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Sunday, December 1, 2013

2014 Rotation Appears Set

So it looks like the Giants have sewed up their rotation by re-signing Ryan Vogelsong to a one year deal for 5 million.  I don't love it, I don't hate it.  If the Giants were not going to seriously upgrade that spot in the rotation, then why not gamble on a Vogey comeback?  Like I mentioned previously, I'd rather have an incentivized and angry Vogey for one year than an Arroyo or Nolasco or Phil Hughes for 3 years.  And given that Hughes received 3 years and Nolasco received 4 years, both from Minnesota, it's a good bet Arroyo will get his 3 years.  The Giants seem to have a plan for their rotation and that is to wait for Kyle Crick and Edwin Escobar and maybe a couple of the other guys that had breakthrough 2013 minor league seasons to augment Bumgarner and Cain in the near future.  In the meantime, they're getting capable place holders (Lincecum, Hudson, and Vogelsong) on short term deals to keep the spots warm.  I can't argue with the strategy.  The Giants of 2009-2012 were largely successful due to the drafting and developing of their Big Three (Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner). Throw in a random good year from Jonathan Sanchez and a couple good ones from Vogelsong and we wound up with 2 World Series rings.  It looks like Brian Sabean and company hope to repeat this feat by having Bumgarner and Cain anchor a rotation that eventually could have other solid starters like Crick, Escobar, Blackburn, Mejia, or Blach joining them.

Of course, it wasn't just the starting pitching that helped win the championships in '10 and '12 but it was the Giants identity.  Giants fans can argue that the team is going into 2014 with a rotation full of question marks.  Bumgarner was the only starter that really had a good season last year.  Cain is coming off a down year though he was much better in the 2nd half.  Hudson and Vogelsong are both coming off injuries and are on the wrong side of 30.  And Lincecum is a complete wildcard.  Giants fans could argue it would have been a better bet to get more consistent starters with less question marks.  But the thing is, there isn't really a lot of guys out there that are sure things.  Almost every starting pitcher free agent has some sort of question mark tied to them.  So again, Sabean and company made the decision to go with the player they knew and re-signed Vogelsong for one year.  And unless the Dodgers sign Tanaka or trade for Price, you can argue that their rotation isn't any sturdier than the Giants.  They have their own reclamation project in Dan Haren.  And while Kershaw and Greinke anchor the front of the rotation, Ryu looked imminently hittable last year although he had a good year.  The Dodgers probably don't even know what to expect from Josh Beckett or Chad Billingsley.

So it appears the rotation is set.  Barring any surprises, the Giants will open the 2014 season with a rotation of Cain, Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, and Vogelsong.  They will have Petit and Surkamp as starting pitching depth with Edwin Escobar likely being counted on to be ready by mid-season if needed.  Are Giants fans thrilled with this?  From what I can tell, they're not totally thrilled.  But they also don't have major complaints.  The common complaint seems to be that most fans would have preferred Arroyo to Vogelsong but again, I don't understand this given the years Arroyo is asking for and the fact that he really doesn't have very good stuff.  He could lose it quickly.  Yes, if Vogelsong proves that 2013 was a trend and not an outlier than the Giants will again need to scramble to fill out the rotation.  And if more than one of their starters slump or underperform, then the Giants will be in trouble like they were in 2013.  That being said, it seems like the Giants are at least trying to provide some depth in case this situation occurs.  In other words, don't expect to see Mike Kickham in the rotation again anytime soon.

However, because the Giants did not splurge on their rotation, settling to bring back Vogelsong on a (slightly) cheaper contract then the pressure is on them now to upgrade the outfield.  Although the cast of characters that caused 2013 to be a downer were essentially the same guys that won the championship in 2012, Larry Baer et al need to show the fans they really do intend to compete with Los Angeles.  Adding Tim Hudson as the only significant new addition won't be enough for a fan base that has become rabid.  They absolutely cannot go into April with Blanco as a main component in left field.

Now that they've filled out the rotation, it's time to see what they do to further improve the team.  That means bringing in new outside talent.  We'll see what happens at the Winter Meetings.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Just Say NO to Arroyo

The Giants have had a pretty solid offseason so far and it's not even December yet.  They have checked the boxes that needed checking and still have a couple boxes left unchecked.  If I had my druthers, I don't think I would have done anything differently than Sabean and the gang has done thus far.

First came the Pence signing.  That HAD to happen.  And it did.  We haven't seen the other big ticket outfielders sign yet but when Jhonny Peralta is getting 4yrs/53M and a platoon outfielder (Chris Young) receives over 7M then Pence's contract starts looking like at least market value.

The next priority after Pence was deciding on what to do with Lincecum.  The Giants decided he was worth an expensive 2 year gamble and re-signed Timmy before he had a chance to test free agency. Again, this is a win.  Lincecum is not what he was in his Cy Young days but he still has great secondary pitches. He can still be a consistent winner and a plus in the rotation, he just needs to fully adjust to not being a power pitcher.  The Giants seem to think he's on that path now.  With only 2 starting pitchers under contract, re-signing Lincecum made a lot of sense in a number of ways.  Now, the signing looks even better because the Giants were able to do what they set out to do, improve the rotation.  They did so when they signed Tim Hudson.  I know there are jokes to be made about Sabean signing older players but Hudson is a guy that is worth the risk.  I've been a Tim Hudson fan from afar for a long time.  The guy is just a solid pro in every sense of the word.  He's a competitor, he goes about his business in the right way, and most importantly, he's a winner and he's good.  He's also hungry.  Hungry to get past the 1st round of the playoffs.  And every team needs those guys.  In 2010, we had a few of those hungry vets.  Most obvious was Aubrey Huff but let's not forget Edgar Renteria gave that team an impassioned speech about just getting him to the playoffs again.  In 2012, it was Vogelsong and Scutaro who were so hungry for a World Series that they helped will the team to that championship.  Hudson can be that guy in 2014.  He also potentially could have a great influence on the rest of the rotation.  Cain and Lincecum are veterans these days.  But in reality, both are still under 30.  Bumgarner of course is still only 24.  Having a 38 year old in the rotation will be a boon to these guys.  It helps that Hudson has a reputation as a guy who likes to take younger guys under his wing as well.  I love Ryan Vogelsong, but let's be honest, both Timmy and Cain had better numbers on the backs of their baseball cards than Vogey did when he came back to the team.  While he definitely could give veteran perspective on struggles, Hudson brings more credibility about speaking about pitching as he comes into 2014 as the game's highest winning active pitcher.  Cain has always loved a mentor (whether it was Matt Morris or Randy Johnson) and having Hudson around should help Cain get back on track and help Lincecum further his transition to a pitcher that plays to contact.  Hudson's contract is short and reasonable and honestly he was my preferred target available on the market.  I thought he was the perfect fit for the Giants and now he IS a Giant.  We'll see what influence he'll have but right now he has to be slotted as the #3 starter.

Sabean crossed another major checkbox off when he was able to retain Javier Lopez.  It cannot be understated how important Lopez has been to the Giants.  He has been Mr. Consistent.  And thankfully for the Giants and Giants fans, consistent for Lopez means ridiculously effective from the left side. He's the type of guy you have in your pen if you expect to play for and win championships.  If the Giants allowed him to leave, it would have raised serious questions about how much they actually intended on competing financially.  To the Giants credit, they have stepped up.  They have secured their RF, they have secured 2 rotation spots with two Tim's, and they brought back their clutch lefty reliever.

So now what?  If we were a mid-market team we'd be thrilled and happy.  But this is San Francisco. We should be a "big market" team.  We've won 2 championships in the past 4 seasons.  We sell out our park every night.  So, of course, there is more to be done.  Especially after finishing in 3rd place.  The Giants probably could get by with an in-house 5th starter at this point (Petit/Surkamp) but by all accounts, they want another arm.  That's all well and good but the Giants DO have a budget and they do have holes aside from the 5th spot in the rotation.  They need bench help and they need a left fielder. If getting that other starter means less money for a legitimate left fielder than no, just no.  Unless they splurge on Tanaka (which they won't) or become secret suitors for Cano (they won't) then they should use the majority of whatever money they have left to sign or trade for an outfield bat. Fans do not want to see Blanco and Juan Perez or Blanco and some other middling platoon option manning left in 2014.  It simply cannot happen.  I wrote earlier that this offseason would be a failure if a left fielder was not secured and although I've been thrilled with what ownership and the front office has done thus far, it'd be all for naught if they can't upgrade the offense.  Just counting on Sandoval to be better and Pagan to be healthy is not enough.  The Giants need a left fielder.  I'd much rather have Petit in the 5th spot in the rotation and, I don't know, Mike Morse in left field than have Bronson Arroyo or Ricky Nolasco for 3 years and Blanco and whomever in left field.  Let it be noted, I am a fan of Blanco's.  I like what he brings to the table.  Just not as a guy who gets 400 AB's.  As a guy who can fill in all over the outfield as the 4th outfielder?  Hell yes!  As my SF Giants starting left fielder?  No.  Unfortunately, the market for outfielders is awful.  There isn't anyone really good out there except Choo and Ellsbury and those guys won't be Giants.  So it appears the Giants would have to go the trade route.  The winter meetings are happening soon and we don't pick up our left fielder there then I fear we may be settling in for another year of a lot of White Shark.

My final point, which I briefly just touched upon, is that IF the Giants do intend to continue upgrading their rotation, I would like them to stay as far away as possible from Bronson Arroyo.  I don't know how Arroyo has been as good as he has been with the Reds but I am nearly certain that if we signed him, he would immediately become Barry Zito Part 2.  Yes, I know the Reds ballpark is hitter friendly. Yes, I know AT&T Park is pitcher friendly.  I still don't want any part of Bronson Arroyo, no matter how much he begs to be signed by our team.  Arroyo is the type of signing where you WOULD make fun of Sabean for signing someone old.  Baseball's newest trend is velocity.  This was highlighted by the flame throwing Cardinals of 2013.  But it's an actual event going on in baseball.  Velocity is trendy again.  More importantly, it's effective.  Especially in the playoffs.  The Giants need more heat.  Getting Arroyo would be contrarian of this.  If you view the Giants rotation of 2013 vs the projected rotation of 2014, you have to think of replacing Zito with Hudson (an upgrade and a velocity improvement) and, sadly, replacing Vogey (I don't think he'll be back).  Would Arroyo be better than Vogelsong?  I'm not so sure.  So if the Giants ARE going to replace Vogelsong, they have to UPGRADE.  That means guys like Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and yes, even Nolasco.  Not guys like Arroyo or Scott Feldman. Guys who could essentially be named Ryan Vogelsong.  If the Giants are NOT going to significantly replace Vogey, they might as well just re-sign him and see if he can bounce back.  I believe Sabean has the expectation that pitching prospect Edwin Escobar will eventually be in the 2014 rotation at some point so spending money on a starter after getting Hudson doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me unless Escobar falters.  Arroyo is looking for 3 years and a decent annual average value so I say let him get it elsewhere and for goodness sake's Sabean get us a left fielder.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Giants Offseason Preview

I've been a bad Giants blogger.  I haven't written since mid-season, since the All-Star break after Tim Lincecum threw his no-hitter.  Honestly, I was just depressed.  The 2013 season went down the tubes shortly after that and the Dodgers caught fire.  I just couldn't find the time to write in between all the tears.  That being said, it's funny how looking at that last post now leads somewhat nicely into this one. Why?  Because the Giants just re-signed Lincecum to a 2 year 35 MEELION dollar contract.

Prior to Timmy's no-hitter, he was on the trading block.  Teams were nibbling and Sabean wasn't exactly saying he was off limits.  Then the no-no came and fans went wild and all of a sudden Timmy was not just untradeable from a marketing perspective, but he became a re-sign candidate.  Fast forward through the end of the season and Lincecum pitched well enough to make the Giants believers that he was evolving into an actual pitcher and not just a ridiculously talented thrower with Cy Young stuff. He started studying hitters (and it's pretty unbelievable that Lincecum had not been doing this previously) and started prepping for his starts in ways most, if not all, starting pitchers typically prepare.  He was a little unlucky if you believe in those sabermetric stats and the bullpen did like to especially suck in Timmy games and the end result was another losing record (10-14) and a 4.37 ERA coupled with a 1.32 WHIP.  However, the Giants saw enough to believe he'll make even more adjustments and become a consistent winner again in 2014 and 2015.  The proof:  they gave him 35 large when it could be assumed he wouldn't have seen nearly close to that in free agency.  But Lincecum is more valuable to the Giants anyways.  He IS a Giant first of all.  He's had some fantastic years in San Francisco.  He was the bridge between Barry Bonds and Buster Posey.  And oh yeah, he helped win two World Series titles.  A 2 time Cy Young award winner, a 4 time All Star, and a 2 time champion.  It's hard to let that type of pedigree walk out your front door even if 2012 and 2013 gave indications that the pitcher we knew from 2008-2011 was all but gone already.

The truth is the Giants need starters.  With Bumgarner and Cain the only two under contract, the Giants were faced with several scenarios.  Keep Tim.  Keep Vogelsong.  Let one or both go.  Find new pitchers.  The Giants somewhat know what they have in Lincecum so they went the safe route.  Re-sign him, slot him in as the #4 starter, and hope to the baseball gods that he surprises everyone and regains complete dominance.

If you have been listening to the Giants brass, Giants fans have to know that their offseason focus is fixing the rotation.  Re-signing Lincecum is one step in the right direction but Sabean, Evans, Bochy, Baer, et al have to know that Lincecum can't be counted on as being their #3.  He is a back end starter now until he proves otherwise (again, that is the hope).  They are talking big about Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, the gem of the starting pitching free agent market.  But the Japanese posting and bidding system is a mess and every major big market team is expected to be part of the bidding.  Aside from Tanaka, the Giants have to be interested in the likes of Ervin Santana (who they allegedly had interest in at the deadline), Tim Hudson, Matt Garza, and Ricky Nolasco.  But all of those guys come with question marks.  If the Giants really hope to compete with the Dodgers, they really can't afford question marks in their rotation.  The Giants won in 2010 and 2012 because their rotation was filled with #1 and #2 type pitchers.  Most baseball people think that Matt Cain simply had an off year.  But let's not forget he finished the year with a 4.00 ERA as well.  Lincecum already is a wild card.  The Giants need someone to add to Bumgarner and Cain that is a proven stud.  Tanaka is the closest thing in free agency.  David Price is likely the best overall option.  However, prying him from Tampa Bay would be difficult for San Francisco.  The fear here is that if the Dodgers whiff on Tanaka, they target and get Price as a consolation.  The Giants have some very good pitching prospects in the minors but next to nothing to offer positionally to Tampa.  And even the Giants pitching prospects may be too far away to entice the Rays in a deal for their ace.  However, the Dodgers and Rangers DO have the necessary pieces to make a Price deal.  As a Giants fan, that's scary.  A rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, Price, and Ryu?  It would make me sick.  If Sabean and the boys could swing a Price trade though, it would be a coup.  Price is controllable for 2 more years and would give the Giants one of the best rotations in baseball yet again.  However, as mentioned, the chances of that happening are slim to none. The good news is that the Giants know they need to make their rotation a priority.  If anyone knows pitching, it's the Giants.

Aside from the need to complete the rotation (and who knows what's going to happen to Vogey), the Giants need a left fielder.  When Lincecum signed his contract, there was some outcry that the Giants just used up some valuable money that they would need to upgrade the offense.  To those worried, don't be.  The Giants are showing they have money and are fine spending it.  The World Series hasn't even ended and the Giants have shelled out $125 million to 2 players: Lincecum and Hunter Pence. The Pence deal HAD to be made and was and props to the Giants for opening up their rainy day fund and splurging on their own guys.   But their job is not done.  If the Giants open the season with Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez as their left fielders then this offseason will have been a failure.  That is the truth.  Although I agree the Giants need to revamp their rotation, they could, in theory, get by with a rotation of Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong, and Petit/Gaudin/Surkamp.  Not ideal but they could get by with that until the 2014 trade deadline.  Even prior to last season, Giants fans were questioning the Blanco/Torres platoon in left field.  It wasn't that productive even before Pagan got injured.  Once Pagan was injured and the Giants had to play Blanco and Torres every day it was a disaster.  This year it's clear.  The Giants need a left fielder.  There are not a lot of options out there and it may not be a "name" per se, but the Giants have to find a way to improve left field.  At this juncture, I don't have any suggestions.  A Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo will not be patrolling the outfield at AT&T in 2014 because the Giants aren't going to break the bank for an outfielder. But they do need to fix it.  Moving Belt there and finding a 1B is an option as well, though the Giants hardly want to move Belt away from first if they can avoid it.

Lastly, the Giants need to re-sign Javier Lopez.  They took care of their first two priorities in getting Pence and Lincecum signed.  Now they need to get their sturdiest reliever taken care of.  It's safe to say Mijares flunked his 2013 audition.  The Giants can offer Mijares arbitration if somehow Lopez gets lured away but it's more likely that he gets non-tendered to save 2 million.  Without Lopez, the Giants are looking at Mike Kickham and the in-the-doghouse Dan Runzler as 2nd lefties out of the pen.  Not very inspiring.  Lopez has been invaluable out of the pen in his Giants career.  With SF, he has a 2.26 ERA in 3.5 seasons and the Giants probably don't get out of the 2010 NLCS against the Phillies without him completely shutting down Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the late innings.  He also is a fantastic clubhouse guy (who I predict will someday be a pitching coach or manager).  His sidewinding ways are a great contrast to what should be a high velocity pen in 2014 (Casilla, Affeldt, Hembree, Rosario).

The Giants have done a great job getting Pence and Lincecum under contract before free agency.  But once the season officially ends with the last out in the World Series (and let's all take the time to thank the Cardinals for knocking out Los Angeles) Sabean and his top lieutenants will have their work cut out for them in making this Giants team better for 2014.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Midseason Evaluation, the Francoeur era begins, and Big Time Timmy Jim!

So the All Star break is here.  The Giants are sending 4 players to New York for tomorrow's game.  Buster Posey, well deserved, making his 2nd consecutive appearance in the midsummer classic.  Madison Bumgarner with his first of what I predict to be many All Star game appearances (hope I didn't just jinx you Big Country).  Sergio Romo with a well deserved spot even if he had to "sneak" in via the crazy pitching rules.  And Mar-co Scu-ta-ro gets to see his first All Star action in what has been a solid if unspectacular career.  3 out of the 4 players are first timers.  Pence lost out on the final vote, but honestly he wasn't deserving over the other guys on the ballot.  Ian Desmond is the one that really got the shaft, not Puig or Pence though Freddie Freeman also earned his All Star credentials.   Pablo missed the original fan vote in and didn't deserve to go either  Hopefully he doesn't gain more weight between now and the resume of play on Friday.  When Pablo does well or gets a big hit, fans like to joke that he looks slimmer.  But it's not funny.  His weight has affected his performance.  I don't know who deserves credit for this graphic but it's damning:

That being said, this isn't a slam Pablo piece.  This is a slam the Giants piece.  Ok, not really.  The Giants enter the break at 43-51.  They are 8 games under .500 but only 6.5 games back.  Things would be a lot worse had Tim Lincecum not thrown a no hitter against the Padres.  Timmy's surprising no-no has given Giants fans a distraction for the break.  San Francisco ended the half on a high note, winning 3 of 4 against San Diego, even with Barry Zito continuing to be absolutely wretched on the road (to the tune of 0-6, 9.89 ERA in the grays).  The no-hitter has started a domino effect as well.  It now effectively removes Lincecum from trade talks even if it still makes sense.  It eliminates the "Lincecum to the bullpen" talk as well.  And it put the wheels back on the "Let's resign Timmy" bandwagon that had completely fallen off during 2012 and most of 2013.  How about this for coincidence; after pitching the no-hitter, at this very moment, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have the exact same career ERA (3.40).  Freaky huh?  See what I did there?  The Freak just happened to throw his no hitter on the day that The Frenchie joined the team, Jeff Francoeur.  

Francoeur was productive as recently as 2011 when he did it all for the Royals, hitting 20 homers and stealing 22 bases while hitting .285 with an .805 OPS.  Wait a minute, that sounds pretty similar to another Royals outfielder we got that one time.  Melky something.  That guy hit 18 homers with 20 stolen bases while hitting .305 with an .809 OPS.  Deja vu?  Doubtful.  Sabean is likely hoping Francoeur is more like his Pat the Bat acquisition than his Cabrera one.  That being said, Francoeur could be useful.  Teamed up with Kensuke Tanaka the Giants may have found their left fielder(s)!  Ok, probably not.  It's still more likely that if Sabean decides to become a buyer he gets an outfielder.  Oh yeah, and that's another thing the Timmy performance has done.  It has likely taken the Giants out of the starting pitcher trade game.  With Vogelsong coming back hopefully early August and Gaudin pitching like the revelation Vogelsong was in 2011 the Giants all of sudden have too many starters.  It's doubtful any team takes Zito off our hands so it'll be interesting to see what Bochy and Sabean decide to do when the time comes.  One thing for certain?  Lincecum will not be going to the bullpen anytime soon.

The Giants have looked mostly bad for much of the season and their place in the standings reflects it.  They have the 4th toughest schedule after the break (allegedly) but have their first 10 games at home.  Those 10 games will determine whether the Giants become buyers, sellers, or stand pat.  If they can carry over the way they played against San Diego (minus the Zito game), they could turn this thing around yet.  They're finally getting healthy and those 6.5 games back don't seem nearly as daunting when you're coming off the high of a Freakish no-hitter.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Top 10 Prospect Round Up (July)

With the trade deadline at the end of this month, it's a good time to check on the Giants most marketable assets.  I've reiterated that I would not want to give up Kyle Crick for almost anyone though I think I'd do it for a controllable starting pitcher like Gallardo.  But aside from that, Crick stays put.  Especially with his output of late.  Here is the Top 10 Prospect Round Up for July:

Kyle Crick (1-1, 1.46 ERA, 1.38 WHIP in Single-A)

Notes:  Crick has come back from his DL stint and has quite simply dominated.  He has struck out 28 batters in 15 innings pitched since being activated and overall he's pitched 24.2 innings and struck out 40.  He remains the Giants top prospect and his value is only increasing.

Gary Brown (.246 AVG, .306 OBP, .733 OPS in AAA)

Notes:  Gary Brown turned it on a bit in June.  He started hitting homers in bunches and lifted his OPS over 100 points.  Overall his numbers still don't look great but his hot June at least put him in the discussion for a potential call up when Blanco went ice cold and Pagan was officially ruled out for the majority of the season.  He didn't get the call but if he keeps the positive uptick in his numbers, he'll get his cup of coffee sooner rather than later.

Chris Stratton (7-3, 3.81 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in Single-A)

Notes:  Stratton has been consistent.  His numbers declined slightly but not alarmingly.  He still has more strikeouts than innings pitched which is one of the main stats I look at when I'm looking at potential MLB pitching prospects.  I have a feeling he's being dangled in trade talks however so I'm not painting him in orange and black quite yet.

Joe Panik (.255 AVG, .342 OBP, .694 OPS in AA)

Notes:  Just as Gary Brown turned it on in June, Panik turned it off.  His numbers plummeted.  Panik is being groomed to take over 2B when Scutaro's contract ends so he has time to prove himself.  He's not expected to be a big power guy so he just needs to make sure he gets on base.   With a .342 OBP, he's still where he needs to be.  An improvement in the average would be good.

Heath Hembree (17 Saves, 4.79 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in AAA)

Notes:  Giants fans have been waiting on a Hembree call up.  He's been labeled the closer of the future.  He was supposed to be Brian Wilson's replacement had Brian Wilson never been injured and was playing his last season in SF at the moment.  With all the bullpen issues the Giants currently have, you'd think Hembree would get a call.  Except he hasn't done anything to warrant the call up.  He struggled in June and his overall numbers in Fresno are pedestrian at best.  His 43 K's in 36 innings look nice but the WHIP and ERA are not what you want from a late inning reliever.  He has work to do.

Francisco Peguero (.310 AVG, .355 OBP, .762 OPS in AAA)

Notes:  Peguero hasn't forced himself back to SF.  His numbers are okay but the Giants are giving guys like Juan Perez and Cole Gillaspie opportunities instead of Peguero.  That says something about what the Giants think of Frankie Pegs overall.  At a time where the Giants absolutely have a chance to audition someone internally for the LF spot, they're not giving Peguero or Roger Kieschnick the job.  You wonder if they can't force the issue now, will they ever?

Martin Agosta (7-3, 2.18 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in Single-A)

Notes:  Agosta continues to be a revelation.  Opponents are batting just .186 off him.  He has 92 K's in 74.1 IP.  He has only given up 48 hits.  Granted, it's A ball we're talking about here.  That being said, it's impressive.  This guy is flying under the radar but he's developing into a legitimate stud.

Chris Heston (7-5, 5.73 ERA, 1.60 WHIP in AAA)

Notes:  The good news is Heston's numbers actually improved between May and June.  The bad news is they're still not good.  Heston right now is looking like a fringe prospect.  He could be a long man in the pen perhaps but his status as a starting prospect doesn't look great at the moment.

Eric Surkamp (1-0. 2.66 ERA, 0.84 WHIP between A and AAA)

Notes:  Surkamp was activated off the 60 day DL in June and started throwing for the first time in over a year after recovering from Tommy John surgery.  He made 5 starts for San Jose before being promoted to Fresno.  As the Giants best MLB ready starter, the lefty is likely being used as trade bait to acquire a veteran starting pitcher.  Right now Surkamp is proving his health and taking his turns in the Grizzlies rotation.  If he's not traded, he will likely have the inside track to replace one of the soon to be departed Giants starters in 2014.

Edwin Escobar (2-4, 3.19 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in Single-A)

Notes:  The Giants most promising guys are a couple seasons away from San Francisco.  Escobar is one of them.  He has continued to put up good numbers in San Jose.  He has 86 strikeouts to 15 walks in 68 innings pitched.  Combined with Agosta, Crick, and Stratton the Giants have some talented young pitching in the lower levels of their minor leagues.  If the Giants are serious about making trades this July, it would not be surprising to see of these names go elsewhere.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Giants Need Help

So this season is quickly starting to resemble 2011.  And that is not a good thing.  The only silver lining is Buster Posey is healthy and hitting.  Otherwise, this looks a whole lot like 2011 except our pitching sucks.  With Posey out in 2011, the Giants pitching was phenomenal to keep the Giants afloat even though the line-up couldn't crack a pinata.  Then Sabean dealt Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran and we all know how that turned out.

Are we going to have a redux in 2013?  The Giants have seen many important contributors hit the DL throughout the season.  Vogelsong, Casilla, and Pagan are missing major time.  And we've had Pablo's annual DL stint and subsequent grumblings about his fitness.  Scutaro is playing with bendy fingers as is Brandon Crawford.  Andres Torres is starting pretty much every game, which in 2010 was a great thing.  In 2013, it's not so good.

So what does Sabean do?  This team has fallen under .500 (unbelievable) and looks like it's about to fall off a cliff unless SOMETHING changes.

The Giants are underperforming.  Their defense has been inconsistent, their offense of late has been sputtering, and the pitching?  Well, the pitching is being very non-Giants like.  The starters are coughing up early runs and not lasting very long in general.  This is overtaxing a bullpen missing it's 8th inning setup guy and it's showing.  Bochy has a penchant for mixing and matching bullpen arms and finding the right formula but right now, he's at a loss.  If it's not Kontos giving it up, it's Affeldt.  When not Affeldt, it's Jake Dunning (who??).  When it's not Dunning, it's Sandy Rosario (wait, who??) though he's actually been the best of late.

The Giants have lost their identity.  They used to be pitching and defense.  Now they're... well, now they're not pitching and defense.  They dig a hole for a line-up that hits well for average but poor for power and doesn't drive the ball much to score runners.

Hence, 38-41.

So what does Sabean do?  Does he trade another top prospect (Crick?) for a rental player?  Does he stand pat and wait to get healthy (at which point, the Giants might be behind the Dbacks by double digits)?  Does he just go and outbid the Dodgers for Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez ?  The answer by the way is no on that one because no one is going to outbid the Dodgers.

What is the biggest need?  A shutdown reliever?  A corner outfielder that hits for power?  A starting pitcher?  All of the above really, but by all accounts Sabean is looking for pitching.  Starting pitching.  The last time the Giants dealt for a starter?  I can't even remember to be honest.  They got Brad Penny in 2009 but he was on the trash heap and required no actual trade.  That's how consistent the Giants pitching has been.  Until now.  So what's out there?  Here are the top names you hear with their career numbers and age:

Ricky Nolasco     (4.43 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, age 30)
Matt Garza           (3.85 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, age 29)
Yovani Gallardo  (3.69 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, age 27)
Bud Norris           (4.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, age 28)

No ace numbers in that lot.  But the Giants don't need an ace.  They need someone who can pitch innings and pitch effectively.  Nolasco is having a good season but he's been inconsistent in his career.  Miami is a stadium that favors pitchers so the AT&T effect would be limited.  Garza was the one time Rays ace and I like him a lot.  The Cubs will deal him and I'd be happy to have him as our #3.  But he's injury prone.  And we don't want another Beltran case where we give away something of value and then the return gets hurt immediately.  Garza is a question mark healthwise.  Norris k's a lot of guys but is he really that good?  I don't like the WHIP.  Even if he moves to a much friendlier pitching park and plays for a contender, that 1.40 scares me.  Which leaves Gallardo.  Gallardo is my ideal acquisition.  He's also the only one I'd be okay with giving Kyle Crick up for though I REALLY don't want to give up Crick.  Gallardo is having a mediocre season but he is the Brewers ace and he eats innings and strikes out a bunch of guys.  Well, normally he does.  His K rate and velocity are down this year which is a red flag.  But he's under control for 2.5 more seasons and would give the Giants some insurance should they allow Zito and Lincecum to leave after this season.  A rotation of Cain, Bumgarner, Gallardo, and Vogelsong as the starting 4 is pretty dang good.  But to be honest, I would take any of these guys right now.  Watching Zito on the road and Lincecum every other start (one good, one bad) is driving me insane and taxing our bullpen.  You acquire another starter and you get to put Gaudin (or Timmy) in the bullpen which hopefully solves two problems.

In the end though, the Giants need to do something.  And do it quick.  Otherwise they may get buried.  Their only salvation has been that the NL West has become mediocre as a whole.  They're lucky to only 4 games back at this juncture.  Let's see what Sabean does...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Top 10 Prospect Round Up (June)

I am going to start a new addition to SF Giants Guy wherein I will quickly post the numbers of our top 10 prospects at the beginning of every month. It is based on the Top 20 Prospects found on the San Francisco Giants website (link here).

Here is the June roundup:

Kyle Crick (0-1, 0.93 ERA, 1.97 WHIP in Single A)

Notes: Crick was just recently activated from the DL.  He has only thrown 9.2 innings thus far in 2013. 

Gary Brown (.213 AVG, .278 OBP, .608 OPS in AAA)

Notes: No way around it, Brown has been a disappointment this year. Some Giants fans were hoping that Brown would be a midseason call up this year. Not going to be the case with these numbers. 

Chris Stratton (6-3, 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in Single A)

Notes: Nothing flashy here about Stratton. He's doing well but not really opening eyes. At least not based on the stat lines. 

Joe Panik (.290 AVG, .378 OBP, .765 OPS in AA)

Notes: Panik was an underrated pick when the Giants drafted him. He's doing nothing to disprove he's the heir apparent at second base once Scutaro's contract ends. 

Heath Hembree (13 saves, 3.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in AAA)

Notes: Closer of the future? Main set up man for Romo in 2013? Bochy has alluded that Hembree's time is right around the corner. 

Francisco Peguero (.328 AVG, .363 OBP, .800 OPS in AAA)

Notes: Torres has actually hit well against lefties and Blanco has done okay against righties. However, neither really offer long term value. If Blanco or Torres or both hit the skids, we'll likely see Peguero get an extended look. I still like him better as a bench option right now than Brett Pill. 

Martin Agosta (5-2, 2.47 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in Single A)

Notes: This kid has 71 K's in 54.2 IP. Wonder why we haven't heard more about him? Right now he's looking to be our 2nd best pitcher in the system behind Crick. 

Chris Heston (5-4. 5.97 ERA, 1.72 WHIP in AAA)

Notes: Heston had a great season last year in AA. His average stuff is not translating well in Fresno this season. 

Eric Surkamp (60 Day DL, has not pitched in 2013)

Notes: Would not be surprised to see Surkamp activated in July and "showcased" for a potential trade. Of course, with the futures of Vogelsong, Lincecum, and Zito up in the air, the Giants might want to hold on to their most MLB ready starter. 

Edwin Escobar (0-2, 3.35 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in Single A)

Notes: This lefty is putting up solid numbers through the first two months of the season. His stock should continue to rise.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Vogelsong, Kickham and the Million Dollar Question(s)

The Giants just finished up the first 50 games of the season and there's a lot to like, a lot to improve upon, and a lot of important questions.  

San Francisco's record stands at 28-22 and they're tied for first place with Arizona.  After losing 3 of 4 to the Rockies in Curse Field, the Giants rebounded by taking 2 of 3 against Colorado at home and knocking Denver into 2nd place.  They improved to 18-10 against the NL West and have the best intradivision record in the National League.  

However, the starting rotation remains unstable.  The Giants starters stats after a third of their season looks like this:

Cain           (4-2, 5.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)
Bumgarner (4-2, 2.90 ERA, 1.01 WHIP)
Lincecum   (3-4, 4.75 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
Zito            (3-3, 4.13 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) 
Vogelsong  (2-4, 7.19 ERA, 1.73 WHIP) 

That's not pretty.  Cain has been getting better and his WHIP is fine but he had a short outing today; throwing a lot of pitches in the first two innings of what would be a 5 inning appearance.  The rest of the numbers are ugly minus Bumgarner's, who looks to be the only Giants starter that may be considered for the All Star Game in 2013.  

And then there's Vogelsong.  Vogelsong had a miserable April and May.  Finally, on a night when he looked to regain his stuff and mechanics, he broke his pitching hand swinging at a pitch while at bat.  It had to happen sometime.  The Giants starters had stayed remarkably healthy since 2010 with only a handful of starts from 2010-2012 taken by anyone other than the main rotation stalwarts.  Thankfully, Vogelsong's injury is fluky and he should rejoin the rotation sometime shortly after the All Star Break.  That being said, the important question quickly turned into who would take Vogelsong's slot in the rotation.  The contenders were Chad Gaudin, Chris Heston, Shane Loux, and Mike Kickham.  

The one that finally got the call?  LHP Mike Kickham.  

Kickham was drafted in 2010 in the 6th round and he caught the attention of prospect hounds with a solid AA campaign in 2012 (11-10, 3.05 ERA, and a 1.29 WHIP).  His 2013 campaign didn't start out all that well aside from impressing top brass in Spring Training.  However, his last 5 starts are what earned him the call up (31.1 IP, 6 ER, 29 K's, 9 BB).  Kickham has been throwing the ball well in Fresno and it became clear that Bochy did not want to move Chad Gaudin out of the bullpen.  So Kickham makes his debut against the A's after Memorial Day and as long as he throws quality innings, he should be in the rotation for the foreseeable future.  The revamped rotation will look as follows:
Cain           RHP
Bumgarner  LHP
Kickham     LHP
Lincecum   RHP
Zito            LHP

However, Vogelsong's absence highlights a couple of important things as well.  Kickham is a complete question mark at the major league level.  He is not considered a top prospect (he is the Giants #12 prospect overall) and the Giants really didn't have any better choice.  Kyle Crick remains the best prospect in the system but he's not close to the majors.  Which leads to the bigger question: What are the Giants going to do about their lack of starting pitching depth? 

If the rotation continues to struggle as a group, does GM Brian Sabean trade for a starter?  Cliff Lee is out there and the Phillies don't look to be a contender this year.  Would the Giants trade for Lee?  Do they have a package good enough to interest Philadelphia?  Hard to say at this juncture.  But Lee doesn't seem like the move Sabean would make, especially with his contract.  More realistic options that should be available via trade would be Marlins RHP Ricky Nolasco, Cubs RHP Matt Garza, and the Astros RHP Lucas Harrell, RHP Bud Norris, and LHP Erik Bedard.  Of that group, Garza is the most intriguing.  He's a free agent after this season but has ace potential when healthy; something he has not been in recent history.  Still, if the Giants are looking for a stop gap in the wake of Vogelsong's injury and Lincecum's continued struggles, they may look outside the organization for help. 

The 2nd part of this question is what do the Giants do with their rotation 2014?  Cain and Bumgarner are under contract but Lincecum, Zito, and Vogelsong could all become free agents.  Given that Vogelsong finally showed a glimpse of his old self before breaking his hand, it's highly likely the Giants pick up his 6.5M option.  Equally likely is that the Giants decline Zito's 18M option and pay him 7M to become a free agent instead.  It's possible they re-sign Zito to a (much) smaller contract even if they decline his option but it'll likely depend on his overall numbers for 2013.  Right now he's pitching okay.  As sad as it is to say, Tim Lincecum looks to be the odd man out.  Unless Timmy takes a huge pay cut, it's likely the Giants will let him sign with another team in the winter. 

The free agent starting pitching market does not have a lot of sure things in it.  A lof of good arms that have question marks.  But the truth of the matter is that the Giants could be looking to fill 3 rotation slots in the offseason.  And with their lack of pitching depth, it's hard to envision them giving two slots to young arms like Surkamp, Kickham, and Heston.  So the question becomes which starters do they keep, which do they let go, and what starters do they acquire to replace those departed?  Vogelsong's unfortunate injury has given Mike Kickham the first shot.  We will see how it plays out.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Giants Are Pretty Good

So we're 6 weeks into the season and the Giants stand alone in first place with a 23-15 record.  They've done it with some amazing timely hitting and solid bullpen work.  But they sure as shit haven't done it with their strength - starting pitching.

In fact, it's pretty impressive what the Giants have done thus far given the fact that Ryan Vogelsong has an ERA in the high 7's, Matt Cain has only recently gotten his ERA below 6, and that Tim Lincecum remains an enigma.  Barry Zito has been nearly untouchable at home (33 IP, 2 ER) but has been clobbered in his only 2 road starts (6.1 IP, 15 R, 10 ER).  Hopefully he can figure out how to pitch in the road grays.  And then there's our other lefty, Madison Bumgarner, who is shaping up to be the staff ace in 2013.

(Side note:  The Giants rotation is so eerily similar to that Braves rotation of the 90's, wherein each season a different ace stood above the rest.  Cain is our Maddux.  Bumgarner our Glavine.  And Lincecum our Smoltz.  Vogelsong most definitely fills the roll of Steve Avery/Kevin Millwood while Barry Zito is our Denny Neagle.)

But aside from Zito at home and Bumgarner all the time, the starting pitching has been borderline average.  Starting pitching is this team's bread and butter.  However, unexpectedly, this team has come out guns blazing offensively.  There have already been a seasons worth of late inning comebacks.  More than I can remember in the past few years alone.  Amazing 9th inning game tying homers (even if they turned into losses in the end).  This team shows a lot of fight.  It's like they came back in Cincinnati and St. Louis and determined that from henceforth they will be the Comeback Kids.  It's their new identity.  The club doesn't seem to know what to do when it has a lead.  So usually the pitchers cough it up.  It can't be a comeback if you're ahead the whole time!

Which makes this team pretty fun to watch.  The Giants believe in themselves and it's starting to rub off on their fans.  There was a time when the Giants would be down 2 runs or so in the 7th inning and Giants fans felt the game was over.  Not anymore.  The Giants are proving that their run to the title in 2012 was no fluke.  The line-up from top to bottom is strong, what with Brandon Crawford becoming a true blue hitter and Brandon Belt starting to pick it up a bit.  Pagan has been in a little slump of late but he started the season strong.  Scutaro has come on real strong after a poor April.  And Sandoval, Posey, and Pence have given the Giants a a legitimate 3-4-5 middle of the order for the first time since, well, since 2010 when they had a productive Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell (and that Posey guy).

Romo has shown that his October heroics were no mirage as he has saved 12 of 14 opportunities.  The Giants bullpen overall has been a strength though I still feel they're missing that go to 8th inning set up guy.  Casilla gets a lot of flak from Giants fans but the truth is, more often than not, he gets the job done.  But no Giants fan feels safe when he comes in.  Same with Affeldt.  I'd prefer Affeldt and Casilla to be the 7th inning guys.  Lopez is a fantastic LOOGY.  But I feel the Giants need that elite 8th inning set up man to really firm up the club.

Of course, the starting pitching really needs to round into form as well.  Lincecum lowered his ERA to 4.07 in his victory over the Braves and he's gone 7 innings in 3 of his last 4 starts and Cain has looked improved.  Vogelsong has not yet righted the ship.  He needs to get it figured out.  The Giants offense has bailed the pitching out for most of the season thus far.  But the Giants identity IS the starting pitching and hopefully they're getting to where they need to be.

It is nice to know they've dominated their divisional rivals, going 15-6 in the NL West, and sweeping each and every divisional rival already.  That's a good sign.  And taking 3 of 4 from the Atlanta Braves is another notch in the belt.

The Giants are a good team.  As they should be.  They are the defending champs.  And 95% of that 2012 team returned.  They've been lucky to stay healthy for the most part thus far.  And the guys expected to produce in the line-up HAVE produced.  Now it's the pitchers turn.  If they come around, it could be another great summer at AT&T.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 MLB Predictions

It's that time of year where predictions are due.  With that in mind, I'll present my non-scientific and most likely completely wrong picks for 2013.  However, my predictions were not terrible last year (view them here), I nailed 3 of 6 division winners, 6 of 10 playoff teams, the AL Cy Young, the ALCS, and the WS NL representative.  So overall, not terrible.  Here they are for the '13 season (Bold = Division Winners, Italics = Wildcards):

AL East:  Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox
AL Central:  Tigers, White Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins
AL West:  Angels, A's, Rangers, Mariners, Astros

NL East:  Nationals, Phillies, Braves, Mets, Marlins
NL Central:  Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Brewers, Cubs
NL West:  Giants, Dbacks, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres

ALDS:  Rays vs Tigers, Jays vs Angels
NLDS:  Phillies vs Nationals, Cardinals vs Giants
ALCS:  Jays vs Tigers
NLCS:  Giants vs Nationals

World Series:  Tigers vs Nationals

World Series Winner:  Tigers

AL MVP:  Mike Trout
NL MVP:  Bryce Harper
AL Cy Young:  Justin Verlander
NL Cy Young:  Stephen Strasburg
AL Rookie of the Year:  Jurickson Profar
NL Rookie of the Year:  Zach Wheeler

A look at the AL East:  There is definitely a changing of the guard going on here.  The Yankees are old.  The Red Sox don't have strong starting pitching in a division that now has a lot of it.  Meanwhile, the Jays were the offseason darlings.  The Marlins can attest that doesn't always pay off and the Jays are made of a lot of the players that failed in Miami but they're likely the best all around team in the AL East and should win the division.  The Orioles, coming off a surprising 2012 where they made the playoffs for the first time since I was in high school, didn't do anything this offseason.  That's too much reliance on the status quo for a team that was very lucky in 2012.  I expect them to fall back.  The Rays churn out starting pitching year after year, despite losing James Shields.  If Longoria stays healthy all year, uber prospect Myers comes up at some point, and Fernando Rodney replicates even a shade of what he did last season, the Rays should be a wildcard contender.

A look at the AL Central:  This is the Tigers den.  All the other AL Central teams are flawed in some way.  The Indians offense should score plenty of runs but they have really poor starting pitching.  The White Sox are well balanced but their offense relies heavily on soon to be 38 year old Paul Konerko and 33 year old big whiffer Adam Dunn.  Not to mention they have two guys at third base Giants fans are familiar with - Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie.  Not fantastic options at the hot corner.  The Royals made a big splash by getting James Shields but I still don't see enough pitching for them to finish any higher than 3rd place.  And if Hosmer and Moustakas don't bloom the Royals are in for another tough season.  The Twins are a step up from a minor league team but they're not close to contention.

A look at the AL West:  Is the Rangers window closing?  They still have a lot of talent in their farm system, highlighted by #1 prospect Jurickson Profar.  Yu Darvish had an impressive "rookie" year.  But they didn't replace Josh Hamilton's bat and struck out on almost all the free agents and trade targets they pursued.  With Hamilton teaming up with Pujols in Anaheim, it looks like the Rangers short reign of terrorizing the AL West is ending.  Will Rangers fans look back on 2010-2011 as the glory years when Texas made it to back to back World Series before choking away a division title in 2012 to the A's in the last game of the season and then falling on their face in the AL Wildcard round?  They might.  Right now the Angels look to challenge the Tigers as the best team in the American League while the A's are full of young pitching talent that can make them contenders for several seasons much like the Rays in the AL East.  With the Mariners lacking punch in the line-up and the Astros looking to be the worst team in baseball in 2013, the AL West is likely the Angels and Athletics division to take. 

A look at the NL East:  The top 3 teams figure to be in for a dogfight for the division crown.  The Mets are in the middle of their rebuild and the Marlins are a joke.  That leaves the Braves, Nationals, and Phillies as the three legitimate teams in one should be a hotly contested division race.  The Nationals on paper look to have the best team in the National League.  They have above average starters in their first 4 rotation slots.  Their ace has no innings restrictions this season and he's primed for a big year.   The pitching is complemented by a line-up that can and will score runs.  They're anchored by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman but they filled a huge void by acquiring centerfielder Denard Span to bring Gold Glove defense and legitimate leadoff hitting capabilities to the line-up.  Not to mention they have three guys who could be closers on other teams in their bullpen.  In short, Washington is stacked and should not only win the division but should have the best record in the National League.  They'll face competition from a Braves team that retooled with the Upton Bros but unlike some, I'm not sold on the Braves starting pitching.  Tim Hudson has been Mr. Reliable but Kris Medlen could have been a fluke and Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, and Julio Teheran are not sure things.  The Braves do have the best closer in baseball at present but can they hold off a resurgent Phillies team?  The Phils are the biggest wildcard.  They're healthy.  They're a bit old.  But they still have immense talent in their rotation with Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee and their line-up should still cobble together enough runs to support the staff.  They should be in the hunt.

A look at the NL Central:  The Reds have a very good team.  For all intents and purposes, they should have knocked off the eventual World Champion Giants in the Division Series.  They return essentially the same team, only subbing out Drew Stubbs for Shin-Soo Choo, which is an upgrade offensively and a bit of a question mark defensively.  Aroldis Chapman returns to the closer role where he's dominant and Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier both have room to grow.  They will be a force.  Unfortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals just know how to win.  On paper, the Reds have the better team overall.  But the Cardinals have some young players that can come up during the season that can shore up some deficiencies.  They also have promising young arms in Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and Trevor Rosenthal who all might make appearances in the rotation if any incumbents struggle.  St. Louis always finds ways to score runs and their culture of winning should allow them to sneak past Cincinnati for the division.  The Pirates look to end their 20 year losing streak and may finally have a team that will do it. The Pirates are a dark horse to contend as they have up until the latter months in both 2011 and 2012.  In 2013 they may be able to complete the season with a winning record thanks to the efforts of talented youngsters Gerrit Cole and Pedro Alvarez.  Cole has been mentioned as a possible Verlander type talent and Pirates fans will be clamoring for his call-up.  He could be a difference maker in the division and could impact the wildcard races.  The people in Pittsburgh may finally have baseball to watch in the fall instead of just waiting for Steelers season to begin.  The Brewers line-up is potent as always but Ryan Braun has PED questions lingering and the pitching, even with the addition of Kyle Lohse, is likely not good enough to beat the other teams in Milwaukee's own division.  The Cubs are rebuilding and likely will be big sellers at the trade deadline.   

A look at the NL West:  The two time World Champion San Francisco Giants (that never gets old) reside in this division and they're looking to become a dynasty by defending their title.  No team has repeated titles since the Yankees won three in a row in 1998-2000.  The Giants return their entire starting line-up, rotation, and bullpen that won it all in 2012 and hope they'll get steady improvements from shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt.  They'll be challenged by the new rising Evil Empire, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers have admitted their goal is to have an All-Star at every position and they are not far off from that goal.  However, health will have a say.  Hanley Ramirez will miss the first 2 months of the season and the Dodgers have to be concerned about Zack Greinke, who was troubled with elbow issues in Spring Training.  As their basketball brethren have demonstrated, it's not all about the talent.  The Dodgers have World Series or bust expectations but despite all their spending, they may not be a championship calibre team quite yet.  Manager Don Mattingly will have to live up to expectations and manage egos.  If the Dodgers hit on all cylinders, they are no doubt a threat not only for the NL West title, but the pennant.  However, I see them falling short due to health issues and a lack of genuine chemistry.  This will open the door for the Diamondbacks to contend for both the NL West and one of the wildcard spots.  The Dbacks traded their mercurial star Justin Upton to the Braves and now their outfield, which looked like a strength in the offseason, is more of a question mark.  Can Jason Kubel repeat his 30 homer performance of last year?  Can Cody Ross stay healthy?  The Dbacks will need their outfielders to hit to complement up and coming stud first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and power hitting second baseman Aaron Hill in the line-up.  Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy aren't typical aces but they are smart, competitive pitchers who know how to win ballgames.  Wade Miley likely would have been Rookie of the Year if there wasn't some guy named Harper in his rookie class and Miley is only one of a few young starting pitchers the Dbacks have coming up.  Tyler Skaggs is waiting in the wings and Daniel Hudson could be back by mid-season.  Had the Dbacks not traded Trevor Bauer, my pick for Rookie of the Year last year, they may have had a rotation that could have challenged the A's for best young starting pitching.  Instead, 2/5 of their rotation are ex-Athletics.  But regardless, the Dbacks have talent and should be in the thick of both the division and wildcard races.  The Rockies are still trying to figure it out and will struggle to be a .500 team.  They have the offense but their pitching is a mess.  Meanwhile, the Padres, forever scrappy, will likely occupy the cellar as their pitching has declined the past few seasons and they don't have the offense to make up for it, especially true since they're missing two of their best hitters in Chase Headley and Yasmani Grandal for the first part of the season.  

2013 is sure to give us plenty of excitement just as 2012 did.  The Giants have a legitimate shot at repeating but they will have a lot of competition.  Even with two wildcards, there is a clear line between the haves and the have-nots and the Giants staved off 6 elimination games to hoist their trophy.  Those teams that fell will be hungrier this year.  The target is upon their backs yet again.  It should be a fun ride.  


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Year In Review

It's the 1st day of 2013 so why not look back on the Giants magical season of 2012?

I again disappointed myself by not actively blogging during the Giants unbelievable championship run but hey, when you're SFGiantsGuy you are actually going to the games and not blogging about them, amirite?  I went to 4 playoff games this season.  2 devastating losses and 2 glorious wins.  I was a bear witness to both NLDS home losses.  Monstrously deflating.  I followed that up with front row seats to both the NLCS Game 2 evener and the World Series Game 1 shocking beatdown of Verlander.  The postseason World Series championship run was so overwhelmingly thrilling that after each game, I was too exhausted to write about what I had just seen.  Next thing I know it's 2013 and I haven't updated this blog since the conclusion of Game 4 of the NLDS.

I can't really say (or type) anything hasn't been said or written before about the Giants October magic.  It was a crazy ride and it ended like we all hoped it would, with a Romo strikeout and a victory embrace with Mr. MVP aka Gerald "Buster" Posey.  Now that the champagne and beer shower smell has been washed out of all the clothes that were unfortunate to be part of the World Series celebration, it's time to look back, reflect, and enjoy the season that was in 2012.

It sure didn't start well.  The 2011 NL West champion Dbacks immediately began their assault to defend their division crown by sweeping the Giants to open the season.  Remember that?  Lincecum got lit up in what would become an expected performance for most of the season.  The Dbacks dominated the Giants and looked to be every bit as good as their 2011 team.  The Giants began the season 0-3 and then went to Coors Field where most every Giants fan expected the team to be 0-4 after a Zito debacle in the thin Rockie air.

Except, unexpectedly and amazingly, not only did Zito avoid a massacre, he pitched a complete game shutout.  In Colorado.  No one could have predicted that.  And just as Lincecum's first start foreshadowed a season of struggle, Zito's performance previewed what would become the lefthander's most memorable season in a Giants uniform.  If you had told any Giants fan that Zito would be in the playoff rotation and Lincecum would not, they would have looked at you like you just left the looney bin.  If you had asked any Giants fan if they ever in their right mind would think that Barry Zito would save their season with a clutch performance in an elimination playoff game you would have been met with just a teensy bit of skepticism. And if you told ANY baseball fan that Barry Zito would start Game 1 of the World Series over any of the other 4 Giants starters AND would shutdown the Detroit Tigers line-up AND beat the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young award winning Kate Upton dating super stud Justin Verlander you would have likely been shot with a taser and been committed to a mental institution.  Yet it all happened.  In real life, not Barry Zito's fantasyland.  Zito was Zicasso in October (minus a little blip against the Reds) and his team got his back for arguably the last 2 months of the season, scoring often for him and helping him to his first winning record as a Giant.  Zito, the 126 million dollar man that many Giants fans had been wishing to support but more often loathed, finally gave them a season they could not only applaud, but could tell their grand kids about.  Most Giants fans forgave Zito for his previous 5 seasons of underperformance (and that's putting it lightly) and embraced a new fan favorite.  Zito arguably had the largest ovation during the championship parade.  And that's why you have to love sports.  A fallen star can rise again.  In Zito's case, he was a key component to a winning Giants team and perhaps THE key for the World Series championship.  He was the story of 2012...

Which of course is really saying something when you consider that Matt Cain put together a season most pitchers call a career.  Although he fell short of winning the Cy Young award, Matt Cain started (and won) the All-Star Game, won the clinching games for the NLDS and NLCS and started Game 4 of what would be the final World Series game of 2012.  He didn't get the win but he pitched his heart out when it was evident his gas tank was pretty much empty.  Oh yes, and there was that little game against Houston in June where he pitched the first perfect game in San Francisco's franchise history.  He's a 3 time All-Star, a 2 time World Series champion, and has finished in the Top 12 in Cy Young voting the past 3 seasons.  Oh yeah, and he's ours for the next 8 seasons.

But not only did Zito's 2012 story outshine Cain's monster achievements in 2012, he also beat out Buster Posey's campaign.  When the season started, Giants fans were hoping and praying that Posey would just be able to play.  The plan was to start him about 100 games or so at catcher and have him rest by sitting on the bench or playing first base for the remaining 62 games.  Posey not only played in 148 games, but he was the starting All-Star catcher and highest vote getter in the National League.  Oh yeah, and he also won the Most Valuable Player award.  And the Comeback Player of the Year of the award.  He hit .289 in the first half and then went on a tear in the 2nd half, hitting .385 with a .457 OBP and a 1.102 OPS to carry the Giants past the newly loaded Dodgers.  To recap Posey's short but sweet MLB career - he has now won the Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player, an NL batting title, a Silver Slugger award, a Hank Aaron Award, the Willie Mac award, become an All-Star, and won the World Series twice in his only 2 full MLB seasons.  Is there any wonder he's being called the Derek Jeter of the West?

Speaking of All-Stars, the Giants sent 4 of them to Kansas in 2012.  All 4 started the game and all 4 were contributors to the NL winning the game (and World Series home field advantage, which of course helped San Francisco).  The players:  Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval, and Melky Cabrera.

Oh yeah, Melky Cabrera.  He won the All-Star Game MVP.  His first half was one that gave Giants fans many happy memories.  He became beloved, a fan favorite.  The Melk Men were born.  He was on the way to the NL batting title and a huge payday.  And then he got busted for PED use, didn't apologize or say good bye to his teammates and just... left.  And that was the last we saw of Melky Cabrera.  He was avoided like the plague by the team and signed with Toronto this offseason.  A sad story in a season devoid mostly of bad news minus the Freddy Sanchez and Brian Wilson season ending injuries.

Except that Freddy Sanchez's injury eventually begot Marco Scutaro.  Scutaro came over from the Rockies for Charlie Culberson and his ridiculously hot wife.  Scutaro went on to hit .362 as a Giant in the regular season and won the NLCS MVP.  And guess what?  The Rockies helped pay his salary as a Giant and of course, he became yet another fan favorite.  He'll be sticking around another 3 years after the Giants resigned him in December.

When the Giants initially got Scutaro, Giants fans were less than impressed.  Why?  Because the Dodgers went bat shit crazy and acquired everyone.  And by everyone we mean Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Shane Victorino, Brandon League, and Nick Punto.  That's more than most teams do in an offseason.  The Giants countered that with Marco Scutaro, Xavier Nady, and Hunter Pence.  Nady did next to nothing as a Giant but Scutaro proved to be more valuable than anyone the Dodgers received.  And then there was the Reverend Hunter Pence.  He underperformed once coming over from Philly for Nate Schierholtz but it was his preaching in the playoffs that made him valuable.  Pence's teammates credited him for lifting their spirits and determination after facing elimination first in Cincy and then in St. Louis.  His speeches became legend and the Giants pregame routine became a national storyline.  On the Giants World Series DVD, the best content may be the end when his Giants teammates imitate his speeches and passion and trademark bug eyes.

There were many great moments in 2012.  The All Stars, the Perfect Game, and the playoff run all stand out.  There were numerous individual achievements.  Sandoval hitting 3 homers in Game 1 of the World Series, Vogelsong evolving into a big game pitcher and post season stud, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo helping the Giants survive the loss of Brian Wilson, Angel Pagan breaking the franchise triples record, and Gregor Blanco routinely making spectacular catches all over the outfield, most notably in Cain's perfect game.  It was a great season capped by a 4 game World Series sweep of the Detroit Tigers giving the Giants 2 championships in 3 seasons.  With 21 of the 25 men returning to action in 2013, the Giants have a great chance at defending their title.