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Monday, January 31, 2011

Giants Offseason Review

Pitchers and Posey report in 2 weeks. Spring Training is getting close. And with it, the offseason is coming to a close. Sure, there will likely be minor deals made up until first pitch at the end of March. Sabean will no doubt be active in trade talks for guys that are on the fringe of making the team and trying to dump at least some of Rowand's contract on somebody. But the major moves are over. There will be no surprise trades and no more major additions. The roster in and of itself is set, save for some 24th and 25th man competitions.

So how was it?

Well, Sabean liked the status quo, apparently. And why not? The team he is displaying in 2011 is almost identical to the 2010 version that hoisted the World Championship trophy. Sabean caught a lot of flak the past several years and most Giants fans wanted him fired. Well, now he has carte blanche.

If you look at the Giants roster, there's only one major difference. Juan Uribe will be in Dodger blue and Miguel Tejada has returned to the bay to take his place. That's it. That is the only difference. The bullpen on Opening Day, barring a surprise, will comprise of the same guys that got it done for the Giants in 2010. And the line-up will remain largely unchanged. And of course, the rotation is locked down. The only real difference will be the bench and even that isn't too different.

So let's examine Sabean's moves and the Giants offseason, in depth, shall we?

Initially, I didn't see how the Giants could keep this team all together. They had several free agents and a good amount of arbitration eligible players. I figured they'd find a way to keep Cody Ross and Javier Lopez. The other guys? I wasn't sure.

Well, Sabean examined the free agent and trade market and decided he rather have all his guys back. And by all, I mean 90% of them.

Sabean tendered contracts and avoided arbitration with Mike Fontenot, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Jonathan Sanchez, and Santiago Casilla. That, boys and girls, means they're all going to be back and on the major league roster.

He also doled out a big league contract to adopted son Aubrey Huff. The Huffinator's resigning wasn't a surprise, but the Giants did have some big league competition from the Cubs and, of course, Ned Colletti. Hence the 22 million dollar two year commitment. After Huff's 2010 where he was essentially the heart and soul and face of the Giants offense (even moreso than Mr. Posey) you won't hear Giants fans griping about the contract, even if it was a slight overpay.

The surprise re-signing of the offseason was Pat Burrell. Although Burrell and Huff helped police the clubhouse, it was hard to see how Sabean would fit Burrell on the team in 2011. With Mark DeRosa coming back and uber prospect Brandon Belt ready for a shot, Burrell looked like a luxury. In addition, after Burrell's renaissance season, it was hard to see him accepting a contract that would pay him much less than the 9 million he pulled down in 2010. But Burrell showed that sometimes playing somewhere that you're happy and comfortable does mean you'll take a hometown discount. And in Burrell's case, he took a huge discount. He signed for one million with no incentives. To put that in perspective, every arbitration player Sabean signed (the likes of Mike Fontenot, a utility infielder) will make more than Burrell, who swatted 18 homers for the Giants and was a key reason they made the postseason. That gave me a whole new appreciation for Pat the Bat.

Sabean wasn't finished bringing back his guys though. He offered Guillermo Mota a minor league deal which Mota accepted.

The only losses the World Series champion Giants sustained were Edgar Renteria (Reds), Juan Uribe (Dodgers), Eugenio Velez (Dodgers), and Chris Ray (Mariners). Seeing Uribe not only leave but sign with the Dodgers hurt. He was a great clubhouse guy, a fantastic Giant, and he'll be missed. Other than that, the losses were minimal. While it would have been nice to have Renteria as an insurance policy at shortstop, most Giants fans expected him to retire after a magical end to the season. Instead, he staged a mini hissy fit at the Giants "disrespectful" offer to re-sign and erased SOME goodwill amongst Giants fans. However, he will undoubtedly be cheered when he shows up at AT&T Park next season and deservedly so. He was an albatross in 2009 and was hurt most of 2010. But without him, the Giants may not have won the World Series. And fans will never forget him home run in Game 5. Ever. It was time for Edgar to move on. Even though the Giants don't have a true shortstop on the team (calling Tejada a true shortstop now would be like calling David Ortiz a true first baseman) Renteria's departure will not haunt them. Nor will the departures of Eugenio Velez and Chris Ray. Ray was effective as a Giant and I would have liked to see the Giants keep him but the bullpen is set and it'll be hard enough for Mota and Runzler to make the team so Ray was expendable. Velez was never truly valuable. He had some pop but no plate discipline or contact skills. He had speed but was a terrible baserunner and basestealer. His defense was poor. He could put it together and terrorize the Giants for years as a Dodger. Or he could just continue being a poor MLB player. Not a loss.

With most of his team returning, Sabean looked to address the one hole. Shortstop. There were all the rumors about Barlett, murmurs of JJ Hardy, speculation about Scutaro. In the end, Sabean went to his go-to. He signed an old guy. The good news is that the Tejada signing is only one year. The 6.5 million doesn't crimp the budget. And Tejada, by all accounts, is also a great clubhouse guy and should help ease the pain of losing Uribe. He should hit for a better average that Uribe and get on base at a better clip. He won't have the pop Uribe displayed but he might use the gaps more to drive in runners. The only thing that is worrisome is his defense. He was fine at shortstop for the Padres but he only played half the season. He's going to be expected to play shortstop almost every single day for the Giants (because of that whole not having a shortstop thing I mentioned earlier). That's risky. Opposing hitters will look at Sandoval and Tejada manning the left side of the infield and will aim for it. But the options at shortstop were not great and in the end, Tejada's offense (unless he goes in the tank) should offset any defensive woes.

By most accounts, Sabean tried to rid himself of Rowand's contract during the winter and if a team gets desperate for an outfielder during Spring Training, Rowand still could be moved (hey, the Angels took Vernon Wells, so anything can happen!). But aside from minor tweaks, the Giants roster is largely set. Many thought the Giants would make a splash after winning the World Series. But the truth is, the Giants need to save their money for their own guys. Lincecum and Cain need to be extended or re-signed in the near future (if it's even possible to re-sign both guys). So does Brian Wilson. It wouldn't surprise me if the Giants started discussing a multi-year deal for Buster Posey this spring or next.

You have to give it up for Bowtie Bill Neukom for expanding the budget and allowing Sabean to keep the team together. The Giants payroll will likely be around 115 million when it's all said and done. It's the first time the Giants have had a payroll over 100 million in franchise history. So Neukom deserves props for opening the purse strings even though it doesn't feel like the Giants made any splash signings. Notice all the one year and two year deals? It's definitely the Giants gearing up to re-sign the core of the team. Wilson, Lincecum, Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez all will be due big money in the very near future. It's not coincidence the team has refused to sign big money long term contracts the last couple of offseasons.

And for this offseason, the Giants for the most part kept the champions together, expanded the budget, and seem primed to battle for the NL West title yet again. It was a solid if unspectacular offseason for Sabean and Company. As a former Sabean hater, I stand and applaud the effort.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Free Agent Recap and the Winter's Winners and Losers List

Ok, well most of the top free agents have signed and my first official Free Agent Prediction List looks pretty awful. I hit on 2 correct signings; Huff resigning with SF and Uribe signing with LA. Every other free agent signing I had wrong. There are still a few left I could get right but they wont' likely sign until later this month or in February.

But just because my free agent predictions were wrong does not mean I'm giving up on the prediction business. So without further ado, let me give you the winters winners and losers list.

Winners

BREWERS: They didn't trade their portly, crushing 1B. They didn't trade their franchise LF'er. And they completely revamped their rotation, giving Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf a capable complement in Shawn Marcum (13-8, 3.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP w/Toronto in 2010) and trading for the jewel of the trade market, ace Zack Greinke. To top it off, they added depth to their bullpen by signing Takashi Saito. Greinke gives Milwaukee a bonafide ace, which will take pressure off young budding ace Gallardo. A rotation of Greinke/Gallardo/Marcum/Wolf is among the best in the NL Central and matches up well with the Cardinals 1-2 punch of Carpenter/Wainwright. The Brewers coughed up their farm system for a chance to go to the playoffs in what likely will be Prince Fielder's last year in Wisconsin. It was bold. And it was masterful.

RED SOX: The Red Sox already have pretty solid starting pitching and a good line-up. They had an inordinate amount of injuries last year to key players and STILL almost made the playoffs in baseball's toughest division. So they didn't necessarily have to make a splash to compete in the AL East in 2011. But, being that they are the Red Sox, they had to do something after missing the playoffs. And so they decided to make TWO splashes. The Red Sox pried Adrian Gonzalez away from San Diego without sacrificing anyone off their 25 man roster. And then they signed Carl Crawford, the best position player free agent. The Red Sox line-up has zero holes and their defense just got much better with the addition of two Gold Glove guys who, oh yeah, hit the ball very well. Right now they look to be the best all around team in the AL East, if not all of baseball.

PHILLIES: The Phillies lost Jayson Werth and look to be okay not replacing his bat. After watching the Giants completely shut down their line-up, they may have thought adding another bat might have been a good idea. Apparently not. Instead, they're taking a page out of SF's book and adding pitching. The Phillies won't have much of a different look going into Spring Training than they did in the NLCS. Except one major addition to the rotation. The Phils welcomed back Cliff Lee. And now, their rotation is already being named the Greatest in the Game. The Phillies will be a contender in the NL East again and they have enough offense even without Werth to compete for a championship. And getting Lee was a coup.

NATIONALS: The Nationals improved a bit. They got Adam LaRoche on their terms and he'll provide better defense at 1B than Adam Dunn while providing a decent replacement for Dunn's offense. They were the surprise winners of the Werth sweepstakes and they improved their pen a and got a decent prospect with their trade of Willingham. They tried and failed to get Greinke and Lee and their rotation without Strasburg in 2011 is still not great, but they're in the mix for Pavano and at least are planting the seeds for what could be a very good team in 2012 and could contend as a sleeper for the wildcard in 2011.

DODGERS: I hate to give LA any credit for anything. And honestly, Colletti is Sabean-lite. On the surface, the Dodgers made no major moves and not many experts are putting the Dodgers in the "winning" offseason category. However, they added a lot of depth to their rotation by adding Garland and re-signing Kuroda, Lilly, and Padilla. They stole Juan Uribe from SF and will give him the everyday 2B job, an upgrade over Theriot and DeWitt and Belliard. They added a nice defensive outfielder in Tony Gwynn Jr and kept catcher Rod Barajas while cutting loose Giants pest Russell Martin. They signed arguably one of the best setup guys on the market in Matt Guerrier to be the bridge to Broxton. Nothing splashy, but solid moves that should improve LA from their 2010 season.

CUBS: Cubs bring back an aging team in 2011 that wasn't very good in 2010. But they took a flier on Carlos Pena as a replacement for Derrek Lee and in Wrigley, Pena could hit 40+ bombs. If Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano can have productive seasons, the Cubs offense should be able to score some runs. And with the trade for Matt Garza, the Cubs rotation is solid, if unremarkable 1-5. The Cubs also welcomed back Kerry Wood, this time as a set-up guy for excellent closer Marmol. The trade for Garza is what put them in this winning category and if the staff can pitch to their capabilities, the Cubs should win enough to contend for a Wilcard spot.

Losers

ANGELS: Arte Moreno is one of the better owners in baseball. But he started this offseason talking big and failed to deliver. His club targeted Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre specifically and had Rafael Soriano in their sights. They whiffed on all three and ended up only signing set-up man Scott Downs. The Angels essentially are standing pat a year after missing the playoffs and after Moreno hinted he'd be a big spender in the offseason. Unless they go for the sentimental choice and sign Vlad to be their DH in 2011, in a competitive AL West, the Angels don't look improved from the team that finished 3rd in 2010.

YANKEES: When do you ever see the Yankees in the loser category? Well, this year. The Yankees struck out on Cliff Lee, who they made their offseason priority. Andy Pettitte hasn't decided whether or not to return or retire but if he retires, the Yankees will officially be in trouble. Their rotation is essentially Sabathia, Hughes, and Burnett with no real MLB starters available for their #4 and #5 slots. They'll have to rely on the trade market or 2nd/3rd tier free agents and hope they strike gold. Their offense is intact, but their team wasn't good enough to beat the Rangers in the ALCS last year and they've gotten worse. When the biggest pickup of the offseason for the Yankees is a new catcher that the Dodgers released, you know things are weird in the Bronx. And no, the resignings of Rivera and Jeter don't count because no one ever thought they were going elsewhere.

METS: Both New York teams in the loser category? You bet. The Mets have been a mess for awhile and their team sucks. So what do they do in the offseason? Absolutely nothing. The Mets came in 4th place in the NL East in 2010. Their pitching is not very good from top to bottom. They let one of their most reliable relievers go (Feliciano) and did not replace him. Their rotation comes back unchanged. And the offense and defense comes back in full. A very dull offseason for New York and the only thing fans can hope for is that everyone, EVERYONE, plays better in 2011.

RANGERS: Coming off their first World Series appearance, Rangers fans had high hopes for the offseason. What they really hoped was that Cliff Lee found a permanent home in Arlington and that the Rangers could add to their talented squad with Lee as a centerpiece. Well, they lost Lee. They've tried to compensate by getting even more offense, adding Adrian Beltre and his Gold Glove defense at third, pushing Michael Young to DH, and essentially ending Vlad Guerrero's one year run in Texas. And they added ex-Giant Yorvit Torrealba to replace ex-Giant Bengie Molina as their primary catcher. But they didn't replace Lee. At this point they have to hope their reclamation project of Brandon Webb results in Webb pitching like his Cy Young self from 2006. That is doubtful and they're putting a lot on the shoulders of Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson.

RAYS: So the Rays had a great team for 3 years. And they have loads of young talent. And the AL East should be competitive all around with the Red Sox being the truly elite team in the division and Baltimore and Toronto improved. However, they are completely relying on their upcoming prospects to mesh with their current young talent to fight for the division in 2011. They let Crawford walk, which was a given. But then they traded Matt Garza for long range prospects. And they let their entire bullpen walk including their closer. They're relying on uber prospects Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson to replace Crawford and Garza. It's going to be an uphill battle for a talented but very young TB squad in 2011.

TWINS: The Twins usually don't do much in the offseason. And they always compete. And they usually are in the playoffs when it's all said and done. But they are on a 12 game playoff losing streak. They can't beat the Yankees if their lives depended on it. And they haven't had a true ace since they traded Johan Santana, even if ex-Giant Francisco Liriano shows flashes. You'd think they would do SOMETHING to get an ace in the building. But they haven't. Yeah, they were in talks with the Royals about Greinke but there was no way Kansas City was going to trade Greinke to a division rival. They likely will re-sign Pavano but even with Pavano back in the mix, they don't have a guy that you would label an ace unless Liriano stays healthy and takes another step to dominating consistently. In the playoffs and with hopes of a World Series title, a team MUST have an ace. And the Twins did not get one. They did grab headlines by winning the bid to Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka but I'm not convinced he's any better or worse than JJ Hardy, the guy they traded to make way for Nishioka.

That's the winners and losers list. There were a lot of borderline teams on both sides, but I decided to go 6 winners, 6 losers. The other 18 teams made moves that were all right and didn't hurt or help the team to a great extent. I'll go in-depth with a Giants breakdown of the offseason in my next post. Thanks for reading and go Giants!