12 “What If’s” For 2012

I’ve been distracted from the baseball off-season by work, by holiday travels, and now by the 49ers. But the Yankees big splash this weekend reminds us that there are big moves still to be made and rosters can change dramatically in the final month before pitchers and catchers have to report (hello February 18th).

In that vein, let’s look at the Giants and 2012. In 2010, it looked like the Giants had not done a whole lot to improve the offense (Aburey Huff? Mark DeRosa? The return of Benji Molina?), and yet there was a part of me that kept saying “what if?” What if Huff played like he did in 2008? (He did). What if Mark DeRosa’s wrist was healthy and he could be a solid bat playing all over the field? (He wasn’t). What if Benji got hurt in the first week of the season and they HAD to use Buster? (He didn’t so they traded him). What if the pitching was even better than 2009? (It was).

So, what are the “what if’s” for 2012? Thanks for asking! Here you go…

  1. What if Buster Posey is healthy, able to play the whole season, and establishes himself as a truly elite player? In many ways, most of which are foolish, this is truly the heart of the Giants’ off-season strategy. And this is really two what-if’s in one: health is obviously huge, but we still have never seen a full season of major league baseball from Buster. No one knows what that looks like. Let’s hope it looks pretty awesome.
  2. What if the contract situations of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain work out like Albert Pujols’ did? Before Adam Wainwright hurt himself, the big concern in St. Louis all winter last year was that the unresolved nature of the Pujols’ contract situation would be a distraction for the team throughout the season. All it did was produce a Championship. The reality is that the Giants may not be able to resolve both Cain and Lincecum’s situations before the season starts. Let’s hope that if that’s true it works out like it did for St. Louis (minus the big contract with the Angels part of that scenario).
  3. What if Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval are the second coming of Kent and Bonds? Which raises another fun question: which one is Bonds and which one is Kent? That aside, it’s also fascinating to note that we have never seen good-Pablo teamed with healthy-Buster in the middle of the order. Pablo got hurt early this year, and then Buster went down. At the end of 2010, while Buster was winning the ROY Pablo was sucking it up all over the place. We’ve never really seen them together at the height of their powers. They could be a dynamic middle of the order duo (like Bonds/Kent, Manny/Papi, etc) but we just don’t know yet. Let’s hope we get the chance to see them together for all of 2012!
  4. What if Brandon Belt puts it all together? If he does, the Giants will have a 3-4-5 triumvirate of offensive prowess. Belt from the left, getting on base and hitting for power, Posey from the right, spoiling pitches and going the other way with authority, and Pablo, from both sides, hitting balls an inch off the ground 400 feet. That would be fun to watch! Let’s hope BB can step it up.
  5. What if Melky Cabrera has a career year as he shoots for a big contract? I still like the Sanchez for Cabrera deal. I still think Melky has a lot to play for in 2012, he’s young, and he was a highly touted prospect who the Yankees were not willing to part with for a period of time. Maybe he’s got some late-bloomer-Alex-Smith in him. Let’s hope Melky goes off by the bay in 2012.
  6. What if Brandon Crawford finds some magic hitting beans? I get legitimately excited about the Giants potential offense in 2012 until I get around the short stop position. I’ve professed my hope for, and despair of, Brandon before, but if can just summon some league averageness and keep it alive for a season we’ll know the magic is back. Let’s hope BC goes all-Andres-Torres on us next season.
  7. What if Ryan Vogelsong really is a good pitcher? I love the Vogelsong story and I’m glad he’s back for the next two seasons. Dude deserves it. But there’s a voice in my head questioning his ability to repeat that performance. Let’s hope this turns out to be a “my-bad-for-ever-thinking-that” what-if.
  8. What if Brian Wilson’s declining numbers are just the by-product of never being fully healthy and not a sign of things to come? His declining strike out and rising walk rates are classic warning signs of a pitcher whose stuff is evaporating. There is a big part of me that’s deeply concerned about this. There’s a smaller part of me that is hoping the injury problems in Spring Training and at the end of the season are the culprits and that everything will return to normal next year. Either way the dude sure has kept a low profile this winter. Let’s hope that small part of me is right.
  9. What if Madison Bumgarner is actually the ace of this staff? This is my favorite what-if because I think I’m be right. We all love Timmy and Cainer, but MadBum is on his way to surpassing them and 2012 might be the season he proves it. Lets hope I’m right and it’s more because of Maddy’s greatness and not because the other two are struggling.
  10. What if the Giants strike gold with Angel Villalona? He’s still not in the US and he might not be for a while. He could also be at Spring Training. He may not be in the bigs soon but what if somehow this ends up with Angel hitting bombs at that giant glove in left field? How do you tell that story? It’s a total long shot, but so were so many other things in that 2010 World Series run. Let’s hope Angel is innocent, ok, and ready to play some baseball.
  11. What if the Giants can pull mid-season magic out of their hat again? Who knows what this might look like. Maybe Gary Brown comes up early and goes nuts. Maybe Joe Panik turns out to be the answer at shortstop. Maybe Pat Burrell comes out of retirement? I mean who knows? Alex Smith is playing for the Super Bowl next Sunday and Aaron Rodgers is going to watch that on his couch. Anything is possible in this mad, mad world. Lets hope for something completely unexpected.
  12. Finally, what if the Larry Baer in place of Bill Neukom move turns out to be much ado over nothing? It doesn’t feel like much ado over nothing, but it could be. Baer seems like a schmoozy-PR guy and Neukom always struck me as a tough decision maker who doesn’t like to lose. You tell me who you want in charge of your organization? I’ll take Bill and his bow-tie every time. But maybe it’s not a big deal at all. Let’s hope Baer has something more than what we’ve seen so far.
Well there you go…12 “What If’s” for 2012. What else would include on this list?

Hola Melky, Adios Jonathan

So, nick is going to have a post on the trade the Giants made today soon. I will try not to steal his thunder.

Here are my quick hit thoughts:

  • We easily could have just cut Sanchez and got nothing for him
  • We could have traded Sanchez for Orlando Cabrera!
  • We could have kept Sanchez and continued to hear about Coco Crisp. I’m 97% sure Coco would have been our starting center fielder next year
  • We could have kept him, hoped he had a great first half and then traded him for Jeff Francouer (ha!)
  • I don’t really like the idea of Melky Cabrera in center field. But I do like the idea of Melky in left, Beltran in right, and Torres in center. And Belt at first and Aubrey in an A’s uniform. I would love that.
  • Don’t forget that Melky Cabrera was always supposed to be good. Let’s hope he’s a late bloomer, plus he is entering free agency and the magical age 27 year. That bodes well.
  • We should have traded Sanchez to Tampa three years ago for Ben Zobrist
Thoughts on Cabrera for Sanchez?

Scrap Heap Signings

Let’s reflect. Growing up, I was able to pick any cereal once a year on my birthday. This was a big deal in my 8-year-old world for three reasons:

  1. I never got to eat “sugar” cereal. Lots of bran and strong intestinal tracts in my family.
  2. Cereal was my favorite food.
  3. The potential for not only some good cereal, but a sweet toy that was hidden in the box/bag.

Looking up and down the aisle like a giddy schoolboy, I would pick the cereal with the best potential for tasty cereal and a worthy toy. I would often go for the knock off cereal like “Lieutenant Crunch” due to its larger size and toy potential.

We are in the time of the baseball year where teams are scrambling to patch the remaining holes in their roster with second-rate talent. As exciting as it is to see Craig Counsel sign for his 17th one year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, it is a time when teams are hoping to find decent enough players to simply survive.

But underneath all the mundane signings, there is a tasty morsel of deliciousness that every MLB GM seeks to uncover. No, none of the GM’s will ever admit that any of these players will be “season changers” for their respective squad, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t hold out hope that their signing will be the one that everyone talks about. They will dig deep into that bag (because most generic cereals come in bags) of “Lieutenant Crunch” and try to unearth that toy that will revolutionize their season.

For every Craig Counsel, Fred Lewis, Terry Mulholland (yes, I just went late 80’s) and Garrett Atkins, there is a hidden jewel that is going to perform WAY over expectation and make every GM look like they have the foresight of an Old Testament prophet.

Enter the greatness that is Pat Burrell. He was sent to the scrap heap by Tampa Bay in the middle of 2010 and thought to be done. All the GM’s holding out to uncover the “toy” of greatness were scurrying around trying to find the piece that would send their team towards a second half playoff run. Initially signed to a minor league deal by the SF Giants, he became the power-bat-spark that played a huge role in getting the team to World Series.

I can still remember the scene of his clutch late inning HR against the Dodgers that stuck like an arrow in their heart. I was sitting on the patio of my buddy’s sunny Santa Cruz home drinking an adult beverage when David B. Flemming’s voice echoed through the Redwoods announcing the HR that we would never forget.

So, let’s sit back, nibble on some “Lieutenant Crunch” and watch all the GM’s scramble in the hopes that our team finds the hidden morsel of deliciousness that makes us say, “Brian Sabean is @%$W&* genius.”


Windows of Opportunity?

There is much debate over the validity of “windows of opportunity” for major league franchises. Yankees fans will point out that their window is always open, and fans of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will roll their eyes as they’ve heard rumors of this proverbial window for two decades now but have yet to see anything like it.

That being said, there seems to be some validity to the fact that teams build towards something. My hometown Giants have been building a post-Bonds franchise around pitching and defense, suspecting their window to be 2010-2012 (an era where their young pitchers would mature and where some homegrown position players would emerge). They just happened to strike gold in the first year of that window. Even here in Boston, GM Theo Epstein controversially labeled 2010 a “bridge year” indicating that while the team could be competitive (and they likely could have won the division this year if healthy) they were really working towards making a splash and big push for 2011 and beyond (and boy was that the understatement of the decade).

So now we come to the hand-wringing over the Zack Greinke-to-the-Brewers trade. For some reason I know a lot of people from Missouri who grew up rooting for the Royals and they, to a person, seem to see this trade as “classic Royals.” “Just when we get a good, homegrown player who has had some success and who we like, the team trades them or lets them go in free agency claiming some future payoff down the road.” They will then cite the all-star team of players who were prospects with the Royals but played their prime years elsewhere: Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, etc, etc.

There is also hand-wringing in Milwaukee, where some see this move as another overpay for a small window of opportunity (i.e. trading several prospects to Cleveland for three months of CC Sabathia in 2008 when they made the playoffs but got swept out of the first round). The window, they argue, is only for one year, and when Prince Fielder leaves after the 2011 season, others (Greinke, Marcum, Weeks) will soon follow leaving a few good players (Gallardo and Braun) with no prospects left to fill in the blanks. It’ll be ugly!

I would argue, though, that this is exactly the trade both teams should be making given where they are at in their “window” cycle. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect baseball trade in recent memory. This is not a small market team dumping a soon to be expensive player in the laps of a perennial powerhouse with resources to absorb the financial hit. Nor is it a mid-market team trying to make a foolish off-season splash to generate interest among its fan base. It is EXACTLY the kind of move each team should be making right now.

There are other articles out there on the interweb that explain each team’s situation better than I will here, but consider this while I build to the point I want to make about the Giants.

1) Milwaukee: There is a very good chance that they lose Fielder at the end of the year. I get that. However, even if they do they still will have three guys in their rotation who are beasts (Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo). They also will still have a middle of the order force in Ryan Braun. If 2011 even goes remotely to plan and they can get in the playoffs, the revenue bump should make keeping Greinke/Weeks/Marcum a whole lot easier especially if they DON’T go all in on Fielder (just think of the cheap and decent 1B options out there right now and it’s easy to see how they could deal with his loss). As Ken Rosenthal points out, the Brewers have every small and mid-market teams dream: a core of under 30 pitchers and position players together for a 1-2 season run at glory (possibly longer if they play this right). This is the window that every team in their situation is working towards and they should be commended for going for it even if 2013 could be awful.

2) Kansas City: Despite the track record, the Royals are actually doing things the right way behind the scenes. Drayton Moore has been building a farm system that is now the envy of baseball. Just as the Rays did from 2008-2010 and the Twins have done for years, the Royals are about enter into a phase starting in 2012 where they will roll out excellent young players at almost every position (and throughout the starting rotation). Nothing, obviously, is guaranteed, and my cynical KC friends will tell you that the Royals will figure out a way to mess this up, but they just added four pretty good guys to a mix that could flip the power structure of the AL Central around over the course of the next five seasons. This is exactly the kind of move the Royals should be making [note: some will point out that the Royals could have received better players from other teams who were interested, but it seems that Greinke would not have been a fit with those teams, either because of wariness on the part of other other team (Yankees), or Zack not wanting to go there (Blue Jays, Nationals)].

What does this have to do with the Giants? This is all about a team accurately assessing where it is at in its competitive window and being able to make shrewd moves given the current market situation. My argument is not that this was a good or bad trade vis a vis the players involved, but that it is the PERFECT type of trade given where each team is at in its window.

In my last post I debated whether the Giants have done enough this off-season. My conclusion (given the market and what was available to them in resources) is: yes. That being said, since they are right in the middle of their window of opportunity there is some logic to leveraging their situation and getting even better. I just don’t know that there has been as perfect a situation for the Giants as the one the Royals and Brewers just took advantage of.


What are the Giants Doing???

the four of us will unpack this a lot more over the next couple of months, but as we head in to christmas the question in giantsland is: has the team done enough this off-season?

in a world where the red sox are acquiring big name players every two days and even middling teams like the nationals are willing to drop 9 figure deals into the laps of hairy corner outfielders, the giants have been buried by the headlines.

what exactly have they done? among other things, they’ve brought back huff for almost 4 times what they paid him last year. resigned burrell for a song (best contract of the off-season?). extended arbitration to a whole lot of guys (including important ones like cody ross, javy lopez, and santiago casilla, and not so important ones like mike fontenot). and, of course, signed miguel tejada to a reasonable one year deal that spawned a bunch of sabean-loves-old-guys jokes around the internet world.

a huge snore with one major caveat: the Giants Won the World Series.

there will be a few more moves here and there. there is some rumbling about bringing back guillermo mota, and maybe edgar renteria (or some other old dude) will help provide depth at SS, but, let’s face it, that’s pretty much it (unless the Giants pull a Phillies-style undercover maneuver and sign Beltre to play third base………..)

two schools of thought emerge:

1) the giants don’t need to do much, they won it all last year with these guys, give em a shot to repeat. (usually this line of thinking is accompanied with some of these logics: the pitching will be better because it is more experienced now…we didn’t get full seasons in 2010 out of posey, ross, burrell, freddy sanchez which will help the offense…hey, we still have mark derosa!…no one in our division is markedly better…etc, etc).

2) the giants are in trouble because they caught lightening a bottle last year, they have a small margin for error with such a poor offense, and if they were ever going to open the vault and GO FOR IT, this was the off-season to do it!!! no one repeats by maintaining the status quo.

there are still about 13 weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report so we don’t have the full picture of what everyone will do this off-season, giants included, but here is my initial response:

no matter what the Giants do this off-season (short of a red sox-esque shopping spree) the absolute key to next season is this:


if pablo bounces back to anything like his 2009 season this Giants team will have re-acquired a beltre/werth type player by doing nothing. last year at this time people were so enamored by the panda (remember this line: .330/.387/.556) some were beginning to worry if the rubber chickens would make a reappearance at AT&T because of all the IBB he’d be getting. it remains one of life’s greatest mysteries that the 2010 Giants won the WS without pablo in the middle of the action.

2009 pablo means this will be a much, much more effective offense.

two more notes of lesser importance (but still important):

a) it will be interesting to see how the young pitchers rebound from the extra work. don’t freak out if they start slow, i think it is a definite possibility. seeing the big four come back strong and healthy next year is of significant import.

b) the wild card that is brandon belt. as i mentioned in my dynasty post, IF sandoval gets it together (and for the record i think he will have a good season), and IF belt is as good as advertised, then holy shoot the giants have a solid core to their lineup that is young and nasty, and every bit as good as what they could have gotten on the open market (and a whole lot cheaper, which, again brings up the question of value and that will be discussed at some point).

bottom line: no matter what you do in the off-season, you do some gambling. sometimes you bet on high priced vets, sometimes you bet on what got you there, and sometimes you keep an ace up your sleeve, which is what i’m hoping the giants have done with their young corner infielders.