Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bochy, Sabean, and news

The 2.5-headed duo of Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean have had their contracts extended through 2013 with an option for 2014!!! OK, anyone surprised by that statement isn't going to be surprised by me printing it here. After all, it's late November. Only baseball nerds would read this site at this time of year, and baseball nerds already know this.

This morning, however, I read that the newly fiscally-secure Brian Sabean wants to trade Ramon Ramirez or Jeremy Affeldt. Didn't we just sign half of those guys? Actually, the idea makes sense. Sabean signed these guys because there is a dearth of lefty relievers around (Ramirez is a righty). Because of that, lefty releivers are valuable commodities to many teams, inlcuding the Giants. In addition to Affeldt, we have Dan Runzler and Javier Lopez to fill that role. If Barry Zito starts, Eric Surkamp may be another. Oh, and don't forget our stengths of Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla from the right, in addition to Ramirez. I'm just saying that if you want a good player in a trade, you have to have something good to give. And lefty relievers may be just that valuable of a trade bait so that Mr. Sabean can fish up something worthwhile in return. Names anyone?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Name dropping

I've been wondering why there has been so little interest in the big-name free agents this off-season. After all, there are some seriously big names in the pool. Albert Pujols is arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, and he's hardly managed a sniff. Prince Fielder, all of 27, is every bit as good as fellow first basemen Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira and Adrián González, all who have signed mega-deals in the last few years. I suppose that might just be the problem. The big spenders have already got their 3-position locked up. The Phils have Howard until at least 2016 ($25M/yr), same for the Yanks and Teixeira ($22.5M/yr), and the Sawx have González until 2018 ($21.5M/yr). The three clubs who toss around the most money are not interested. I imagine Pujols will wind up back in St. Louis. The Dodgers were supposedly interested in Fielder, but that organization is in a mess and it seems unlikely they can think about another long-term deal until the ownership question is settled. Jimmy Rollins and José Reyes are some other big names who can't seem to generate excitement. I wonder if the poor market will continue. The new CBA is in place, and the Winter Meetings are just around the corner, so perhaps things will pick up. If not, a guy like Carlos Beltrán could be had for much less (money and years) than most expected at the end of the season. That might make the Giants pursue him a little more seriously. I get the feeling--and I certainly hope--that they are lukewarm on him until the Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum negotiations are completed. The Freak may not bother and simply let the arbitration process decide things, but I expect Cain and the Giants will work something out. In the meantime, I'm content to watch. And I'm happy that we know we will have five more years of uninterrupted baseball.

--M.C.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The price of success

Only Baseball Matters has a post that echoes what we've talked about here, namely that Clayton Kershaw ought to thank the Giants for his newly-minted CYA. He had a sensational season, and was a deserving winner, but if I were a Phillies fan I'd feel like Roy Halladay was robbed. After all, Halladay led all pitchers with 8.2 WAR (Kershaw was 2nd in the NL with 6.8 but 4th overall behind C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander) and with a 2.20 FIP, and lead the NL with a 164 ERA+. He completed 8 of his 32 starts and only walked 35 guys and gave up 10 HR in 233-2/3 IP. However you slice it, the guy was a beast, and pitched in a little tougher park to boot. But I don't get too excited about the BBWAA these days. I don't really care who gets what trophy. The only one that matters is the shiny one with all the flags on it. What I find interesting is that young Mr. Kershaw (he'll be 24 in March) is still under the Dodgers control. He goes to arbitration for the first time this off-season and won't be a free agent until 2015. Mr. Halladay makes $20M/year. That brings me to the Giants "co-aces." Matt Cain needs an extension (FA 2013) and would not be unreasonable asking for more than the $15M he'll make this season. Four years, $70M? Tim Lincecum is looking at two more seasons of arbitration (FA 2014) and will no doubt get a raise ($14M in 2011). Could they get him to sign for four years and $85M? The Giants still have the cost-controlled studliness of Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey, a nice little core of young talent any team would envy. The Dodgers just pulled a stunner, locking up superstar Matt Kemp for EIGHT years (reputedly worth $160M). He'll be in Dodger blue until he is 34! I don't see the Giants doing that after the Barry Zito fiasco. Barry Bonds signed a 7-year deal in 1993, but that was so long ago no one remembers. Bob Quinn was the GM at the time in case you forgot. Speaking of team leadership, Larry Baer is the New Sheriff in Town, having just gotten the nod from the Owner's Cabal to be the team's vote-caster. It is hard to say what that means. I expect things won't change a whole lot, but there is a sort of Robespierre-like mien to him, wouldn't you say? As long as his Reign of Terror nets more shiny trophies, I'll look the other way when the guillotine falls.

--M.C.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oh Boy ... More Inter-League Play!

Here's some fun news ... apparently, the Astros are moving to the AL in 2013. As part of the proposed new MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement, there will now be six 5-team divisions, with an even number of teams in each league. That means that every single day of every single season, someone will be playing an inter-league game. In fact, according to the story I just read, there will be 'considerably more inter-league play'. Somehow, I have a feeling that this means that we'll end up playing the A's more than anyone else. Overall, it sounds like a scheduling debacle. Let's enjoy our final season of even numbers of teams in each league, the way that God intended it to be.

Oh ... and sign C-L-B (Cain, Lincecum, & Beltran)!

And, Ryan Doumit is a decent player, but wants a lot of money to be a back-up Catcher. Is Hector Sanchez not the answer? Well, no, he may not be, but I don't know about that kind of money for Doumit. He is a switch-hitter & plays 1B & OF, too, so those are plusses.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

You Get to Do the Lightning-in-a-Bottle Thing Once

You get to do the Lightning-in-a-Bottle thing once. Our time was 2010. I am very happy about that & don't expect it to happen again. The odds are worse than 1 in 30. Probably, 3 years out of 4, a really good team wins it all. The other year is the lightning-in-a-bottle year. Therefore, the odds of lightning-in-a-bottle are about 1 in 120.

You build consistent success by investing in sizable improvements. When you have the resources to do so, there is no excuse for not doing so. Otherwise, you will sink back into the mediocre mire.

The 2011 Texas Rangers provide a great example of how to run an MLB Team. As Mark pointed out a couple of weeks ago, reaching the World Series in consecutive seasons is an amazing feat. As happy as I am that the Cardinals won, I still give the Rangers credit for getting there again, & getting there in the way that they did.

Between the 2010 & 2011 seasons, Texas acquired Adrian Beltre to, effectively, replace an aging Vlad Guerrero. And, in one of the less-noticed, but substantial moves of the off-season, they acquired Mike Napoli to replace the retiring & chronically ineffective Bengie Molina. This transformed their lineup from powerful to over-the-top powerful. That 3 through 7 of Hamilton, Young, Beltre, Cruz, & Napoli was a core 5 right up there with any team in recent memory. They also found some fine pitching, both in-house & via the trade market. Picking up Mike Adams was the best move that they made in mid-season. They knew that Cliff Lee was going to be gone, but they knew that they had the arms to replace him (besides, he lost both games in the World Series!).

Meanwhile, after a cruddy 2011 season (although not cruddy at the box office or in sales of merchandise), we are tossing around lightweight moves (e.g. Bloomquist, Carroll, now Barmes). Our team should be thinking much bigger than that, or we will be back in the mediocre mire.

I am only OK with turing SS over to Crawford, if we sign Beltran. Otherwise, Crawford needs to go to Fresno. Signing a Rollins for 2 years (first year as a starter, second year as a part-time starter & mentor) makes sense to me. Getting a real 5th starter (Mark Buehrle is my latest favorite, but others would work out well), so that we are not trotting Barry Zito out there & praying, should be on our list.

We need to decide whether we are going for consistent success, or just waiting for our next turn at lightning-in-a-bottle, which may take 30 to 120 years. I'm for trying to guarantee continued success.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Youth, the final frontier

John Shea recently made the point that the Giants are getting younger. Jonathan Sanchez (Nov '82) was the oldest member of the vaunted Youth Starting Corps that led the club to the title in 2010. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and the barely-legal Madison Bumgarner are all younger than JS. The rest of the ro' is filled out with old guys Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito, but Eric Surkamp, all of 23, is knocking on the door. It is a different story in the 'pen, filled with the likes of Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Guillermo Mota, and Santiago Casilla, but no one is complaining about gray hair in that bunch, and we may have seen the last of WillyMo, The Great Old One. Sergio Romo, Dan Runzler, Steve Edlefsen, and Waldis Joaquin are all younger than JS, with Brian Wilson (Mar '82) just ahead. Like I said, no one is complaining about the bullpen, and we all know how much Boch-n-Rags value experience. What's interesting to me is what the lineup will look like next season. Other than oldsters Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff on the right side of the infield, the rest of the club is 28 years old or younger. Not-quite-a-rookie-anymore Brandon Crawford looks like he'll get the nod at short. Pablo Sandoval is still absurdly young, as is Buster Posey. Nate Schierholtz (Feb '84) is the senior member of the outfield, edging newcomer Melky Cabrera (Aug '84) and lapping Baby Giraffe Brandon Belt (Apr '88). WHEN'S THE LAST TIME THE GIANTS FIELDED A TEAM LIKE THIS ONE?

I'm ready to take my chances with this bunch of kids. We know the pitching is there. We know the offense is a question mark. But all I see is upside. LOTS of upside. Who is ready to embrace The Youth Movement with me?

--M.C.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sanchez Out / Melky In

So SF Giants.com just reported the trade of Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera. All my hard work in the previous posts went for naught. The Giants also threw in minor league pitcher Ryan Verdugo.

Melky "Leche" Cabrera is 27 years old. That's a good thing. You can view his stats here. This is what this tells me:

1) The Giants have given up on Andres Torres and are do not intend to make more than a cursory pass at Carlos Beltran. Probably not even that.
2) The Giants have given up on Jonathan Sanchez. Too bad, for those of you who might mention that we would not have to see him (as a Giant) in the post season again, I would remind you that the Giants would not have been in the 2010 postseason without his efforts.
3) Maybe that means they will explore a shortstop, ignoring the excellent glove work of Brandon Crawford. Mabye not.
4) Ladies and Gentlemen, your starting pitcher, Barry Zito.

Last year Leche hit .305, which is significantly better than his 2010 season with Atlanta, in which he hit .255 (a post-rookie season low). His OBP is not too impressive, .331 lifetime and .339 last year. He also can steal bases, 20 last year, although he was caught stealing 10 times. Last year he also had career highs in doubles and home runs. Lets hope he is maturing with some power. He will undoubtedly be playing center field and batting lead off.

The first time he does something good, the headlines will be "Dulce de Leche." I should have been in advertising.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Whether the Giants Can Afford Carlos Beltran

OK, that is probably not the best title for this post. “Afford” implies that I have some knowledge of the Giants finances, and I don’t. Perhaps a better title would be “On Whether the Giants Are Likely to be Able to Produce a Successful Bid for Free Agent Carlos Beltran. The answer to that question is, in my view, “Yes.”

The conventional wisdom says the Carlos Beltran will demand (and receive) a fiver year contract. The conventional wisdom also asserts that the Giants will be able to be outbid by other teams that either have deeper financial resources or that have fewer sunk costs, meaning existing salary commitments. But let's examine how valuable Carlos Beltran would be and who would be the likely bidders for him.

I have observed is that there are two levels of superstars. The upper level tends to get a lot of money. Their contracts, even in today’s recession-limited market, are stratospheric (and remember, from the Giants’ attendance figures in 2011, their market is decidedly not recession-limited). But then you see a drop off, and superstar free agents who are not the very cream of a given year’s crop tend not to have the high profile interest that the tippy-top guys get. Carlos Beltran is not the premier free agent on the market. That would be Albert Pujols, followed closely by Prince Fielder. Elias Sports Bureau has a ranking system of the most desirable free agents and you can find a copy of it on MLB Trade Rumors, here. Carlos Beltran ranks #7. MLB Trade Rumors also has a list of the top 50 free agents, here, and which team they guess each one is likely to sign with. With the addition of Yu Darvish, Carlos Beltran is addressed in the #9 position. There are several free agents that are pitchers, including starters CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle and relievers Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon (he wouldn’t really pull a Damon, would he?), and Ryan Madson.

In any year, the tippy-top only goes so deep. There are always a couple of high profile signings, and then a lot that make you wonder if the high profile guys are really worth their money compared to the rest. I just don't think Carlos Beltran will be one of the top top guys. Age is one reason.
Here are some pretty good hitters that may be higher on wish lists than Carlos Beltran: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Aramis Ramirez. Carlos Beltran will be 35 when the 2012 season starts. Albert Pujols will be 32; Fielder, 27; Reyes, 28; and Rollins and Ramirez, 33. So I don't think five years is a given for Carlos, considering that their are a number of other, younger players out there to soak up the highest offers.

The Yankees need pitching, pitching and more pitching. They have enough hitting. The Red Sox need to replace Big Papi, and need to replace or re-sign Papelbon, although they may be interested in Carlos, they have other priorities. The Phillies need to replace or re-sign Madson and Rollins, the Mets already did Beltran, and the Cardinals need to re-sign the big A at all costs, and then shop for relief, although it held up well enough in the playoffs. Texas needs to re-sign or replace Wilson. The Cubs with their new GM might be a likely bidder, so might Washington. There is always a surprise team, of course, but the Giants have the advantage of being a team that is known to contend, and that carries weight with players who are looking to get into the post-season. Always remember, that Brian Sabean, for all the ire that he has engendered in the lunatic fringes, somehow managed to wind up with a stable of pitching that is unmatched and few needs except to upgrade the offense.

So I believe the Giants are in the driver's seat to sign Carlos if they want to, and I also think it will not take five years nor Albert Pujols money to do so. What is more, I think they should. Carlos left/right, Nate center/right, Brandon Belt left/first, and Andres as the fourth outfielder at center works for me.

Oh. Apparently, the Giants may be open to trading Jonathan Sanchez.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On What the Giants Need for 2012

What seems to make sense to me, rather than flying off the handle about what the Giants may or may not do, is to first look at what the Giants need. In that way, we can have a firm basis from which to fly off the handle. So let me start this conversation by saying that the Giants do not need anything in the way of fielders. We hear a lot about how the Giants need a center fielder or a shortstop. That is, in both cases, demonstrably untrue. We have a very talented young shortstop in Brandon Crawford, and several players that can play center field, Cody Ross, Nathan Schierholtz, and Andres Torres, two of whom are arbitration-eligible, and one of whom is a free agent. The reason that this is untrue is because a "shortstop" and a "center fielder" are descriptions of defensive positions. The Giants have adequate players at every defensive position. What the Giants need to upgrade is their offensive positions, which is why I choose to look at the types players that are necessary to compliment the offense, which, as has often been chronicled, was sorely lacking in 2011.

Mostly, the Giants lack an adequate lead-off batter, and lack the big bat that puts fear into opponents' hearts. As much as I relished the days when Barry Bonds would make a nation hold their collective breath during his at bats, I believe that what the Giants most lack is a lead-off batter. It would indeed be nice to have another powerful bat in the line-up. Pablo Sandoval may be a fearsome bat sometimes, and Buster Posey may become one, but neither are quite the kind of batter that opponents really shape their game around. The Giants have no one like an Albert Pujols or a Prince Fielder - guys that can absolutely change a game with one swing of the bat. And therein lies the argument for re-signing Carlos Beltran.

But with Posey, and Sandoval, and a hopefully rejuvenated Aubrey Huff, and some real contributions from Brandon Belt, I believe that the bigger need is a player to bat in the lead-off position that has some potential to get on base a lot. I'm not sure what the on base percentage from the lead-off spot was for the 2011 Giants, but I know that Rowand was less than .300, and Torres was only .312. That's not good enough. It would be great to have someone get on base a fair amount of time. Jose Reyes seems to do this fairly well, with a .341 lifetime obp and a .384 obp for 2011. Jimmy Rollins also has the perception of being valuable in this regard. His obp is not quite as good, .329 lifetime and .338 for 2011. Let's consider those numbers for a moment. In 600 at bats, a healthy Andres Torres would be expected to get on base 187 times in a season and Jose Reyes would get on base between 204 and 230 times. Mr. Rollins would be expected to get on base between 197 and 203 times. So, averaging the two and averaging their lifetime and 2011 totals, 208 times reaching base. That is 21 times more than Andres Torres, or once more every 7.7 games. Is that enough to make a difference? It is at this point where I wish I had enough access to existing baseball statistics and statistical accumen to be able to figure if it indeed would be a meaningful difference or not. It sure doesn't sound like much.

Which brings us back around to the main question. Based on your perception or on a numerical analysis, what do the Giants most need, a fearsome bat, or a dependable lead-off batter?