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)

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2nd Half Questions and a Prediction

The Giants get the “second half” (66 games left) tonight against the First Place Diamondbacks. The Giants continue to stand on strange ground. 6.5 games behind the D-Backs, but 8 games under .500. What the?

Here are the pertinent questions:

  1. Buy or Sell? In or Out? Two questions, I know, but essentially the same: are the Giants really in this thing, or is the 6.5 games out just a fantastical mirage meant to befuddle and entice the weak of mind and heart? If they have a good weekend and sweep, or even take 2 of 3, from Arizona, I’d expect the Giants to think they can go for it. If, the reverse happens, then I think it’s time to bite the bullet and see what they can get for various pieces. In the end I think the Giants will straddle the fence for as long as possible, make a minor move, and see if the core crew can’t find some magic.
  2. What of Tim Lincecum? He just threw a no-hitter. Other teams want to add him to their bullpen. Maybe he wants to be a Giants for life. Maybe he wants a fresh start. My gut tells me he stays through the season, but probably not beyond that. I could be wrong here in many directions. No matter what, enjoy every opportunity to see him from here on out…it might be the last time you see him in this uniform (tear).
  3. Can the Pitching Recover? Finally, a true on-the-field baseball question! This is a huge question, not just for the rest of the season, but moving forward as well. In 2009-2012 the Giants were among the best staffs in all of baseball, not just during that span, but historically. There is no doubt the team has the talent to put together an 8-10 turn run of excellence. In order for that to happen Madison Bumgarner and Timmy need to keep at their current pace. Matt Cain needs to get it together and fix his mechanical issue out of the stretch (or whatever the heck is wrong with him). Ryan Vogelsong needs to come back soon and he needs to be 2012 playoff caliber Vogey, not early 2013 Vogey. Finally, the Giants need to leave Gaudin in the rotation and send Zito to the pen. Not only does that give the team a stronger rotation it ensures that Zito won’t hit his inning mark (thus locking him in for one more expensive year), and gives the Giants a lot more flexibility heading into next year. The reality: that’s a lot of “what-ifs”…not out of the realm of possibility, but unlikely.
  4. Who Will Hit? Pablo seemed to be getting it together in San Diego before the break, but the Giants will need Pence to get hot and they will also need the Brandon’s to continue to contribute down the stretch. I never thought this team would miss Angel Pagan so much, but they do, and they need a couple of other guys to step up and take some pressure off the pitchers.
  5. What About the Future? As uncertain as the next couple of weeks and rest of the season may seem, it still doesn’t compare to what lies ahead this off-season. 3/5 of the rotation will be up in the air. Pence is likely gone, leaving 2 outfield spots open, plus lingering questions about Pagan’s ability to stay healthy as he ages at a tough position (CF). The Giants don’t have immediate help waiting on the farm, and will have to bridge the gap somewhere. Lot’s of interesting moves lie ahead.

Bold Prediction: As crazy as it sounds, I’m going to go with my heart, and not with my head, and predict that the Giants will win 87 games and the NL West. That will require them to go 44 and 22 over the final 66 games. Seems like a tall order for this club, but IF the pitching can get on a roll it is entirely possible. This is the Giants’ version of the 2000 Yankees, the final year in their great run, where they were able to sneak in despite being an inferior version of their former selves. Bring on the second half.

(-SB)

#SFGiants Week in Review (5/6-5/12)

Since our last past, which took the temperature of the starting rotation, each of the Giants’ 5 starters got to take a turn. It went like this: Zito=Great, Vogelsong=Terrible, Cain=Very Encouraging, Bumgarner=Great, Lincecum=Very Encouraging.

So, mostly what we’ve come to expect/encouragement. All of which translated to 4 wins and 1 loss. Very Nice! The deep concern is still very much Vogelsong. How long do you wait this out? Like they did with Lincecum a year ago my gut tells me they wait this one out a long time. (A) There is no one knocking on that door (2) The Giants are in first place and have the luxury of waiting.

Results:

4-3 (23-15); 2 game lead in NL West

6-2 L vs. PHIL; 6-2 L vs. PHIL; 4-3 W vs. PHIL; 6-3 L vs. ATL; 8-2 W vs. ATL; 10-1 W vs. ATL; 5-1 W vs. ATL

Hitter of the Week:

How about Marco Scutaro! His line of .467/.467/.767 is pretty tasty. And take note of this, his average is now over .300. I know batting average isn’t as revered as a stat as it once was, but for a guy like Scutaro is pretty important…his value to the team is average and on-base-percentage, as opposed to power. He is the perfect #2 hitter for this team and every runs a little more smoothly when he is going well.

Also, don’t miss this fact, while we are talking about batting average: Scutaro is at .305, Sandoval at .320, Posey at .294, and Pence at .281. That is a very good sign for the 2-5 spots.

Here’s my prediction: this team has the capability of putting together at 10+ game winning streak. Their ability to put long streaks together in the past (based on excellent starting pitching) has always been stunted by the offense. Hard to maintain a streak when you are prone to the 1-0 caining loss.

Pitcher of the Week:

Tempting to give this to Lincecum but I’m going with Matt Cain. He still got burned by the longball, but a very, very encouraging sight to see him go 8 after getting hit by a ball and dominating.

Looking Ahead:

Very interesting road trip: 2 in Toronto and then 4 in Colorado. Neither team is playing well right now, but  it is weird to go to Canada and play with the DH and then go to Colorado where weird stuff happens. I’d be pleased with 3-3 but am hoping the success against the NL West leads to a 4-2 week.

(-SB)

Pitching, Trades, and Cliff Lee Rumors

I promise that next Monday we will bring back the week’s in review and hopefully establish a good rhythm again.

For now though, the Giants season has been a sort of bizarro world. The starting pitching has been poor. The hitter has been good, if not great. The comebacks have been awesome. Who saw that coming?

Good vibes aside, for the Giants to have a shot at repeating they need to get better starting pitching. No way around that.

Here is my assessment thus far:

  • Matt Cain has not been good, but the amount of home runs he has allowed do line up with his career averages. Some might argue that such an extreme fly ball pitcher is finally having the law of averages catch up with him, but I don’t see it continuing at this rate. More important, Cain’s control has been lacking. I see him righting the ship and being the ace. Level of Panic: low.
  • Madison Bumgarner has had 6 great starts and one not so great start. No worries here. Madbum doesn’t have the video game stuff to dominate every time, so there will be times when it doesn’t go well. That said not worried. Level of Panic: extremely low.
  • Tim Lincecum is the most maddening player in a Giants’ uniform since Barry Zito who is still in a Giants’ uniform. He can look so good on one pitch and so bad on another. Dominate a batter than watch the pitcher. Provide a ray of hope with a clean start and then dash it with another start ruined by the big inning. What do you do? I still hold out hope that he is smart enough, talented enough, and not injured enough to figure it out. Level of Panic: moderate.
  • Barry Zito: Barry Zito is Barry Zito. I really don’t know how else to say it. Here’s what Barry Zito does: for every 5 starts, he will give 2 great turns, 2 good turns, and 1 huge turd of a turn. And that all works out to a perfectly acceptable league average 4th starter. Barry Zito. Level of Panic: low (Giants’ fans left panic a long time ago in regards to Zito).
  • Ryan Vogelsong: Ryan Vogelsong is the baseball definition of house money. In 2011 he was around to do one thing and one thing only: provide rotation depth. He started the season in AAA and only came up because of Jonathan Sanchez (remember him). Then it was because of Barry Zito. He made the All-Star team and it was a great story, but it was never part of the plan. And then it got even better. Another good season and a post-season transformation into THE ACE. But, when does the clock strike midnight and the coach turn back into a pumpkin? It might have happened, in a way, last August. It sure seems like it is happening now. The problem is that Vogey is now part of the plan. So, where do we go from here if this is the end of the line? Level of Panic: Red Alert!

So, what happens now? The hot rumor of the week is the Giants should go after Cliff Lee should the Phillies continue their downward spiral (a spiral the Giants are not helping in this current series).

The Cliff Lee idea is not unlike an idea I proposed this offseason which you can read about here. (By the way, Anibal Sanchez is off to a GREAT start).

Do the Giants pursue this?

Here’s the case against Lee:

  • He is old. 35 in August. 
  • He has an injury history. Been on the DL at least once in each of the past four seasons.
  • He is expensive. $25 mil for the next 3 years (including 2013).

Here’s the case for Lee:

  • He is very good. He is even better in the post-season.
  • The Giants could move Lincecum or Vogelsong to the bullpen.
  • The Giants will lose some combination of Lincecum, Vogelsong, and Zito after this season. Their good young arms are probably not going to be ready for opening day 2014. They will need outside help at some point to fill out the rotation, so why not Cliff Lee.

A couple of other factors. First, would the Phillies even want to do this? Maybe, they could get financial relief and some prospects. Second, would the Giants have what it takes to pull this off? Maybe…but their thin system would essentially be depleted. Third, Cliff Lee has a limited no-trade clause. The Giants could be one of the 21 teams on that list.

If the Giants could pull this off by trading only 1 decent prospect, than I say do it. They can manage the expense (especially with Lincecum, Pence, and potentially Zito coming off the books at the end of the year).

If it requires 2-3 top prospects, I say no.

It’s a long season and we are still just getting started. While the early returns have not been great from this rotation, there is plenty of time to right the ship. As bad as it’s been, the Giants are only a half game out of first place.

So, true panic should not set in until June. Let’s hope this magical group of five, who have been so good the last several years, turn it around quickly.

(-SB)

#SFGiants Week In Review (4/15-4/21)

What a weird week. Absolutely horrible in Milwaukee (a place the Giants seem to do well, and against a bad team), and then awesome at home against the Padres. The Giants are now 8-1 in the division…since losing to LA on opening day they have not lost a division game. That’s a fantastic start…let’s hope they keep it up against the Diamondbacks and the Padres again this week.

Results:

3-3 (12-7); 2nd place, 1.5 games back in NL West

10-8 L @ MIL; 4-3 L @ MIL; 7-2 L @ MIL; 3-2 W vs SD; 2-0 W vs. SD; 5-0 W vs. SD

Hitter of the Week:

Brandon Crawford is the hitter of the week and possibly even the year, given the expectations for him heading into the season. I think we all hoped for improvement, but .250 with 10+ home runs was a goal we would have all paid top dollar for. It’s early and there will be slumps and streaks but he sure passes the eye test right now. Power to the opposite field, not trying to do too much…he just looks dangerous at the plate. And that might be the best sign of all.

Pitcher of the Week:

Tim Lincecum was the enigma of the week last week and he pitched beautifully on Saturday night. Yes, he was at home (but we all know he’s been good and bad everywhere, park doesn’t really seem to matter to Timmy), and yes it was the Padres, but he looked like vintage Lincecum. Guys swung at nasty pitches out of the zone, and most importantly, he pitched with purpose and it sure seemed like he knew what he wanted to do and put the ball where he wanted it to go. The great question of Lincecum is not “will he get his velocity back” (probably not), but rather “will his crazy mechanics allow him to become a control pitcher” (a difficult task). The jury is still out, but saturday night was a huge step forward.

Enigma of the Week:

This is the enigma of the year: the Giants’ starters have all shown flashes of brilliance. I was floored by this article. But each of them seems to be too susceptible to (a) the Long Ball, and (b) the Big Inning. Cain and Zito got it big time in Milwaukee this week. Could be flukey early season stuff, but certainly it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Looking Ahead:

6 more division games: 3 against Arizona in SF, and then 3 in San Diego. Let’s hope the team keeps rolling against the NL West!

(-SB)

Big Answers

Yesterday we posted 5 Big Questions the Giants face this offseason. Today we try to answer them.

1) What can we expect from Tim Lincecum:

  • a) He continues to suck, the Giants figure out something to do with him (bullpen?), and let him walk at the end of the year.
  • b) He bounces back fully and the Giants have a big decision to make next offseason about what to do with him.
  • c) The Giants try to sign him this offseason at a discount
  • d) The Giants trade him this offseason. His lowered value doesn’t get the same return as a few years ago, but it could a be a good return and it would resolve (a) and (b).

My opinion is that Tim Lincecum is going to bounce back in a major way next year. I think he will be in better shape, I think he will work out the kinks in his motion, and I think he will prove to be a better pitcher than ever (if not quite as dominant) in 2013.

Tim can’t just throw a 95 mph fastball at the top of the zone and come right back with an 84 mph change that drop off the table anymore. But he can be extremely effective by relearning his fastball and by getting his mechanics to a place where he has better control (if less velocity). He is too good, too competitive, and too young to be washed up as a starter.

  • What should happen: I think the Giants should try to sign Timmy this offseason and enjoy the bounce back at a discounted rate.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will stand pat, let the season play out, and make a Lincecum decision next offseason.

2) Can the rotation back up their performance:

A huge part of the answer to this question has to do with Lincecum finding himself. The Giants had their worst ERA+ as a staff this year (95) since 2006. And this was the first year with a below average ERA+ during this run of success. A lot of that was due to Lincecum posting the worst ERA+ of any starter in the big leagues. Like I said, a Timmy bounce-back is the biggest way the whole team improves in 2013.

I also think Madison Bumgarner will have a huge year next year. I’m a huge MadBum fan, and I think the kid just ran out of gas this year. But he’s a big strong kid who will learn how to build strength as the year goes on. I think he takes another step forward which only makes the rotation that much more solid.

I’m mildly concerned about Matt Cain. He threw 250 innings this year, and while the dude is a horse I think some fatigue showed up in the post-season: too many home runs. However, there’s no reason to suggest he doesn’t do what Matt Cain always does: pitch well.

Ryan Vogelsong is also a concern. Late bloomers tend to fall and fall quickly. I expect Vogelsong to be very effective next year, but I think we will see more ups and downs.

Barry Zito is Barry Zito. He’ll have some starts that make you wish you had never turned the TV on and he’ll have some starts that make you think he could win the CY Young again. In the end he will have an ERA just north of 4.00 and win double-digit games. (One caveat here: If Zito hits 200 innings his 2014 team option vests…I would guess they manage that pretty carefully next year).

  • What should happen: the Giants staff should continue to be the strength of this team and Madison Bumgarner will be in the conversation for the CY Award at season’s end.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will take a flier on a Vogelsong-like pitcher this offseason who will prove to be valuable because Vogelsong will miss time due to injury.

3) Can the lineup stay healthy: The real heart of this question, as I mentioned yesterday, is this…will this be the year we finally get to see Panda and Posey together, at full strength, in the middle of the lineup.

It is obviously impossible to predict health with any reasonable accuracy, but Panda and Posey will be in the 26-27 year old window the next two years, typically two of the most productive years for baseball players. If healthy I think we see a potent 1-2 combo in the middle of the lineup.

  • What should happen: Posey and Panda come to camp next year in shape and highly motivated for personal and team success.
  • What will happen: I think this is exactly what will happen with the addendum that the Giants sign Posey to a long-term deal this offseason.  

4) Will the Giants make the same mistakes from 2010: After the 2010 Championship the Giants just had to bring back Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez. Oops. Aubrey felt necessary because no one knew what to expect from Pablo and there were no other legitimate middle of the order hitters in the Giants lineup. But that was a frustrating signing as it seemed to block Brandon Belt. Freddy Sanchez was blocking no one and even though we all knew of his propensity for injury it seemed like a good idea.

The Giants are in a similar situation with Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt. It is hard to imagine a Giants team in 2013 without those guys on the roster. However, they are all going to be in demand this offseason, and they are not going to be cheap. And they are not exactly young (Pagan being the youngest at 31). I’ve already heard about a Rowand (5 ys/$60 mil) type deal for Pagan, and Affeldt’s market just shot through the roof (no thanks to the Dodgers) now that Brandon League signed a 3 year/$22 mil deal.

TradeRumors has the Giants bringing back all three. I would love to see the three return, but I do wonder if the Giants will end up signing contracts that they later regret. I can’t imagine Scutaro getting more than three years (it really should be 2, with an option at most), which I think is ok, but Pagan for 5? Yikes! Affeldt at $8-10 million a year? Whoa!

Complicating matters is that the Giants have top prospects at CF and 2B. Gary Brown and Joe Panik seemed locks to make at least an appearance in 2013 (if not the opening day roster) after 2011, but they both had years that raised some questions. They cannot be expected to make an impact in 2013. But by 2014? Sure. I’d hate to see them blocked.

Affeldt is a huge weapon, but the Giants have two other lefties coming back next year (Lopez and Mijares). They also have Dan Runzler who actually could fulfill the role Affeldt plays (lefty who can get righties out too) if he can stay healthy.

All of this shapes up to be quite fascinating.

  • What should happen: The Giants should bring them all back, but at reasonable deals. I’d be ok with Scutaro on a 2-year, $18 million deal (with an option for a third), Pagan for 3 years at $36 million, and Affeldt for 2 years at $15 million.
  • What will happen: The Giants will bring them all back, but overpay severely, especially for Pagan.

5) Will the Giants make a splash in Free Agency: Assuming the above happens, the Giants will only have one significant hole and that involves Left Field. (Amazing trivia note from Baggs: did you know the Giants biggest FA signing last year was Ryan Theriot at $1.75 million. They spent a ton of money on existing guys, but that still caught me off guard).

The Giants have come up in a few Josh Hamilton rumors and there is always the possibility that another Championship could lead to (over)confident spending.

The answer to this question really lies in what happen with Scutaro, Pagan, and Affeldt, especially Pagan. If Pagan goes elsewhere the Giants might jump in on someone like Michael Bourn or BJ Upton.

The bigger question here is this: do the Giants take a flier on Melky Cabrera? Do they utilize a Blanco/Nady platoon (or some other right-handed, power hitting outfielder)? Do they have another trick up their sleeve?

  • What should happen: Assuming the “big 3” return, I think the Giants should bring back Cody Ross and use him in a platoon with Gregor Blanco in left field.
  • What will happen: This is the hardest one for me to predict and so much of it has to do with the other impending free agents. I don’t think the Giants will spend big, especially on a left fielder, so I do see them considering some kind of a platoon here, but I honestly have no idea how this one shakes out. I also wouldn’t count out a Cabrera return.

There you have it. I’m sure this will all get revised and mixed up as things progress, but that’s my very early assessment of this offseason. Good luck Sabes!

(SB)

Game 7

First: this and this. Two articles, one about Barry Zito, written a year too soon, and the other about Matt Cain. Fun for me to re-read, hopefully it is for you too.

It all makes sense now. Of course the Giants would sign Matt Cain to a big contract (the biggest to a right-handed pitcher ever. Chew on that for a minute. Then chew on this: how many dominant left-handers are still in the postseason? Not many. Interesting).

Of course Matt Cain would throw the first perfect game in Giants’ history.

Now maybe he can win the first Game 7.

Probably the craziest thing I’ve learned this post-season, and there have been many crazy things to learn, is this: the Giants have never won a Game 7. Not in New York, not in San Francisco. Not in 128 years of baseball. 0 and 5.

Two of those game sevens have come in my lifetime. The first baseball season I really remember was 1987, although I don’t have much memory of the post-season. I definitely remember the ’88 post-season. The A’s, the Dodgers. That stupid Gibson home run that I’ve had to watch highlights of all my life. But I don’t remember Game 7, 1987, against the Cardinals, at all. Probably for the best because it was tragic.

I do remember, more vividly than I would like, Game 7 against the Angels. The gut-punch of Game 6 was still fresh and you just knew, as much you hoped it wasn’t true, that there was no way they were going to win Game 7. And they never really came close.

2002 was a rough year, and that loss didn’t help. Not one bit. Total depression.

It’s 2012 and I live in a different baseball world. If the Giants lose tonight I will be bummed. This team has been so much fun to watch and I would love to see them take on the Tigers. But, I won’t be crushed if they lose.

So, here’s to Matt Cain. Back in 2006, when things had taken a turn for the worst, Matt Cain was a Giants’ fan great hope. One day, we dreamed, maybe we’d get to see Cain take the mound in a big playoff game. Our big ace. In our beautiful ballpark. It seemed too good to be true.

But now it is happening.

Game 7. The greatest show in sports.

Go Giants.

(-SB)