So Long Matt Moore…

we hardly knew you!

Count me among those who liked trading Matt Duffy for Matt Moore. Or at least understood it.

I will never forget Moore nearly no-hitting the Dodgers. And I will never forget him beating the Cubs in Game 4 of the NLDS (if you only count the 8 inning he actually pitched).

I am disappointed about trading Moore away for a couple of reasons. (1) The Duffy lovers are going to cry “Aha, we knew it,” even though Duffy has done NOTHING since being traded from the Giants. (2) I really, really thought Matt Moore was going to be good.

When the Giants acquired Moore it felt like the kind of move smart teams make. The Giants traded a young overperforming, controllable infielder who was never a top prospect for a young, cheap start pitcher who was always supposed to be a stud. Turning a Matt Duffy super utility guy into a potential Cy Young candidate is what winning teams do.

I went into 2017 fully expecting Moore to have a very good season, potentially pushing himself into the “second best starter on the team” conversation. It didn’t happen.

Which brings me to why I begrudgingly like this trade. A part of me was excited to watch the Matt Moore 2018 resurgence, but the facts support the reality that that wasn’t likely to happen. The Dave Righetti special sauce never really panned out for Moore. It also seems unlikely the Matt Moore resurrgence will happen in Texas (not in the ballpark and not in the division!). We’ll never know if he could have turned it around and that makes me a little sad.

What does not make me sad: creating room to sign a hitter. And creating room in the starting rotation for Chris Stratton. Barring a real surprise/spring training injury, Stratton now projects as the 4th starter.

Chris Stratton is another one of those guys who has the “smart-team” smell on him. The Stratton curveball is a weapon the Astros/Dodgers/Pirates/Rays/Cubs would turn into gold. My hope is the Giants can figure it out for themselves and reap the reward.

And while we don’t know who this magical hitter is just yet, creating more space to sign someone truly helpful is very encouraging!

Unless some other moves come down this weekend, my hope is to get some ideas out about this hitter Monday. Stay tuned.

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Whoa There Giants…(aka Week [17] In Review) #sfgiants #tradedeadline

What a roller coaster of emotions the past week, days, hours, even minutes have been.

Let’s try to recap, even as news is still unfolding:

  • Some thought the bottom of the Giants tailspin was a 1-8 post all-star break  start, culminating in a dud of an AL East road trip. No the bottom it turns out was coming home and immediately losing 4 of 5, including 2 to the lame-o Reds.
  • In the middle of that the Giants made a move. Finally. They bolstered the hapless lineup, acquiring jack of all-trade 2016 All-Star, Eduardo Nunez from the Twins (we’ll get to what the Giants gave up in a moment). A nice move. Not splashy, but helpful, and it’s already paid dividends (the Giants lineup just feels better with him in the lead off spot).
  • Then the Giants turned it around a bit, winning on Saturday and Sunday. They got middling efforts from their 4th and 5th starters (Peavy and Cain), and GREAT efforts from the bullpen. They scored just enough runs to win, and win they did, to regain a bit of life, hope, momentum, and most-importantly another game back on their lead over the Dodgers.
  • Now, to today: the infamous trade deadline. Word came in on the way home from Costco that the Giants acquired Will Smith (so many Will Smith jokes), for…well, again, we’ll get to that in a minute. Anyways, Smith helps the bullpen for sure, and will be around for a couple of years (also true of Nunez, a fact that might be important here in a few moments).
  • Currently word is coming in that the Giants have probably, hopefully, indeed acquired Matt Moore from the Rays for a couple more…WE’RE GOING TO GET THAT IN A MINUTE OK.

For now, let’s say this: the Giants improved everything. A decent hitter who can play multiple positions and who works off the bench or in the starting lineup, and who will be around for another year? Win.

A good, young bullpen arm who gets out left handers and misses bats at an elite level, and who will be under team control for another 3 years? Win.

A good, young starting pitcher who is left-handed (we see you Dodgers), and who is a VAST improvement over the current version of Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, and who will also be under team control for the next 3 years? Big Win.

…Except…

Oh, what price did the Giants just pay?

  • For Nunez: Adalberto Mejia, who seemed to project as a mid/back-end rotation piece (think more Samardzija than Cueto), but, most importantly, was the closest guy in the Giants system to helping at the big league level. Not the most painful price, but it means the Giants have some confidence in Cain and Suarez being able to hold down the 5th spot for the foreseeable future.
  • For Smith: now we’re getting pricey…the Giants gave up last years #1 pick, Phil Bickford, a strikeout maven and Andrew Susac (remember him!). Giving up a number one pick for a relief pitcher seems insane, but these days this is how it goes. What was most disappointing for me, hearing the news in the car, was the thought that Bickford could have brought a bigger catch. Could he have helped the Giants acquire Chris Sale? Andrew Miller? Or what about Matt Moore?
  • Which brings us to Matt Moore: the deal is not completely finalized, so I’m writing commentary that is still based on speculation. But it looks like Moore for 1B Chris Shaw (best power bat in the system, expendable given the extension of Brandon Belt), Lucious Fox (not a guy I was in love with, but after years of the Giants finishing second on international players, here was one we actually got!), and wait for it…………………………Matt Duffy. Gulp.

There are two ways to skin this cat:

  • You are super ticked. I get it. You love Matt Duffy (the Duffman), you love his fat cat, you love his goatee, and he seems to embody all the best qualities we’ve seen in the Giants over the past 6 seasons. He was the final piece of the golden era infield puzzle!
  • Phil Bickford, you don’t care too much about, but damn, how do you trade a top pick/prospect for a relief pitcher?
  • A power bat (Chris Shaw)! The Giants actually have one of those?! Come on.**
  • And then, Mejia, we’ve been hearing about him for a while now, how come he never got a shot? How could he be worse than Peavy/Cain?
  • Conclusion: this was too much…way too much.

Counter point:

  •  Matt Duffy came out of no where. Remember, we are not that far removed from a Pablo Sandoval extension, which was then the Casey McGehee era. Two years ago, Matt Duffy was Kelby Tomlinson. Turning him into Matt Moore is a golden move.
  • Plus, there’s the not-so-small issue of Duffy’s achilles. The Giants have been taking it slow with him because they feared a Kevin Frandsen redux moment. Blowing out the achilles can be a career ender. Before the Moore deal, Nunez was here, in part, as Duffy insurance.
  • All the other pieces traded were prospects, and prospects are prospects. Meaning, you don’t know. We all lamented the Zach Wheeler for Carlos Beltran deal, but Wheeler, who could still be quite good, has struggled with injuries, including Tommy John. He hasn’t done much since 2011 (?!). You don’t know how those guys will turn out…it’s all projections.
  • Also, the Giants did all this without moving the two pieces that I most covet and look forward to seeing on the big league club someday: Pitcher, Tyler Beede, and INF Christian Arroyo. Arroyo has always been the real answer to the golden infield question***, and Beede was the first round strikeout maven before Bickford was drafted. The cupboard is not bare, and to improve every facet of the team in the meanwhile is kind of amazing.

My official take: wow, that was expensive. But it was bold. The biggest development in the Giants front-office since Bobby Evans took over is the boldness. This team went hard after Zack Grienke. Then it got Cueto AND Samardzija. Now all these trades.

This is a boldness that is about cashing in on the prime years of Posey, Belt, Crawford, and Bumgarner. The Giants have arguably the best starting pitcher, catcher, shortstop, and first basemen in the NL (Arguably, calm down people). There is no need to wait for the “window” to open. It’s wide open.

Of course, the other side of this prime window could be ugly. We all remember 2006, 2007, 2008. Ugly. But this team is going to be competing for the World Series this year, and next year, and the year after that, and probably the year after that. Enjoy it. Embrace it. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often in the history of a franchise.

My only concern and criticism is that this does feel like a Bonds-era kind of boldness. The Giants have succeeded incredibly well by going in the opposite direction: trusting their own guys, and making smaller, but excellent, moves to bolster areas of need.

And then there’s this:

The Giants have also succeeded mightily with their fabled “chemistry.” Did they just ruin it?

My counter to my own criticism is that the Bonds era was an era of urgency, and so is this one. Now is the time. Chemistry is not an issue in a clubhouse ruled by Bochy and Posey and Pence. So, well done Bobby Evans.

**Note: Chris Shaw is not involved. The Giants still have thier power bat. The other prospect there is Michael Santos, who I know nothing about =)

***

Week [11] In Review (6/13-6/19) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Um, ok.

I think we all knew the Giants were doing well, but dang!

No June swoon so far, in fact everything is looking pretty rosy right now: Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are having historic seasons, Jeff Samardzija is the best(?) third starter in baseball, Jake Peavy has figured out how to be competitive again, and the Suarez/Cain combo is holding its own (though Matt Cain is out again with yet another hamstring issue).

The offense is starting to come to life, especially in the home run department (more on this in a moment), Pagan is back, and the lineup feels somewhat normal again.

The biggest positive sign, however, is the resurgence of the bullpen. It seems things have start to get sorted out. I don’t love Cody Gearrin as the 8th inning guy, but, hey, I’m not Bruce Bochy and he has a fairly good track record with bullpens. Whatever the combination, it is finally working, and could get even better once the irrepressible Sergio Romo returns (he struck out Yasiel Puig in a rehab game this week, which is pretty cool).

The Giants face an interesting week. Four games with Pittsburg and then the long flight back to the west coast for a three game weekender with the Phillies. This is a sneaky tough week. The Pirates aren’t playing well, but are still a talented bunch, and four games in Pittsburg feels like a lot. The Phillies are not great, but they are young and have a few good pitchers and they could be a tough matchup coming off the road trip.

Back to the positive vibes: the Giants have nearly caught the Cubs for the best record in the NL, something that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago!

Week In Review: Swept the Brewers in 3 at home; swept Tampa Bay in 3 in Tampa; 44-26 overall, 6.5 game lead in NL West.

Hitter of the Week: As surmised last week Buster Posey did in fact break out, hitting .522 while collecting 12 hits. Brandon Belt continues to affirm his new contract and make his case for the All-Star Team pounding two more home runs. But the hitters of the week are Matt Duffy and Joe Panik who came alive to the tune of  .409 and .346 averages, respectively. The Giants lineup is pretty devastating when these guys are hitting well. They also both homered, and Panik had a couple huge, clutch moments in the Tampa series.

Pitcher of the Week: You could throw a dart at a chart of the starting rotation and get a pretty good candidate this week. As mentioned above, Bumgarner and Cueto added to their legendary starts to this season. Cueto won his 10th! game of the season already, while striking out nine. Peavy pitched well, adding 8 punchouts of his own.

But, the POW goes to Jeff Samardzija for nearly throwing a shutout (a 2 out, ninth inning home run ruined it for him), and getting himself back on track after a few lesser quality starts.

Looking Ahead: I’ve already gone over the schedule for the week, and the challenge it presents, so now for the good news: this a 2 start week for both Bumgarner and Cueto. Get excited for that!

Week [3] In Review (4/18-4/24) #sfgiants #weekinreview

The Giants struggles at home, and in recent times against Arizona, continue to baffle me. Outside of the D-backs sweep, the Giants are 5-2 at home, and those two loses are could-have/should-have wins. But, overall they are under .500 at AT&T. Makes no sense!

Yes, it is early, and, yes, taking 2 of 3, or even sweeping the Padres to start this week would shiny up that record quick, but I am going to keep harping on this until it isn’t an issue any more.

The Giants haven’t truly struggled at home during their run of success, and this isn’t the NBA where you can win 90% of your games at home, if you are a good team.

But, I can’t help shake the sense that they should win more often in San Francisco. And, of all the teams the Giants have had in the last 6 years, this one seems ideally created to do well at home (i.e. 50+ wins). Perhaps in a month we’ll look back at the Diamondback series and laugh, but right now, the lack of home domination concerns me.

It does seem like the offense is picking up again, and there are some bright spots all around: Samardzija, Cueto keeps on trucking, Duffy and Panik seem to be warming up, and the young arms in the bullpen are impressing.

It was fun to see Bonds too.

Week in Review: Swept in 4 by the Diamondbacks, then took 2 of 3 from the Marlins. 9-11 overall, 4th place in the West, 3.5 games behind the Dodgers.

Hitter of the Week: Matt Duffy had 10 hits this week, and saw his average climbing back to normal. Hat tip to Gregor Blanco for continuing to be the best 4th outfielder in baseball. He went 6 for 12 this week with 3 triples.

But the hitter(s) of the week are two starting pitchers: Jeff Samardzija and Jake Peavy, who both came through with big RBI hits in their starts (the only 2 wins of the week). With the Giants continuing to employ alternative lineups, these kinds of at bats are extremely valuable.

Pitcher of the Week: I want so badly to write about Jeff Samardzija (as I did last week). I finally got to see him pitch in real-time this week and it was awesome. The results were great, obviously, but he pitched like a stud pitcher should pitch: in control of the game and his pitches, nasty stuff, and able to dominate all over the strike zone with 4 different kinds of pitches. He was very impressive.

I’m going to name Jake Peavy pitcher of the week, though, because who knows if he’ll ever get in this space again. Peavy is, admittedly, my least favorite of the five starters, and the one with the lowest upside, but even if he pitches well, there are too many other good pitchers on the roster. The chances of Peavy outshining them are small.

So, while we have the opportunity, let’s thank Jake Peavy for not sucking, and for beating one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Well done old man.

Looking Ahead: the Giants start the week by finishing the home stand with 3 games against San Diego. It would do them well to take full advantage of the inferior team here. They have their 3 best pitchers set to go, at home, so don’t mess around because after this it’s off to New York. The Met’s haven’t been lighting the world on fire, but that’s still a fine pitching staff to have to face after a long plane ride and the first big time zone change of the young season.

Week [1] In Review (4/1-4/7) #sfgiants #weekinreview

Well…

Quite a lot has happened since I last posted, far too much to cover!

My goal is to keep this going for another year, so stay tuned.

Let’s start with a quick preview/keys to 2016. I’m not saying anything new here, but want it in writing before we get too deep into it. Here we go:

  1. Health: this goes without saying, and yet it must be said. The Giants have a nearly perfect roster right now. Most everything fits, it all makes sense. But, lose one or two or (gasp) more, for an extended period of time, and it quickly stops making sense. Guys are going to get hurt, of course, but let’s hope for nothing devastating.
  2. Matt Cain. This is both personal and logical. On the personal level, there’s an almost desperate longing for Matt Cain to be good again. And even if he’s not good, to be healthy and contributing in some way. To the logical: if Matt Cain is good again, the Giants go from pretty good to potentially great. Like one of the best Giants’ rosters of all time great.
  3. Brandon Belt. Belt is sort of the Cain of the lineup: a guy I root for on a personal level, but also a guy who could potentially transform this team. As it stands, the Giants’ lineup is very strong. There are no holes, and as I said, everything fits nicely right now. If Belt realizes his full potential (30 homers, 150 starts, .850+ OPS), then the team goes into elite status. The front office clearly has confidence in him too, given the extension he just signed this weekend.
  4. Winning at home.  The Giants have had a winning record at home every year since their recent run of success started in 2010. But they have not won 50+ games at home during that window (their highest total was 49 in 2010). That’s good consistency, but it’s not dominating in your home ballpark. Because the Giants’ pitching is so strong, they’ve traveled well and won a lot of road game, but this is a roster that could/should win 50-55 games at home.
  5. Integrating the new guys. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span sure do look good in the Orange and Black. And it’s great to have such quality reinforcements. But will they really integrate into a tight clubhouse culture? One good sign already: Samardzija was right in the middle of the scrum after Crawford’s walk off home run the other night. It’s one thing to be a good pro and show up and do your job, it’s another to fit into the chemistry and character of the team. We’ll see how they do.

I believe this is a 95 win team, and a team that can compete in the post-season. The five NL teams who make it into the tournament this year will be very quality teams, meaning this may be the most challenging post-season for the Giants ever, assuming they can get there.

On to the week in review: 2 of 3 from Milwaukee, and 3 of 4 from LA, and the Giants are 5-2 with an early season 1 game NL West lead.

Hitter of the Week: Every single opening day/regular starter hit a home run this week and two of the bench guys and one the pitchers chipped in with dingers too. It may be that this is the first year where picking this award is harder than the pitcher of the week. Kind of a fun new challenge!

I’m going with Matt Duffy this week. Every year Sports Illustrated comes out with its predictions for the season, and the last two years they’ve added a “Scout’s Thoughts” section in the preview. The scout is from a rival divisional team, and it’s anonymous. Last year the “scout” said Brandon Crawford would never be a good major league hitter and then he went out and had an incredible year, winning the silver slugger and cementing his reputation as the best SS in the national league.

This year the “scout” deemed Matt Duffy a fluke, in particular harping on his bat speed and lack of power. He went out and hit two home runs this week and leads the team with 7 rbi’s. Maybe there’s some weird SI voodoo at work here. I’ll take it.

Pitcher of the Week: Cueto and Bumgarner went twice, each turning in a vintage performance and then a gutsy-stick-it-out-and-save-the-bullpen-and-still-get-a-win start. Samarzija and Peavy left a lot to be desired, and Matt Cain turned in a quality start.

Given what I’ve already written, I’ll go with Matt Cain this week if no other reason than there had to be a moment on Friday, around the fifth or the sixth inning, where he thought to himself: “I’m back, I have good feel for my pitches, I haven’t been perfect, but I like the results, and, of course, our juggernaut offense is getting no hit by a rookie in his first game. Perfect.”

The more things change…

Looking Ahead: Two important things to keep an eye on. First, it will be wise for Giants’ fans to have some patience with Jeff Samardzija. He’s on his fourth team in three years. This means four different pitching coaches, four different organizational philosophies, four different sets of catchers. My sense is it will take at least 8 starts for him to fully absorb Dave Righetti’s message, and to get used to working with Posey. I would predict/hope that sometime around mid-May it starts clicking.

Second, the most interesting bullpen development of 2016 will be watching how Bruce Bochy handles Hunter Strickland. He should be the closer (and I’ve thought this before Saturday’s Casilla meltdown). But, he’s also the biggest weapon in the ‘pen and so there’s something to be said for using him in the most high leverage situations whenever they come. Let’s see how this all plays out!

Off to Denver and LA. I think we’ll be sick of the Dodgers by next weekend for sure.

Go Giants.