Timmeh, Part 2

All sources seem to indicate the Giants will be signing Tim Hudson to a 2-year, $23 million deal. We can argue for days about whether this is a better baseball move than, say, signing Josh Johnson, but it’s a solid move for two reasons:

  1. Length of deal
  2. Relative expected production

In other words, we aren’t going to be cursing Hudson’s lengthy contract in a few years when the team is trying to figure out what to do with him (ala Rowand and Zito), he won’t be blocking any young, fresh arms, and while a healthy and productive Josh Johnson is a better pitcher than a healthy and productive Tim Hudson, the certainty that Hudson is healthy and productive is greater than that of Johnson.

So, you know what you’re getting and you are not married to it forever. Hopefully that’s not damning by faint praise. Hudson should be a great number 4 starter for a major league team competing for the playoffs in 2014, and if Cain and Lincecum are good, he will.

One other thought on this move. The Giants are never thought of as money-ball/market inefficiency exploiting organization, but over the past couple of years they have done two things relatively well compared to other teams:

  1. Find gems on the non-roster invitee lists. From Chad Gaudin to Juan Uribe to Ryan Vogelsong, they have exploited this no other team.
  2. Act quickly. This is either a stroke of genius or foolish impatience, but it sure looks like genius from where I sit right now. The Giants jumped the market on their biggest needs: outfield/power and the rotation. I think when it is all said and done the deals cut for Pence, Lincecum, and Hudson are going to look pretty good. Those guys still need to come through and produce, but when compared to what a Ricky Nolasco or a Sin Soo Choo will get this offseason, it will be tough to argue the Giants could have done much better.

Time will tell of course, but good moves Giants.

(-SB)


Some Thoughts on Trades

Major League Baseball in 2013 is a different beast than a decade ago. It used to be, poor teams said goodbye to their best players and rich teams signed them up to fat contracts and then won a bunch of baseball games. But free agency has turned into an incredibly inefficient system. Over the past couple of years you can rattle off several names that came at steep prices for minimal returns (and that’s just the Angels, boom!).

This is partly why the Giants are either mad-geniuses or simply mad for jumping the gun and locking up Pence and Lincecum. It’s also why I’m not super excited about the list of potential free agents out there (see yesterdays post).

What this means is that trades have become THE way to exploit inefficiencies and improve your team quickly. The Red Sox are an extreme example but their mega-trade with the Dodgers in August of 2012 is the reason they were able to construct the roster that just won them the world series.

The Atlanta Braves are a great example of all these points: brilliant trade to land an impact bat in Justin Upton, and poor free agent decision in signing his brother, BJ, to an expensive deal.

All of this to say: should the Giants explore trades instead of simply adding players through free agency?

My bold answer: probably.

One of the things that makes off-season trade ideas difficult is determining who is actually available. So, far though, we’ve heard rumors of several players placed on the block by their teams. The quick list:

1) David Price: Price is the prize of the trade rumor mill this winter. The Dodgers are already hatching evil plans, and just about anyone who has any kind of decent prospect is going to be floated because Price is good and cheap for another year or so. He would look great in orange and black and go a LONG way to restoring order. The price (pun intended) will be STEEP.

2) Brandon Phillips: Andrew Baggarly’s been pushing this for a couple of weeks, mainly because he wants an all-Brandon infield, but there are things to like here. He’d be a big defensive upgrade over Scutaro, and he’d allow Scutaro to take on a utility role that he might be better suited to at this stage in his career. I think his power would play well at AT&T and his inside-out swing could pound triples ally. He won’t come cheap either but certainly less than Price.

3) Mark Trumbo: Trumbo is not a complete player by any stretch of the imagination but he can hit home runs. He’s an Adam Dunn/all or nothing type who could decline pretty quickly, but the home runs will be tempting.

4) Daniel Murphy: Murphy is the kind of guy that Brian Sabean loves. He is scrappy. He doesn’t walk a ton, doesn’t strike out a ton, doesn’t hit for a ton of power, and has a decent average. He’ll fit right in. On a less sarcastic note, Murphy is lefty swinger who has played 2nd, 1st, 3rd, and the outfield making him an ideal platoon partner with Scutaro at 2nd and a right-handed power hitter in left. I find it nearly impossible to believe this deal doesn’t get done.

5) Dark Horse: no idea who this might be, but I hope the Giants remember the Sanchez for Melky trade. I love the idea of buying low on a young player that someone else is frustrated with.

I have no idea what the Giants would/could/should offer for these guys. Perhaps another post for another time. I would like to offer the following suggestions:

Don’t Trade These Guys:

  • Pablo Sandoval: The Panda would probably fetch the biggest (once again, pun intended) return of anyone on the Giants roster. However, it is my belief that a highly motivated Panda is going to have a huge 2014 season as he heads into free agency. I totally understand the school of thought that says “turn that potential into gold,” but the Giants want to win now and I believe the best way to do that is keep the Panda and let him mash away in their lineup.
  • Brandon Belt: Belt could also be a great chip, although not as bountiful as the Panda. I feel the Giants should keep Belt for much of the same reasons: he’s really starting to put it together and unless someone backs up the truck for BB keep him and reap the benefits of patience.
  • Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton, Heath Hembree, and Edwin Escobar: I am no prospect expert. I try to keep my eye on things but this is not a place I can really claim to know what I am talking about. So, my completely gut-based assessment of our system is that these 4 are untouchable (plus anyone drafted this year). This means I would be ok trading Clayton Blackburn and Gary Brown and others. I might be wrong about Blackburn but he seems the least likely of our top arms to develop into a top-notch starter. I might be eating my words on this, but if we need to move a prospect to make a good deal happen I’d be ok with this one. The other 4, not so much.

My offseason predictions: trade for Daniel Murphy, sign Bronson Arroyo, add a piece to the bench and bullpen. My dream: Carlos Beltran. Let’s do this Sabes.

(-SB)


2014 Here We Come!

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, who officially give the Giants grounds for much hope as we head into the off-season. One of the ways the Red Sox pulled it off was through magical resurgences by pitchers who sucked. This is also critical to the Giants hopes for next season.

The other strategy was savy free agent gambles that paid off handsomely (if you consider gnarly beards to be handsome…also World Series titles). Mike Napoli, Johnny Gomes, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, David Ross, and Ryan Dempster were all brought in and contributed in some way.

So, who might be out there to help the Giants? MLBTradeRumors has their list up to date and so I’ve been checking it out and here are a few lists:

No Way, please NO!

  1. Curtis Granderson/Sin Soo Choo/Jacoby Ellsbury: These are three good players, but any kind of power they have will be killed by AT&T and they are going to cost much money. Don’t even kick these tires Giants…huge waste of time.
  2. Brian McCann: I like McCann but it sure sounds like it’s going to take a boatload of money to get him and, hey, I think we have a catcher already. Oh, no problem, just send Belt to the outfield and let McCann and Posey split time between first and catcher (even though McCann has never played there). Sure, sounds like a GREAT idea.
  3. Barry Zito: just making sure you are paying attention

Ok, But I’m not Thrilled

  1. Dan Haren: there are actually a lot of middling pitchers out there. My fear is that the Giants will look at some of them (like Haren), who have brand names, and throw some money at them with the hopes that the Righetti/Ballpark magic will make them good again. I do think there’s some magic in that combination but I hope they apply it wisely. I have a hard time believing Haren is a wise choice.
  2. Bronson Arroyo: Many people seem to think this is going to happen, done deal. I’m worried because if Timmy grows his hair out and Bronson is on the team, my wife will never watch baseball with me again. I actually think Arroyo is a good fit, but I’m also worried about the money and time commitment to get him.
  3. Nelson Cruz: the Giants have never shied away from left fielders with PED problems. I love Cruz’s bat, but there’s a lot of baggage and the dude gets hurt ALL THE TIME.  (Same can be said for Mike Morse).

Risky, But I’m Interested

  1. Ubaldo Jimenez: He’s was amazing, then he stunk for a while, then he was amazing again (but only for half the season). If we’re going to double down on the Giants ability to revive pitchers than I like taking my chances with U.
  2. Masahiro Tanaka: Some say: Ace, others say: Good pitcher. Either way, he’s going to be expensive. I have no problem with the Giants going for it on this one. The biggest risk is financial.

What I Really Want

  1. Carlos Beltran: There it is world. It all comes back around. He’s the prime candidate for a two-year, incentive laden deal, and oh how I would love to finally see him mash with Posey/Pablo/Belt/Pence. It’s probably not going to happen (boooo Yankees), but this is my heart’s desire.

Thoughts on trades coming soon…

(-SB)


What the Cardinals and Red Sox Can Teach the Giants

It’s been fascinating living in Boston this year, watching people react to the Red Sox. At first, it was apathetic (Napoli who?), than it was resignation (we’re going to suck again), then it was mild interest and excitement (we don’t suck), than it was sentimental (Boston  strong and cute beards), then it got serious (playoffs!), and then it got out of control (the city nearly threw the parade after the game victory).

Now it’s back to worrying about curses, and can a team without stars actually win a world series (um, yes).

Anyway, those are just some thoughts, and now for the real heart of the matter: what this world series teaches our beloved SF Giants.

  • The Red Sox Way:

We’ll begin here because their situation most closely resembles where the Giants are at right now. Last year everything fell apart for the Sox, which led to a major, house cleaning, trade with the Dodgers. In the wake of all that transition the Red Sox did two things: (a) take short term gambles on players who could potentially produce what the needed most (power, defense, and character). (b) they hoped and prayed their starting pitchers who used to be good, got good again.

This is applicable to the Giants because they do not have tons of money to spend on free agents. And there aren’t any big name free agents that really get your blood pumping. And recent history suggests it is very unwise to go all in on name brand free agents anyway (just ask the Angels).

In fact, the Red Sox stole strategy A from the Giants (Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Gregor Blanco, Marco Scutaro, etc). The Giants are going to need to replicate this success somehow this offseason.

And it sure looks like strategy B is where we are headed as well. The resign of Tim Lincecum follows the same kind of logic the Red Sox have employed with John Lackey and Jon Lester. Hope the magic comes back. And it has. I have no idea how, but it has. I’d be shocked if Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t in the rotation to start 2014. Same strategy.

Employing these two strategies together seems foolish (more on this later), but it worked for the Red Sox (and aren’t the Giants the Red Sox to the Dodgers Yankee’s in this crazy new baseball world?).

  • The Cardinals Way:

The Cardinals are in the World Series (and are the best organization in baseball) because they produce their own quality players year in and year out. And there are more on the way. It’s actually quite scary and hard to fathom.

For a while this was the Giants‘ strategy. The core of the two championship teams includes a long list of home grown talent (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford, even Jonathan Sanchez and Nate Schierholz helped with their play and by getting traded for good things).

And there is another wave coming, especially in the pitching department. But, not much help for 2014.

  • And what about Moneyball?

This might seem like a non-sequitur, but hear me out. Let us all remember that Moneyball is not about on-base percentage, it is about market inefficiencies and exploiting resources other teams neglect.

Over the past couple of years, the Giants have (to the surprise of many around baseball) been on the front edge of a couple of trends: (a) run-prevention (i.e. pitching and defense), (b) minor-league free agent gold (like Juan Uribe or Santiago Casilla or Ryan Vogelsong), (c) dramatically undervalued veterans (like Aubrey Huff and Marco Scutaro), and (d) creating a contact heavy, low strikeout lineup.

[a quick aside about D. recent post-season history has borne out the reality that high contact teams are much better suited for playoff success than low contact/high power teams...the last 3 world series bear this out, as does the on-going frustrations of the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, two teams that strikeout way too much. the current world series matchup is, perhaps, the greatest test of this to date: the Cardinals should win this series because they strike out dramatically less than the Red Sox. so far, games 1 and 2 hold true: whoever strikes out the most at the plate loses.]

All of which leads us to the Giants strategy this offseason: last year they pretty much brought everyone back and it didn’t work. So far, the are doubling down on that strategy and paying a steep price for it. Most pundits have been very critical of both contracts, seeing them as overpays and pre-reactions to a yet-to-be-determined market.

Are the Giants crazy, lazy, or are they on to something? 

Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals are testament to the importance of doing hard things. Many, many people in Cardinal nation thought the world was coming to an end when Albert Pujols left. That turned out fairly well.

No one thought there was any way the Red Sox could really get out from underneath the mess they had made with bad contracts and bad hires. They did it (thanks to the Dodgers), and they went deep into the unknown and came out of it with a pennant.

The Giants, though, like to return to what they know. The did it with Barry Bonds, they did it with guys from the 2010 team and with the 2012 team. They are doing it again now.

I’d love to see them be bit less sentimental and more imaginative. However, the Giants have proven to be able to see things that others have not been able to see, and so maybe we’ll never regret paying Hunter Pence so much and maybe Tim Lincecum will pull a John Lackey.

In sum, every pennant winning team is a strange combination of design and great fortune, and if the Giants return to the heights in 2014 this will no doubt be true of them.

In a strange way they reflect both of these “ways” of team building. Here’s to hoping they do know what they are doing.

(-SB)


What Went Wrong And What To Do With the Rest of 2013

How do you explain 2013? Is it the pitching? Is it the hitting? Did the Giants blow it by bringing everyone back? All of the above?

Here’s my take:

  1. The Pitching: so many factoids to share, how about this one:

    If the Giants allow 10 runs or more in another game, they’ll match the total of 10-run games allowed in 2010, 2011, and 2012 combined.

    Here comes the theme of this post: DEPTH…I have no problem with the Giants bringing back the five guys they used last year. But to expect those five guys to (a) repeat, or improve, their usual efforts after a long season, and (b) to stay completely healthy was foolish. It’s easy to point to Gaudin and say “look, depth” but honestly, this team needed him in the bullpen to succeed, and NO ONE in Spring Training would have been happy with a scenario where lots of starts went to Gaudin. Yes, the Giants didn’t get the same kind of quality from Cain, Zito, Lincecum, Vogelsong (and that is a huge problem), but they also left too many innings in the hands of the Kickhams, Mososcos, Rosarios, Machis, and Mijares’s of the world. Finally, total runs allowed: 2009, 611; 2010, 583; 2011, 578;  2012, 649; 2013, 577 (we still have a whole month to play).

  2.  The Hitting: I think these two posts, here and here, are two of the most helpful in understanding the problems of this team. I’ve said from day 1 the Giants were going to have a problem in left field. Again, DEPTH. But, to blame everything on LF would be to over-simplify. Losing Pagan hurt. Scutaro playing hurt most of the year hurt. Sandoval has been a disappointment this season. That hurts. And maybe, most of all, and this pains me to write, Buster Posey has not hit like an MVP and that hurts. He’s still having a good season, and I feel terrible criticizing the guy, but the lack of punch in the lineup this season has a lot to do with Buster’s slump. Finally, as bad as the pitching has been, this is a true fact:

    Andrew Baggarly ‏@CSNBaggs

    The Giants are 41-14 when they score 4 runs or more. And that 4-run 1st inning matches their biggest 1st inning of the season.

  3. The Front Office: I can’t blame the front office for bringing most of the 2012 team back for another go this season. In fact, I kind of liked the idea. I do, however, have a problem with the lack of DEPTH. Sure, some things they tried to do to address this issue didn’t work out: see Tony Abreu and Kensuke Tanaka. Those kinds of moves turned into gold in 2010 and 2012, they didn’t this year. Sometimes the bullpen moves make you look like a genius (like when the team brought Casilla in, or Ramon Ramirez in 2010). Other times, not so much. It’s not like they didn’t try, but there were a lot more airballs this year than last.

Conclusion: It’s all about starting pitching. The biggest difference between this team and teams of yore is that the starting guys from 2009-2012 covered a multitude of sins. I don’t know how to address this moving forward. Zito’s gone, maybe Lincecum too, but a big part of renewed success will be Cain and Vogelsong returning to dominance.

Thoughts on the Rest of 2013: There are a couple of things I’d like to see in September. First, I know the Giants want to get Pagan back in there so he can finish the year on a high note, and I doubt they will sit Hunter Pence much, but the team need to let Francisco Peguero and Gary Brown play in the big leagues. This is a MUST. Second, I’m not sure what the team feels about Eric Surkamp’s health, but if he’s healthy he also needs to pitch in September in the major’s. Those three guys are not the answers to big questions, but they could be important pieces, important DEPTH. Finally, September is also about hoping to see some good things from Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong, Pagan, and the Panda, anything to build on for 2014.

None of that is as much fun as a pennant race, but I still believe this is a roster that can compete next year, so keep rooting for the core, they aren’t going anywhere!

(-SB)


A Whole Lot of Nothing

2 basic premises: (1) We have no idea what kind of conversations were going on behind closed doors over the past week. The Giants might have been offered absolute peanuts for their players. (2) The Giants’ collapse has been swift and unexpected and perhaps the front office was simply caught off guard by the sudden need to make huge, important, and non-sentimental decisions about players they have strong feelings for.

But man, it sure seems like (1) Sabean was asking for the moon (scroll to the bottom of this) and (2) the Giants front office was too soft.

Question(s): will we laugh at our July 31, 2013 selves next year, when this team is clicking again and everything is great, or will always wonder what we might have gotten back for a Hunter Pence or a Javier Lopez? Or will we simply be satisfied with some draft picks when Pence and Lincecum spurn the Giants for free agency?

Maybe I just wanted something more interesting to write about but I was hoping for prospects today. I got none.

Watch, they are going to get hot now.


A New Chapter

The majority of our posts over the past two months have focused on trades the Giants might make today. Most of those scenarios were predicated on the Giants being in contention and going for it in an attempt to repeat as champions.

Welp.

By the end of the day the great Javier Lopez should be gone, and there’s a good chance Hunter Pence is too. If something crazy happens, Timmy might be in a new uniform as well.

Who knows how it all goes down, Brian Sabean doesn’t always go by the book, but the Giants are now looking ahead to 2014. This season, unfortunately, is over.

Of course it isn’t, which means that the next two months are about answering one, huge, important, complex question:

  • Was the strategy to keep the team together for 2013 a faulty plan needing a major overhaul, or did the Giants simply get caught in a perfect storm of suck?

My opinion is nuanced here. I think there were parts of the plan that were faulty:

  • The lack of depth at starting pitcher was always going to be a problem. With only 5 major league ready starters available (I’m not counting Gaudin here because no one really saw that coming), the Giants needed health and solid performances from all 5 guys to make a run. That did not happen and the lack of depth has been sorely exposed.
  • I have no way to quantify this, but it does seem like there was a bit of a hang over for the starting staff from last year. Was it the extra innings? The extra strain? The early Spring Training because of the World Baseball Classic? I don’t know, but they’ve looked tired all year.
  • It’s also not like the starting pitching problems dropped out of the sky either. Vogelsong really struggled down the stretch last year before finding new life in the post-season. We all know about Lincecum’s 2012. Matt Cain was good, but not dominant in the post-season (and many have pointed to his decreased effectiveness post-perfect game). Madison Bumgarner was essentially benched in the NLCS and we all head our breath when he started against the Tigers because he was struggling so badly. And Barry Zito is Barry Zito. Enough said. It’s alarming really that the team didn’t do more to back up the staff during the offseason.
  • I’ve said all offseason that Left Field was going to be a problem. Losing Pagan really exposed the Giants in the outfield. Somehow we now have Jeff Franceour on our roster. That’s how bad it is.

But the plan wasn’t all bad:

  • The offense has actually been better than 2012.
  • There are still plenty of good players on the squad, players who will be around for a while too.

So, here are a couple of conclusions and a couple of questions for the rest of the offseason:

  • Conclusion 1: Barry Zito is gone. He’s the odd man out here. Prediction 1: Unless something crazy happens today, I think Lincecum is back next year, probably on a one year deal. The other three pitchers are back too, and I think the Giants will make some kind of move to find an improvement over Zito. I also think they’ll look for a few Gaudin-types to create depth.
  • Conclusion 2: The Giants are not in rebuilding mode, they are going to continue to go for it. This team has too many good player (and good young players) to blow it up. Prediction 2: That said, I expect the Giants to make a big trade in the offseason. This is what Sabean loves to do, and the market these days favors trades over free agent signings. Sabean has worked some magical trades (see Kent, Jeff) and some foolish trades (see Pierzynski, AJ). Don’t be surprised to see Brandon Belt on the move this offseason.

This is an interesting moment for the Giants. Theoretically, they still have enough to be competitive (any team with Posey, Cain, Bumgarner, etc under control for several years is well set up to be competitive over the long haul). They also have some intriguing help at the lower levels of the minor leagues.

But how the Giants choose to bridge the gap between the present and future is going to be fascinating.

In many ways, it begins today.

(-SB)


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