Thursday, August 24, 2006

Catching up after vacation days

I was out since my last post, then busy getting used to my children's school schedule and am catching up on some news during that time.

"Big V" is for Villalona

The Giants signed over the weekend their biggest prospect signing, Angel Villalona, 3B. This was covered in a number of avenues - the Giants website, ESPN desportes, the Chronicle, the Merc, and Baseball America - and the following uses info from all of these sources. And, boy, is he big, in a number of ways.

This is the biggest international signing by the Giants, beating the $1.3M paid to Osvaldo Fernandez in 1996. Biggest prospect signing by the Giants, period, beating the $2.0M paid to Tim Lincecum just a month or so ago. Angel got a signing bonus of $2.1M. It is the largest international signing since Joel Guzman signed with the Dodgers for $2.25M in 2001 and appears to be the third highest, with Wily Mo Pena's $2.3M signing with the Yankees in 1999 being the highest. Sabean called it the equivalent of another first round draft pick, and, from what Lincecum got, Villalona basically got what a #8-10 overall pick from the draft got. "If he turned 17 and went to the draft next year, that's what he would get," said Sabean.

The 6' 2", 210-pound Dominican only turned 16 years old on August 13th, at which time he became eligible to be signed, and the Giants had to beat out 4 other teams to sign him. In fact, Seattle offered a lot more ($3M) but because the Giants Dominican scouts, headed by former Dodgers scout, Pablo Peguero (who had signed had signed a number of D-gers stars, including Adrian Beltre and Raul Mondesi), had developed a relationship with Angel and his family over a number of years (they were already in contact and scouting when he was 13), they chose the Giants over the much higher bid. The other three teams were the usual suspects: Boston ($1.9M offer), Mets ($1.5M offer), and Yankees ($1M offer). He was signed to a 2007 contract and will begin his professional career with the Giants in this fall's Arizona Instructional League. Sabean said that Angel would be on the fast track to the majors.

About International signings, Sabean noted, "we'd like to be more involved in these areas. You just have to pick and choose your spots because of how we do our budget. In a perfect world, I would like to spend more money in player development and scouting and less at the major league level. Whether that happens from year to year remains to be seen." Rick Ragazzo, international scouting director basically since Sabean became GM, credited the Dominican scouts with having developed the relationship with Villalona that made the player want to sign with the Giants. "The player pursued us and the family confirmed the signing," he noted.

In response to Scott Boras intimations that Angel is a client of the agent, Ragazzo noted only that the player's family represented him and that "you'll have to ask the kid who represents him." But if he's really Boras' client, I doubt Boras would have "allowed" him to bypass Seattle's superior bid, the reason you hire Boras is because you want top dollar for yourself - perhaps, if Boras was really his agent, the family broke from him when they wanted to go with the Giants and Boras was against that.

The accolades for his talent and potential are off the chart. Sabean on Angel: "Angel is a phenomenal young talent who certainly has a bright future. He is very advanced in all phases of the game for his relative age." Sabean again: "For his age, the power is off the charts and he's a real physical kid at 16, being 6-2, 200 pounds," Sabean said. "You don't see those kinds of bats, whether it's here in the states or there, where it's so mature and he's kind of able to control the game with one swing. He's that type of hitter."

There were some views for people who observed Villalona. Felipe talked with a Dominican baseball person who called Villalona "the best bat of any young Dominican player of that age range." A translation of the ESPN desportes news account had this quote from Peguero: "This boy has tremendous abilities, has an enormous power, good hands and an arm by I raise of the average {NOTE: I would assume this means he thinks he has an above average arm}. I signed a (Adrián) Beltré to the 16 years; to Raul Mondesí to the same age and I close had Vladimir Guerrero and to Alfonso Soriano and no of them he had the conditions of Villalona to his age." I think this second statement means that he signed Adrian Beltre and Raul Mondesi when they were the same age and observed closely both Vlad and Soriano at the same age and none of them were as good as Villalona is. I like the comparisons to Vlad and Soriano but not so the ones to Beltre and Mondesi. :^) Peguero also noted that he expects Villalona to make the majors within 3 years.

Ragazzo had a lot to say in the BA piece. "We felt he was the premium free agent in Latin America this year." He also added, "We saw him for the first time when he was 13, and even then he had power. That was attractive off the bat. He has athletic ability, and he profiles—he has a chance to be a third baseman with power, with good hands, good rhythm in his swing, a smooth swing, a pure swing from the right side. He's got skills, he's agile, he's coordinated and can run some for a big man."

In addition, "We haven't had full access to him since he was 13, but we have seen him a lot. We've accumulated a lot of information on him . . . He's only 16 and you never know what will happen. But we've seen him in workouts and simulated games in our academy, and we've seen him hit, and we've seen him fail. The difference with 'Big V' is, we've seen him compete and fail, and get right back up. This is a player who knew he was getting some big money this year, and he still did that. To me, the guys who fail but overcome that and still succeed, those are the guys who become major leaguers. We've seen that inner strength, but we also understand he's 16. We really can't know what the effect of the money will be."

Magowan on the Giants

There was also an interview with Magowan in the Chron on the Giants. First off, Sabean will be back in 2007. Magowan: "As far as Brian's future is concerned, I have a high degree of confidence in him. I don't care about any criticism. It's not Brian's fault we haven't met expectations this year, and I'm solidly behind him." This despite gripes from some fans (not this one!) who have questioned certain moves.

In addition, there are no plan to slash the payroll either. About the 2007 budget, he noted that it will be "where this year's is, around the bottom of the top third in baseball. The issue isn't the level of spending. It's what we spend it on. There is enough there that we will be competitive. Money is not a factor." Sounds good to me. With the Villalona signing and the Lincecum signing at above this year's rates (but at rate of past three drafts), apparently they are already spending money.

Magowan again on 2007: "The Giants will spend money to be competitive. With 11 free agents, obviously there will be a lot of changes on the team. I can't say who will come back and who won't, but we'll have substantial changes. We will be a younger and healthier and stronger team." The Giants currently have nearly $40M committed to 8 players for 2007, leaving the rest for free agents or traded players or the rookies and semi-rookies who will dot the roster. "Our mentality is to compete every year, " Magowan said, also noting that the Giants will not re-build. He also noted that next year is promising because the rotation will still have three or four young starters who've succeeded at some level in the majors.

Thirdly, the Giants are not giving up on 2006 because it is still a winnable division plus the wild card is in reach {this was before the Giants won all those games against the D-backs and also before the Giants lost the D-gers' series}. "... we can make up ground in a hurry ... giving us a chance to control our own destiny." He noted the high expectations at the start of the season and that they have not met them.

Speaking of Young Starters

To punctuate Magowan's point about the starters, Lowry went out on Monday and pitched a complete game 2-hitter shutout and Cain followed up with a 7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K performance the next night. Lowry in 4 August starts and 30.2 IP, has given up 17 hits, 4 HR, 9 BB, and struck out 22, for a 2.05 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and .165 BAA, but, unfortunately, only a 1-0 record. Cain in 5 August starts and 30.1 IP, has given up 28 hits, 2 HR, 13 BB, and struck out 38, for a 3.26 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and .250 BAA.

They are why I'm so positive about the transition years. If we have strong starting pitching from the youngsters, you won't need the best of offenses to stay competitive for the divisional title. Just another one from Hennessey, Sanchez, and Lincecum, and we will have quite a rotation for the forseeable future, and two, well, we could be dominant despite the transition.


  1. Well, they do keep things interesting, don't they?

    On the international front...I didn't know about the Giants academies until last year. I'd suggested (on OBM) that the Giants move to this market, especially after living in the Caribbean and 1) seeing baseball and the potential there, 2) realizing the academies don't necessarily have to be expensive endeavors, 3) that academies can (note "can") be used to produce players, school them in baseball AND in academic stuff (as you can imagine, public schools in PR, DR and Ven...SUCK), and 4) that these places are ripe to accept the goodwill and money of a responsible business venture (professional baseball).

    Yeah, there are some "ifs" here and some idealism, but are either of these things so bad? Obviously most of the players are going to be interested in their view of making millions in the US. Nonetheless, the academies, if well run, don't have to be baseball-only factories where most players are discarded. What's more, I really believe that the Giants are in a unique position to play on history of the region and promote that they were at the forefront of accepting and playing "latin" players before most teams. The Yankees, Mets and Red Sox will always be able to throw more money at players, but teams like the Giants aren't exactly throwing around chump change. A small museum + a visit or two from a former player (from an Alou to a Uribe) can go a long way.

    It'll be interesting to see how things go over the next number of years. I hope that Angel has great success.


    ...whew...that was rambling...

  2. Kent,

    No worse than any of mine. :^)

    I'm not sure about the whole chronology of the Giants academies but they actually did go big in the region sometime in the 1990's I believe or early 2000's, not absolutely sure. Unfortunately, the guy they hired to run the academy, who was a big player in the region (like this scout Peguero apparently is) for another team before the Giants hired him, got emeshed in a scandal regarding improprieties he took with some of the prospects and basically killed our efforts there.

    So I wasn't surprised that our efforts and results there was minimal over the past numerous years and was heartened when we had hot new prospects from the region again last year in Joaquin, Sandoval, Schoop, and Martis.

    Frankly, and I think you already know this Kent, since you lived there, I think it is the allure of just being an American baseball player that attracts the players because while the pay for minor leaguers are a pittance compared to what Americans could earn in other jobs, it would probably put the Carribean prospects in the top half of their country's income bracket (if not higher).

    This is similar to the phenomenon that I read about before about how certain races/countries happen to get into certain jobs, for example, the Chinese into laundry and restaurants, or the Jewish into playing violins or vaudeville. It is not that they were particularly that well suited for those jobs (though many did do well) but society's oppportunities were limited for minorities and they took their chances in the areas they were able to and where they would be accepted. And perhaps make a lot of money.

    There is almost no avenue for the poor in these countries to make good money, particularly when they have to work instead of going to school (if even that avenue is available, I'm not sure what the availability of schooling is there).

    This is similar to how baseball grew up here in the late 1800's and early 1900's, baseball was for the rough and tumble guys, not the college bound kids. Christy Mathewson was one of the few college-educated kids who got into baseball back then, the game was basically the ice hockey of that era, where men were men and they would sooner spike you on the basepaths (Ty Cobb) than play fairly. Baseball became an avenue for the poor to bypass the difficulties of getting an education back then and make a good living playing baseball. Same now for the latin players coming out of the Carribean region.

    And this was one of my hopes for when Felipe Alou joined the organization again, that his legend and respectibility in the region will automatically attract some prospects to the Giants, in essence give us the home-team discount or advantage in signing the top players. There is, as you note, a strong history of Latin players in the Giants past, and not just players, but great players like Marichial, Cepeda, the Alou brothers, and Jose Uribe. I have been hoping that the Giants could use that heritage to their advantage in some way and thought we were going to get better with that other guy, but obviously that didn't work out, so I am gratified to see that we signed Villalona. Even if he should fizzle, his signing should put the Giants on the map in the region, letting others know that the Giants are serious about the region, and hopefully draw interest from the better prospects to come to us first.

  3. I'm happy to see that Sabean is returning (or should be). I, like Magowan, don't think its right that Sabean shoulders all of the blame for the past two seasons. While he did choose those players, and in essence, force Felipe to play them, he couldn't have predicted the myriad of injuries EVERY player has encountered.

    I'm also excited about the Giants seemingly shifting some focus to younger players. Hopefully Villalona pans out well for us (AND Sabean doesn't feel the urge to trade him away). I'm glad Cain and Lowry are continuing to grow.

    In addition to those two pitchers, I think the guy that has surprised me most is Kevin Correia. He's always had great stuff, but at times last year, he'd make you think he would NEVER learn how to harness and control that stuff. I'm glad he's done well this year, and he also eases the Accardo expulsion.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I would like to see Durham and Feliz return in the infield. We should get a platoon of Neikro and Ishikawa at first. That leaves us with only questions in the outfield, and who replaces Schmidt (if we can't re-sign) him.

    All in all, I think next year could shape out well... or at least better than this year.

  4. The only way I take back Durham is a 1 year contract with a team option for any years after that. I would be OK with Frandsen playing backup in 2007, then at some point after that take over at 2B.

    I would like to see Feliz back but not at Winn type of money nor for more than 2 years plus a team option.

  5. Theres no way Durham's going to return on only one year guaranteed, although that would be ideal (I agree). If Durham doesn't return, I only see the Giants signing a stop-gap second baseman to bide his time while Frandsen readies himself.

    Sabean makes it sound like he doesn't think Frandsen's going to be with the big league club to start next season, but who knows?

    As for Feliz: I think 2 years @ 4mil/year should be what he gets. However, this offseason appears it might shape up to be a little thin on third basemen. What other alternatives do you see Martin? Hillenbrand could possibly be more comfortable at third, and is definately an option. But I think I would rather try to rekindle the relationship between the Giants and Rich Aurilia. He could play all over the infield, and would be a cheap third baseman who can put up "okay" numbers.

    AVG/OBP/SLG Comparision of last two seasons (2005 & 2006 thusfar):
    Aurilia: .285/.340/.479
    Feliz: .251/.295/.439

    Only problem with Aurilia is he hasn't been totally consistent throughout his career. But at a savings of possibly 3-5 million a year, perhaps its a risk worth taking?

  6. I agree that Durham's probably not going for it; my main point is that that's all I'm willing to go for.

    Yes, Frandsen does not look like he's starting at 2B, he really needs to make a good show in the AFL after the season ends to get the opportunity. I am guessing Sabean will not jump the gun on signing a 2B until he's seen enough of Frandsen at AFL to decide, so he could wait until early Dec to sign someone for 2B.

    Sounds good to me on contract for Feliz, but I have a sinking feeling that he'll get more.

    I would be OK with Aurilia as a stopgap but don't bother comparing his overall stats with anyone, particularly the last two years, it is totally skewed by his homepark in Cincinnati. In addition, his numbers this year is skewed by his luck on the road this year. Reds as team .832 OPS home/.761 road in 2006, .816 OPS home/.755 road in 2005; 20.7 AB/HR home, 27.0 AB/HR road in 2006; 21.8 AB/HR home, 29.4 AB/HR road in 2005. That's like going from a Feliz HR hitter on the road to Jason Bay/David Wright at home.

    Look at his road numbers from 2003-2005, all sub-700 OPS Neifi-ish stats, how he's all of sudden doing well at age 35 after 3 years of suckitude on the road, I don't know how, but I don't want to pay for that either. If he takes a low salary, then I'm willing to settle for him in order to 1) not overpay for a 3B and 2) for the nostaglia of having Richie on the team again.

    But remember, he and his agent thought it was reasonable to ask for 3-4 years at $8M after the 2003 season and was shocked that the Giants didn't want to negotiate against that. Don't know if 3 years of journeyman life has changed his world-view on that yet, though one can hope. But really, $8M per year and he thought that was reasonable?!? (He ended up with $3M from Seattle if I remember right)

    Another reason Aurilia would be good is that he could be backup if we need a 2B as well, if Feliz and Hillenbrand fall through as options at 3B. We could use a utility player like that, much more useful than a Vizcaino, who needs to play to hit well - well, hello!, utility players don't normally play that many games, what were you thinking?



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