What to Look For Over the Next 3 Weeks #sfgiants

June is not trending in the right direction (at all). My hope was that the Giants could get to .500 by July 1, and as of right now, they will need to go 15-2 to get there. Probably not happening.

Here’s the rundown of the next 3 weeks and what it would take to turn this around:

  • Sweep the Royals (28-39)
  • Take 3 of 4 in Colorado (31-40)
  • Sweep the Braves (35-40)
  • Take 2 of 3 from the Mets (37-41)
  • Sweep the Rockies (40-41)
  • Beat the Pirates (41-41)

No problem, right? =)


The Giants exploded for 13 runs yesterday (finally) behind an unusual lineup, but here is what I would like to see for the next 3 weeks (at least):

  • Nunez 3B (let the man lead off!)
  • Panik 2B (Joe is someone to watch closely the rest of the season…who is the real Joe Panik and what can the Giants expect from him moving forward?)
  • Posey C (should be hitting in the 3 hole from now until the skills really fade, years down the road)
  • Belt 1B (his all or nothing approach plays best in the cleanup spot)
  • Pence RF (looks like he might be getting it going which means this is right where you’d want him)
  • Crawford SS (I know he’s been one of the most reliable bats of the last 2+years, but any lineup where he’s hitting above the 6 spot is going to struggle over the long haul)
  • Slater LF (let the dude play…if not Mac, let it be Austin, and let it be for a while)
  • Span CF (my hope is that he gets shipped out in July)

MLBTradeRumors put out some interesting info on the Giants yesterday. Here are some thoughts:

There are essentially two kinds of trades the Giants can/should make. One is trading veteran guys away to open up spots for younger players to get time. A classic example of this would be trading Eduardo Nunez so that Christian Arroyo and/or Jae-gyun Hwang can play the last two months at the major league level to show what they got.

The other trade is cashing in whatever valuable assets the Giants may have to restock the shelves. There’s not a lot of options here, outside of a blockbuster involving players named Buster or Brandon (not going to happen).

The two that are most interesting to me: Mark Melancon and Jeff Samardzija. Now, both have 3 years to go on hefty contracts, and both have trade clauses (Melancon has a full no-trade clause), but these are the two options that could fetch something interesting in return.

Melancon, in particular, would have to give thought to waiving that clause to go back to Washington, right? That team is a closer away from being the most dominant team in the game (yes, even more than the Cubs and Astros), so you know they are going to be willing to pay.

Wouldn’t the Cubs prefer Samardzija to John Lackey? The Indians would take him over a few their own guys I’m sure.

We’re starting to get to the point where these things need to be considered.


A small silver lining: MadBum might return sooner than later!

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 =)

***

Thoughts on Trades Continued… #sfgiants #trades

Yesterday I wrote about a few potential Giants’ trade partners based on teams who are off to poor starts. There is one more third basemen worth mentioning.

Perhaps the most intriguing possibility at the hot corner for the Giants is Adrian Beltre (btw, Casey McGehee hit into another double play today, giving him a whopping 5 in less than 40 at bats. That’s terrible in case you were wondering. Analysis.).

The upside: Beltre provides the best of all worlds…still good with the glove and the bat he would not just be an upgrade but would become one of the Giants’ best players.

The downside: he is owed a quite a bit of money through 2016, and he probably has a no-trade clause, which may render this whole conversation moot. Also, he is old and not off to a great start (small sample size of course).

The most interesting question is: what would it take to get a Beltre type player? Since the Rangers will still likely be on the hook for about $24 million, the Giants could get away without giving up much in terms of players if they take on all the salary. I’d imagine they’d be amenable to that considering they were willing to pay more than this for the services of Pablo Sandoval.

If the Rangers want major league talent would Hector Sanchez and George Kontos be enough?

If the Rangers want more prospecty prospects who would the Giants have to offer?

I would think the Giants would do this if the price were cheap in terms of talent. They can absorb the salary.

If the price for Beltre (or any other 3B) is Susac or Duffy or Panik, I think the Giants will wash their hands and press on with what they have.

Should the Giants go after Beltre?

-SB

Quick Thoughts About Trades #SFGiants

It’s way to early to get into trade talks, but it seems many Giants’ fans want to go there already. Which is understandable. Eight game losing streaks will cause fans to go seeking for hope in any corner of any room, no matter how dusty and dim.

A quick look around major league baseball reveals that two teams have been bigger disappointments thus far than the Giants: come on down Miami Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers. Plus, there’s another team we all anticipated being bad that is keeping up its end of the bargain: hello Minnesota Twins.

Even thought it is early it does seem likely these teams will be selling sooner than later. The Giants biggest need as of right now is probably at third base, so let’s see what these teams have to offer (for the record BaseballMonk remains firmly in the Pro Matt Duffy camp):

  1. The top 3B any of these teams has to offer is Aramis Ramirez. He’s been rumored to the Giants at least a dozen times since he’s been in the league. No doubt we will continue to hear rumblings as the summer unfolds. Ramirez is off to bad start, but tends to start cold. He’s a free agent at the end of the year so if he wants to play beyond 2015 he should be motivated to get it going. He would offer some power, a little glove, a lot of RBI gamer-toughness that Sabean loves, and he should come fairly cheap.
  2. The Miami Marlins are 3-11 and had hoped to be in some kind of contention this year. However, their best pitcher isn’t back until June and that’s the best case scenario. If things continue to go this way they will sell what they have and reload for 2016. Martin Prado is another guy who fits the Sabean profile to a T. High contact, line drive hitter, who can play multiple positions. He’s also past his prime. He has one more year on his contract, which could drive his price down if the Giants offer salary relief. Nothing would surprise me about his presence on the Giants.
  3. The Minnesota Twins have a fairly bright future with some of the game’s best prospects waiting in the wings. However, their lack of ability to develop anything remotely resembling an above average major league pitcher is alarming. They might be more than willing to take a middling Giants arm for Trevor Plouffe, a guy who has aged out of prospect status and is now a fringe every day player with some pop, who probably shouldn’t be anyone’s everyday third basemen. While he would bring the most home run potential and be the youngest and cheapest of these three gentlemen, he leaves a lot to be desired.

I hope to do this same exercise with pitchers soon. Meanwhile: BEAT LA!

-SB

Some Thoughts on Trades

Major League Baseball in 2013 is a different beast than a decade ago. It used to be, poor teams said goodbye to their best players and rich teams signed them up to fat contracts and then won a bunch of baseball games. But free agency has turned into an incredibly inefficient system. Over the past couple of years you can rattle off several names that came at steep prices for minimal returns (and that’s just the Angels, boom!).

This is partly why the Giants are either mad-geniuses or simply mad for jumping the gun and locking up Pence and Lincecum. It’s also why I’m not super excited about the list of potential free agents out there (see yesterdays post).

What this means is that trades have become THE way to exploit inefficiencies and improve your team quickly. The Red Sox are an extreme example but their mega-trade with the Dodgers in August of 2012 is the reason they were able to construct the roster that just won them the world series.

The Atlanta Braves are a great example of all these points: brilliant trade to land an impact bat in Justin Upton, and poor free agent decision in signing his brother, BJ, to an expensive deal.

All of this to say: should the Giants explore trades instead of simply adding players through free agency?

My bold answer: probably.

One of the things that makes off-season trade ideas difficult is determining who is actually available. So, far though, we’ve heard rumors of several players placed on the block by their teams. The quick list:

1) David Price: Price is the prize of the trade rumor mill this winter. The Dodgers are already hatching evil plans, and just about anyone who has any kind of decent prospect is going to be floated because Price is good and cheap for another year or so. He would look great in orange and black and go a LONG way to restoring order. The price (pun intended) will be STEEP.

2) Brandon Phillips: Andrew Baggarly’s been pushing this for a couple of weeks, mainly because he wants an all-Brandon infield, but there are things to like here. He’d be a big defensive upgrade over Scutaro, and he’d allow Scutaro to take on a utility role that he might be better suited to at this stage in his career. I think his power would play well at AT&T and his inside-out swing could pound triples ally. He won’t come cheap either but certainly less than Price.

3) Mark Trumbo: Trumbo is not a complete player by any stretch of the imagination but he can hit home runs. He’s an Adam Dunn/all or nothing type who could decline pretty quickly, but the home runs will be tempting.

4) Daniel Murphy: Murphy is the kind of guy that Brian Sabean loves. He is scrappy. He doesn’t walk a ton, doesn’t strike out a ton, doesn’t hit for a ton of power, and has a decent average. He’ll fit right in. On a less sarcastic note, Murphy is lefty swinger who has played 2nd, 1st, 3rd, and the outfield making him an ideal platoon partner with Scutaro at 2nd and a right-handed power hitter in left. I find it nearly impossible to believe this deal doesn’t get done.

5) Dark Horse: no idea who this might be, but I hope the Giants remember the Sanchez for Melky trade. I love the idea of buying low on a young player that someone else is frustrated with.

I have no idea what the Giants would/could/should offer for these guys. Perhaps another post for another time. I would like to offer the following suggestions:

Don’t Trade These Guys:

  • Pablo Sandoval: The Panda would probably fetch the biggest (once again, pun intended) return of anyone on the Giants roster. However, it is my belief that a highly motivated Panda is going to have a huge 2014 season as he heads into free agency. I totally understand the school of thought that says “turn that potential into gold,” but the Giants want to win now and I believe the best way to do that is keep the Panda and let him mash away in their lineup.
  • Brandon Belt: Belt could also be a great chip, although not as bountiful as the Panda. I feel the Giants should keep Belt for much of the same reasons: he’s really starting to put it together and unless someone backs up the truck for BB keep him and reap the benefits of patience.
  • Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton, Heath Hembree, and Edwin Escobar: I am no prospect expert. I try to keep my eye on things but this is not a place I can really claim to know what I am talking about. So, my completely gut-based assessment of our system is that these 4 are untouchable (plus anyone drafted this year). This means I would be ok trading Clayton Blackburn and Gary Brown and others. I might be wrong about Blackburn but he seems the least likely of our top arms to develop into a top-notch starter. I might be eating my words on this, but if we need to move a prospect to make a good deal happen I’d be ok with this one. The other 4, not so much.

My offseason predictions: trade for Daniel Murphy, sign Bronson Arroyo, add a piece to the bench and bullpen. My dream: Carlos Beltran. Let’s do this Sabes.

(-SB)

A New Chapter

The majority of our posts over the past two months have focused on trades the Giants might make today. Most of those scenarios were predicated on the Giants being in contention and going for it in an attempt to repeat as champions.

Welp.

By the end of the day the great Javier Lopez should be gone, and there’s a good chance Hunter Pence is too. If something crazy happens, Timmy might be in a new uniform as well.

Who knows how it all goes down, Brian Sabean doesn’t always go by the book, but the Giants are now looking ahead to 2014. This season, unfortunately, is over.

Of course it isn’t, which means that the next two months are about answering one, huge, important, complex question:

  • Was the strategy to keep the team together for 2013 a faulty plan needing a major overhaul, or did the Giants simply get caught in a perfect storm of suck?

My opinion is nuanced here. I think there were parts of the plan that were faulty:

  • The lack of depth at starting pitcher was always going to be a problem. With only 5 major league ready starters available (I’m not counting Gaudin here because no one really saw that coming), the Giants needed health and solid performances from all 5 guys to make a run. That did not happen and the lack of depth has been sorely exposed.
  • I have no way to quantify this, but it does seem like there was a bit of a hang over for the starting staff from last year. Was it the extra innings? The extra strain? The early Spring Training because of the World Baseball Classic? I don’t know, but they’ve looked tired all year.
  • It’s also not like the starting pitching problems dropped out of the sky either. Vogelsong really struggled down the stretch last year before finding new life in the post-season. We all know about Lincecum’s 2012. Matt Cain was good, but not dominant in the post-season (and many have pointed to his decreased effectiveness post-perfect game). Madison Bumgarner was essentially benched in the NLCS and we all head our breath when he started against the Tigers because he was struggling so badly. And Barry Zito is Barry Zito. Enough said. It’s alarming really that the team didn’t do more to back up the staff during the offseason.
  • I’ve said all offseason that Left Field was going to be a problem. Losing Pagan really exposed the Giants in the outfield. Somehow we now have Jeff Franceour on our roster. That’s how bad it is.

But the plan wasn’t all bad:

  • The offense has actually been better than 2012.
  • There are still plenty of good players on the squad, players who will be around for a while too.

So, here are a couple of conclusions and a couple of questions for the rest of the offseason:

  • Conclusion 1: Barry Zito is gone. He’s the odd man out here. Prediction 1: Unless something crazy happens today, I think Lincecum is back next year, probably on a one year deal. The other three pitchers are back too, and I think the Giants will make some kind of move to find an improvement over Zito. I also think they’ll look for a few Gaudin-types to create depth.
  • Conclusion 2: The Giants are not in rebuilding mode, they are going to continue to go for it. This team has too many good player (and good young players) to blow it up. Prediction 2: That said, I expect the Giants to make a big trade in the offseason. This is what Sabean loves to do, and the market these days favors trades over free agent signings. Sabean has worked some magical trades (see Kent, Jeff) and some foolish trades (see Pierzynski, AJ). Don’t be surprised to see Brandon Belt on the move this offseason.

This is an interesting moment for the Giants. Theoretically, they still have enough to be competitive (any team with Posey, Cain, Bumgarner, etc under control for several years is well set up to be competitive over the long haul). They also have some intriguing help at the lower levels of the minor leagues.

But how the Giants choose to bridge the gap between the present and future is going to be fascinating.

In many ways, it begins today.

(-SB)

2nd Half Questions and a Prediction

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

Here are the pertinent questions:

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

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

(-SB)