Winter (Meetings) Are Coming…

The Winter Meeting promise to be a busy time where we will really be able to gauge what our new Giants’ overlord Farhan is up to. For now, though, today’s post will be an interaction with Andrew Baggarly tweets.

1.

Not much to add to here, but this sort of sets up the rest of the post so here we go…

2.

One of the hot rumors, or at least as close to hot as we’ve gotten so far, was that the Giants would non-tender Joe Panik and dip into what is a fairly deep free agent pool at the second base position. However, they kept sweet Joe in the fold, signing him to a one-year, $3.8 million contract.

I love Joe Panik, but he has not materialized as an everyday player the way it once appeared back in 2014-2015 when he burst on the scene and helped the Giants win a World Series. He followed that up with an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove, but has had a hard time staying on the field.

In particular, it seems like he hasn’t been the same since getting hit in the head back in 2016, which totally makes sense but is incredibly sad.

Baggs suggest that keeping Panik may set up a future trade. Once all the FAs are off the board, someone with a need may come calling. I wonder, though, if the Giants will try to find a platoon parter (hello Jonathan Schoop) and limit Panik’s usage, or even try him out at some other positions and use him as a super utility player.

3.

The other big non-tender news comes here. First, Gorkys damn near led the team in home runs last year, which says way more about the Giants than about Gorkys. You can seemingly pick 15-homer-a-year outfielders off of trees these days, so he is the definition of expendable.

Second, the big story is moving on (finally) from Hunter Strickland. On the surface this is an odd move: he was a decent closer in the first half of 2018, and one of the few Giants’ pitchers with good velocity.

BUT, he was a hot head, caused all sorts of chaos, and never turned that velocity into the type of dominance that deserved investment. He was the ultimate tease, and I’m glad he will be someone else’s problem.

4.

Yeah, not happening.

5.

Finally, here’s a bit of front office news. J.P Ricciardi is someone I respect, even though he tried to fleece Brian Sabean for Tim Lincecum at one point (also, Tim Kawakami gets a lot of stuff right, but he really blew this one).

I don’t know that I trust J.P. to run a team, but his thinking could be a good foil to Farhan. Ricciardi seems more aggressive and so maybe they bring a nice balance to each other. Anyway, I think it would be a good get for the Giants and another move away from the Bobby Evans era.

Thank you Andrew Baggarly for being awesome, and next week’s post should have some interesting stuff to chew on as the meetings get started!

Advertisements

What Happens Now…

With a new regime and leadership taking over the club, the 2018-2019 off-season is the most exciting off-season for the SF Giants in the last 20 years.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

On the one hand, it definitely is. Again, this is the first time in two decades the Giants have moved in a definitive direction (baseball-wise) and so all bets are off. We won’t know what a “typical” Giants move is again for a little while.

And yet, there’s the distinct possibility that this will be an extremely boring 4-5 months.

Why? Because no one really knows how Farhan Zaidi is going to play this. From where I sit there are three possibilities:

  1. Total Rebuild. We’ll know this is the plan if Madison Bumgarner and at least one other “franchise” player gets traded (like one of the Brandon’s) for prospects. It is totally within the purview of Zaidi to make this call, and one could argue it is also the most logical move to make. The hard-core fans are actually calling for this, and yeah the casual fan will be lost to the Warriors for a couple of seasons, but Zaidi, at least on paper and from the track record of the teams he’s been with, will see this as a very viable option.
  2. A Retooling. We’ll know this is the plan if Madison Bumgarner is traded for major league ready players and if Zaidi works to get rid of bad contracts in order to sign new players. Maybe Zaidi remembers that the Giants were only 5 games out of first place on August 6th, and maybe he thinks some of the Giants young players are not that far away, and maybe he really likes Marwin Gonzalez, and Jed Lowrie, and some pitcher and is more interested in turning this roster over in chunks over the course of the next three years while still trying to win.
  3. A Punt. We’ll know this is the plan if Madison Bumgarner is on the team to start the season and if the Giants are relatively quiet this offseason. This is so boring, but also has a certain logic to it. The Giants are buried under long-term contracts. Maybe you use the season to see what you have with some guys (everyone from Joe Panik to Derek Rodriguez to Steven Duggar to Shaun Anderson), and maybe you see if Bumgarner’s value skyrockets by the trade deadline (or maybe you decide to keep him, Clayton Kershaw-style), and maybe you play the year out so it is just a little bit easier to get rid of the Samardzija/Melancon/Belt/Longoria/etc money.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet on option 2. I don’t see Zaidi being content with a punt, and I don’t see the ownership group being ok with a total rebuild. I do expect a lot of roster churn to happen. Some of it is already happening, none of it major though.

The other intriguing factor is the news that Zaidi is not hiring a General Manager. For the time being he will be the GM. Unfortunately, this clarifies nothing! Is this so he can be directly involved in the rebuild? Is this to give him time to punt and find the right guy? Is there someone he’s waiting for in the meantime?

No one knows, and that is why this is so exciting. It may not look like much on the surface, but a sea change is taking place, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Even if it’s boring.

Regime Change

The Giants officially announced and introduced their new MAN: Farhan Zaidi. You can read all about it here and here and here.

I have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Time will tell whether this was a successful decision or not, but in my opinion this is one of the most significant hirings in recent Bay Area sports history. It’s up there with the Bob Myers/Steve Kerr partnership and the Jim Harbaugh arrival in Ninerland. This is a bold, definitive, franchise altering move, and not in a flashy way, but in a very, very substantive and smart way. Again, the Giants may not win a World Series during Zaidi’s tenure, because it’s a really hard thing to do, but if they fail, they will fail by trying to be smarter and better than the other 29 teams, not because they are stubborn and nostalgic. I LOVE Brian Sabean and will defend him to the end. He led this team well for 20 years, but it was time for a change (and when it’s time for a change, think Speedy Oil Change…I miss baseball). Anyway, this was the kind of change they needed desperately.
  2. Because the Giants have had so much front office stability for the last two decades it’s been fairly easy to predict and/or understand the moves the team has made. All bets are off now, we are in 100% new territory, and part of the fun of this offseason will be learning what Zaidi cares about, how he makes decisions, and what kind of team he will try to build. The last regime was about as polar opposite to Zaidi’s wheelhouse as you can get, so don’t expect this offseason to answer all of our questions. We will get glimpses, though, and I, for one, am ecstatic to have a fresh perspective watching over our beloved franchise.
  3. For the past year I’ve been assuming that the Giants were going to (a) Go hard after Bryce Harper, and (b) Extend Madison Bumgarner, which would (c) lead to another era of trying to build around 1-2 star players (see, the Barry Bonds era). Now, who knows?! It’s sounding like the Giants won’t pursue Harper to any great degree and that Bumgarner will be a major trade chip, probably at the July 2019 deadline. Get used to this kind of thing, as it will probably be the new norm. The team we’ve seen for a while will look radically different, probably sooner than later.

Enjoy the ride, this should be fun!

Home Runs

Part one of our post-2018 autopsy of the Giants will involve an overly simplistic view of the offense. We all know the lineup lacked punch, but when you compare it to the playoff teams, using two simple measures, things look even more bleak.

Consider: Team Leaders in Home Runs, and
Number of Players Equaling Giants’ Team Leader in Home Runs.
Here we go:

Giants Team Leader in HRs: Evan Longoria, 16

  • Red Sox: JD Martinez, 43; # of players with 16+ HRS=5
  • Indians: Jose Ramirez, 39; # of players w/ 16+=7
  • Astros: Alex Bregman, 31; # w/ 16+=5
  • Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton, 38: # w/ 16+=(Yanks had 6 different guys hit at least 24+!!!)
  • A’s: Khris Davis, 48; # w/ 16+=5
  • Braves: Ronald Acuna, 26; # w/ 16+=4
  • Cubs: Javy Baez, 34; # w/ 16+=3
  • Rockies: Nolan Arenado, 38; # w/ 16+=6
  • Dodgers: Max Muncy 35; # w/ 16+=8 (This actually jumps to an astonishing 10, if you consider that Manny Machado and Brian Dozier both hit more than 16 when you take into account their pre-trade numbers)
  • Brewers: Christian Yelich, 36; # w/ 16+=5

Again, this is a very simplistic model, and we all know the Giants need to hit more home runs, but this is a startling view of reality. Not only do the Giants not have anywhere near the top end power that most good teams have (remember no Giant has hit 30+ home runs since Barry Bonds), but they also lack the depth (the Cubs, the closest team to the Giants in this measure, had a guy named Kris Bryant only hit 15 home runs in a season shortened by injury…he’s capable of 40+ any normal year).

Part of what is worrisome about the Giants entering 2019 is not that they lack top-end power and can go get it in the form of Bryce Harper, nice though that may be, they simply don’t have the depth of power to compare to other good teams. In other words, they could use a power upgrade at nearly every position on the field, and that’s probably not going to change dramatically any time soon.

Deadline Thoughts

The trade deadline is 3 days away and the rumors continue to fly. By all accounts it seems like the Giants will be (a) Quiet, but also (b) Looking to make moves to improve the 2018 team. That’s wonderful, I do appreciate the desire to be competitive, but it is with a slightly heavy heart that I must disagree.

I’ve seen enough to conclude that the team as presently constructed will not be able to do much better than 84 wins. The entire season has been a major flirt with .500. They’ve be no more than 5 games over or under all season. And this is perfect:

Therefore, it seems prudent to do the follow things this year at the deadline:

  1. Trade Andrew McCutchen: It pains me to write this. Yes, McCutchen hasn’t had an incredible season. But it has been fun to watch him; I have really enjoyed him being on the team. I would love to live in the alternative universe where he had a one year, pre-free agency, bonanza and put up the kind of numbers that would have made us all scream for him to stay. It’s been much more of a steady plod. I’d love it if the Giants could ship him to Cleveland or Houston, get a nice prospect in return and let Andrew have a moment in the postseason. It feels silly to keep him around for this year, and I haven’t seen enough to make me excited about him signing on for the next 3-5 seasons (bring on Bryce!). Plus, moving on would give the Giants two months to see what they have with Austin Slater/Mac Williamson/etc.
  2. Trade one of Tony Watson and Will Smith: I’d prefer they keep Watson because he is very cheaply controlled for the next two seasons, and I think they could get more for Smith, but cash in on one of hese guys! The premium for good lefty relievers (especially ones who can get out right-handed hitters) is crazy. Take advantage!
  3. Trade Sam Dyson: This is a no-brainer. Dyson has been found money from the moment he showed up off the scrap heap. The Giants would get some salary relief and probably something interesting in return.

There are a variety of other possibilities. It doesn’t seem like the Giants are in any way shape or form ready to burn it to the ground and start over. But, there might be creative ways to move on from Evan Longoria, or even Joe Panik/Brandon Belt. There might be ways to sell off other spare parts (Pablo? Gorkys?). Who knows?

I don’t favor the rebuild at this point either, as I think the Giants do still have enough pieces to compete. The emergence of Derek Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, the young arms in the bullpen, and some studs waiting in the wings (Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, etc), give me hope for the (immediate) future.

Back to Bryce Harper, I know many fans are in a lather about bringing him over, and while it still feels like a longshot, I do think he is the missing piece.

Yes, the Giants went with the star strategy for 15 years and it got them no rings, but they won 3 World Series with an all-world catcher in the middle of their lineup and a bunch of guys orbiting around that sun. That sun has gone out, and what I am saying is the Giants might have a wave of pitching good enough to get the job done, but they do not have a middle of the order force anymore. The have a bunch of planets, but no sun.

So, trade off the few items of value now, let the young guys play, and then go all in this offseason (which is what the who year has been about, right?)

All-Star Break Review

50-48

That’s where we stand at the traditional All-Star break evaluation point.

So, there’s that.

It does feel like the Giants missed a significant opportunity over the past three weeks. They are over .500, they are “only” 4 games out of first place, and the second half does not present the same travel/scheduling challenges that the first half did.

Yet, it seems like they should have won a few more games along the way.


100 games in and it is still really difficult to evaluate the team as a whole. Their top three starting pitchers have all missed significant time (and it looks more and more like Jeff Samardzija may not give them anything this year). That alone is a recipe for disaster. And yet it has not been a disaster.

It’s been the year of the broken pinkie, and even beyond that, nearly everyone of significance has been on the DL. The only exceptions to this: Crawford, McCutchen, and Posey, and Posey’s been dealing with a bad hip (more on this later).

Given all of that, it could be so, so much worse.

And yet it still feels like the Giants have left something on the table.

Do I have any confidence that they could surge in the second half and actually win this division, or sneak into a wild card spot? I do have any. Some. But this season just feels like it is destined to be fits and starts, resulting in a nice but unsatisfying 84 wins.

Let’s take a deeper look, and grade out the roster for the season so far.


Catcher: Giants’s catchers are slashing .270/.341/.421 and have an sOPS of +124 (which means they are 24 “points” better than the league average at this position). That’s pretty good!

The problem here though is that these numbers are skewed by a surprisingly strong first half from Nick Hundley. Andrew Baggarly wrote extensively this morning (subscription likely needed to read this article) about Buster Posey, his diminished production and how hard it is for catchers to age well. It will be fascinating to see what happens, because that article reveals that Giants brass believe a move to a different position would bring back the power. But then to get Buster to a different position would mean moving on from Longoria or Belt, both of whom are under contract for a while. So, not impossible but tough.

Here are some of the pertinent quotes:

Posey remains a brilliant hitter — watch him battle with two strikes to extend a rally or find a way to turn around a closer’s upper-90s heat in the ninth inning or, as he is doing once again this season, draw walks at the same rate he strikes out. But there is no disputing that his overall offensive impact has faded with each passing year. His home run swing has leaked air in each of the last five seasons, from 22 to 19 to 14 to 12 to five as he enters the break. His .774 OPS this season would be the lowest of his career.

Bochy and Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean are both bullish on Posey’s post-catching career.

“If anybody could transition up the line to become more like his younger self from a run production standpoint, you’d bet on him because of his bat-to-ball skills,” Sabean said. “Especially against above-average velocity, his swing is very true. It stays on the same plane. There aren’t many guys who can swing like that.”

My grade for the position is a B+. For most other teams this position would grade out as an A, but for the Giants with Posey, the standards are pretty high.

First Base: Ah the conundrum that is Brandon Belt. Overall he’s had a solid first half, been one of the Giants best hitters, and is well positioned to finish with the best stat line of his career. But, a random, wierd injury (appendicitis) once again slowed him down and since he’s been back he hasn’t quite been the same force of nature.

Overall, Giants first basemen have slashed .280/.371/.462 with an tOPS+ of 134. Not bad either, but not quite the world beater level that many teams are able to get out of this position (which is sort of the ultimate summary of Brandon Belt’s career to this point).

My grade: B+

Second Base: Here is where things start to get ugly. Joe Panik started the year on fire, settled into a nice groove, steadily declined into a miserable slump, and then severely pulled his groin (I have yet to hear when he might return). The Giants have gotten a bump in production from Alen Hanson, but I still think he is most effective coming off the bench and in spot starts (especially against right handers, his right-handed hitting has been so-so).

The numbers: .239/.289/.347 with an tOPS+ of 79, which is really bad.

My Grade: C- (only passing because this is 2B and the defense has been ok)

Shortstop: There is no shortage of superlatives for Brandon Crawford and the season he’s been having. He is a deserving All Star game starter, and he’s been the Giants best overall player. No slight to Brandon, but this is part of the problem. Any team where Brandon Crawford is your best player is a team that is going to struggle to score runs.

The numbers: an outstanding .297/.367/.470, tOPS+ of 135!

My Grade: A+

Third Base: Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval have passed the eye-ball test for the most part. But this speaks to how bad this position was in 2017. It was terrible. That’s part of why Longoria was brought in. The strategy for the Giants this offseason was to try to upgrade the black hole positions from 2017, and they have certainly upgraded third base, but this position is still a problem.

One reason this is still a problem is that there are a lot of good third basemen in the game these days. But even with that the numbers don’t lie: .254/.296/.440. The slugging has been ok, but that on base percentage (.296) is terrible. Plus, the defense from 3B has not been as good as advertised.

My Grade: C+

Left Field: Welcome to the vortex of suck. A small subplot to the Giants last decade has been the utter inability to replace Barry Bonds. The Giants have masked over their deficiencies with a couple hot streaks from Pat Burrell, Melky Cabrera, Gregor Blanco, Mike Morse, and Travis Ishikawa (!). Part of the interesting symmetry and irony of the Giants championships is that they had the greatest LF of all time and never won a World Series with him, and then won three with the aforementioned cast of clowns. Baseball.

But outside of a couple nice streaks here and there, they have been routinely terrible in LF, and this year is no different. Part of the problem here was so many ABs given to Hunter Pence who has been sadly awful. The other part of the problem is that the one guy who seemed to be primed to take this spot over, Mac Williamson, eternal BaseballMonk tease, had a GREAT week and then bonked his head on a wall and hasn’t been the same since. Sad face emoji.

The search for an answer in LF continues, 11 seasons and counting.

The numbers: .237/.291/.357 with an tOPS+ of 82 (eep).

My Grade: F

Center Field: Here is the most interesting evaluation for the team so far. Austin Jackson got a lot of starts here and was not very good, and then Gorkys Hernandez wrestled control away from the other contenders and he has put up some surprisingly awesome numbers. Now, Hernandez has been shifted to LF and Steven Duggar has taken over for the last week and he too has put up some pretty good numbers (while also bringing the best defensive presence the Giants have had in CF in a long time).

The numbers: .272/.329/.410 with a surprisingly great tOPS+ of 108.

My Grade: A surprising B+

Right Field: This position has been nearly completely held down by Andrew McCutchen. I have mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand, Andrew McCutchen is such a great dude, has been such an amazing player, and was someone all Giants fans always coveted. Seeing him in the orange and black is so cool.

And yet, he’s just not the player he once was. You want your RF to hit more than 10 home runs per 100 games. So while there have been some good moments and flashes of the old brilliance, you can’t help but wonder about Giancarlo Stanton, or dream about a future with Bryce Harper manning the expanses of triples alley.

The numbers: .262/.353/.410 with an tOPS+ of 115 (good, but not great).

What you have here is one positional stud (Brandon Crawford at SS), a few good but not greats (1B, C, RF, CF) and then a couple of really troublesome spots (3B, LF, 2B), which all comes out to be a pretty average lineup.

It’s also worth nothing (and I don’t have solid numbers to back this up) but the bench has been very, very good, while the pitchers (and I do have numbers to back this up) have been AWFUL. Like some of the worst hitting from any pitchers, ever.


Speaking of the pitchers, I will be quick here: at the risk of totally coping out, I am going to grade the pitching staff an incomplete. If I really had to give it a grade it would be a C+. It hasn’t been that bad, but the whole thing has gone so completely not according to plan who can even know which way is up at this point.

What I do know is this: We are still very much back where we started. If the Giants are going to erase a 4 game deficit and sneak in to the postseason Johnny Cueto is going to need to be very good.

Enjoy the All Star Break!

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