Thinking Ahead (2015!) #SFGiants #RosterMoves

Evaluating a team’s needs after a Championship is one of the toughest things to do in sports. Think of the Giants decision makers right now: How could this year have gone any better?

I suppose the Giants could have kept up their torrid opening month’s pace and won 107 games. They could have swept their way through the postseason. Either way the result is the same: another ring and another parade.

What if, for the sake of a thought exercise, the Giants had Matt Cain at their disposal? Let’s say he was pitching at his career average level. About all we can surmise is that the Giants wouldn’t have traded for Jake Peavy. And that, certainly, could have set off a disastrous chain of events. Perhaps a trade for Chase Utley or Asdrubal Cabrera, which would mean no Joe Panik. The Giants won a World Series by essentially losing all the starts that Matt Cain would have made. Furthermore they found Joe Panik. Recipe for success.

All that to say: evaluating a team is so much easier after winning 76 games. I think this why the Giants have had a hard time repeating, and maybe that’s actually a good thing. It allows for the brass to take a good honest look at things and act accordingly.

Nonetheless, evaluation must happen, and so here’s my (very preliminary) best shot at thinking about the 2015 San Francisco Giants.

The Lineup

  • CF: All indications are that Angel Pagan will be ready to go and the starting CF/leadoff man in 2015. When he’s been healthy he’s been good and the Giants have won. It’s truly remarkable that they made it through the stretch run and postseason without him. The big questions for 2015 are (a) can Pagan stay healthy, and (b) can the Giants do some things to keep him around all year? If yes, I expect a productive year from him and this spot in the lineup
  • 2B: Joe Panik will be your opening day second baseman. As great as Joe was (and I love this dude), know that there are going to be ups and downs next year. There will be a stretch where you will wonder about starting Matt Duffy. There will be a stretch where he goes to the bottom of the lineup to find his swing. But, I think Panik showed why he should be a fine major league player for a long time. He plays good defense and showed a solid approach at the plate that will be able to get out of slumps and find ways to help even when the hits aren’t falling. A subplot here is some guy named Marco Scutaro (remember him!). I sort of hope (and I guess the Giants have the same hope) that he retires, which would save the Giants about $7 million. It sounds like he’s going to try to play, and if he can resemble his old self in any way, he would be a great utility/back up guy to spell Panik against tough lefties or when he simply needs a day off.
  • C: Buster Posey. Enough said. But while we are at, I will mention that the Giants have a couple of interesting things going on here. As we will see in a moment, the big decision this offseason (pun intended) focuses on Pablo Sandoval. If Pablo bolts, that opens things up for the Giants financially (they can spread the wealth). If he stays (which I think will happen) the Giants will try to keep their roster as flexible as possible, which has the potential to be a great thing. The Giants need to think about letting Posey play 1B about half the time, April through August. In order to do that, Brandon Belt will need to get some time in left field. It also means trusting Andrew Susac to catch. I would trust him. Doing so will allow Posey to stay fresh for the September/October run the team surely hopes to have next fall.
  • 3B: Again, Pablo Sandoval will be the biggest story of the offseason. MLBTrade Rumors has Pablo coming back the Giants, but Sports Illustrated sees him going to the Red Sox. That seems to be the early odds around the game. My guess is the Giants bring him back a little longer and a higher price than might be comfortable. But, there are a couple of things to remember here: First, the Giants don’t have that many things to do this offseason, so the timing is good. Yes, they need to pay some other guys, but there aren’t gaping holes in this roster. Pablo is fat, but he is also 28, and there just aren’t many 28-year-old, middle of the order, gold glove caliber players out there. In fact there are none. Plus there’s no one knocking on the door in the farm system. Second, locking up Pablo ensures that the Giants will have a core of Pagan, Panik, Posey, Panda, Pence, Brandon, and Brandon (plus Blanco and other bench pieces) for at leas the next two years, and all but Pagan for the year after that. That means the majority of this core could be together for another 3 years. That might be what tips the scale (pun intended) in favor of spending the money to keep the Panda around.
  • RF: Hunter Pence. It’s pretty remarkable how little there is to say here. He plays every day and he plays well. The end.
  • LF: What is ironic, and sometimes lost, in the Giants run of the past 5 seasons is that for 15 years the Giants invested everything they had in Left Field, and they never won the World Series. And then since 2007 they’ve had no stability in LF and they’ve won 3 titles. Part of that is just interesting, but part of that is highly illustrative. It’s not that LF is not important, but it’s obviously not as critical as other spots on the diamond. And this is actually important, because there is a faction that argues the Giants let Pablo go, figure out a cheap 3B option (Chase Headly or Alberto Callaspo), and go big in LF and sign Yasmany Tomas or even try to get Nelson Cruz. I think that’s foolish. It’s much more difficult to figure out 3B well and mix and match in LF, than it is the other way around. Plus, leaving LF flexible allows the Giants put Belt there when Posey is at 1B and not lose Belt’s bat. It also would allow the Giants to carry Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez AND possibly Gary Brown (if they want speed and defense) or an Adam Duvall type (if they want power). I don’t think they bring Michael Morse back (although another cheap deal wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world). I’d rather see the Giants spend on Pablo and go cheap and flexible in LF because it seems to be working.
  • 1B: Brandon Belt. As you may have noticed, I favor roster flexibility with Belt being in LF from time to time and Posey manning first base. I like the Giants ability to mix and match and find something that works, rather than being rigid and trying to have one guy be the answer at every position. But, most of the time, and certainly when the pressure is on late in the season this is where you want Brandon Belt.
  • SS: Brandon Crawford. If he doesn’t at least make the Gold Glove finals next years I’m going to eat my hat and write a series of nasty letters to various baseball writers. Plus, he’s getting better at the plate. What’s not to love.

Bench:

Gregor Blanco OF
Juan Perez OF
Gary Brown OF
Travis Ishikawa 1B/OF
Matt Duffy INF
Joaquin Arias INF
Marco Scutaro INF
Andrew Susac C
Hector Sanchez C

Obviously, there aren’t enough roster spots for all these guys. I would like to see the Giants commit to Gary Brown over Juan Perez (although Perez has shown he can handle the playoffs which is no small thing for a team trying to repeat), so if they only carry two OF my two are Brown and Blanco (for a nice righty/lefty speed and defense combo). However, if they go with flexibility all three could be in play. If they don’t bring Morse back that could open a spot for Ishikawa. I’d prefer the INF be Scutaro and Arias, because that would allow Duffy to develop at AAA. But, I also think Matt’s ready to do this full-time if need be. Finally, let’s all hope that Hector Sanchez can get healthy both for his personal well-being, but also because he creates a couple of opportunities for the Giants. He allows Posey to play more 1B and he could be a trade chip.

Starting Rotation:

In my mind, this is actually the biggest issue for the Giants this offseason. Pablo will dominate the headlines, but what the Giants do here will determine how successful they are at repeating next year (more on this in a later post).

The Giants could do nothing and actually field a starting five. It could look like: Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Lincecum, Petit. They are all back next year.

However, this doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, and we all know the Giants like depth, so there will be moves. I think Peavy is gone, Vogelsong could return, Petit and Lincecum will battle in the spring for the 5th spot, and the Giants could add someone else to the mix. But who and for how much are the interesting questions. There is no one knocking on the door right now in the system, but it’s not inconceivable that we start to see the next wave of good, young pitchers late in 2015 and ready to go for 2016. 

  1. Madison Bumgarner. No doubt here, although hold your breath on him staying healthy, strong, and effective all year. My guess is he’s fine in 2015, but wear and tear could become an issue later on down the road.
  2. Matt Cain. I have very little doubt that Matt Cain still has several good years in him. The question is how good? I think he probably has 2 elite years left and then several good years after that…he’ll be the fly ball version of Tim Hudson from 2017 on. His injuries are not the red-flag-structural sort, but more of the wear-and-tear-from-a-decade-of-professional-pitching sort. I’m counting on him being a horse next year.
  3. Here comes the really big decision and the most important move of the offseason. The Giants could go cheap here and bring back Ryan Vogelsong (not the worst idea and it may be what they have to do if they sign Pablo), but I think they need to do more than that. Trade Rumors has the Giants signing Ervin Santana (which I would be ecstatic about at 3 yrs/39 million), and SI has the team picking up Japanese import Kenta Maeda (which I would be less ecstatic about, but it would be interesting). They could also go high risk, high reward here and bring in Brett Anderson or Brandon McCarthy. My preference/prediction is Santana, because I think he’s the best pitcher, for the best deal, and he will be a bridge guy (Lincecum and Hudson are gone after 2015), while the Giants wait on Kyle Crick, Tyler Beede, et al. to figure it out). Remember, the Giants have a 2-3 year window with the majority of the current core, so it wouldn’t hurt to invest in a 3 year pitcher if he’s the right guy (and I think Santana is the right guy… and it would be the right park and the right team behind him…just hope the price is right).
  4. Tim Hudson. Hudson could be worse next year. In fact, his overall numbers will likely be worse because it’s hard to imagine him replicating the stretch he produced to start 2014. But, he could also be better. Why? How? Well, consider that he had massive ankle surgery late in the season in 2013. I think part of the reason he slowed down was that his ankle rehab prevented him from a normal offseason workout. He should be able to get his body ready to go, be more consistent throughout 2015, and hopefully finish stronger than he did this year.
  5. Tim Lincecum/Yusmeiro Petit. The Giants are hoping Lincecum can figure something out and be the guy here. I actually think he would benefit from a move to the ‘pen and the team would be better off giving 175 innings to Petit in a starting role and 100ish to Lincecum in a super reliever role. Who knows, maybe Timmy finds himself in bullpen (wouldn’t be the first time) and can become yet another weapon for Bochy late in games.

 Bullpen:

The big question in the ‘pen is whether the Giants bring back Sergio Romo, an integral part of the “Core 4” who have gotten huge, late outs in all 3 World Series runs. Romo, though, could command closer money from a team desperate for help closing out games (and that is A LOT of teams). I think Romo is gone (I for one will be sad about this, as will all the Mexican-American Giants’ fans, of which there are many).

Bullpens are incredibly hard to predict, but the Giants will count on Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez (all returning) for sure, plus Hunter Strickland, Jean Machi, George Kontos, Juan Guitierrez, Tim Lincecum, Eric Cordier, Derek Law, and even Brett Bochy will be in the mix. Count on the Giants to make some offers to guys on minor league deals. They also seem to find gems every year. 

Opening Day Roster:

Starting Line Up

  • CF Angel Pagan
  • 2B Joe Panik
  • C Buster Posey
  • 3B Pablo Sandoval
  • RF Hunter Pence
  • 1B Brandon Belt
  • SS Brandon Crawford
  • LF Gregor Blanco

 Bench

  • OF Juan Perez
  • OF Gary Brown
  • INF Marco Scutaro
  • INF Joaquin Arias
  • C Andrew Susac
  • C/1B Hector Sanchez

 Starting Rotation

  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Matt Cain
  • Ervin Santana
  • Tim Hudson
  • Tim Lincecum

Bullpen

  • Santiago Casilla (CL)
  • Jeremy Affeldt
  • Javier Lopez
  • Jean Machi
  • Hunter Strickland
  • George Kontos
  • Yusmeiro Petit

-SB

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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)

More Pagan!

Today the Giants signed Angel Pagan. He’ll be back, leading off and roaming around center field.

Love the signing for a couple of reasons:

  1. The money: only $40 million. To me, this is a deal. BJ Upton just signed for $75 million, Michael Bourn wants way more than that, and I would guess the Nationals extend Denard Span (who they just traded for) for more money than this. Plus, considering how many other teams (Reds, Phillies, etc) want a top of the order/CF type, it feels like the Giants stole this. Most fans were hoping the contract would not resemble Aaron Rowand’s 5 yr/$60 million deal and this is not even close.
  2. The structure: A $5 million signing bonus, which might as well be tacked on to last year. This a “thanks for that World Series” bonus. The rest of the $35 million will be spread over the four years like this: 7, 9, 9, 10. What this means is there is a small chance that Pagan ever prevents the Giants from doing something else they want to do (like extend a player or get a free agent).

What I don’t love:

  1. The years. I really do hope Gary Brown turns out to be the All-Star, top of the order, dynamo many have predicted. I’d hate to see Pagan block that. I also don’t think 35-year-old Angel Pagan will be an everyday CF. Could be wrong, but I also hope I am right, because then Gary Brown can do his thing. Either way, not stoked about that fourth year.

Bottom Line: Good move Giants. Other than a three-year deal, I do not see how this could have turned out any better. Let’s hope Pagan stays healthy and continues to do his thing for the Giants.

(-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)

Big Questions

Today and tomorrow I will examine the big questions that face the Giants this offseason. Today is simply the questions, tomorrow I will do my best to prognosticate what 2013 might look like. Here we go:

1) What can we expect from Tim Lincecum: the question isn’t really should he start or relieve, the question is can he regain his old form? More importantly, can he reinvent himself from a guy with nasty stuff to a great pitcher?

2) Can the rotation back up this post-season performance again: There’s no doubt that the Giants pitched well enough in 2011 to repeat. However they fell short due to a plethora of injuries that decimated the everyday lineup. But, as good as the pitching was during the post-season, there are questions about everybody: Lincecum (see above), Matt Cain (did he get tired this year, can he continue to carry the Ace mantle), Madison Bumgarner (can he regain velocity and put together a full season of dominance), Ryan Vogelsong (will the real Vogey please stand up…was his bad August/early September a sign that the bottom is falling out or just an aberration), and Barry Zito (can he do it again next year).

3) Can the lineup stay healthy: This is an overly simplistic view of reality, but there’s no denying the fact that in the two years the Giants have enjoyed Buster Posey’s presence in their lineup from June through October they won the World Series and in the one year he was out during that time they missed the playoffs. More to the point, this post-season demonstrated just how dynamic the middle of the lineup can be with Panda and Posey there and at full strength. So, Pablo can you stay in the lineup all season?

4) Will the Giants make the same mistakes from 2010: After winning the World Series the Giants allowed themselves to throw some objectivity out the window signing Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez to new deals. Both of those guys were on the field celebrating in 2012 but had absolutely no impact on the games the team played. After 2011 Sabean and company shaped up a bit and made some more objective decisions, but rose-colored glasses could affect how they go after the holes in CF, LF, 2B, and in the bullpen.

5) Will the Giants make a splash in Free Agency: More and more money will be available and that money should probably go to a Buster Posey extension and a few other things, but the higher-ups could get excited about the buzz a Josh Hamilton signing would make. Do they go that direction or stick to the script that worked so well in 2010 and 2012?

We will tackle some of the answers tomorrow!

(-SB)

Cody Ross, Pitchers with Long Hair, and Other Baseball Thoughts

  • I‘m going to miss this guy…oh wait, he’s going to be my neighbor now! So glad Cody will be on the Sox (wearing his sox high) and not, say, the Rockies. I will buy a seat in right field just so I can scream “thank you cody ross” at him 100 times during the game.
  • There’s been a lot of goodbyes from the 2010 Championship squad, as Grant has pointed out, and I think Cody (along with Pat Burrell) represent just how special that season was..but then so does Andres Torres, and Juan Uribe, and Edgar Renteria, and it goes on and on.
  • I run into a lot of Philly fans out here on the East Coast and hands down the two guys people hate the most: Cody Ross and Tim Lincecum. It’s a toss-up who is hated more. They hate Ross because he symbolizes how “lucky” we were in 2010, and they hate Timmy because he symbolizes how awesome we are at pitching how weird San Francisco is (his name is usually followed by a joke about weed, loose morals, or something along those lines…like the Phillies have been full of such solid dudes over the years).
  • Speaking of Tim, I’m pretty pleased with the contract he signed. The 5 year, $100 million deal would have been the best case scenario for the Giants, but I really like being able to take two years and see what he’s got before going all in. Especially if the Cain rumors are true.
  • So this is it, pretty much, for the off-season. Here’s your 2012 SF Giants. They could have done better, they also could have done worse. I still think that while it would have been great to see Beltran return, in the end, the shortstop situation is the big miss of the winter. Maybe the Giants brass know something about Crawford, or Panik, or someone else, but I this and sorting out the OF/1B as the two big issues of the early season.  

(-SB)