teams). I think Romo is gone (I for one will be sad about this, as will all the Mexican-American Giants’ fans, of which there are many).

Bullpens are incredibly hard to predict, but the Giants will count on Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez (all returning) for sure, plus Hunter Strickland, Jean Machi, George Kontos, Juan Guitierrez, Tim Lincecum, Eric Cordier, Derek Law, and even Brett Bochy will be in the mix. Count on the Giants to make some offers to guys on minor league deals. They also seem to find gems every year. 

Opening Day Roster:

Starting Line Up

  • CF Angel Pagan
  • 2B Joe Panik
  • C Buster Posey
  • 3B Pablo Sandoval
  • RF Hunter Pence
  • 1B Brandon Belt
  • SS Brandon Crawford
  • LF Gregor Blanco

 Bench

  • OF Juan Perez
  • OF Gary Brown
  • INF Marco Scutaro
  • INF Joaquin Arias
  • C Andrew Susac
  • C/1B Hector Sanchez

 Starting Rotation

  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Matt Cain
  • Ervin Santana
  • Tim Hudson
  • Tim Lincecum

Bullpen

  • Santiago Casilla (CL)
  • Jeremy Affeldt
  • Javier Lopez
  • Jean Machi
  • Hunter Strickland
  • George Kontos
  • Yusmeiro Petit

-SB

Reflections, Thoughts, Memories, Heroes. #SFGiants #THREERINGS #WorldChampions

Where to start?

Let’s begin with second guessing:

1. Ned Yost was destined to cost the Royals a game at some point in this postseason. It was going to happen in one of three ways: (1) bunting, (2) stealing, (3) a rigid approach to his bullpen.

He did so well for so long, but the bunt in the fifth inning against Bumgarner was a gift for the Giants. If you watch Bumgarner you know his biggest struggles tend to come early. How much more so given the short rest and entering the game in an unfamiliar situation. Bum still needed a good play (and great positioning) from Juan Perez to get out of the inning, but that bunt changed everything in my mind.

2. Maybe the biggest second guess of the night, came in the ninth inning. Alex Gordon hit a single that the Giants turned into a disaster. [Side Note: this play, in my opinion, is the single greatest difference between the #THREERINGS Giants and previous iterations. In another life, the Giants blow this game thanks to that misplay. But not this team. Not Bochy’s Giants.]

There are many Royals fans, and baseball fans in general, who wished Gordon was sent/ran through the stop sign. I have to be honest, as that play was unfolding in seemingly the slowest of slow motions, I could see it happening: Buster Posey having to block home plate to win the World Series. Of course this crazy postseason would end that way.

But, Gordon didn’t run. There are couple reasons he didn’t go home. One is that he was slow out of the box, assuming the ball would be caught or drop in for a single. He didn’t kick it into high gear until he rounded first.

Also, Brandon Crawford. This is the time to sing the praise of Brandon Crawford. I know he made more than an acceptable amount of errors this year, but how is he NOT a gold glove finalist? He made three fantastic plays in this game that saved the game.

  • First, in the second inning he made a ridiculously smooth play on an Aoki chopper right after Affeldt came in to get a force at second. That play is really, really  hard to make, and he made it look easy. That’s part of the problem with Crawford, he makes hard things look too easy and I think that means he gets taken for granted sometimes.
  • Second, Panik deserves all the credit in the world for his amazing play on the Hosmer double play in the third. The range, the instincts, the flip, all incredible. But the flip was a bit of a rainbow and it threw the timing of the play off, which meant that Crawford had to make the throw flat footed. And he gunned it to barely nail a diving Hosmer at first. You have to have an incredible arm to make that throw.
  • Third, on that fateful ball that Gordon hit, the Royals didn’t send him because Crawford (a) make an incredible pick up on a bad short hop throw…if he muffs that throw Gordon scores easily, and (b) has that incredible arm. Most of the breakdowns of that play I’ve read have Gordon being thrown out easily. The only way he scores there is if Crawford throws the ball in the stands or if Gordon blows up Posey and knocks the ball out, which we all know is illegal now.

One more thought on this play. I know Royals fans will replay it again and again and debate whether Gordon should have gone, but I actually think he should have stayed at second base. In a weird way Juan Perez may have saved the game by bobbling the ball and allowing Gordon to go to third. That meant Bumgarner was able to stay in the wind up. The way he was pitching it may not have mattered, but he had only been in the stretch for a few pitches all night, and hadn’t thrown from the stretch since the 5th. If Gordon’s on second Bum’s in the stretch and maybe that makes a difference. We’ll never know.

3. One final second guess: Hosmer is getting a lot of flack for sliding into first base on that double play. And he should. I never like that play. But, what about Lorenzo Cain sliding head first into second!!! That is one of the dumbest plays I have ever seen. Slide in feet first and maybe he throws off Crawford, or makes him jump which takes something off the throw, anything but head first.

Reflections on 2014:

I posted this last night/this morning, but it bears repeating: The Giants just won the World Series for the third time in five years without:

  • Angel Pagan, leadoff man and starting center fielder (really think about that for a minute. Not only did they lose Pagan, but it meant relying on Blanco, who is an admirable fill in, and Ishikawa/Perez/Morse. It worked out, but a lot of us thought the Giants were done when Pagan had to shut it down).
  • Matt Cain. Again, who would have thought the Giants could survive this. This team can survive a lot, but not losing a key starting pitcher. It’s an interesting thought exercise to wonder how this all would have gone done with Matt Cain. It is easy to think they would have had an easier time. Certainly, they would have fared better against the Royals with another dominant starter. But, you never know.
  • A Buster Posey home run. Or extra base hit for that matter. In terms of the guys who were there and played, this is the most remarkable part of the story. In order for the Giants to overcome the aforementioned loses one would think the only way to do it was with an otherworldly display by Posey. Now, let me say that in many ways he was otherworldly. Just not with the bat. The dude was so tired. He caught all but 2 innings, including all of the 18 inning game (that game might be the biggest factor in the Giants winning it all and in Posey wearing down). He played great behind the plate and he guided the pitchers through. He doesn’t get enough credit for the way he calls games and handles pitchers. Also, huge hat tip here to Panda and Pence who were awesome. So awesome.
  • Tim Lincecum. Most Giants fans could have envisioned the Giants doing well this season without Lincecum. He was a huge question mark coming into the year and no one really batted an eye when he went to the bullpen. But, think back over the years and is there anyway you could see the Giants winning a third ring without Lincecum contributing in some significant way? Hard to imagine.

The Royals beat an Angels team that was missing it’s ace. They beat an Orioles team missing three All-Star components of it’s starting lineup. But, they could not beat a Giants team missing some key pieces. What a resilient group of guys.

Madison Bumgarner:

The most amazing thing I had ever seen in baseball prior to this October was Barry Bonds. I know Bonds is a polarizing figure, but I will defend him as the greatest hitter of all time to my death.

And here’s the reason why: it wasn’t the number of home runs or the great distances they traveled (although that was amazing).

Barry Bonds was a marvel because he might only see 1 hittable pitch per game, sometimes per series. And he’d crush it. To do that requires an incredible discipline and an ability to repeat flawless mechanics at any given moment.

I know Bonds was all hopped up on a variety of things (who wasn’t at that point in the game’s history), but no amount of HGH can help you do what Bonds did, which is crush the ONLY good pitch he saw over a period of hours or even days. It was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.

Until this October. Madison Bumgarner is good, I have no doubt about that, but I have never seen anything like that. No offense to Orel Hershiser, Dave Stewart, John Smoltz, Andy Petite, Roger Clemens, Josh Becket, Livan Hernandez, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Lester, and others.

The only thing I can compare it to is Curt Schilling and even he tweeted last night that Bum’s performance was the best ever. You shouldn’t be get people out that often. He did it. Unreal.

Not to be overly pessimistic, but the Giants relied heavily on Tim Lincecum in 2010 and he’s know a spot reliever. They relied heavily on Matt Cain and he had bone spurs removed from his elbow. They just relied more heavily on Madison Bumgarner than either of those guys, and so naturally I am worried about the long term effects.

If anyone is big enough and strong enough to bounce back it’s MadBum, but man that was a lot of innings/pitches.

On the Giants Good Fortune:

One of the redeeming qualities of Bumgarner’s dominance is that it seems to be taking away form the “Giants-are-lucky” narrative. It’s hard to call a team that wins #THREERINGS in five years lucky, but I’m still glad to not have to hear about it, at least not today.

Having said that it is worth reflecting on the Giants good fortune this postseason. Any team, no matter how talented, requires some good fortune to pull this off, so here we go:

  • I still think the biggest break the Giants caught came when Clint Hurdle chose to start Edinson Volquez in the Wild Card Game. He could have not started Gerrit Cole in game 162 and saved him for the WCG (his best/smartest decision). Or he could have gone with Francisco Liriano (a better matchup with all the lefties in the Giants line up). He went with option 3. It may not have mattered because MADISON BUMGARNER. But, still a big break for the Giants.
  • I think the second biggest break the Giants got was not having to face the Dodgers. They’d seen them so many times all year, and especially late in the season, and didn’t fare so well, especially against Zach Grienke. I think seeing a relatively unfamiliar foe in the Washington Nationals was important. Not having to face Clayton Kershaw (and Greinke) was a gift. The Nationals can pitch too, really well, but the psychology of facing the Dodgers in a short series would have been a huge challenge. So, thank you Nationals for having a better record than the Dodgers.
  • And thank you Cardinals for beating the Dodgers.
  • And thank you Matt Williams and Mike Matheny for the poor handling of your bullpens. (Although the pressure the Giants apply to teams had something to do with that).
  • Finally, the Giants caught a break by facing a very good Royals team that lacked the one thing they needed: an ace to match Madison Bumgarner. Now, the Royals may have one (Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy could be that guy as early as next season), and certainly James Shields was thought to be that guy, but they had no one to answer Bumgarner. Of course, there may not ever have been an answer to Bumgarner, but imagine this Giants team facing the A’s or the Tigers. There may have been other ways to beat those teams, but certainly their starting pitching would have been an overall advantage. Instead they got a team with just as many question marks in the rotation as they had, which allowed the room for Bumgarner to rise far above all.

Favorite Memories:

  • Crawford’s slam
  • Bumgarner’s first shut out
  • Strickland striking out Ian Desmond with the bases loaded
  • Yusmeiro Petit, 18 innings, and a Brandon Belt home run (h/t to Panda)
  • The worst intentional ball of all time
  • Santiago Casilla
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Ishikawa’s bases load double
  • The Bunt
  • Jeremy Affeldt, so many times, so many zeros
  • The comeback
  • Hunter Pence in the field, and at the bat
  • Ishikawa’s error
  • Michael Morse’s home run
  • Romo being nasty again
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Jeremy Affeldt running to first base
  • The Ishikawa Walk-Off
  • Pence’s homer
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • The Strickland meltdown
  • Second guessing game 3 (Posey vs. Hosmer)
  • The game 4 uprising
  • Joe Panik
  • Madison Bumgarner’s second shutout
  • Juan Perez taking Wade Davis off the top of the wall
  • The game 6 meltdown
  • Sacrifice flies, “runs-thrown-in”, Michael Morse’s cobra power
  • Crawford’s glove
  • I love Joe Panik
  • Panda wink’s
  • Jeremy Affeldt again
  • MADISON BUMGARNER
  • Buster crying
  • Sabean crying
  • Affeldt crying

In Conclusion:

Back in 2010 the Giants erased all the bad postseason memories that had haunted fans for decades. When they did it again in 2012 it lead me to think about correlations between past shortfalls.

In my mind, 2010 erased 2002. They were the closest comps I had at the time, and it seemed to be a cosmic baseball even out: every time tragedy could have struck they avoided it. 2012 made up for 2003, good teams that got themselves in holes. 2003 couldn’t dig out, 2012 did.

But, then this year happened, and at first I thought this was about 1993. An 88 win/second wild card team taking it all seemed to make up for a 103 win/no postseason tragedy.

But, now I’ve changed my mind:

  • 2010 was about the whole history, not any specific year. It was about an unlikely band of misfits doing what all the star powered offensive machines of years past could not do. It was a tiny pitcher filling the large shoes of Bonds, Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Clark, Williams, and reaching heights they never could in San Francisco.
  • 2012 was about 2003, 2000, 2004, 1997, 1998, 2009, etc. Any team that fell just short, erased by a team that should have/could have been put down 6 times.
  • 2014 is the one that heals the wounds of 2002. The parallels between the teams and the series were eerie. Young upstart vs. veteran experience. 2 Wild Card teams. Giants win game 1, Royals/Angels win 2 and 3, Giants come back at home and win 2 big games, Giants give away/blow game 6, and then a final game 7. Once again, the Bochy Giants are so different from the Dusty Baker Giants. No folding, no giving up, no backing down. Road teams were 0-9 in the last 9 games 7’s dating back to 1982. If you lose game 6, you lose game 7, or so it goes.

And so, of course, as they have so many times in the past 5 years the Giants defied the odds, bucked the trends, and emerged, unbelievably, victorious. Kings of the Mountain.

World Champions.

-SB

World Champions Again. #SFGiants

Just a couple of thoughts, more thoughtful writings to come later.

First, go read Grant.

Second, the Giants just won a World Series without a number 2 starter (man did they miss Matt Cain in this World Series), without their best hitter hitting (no home runs for Buster Posey who I think played hurt, but still played like a boss), without their leadoff man and center fielder Angel Pagan (and as good as Blanco was, Pagan was missed at times, especially with the LF situation), and with several other roster question marks (Hunter Strickland, Tim Lincecum, Michael Morse, just to name a few).

Third, when all is said and done, Jeremy Affeldt is one of the great Giants of all time. I will fight you to the death on this one.

Fourth, remember when the Giants tried Dan Uggla at second base for two games. I LOVE JOE PANIK has been my mantra all postseason. So good. Can’t wait to watch him for several more years.

Fifth, my worst case scenario basically played itself out, and Bruce Bochy went in a different direction than I would have thought, bringing in Affeldt early. It was the right move. Then he went to Bumgarner for what he/we thought might be 2 or 3 innings. He never had to make another move. Sometimes the best move is the move you don’t make. Bruce Bochy for life, man. He’s the best.

Sixth, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval had GREAT series’ with their bats and gloves. They covered for Posey big time.

Seventh, the Royals are good. Hat tip to those guys. I’ve been hyping them to my KC friends (who are a cynical bunch) for two years and it nearly came back to bite me. But, they are good.

Eight, Brian Sabean cries every time. Without fail. He’s the best.

Ninth, Michael Morse will make you want to eat your hat. He also drove in the winning run. He was huge in his limited action this postseason. CobraPower.

Tenth, odes will be written to Madison Bumgarner. Boy names in the Bay Area are pretty much taken care of for the next year. There’s not much left to say. All I know is that what he did this postseason, from Pittsburg on, is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen in 25+ years of watching baseball.

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