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

Making the Cut

It’s baseball time boys and girls! Along with that joyous occasion comes a variety of exciting things to keep our attention! Fantasy baseball, the trade rumor mill, funny bloggers and roster speculation!

The standard MLB roster is 25 players, both pitchers and catchers, below is the list of Giants who’ll be a lock for the roster:

  • Pitchers: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Castilla, Javy Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Guilleramo Mota.
  • Infield/Catcher: Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez (possibly starts the year on the DL, which would free up a roster spot),Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey.
  • Outfield: Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, Nate Schierholtz, Gregor Blanco.

That’s 20 players, 19 if you put Freddy Sanchez on the DL, which is what I will be doing for the sake of this post. So what other 6 players make the cut?

First of all, one of those spots will go to a backup catcher, either Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart. Honestly it doesn’t matter which one as they are fairly equal and up to the task, so that takes us down to 5 players. My guess is that they add 1 reliever and use the other 4 for IF/OF spots, mostly because Sanchez is hurt and Crawford is not exactly the best hitter in the world, I think Bochy will keep the middle of the IF rotating and getting other batters in play, especially in later innings and having that flexibility will be key. So with that said I don’t see how Mike Fontenot doesn’t make the Opening Day lineup. He can play SS, 2B and 3B and is an average hitter who has experience filling in last season, which leaves us with 4 spots. Doing the rest of the hitter spots, I can see Manny Burris starting the year in the big leagues as the starting 2B while Sanchez is out. He’s hitting great in Spring Training, .417 actually, which doesn’t mean anything in the regular season, but he’s out of Minor League options (meaning if he gets sent down to AAA he is put on waivers first and any team can claim him) and the Giants have said, and have shown in the past, that options are considered big time, plus the Giants have always have had lots of love for Burris. Down to 3!

I think Ryan Theriot is another close lock. He can play multiple infield positions, is cheap and has a good glove. Plus baseball fans love nicknames, and Ryan “The Riot” Theriot is one of the best! In all honesty though, the Theriot signing is one of my more favorite moves of the Giants this past offseason. He’s not an amazing player, and has never hit for power (17 total HR’s in 7 MLB seasons) put he’s an above average hitter (.282 lifetime BA with a .344 lifetime OBP) and a good glove, could go a long way to solidifying the middle. 2 left! I’m going to skip over to the bullpen, since the last position will be the big Belt debate that I want to give some focus to. The last bullpen spot will either got to Clay Hensley or Steve Edlefsen. Clay is a free agent signing with a 7 season career 3.96 ERA with 329 K’s, and a 1.35 WHIP, not lights out numbers by any stretch, and last season he had a 5.19 ERA with 46 K’s, although that is one year removed from a 2.16 ERA and 77 K’s. Edlefsen debuted with the Giants last year and had a 0.96 ERA with 8K’s in 11 games, not exactly a large sample size. I could see Hensley making the roster out the gate, only to get released and replaced with Edlefsen, although Edlefsen has a 2.50 ERA in Spring, while Hensley is 4.50. Could go either way.

Finally the last roster spot. Who should this go to? Brandon Belt. The boy needs to play, is having a good Spring and has done everything he can do in the minors. I would put him at first and use Huff in the OF with the occasional spell at 1B and pinch-hitting. Who will probably end up getting this spot? Brett Pill. He can play 1B, 2B, probably fill in at 3B if needed and can play either corner OF spot. Versatility. Plus Bochy isn’t going to bench Huff, not unless he really really struggles this season, in which case Belt will probably get his chance, unless Bochy decides to move Posey over to 1B and call up Hector Sanchez to catch. Honestly though Pill isn’t the worst choice, he had a very nice end of last season and is having a solid spring. My biggest frustration isn’t with him, it’s with the lack of Belt playing.

The Giants have had awful luck recently with hitting prospects, pitching not so much, hitting? Yes. Travis Ishakawa, Todd Linden, Dan Ortmeier, Lance Niekro, John Bowker, none of them panned out. Posey did, but Bengie Molina had to be traded to make room for him. Belt looks like another one, yes he strikes out a lot, but he needs repetition to get that right. I’d much rather have Belt at AAA getting playing time than grabbing pine in San Francisco, but at some point he needs a consistent chance.

(-NW)

Remember This Guy?

ObsessiveGiantsCompulsive wrote a great article a week ago about the “Big 6” issues/questions facing the returning champs this spring. I would recommend that post if you are looking for a run down of what to watch for during the next month.

I think the Giants have all the right kinds of questions this spring: can so and so bounce back? how will the pitchers hold up this year? who will lock down left field? who will be last man in the bullpen? Interesting questions and important in their own right (especially in regards to the pitchers), but nothing earth shattering or riveting.

Look at some of the other playoff teams from last year and you will some major story lines: The Yankees and Jeter. The Yankees and The Rotation. The Rays and Rebuilding (and Manny). The Rangers and the Michael Young Fiasco. The Phillies and Cliff Lee. The Braves and the First Year After Bobby Cox.

The Giants? Well, Brian Wilson did some weird stuff, and there are too many guys for the outfield, and Tim Lincecum had a mustache for a day or two, and Pablo Sandoval lost of bunch of weight, and Mat Latos wrote some dumb stuff on a baseball, and Bochy made a speech, and how boring is this? Hey, wait, there are too many guys in the outfield?

I wrote a few weeks ago about Barry Zito and how now might be the best time to trade him (hello Yankees), but, ironically, this might be the year the Giants need Zito more than ever. Aaron Rowand is the other atrocious contract the Giants carry at this point, and while the length of Zito’s will always be the trump card, I think there is a compelling case to be made that Rowand has the worst contract in SF Giants’ history.

Which is why, in the big picture, Aaron Rowand is the biggest/most interesting story of the spring…mostly because he’s been such a non-story. Since when does a guy earning 10% of the payroll (the best paid position player on the team) become so invisible?

A quick examination of the outfield candidates reveals that he is the most unnecessary player on the roster. You want a leadoff hitter: Andres Torres. You want an excellent defensive center fielder: Andres Torres. You want some right-handed power: Pat Burrell (or Cody Ross). You want versatility and a nice late-inning replacement for defense: hello, Nate Schierholtz. You want a guy who can play multiple positions: hey there Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Nate Schierholtz, Mark DeRosa, and even Aubrey Huff! Right handed Pinch Hitter: again, Pat the Bat. There is no category I can think of where I would place Rowand at the top of the list.

Nothing I’m saying here is new, but I think the Rowand situation highlights how low-key things are around the Giants right now. Really, this should be a bigger story. I actually think Rowand could help a major league team out in an everyday role, but it’s just not the Giants. Has there ever been a more expensive 5th or 6th outfielder in ML history?

The Giants are paying Zito way too much money to be a 5th starter, but that’s still a legitimate role and he helps the team in a significant way. But the Giants are going to be paying Rowand a ludicrous sum to sit on the bench.

Bochy made a mildly controversial statement about there being no guaruntee that Torres starts the season as the CF, but come on, who’s kidding who here?

This spring everyone will say all the right things and it will be nice and politically correct and Rowand seems to be handling it well, But come May when he has 16 At-Bats and he’s buried on the end of the bench behind Burrell, Ross, DeRosa, Huff, et al. how nice will he be then?

I don’t have any good solutions (I could propose a few fantastical trade ideas), but I do think this will become a serious issue at some point. Last season it was easy to swallow in the name of “doing what’s best for the team,” but in the first half of 2011, before the pennant picture clears up, something will go down and it will probably be ugly. Even if Rowand is cool about it, how do you justify 20 million dollars rotting away in the corner of the dugout.

No idea how this ends up: could be a trade, could be the Giants’ swallowing a huge chunk of change, but my gut tells me it won’t end well.

(-SB)

Spring Training Invites

here’s the list of the 22 players the Giants have invited to spring training. any thoughts?

obviously, belt is in there, who, along with crawford and mota, could be on the opening day roster if some things go right.

but beyond those guys who are you excited about? here are my three:

  1. Waldis Joaquin: actually was on the opening day roster last year. i still think there is some felix rodriguez in him yet.
  2. Tommy Joseph: he’s still a ways off, but a 19-year-old kid with crazy power=exciting
  3. Ryan Vogelsong: maybe we can trade him again for Jason Schmidt. seriously, though, perhaps he pulls a rabbit out of a hat and can be our “sixth” starter.

spring training invitees of interest, comment away!

(-SB)