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
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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.

Giants Aquire Another 2013 MVP Candidate

The headline is a bit sarcastic, but in making trades this offseason for Evan Longoria and now Andrew McCutchen the Giants have acquired two players who have served as their prior team’s “Buster Posey” for the better part of a decade (I wrote before the 2014 WC game that this was an ideal matchup for MLB because of McCutchen/Posey and Bumgarner/Cole…of course Clint Hurdle blew it and did not start Gerrit Cole and now both Pirates on different teams). While the Giants are at it, they should see if they can get David Wright and Joe Mauer.

A couple of thoughts on this trade:

  • First, we do not know yet who is going back to Pittsburg in this deal although it sounds like no Tyler Beede, Chris Shaw, or Heliot Ramos. If that is true, this is going to be a steal. The lower price has to be due to McCutchen only have one season left before free agency. I also have no idea what the Pirates are doing, as it appears that they have been swindled twice in a week. (Sounds like Kyle Crick is in the deal…I would have liked to see Crick be part of the ‘pen in 2018, but if he’s the center piece of this deal, go on yah Bobby Evans).
  • Second, the Giants got a solid, if declining pro, whose value is going to be determined by how he used and if he can stay on the field. (More on this in a moment). He’s also a ton of fun and will make what has become a boring team much more interesting.
  • Third, the arrival of McCutchen addresses a long-standing concern for me. Since the “retirement” of Barry Bonds the Giants, a franchise boasting one of the most diverse sets of legends in the game, has grown increasingly white. There are many reasons for this, and I do not have time to explore them all here, but in the most diverse part of the country to trot out 8 dudes from Texas (or Georgia) seems a bit off. This is a great addition from that standpoint.
  • Fourth, this is another chapter to the “robbing the Pirates” narrative. It all started with Barry Lamar, but this also includes Jason Schmidt, Freddy Sanchez, and Javy Lopez. (You can sort of add Ryan Vogelsong to this list as well). Those are some impactful Giants, to say the least.
  • Fifth, back to actual baseball things: this move is a VAST improvement if the Giants play McCutchen in either left or right field, and add a solid defensive CF. I don’t know how this affects my Jackie Bradley Jr dream, but let me just throw this out there:
    • Panik 2B
    • McCutchen RF
    • Posey C
    • Belt 1B
    • Longoria 3B
    • Crawford SS
    • Pence LF
    • Bradley Jr. CF
  • That’s actually a damn good lineup

Some people will deride this trade as “the Giants continue to get older”, “continue to seek past glory from decline stars”, etc. And to a certain extent those assessments are true.

However, something I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea that maybe reclaiming past glory is a sometimes undervalued attribute in baseball.

I remember when Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. It was chalked up to the “good luck” that the Giants enjoyed that season. There’s no doubt they were very fortunate that Pablo had one of his greatest games on the biggest stage. But, was that luck?

My contention is no. Pablo was a talented player, at the height of his powers, and he got to hit that game from the left side, his better side. He has the kind of talent to hit three home runs in a game.

Now, Gregor Blanco (who started in LF), if he hit three home runs (including two off of Justin Verlander), then yeah, that’s incredibly lucky. But those are two very different kinds of players.

My point here is this: it is entirely possible, and maybe even more likely that Longoria and McCutchen are done and have terrible seasons. But, it is not out of the realm of possibility, at all, that they could produce at their career averages in 2018.

Another great example of this: in 2010 no Giant’s fan thought “hey we just signed Aubrey Huff, we’re off to the World Series.” Some look at Huff’s performance that year and think “Giant’s got lucky.” Well, again, yes and no. Yes, they were fortunate to cash in on Huff’s last really good season, but he was always the kind of player capable of that season. It wasn’t out of the realm of question for him to perform at level.

What will be really interesting, long-term, is if McCutchen has a good-to-great year, if the Giants fall in love and sign him long term (which might not be a great move at all).

I’ll probably post more about all this once we know the full terms, but the bottom line is the 2018 just got better, more interesting, and much more fun to watch.

A Wish List

In honor Christmas, here’s my wish list for the rest of the Giants offseason:

  1. Jackie Bradley Jr. Really, #1 on my wish list is a great defensive center fielder, but there is a massive gap between Jackie Bradley and the rest of the field. Yes, Jerrod Dyson is out there as a free agent. Yes, the Giants could be foolish and sign Lorenzo Cain (giving up precious picks). Yes, there’s the Billy Hamilton rumors. But, go big or go home. It’s obvious even to Sox fans that he is the most movable asset for the Boston as they try chasing the Yankees. I have no idea if/how the Giants could get this done, but I would send them anyone except Andrew Suarez to make this happen. (What about Heliot Ramons, Chris Shaw, and an arm?) One of the quickest paths to success for the Giants in 2018 is for some rebounds from underperforming, or injured, players (see Posey, Crawford, Belt, Bumgarner, and Cueto). But the other way is to improve the three gaping holes in the roster: a 3B who can hit (check), a CF who can get to the ball, and a competent fourth starter (more in a moment). Again, while there are some other options out there at CF Bradley Jr. would be a quantum step forward.
  2. Another starting pitcher. The Giants do not have the funds to make a major improvement here. Matt Moore, who I still would love to have seen rebound in 2018, was one of the worst starting pitchers in MLB last year, and all they need to get from Chris Stratton is some league averageness to make up significant ground. That being said, the rotation, which for so long has been the backbone of this franchise, for the first time since 2008, feels full of question marks and lacks signficant depth. Stratton and Ty Blach could hold it down and be fine. Tyler Beede and/or Andrew Suarez could come up and be awesome. But, I would like to see someone brought in to at least push those guys and maybe even take the first 10-12 starts before turning to a Beede/Suarez/Blach. My short list: Trevor Cahill, Clay Bucholz, Chris Tillman, Jaime Garcia.
  3. One more source of power. This is what seems to be at the top of the list for the Giants at the moment. All eyes are on Jay Bruce. IF the market for Jay Bruce collapses a bit and comes down to, say, 3 years and $36-42 mil, I’d be for it. What I’m hearing rumored now is longer and higher than that (yikes). But there are other options. What about a one year deal for Jose Bautista? What about someone like Colby Rasmus or Michael Saunders? They could be Jay Bruce imitations without breaking the bank, and they could be easily moved along for the Austin Slater and Chris Shaws of the world if need be.
  4. Take a gamble on the bullpen. It seems like the market for relievers is a little out of control. The top guys are now getting what middle of the rotation starters used to get. But there are still a ton of names available and I’d be into a lot of them if the price were right. Here’s where I’d love to see the Giants be patient and then grab a few guys in February and see how they perform in the spring. On this list: John Axford, Jason Grilli (welcome back!), Bud Norris, Trevor Rosenthal, Drew Storen, Glen Perkins, Zack Duke.
  5. Strengthen the Bench. I know what you are thinking. How are the Giants going to do all these moves? They can’t get all the things I have on my list and spend big league money. They do not want to go into the tax for Zack Duke in other words. But, there are a lot of teams in the same position as the Giants and the market has moved slow and I think it will stay that way and I hope the team can be patient enough to luck into some deals. And I think one area this will happen in is with solid bench options. Right now, the Giants are looking at Pablo Sandoval, Gorkys Hernandez, Jarrett Parker, and Kelby Tomlinson as key reserves. I think they can do way better. They’ve already made some moves for guys they can take a look at this spring. These are great moves, not because these players are the answer to anything, but, you never know. Remember: Juan Uribe and Andres Torres were non-roster invitees to spring training who ended up heroes. On my list here: Howie Kendrick, Austin Jackson, Danny Espinoza, and Darwin Barney.

I’d also like to make a Do Not Wish list:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. John Lackey
  3. Jason Werth
  4. Jorge de la Rosa

Merry Christmas!

Eeeeeevvaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

When I lived in Boston I won two Opening Day tickets to the Red Sox 2009 season. They did a lottery thing, and we lucked out and opening day at Fenway was as adorable and awesome as you might imagine. It was also really cold.

Anyway, the Sox opened that year at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox had won the World Series in 2007, and the Rays had knocked them out of the postseason in epic fashion in 2008 (on their way to losing to the Pat Burrell led Phillies in the World Series. Isn’t baseball amazing).

This was a showdown game on opening day.
James Shields versus Josh Beckett.
Dustin Pedroia hit a home run and Beckett struck out 10
and Jonathan Papelbon saved the game.

Also, a second year stud named Evan Longoria hit a 2-run double.

And every time he came to the plate this buzzed dude that sat near us screamed at the top of his lungs, in a sing-song voice: “Eeeeevvvvaaaaaa….Eeeeevvvaaaaaaa.” (Which is funny because of Eva Longoria who is super famous and a woman).

I can never think about Evan Longoria and not think about that drunk dude at that opening day game.

Fast-forward to today and Eeeeevvvaaaaa is coming to your San Francisco Giants.

Evan Longoria, overall, is a stud.
He’s been one of the best players in baseball,
an MVP candidate,
the first of the wave of modern, awesome third basemen,
and now he’s a Giant.

But he’s also old, and expensive, and that creates all kinds of questions and riskiness for the future of the Giants.

Do we like this trade?

Let’s start here with the positives:

  • He plays 3B, an area of tremendous need. The Giants used NINE third basemen last year who collectively tallied a .216/.268/.300 slash line. That is horrid. I think Madison Bumgarner could have bested that if they let him play 3B for the whole year.
  • Longoria’s won 3 gold gloves and the Giants have the potential to win a gold glove at every infield position in 2018 (yes, this will be hard to do with Nolan Arrenado being alive, but you get my point).
  • He hits right-handed. Hey, this is cool! An actual, legit right-handed hitter. What an idea!
  • He hits home runs too!
  • He doesn’t get hurt much and has played as many games as any player in MLB over the past 5 seasons. For a team that used the DL more often than I tell my son to lower the volume of his voice (this is a lot), a durable player is a true gift.
  • This trade allowed the Giants to get rid of Denard Span and his contract, which, among other things, creates some space to get another player or two.

Now for the negatives:

  • The Giants had a legit young, cheap alternative at 3B and not only does this move block him, he actually was part of the trade. I was in to the idea of Christian Arroyo being a big part of the 2018 Giants, but it was not to be.
  • The Giants do have a potentially great infield defense on paper, but they really needed to get better with the gloves in the outfield, especially since most of their pitchers are flyball/strikeout type guys. This infield would be awesome for a staff of sinkerballers, and maybe Ty Blach and Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede move the team in that direction. But it’s hard to see how infield defense really helps Bumgarner, Cueto, and especially Samardzija.
  • He does hit righthanded, but the bar here is really low as Todd Hundley was the only right-handed hitter on the team to hit more than 3 home runs at AT&T.
  • About those home runs. Longoria only hit 20 last year in a hitters division and league. Now he comes to a pitchers division and league and a tough home ballpark. Yikes. The good news is he hit 36 in 2016, so it wasn’t that long ago that he set a career high, but his power drop-off strangely mirrors the team he is joining.
  • Not getting hurt is a good thing and there isn’t any cavalry coming behind him, so the Giants need him to be in the lineup, but he is 32 and most iron mans start becoming less irony (haha) around this age (see: Pence, Hunter).
  • The good news here is that Longoria’s contract situation and the ability to shed Span are actually very helpful for 2018, the catch though is that Longoria’s contract is bad from 2019 until 2023. Gulp.

This trade perfectly captures the essence of the conundrum the Giants find themselves in. They purposefully and strategically went young and created the core of a team that won 3 championships. It was a master class in roster building in some ways.

But that success led to reward and commitment, a commitment that now threatens to strangle the franchise for years. There’s no getting away from the fact that Giants are all in on the Posey/Crawford/Belt/Bumgarner core (you could add Matt Cain to this list). That has led to long-term commitments to Cueto/Samardzija/Pence/Melancon.

In poker terms, the Giants are pot committed, and so it isn’t that big of a deal to add a Longoria.

But, oh does it smack of the opposite direction that led this team to the top in the first place.


2018 Opening Day Lineup as of right now:

  • Steven Duggar CF
  • Joe Panik 2B
  • Buster Posey C
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Hunter Pence LF
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Austin Slater???? RF

I throw this in here to show how the outfield is still a mess. The hot rumor now is that Jay Bruce is next. I would be for creatively packaging Pence for Andrew McCutchen in addition to Bruce. Imagine this:

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

While that is mildly exciting, it does seem like the Giants are going to have gamble at least one OF position on a young guy. Maybe its Duggar time. Maybe it’s Austin Slater. Maybe it’s Chris Shaw. I don’t know, I just don’t see another way around it.

One other thought here. I know the Giants like to act fast, but this market is going very slowly. I would love to see them lay low for a bit, and maybe catch some deals in the new year.


Our final topic for the day: could the Giants actually be good in 2018?

This has been the question floating around in response to today’s trade. Most writers and commentators seem to think it is totally out of the question for the Giants to think they could be good next year, and so this is a stupid move.

In a sense I agree. 2017 was about as all-encompassing a systematic failure as a franchise can have. I can’t think of a good comparison.

By all accounts the Giants were a decent bullpen, maybe even a decent closer away from beating the Cubs in 2016. They went from that to the second worst team in baseball in a year (and only because of a walk-off home run by Pablo Sandoval on the last day of the season. Again, what a world.)

A realist, I suppose, looks at all this and says there’s no way this team is anywhere close to contending.

But, I point to the pot commitment I mentioned in the last section, and to the, perhaps foolish, belief that last year was a kind of fluke.

Grant Brisbee breaks down this question in this article (I’d recommend looking at the WAR charts as a shortcut).

I do not think that what he proposes there is totally out of the realm of possibility (in terms of the improvement).

There is a long list of “well, if”s that need to happen.

Well, if: Belt stay healthy…Bumgarner bounces back…Cueto is good again…the defense improves…the bullpen gets sorted out…several players have a bounce-back year…etc, etc etc.

But, there’s also a ludicrously long list of things that had to go wrong last year to produce a 98 loss season. And THEY ALL HAPPENED.

The Giants still have moves to make, and we’re still months away from really getting to into predictions for 2018, but at least things got a little more interesting today.

That’s all I’m asking for at this point.