The Giants Keep Getting Better…

If the Giants have a repeat performance of their horrific 2017 season it won’t be because they did not try to improve.

They’ve already improved a great deal, and they did even more today with the signing of Tony Waton, a Jeremy Affeldt like addition to the bullpen.

And somehow they did this without screwing up their tax situation. To the tweets!

 

So, somehow the Giants signed a very good player, despite having very little room to do so, and still didn’t screw their cap situation. All of which is kind of amazing and perhaps related to this news.

As of right now, it’s very unlikely the Giants are able to make a deadline trade without dumping some significant salary. We have a long ways to go, but will be worth keeping an eye on once we get to June 1.

Let’s update our projected 25 man roster!

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF
  9. Pence LF
  10. Duggar CF
  11. Jackson OF
  12. McCutchen RF
  13. Parker OF
  14. Bumgarner SP
  15. Cueto SP
  16. Samardzija SP
  17. Stratton SP
  18. Suarez SP
  19. Melancon CL
  20. Watson LRP
  21. Dyson RRP
  22. Strickland RRP
  23. Gearin RRP
  24. Law/Fernandez RRP
  25. Black LRP
  26. Smith LRP

By all accounts, Will Smith won’t be ready until May 1, which means he starts the season on the DL. That probably allows the Giants a month to take a look at Andrew Suarez as the 5th starter, while keeping Ty Blach in the pen. If Suarez can’t cut it, Blach slides into the 5th starter role once Smith comes back.

There’s still a lot of fluidity here. Could Gregor Blanco sneak on to this roster? Will one of the other utlity infielders push Kelby Tomlinson aside? Who will really win the 4th and 5th starter roles? Does Derek Holland earn one of those spots? Who will take the Law/Fernandez spot at the end of the pen?

And, last but not least, will we see Timmy?

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Baseball is Coming!

We are just a few days away from Valentine’s, Ash Wednesday/Lent, and, oh yeah, pitchers and catchers reporting.

While I have no earth shattering insights today as we stand on the precipice of a new season, a couple of random thoughts to hopefully get us a bit more excited about what lies ahead:

  1. The PECOTA system, one of the better projection models for baseball, thinks that the Giants will win 84 games and be the second wild card team. They are high on Johnny Cueto having a bounce back season (and Bumgarner/Cueto/Samardzija being very good), which brings us back to what I said a few weeks ago. For the Giants to be good in 2018, Cueto needs to meet his PECOTA projections. Please.
  2. The Giants made another move, by signing Derek Holland to a minor league deal, and there are still many other options out there for pitching depth. Holland was pretty terrible last year, but has been good for the most part during his career when healthy. He also has sported one of the greatest mustaches of all time. holland_stache
  3. I’m not sure how the money and roster moves would work out, but I’d be more than willing to open 2018 with Holland as the 5th starter if he shows anything during camp. His best is a close approximation to Matt Moore’s best (sorry to open that wound), but he will be way cheaper than Moore was ever going to be this year.
  4. Speaking of the 2010 World Series, Tim Lincecum is making another comeback and the Giants are interested. I’m interested too, because IT’S FREAKING TIMMY, COME ON, but also because I still believe in a Lincecum renaissance as a multi-inning bullpen weapon. How even-year-magic would it be if Lincecum turned into a poor man’s Chris Devenski and helped the Giants make another run?
  5. Finally, Fan Fest was this past weekend and how good does Andrew McCutchen look in orange and black? (Answer: real good)920x920

The 5 Most Important Players on the 2018 Giants

It’s still a little early for this type of post: we’ll need to see if there are any more moves and who comes out of nowhere during Spring Training. But for now, I am pretty cool with this 25 man roster:

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF
  9. Pence LF
  10. Duggar CF
  11. Jackson OF
  12. McCutchen RF
  13. Parker OF
  14. Bumgarner SP
  15. Cueto SP
  16. Samardzija SP
  17. Stratton SP
  18. Suarez SP
  19. Melancon CL
  20. Smith LRP
  21. Dyson RRP
  22. Strickland RRP
  23. Gearin RRP
  24. Blach LRP
  25. Law/Okert/Fernandez

I know the Giants have a stable of utility infielders coming in this spring, but I don’t know that they can do much better than Kelby Tomlinson. I like Tomlinson’s speed and familiarity (and glasses), and couple him with some left-handed power from Pablo and Jarrett Parker and that could be a nice bench. Let Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, and others lend depth from the farm system.

In terms of pitchers, I would love for Andrew Suarez to get the 5th starter nod, and I also would love to see Derek Law return to form. But, the most interesting pitching situation might be Julian Fernandez. The Giants rule 5 draft pick, he has to pitch for the big league team or he goes back to Colorado. The dude throws over 100 mph and seems pretty nasty, but has control issues and hasn’t pitched in the higher minors yet. He is a total gamble, but maybe an interesting one!

Ok, so assuming that is the team, let’s name the five most important Giants in 2018.


The most important Giant in 2018 is Johnny Cueto. I am assuming that Madison Bumgarner is going to have a huge year. He will be highly motivated to put the dirt bike incident of 2017 behind him, and prove he is healthy, strong, and ready to GET PAID. I am also assuming that Jeff Samardzija does exactly what he did last year but now with a better defense behind him. All Chris Stratton has to do is be better than Matt Moore (not a high bar at all). If Stratton is league average, the Giants are in good shape.

If those three things happen, then the two big question marks for 2018 in the Giants rotation are Cueto and the 5th starter. Every team (except, I guess, the Astros) has a question at 5th starter, so this does not make the Giants unique at all. One of the quiet story lines of this offseason is that for the first time since 2008 (2007?) the Giants have more concerns about their starting pitching than they do about their lineup. The formula, for the better part of a decade, has been excellent starting pitching, a solid and versatile bullpen, and then hope the offense can score at least 4 runs. But this 2018 team, all of a sudden, has flipped that formula, and the Giants have a lot of questions about the pitching.

Which is why Johnny Cueto is the most important player for the upcoming season. In 2016 Johnny Cueto had 144 ERA+, started the All-Star Game, garnered Cy Young and MVP votes, and I would sacrifice a baby goat to spend a day in the alternative universe where the Giants close out game 4 in the NLDS and Cueto gets a shot at the Cubs in game 5.

2017, Cueto came to camp late because he was caring for his ailing dad. He was out of shape, dealt with blisters and injuries, and saw his ERA+ plus drop 50 points down to 92, all of which “froced” him to pick up his option and now serve the next 4 years with the Giants.

I don’t believe Cueto needs to be as good as he was in 2016, but he needs to be way closer to that than what he produced last year. A very good Johnny Cueto makes everything about the 2018 Giants more stable and competitive. He takes pressure off the bullpen, off the back end of the rotation, and once again gives the Giants a 1-2 punch in their rotation to go up against anyone else’s best.


The second most important player on the 2018 Giants is Buster Posey. It’s unfair to single Posey out for anything that went wrong in 2017. He was easily the Giants’ best player.

But much like Cueto, great Posey (vs. good Posey) is what will move this Giants’ lineup from good to really good.

The magic number, for me, for Buster is 20 home runs and an OPS+ of 140. I have him (finally) hitting third in this lineup, and if Posey is hitting the ball with authority all over the field, everything opens up for everyone else.

Plus, there’s the symbolic nature of: this is Posey’s team. He needs to play that way.


The third most important player for the Giants this year is Mark Melancon. It’s generally not a good sign for a closer to appear to so high on a list like this, but so it goes for the Giants.

Melancon is critical because as we all know far too well, the primary issue with the Giants’ bullpen the last two seasons has been rampant instability. When Melancon has been healthy he has been the physical embodiment of a stability. From 2011 to 2016 he pitched in over 70 games 5 of 6 seasons. His ERAs from 2013 through 2016: 1.39, 1.90, 2.23, 1.64.

Giants fans have no idea how good this guy really is. Melancon’s strength has never been that he was the nastiest guy in the 9th inning. There’s always been someone who threw harder or had a better slider or whatever. But, for calm, clean 9th innings, Mark Melancon is your guy.

If he comes anywhere close to his 2013-2016 form the Giants bullpen gets better by leaps and bounds.


Which leads us to MIP #4: Will Smith. Melancon is one notch higher because his stabilizing impact has farther reaching impact, but the Giants will need one more guy in their bullpen to really step up. Smith’s injury early in the spring last year was the first bad omen of 2017.

(I also believe that if Bochy had of taken the training wheels off him in 2016 we’d have made it to that mythical game 5. But then, maybe the reason Bochy wasn’t feeling so good about Smith is that his elbow was barking.)

Smith will be ready for Spring Training, and will likely to be ready to go full-bore by May 1st. If Smith can establish himself as a versatile bullpen weapon (ala Jeremy Affeldt) by June 1, the Giants will really be on to something. A steady Melancon and a weaponized Smith takes so much pressure off Bochy and the rest of the bullpen amrs in ways that are difficult to quantify.

Let’s put it this way, if the Giants are going to have to lean on Hunter Strickland and Sam Dyson in the late innings in 2018, things are not looking good.


I’ve struggled with this 5th spot. At this point you can almost throw a dart at the rest of the roster and make a pretty good argument for whoever you hit.

I’d like to say Brandon Belt because if he has a good year, suddenly the Giants lineup gets longer and deeper and much more dangerous. Plus there are some long-term benefits to a big Belt season (see my post on Bryce Harper).

I’d also like to say Steven Duggar, because his emergence at the big league level as a solid contributor will go a long way towards allowing several guys (namely Austin Jackson) to settle into their ideal roles.

Don’t forget about Brandon Crawford who needs to be healthy for the Giants defense to be at its peak.

Finally, a good argument can be made for Andrew McCutchen because he probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the lineup. If he recaptures his MVP level performance the Giants will have pulled another one over on the Pirates.

But, I think, at the end of the day, Evan Longoria gets this final spot.

For one, Longoria is here for a while. There’s a very good chance that McCutchen is a one and done player. If McCutchen flames out, oh-well-moving-on. If Longoria flames out, gulp!

Two, Longoria will most likely serve as the “protection” in this lineup. He’ll hit behind Posey and Belt and those guys have never had someone like Evan Longoria hit behind them. At least not vintage Evan Longoria. His presence should make life so much easier on them.

Finally, one of the selling points of Longoria was his glove (gold glove last year) and his durability. If all the Giants get from Longoria is that (glove and an everyday presence) they will make up significant ground from last year.

But, if he can approximate even 2016 production levels the Giants will have their best third basemen since Matt Williams.


So there you have it. The 5 most important players for 2018. What would your top five look like?

Bryce Harper

The hot rumor from yesterday is that the Giants are likely to make a run at Bryce Harper next off-season.

First, let’s temper any enthusiasm this might engender.

  • Several teams are going to go after Harper next winter.
  • All the big $ teams will be in play to some degree.
  • The frontrunner is currently the Cubs with the Nationals a close second.
  • This contract is going to be absolutely insane (I’m going with somewhere between 10 years, $350 million, and 12 years, $500 million. Insane).
  • Finally, John Heyman is not a Giants’ beat writer, comes from the national perspective, seems to enjoy linking the Giants to every free agent, and almost is never right (or always right because of his widely thrown nets).

Which raises an interesting question for me: do the Giants seem to fail at signing the big names because they aren’t really that interested (and the interest is manufactured by national writers like Heyman looking to fill column space and get some clicks), or is there a real issue here with not being able to close these deals?

That’s a question for another post. For now, let’s indulge some sweet, sweet Bryce Harper fantasies.


Could/Should/Would this happen?

Let’s start here: the Giants have worked really hard this offseason to get under the competitive balance tax (the “cap”). If they stick to this plan it will prove to be a very wise move when it comes to signing a Bryce Harper type mega-contract. The reset will allow them to go over the threshold again, but with a fresh start. The CBA will be redone in a few years and who knows what that will look like. At least the Giants will be in good shape for a couple of years, and potentially really good shape depending on how the next negotiation goes.

While much has been made of the amount of money the Giants already have tied up in future contracts, they might actually be in decent shape to do this deal and extend Bumgarner, and, here comes the real crazy part, continue to get younger! This is where this off seasons moves really begin to make sense.

Next winter the Giants will say goodbye to Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen. That’s almost $33 million in AAV (average annual value) contracts gone right there. They also will likely say goodbye to Nick Hundly, and a few other small contracts, so let’s say that’s another $3-5 million off right there.

So, saying goodbye to those 3-5 players more or less creates room for Bryce Harper. Since this is an entirely optimistic post, let’s say he signs for the 10 year/$350 million deal.

But then, the Giants also extend Madison Bumgarner for, say, 10 years, $300 million. The press conference would champion how the team has the most expensive player and pitcher together for the next decade!

If going $30 million into the tax is too much for the Giants to handle, they will be in a much better position to trade a couple of players next offseason.

If this is your preferred vision of the future, you need to root for Brandon Belt to be healthy and have a good year. Brandon Belt for 3 years and $45 million might look pretty good to a few teams after the winter of 2018 dust settles.

Also, root for Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon. They will both have 2 years left on their current deals, and again, those deals may look pretty good to some teams come January of 2019.

I’m going to say the Giants move Samardzija and Belt next offseason (thanks to the emergence of Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede), which would mean that they would still have flexibility to add a few other pieces if need be.

Now, here’s where I really want to go with this post. The Giants always get slammed for going after veterans and this offseason is no exception. But, if Harper is the long play, this offseason’s moves are quite brilliant in their ability to stabilize the franchise and make the team competitive in the short-term (and it is very important to the long con that the Giants have a good 2018…Harper is not coming to a non-contendor/rebuild), while enabling them the flexibility to go big and kick open another decade long window of competitiveness by getting better and younger at the same time.

For the sake of example: the 2018 opening day lineup vs 2019 opening day lineup by age:

  • Panik 2B…27                        Duggar CF…25
  • McCutchen RF…31              Posey C….32
  • Posey C…31                          Harper RF…26
  • Belt 1B…29                           Longoria 3B…33
  • Longoria 3B…32                 Shaw 1B…25
  • Crawford SS…31                 Slater LF…25
  • Pence LF…34                       Crawford SS…32
  • Jackson CF…31                    Panik 2B…28

Average age of 2018 starting lineup: 30.8 years old
Average age of 2019 starting lineup: 28.3 years old

Then there’s the potential, come 2020, for that lineup to get even younger with the addition of Heliot Ramos, who would be 20 years old for that season’s opening day.

Furthermore the pitching staff would get younger, most likely, with the subtraction of Jeff Samardzija.

This is obviously looking too far ahead, because who knows what will happen, but the main reason this rumor is interesting to me is not because I love Bryce Harper so much, but because if the Giants pull this off, it sheds a whole new light on the moves they’ve made in the past couple months.

Welcome Austin Jackson

Well, to my earlier post, it seems like the Giants are going to do all they can to stay under the CBT cap. And that means: Welcome Austin Jackson.

I like this move.
Grant like this move.
Andrew says there still might be more moves.

For now, I am going to assume that this means the Giants will only make non-roster invites to some pitchers, see who sticks, and then maybe make a trade if they need to in order to jerry-rig the roster to keep it under the magical $197 million threshold.

All we can say for certain at this point: the Giants are better.
Their defense is better.
They are older, but better.

That’s some sweet, sweet analysis there.

We’ll take a deeper dive into if and how all these moves translate to more wins on the field later this week, but for now let’s take a spin through some lineups.

Grant suggests this will be what the Giants roll out most of the time:

  • Jackson CF
  • Belt 1B
  • McCutchen RF
  • Posey C
  • Longoria 3B
  • Crawford SS
  • Pence RF
  • Panik 2B

I would humbly submit that this is not the right answer.
Maybe something like this:

  • Panik 2B (I am totally ok with, and personally committed to, the idea of Joe Panik, leadoff hitter)
  • McCutchen RF (I know McCutchen is not the prototype 2-hole hitter, but he may be the best overall hitter on this team, had a .400 OBP once he got going over the final 4 months of 2017, and this is 2018, Giancarlo Stanton hit second last year and he is definitely NOT A PROTOTYPICAL 2-HOLE HITTER)
  • Posey C (In no world would I ever hit Posey anywhere but 2 or 3 from this point on. He is not a clean up hitter, and his strengths [putting the ball in play, going to the opposite field, getting on base] play way better from a top third spot then a middle third spot. You will hear my groan from Utah if Bochy still hits him clean up in 2018).
  • Belt 1B (I know many Giants fans are going to have a hard time with this and if Belt struggles at all early on and if the Giants struggle at all early on it will all come heaping down on Belt. That being said I think this is a great spot for him. He’s got two great hitters in front of him. He’s got the most powerful guy in the lineup behind him. Belt is not a bottom of the lineup RBI-monster like Crawford. I really think that 500+ ABs here gets Belt the most robust numbers of his career. Take advantage!)
  • Longoria 3B (The Giants have not had a truly trustworthy, home run hitter this low in their lineup since Pat Burrell in 2010. I love Longoria hitting here, cleaning up, pun intended).
  • Crawford SS (First, I am expecting a nice bounce back season for Crawford. Second, he has never been intimidated by being the guy in the bottom half of the lineup to take the scraps. He’s led the Giants in RBIs before by being a master at hitting in these spots. They seem to suit him. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke).
  • Pence LF (I know there are some lineups being floated out there that have Pence leading off. Don’t bother. Let him loose here in the bottom third, with the pressure off, and pray for a rebound).
  • Jackson CF (This is the ideal spot for Austin Jackson. He doesn’t walk a lot. He doesn’t hit for enough power to be higher. He’s not a rookie, so he doesn’t need to be finessed into a lineup spot. He’s a place holder and a nice insurance policy this low in the lineup. He may hit leadoff against a couple lefties, and that’s fine, but let him sit back here, expand his zone, and get some steals when a pitcher fails to bunt him over).

One final thought. None of this should be taken as an indictment on Steven Duggar. I have a feeling we will see him and that he will make an impact on 2018.

So far, so good Giants.

On Going For It (Or Not)

Much has been made during baseball’s offseason about the luxury tax threshold, or competitive balance tax, or tax repeater fee, or whatever you want to call it. For our sake, we are going go with “cap” since that is a widely recognized term.

It seems most teams are wising up to the problem of repeatedly going over the cap and are very interested in getting under it this year, resetting themselves, and then blowing right past it next year when there are some truly elite players on the market (my apologies to JD Martinez).

The Giants are in this same boat. In some ways, they are in a doubly unique situation: they have the opportunity to not only reset their tax standing (with the draft and international benefits attached to it), but also cash in on having the second pick in every round of the draft.

Assuming (and this is a significant assumption I hope to explore in another post soon), that this is actually a good team, it’s not often “good” teams get the second overall pick in their drafts. Again, assuming general goodness, the Giants one main weakness right now is a dearth of prospects in their farm system, a weakness they are uniquely able to address this year while, at the same time, remaining competitive.

That is the case for staying under the cap, which they currently are under by about 4.5 million dollars. $4.5 million goes quick in baseball. That could get the Giants maybe another OF and an arm. Maybe.

Which raises the philosophical question: at what point do you say “screw it,” and just go for it. 

Andrew Baggarly has proposed this idea a couple of times. His articles are now subscription only, but the gist of his points are thus:

  • The Giants are already pot committed: this is a team that is designed to win now. Sacrificing a couple extra picks here and there is a small price to pay.
  • Every team in MLB is benefiting from the sale of BamTech to Disney…each ownership group will get a cool $50 million, so who cares about a tax!
  • In a year/climate where everyone is zagging, it makes sense to zig.

These are all very interesting arguments, not least of which is point three. In addition to that, there are more teams than ever who are “tanking” which makes for a top-heavy season in baseball. One could argue the Giants are really only competing against a couple of teams for a wild card spot, instead of, say, the entire National League.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, the Giants have the potential to be good right now and backfill their system and free up space to get even better next year (which also includes extending Madison Bumgarner).

Not only that, but the Giants are often criticized for not developing young guys or giving them a chance. (A counter point to this argument would be the 2017 season which saw a lot of guys get a chance and sputter out). Here’s an opportunity to ease some guys in.

While I am intrigued at the possibilities to add depth to the 2018 roster (Jarrod Dyson, a starting pitcher, etc), I am more excited about the prospect of integrating a Steven Duggar, utilizing an Austin Slater, the emergence of an Andrew Suarez, and the potential for someone we aren’t even thinking about now to make an impact.

The Giants have been really good in recent years at having several spots anchored down, creating room for a risk to be taken on a Joe Panik, a Matt Duffy, a Jonathan Sanchez, and a Brandon Belt, among others.

The temptation to throw caution to the wind will only grow over the next several weeks as some free agents finally get signed, and the market falls apart for some players.

I will continue to argue against this approach. I actually think the Giants could be good the way they are right now, and they could set themselves up well for the future.

Andrew McCutchen Trade and Roster Implications

Update: the Giants have traded Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds for Andrew McCutchen.

The good news: the Giants still have Tyler Beede, Andrew Suarez, Heliot Ramos, Steven Duggar, and Chris Shaw in their system. For all the talk of the lack of quality in the Giants farm system four of those guys may be positive contributors as soon as this year. Ramos could be a stud, or a center piece in yet another trade (hello, Jackie Bradley Jr.).

The bad news: Kyle Crick had the potential to be a major weapon in this bullpen, and Bryan Reynolds was pretty good in San Jose last year:

That being said, unless McCutchen has a terrible injury this is a solid trade for the Giants. It’s actually kind of hard to believe they made these two moves and held on to those 5 guys.


Opening Day Lineup:

  • Panik 2B
  • McCutchen RF
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Longoria 3B
  • Crawford SS
  • Pence LF
  • Duggar CF

Bench:

  • Hundley C
  • Hernandez OF
  • Parker OF
  • Panda INF
  • Tomlinson INF

Starters:

  • Bumgarner
  • Cueto
  • Samardzija
  • Stratton
  • Blach/Beede/Suarez

Bullpen:

  • Melancon CL
  • Dyson
  • Smith
  • Strickland
  • Gearrin
  • Blach??
  • Law/Okert/Someone

I don’t know how they do it, but there is still work to be done to add depth pretty much everywhere. Still, this is better than where we were in September.