Early Thoughts on the Off-Season

Here’s a simple preview of your 2017 SF Giants (other previews here):
C (2)
Posey
Brown

INF (6)
Belt
Panik
Crawford
Nunez
Gillapsie
Tomlinson

OF (5)
Williamson
Span
Pence
Hernandez
Parker

SP (5)
Bumgarner
Cueto
Moore
Samardzija
Cain

RP (7)
NEW CLOSER
Law
Strickland
Smith
Okert
Kontos
Suarez


Now, let’s analyze that a bit:

  • The Giants are getting rid of $50 million in payroll, but will see current players take $30 million in raises, so the general operating principle is that they will have approximately $20 million to spend. One way to think about next year is as simple as described above: Add a pricey, shiny new closer and call it good.
  • The top 3 closing targets are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon. Who do you want? It seems like Chapman will not be the target, as the Giants don’t like guys with major character issues. That leaves two elite options. The Dodgers will want to keep Jansen, so are you willing to get into a bidding war with LA? At what point do you walk away from that war? That leaves Melancon, who the Giants seemed to have really wanted at the trade deadline. He would be the cheapest (maybe? likely?). I like this option a lot, but I also lived in Boston when he had the worst year of career, so there’s that. But, after those 3 there’s not much else.
  • If the Giants sign Melancon at say, 4 yrs/$64 million (yeeps), what else do you do? I am most interested in seeing the Giants add veterans (ala Conor Gillaspie) to the bench. I could see them improving the backup catcher and infield position. In other words, a couple of the weak links are: Kelby Tomlinson, Ehrie Adrianza, and Trevor Brown. One example (not saying this is the right guy), would be signing Aaron Hill to take the Tomlinson roster spot. Hill doesn’t need to start, doesn’t need ABs, can passably play a few positions, and has some pop from the right side. These are not sexy moves, but they create organizational depth, which is desperately needed.

Well, that was pretty boring, now for some craziness:

  • Listening to John Smoltz this postseason has made me think: is there a potential starting pitcher out there who could transform into an elite closer? The Giants were rumored to be in the trade market for Andrew Cashner at the deadline, and he certainly has the pure stuff to be interesting? Two other names: James Shields, should he opt out, and Clay Bucholz. In no way, should this be a plan A, but if the Giants can’t get a deal done with one of the “Big 3” then they will have to get creative. All three of those guys would seemingly want to remain a starter, and Shields may not even opt out given he sucked so badly this year, and this is a thin starter market, so they may stand to make good cash as starters, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • It sure sounded in the postseason press conference like the front office is very intrigued by a Mac Williamson/Jarrett Parker platoon, or one of those guys winning the job outright. I am too, especially if it allows the Giants to spend the money to get one of those good closers. But I would also be open to the team bringing in a veteran to at least push them in spring training. Are you ok with this being plan A? If not, a plan B option: Matt Holiday!
  • I would love to see the Giants bring in Jared Saltalamaccia as Posey’s backup.

2017 Starting Lineup:

  1. Nunez 3B
  2. Panik 2B
  3. Posey C
  4. Belt 1B
  5. Pence RF
  6. Crawford SS
  7. Williamson LF
  8. Span CF (or do the flip here with the pitcher)

What I like about this lineup is the balance: Left, right, left, all the way through, and more power potential as well.


Finally, some thoughts on Matt Cain:

  • No matter what, the Giants are paying the man $20 million next year. As with 2016, you have to think they are going to give him every opportunity to take that 5th starter role. I know people are really excited about Ty Blach, and I am too, but I think the Giants will give each 8-10 starts (in the majors for Cain, in AAA for Blach) before deciding what to do. I think the Giants need to set, before the season starts, what the expectations are, what success means for Cain, and then stick to that: don’t jerk these guys around.
  • During Joe Blanton’s meltdown in Game 1 of the NLCS, I tweeted this:
  •  I got a little bit of heat in return. Here’s what I mean: I don’t have any problem with Matt Cain turning into a serviceable big league reliever. Nothing would make me happier than Matt Cain having a long, successful, final chapter to his career as a starter or reliever. Either way: don’t care. But, I don’t think it’s quite as simple for Cain as: become a reliever/become dominant again. Joe Blanton transformed his career by turning his slider into a devastating pitch. He doesn’t throw hard, he doesn’t have another nasty pitch. It’s all about the slider. Matt Cain’s success has been primarily related to his ability to command his fastball at the top of the strike zone. The weak contact he induced from that pitch was his secret sauce, a deep source of angst for many in the SABR community. Other than that fastball he’s never had a pitch that translates to obvious bullpen success. This is not saying he couldn’t figure it out. But Joe Blanton strikes me as a one trick pony. That trick is pretty good, but when it doesn’t work, there’s no where else to go, and it can get ugly as it did in the 8th inning on Saturday night. Maybe if Cain goes to the bullpen and he can get his velocity in the 93-95 mph range, and that fastball life comes back, then I will look pretty silly. However, Cain doesn’t profile to me as the kind of guy who automatically transitions well to the bullpen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life With Pablo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, logic would dictate that the best plan is:

Life Without Pablo

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

I can be convinced either way.

What should the Giants do?

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)

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)

Let’s Trade Tim Lincecum

It’s election night, so to keep from going crazy let’s think about baseball!

I begin with the following premise: the free agent market is a dangerous trap of fools gold, dashed dreams, and sorrow. Last offseason the “winners” were the Angels and the Marlins and neither of them made the playoffs. Another winner was the Tigers and we all know how that ended.

However, teams that made good trades included the A’s, the Nationals, the Orioles, and…wait for it…the Giants. None of those trades made the kinds of headlines that Pujols and Wilson and Reyes and Fielder made, but they sure turned out really, really well for each team.

All that to say: bringing back Pagan and Scutaro and Affeldt and potentially filling the LF hold through FA doesn’t bode well for the Giants in the short, or, especially, the long-term.

I think the Giants will get Scutaro and get him at a decent value. I don’t know that the Giants get Pagan and even if they do it will almost assuredly be an overpay.

It’s time then to get creative! Here’s my thinking: I believe Anibal Sanchez is a value buy in this FA market. If the Giants could get him at 4 yrs/$52 mil I think that would be a steal. That signing would give the Giants 6 starting pitchers, making one expendable.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are not going anywhere. Barry Zito, redemption or not, is still pretty untradable, and even if he could be moved it wouldn’t bring much back other than salary relief. Ryan Vogelsong is interesting: he could bring back value due to his small contract, but I don’t see it happening.

That leaves Tim Lincecum.

Reasons NOT to Trade Tim Lincecum:

  1. He just had a horrible season and his value is at all time low.
  2. He is owed $20+ million next year so he can probably only be traded to a rich team or else the Giants will have to eat salary.
  3. He is, in many ways, still the face of the franchise.
  4. Tim Lincecum, when he is right, is better than Anibal Sanchez.

Reasons TO Trade Tim Lincecum

  1. In addition to what I mentioned above, I think there are two interesting scenarios for the Giants. The first is to try to match up with a team like the Royals/Twins/Cleveland who desperately need pitching. The Giants throw in the cash to cover the salary and steal an Alex Gordon-type player (plus a reliever) to cover an outfield spot and bolster the bullpen. The Giants don’t have to deal with Tim’s drama if things don’t go well and actually get something in return for a player who will hit FA after 2013.
  2. Now, here is where I really want to go. The Giants should trade Lincecum to the Red Sox for Jacoby Ellsbury. I have a secret fantasy of Ellsbury and Gary Brown at the top of the Giants lineup. Ellsbury is in a similar place to Lincecum: a year away from FA, some impressive years under his belt, but still with something to prove. The Red Sox need pitching, the Giants might need help in the outfield and at the top of the order. The trade allows both teams time decide if they want to commit to each player long-term. If it doesn’t work out, it was only a year.

Undoubtedly, the best case scenario for the Giants is that Tim Linceucm comes back strong and pitched like 2010 Timmy. But, creative trades paved the way for many successful teams last year and might be the right antidote to a crazy, overspending spree on the near horizon.

(-SB)

Looking Ahead (Pt. 1)

What, you think just because the defending World Champion (and they still are!) Giants are done for the season we have nothing more to say? WRONG! Let’s look at how next year’s team is shaping up.

Catcher: Buster Posey will be back from his self-imposed exile next season so this is a set position. As far as backups go, keep Hector Sanchez in AAA for another year and use Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart. Both work fine in that role.

First Base: Here’s an interesting situation. Brandon Belt has apparently been moved to Left Field full time-ish while Brett Pill is going bonkers and Aubrey Huff has one more year on his contract. So what do you do? I would go with Pill as your starter and see if he can handle a full season, and use Huff off the bench to give Pill a break or to take over if Pill falls apart.

Second Base: Freddy Sanchez is supposed to be ready by Spring Training so there you go. However I really like how Jeff Keppinger played since he acquired him and hope he can stay around as a utility guy, or even the starting SS.

Third Base: Pablo.

Shortstop: With the hole of suck known as Orlando Cabrera and Miguel Tejada gone this is one of the Giants biggest positional holes. As far as minor leaguers go we don’t have much, which is why I think you’ll either see some combo of Brandon Crawford and Jeff Keppinger, or the Giants go after a free agent. Although I expect them to check in on Jose Reyes, he’s really not a realistic option. Jimmy Rollins seems like a much better, and cheaper option for San Fran, but he’s asking for 5 years and I would hesitate to offer anything more than 3. Crawford showed a very good glove and Keppinger is a better offensive player, so unless the Giants do something surprising, this could be our situation next season.

Right Field: I honestly hope the Giants make a run at Carlos Beltran, but I’m seriously doubting he’ll be asking anything reasonable, especially since he’s a Boras client. In that case I think the Giants use Nate Schierholtz again as their starting RF and maybe/hopefully bring back Cody Ross at an affordable rate, especially since they don’t have anyone that close to ready in minors for next year. Nate did pretty well this season though, and his arm is killer, so it wouldn’t be a bad option.

Center Field: Torres is your option here, if only to see whether it was this season that was an aberration or if it was last season. Other than him who do you have? Justin Christian?

Left Field: Brandon Belt. At least it gives him consistent playing time.

Starting Pitching: Ah this is where it gets interesting. Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner are sure bets, as probably is Vogelsong (is he a free agent? I don’t know), but what to do with Zito and Sanchez? I honestly have no clue what to do with Zito, I would release him, but that’s a LOT of money being left on the table. If he was ok with it I would throw him in the bullpen (he can’t be worse than Runzler this season) and maybe use him as a 6th/spot starter. Jonathan Sanchez I would trade and the reason behind this is that the Giants still have next to nothing in terms of batting. Posey, Sandoval and hopefully Belt and Pill, which would be great if they worked out, if not, we’re going to have another season where the playoffs are out of reach. Maybe they can score a shortstop (The Marlins seem really really down on Hanley Ramirez, and yes I know that is super unlikely.) or another outfielder or SOMEBODY who can be a consistent hitter. Replace him in the lineup with Eric Surkamp and go from there. If he falls off a cliff then just call up Zach Wheeler. Wait a minute…

Bullpen: Wilson, Romo, Castilla and Ramirez need to stay along with Lopez. KEEP LOPEZ! Throw in Edelfson and maybe Zito or someone else and we’re fine. It’s a very solid bullpen the way it is.

Bench: Keppinger, Darren Ford for your 5th OF/Pinch running expert, maybe Manny Burris or Connor Gillespie for the infield.

Free Agents: Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes will not happen. Sorry. Jimmy Rollins? Maybe. C.C. Sabathia? I really hope so, but no way. You know who I would like to see? Michael Cuddyer of the Twins. Plays 1B, 2B, 3B and OF and is a 20-25 HR a year hitter, around 70-80ish RBI’s and is a career .272 hitter, but that includes two bad years in 2003 and 2008. Not a bad option and he would look good in Orange and Black.

(-NW)