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Sunday, July 20, 2014

MLB Deadline 2014: What should the Giants do?

The Giants began the 2nd half with plenty of question marks as to what they needed to get better and after the opening series with the Marlins, the needs are still muddled.

The Giants are horrific against left handed pitching.  In the final game of the Marlins series, they got shut down by Brad Hand, a guy who had 2 career wins in 39 career games and a lifetime ERA and WHIP of 4.73 and 1.54 respectively.  Tomorrow they get some dude named Cliff Lee.  The Giants have a lot of lefties in their line-up.  Surprisingly, Giants lefty hitters actually have been holding their own against lefty pitchers this season.   But that doesn't mean Bochy trusts those match-ups so that means more Hector Sanchez and more Joaquin Arias (or if we're lucky Ehire Adrianza).  That's bad news for whomever is the starting pitcher that day for the Giants.

So does Sabean improve the bench to limit that exposure?  Does he get an everyday 2B he can trust and Bochy can plug in to the line-up daily?  Does he get bullpen help or a closer?  Does he get a starting pitcher in case Matt Cain's cranky elbow gets really cranky?

The Giants have been linked to all sorts of names thus far.  One name that got crossed off that list was Huston Street.  I would have loved to get Street.  Casilla has done a fine job since filling in for Romo but Juan Gutierrez, Sergio Romo, and Jean Machi have been shaky middle relief.  By acquiring a closer, the Giants could push Casilla back to his 8th inning duties and have more bullpen depth overall. This seems like the most likely scenario in Sabean's world since Sabean always seems to get a bullpen arm or two when the Giants are in contention.  Since the Street option has been closed (thank you, I'm here all week) my new bullpen acquisition target is Joakim Soria of the Rangers.  Soria was once an elite closer for the Royals and now is putting up elite numbers for Texas.  He has a 2.59 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and an absolutely ridiculous 10.5 strikeout to walk ratio.  The best part is he has a 7M team option for 2015 which was something that made Huston Street also attractive.  A 7M closer?  That's a relative bargain these days.  The Angels gave up some decent value for Street but it was a package the Giants likely could have matched or exceeded had they really gone after him.  Street and Soria likely have equal value so the perimeters of a deal have been outlined.  Sabean now knows what a package for Soria would cost.

Soria is my pipe dream.  There are other names out there on the bullpen market.  Notably, Jonathan Papelbon (too expensive) and a few other lesser names (Chad Qualls?).  Sabean has a knack for picking up bullpen arms that are not exciting in name but are quality pieces.  He likely has a list of names that he and his lieutenants are scouting.

Aside from the bullpen, the names linked for 2B are Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Aviles, Gordon Beckham, and some others.  Zobrist would be a great fit for the Giants and if you believe the media, the Rays and Giants have been scouting each others games.  We can pipe dream about David Price, who's name continues to be peripherally linked to the Giants, but it's more likely the Giants are zeroed in on Zobrist.  Recent rumors have the Giants and Blue Jays the heaviest pursuers of Utley.  If Sabean is not convinced a Panik/Scutaro platoon is the answer at 2B for 2014, he may make a move to acquire one of these names.

At this point, an outfield bat seems like a more logical need.  While Hunter Pence has done a great job filling in at the leadoff spot, he's not a true leadoff hitter.  The Giants can't and shouldn't rely on Angel Pagan's return to stabilize leadoff and centerfield because Pagan has had all sorts of injury issues the past season and a half.  Pence is better suited in an RBI slot (he had 99 RBI's last season).  Getting a leadoff hitter would allow Pence to move down the order and provide another bat in the middle of the line-up.  Meanwhile, Panik has done well in the #2 spot in the order and Marco Scutaro is one of the best #2 hitters in the game when he can play so that slot in the line-up seems to have been rectified with Panik's play and Scutaro's return.  The Giants have been linked to a few outfield names like Chris Denorfia, Ben Revere, and Dayan Viciedo.  Revere would be an interesting stop gap.  Denorfia could thrive on a contending team and would be great off the bench if/when Pagan returns.

Finally, there's starting pitching.  Cain's elbow issues can't be downplayed.  He hasn't pitched like he's capable the first half of the season and the grumbling about the bone chips he has grew louder with the recent acknowledgement that his elbow hasn't felt 100% all season.  The Giants simply can't afford to lose a starter.  Yusmeiro Petit has done okay in several starting cameos but aside from him the Giants don't have an answer if a starter were to go down for an extended period of time.  Edwin Escobar has scuffled all year at AAA and he was the guy the Giants were counting on for depth.  Starting pitching is usually the most costly acquisition this time of year.  Would the Giants make a big trade just for depth?  With all the other needs it's hard to say.

It's clear that the Giants have their work cut out for them in the next two weeks.  They need to identify the ONE area they really feel they need to improve and then go out and find the best piece that plugs that hole.

It's always interesting leading up to July 31st.  This season is no different.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sabean's Conundrum as the Trade Deadline Approaches

Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are both now Oakland Athletics.  I guess it's better than them both being Dodgers or Cardinals or any other competitor of the Giants for a playoff spot.  However, it does basically price out David Price (a pun!) from the Giants shopping cart. Did you see the names that went to the Cubbies for Samardzija and Hammel?  Legitimate, top tier prospects.  The Rays, if they even choose to move Price, will look for a similar package.  Do you know what top tier prospects the Giants have to offer?  None.  Zilch.  Zero.

Hence the problem with our Gigantes and the trade deadline at the end of the month.

Last season the Giants prospect cupboard was a quasi barren wasteland.  All our "real" talent was in the low minors we were told.  It was relatively accurate.  Kyle Crick, our top prospect, was in Single-A ball.  So was Clayton Blackburn.  And Ty Blach.  Edwin Escobar was making a name for himself first in Single-A and then later Double-A.  Joe Panik was in Double-A and no one really knew who Adam Duvall was yet.  No, the names that were close to MLB "ready" were Chris Heston and Mike Kickham.  Sort of Heath Hembree.  And kind of Nick Noonan.  Oh and a mid-twenties Roger Kieschnick.  Giants fans will remember these guys because most of them got promoted to our lousy baseball team in 2013 and, aside from Hembree, were god awful.   Brian Sabean did something he rarely has ever done that season - he sat on his hands and did not make a trade.  He didn't trade away his veterans to gain prospects and he didn't trade his prospects to gain a veteran.  He stayed the course.

And why did he stay the course?  Because it was evident the Giants were not really contenders last year and he didn't see a fix out there that could get the team on track.  He also didn't see enough value from other teams for any of our veterans.  So he kept everyone, prospects and veterans alike.  I assume his thought process was that in 2014, our "better" minor league prospects would have more value and that he could retool the 2014 squad and shape them into a contender.

Well, he was half right.  He DID retool the 2014 squad and make them contenders.  Despite a June that would have made the 2008 Giants cringe, the Giants ended the first weekend of July only a half game behind the Dodgers for first place.  Sure, they were UP 9.5 games on LA at one point, but the only standings that matter are the ones at the end of the regular season.  The Giants survived what we can only hope was their worst stretch of the season and they have finally been showing signs of coming out of it.  Sabean was right on that front; he could retool the disappointing 2013 team and make them contenders in 2014 but he was wrong about our prospects.  At least, at the moment, he appears to be wrong. Why? Because at this time our top 20 prospects are all doing miserably in the minors.  That's not an exaggeration.  I think Andrew Susac is the only Giants top prospect that can say he's having a solid season.  Everyone else?  Ugh.  Yuck.  Edwin Escobar is getting soul crushed at AAA.  Derek Law and Mac Williamson are out for the year recovering from Tommy John.  Adalberto Mejia?  Chris Stratton?  Joan Gregorio?  Martin Agosta?  They all have ERA's over 5.   The Giants continue to think Juan Perez is a better use of a roster spot on the 25-man than Gary Brown which tells you all you need to know about Gary Brown.  Joe Panik is the only prospect that has made good (so far) by coming up and actually providing usefulness.  Heath Hembree hasn't been throwing well and has a bad WHIP.  Kyle Crick, our consensus #1 prospect, has a nice ERA (3.22) but has been allowing all sorts of baserunners (a 1.50 WHIP).

The Giants prospects theoretically have LOST value instead of gaining some with more experience. While it's true that scouts and ballclubs don't just look at stats when it comes to evaluating young players, stats DO play a part.  Now, the good news for the Giants is that sometimes other squads covet players for different reasons.  In 2012 the Giants got Marco Scutaro for Charlie Culberson.  You can't tell me with a straight face that the Giants ever thought Culberson was actually an MLB starting infielder.  To trade Culberson, who is likely at his highest ceiling an okay utility guy, for an established veteran second baseman is highway robbery.  And it paid off handsomely for the Giants that year.  In 2010, the Giants got Cody Ross for NOTHING because the Marlins just wanted his salary to go away.

So the Giants are not screwed.  But as the A's just showed, you get splashier names when you have splashier prospects.  The Giants do NOT have splashy prospects so it's safe to say the David Price's of the world are not coming to SF.  But the Giants don't necessarily need an impact trade to improve.  As they begin clawing their way out of the wretched baseball they had been playing, their needs continually shift.  For awhile, it looked like Sabean would need to get a starting pitcher because Lincecum looked lost, Vogelsong was hot and cold, and Cain forgot he once was a really good pitcher. Now the rotation has stabilized.  Bumgarner is an All-Star, Hudson might be one as well, Lincecum has given up 1 run in his past 3 starts COMBINED, and Cain made a mechanical tweak and looks better, though not fixed quite yet.  Vogelsong has pitched better as well.  Would the Giants do well to get another "ace" pitcher?  Sure, what team wouldn't?  But the only ace pitcher out there now is David Price and it's not even a given he'll get traded since Tampa Bay is making a run up the standings.  Any other pitcher available is not going to be a big upgrade over what the Giants currently have in their rotation.  So if there isn't a clear upgrade, why make a trade that would require the Giants to essentially empty their farm system?  Well, there are other areas where the Giants need help...

Second base is the obvious one.  Can the Giants entrust second to Joe Panik for the rest of the year? Panik has looked better as he's settled into life as a major leaguer but the Giants would be taking a big gamble that he'll continue to look good the rest of the year because second base is by far the easiest position to identify as a weakness.  Even if Scutaro comes back in a platoon role, there is a lot of "ifs" going on there.

With Romo's meltdown, the bullpen could use stabilizing as well.  Not only has Romo unraveled but Jean Machi has become hittable.  The Giants bullpen was a strength in April and May.  They looked mediocre in June.  The Giants are using Santiago Casilla as their closer at the moment and he does have the stuff to be a full time closer.  But Sabean loves making his bullpens better at the deadline and if he makes ANY move, it likely will be for additional set up men or an actual proven closer.

The bench has been pretty bad all season long.  Sabean and Bochy are big fans of veterans.  It would make sense if they looked into some additional bench options that could potentially displace Brandon Hicks,  Joaquin Arias, Juan Perez, and Ehire Adrianza on the roster.  Tyler Colvin, Hector Sanchez, and Gregor Blanco appear safe at this point but it's not like they're setting the world on fire either.  The whole bench could use some tweaking but it's realistic Sabean is looking for another outfielder especially with Pagan being such a question mark.

Lastly, the rotation.  Sabean could be looking at starting pitching just because the old adage is that you can never have enough starting pitching.  But the truth is that starting pitching is usually hard to acquire and we've already covered why the Giants can't really put together a package to acquire an upgrade. So while Sabean is no doubt kicking the tires on some starting pitchers, his needs are more acute elsewhere.

If the Giants could make just one deal, what do you think is the most pressing need?  The bench, the bullpen, the rotation, or the line-up?

My guess is Sabean will acquire a tried and true closer.