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Monday, November 24, 2014

Adios Pablo - A Giant Chapter Has Closed

Pablo Sandoval, the beloved Kung Fu Panda, is now a Boston Red Sox.

And Giants fans are PISSED.

Ok, at least a lot of vocal Giants fans on various social media outlets.  Which is their right, of course. They feel betrayed, angry, hurt.  I get it.  He was a homegrown player.  He, in a lot of ways, served as the face of the franchise alongside Tim Lincecum during the post Bonds dark years.  Back when we had Bengie Molina batting clean-up.  Back when he was "Little Money" to Molina's "Big Money". Before he was "The Panda".

But why all the hate?  Why all the taunts?  Why so quick to the "we hope you get really fat and suck from here on out" type of messages and angst?

Pablo Sandoval is a professional athlete.  Key word there: Professional.  Pro Sports is first and foremost entertainment.  More importantly, it's a business.  It's an entertainment business.  How many of these angry Panda fans have ever left one job for another job for higher pay?  Have they ever made a lateral career move when another company has offered more dough?  How can we be mad at Sandoval for securing his future and the future of his daughters and eventual grandchildren?  He essentially took a new job at a different company for higher pay to do the same things he was doing at his previous place of employment.  Except at this company, he has the option to go on sabbatical when he can't perform his daily tasks in the field (i.e. DH).

There's literally no reason to be mad at the Giants or Sandoval for the way things went down.  The Giants may have acted like they wanted Pablo back but let's be honest, they didn't want him back at the dollars and years he got from Boston (unconfirmed thus far, but alleged to be 5yrs/102M).  They didn't really want to pay him "Hunter Pence Money" (5yrs/90M) because, let's be honest, Pablo isn't Hunter Pence.  Pence is a workout fiend, keeps in shape all year round, is the definition of consistent, and truly loves San Francisco, the Giants, and the fans.  Pablo struggles with his weight on and off, hasn't had a truly great year since 2011, and expected to be paid AT LEAST as much as Hunter Pence.  That's the disconnect.  The Giants saw an athletic yet out of shape bad ball hitter who hadn't quite lived up to his potential the past few seasons but absolutely shined when it counted in 2012 and 2014 and weighed (see what I did there?) whether or not they should bow to the public pressure of extending an offer close to what was rumored he was being offered by other teams.  Especially coming off another World Series victory where he was a key ingredient.  So what did the Giants do? They offered a fair deal that was likely a bit lower than what Sandoval eventually accepted.

They did it full well knowing he'd likely pass on it.  And they probably are relieved that he did.

Did the Giants really want to pay 20M per season to Sandoval for the next 5 seasons?  Doubtful. Posey, Cain, and Pence are already making big time coin for the long term.  Bumgarner is on a steal of a deal but both Brandon's need to be extended in the near future and the Giants still need starting pitching not only for 2015 but beyond.  By signing Sandoval to a big contract, their budget would be constricted not only for this offseason but for the foreseeable future.  Sure, Hudson, Lincecum and Scutaro are coming off the books next season and Pagan the season after that but the Giants still need to budget for future needs. Unless Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, and Ty Blach turn into the next Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner the Giants will need to spend decent money to fill some holes.  A Panda re-signing would have made that more difficult.

With Pablo now going to Fenway, this offseason has gotten much more exciting for the Giants.  The possibilities open up to a much larger degree.  Had they re-signed Sandoval, Giants fans could have pretty much put the rest of the offseason on the backburner.  Sure, they may have signed a middling starting pitcher and some sort of left fielder but it would have been underwhelming.  Maybe a Vogelsong re-sign and Torii Hunter.  Now?  Everyone is in play.  Yasmany Tomas?  Sure.  Jon Lester?  A pipe dream but why not?  Nick Markakis?  Chase Headley?  Yoan Moncada? Max Scherzer?  Throw 'em all into the mix.  The Giants now have funds they had earmarked for Sandoval available to other players.  Yasmany Tomas is the hot name and he makes a lot of sense.  A 24 year old power hitting outfielder rarely hits the free agent market.  Yes, he's a complete unknown but others like him have thrived - Puig (ugh), Cespedes, Abreu... these are all young Cuban players that have made immediate impacts on MLB teams and by all accounts Tomas is of their caliber.  But the point is, the offseason is now wide open.  The Giants can be in on anyone or everyone.

Now, the Giants Way typically isn't to sign free agent pitchers to large deals.  They've toyed with the idea of Lester but let's be honest, Sabean and company have been scarred by the Barry Zito deal (and to a lesser extent, the Cain and Lincecum extensions).  They also seem to throw out any free agent that comes with draft pick compensation.  A strategy I can get down with.

What I foresee for the Giants moving forward is essentially what the Cardinals did in the 2011-2012 offseason.  The Cards also had a very popular free agent leave.  His name was Albert Pujols.  What did St. Louis do?  They took the money earmarked for Pujols and immediately extended Yadier Molina, picked up 2 team options on Adam Wainwright, and signed Carlos Beltran.  They won the World Series in 2011 with Pujols.  They reached the NLCS in every season since his departure (including a World Series appearance in 2013).  The Giants can smartly allocate Panda's funds to several other players and be contenders again in 2015.  I suspect that is what they will do.  It's what they have to do.

Sandoval was a great, albeit frustrating, Giant.  San Francisco had zero World Series championships before he came up and have 3 rings as he departs.  He had a heavy hand in two of those championships.  I, for one, am not bitter at him for departing.  Nor am I mad at the Giants for not going above and beyond to retain him.  There are a lot of theories as to how and why Pablo is leaving and who is to blame.  They may be accurate.  They may be inaccurate. Sometimes, a relationship has just run its course.  Pablo may have just wanted a bigger stage to display his talents.  San Francisco is not Boston.  Or maybe Pablo knew in time he'd be better served as a DH.  Maybe he really likes David Ortiz.  Who knows?  All I know is that I appreciate his contributions as a Giant.  We got 3 championships with him which is 3 more than we had before.  Now, the exciting part begins.  How do we replace him?

And you know what?  Sometimes change is good.  When the Giants won in 2010 and 2012, they retained large chunks of those rosters.  Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan... all of those players were re-signed after helping win a World Series.  It's hard to say now that any of those deals worked out all that well.  Maybe Boston is doing the Giants a huge solid.  I hold no ill will.  I hope Pablo goes to the Red Sox and has a great time and continues to produce.  He has done nothing to garner a "boo" from me if and when he returns to AT&T Park.  All his stats show he's on a decline but playing in Fenway may help him return to the great offensive player he showed glimpses of in this past postseason.  Let's just hope the Giants can replace his production and upgrade the team.  I believe the Giants can and will.  Adios Pablo.  It's been quite a ride.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Giant Dynasty

They did it.  Again.

The San Francisco Giants are your 2014 World Series Champions.  I'll go out on a limb and say that THIS Giants parade, this Giants trophy, this Giants championship may be the unlikeliest of them all. In 2010 and 2012 (2010 in particular), the Giants had amazing pitching from top to bottom. Lincecum was pitching like Cy Young Timmy, Cain was Cain, Bumgarner was a ridiculously talented and unflappable rookie, and even Jonathan Sanchez was awesome.  The bullpen was lights out and featured 3 relief arms that all eventually would be closers for the Giants in the playoffs (Wilson, Romo, Casilla).  The Giants had the pitching, they just had to make the playoffs.  And when they did, trophy #1 came a calling.

In 2012, the Giants again relied heavily on their pitching.  Lincecum was NOT Cy Young Timmy but Cain was having arguably his best season and was the definitive ace.  Bumgarner had proven he was a stud.  And Ryan Vogelsong, after re-establishing himself as an MLB starter in 2011, was at times so dominant that it could have been argued he was actually our #1 starter at some points in the season. The wildcard to that magical run of elimination games was Barry Zito, who took the mantle from Jonathan Sanchez as the lefty we totally didn't expect would be a stud but then was (though Sanchez was more a stud in the regular season in '10 whereas Zito decided to stud it out in the NLCS and World Series).  Again, the bullpen was damn near untouchable, especially with Lincecum used as a x-factor out of it.

2014?  It was the Madison Bumgarner show.  That's really how this postseason will be remembered. The coronation of Madison Bumgarner.  The insertion of Madison Bumgarner in the discussion of best pitcher in the game.  Madison Bumgarner: the most clutch pitcher in modern baseball history perhaps.  Let's recap his postseason.

NL Wildcard game.  Complete game shutout.  Winning pitcher.
NLDS Game 3:  7 IP, 3 R, 2 ER.  One costly error that led to a loss.
NLCS Game 1:  7.2 shutout innings and another win.
NLCS Game 5:  8 IP, 3 ER and a no decision in a game the Giants won on a walkoff.
WS Game 1:  7 IP, 1 ER in garbage time.  Another win.
WS Game 5:  Complete game shutout and the win.
WS Game 7:  5 IP of no run relief, on 2 days rest, and the save.

Cumulatively?  That's a 4-1 record with a save, a 1.03 ERA, and a 0.65 WHIP.  Un. Believable.

And he was at his absolute best in the World Series where he now has the lowest ERA of any starter in the Fall Classic in the history of baseball at 0.25 for his career in 5 World Series games.

So yeah, if Reggie Jackson is Mr. October and Pablo Sandoval was being called Senor Octubre than Madison Bumgarner might be the President of October.

His performance was historical.  He now will be a legend in baseball forever.  And he brought the Giants with him.  With San Francisco winning 3 of the past 5 World Series, it's not a question.  They are a dynasty.  This is baseball.  There is more roster turnover from year to year in baseball than there is in any other sport.  To win 3 championships in a sport where only 1/3 of the teams qualify for the postseason over a grueling 162 game schedule is prolific no matter how some people may try to spin that it's not a dynasty.  The Giants were not, statistically, the best team in baseball in 2010, 2012, or 2014.  Yet at the end of the season, they carried home the trophy.  That, by rule, makes them the best team of the season.

The Giants didn't have the pitching staff in 2014 that they did in 2010 and 2012.  Their rotation wasn't as strong.  Bumgarner was a true ace but Hudson, Peavy, and Vogelsong all were mid-rotation starter types.  The bullpen had only 4 dependable and trustworthy arms in Affeldt, Lopez, Romo, and Casilla.  And it's no coincidence that those 4 have been an ingredient in all 3 championships.  As Kansas City taught a lot of people this postseason, sometimes having a lights out bullpen is as good as having a lights out starting staff.  The Giants and Royals were evenly matched (a Game 7 seemed to be a foregone conclusion 2 games into the Series) and actually mirrored each other in a number of ways.  The Royals and Giants play the game right.  They play the game fundamentally.  It's not flashy or as exciting as hitting monster home runs to casual fans but seeing Lorenzo Cain run and Kevin Dyson running around making ridiculous plays or watching Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik turn one of, if not THE best double play in World Series history is exciting.  The Royals were a worthy opponent and the Giants were up to the task.  In the end, the Giants barely out-gritted KC.  The rest of the starting staff faltered but the pen stepped up when it absolutely had to and no bullpenner was more amazing than the last one:  Madison Bumgarner.  5 innings to save the World Series.  5 innings that permanently will put him in World Series lore forever.  5 innings that etched him team into the history books of Major League Baseball and gave the National League its first dynasty in a very very long time.

This post has the word "history" in it a lot.  It's because baseball fans just witnessed it.  A historical performance by a ridiculous pitcher.  And his franchise will forever be remembered for it.

2010. 2012. 2014.

The Giants ARE a dynasty.  And they couldn't have done it without Madison Bumgarner.