Tuesday, December 25, 2007
I have a whole bunch of stuff I've written on scraps of paper everywhere and I will post them as soon as I have time to. I also just got The Hardball Times 2008 Annual and The Bill James Handbook 2008, so I have a lot of information that will fuel my posts as well.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Of course, that means that there are players from other teams who are now free agents as well. El Lefty Malo mentioned some options at his site, and the Merc today reported that the Giants have contacted the agent (Scott Boras) about Dallas McPherson, who apparently can play 1B and 3B.
According to his BP profile for 2007, he's a proven slugger in the minors looking for a chance to show what he can do, but injuries have gotten in his way. Surprisingly, he is not noted for his defense (in fact, his "defensive limitations" were noted and there are only negative values listed for his defense - or zero - in his profile) and has strikeout issues to boot (though that's normal for a slugger of almost any ilk).
My guess is that he is not necessarily the answer to our 3B vacancy, he will be part of the "1B support" he noted that he wanted to get, and that this will be made known to him up front. Even if they get him, I think the Giants will still be trolling for a starting 3B (meaning there's still the danger that Feliz might come back to us under a two year contract, though he's probably tradeable in the next off-season since it'll be a one year contract at that point), but whereas before Plan B was to start Frandsen there, I assume that that he and McPherson would share 3B (until one takes control), plus McPherson would get some playing time at 1B as well.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Rowand: 5 years, $60M
The Giants signed free agent Aaron Rowand to a 5 year, $60M contract today (link there to press conference). They want him for his hustle and clubhouse attitude, as much as his offense and defense in CF. He's the big bat that the Giants were looking for, ending their flirtation with Rios and Matsui. They are still looking for a starting 3B, support at 1B, and relievers. They are still pursuing Feliz, 3 year is out of the question, but apparently 2 years is not.
The Merc's newspaper account (so no link) has more info on the contract. Rowand gets an $8M signing bonus, $4M in 2008, $4M in 2009. For salary, he gets $8M in 2008-2009 and $12M in 2010-2012. He has full no-trade protection in 2008 and partial for the rest of the contract.
We Are Keeping Cain and Lincecum for 2008
Most importantly, they will not listen to any more offers for Cain or Lincecum. He only listened because when you are in last place, you have to listen to every proposal brought to you. But he felt the exercise was good, saying "We know the value of both individuals, believe me, and maybe more so after we've gone through this exercise. These might be the hottest two names in baseball."
No More OF
They also will not pursue any other OF, in fact, probably have a surplus that they can trade off. Not expecting anything good to come out of the non-tenders either. They are looking for 3B, support for 1B (suggesting that Ortmeier will get an extended chance to play there), and relief pitchers.
They know that they are a team in transition and expect to improve their offense by doing more hit and run, more SB, more first to third, by playing solid fundamental baseball. Because they cannot rely on one guy anymore, they will expect (and need) every one to contribute, top to bottom. They want to win the 3-2 and 4-3 games that they didn't win in 2007.
The most important result of this deal, for me, is that the Rios-Lincecum deal is officially dead. I still don't think that it was going to happen, but the uncertainty killed me. Sometimes bad situations make you do the wrong thing, so I don't blame them for even thinking about it, I'm just glad Lincecum is here for 2008 (and that has nothing to do with me recently buying my first t-shirt with a player's name on it - Lincecum - since I bought a Bonds t-shirt). Sabean, in fact, noted in the press conference (Baggarly's account):
"I did my job, I listened. I said before that's what we have to do as a last-place team. I never put either pitcher on the market or said I would trade either pitcher. We know the value of both individuals, believe me, moreso now that we've gone through this exercise. They may be the two hottest names in baseball."I wish he would have cleared this up earlier, but I guess he needed to keep Toronto hanging there just in case they had to go back to them. This also clarifies that it was Toronto who asked the Giants for Lincecum, though it might have been Sabean who called them and inquired about Rios. And given Sabean reticience to trade Lincecum away, I think that gives more credence to my theory that the owners were the ones keeping this deal alive.
Another CF for 5 years?
I understand other fan's consternation over Rowand's signing though. "What, another CF with some power, some speed? And for 5 years?" According to the book, the Graphical Player, the early 30's are when CF starts to thin out, assuming there's an average amount of CF by age, so I suppose there should be some concern about that. Plus his hard play reminds me of Ken Griffey Jr. and how he was reduced from a great player to merely good because of his injuries, so I guess that would be my greater fear right now, that he injures himself along the way early in the contract playing this way.
But injuries aside, it appears that worries about his reliability are a bit overblown. Ron Shandler's 2007 Baseball Forecaster had a study on reliability of batters as they age and what he found was that typically hitters peak at age 29-30 (Rowand will be 30 the first year of the contract), then go into a minor decline for four years. At age 35 is when players appear to cross the chasm between aged wonder and retirement home, where there is a secondary peak in performance in their mid-to-late 30's for those who make it over.
But Rowand is only signed to his 34th year season, he would become a free agent for his age 35 season. So while there is no 100% guarantee, at least a study has shown that players are pretty steady in performance in their early 30's, though at a slight decline. The study's author concluded: "to maximize your upside from both a skills and reliability standpoint, you might consider limiting the pool of draftable players to 29-34 year-old batters..." (Note: the book is devoted to fantasy baseball, but most of the findings apply to real life as well)
Rowand Good Hitter
I took a look through Rowand's stats and here is what I've found. Because he has played at parks that skew towards hitters, I looked only at his Away stats at certain peripherals that pertain to his batting skills. His key BB/K ratio has been pretty steady while a full time player, he had a low in 2005 in BB but a high in 2007, but his second half 2007 reverted to his career rate, so he's pretty much around 0.28 BB/K but had a nice peak in 2007. That is a very low ratio, but he's proven that he can hit like this. Since there is no sign of regression there in 2007, it looks like his skills are not declining at all, based on this indicator.
His away bat control is pretty good too, though not great. His contact rate (which is one minus his K%) has been very steady at 80-81% during his four full seasons. The best hitters have it over 85%, but as I noted, he's been successful at what he does, so I would only be concerned if his K-rate took a turn for the worse and similarly for his BB%. He is still going strong with this indicator as well.
His away BABIP has been pretty consistent as well. It has been basically around the low .340's, which is excellent. He had a poor BABIP in 2006 of .293, so that would explain his poor year in 2006. Over his career, his peripherals have been pretty steady so I don't think there should be much concern that he is on the verge of decline, he probably should continue hitting well for at least a year or two if not more.
Another stat I thought I would examine was his extra base hit percentage (XH%) for both home and away. Obviously, playing at two parks that increased homers might skew things, and it did in Chicago but not much in Philly. His XH% in Chicago was a full 5 percentage points higher at home than on the road, whereas they were pretty much equal in Philly. The good thing to note is that his XH% has been pretty steady over the year except for a bad year in 2005 (also the year his BB% took a dive; looks like it was just an anomalous bad year). It has basically been in the high 30's, which is pretty good, and which we need in the middle of the lineup.
I also used the MLB.com's Hit Chart and printed out Rowand's hits in Philly and compared it with AT&T to see where the balls he hit there would do in SF. Being a right-handed hitter, most of his homers were pulled to LF, and he might lose one or two out of 17. He had one to CF - homer in SF still - and three to RF, where I am not sure how they would have done since the brick wall goes up so high. However, he is most definitely a gap hitter, he hit 9 balls into the area we call Death Valley in right-CF, 8 for doubles, and I would expect at least half or 4 of them to be turned into triples.
So I don't expect that moving to SF will affect his hitting all that much in our park, the question is how his Away numbers will turn out since he will now hit in severe pitchers parks in LA and SD. That I don't know but as long as he can hit like he has - and I see no reason why not - he should be fine batting 5th for us, doubles at that lineup position is good there too for driving in runs.
And I view his hitting in 2004 and 2007 to be more the norm for him than 2005 and 2006, because the injury might have affected his play in 2006 - in fact, he had OPS in the 800-900 range to start the season, then settled for low 700 and poor overall BABIP after attacking the fence with his hard-nose attitude - and he just had a bad year in 2005, his XB% was way down, which obviously affected his SLG greatly (28% in 2005 vs. 40% in 2004 for away; 34% vs. 45% for home) and his BB% was more than halved, reducing his BB/K from 0.28 in 2004 to 0.12 in 2005, which obviously killed his OBP that year (FYI, 0.29 in 2006, 0.48 in 2007, but 0.28 in the second half of 2007, so that was a fluke, kind of like Feliz's heightened walk rate in the first half of 2007).
If he can hit for a high OPS and OBP, like he did in 2004 and 2007, he probably should be our clean up hitter, much in the mode of Stan the Man Musial, who hit for a lot of doubles and some homerun power. That spot requires someone with a high OBP and Molina hitting there would just cripple our offense. And Rowand has hit for much higher OPS than I expected, I just thought he was more of a defensive guy, he's actually been a .900 OPS hitter twice, legitimately, in the past four years, and his down years are the ones that appear to be the flukes.
All in all, I like the signing. Beyond the happiness knowing that Lincecum stays a Giant, Rowand is a good addition to the team, in terms of bat, glove, and clubhouse presence (nice interview that shows his personality and demeanor here).
Yes, another CF, but as Sabean likes to say, the roster is a work in progress, so I will worry more the logjam there if it still exists in spring training. Meanwhile, he gives us a legitimately plus bat in the OF, not just average or worse like the others. Some question his bat and whether he can be a middle of the lineup presence, but he hit 5th most of last season and had 89 RBI and his extra basehit percentage is up in the high 30's, which is pretty good, and his OPS was .889. And hitting in AT&T won't really affect his power much, him being a righty, as the homers he may lose in RF will still be doubles at least, and he is more a gap hitter in right-CF, so he should get back the bases by stretching a few doubles into triples.
The contract is long, but that's the price of players like Rowand today. His comparables in terms of length last off-season were the signings of Gary Matthews Jr, Juan Pierre, and Carlos Lee, who all got 5 years or more. He is definitely better than either Matthews and Pierre, being their equals or better in terms of defense and offense, and while he doesn't have the offensive history of Carlos Lee, he did hit as well as Carlos Lee in 2007 whereas Lee is a statue in the OF.
The salary is not that bad either. Lee got $16.7M per season average vs. Rowand's $12M per, making Rowand a bargain relatively to him. Both Matthews and Pierre got about $9-10M per season, and I think Rowand is easily 20% better (plus it's a year later now so the Matthews and Pierres would get $10-11M this offseason, based on the typical 10% inflation on salaries assumption). Andruw Jones got $18M per for two seasons, and if you got the old Jones, then that's a bargain, but if you got the 2007 version, you are totally screwed, so I like the risk-reward for Rowand much better, he's a much lower risk overall and his reward is pretty good still.
But, yes, this is a high risk/high reward type of contract. However, any free agent contract today of a good player will be high risk. Will Rowand be this good for the whole contract? Probably not. Luckily, he appears to be a plus hitter and thus he probably should continue to be for at least 2 years of that 5 year contract. And according to the study in Shandler's book, players typically peak at age 29-30 (Rowand's first season with us he will be 30) then have a small decline the next four seasons (rest of Rowand's contract) so the odds favor Rowand being good for us during the life of his contract (pretty being OPS over 800).
He is also the CF that the Giants have been searching for, in terms of defense. He is a gold glove CF, though his PMR rating is only average for the past two seasons, slightly above in 2006, slightly below in 2007. That appears to be confirmed per his defensive stats on baseball-reference.com, his fielding percentage, zone range, and zone range per 9 innings are all about average for his career. However, in 2007, he was much higher in fielding percentage and zone range than the league average so there was some growth there over his career. And with our centerfield and Death Valley, we need a good defensive player there.
For all the reasons above, I like the Rowand signing. I have no idea what impact he will have in the clubhouse - I thought Morris would have done something for the team too - but he has that "warrior attitude" that Bochy said was lacking in the Giants clubhouse in 2007, and matches what I would call the attitude of both Cain and Lincecum, definitely Cain for sure, but Lincecum has a pretty big chip on his shoulder that probably drives him to "warrior"-like behavior. At the very least, he will lead by example, with his hard-nosed play and desire to play everyday and play through the aches and pain of a full season.
Impact on OF
I'm not happy that Schierholtz won't get a chance to start in RF, but I prefer that over losing Lincecum for Rios. In fact, this might work out better because Rios would have been the RF, whereas now it is Randy Winn and he could be traded away to open up space for Schierholtz and Lewis to start there.
Between Winn and Roberts, Winn is the more likely to be traded, he hit better last season plus plays the whole season whereas Roberts needs to be platooned, he can play all the OF positions, and their contracts are comparable. Also, Sabean noted that Roberts probably needs to be kept around since he's the team's only prototypical leadoff hitter, though he also noted that some of the young hitters will get a chance there (which I presume refers to Davis and Lewis).
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Killion questions Giants lack of planning for future, puts them to task for not taking care of that earlier, noting their lack of identity.
First, maybe Rios deal is ownership driven, not Sabean?
Another columnist claims Giants "switch-and-bait" but I don't think so; it could be a trial balloon by owners though.
Don't beat up on Giants for not finding good prospects in draft, they were handicapped by winning.
Giants Identity is clearly Pitching.
Hard to say what decision is Sabean-driven and what is ownership-driven because spending $20M on one player (particularly older, Hall of Famer, plus over 50 years since last championship) drives you to do things you might not normally do. So his actions have been distorted the past few years. But he has been patient where it counts: we still have Cain and Lincecum.
Giants plan has been pitching, speed, and defense. Sabean has said it and shown it. The Giants pitching has been rebuilt, next up is the lineup. Fans need to be patient.
First, someone smarter than me (Grant of McCovey Chronicles in this post) recently wrote that it is unfair and potentially arrogant to challenge a columnist point by point, and when I asked him about it, he said it was like a psuedo-debate because you invariably win them.
I know that wasn't directed at me, but being a reflective person, I examined my own posting behavior and I just want to say that I never intend to be arrogant, I just want to address my point of view in regards to the points made by the columnist. Whether I agree or not, I just want to put a stick in the ground and see if anyone agrees or not, to see if I am off base or not, plus to share the data I have dug up because I assume there are Giants fans like me who are interested in such data. Plus, this provides a position against which to frame the discussion around, which makes it easier for me to write. And for that I thank the columnists.
Ann Killion of the Merc today had a column questioning whether the Giants have a plan or not, because, to her view, it was clear to her that when Bonds's knee went out, the Giants should have started planning for the future. She noted that she felt the Giants made a bad decision losing draft picks in order to sign free agents, making things worse for the Giants, because young players is needed for a rebuild, either to play for you or to trade away. She says that the team lacks an identity and questions whether Sabean will have the patience to build around the young pitching we have that is good but unproven.
Who Made What Decisions
I've been thinking a lot about the proposed Rios-Lincecum trade and her column made me realize something: this may be a deal the owners want to do but not Sabean. Sabean, in all his public acknowledgements of the Rios proposal, always makes pains to say that Lincecum is a great talent, a rare talent, and it would be very hard to trade him away. And he notes that the longer it takes the deal to close, the less likely it is to happen. If Sabean were really for the deal, he would have pulled the trigger on it long ago, without the angst going on in the media spotlight.
However, when the Pierzynski trade was brought up with Magowan before, he stated that had he been apprised of the deal, the owners would have vetoed it, meaning that for the Giants better players, ownership has a say over it. If the owners were against this deal for Rios, they would have vetoed it already, because of what Magowan said about losing Nathan - if they could veto Nathan, they sure as hell should be able to veto Lincecum. But this trade story is still lingering out in the press.
Therefore, it could be the owners who are keeping the deal alive for Toronto, and I'm hoping what Sabean said is true, that the longer this stretches out, the less likely it's going to happen. I think that's the more likely scenario right now because the news from Toronto, after the pimple pus swelled to a bursting point, became decidedly cautious and not at all confident that the deal would go through, in fact, one source was denying that there was even a proposal, as the Blue Jays got into full CYA-mode.
Side Note on Another Columnist
I just read an article by a Toronto columnist where he argues that the Giants are doing a "switch-and-bait" with Lincecum, and I suppose that could be what is happening, but the author shows his lack of Giants knowledge. In his column, he notes that Lincecum is the Giants top prospect, as noted by Baseball America, and says the Giants are trying to talk the Blue Jays into taking the Giants "No.3 starter, Matt Cain, or No.4 in the rotation, Noah Lowry, for Rios." So is Lincecum their #1 starter or #1 prospect? And, really, Matt Cain is our #3 starter now? This seems like he is quoting stuff from spring training 2007, when Zito and Morris were considered our top pitchers and Cain and Lowry were our #3 and #4, with Lincecum as our "top prospect," which is odd to say after he has pitched nearly a full season for us.
I think that anybody knowledgeable about the rest of the baseball world would know that Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are the Giants #1A and #1B starters. Maybe they are not proven to be them yet - as per Killion's point - but if one just look at their full performances as starters for the Giants, one would be hard pressed to say otherwise, unless you say that Zito's $18M automatically makes him one of our top pitchers - it doesn't.
Still, perhaps the Giants are trying to do a switch and bait. According to the author, the Giants made the Blue Jay's GM, J.P. Ricciardi, feel like "he was under house arrest." He then made it sound like the Giants were the ones who foisted this deal on the Blue Jays, then talked about how the "traditional belief is that getting rid of an everyday player for a pitcher is not good," though Ricciardi doesn't agree.
However, his version of reality don't seem right to me. He says the Giants came on about the deal, offering one of our top 3 pitchers, but it doesn't take a lot of homework to have found out that Sabean has said all along during the off-season that it would take a lot for another team to get Cain or Lincecum and that the Giants were not shopping them. Nor to have found out that the Giants main trading chips are Noah Lowry and Jonathan Sanchez. If Toronto couldn't have found that out relatively quickly - assuming they were the ones approached by the Giants - then they have pretty lousy researchers working for them plus perhaps didn't pay attention during the earlier meetings in the off-season when each GM stood up and talked about what they were looking for and what they have to offer.
In fact, to my way of thinking, they should have had a dossier profiling each team's needs and wants so that they would be prepared to talk during these GM meetings, that is, if they were serious about trading with anyone. Heck, at worse, they could have printed out Yahoo's list of each team's Hot Stove needs and plans off the internet plus checked out the news at sfgiants.com, Chris Haft has been a good source of info for those who want to quickly catch up with what the Giants are thinking: here, especially here, and clearly here. That took me less than 5 minutes. Or perhaps I'm too compulsive about things like, um, doing the job you are suppose to be doing.
Now, another possibility has come to mind about this whole deal: what if Magowan put this rumor out there as a trial balloon to test public opinion, perhaps because it is an ownership driven deal? That would makes some sense. He is rumored to have leaked info to the press before to control public opinion (like Dusty's tax problems suddenly popping up soon after he was let go, er, he went free agent; never proven it was Magowan though!). Sabean definitely doesn't like to talk about potential trades with the media, his motto seems to be "loose lips, sinks ships." If Magowan did put it out there, hopefully he has seen enough fans complain about this deal to kill it.
Drafting Good When Winning Is Extremely Hard
Again, like others, who share the uninformed opinion that the Giants seriously hurt their rebuilding by skipping draft picks via signing free agents. As I've noted before, my research shows that the odds of finding a good player with a first round pick is very low (about 10% chance), thus getting mad at the Giants about their drafts, is about the same as getting mad at yourself for not beating out Jerry Rice in a foot race - the relative odds of winning is very significant. Your chances of finding a good player rises about 4 to 5 times greater when looking at, say, the Giants #5 pick in 2008 versus the picks they had from 1998 to 2005.
She used the Detroit Tigers as an example of how they were able to trade their top draft picks for Cabrera and Willis. What she neglected to notice was that both Maybin and Miller were protected draft picks from when Detroit was losing games hand over fist, Maybin was the #10 pick overall in 2005, Miller the #6 pick overall in 2006. Maybin was their pick after losing 90 games; Miller was their pick after losing 91 games. In total, Detroit had 12 years of good draft pick position due to 12 years of losing.
In addition, she failed to notice that the Tigers "rebuilding" is actually very similar to what the Giants are currently trying to do: get young pitchers, buy free agent position players. Thus, when Dombrowski came on, which is where I start the clock on the most recent rebuild for them that returned them to winning, he signed older and physically questionable position free agents like I-Rod, Rondell White, Magglio Ordonez, plus signed pitchers like Urgeth Urbina, Jason Johnson, Troy Percival, Kenny Rogers, and Todd Jones, while obtaining young pitchers like Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, and Andrew Miller. Many of the high picks Detroit got, they spent on pitching: Verlander, Miller, and now Porcello, who probably made Miller expendable.
Ann Killion noted that "The Giants as currently constituted have no identity." Like other fans, Killion missed the subtle change over the past few years: the identity of the Giants switched from offense focused to pitching focused. Sure Bonds was still around and got all the news and attention (from the media, by the way, so perhaps that is why she missed it), but the Giants pitching staff slowly but surely was transformed to the point where nearly everyone on the staff were either drafted by the Giants or obtained via a trade of a player drafted by the Giants.
The future, to me, is clearly about the pitching, and in particular, should be focused on Cain and Lincecum. The signing of Zito was an overt sign of the changeover in identity, along with Zito being front and center on the 2007 Media Guide. But the signs have been clear for a long while now that the Giants future is pitching, else they would not focus so much on drafting pitchers.
Killion questions Sabean's patience, but per my point above about ownership influence, how much of the vet buying of the past few years has been because Sabean was impatient, and how much was driven by ownership wanting to win now with Bonds? And, really, as much as she is right that the rebuilding should have started when Bonds hurt his knee, how much of the subsequent moves were dictated by: 1) the tight budget situation at that time; 2) the fact that the Giants were paying future Hall of Famer (and aging) Bonds $20M per season; and 3) the last Giants championship was over 50 years ago in another city?
That would be like a newspaper signing Pulitzer for big money to join a small town newspaper that reports on the news at the local general store. If you are paying a player $20M on your roster, it behooves you to get the best players available and see what they can do together. Else, you trade away the $20M player and restart.
Hence the signing of vets tactic that the Giants have used since the 2002 World Series. As much as people want to complain, the Giants went out and got the best players available on the market at the positional needs they had that off-season. What more can you ask out of the team?
Sometimes the choices are between a rock and a hard place, and sometimes you are just plain unlucky. There is no way one can complain about the Durham signing, who knew he would become a regular on the DL when he had never been on the DL before, but he was the premium 2B available. Alfonzo was a risk for performance problems, but if the Giants had given Pedro Feliz the job at the time (he was their only alternative internally), the fans would have had a cow, and again, he was the premier 3B available, Boston had a fit when we signed him under their noses. Benitez, as bad as the press was on him, was the best closer on the market, and we had tried internal options but none of them worked out, so if he wasn't signed, I think Herges would have been the closer. Is that the closer of a team competing for the title? It was bad enough to have Hammonds/Tucker as our combination in RF, but there was little money to acquire anyone better, and thus the alternative was starting Todd Linden, and I doubt any team serious about winning would do that, at least Tucker was a proven veteran.
So if you are holding onto a $20M player, who, even after he returned from his knee problems, was still a great player, just not as great as before, you keep on trying to find that magic combination of free agent signings that gets the team winning. Hey, I wasn't happy about the results either, and I would have preferred that the Giants bunched the money together and signed Barry's successor instead of filling the roster with mediocre players, but that's life sometimes. But the vets signing (versus a rebuild) was a matter of putting your best foot forward and trying to the utmost to try to find the combination that would win it all while you have arguably the best player ever still playing for you, we did owe that to Barry, to try to win it while he was still here.
Rebuild Already Started
As noted, Killion wonders if Sabean can be patient in rebuilding. However, as I noted, the Giants have begun their rebuild under fans' noses. The pitching staff is almost totally redone. We don't really have enough to trade off a bunch to get good players back, like the Tigers can afford to do, now that their rebuild was done, and now they are competitive, they are in a different part of the team lifecycle, the Giants are rebuilding, the Tigers are done rebuilding and going for the gold now.
The comments Killion and others are making about the Giants could have been made about the Tigers a few years back: where is the plan, why are they signing aging free agents, why are they subjecting Bonderman to such horrible losses from their horrible offense, they lost 119 games after Dombrowski's first year, 13 games worse than before he took over, does he know what he are doing? You need to be patient with your talent, keep your clearly great talent, you trade away the others to get parts you need, you sign free agents to hold together the team until the young talent is ready to take over.
Here's what I see about Sabean's patience thus far: out of all the prospects the Giants have drafted during Sabean's tenure as GM, he has kept the two who probably means the most to our future, Cain and Lincecum. He could have trade off Cain and Lowry years ago and gotten better replacements than the free agents we signed over the years, but kept them. Lincecum could have been traded last season and gotten us a better 1B. As much as it hurts that we traded away Nathan and Accardo, they are not players who you would build a winning team around as a foundation. All you need to do is look at the churn in closers over the past few years to see how things can change in a hurry.
And that bring up a good point to my mind: for all those thinking the Rios trade is so good, the arguments made against keeping Lincecum could have been applied to Nathan, Liriano, and Bonser. So is the Pierzynski trade therefore good too in your mind? Or are they clouded by the final, horrible reality?
The Giants plan has clearly been pitching since Sabean took over. As much as the team has been about offense with Bonds around, the Giants drafts have been overwhelmingly about getting pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Our first major group of widely respected prospects were pitchers (Ainsworth, Williams, Foppert). And when it was not pitching, it was speed and defense. And that, if one has paid attention to Sabean's press conferences over the past few years, is what Sabean has been saying is the Giants plan, pitching, speed, and defense.
In particular, Sabean has said that he believes that the MLB will be shifting back to speed dominated offense in the coming years, as the cycle of power/speed goes back and forth and, obviously, the last cycle has been all about power (with the silent understanding that it was PEDS driven). Hence why our farm system, up and down, is full of players who are speed burners, Velez, Burriss, Richardson, Izturis, Sanders, Bocock, McBryde, and most of them are in the lower minors. And speed often translate to better defense, generally, particularly in the outfield.
So the Giants have rebuilt their pitching and are pretty much done. Now comes the lineup, and some of the pitching will have to go. I think 2008 is a pivotal year, if prospects develop as expected or hoped, we should have enough to trade off next off-season to get the team back into the win column. But for now, fans need to be patient and see how things unfold. Hopefully the Giants don't take a giant step backward and trade off either Cain or Lincecum. That would be taking the eye off the ball and swinging at a pitch clearly out of the strike zone, much like a Pedro Feliz hack: useless and the end result will be bad.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Kawakami says be bold and trade Lincecum for Rios, because there's no better offer.
Just because there's no better offer doesn't make it a good offer.
Just because it's bold, doesn't make it a good move for the team.
There's no reason to hurry into such a deal, we are not competitive with or with Rios in 2008.
It's bolder to go against public opinion and to follow your vision, your plan.
Kawakami Riff on Rios
I'm a little late to the party on this - Grant on McCovey Chronicles did some pieces, like this one, on Tim Kawakami's blog rationale for getting Rios, see link on Grant's post - but I thought I would take issue with some of his statements that he made in the San Jose Mercury column he wrote.
Kawakami exhorts Sabean to do the daring bold move and trade Lincecum for Rios, harkening back to Sabean's earthshattering trade of Matt Williams for Jeff Kent et al which prompted the motto that will mark his tenure for most Giants fans, "I am not an idiot." He has no better option available via trade or free agency, so Sabean has to make this move, so says Kawakami. Then he says that Rios is a potential 30 HR hitter while Lincecum could break down physically.
There's cautious and there's reckless. Just because a move is bold does not make it a good move. If anything, keeping Lincecum and making do with what we got would actually be a bolder move because it pretty much writes off 2008. I think the Giants underestimates the fans. Part of the reason fans didn't attend during the 70's and 80's was because there were not players who looked like they would be great, we had good players like John "the Count" Montefusco, Bill "Maddog" Madlock, Vida Blue, Jack Clark, Jose Uribe, but Cain and Lincecum are already good and has the potential to be great, barring injury and such.
In addition, the Williams-Kent trade was way different from this trade. With the Williams trade, we gave up an oft-injured old 3B and received a starting 2B, starting SS, a very promising starter/reliever, and a fungible starter/reliever. For Lincecum, all we would be getting is an OF who is just figuring things out at a position where we have a lot of prospects ready for a shot, including one who is arguably similar to Rios, except it is early Rios, before he figured out the power and the hitting, in Schierholtz. For a similar deal, we would get Rios plus a 3B (since we need one there) and a pitching prospect.
And where is Rios getting 30 HR? Rios was much below average his first two seasons in the majors. Plus, even today, his HR/FB is nothing extraordinary, so unless he cuts down his strikeouts drastically - and it is borderline good at that - or somehow boosts his flyball rate dramatically or somehow boost his HR rate dramatically, he's never going to touch 30 HR in a season.
Wrong Trade Comparison
Kawakami is also using the wrong trade as a comparison. Trading Lincecum for Rios is not like the Williams trade, it is more like the Accardo-Hillenbrand trade, where we traded away a pitcher before he had established his talents in return for a player that didn't make a big difference to the lineup.
A trade like this expresses the same impatience in team building as the Accardo trade, looking for a quicker fix to the offense. At least the Accardo trade was understandable, as we were close to first place at the time and needed just average 1B help (though ultimately he was just as bad as Niekro). Right now, trading for Rios won't make the offense even average by himself, it is just stemming the bleeding from the loss of Bonds, which is something Kawakami admits.
We are not in a 100 yard sprint, we are in a marathon. Sometimes the best move is no move. Particularly in this case, there is no compelling reason to hurry, no urgency to rebuilding the offense, unless you think the Giants can be competitive in 2008. A deal like this for a good RF/CF should still be available from someone should we decide to move Lincecum later in 2008, but a pitcher like Lincecum won't.
A deal like this is the easy way out, one where you cover your ass and say, "see I tried something." Those types of moves are rarely good overall or long term. And just because it is the best player we can get for Lincecum today does not make it a good deal for the Giants.
To win, I believe you need an overall strategy for the future and stick by it. That's bolder than following public opinion and the local critics. It's easy to say, "improve" the offense, trade the pitching. It's harder to have an overall philosophy, a plan that guides your player acquisition decisions, and to stick by that plan, while understanding you sometimes need to take a step back before taking two steps forward.
It's figuring out if the move is the right step back that will lead to two steps forward, or end up being more steps backward. A Rios deal for Lincecum would be the latter in my opinion, because at some point, you are going to say, we need a Lincecum-type to pair up with Cain. And you won't get one of those easily.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Pitching is king, so says study.
Giants have strategy around pitching, no use trading away developing pitching for lesser value, we need to learn what we got first.
Rebuilding is hard, have to be patient, let prospects develop and go from there, not trade in desperation.
In 2008, progress not measured in wins or losses, but in knowledge gained on our prospects capabilities.
Study Says Pitching is King
I was perusing the 2007 Baseball Forecaster - and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 2008 - and ran across another interesting finding that supports the whole premise of what I have been advocating for the Giants strategy going forward, which is simply: pitching rules.
In the 2007 book there is a study of "Home Field Advantage" by John Burnson on page 34. He examined how runs scored and runs allowed affect winning percentage, modeling the results. He did this study because some fantasy leaguees put a premium on guessing the outcomes of single games.
What he found was that "All in all, the mission for the home team should be to allow fewer runs." And his finding "reinforces a fact of baseball: Run prevention is king. A team that scores 10 runs can still lose, but a team that allows 0 runs can't." His conclusion? "If you are betting on single games, go with pitching, and do not underestimate home-field advantage."
I know that by now I'm probably either preaching to the choir or falling on deaf ears. But like a barnstorming evangelist, I seek additional converts. I seek to find the key that will unlock more minds, to convince them that I am correct, or to find the person who is able to set me straight.
From my previous posts, I have been trying to make the case that pitching first is the ideal strategy for the Giants (really for most teams). Having a park that favors certain pitchers - while it has become a neutral park over the past few years, it still inhibits HR hitting by hitters, particularly for lefties - the Giants are better off being in the position of trading pitchers, because pitchers will look better than they really are pitching in AT&T, while hitters will look worse than they really are in AT&T.
Also, studies have shown that offense don't play much of a role in the success of a team in the playoffs, whereas pitching and defense does. Obviously you need to score enough to win in the regular season and get into the playoffs, but once there, it is pitching that makes a difference in who wins the series and who doesn't. So the smart team and GM starts from there and build around that core of pitching and defense, not trade it away to at best do a sideways move, because as much as Rios improves the offense, the starting pitching is probably that much worse, if not more since Lincecum is better than Rios.
Some have been advocating trading off our pitching now because we have to improve our offense. We are rebuilding and rebuilding takes patience and belief in the plan. In life, as in baseball, the adage that those who fail to plan, plans to fail. This is very true in the Giants case.
Cain and Lincecum are perfect pitchers to build around for a successful run in the playoffs, with high K/9 pitchers like them being very rare and their low H/9 is just as rare. Those advocating trading either basically agree that any trade of either would not finish the rebuilding job of the offense, that it would only incrementally improve the offense. They acknowledge that further moves are necessary. Some say that they will worry about the pitching when they get to the point of getting into the playoffs, but pitchers like Lincecum are rarely available via trade or free agency but 24 HR outfielders like Rios often are.
So why overpay for Rios now? Rios is nice but he was no underaged wunderkind, like Cain or Lincecum. It took him a couple of years of struggle to figure things out in the majors. Neither Cain nor Lincecum had much struggle - about a month's worth - to become consistently good. So why trade now when Rios is not the final answer plus Lincecum could improve his value immensely with another good season.
I think the analogy to a farm is apt here, particularly since we call it a "farm system." Just because the team is struggling, it does not mean you go ahead and sell the fruits of your farm before they are fully ripe and mature. You need to be patient and allow them to be fully developed before you go to the market to sell them off.
As I've been saying for a while now, the Giants are just getting to the tipping point, but they are not quite there yet in regards to top pitchers. However, we do have mid-range pitchers like Lowry, Hennessey, and Sanchez who we could deal as we have pitchers like Correia and Misch who can come up and take their places. But obviously this is not an area of depth, particularly after we lost Blackley in the Rule 5 draft, so that's why the Giants have been sniffing around free agent starters.
Those worried about pitchers and injury miss the big picture. They are just advocating Cover Your Ass (CYA) behavior, which is what the Giants have been doing since the 2002 World Series, covering their ass by getting a bunch of experienced vets instead of taking a risk and shooting for greatness by signing good players like Vlad or Carlos Beltran.
The fact is that not every pitcher performs badly or become injured, else teams would have a hospital at the park to save the travel. If you are going to live in fear of pitchers falling apart, then you may as well stop drafting pitchers or trade all the young ones away for veteran pitchers who are more sturdy (in whatever way you define as sturdy). Obviously, the bed the Giants have made revolves around young pitching, for better or worse (I believe better), but we are not at the point yet in our development where we can just go off trading off great pitching just to cover your ass on offense.
As I've advocated before, my Phoenix Theory of Rebuilding requires a period of pain where the team is going to stink, where you give players who appear to have some potential a chance to show whether they have it or not. 2008 is that year of pain. That's why you give Ortmeier a chance, unless you can pick up a failed 1B free agent prospect (like Tampa did in 2007 with Carlos Pena) and give him a chance, but you don't waste a good pitching prospect trading chip just to trade for a failed 1B prospect when you have Ortmeier already. If he fails, then you can trade for that better 1B prospect mid-season, he should still be available somewhere, whether you do that trade now or then don't really make a big difference, so why not give Ortmeier a chance, however brief.
Hopefully, prospects develop as you hope, particularly from the 2007 draft, and you proceed from there. It will be incremental step, by incremental step, some giant leap, with some steps backward. But you short change the rebuilding process by trading off one of the best pitching prospects around for an OK outfielder when he won't make a huge difference to the offense, as the offense will be that much worse unless you think that he's a better hitter than Barry Bonds (since the offense as it exists now, with Bonds, was anemic still). So why not find out in 2008 what our position prospects are made out of before you make drastic moves like moving Lincecum? Why not be patient?
Trades made out of desperation - which is how I read the position of all the people I've seen advocating the trade, they are desperate for more offense - are rarely a good trade, rarely a good position to be in when in negotiations. Because then you make deals that don't make sense, that is short term rather than long term, that are knee-jerk reactions, instead of following some sort of plan.
The plan is pitching dominance. With Lincecum and Cain, we have dominance, then we build around them. People point at the offense and the losses with Cain especially, but the Tigers were in that situation a few years ago too, with Bonderman (their Lincecum/Cain) taking a beating in losses even though he pitched well, because they had a poor offense. They rebuilt the team over a few years and now Bonderman is pitching with a good offense.
I'm not saying the Giants will have such a great offense, but I'm saying the Tigers bit the bullet with a number of poor years as they built up their farm system with high draft picks (Maybin, Miller, Porcello), signed some select good free agents like I-Rod and Ordonez, and turned themselves around. They didn't trade, say, Verlander away in 2005 when they were 71-91, to get more offense (they were 11th out of 14), they picked up a nice free agent in Kenny Rogers to improve the pitching even more, plus let their offense develop.
I don't know how many years away we are, so that's sure to be scary for some. I think we are closer than most think, as our team underperformed in 2007; they should have been much closer to .500 than they were. So the loss of Bonds should be offset a lot by the regression to mean of the team offense overall. So it would take some development of our young players, both position and pitchers, to progress from where we were last season, as we have some pluses in 2008 that didn't exist in 2007.
One is that Roberts will be healthy as a leadoff hitter and platooning with Davis, who should be good in that role - he should not be starting, at least not until he can prove that he can hit well over a season. Two, Zito should be fully over his contract-itis-oopsy, and can pitch as well as he did in the second half of the season, if not better. Three is Cain and Lincecum should be over their learning pains - Cain in trusting his fastball, Lincecum in truly believing he belongs in the majors - and, as scary as they may sound to the NL West, they could even be better than they have been. Four, 2B should not be a sink-hole like it was in 2007, either Durham rebounds or Frandsen will take over and be a decent 2B, his history in the minors suggest that he can do at least that much. Even if not, at least we would have learned what his capabilities are, rebuilding is about learning what we got, plus giving prospects who have performed in the minors a chance.
Then we need a bit of luck. One would be Schierholtz doing it again: during his career, he is powerless his initial run at a new level, then the lightbulb turns on and he is superman again. He had an extended run in 2007 in the majors, hopefully if he is given the chance to start in 2008, the light bulb will turn on. I am hopeful that he will be one of the unexpected surprises that will make 2008 a better season than thought.
Two would be Ortmeier. Yes, his history is not the greatest in the minors and that counts greatly against him. However, he handled two separate stints in the majors nicely, and while that is small samples, unless we can get a 1B alternative that doesn't cost us anything, he should get a chance to see whether he can do that over a full season, I respect when a player can deliver in the majors. Yes, he could turn out like Gladden and Herndon and not be as good as initially, but what do we have to lose? If we are rebuilding, we should not be caring much about the win-loss and more about whether the player we have is good enough or not, then move on and trade then, only then, as losses don't matter, in fact, it's even good, as it gets us a better pick in 2009.
Three, we will need our pitchers in new roles to come through: Wilson, Walker, Correia, Sanchez, Misch. If Wilson and Walker can solidify the end of game roles, particularly closer and setup respectively, that would fix a big problem area of 2007 - for example, Cain lost 5 wins because of the bullpen, he could have been close to .500 instead of 9 games under .500. The others could be new starters in the rotation, and if they can duplicate past performance, we can safely trade away Lowry or Sanchez without a loss of performance.
But in any case, whether they do or not, that is what we have to learn, we have to be patient, we have to accept that most probably 2008 will be a learning year where progress is not measure in wins and losses but in finding out what our prospects got, which will guide us in the 2008 off-season on what we need to do next going forward. It is like Edison testing out thousands of materials to find the best light filament, each failure is not a true failure because you now know what doesn't work and you can move on from there. That's how it should be with our prospects, unless we can get someone without losing prospects - say players who are non-tendered this month or released for whatever reason.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Or better yet, he signs with someone and we get a compensation draft pick, it would be great to get another draft pick for next drafts.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
I don't think Rios trade is happening, nor was the Giants seriously considering it, it was a dry hump.
Giants inquired about Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui. Hope they ask for Betemit too.
Rule 5 Draftee: Jose Capellan. Could be Loogy for 2008, nice prospect, but hasn't even played full season ball yet. Only 21 next year I believe.
Giants view 2008 as rebuilding? When does a competing team Rule 5 draft a player who hasn't even played full season ball yet?
Rebuilding good: shows what we got, thus what we need, hopefully get more to trade, plus get a Top 5 draft pick.
I am beginning to think that this whole Rios for Lincecum thing was mainly the Blue Jays coming to the Giants and making that ridiculous offer then leaking it out, because the accounts of Sabean today have been noting that Sabean is still not addressing this deal specifically, he would talk elliptically about potential deals but not about any specific deal. The confusion for me has been that the accounts reported previously made it seem like Sabean was talking specifically about the deal, which as I noted before, would be something new for him as he always, as he likes to say, keep the kimono closed on any potential deals the Giants might have out there.
Given Sabean's reputation for the "dry hump" - that is, he would act interested in your deal but then it goes nowhere - I think basically Sabean is willing to hear any crackpot deal that the other team is willing to throw out there, and perhaps discuss some parameters around that deal, but that doesn't mean that he's going to give you that deal.
As I noted yesterday, given all of Sabean's hems and haws about dealing Lincecum, this deal was never really probable, but it was intriguing enough for Sabean to make note of it in the media, leading to the leak of what the deal was for. Given how awful it is, I assume he might have willingly had one of his employees confirm it to the press so that the fans know how bad the market is for Lincecum, so get off his back about trading him off. At least that's what I'm hoping for.
Godzilla From NY Rumor
Latest rumor is that the Giants kicked the tires with the Yankees about the availability of Hideki Matsui. It makes some sense, in that the Giants are right now trying to find a team willing to give up a high priced vet for not as much in return from the Giants since the Giants are taking the player off their hands. Kind of like how the Giants only got Rajai Davis from the Pirates for Morris, when he's not that bad a pitcher for his contract, given the marketplace where Vincent Padilla got so much.
The Yankees are looking for starters and relievers, so the fit appears to be there. Also, they have a spare 3B in Wilson Betemit who was a starter before for the D-gers and Braves, which would be perfect for the Giants need for a 3B. Obviously the Giants could trade, say, Lowry or Sanchez plus Chulk or Messenger plus maybe Kline, for the two players plus maybe a low promising prospect, like C Jesus Montrero.
That would not work for my plans, but would work for the Giants as they would gain two middle of the lineup hitters in Matsui and Betemit. Unfortunately, that means no spot for Frandsen at 3B, meaning he would have to win the 2B battle, and probably no spot for Schierholtz in the OF, as it would then be Roberts, Matsui, Winn in the outfield.
Fans still diss Roberts and want him traded, but he was great in the second half of the season once he recovered from his surgery. Ideally we trade Durham for someone's 1B "Durham," which Sexson appears to be right now, so that Frandsen can play 2B. I like Ort but I want Frandsen to get a shot at starting before he does.
Just to be clear, as I've stated before, I would prefer to start Ortmeier at 1B, Frandsen at 3B (if Durham is on the payroll, he's playing 2B), and Schierholtz in RF. I think both Frandsen and Schierholtz have done enough in the minors to have earned a chance to start and show what they can do in the majors. And I like Ort (hey, he was good enough that Bonds deigned to get a photo op of him personally giving Ortmeier some tips on batting). But I know I'm not going to get what I want, so I try to figure out what the Giants are trying to do, and write accordingly. If that's too confusing for some, let me know, I know I switch back and forth sometimes.
Player From Rule 5
The Rule 5 draft was held today and the Giants drafted two players and lost one. The player lost was Travis Blackley, but he would have to stay on the Phillies roster all season for them to keep him, though they could always try to work out a trade with the Giants to keep him.
The key player the Giants drafted was Jose Capellan, not the 100 MPH guy that they tried to get mid-season, but another guy, who only just finished rookie short season ball (similar to Salem-Keizer) for the Red Sox. The articles notes that he has a lot of movement on his pitches, which include a low 90's fastball and a slider. While he has been a starter thus far, they are looking to bring him up to be a lefty reliever for the team, since Kline and Taschner failed miserably at that duty in 2007. The Giants think he's got a premium arm.
Capellan finished 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA for Lowell, walking only 11 and striking out 71 in 75 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder allowed 68 hits and only one home run. An industry source said that Capellan was so impressive that three other teams had lined up behind the Giants to draft him if he had remained available.
Nice to know that he was so good that other teams wanted him.
He had a wonderful K/BB ratio, almost 7 with 71 strike outs and only 11 walks. This will be even more aggressive than when they basically brought Jonathan Sanchez up from Advanced A ball - with quick stops at AA and AAA - as he hasn't even played full-season ball yet, it would be quite a jump. Capellan is currently relieving in the winter league, where he's 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA in seven appearances. I believe he'll be 21 years old next season, so he's young, we can keep him on the roster and keep permanent control then drop him back to AAA in 2009 if necessary.
I think this could be a sign that the Giants are viewing 2008 as a rebuilding year. Only rebuilding teams make space on their 25 man roster for a player so far down in the minors.
I think it would benefit the Giants in two important ways if they would just accept 2008 as a rebuilding year. First, they give a lot of propects the opportunity to show what they got and when you do that you get surprises like Dan Uggla with the Marlins or, if you are really lucky, Johan Santana with the Twins. That sets the table of what the Giants need to do in the offseason after 2008, where prospects failed, the Giants would have to look to acquire players for those positions, either via trade or free agency. Plus, hopefully we get a better feel for how good certain pitchers are, which will give us (hopefully) more pitchers we can trade off for these position needs, particularly if Bumgarner or Alderson rise fast through the system like Lincecum did. Then we truly would have a surplus of pitching, not like right now.
More importantly, rebuilding teams typically don't do that well in the win/loss column and the Giants would get another high (top 5) draft pick in the 2009 draft to go with the high pick they get in 2008. Together, they can be the most important pair of picks since drafting Will Clark then Matt Williams in the late 80's, because the odds of finding good players are much greater once you enter the top 5 picks overall, and if you can pick two, you really hit the jackpot.
Rios is good, but not great.
Lincecum could be great.
Rios for Lincecum trade not great.
Rios alone won't make team competitive. There is no MUST to this deal, offense stink with or without Rios.
Trade only if team get better, can be argued team is worse off trading Lincecum for Rios.
Rios and Lincecum: A Comparison
Some people seem to think that getting Rios is better than getting no one. At least that is the impression I am getting from the people who are all for the trade. At least with Miguel Cabrera, I can understand the attraction, though not the desperation, in trading for him. Rios is so ho-hum to me, so I thought I would dig into the stats, as I am wont to do, and see what I find.
Let's dig into Rios stats first.
- He is tied for 46th in the majors in HRs hit. That's good but not great.
- He is 62nd in the majors in RBI. Again, good but not great.
- He is 39th in the majors in SLG, among hitters with over 475 AB. Good, not great.
- He is 42th in the majors in OPS, among hitters with over 475 AB. Good, not great.
- His OPS+ is 119, good not great, but getting close to it, and he'll be 27 years old next year, approaching his peak physical years.
- However, Rios in his first season was a below average hitter, pretty bad really,
- The good starters in the majors have PQS DOM% of over 40%, the best have over 50% and the elite have over 70%. Lincecum, in his first season had 67%. That's great period, let alone for his first season.
- Among starters with at least 24 starts, his ERA was 46th. Good, not great.
- His K/BB was 49th. Good, not great.
- His K/9 was 6th. Great.
- His H/9 was 6th. Great.
- His HR/9 was 19th. Great.
- His WHIP was 36th. Good.
- All this in his FIRST season and he was only 23 years old.
So, overall, there are a lot of indicators that Lincecum was a great pitcher in 2007, some that he was merely good, but for Rios, everything is decidedly good but not great.
If Miguel Cabrera wouldn't make the Giants offense good by himself, how would Rios? There are no brownie points for improving your offense, the amount of help that Rios gives the offense is probably offset (possibly a negative overall) by the loss of Lincecum, and if Schierholtz is any good, Rios might not even be better than our own internal replacement in RF. So in other words, people for this trade could be for treading water and possibly taking on water.
Negotiations are not for the impatient. The Giants don't have many trading chips and, out of desperation over the offense, smart people are falling all over themselves to declare that the Giants MUST do this trade, with the unstated addendum, "because otherwise our offense will stink." Well, even with Rios, it will still stink, and trading Lincecum for Rios would just reduce by one HUGE chunk, the trade power we have.
Lincecum had great stats last year, we should not be selling him out of desperation for offense, we should be trading him because the players we add would add more to our team than what is subtracted by losing Lincecum.
We should be trading him ONLY if it makes our overall team better. I think it can be argued that Schierholtz, if given the chance, could put up numbers near what Rios did - not at his numbers, but maybe 10-15 HR, 60-70 RBI, 10 SB, which is not good but probably better than what Rios did in his first season, but given that Rios would cost the Giants Tim Lincecum whereas Schierholtz only costs the major league miniumum, that is not much of an upgrade in our offense for someone who can be as special as Lincecum appears to have the potential to become.
Lineup in flux: Ortmeier/Ishikawa/trade 1B; Frandsen/Durham 2B; Frandsen/trade 3B
Rios for Lincecum still alive, or is it? I think Sabean is screwing with Toronto.
I hate KNBR for pushing Lincecum trade for Rios. Logic fails me all around.
Few Positions Set
Not really news that only SS and C are set for the Giants right now, with Vizquel and Molina. The two sources above discuss some interesting twists that I wanted to capture here.
For the infield, a lot of possibilities, some unknown as yet, perhaps. At 1B, in addition to Ortmeier, Travis Ishikawa was brought up, though I'm not sure if the guy really know what he's talking about because he mentioned Ishikawa's struggles in AAA and, of course, he's never played there yet (or maybe it's Bochy who didn't know, as he's quoting a conversation with Bochy :^). Plus there's always the chance of a trade, but if true, that's exciting, I've been hoping the Giants give Ishikawa a chance, why not, it's his last option year for him, we need to find out what he's got now or lose him possibly. At 2B, Frandsen and Durham will be competing there. At 3B, either a trade or perhaps Frandsen.
In the outfield, unless there's a trade, always a possibility, it seems pretty set. It was noted that Winn, Roberts and Davis will definitely be starting, but the configuration is not set yet. I think it revolves around how well Nate Schierholtz and Fred Lewis does in spring training. If either one can excel and grab the starting spot in RF, then Roberts and Davis will probably platoon in LF while Winn mans CF. If neither do well, they will probably occupy spots on the bench while Roberts, Davis, and Winn starts, with Lewis and Schierholtz getting a lot of ABs anyhow, as Roberts will probably be platooned in some way, and since Lewis and Schierholtz are both lefties too, Winn could be splitting time between CF and RF extensively in 2008.
When asked what our 3-4-5 hitters would be, Bochy noted that right now it would be Winn, Molina, and Durham. He also said that Aurilia and perhaps Schierholtz will see time in there as well, depending on the cirucumstances.
The best case circumstances is that Schierholtz wins the RF spot and becomes our clean-up hitter. He might not show the power right now, but he probably has the highest homerun potential in the lineup, particularly if the lightbulb in his head turns on, like it did - after a slow start - at every level he climbed to in the minors. May as well let him get some time there, though with his low OBP, he is probably more suited for the #5 or #6 spot in the lineup, but it would seem odd to bat Durham 4th, assuming he returns to normal.
Rios for Lincecum Won't Die
Here is the latest on that from sfgiants.com. It is the deal that "won't die" as the article puts it. It is my fervent hope that, since Sabean is being so public about the angst of the deal and freely talking about it, that he's is just doing this for public consumption so that one segment of fans will "see" that Sabean is trying to do something for the offense, but then determine that the Giants do not want to let go of either Cain or Lincecum.
Here's why I think this. First, Sabean never talks about a deal in public. Never. He would either pooh-pooh it as media rumors, say there's no official comment, or say that they don't discuss deals in public because then the players who might get traded have to go through this issue for nothing if the deal falls through. That he's discussing it openly makes it seem like a PR move to me.
Second, if you read the comments coming from the other side, Toronto obviously wants to do the deal and is hopeful, but don't sound particularly positive about getting what they want. In this linked article, for example, they seem positively glum about it:
"I don't know. ... I just think we don't have much dialogue left. We're just waiting to see what their thoughts are on some things. We'd be willing to do some [different] things. I think they're weighing a lot of things on their end for other options."Third, Sabean has been saying all along something along the lines of, "we have an interesting proposition, but we're probably not going to pull the trigger." So on the one hand, he keeps on saying it's alive, but on the other hand, he keeps saying that it's probably not going to happen.
All this makes me wonder if it was Toronto who leaked the deal to the press - which Sabean absolutely hates - and so he's leaving them twisting in the wind by leaving them hanging there by saying the deal's alive, but how alive he's not willing to divulge.
Then again, perhaps Sabean leaked it for once because he wants to show the fans that, yes, he knows the offense is horrible, but look, this is all we can get for Tim Lincecum, "Mr. Franchise!", so cut me some slack for 2008. Really, if that is the best that teams can offer for Tim Lincecum, I say we hold onto our great set of pitchers for now and revisit the trading off pitching idea until mid-season when teams are a bit more desperate. There is no reason to make a deal now, 2008 is pretty much not going to very competitive for the Giants, only the most idealistic think we have a great chance to win.
I Hate KNBR At the Moment
All day it has been "Trade Lincecum for Rios" day at KNBR, so much so that I thought hard about calling them up and giving them both barrels, and have a nice public debate on it. Unfortunately, my wife has been sick so I've been Mr. Mom and don't have time to do the call during the day.
Here are the reasonings they have been giving, it's like they handed out a paper on their position and they all have been repeating it like robots. First, the Giants offense suck, so you "have" to trade your pitching for Rios. Second, sure with one ace, you don't trade, but with two, you have to trade one for Rios. Third, the Giants have to improve their offense now for 2008 because there's the mortgage and fans don't tolerate losing well here.
Let's tackle them one by one.
First, yes, the Giants offense suck, but it will still suck after you trade Lincecum for Rios, but now your rotation will no longer be great, it will be lucky if it is average with Cain, Zito, Lowry, Sanchez, Correia/Misch. Clearly, Rios is not Lincecum's equal in value, but KNBR is united in saying, "Well, the offense sucks so you have to trade your pitching for an upgrade in offense. You HAVE to."
Well, I think Giants fans can agree on one thing about the talent level on the Giants: it is not the greatest right now, it could be a while before the ship is righted. So what they are advocating is this: "We have a great pitcher, but we HAVE to improve our offense by trading a pitcher who could be great for a good (but not great) offensive player, we have to take lesser value because we HAVE to improve our offense." So, we have a limited amount of talent so we overpay to improve our offense? What sense does that make?
Just because we need offense does not mean we should overpay for it. You compound that by doing that when you don't have a lot of talent on your team. You compound that again when the player you are getting don't make a whole lot of a difference for your team, I'll bet his improvement of the offense over, say, Schierholtz, doesn't offset the loss of Lincecum over Sanchez.
Second, the two ace so it's OK to trade rationale still don't make sense. When does it make sense to trade off another player for a lesser talent in order to fix a hole in another part of the team? Well, when you are close to the playoffs or, even better, winning it all. The Giants are closer to the beginning than the ending of that journey. Then there's when you have so much talent in your system and team that you can make sideway steps like this move in order to boost your team. As we can all agree, the Giants are not overflowing with talent, they have a great set of pitchers, but you can trade them ALL off and the offense probably is still not going to be a top of division offense.
So why does it make sense for the Giants to trade away one of their aces when you got two of them? That smacks of desperation. And some may say, yes, but desperate times require desperate means. Hitler over running Europe is desperate times, your baseball team sucking does not even rank in terms of desperation. You have to think long-term, you have to think about what your team in the future is going to be about, you can not think desperate, desperate thinking leads to desperate acts which often don't end well.
Besides, why not reach for greatness with two aces? This decision point is very similar to when Vlad was a free agent. As I wrote then, there was not much payroll to get anyone on the free agent market. We could re-sign maybe one or two of our free agents and settle for mediocrity, or we could pony up a few millions and reach for greatness and get Vlad. Signing all those players was a sign of mediocrity and, while I could rationalize passing up Vlad and doing that because he did have the injury history (and apparently a distaste for Felipe Alou), I could not do that for a Rios deal. Trading for Rios is going for mediocrity, we must reach for the World Series, not try to figure out things along the way as some suggest, that is what we have been doing for 5 years now, we need a plan, a strategy, and we must stick to it.
Third, their position is that the fan base won't tolerate losing but as I established in the first rebuttal, adding Rios does not make the offense suddenly a winner, so then the next logical step with this argument is that the Giants somehow, magically, will trade other players to make up for the talent shortfall and become a winner. If that doesn't happen after trading Lincecum, who the hell are the Giants going to trade AFTER trading Lincecum? Cain?
Let's say, we go ahead and trade Cain after trading Lincecum for Rios. We get another Rios-type hitter for the middle of the lineup. Does the lineup look like a great offensive force now? No. But now we are short two aces. Trading away more talent than you get back is something you might do when you are close to a championship AND you have a surplus of talent. The Giants are neither of those. If trading for two Rios-type hitters don't work, how does trading for one work?
This whole position reeks of desperation and hope. Hope that the Giants can develop the talent to make up for the loss of talent in the pitching. Hope that the Giants can develop the talent to cover up the talent loss in the trade. Desperation that the Giants are so hopeless offensively that we have to GIVE away pitching just to improve our offense.
Even if Lincecum is traded, it is acknowledged that the offense still needs a lot of work. So somehow the Giants are suppose to trade their way to competitiveness, even AFTER trading Lincecum. So why trade him now? Why not wait until a team is so desperate that they trade us their Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller? There is no reason to trade now, other than to appease some misguided fans that demand that something be done. Sometimes the best move is not making any move.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
MLB.com offers a take on today's doings for the Giants plus there's a similar one that I got through sfgiants.com that has similar information but also different info. Seems to be a slow day, but slow is OK, I would rather see a slow day than Lincecum or Cain traded away.
Rolen rumor appears to have legs but don't know how serious Giants are. Hopefully it doesn't start walking...
Toronto appear to be mentally deranged or think Sabean is.
Rios look terrible in comparison with Lincecum, no way that's equal value.
Sabean says closer by the minute to keeping Cain and Lincecum for 2008 season.
Inge now available for 3B, Sabean probably "kicking some tires" as we speak
Sabean says Nyet to Rolen.
My Spec: CHW Crede available, good bat, great defense, wonder what he would cost.
Lastly, most Giants rumors mainly from other interested parties.
Rolen Rolen Rolen
Apparently the rumors about Rolen has more legs than I had thought. He apparently is willing to waive his no-trade rights because he doesn't like LaRussa. I assume we would trade them a starter, but I think a trade of Lowry or Sanchez for him would be a waste, it would be better to trade off one of our lower level guys who did well. Plus, the Cards should be giving us some money to take him off their hands.
In any case, I hope the trade don't go through, he's a huge risk to miss a lot of games because of injury, basically like Bonds because of his age, because back problems never get better, just managed well.
Apparently Toronto offered Glaus or Alex Rios for Tim Lincecum. It is my hope that Sabean started laughing out loud at the audacity of that suggestion. Crazy deal if the Giants did do that.
Here's a quote that makes me laugh: "But Toronto values Rios (.297, 24 homers, 85 RBIs in 2007) as much as the Giants do Lincecum." What Lincecum is doing and could continue doing is top of the majors performance, even if it is just his first year. Rios's .297 with 24 homers and 85 RBIs is good, no question, but is he among the best around? I don't think so. That would be like the Giants saying they value Randy Winn as much as the Twins value Johan Santana.
The sfgiants.com take has a lot more info on Rios, but again I had to laugh. Rios has taken 4 years to be semi-good as an OF, so he only has two more years on his cheaper years and is 26 now, whereas Lincecum was very good in his first year in the majors when he was 22 and have five more years on the cheap, relatively. Unless they are giving us Adam Lind in addition, that's not equal value to us, plus getting another two OF would probably make my head explode.
I just got the latest Chron news, and according to John Shea, it is Matt Cain that Toronto wants for Alex Rios. Again, that's crazy talk as well, but not as crazy. Still, I wouldn't trade Cain for Rios, we need a 3B not another OF, even though Sabean says that he'll get a player first then go from there.
Funny how Shea shades the same words that sfgiants.com quotes from Sabean, to imply that Sabean is inclined to trade Cain for Rios, whereas the sfgiants.com articles have been pretty clearly stating that Sabean is not very inclined to do the deal. I wonder which is the correct impression. That's the problem I've been stating about the media, taking the same quotes and giving different meanings to them.
If we are going to trade Cain or Lincecum, trade for infield help, which is where we need help, particularly at 1B which is a premium offensive position, which is only right, Cain and Lincecum is a premium starting pitcher. Or at least 3B since we need a 3B. But repeat after me Sabean: no trading of Cain and/or Lincecum is allowed! :^)
Sabean Nearly "Nyet"
There was Sabean quote on our co-aces:
Thus, Sabean said that he comes closer "with each passing day" to declaring Cain and Lincecum off-limits. Lincecum, Sabean added, has drawn more interest than Cain largely because he won't be eligible for salary arbitration -- and hefty pay increases -- for two more seasons. Cain already is signed through 2010, although his $9 million deal is conveniently economical.Plus Lincecum pitched a heck of a lot better than Cain did. Lincecum strikes out more, has better command, is just as stingy on the hits, and is more of a groundball pitcher whereas Cain is more of a flyball pitcher. Teams would be happy to have a Cain as the leader of their staff and yet he's probably #2 on our staff to Lincecum's #1. That's why it's assinine to even think of trading either of them.
Also had Sabean quoted about how there's often fall-out from a big trade, thus generating new talk among GMs because of the opportunity to trade. So he noted that after trades such as the Detroit-Florida blockbuster often creates a chain reaction that prompts subsequent deals. The big loser at Detroit in the big Miguel Cabrera trade to Detroit (with Dontrelle Willis to boot!), is Brandon Inge, Detroit's previous 3B starter, who now has no position and the Giants need a 3B. Need I say more?
Sabean Says Nyet to Rolen
Wow, talk about whiplash, the MLB article above says Rolen to SF is hot and heavy, the next one quotes Sabean "denies interest in Rolen".
ChiSox's Crede Available
Fitz on KNBR today reminded me that the Chicago White Sox is looking to trade either Joe Crede or Josh Fields, which I've seen for a while, but mainly Crede, and I wonder if we have what they would want for him. Given that he has issues with his health and a hefty salary, maybe it won't take too much. But he has a nice bat and plays great defense, from what I heard, and that's something Sabean looks for in players, their defensive abilities.
There was also a post on McCovey Chronicles that reminded everyone that Sabean often keeps his moves under the radar and out of the press. That's a good reminder and so is the above pas de deux about Rolen, how Sabean normally don't spread rumors about his moves, he likes to be as stealth as possible, so any rumors out there are most probably generated on the part of the team wishing to trade with the Giants. A quote in the second MLB article captures this well:
This shows that just because the news reports that the Giants are interested in a player doesn't mean that they actually are actively pursuing the player. They might be, in Sabean's parlance, kicking the tires just to keep close in case the other party decides that the Giants have the best offer.
Sabean expressed no regret over not trading for Cabrera, despite the Giants' initial interest in the hard-hitting third baseman -- who almost surely would have forced them to part with Lincecum or Cain, along with two or three other talented young players. Asked if he thought the Giants ever were close to a deal for Cabrera, Sabean said, "We didn't necessarily want to get too close."
That could explain the rumors about the Giants and Shawn Green and Hiroki Kuroda. We need a middle of the lineup bat and Green is one. Kuroda is an interesting starter, which if we get him, would make trading young pitching easier (hopefully not Cain or Lincecum).
Monday, December 03, 2007
Deals Sabean working on don't include Cain or Lincecum. Close to saying untouchable; finally! Hurrah!
Interesting offer for Lincecum but probably pass. Maybe Reds? They have Encarnacion, Votto, Bailey, Dunn.
Talking with Orioles for Tejada but issues probably not overcomeable. Good.
Maybe Cards trade us Rolen then sign Feliz but issue probably not overcomeable. Good.
Molina not being shopped, but teams are asking. Should keep unless great deal.
Giants interested in CFs? Sabean says nonsubstantial conversations. Good.
Day One Rumors
Got these rumors from MLB.com, from Chris Haft, who follows the Giants for sfgiants.com.
- Serious deals don't involve Cain or Lincecum: Brian Sabean said as the Meetings began that the deals they're seriously considering don't involve Cain or Lincecum, as they are regarded as potential staff aces.
- Giants close to saying Cain and Lincecum untouchable: Finally, should have done that from the get-go. This is like previous years when the other teams just focused on the Giants top prospects and would not go for anyone lesser, leading to little movement. Sabean is realizing that by not shutting the door on that, other teams are hoping to find that magic deal that gets them the big prize, and ignoring dealing for the Giants other prospects, probably in particular, Lowry. I just think the Giants should have decided that the Giants future strategy is centered on the two pitchers (plus Zito) and go from there; this reduces Sabean in my eyes for letting this go on for this long, sure you want to see if there is a "shocking deal" available, there's always a price high enough that you have to take the deal, but he should have shut the door before the GM meetings where deals are most likely to be made.
- Interesting proposal made for Lincecum, but Sabean probably take a pass: MLB Trade Rumors covered this here in their comments. Many commenters there think the Reds is that mystery team. Makes sense, they have a 3B we need in Encarnacion who they don't feel strongly about and we need a 3B. In addition, they might give us 1B Joey Votto, to fill our other hole in the infield, or SP Homer Bailey, who didn't do that well in the majors in his first try up here. There was also talk before about the Reds giving up Adam Dunn, whose salary is so high, and the Giants can absorb his salary easily plus play him at 1B. I would think Dunn is the most likely of that bunch, if I were the Reds I don't think I would part with Votto or Bailey, even for Lincecum. However, as a Giants fan, I would be underwhelmed by this deal and would want Sabean to pass.
- Giants slightly interested in Miguel Tejada: Talking with the Orioles but the Giants are concerned about his age, his $13M for the next two seasons, and "the uncertainty surrounding the position switch," which, from what I got previously from other Tejada rumors, refers to the fact that while the Orioles have been marketing him as a 3B, he has not publicly agreed to a switch to 3B yet. Cause if he refuses to change position, that would create problems since we just signed Vizquel.
- Cards trade us Rolen, they sign Feliz? The rumor that won't die, this rumor has the Cards trading Rolen to us while they sign Feliz to replace him. The common agents are Sam and Seth Levinson (I guess I was wrong about Boras or maybe he switched). However, Rolen would have even more issues than Tejada because of his injury history and longer contract (3 years at $12M).
- Not shopping Molina but listening to offers: Apparently team(s) are still asking the Giants about Molina even though they are not shopping him. Would have to take an incredible offer (or an offer with a MLB ready or near-ready catching prospect) to get Molina, I would imagine, not that I think he's that good but that otherwise we are left with Alfonzo/Rodriguez as the catching combo, and that's not even worthy of a punted season, you don't want to mess with the young pitchers' minds by having defensive-lacking catchers in place.
- Giants mentioned in play for CFs but Sabean squash rumors a bit: Sabean said that the conversations he had about free agents included "nothing really of substance." Giants mentioned for Andruw Jones and Kusoke Fukodome, but Fukodome don't make sense for the team because he's more of a top of lineup hitter profile (heck, the majority are top of lineup types if their top hitter who hit over 50 HR comes here and can't break 25 HR regularly; Godzilla was more like Mothra :^) plus would cost $10M per season and we already have a player like him in Randy Winn, and Andruw carries too much risk given his very poor 2007, meaning that the Giants wouldn't be interested in more than a year or two contract, but Jones and Boras will want a 3-5 year contract, possibly at $20M per.
Sign Lincecum to as long as deal as possible this off-season.
Cards sign Feliz because he shares same agent as Rolen? I don't care as long as we get a pick.
Reds want pitching, offering Encarnacion. Giants should work on deal with them.
Sign Lincecum Now
Shame on me for forgetting the most important thing Sabean should do in the off-season: sign Tim Lincecum to a long-term contract covering into this free agent years if possible. That would do a lot to keep Giants fans interested.
I find this rumor too incredible to believe but must report it. Apparently the Cardinal's are thinking of trading off Scott Rolen to Milwaukee for Chris Capuano (plus Cards send some cash to offset his salary) and, get this, because Rolen shares the same agent as Feliz, which oft-hand I find incorrect because I thought that Rolen's agent was Boras but let's go with that maybe Rolen changed at some point, that automatically makes Feliz the one they sign to replace Rolen. Whatever, as long as we get a draft pick out of it for him.
Addendum to the Addendum
Just saw a rumor that the Reds want pitching and is willing to trade Encarnacion for it. The site mentioned Lowry but I would want another position prospect to go with him. I wonder what we could get if we offer them two starters, say Lowry and Correia? Or even Hennessey.
Addendum to the Addendum of the Addendum
Shame on me for not sourcing my information, it was from the great site MLB Trade Rumors, which has been identifying reporters who appear to have good accuracy with rumors and has created a network of associates who help out.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
What I'm thinking of starting each post with, for lack of a better term coming to mind immediately, is an executive summary. And to make it interesting to me, as much as I like to pack into each post every bit of information I think is pertinent to understanding what I'm writing about, I'm going to try to go in the opposite direction with the executive summary (plus, my executive summary tends to get pretty large anyhow) and condense it to as few words as possible. Think of it as the "anti-ogc take". But time is a premium to me because of my family and job search, so, in advance, please excuse me if I take a short cut on it and leave it overly long, but I'll try to do it for as many as I can this month (assuming enough people say they want this).
Winter meeting start with wimper: Feliz offered arbitration. Barf, but that's life sometimes.
If I were GM, I would stand pat and see what we got with our prospects and players. No trade unless "shocked".
People worry too much about offense, sometimes good offense is a great defense/pitching.
Trading is best if there are replacements ready to take over for lost players.
Pause in 2008 to see what we got. Play prospects whereever we can: Wilson, Ortmeier, Frandsen, Schierholtz, Misch/Sanchez/Correia, maybe Lewis.
Be patient. We're rebuilding. No need to make moves now, any moves made now probably could be made mid-season or next off-season, won't make a signficant difference in our 2008 or 2009 seasons in terms of making the playoffs in any case. So if we screw up 2008, who cares, we get a better 2009 draft pick, which probably should be the most important goal of 2008.
Don't worry, be happy we got Cain and Lincecum (with Villalona too).
GM Winter Meetings
With Sabean et al heading to Nashville I thought I would talk about where I see things with the Giants right now. I got into it a bit in my comment with Marco (who stole my thunder! :^) but wanted to capture it all in a post.
Barf: Feliz Offered Arbitration
First off, Feliz has been offered arbitration. What some fans don't understand sometimes is that life's situations forces you into bad places sometimes. That's life. With no great 3B alternative internally or via free agency, the Giants need to get a 3B and as bad as Feliz is, he is great defensively.
So it is a calculated risk to do this. If he accepts, then we are "set" at 3B, though we would have to probably overpay for him in arbitration, probably in the $7-8M range, though I'm hoping for more like $6-6.5M since he is so lousy offensively. Luckily, most teams feel the need to hold back their negative comments, but here they can probably blast him with both barrels because no matter how he feels about being treated here, he has to do well in 2008 to entice another team to sign him to a contract.
However, most probably at what I would place at 99.9999%, Feliz will turn down the offer because with the deadline for refusing only being next Friday, accepting arbitration would make his stance for a 3-year contract appear to be a whim - which will hurt any negotiations his agents have with teams in future years for a long-term contract. Especially given his big talk about finding schools elsewhere and other statements made to reporters about his impending free agency. With so little time to decide, he is pretty much forced to refuse arbitration if he is at all serious about a 3 year contract. Of course, that's assuming he doesn't get signed to a 3 year contract over the weekend (and I'm laughing at that notion too :^D).
So in all likelihood, Feliz will refuse arbitration and him being a B free agent, should he actually sign with anyone else, the Giants will get a draft pick from the signing team. Unfortunately, the risk of us re-signing him, say, in Jan/Feb timeframe still exists because 1) I don't expect any team to seriously want to sign him to a contract, particularly if they have to give up a draft pick, 2) with Pittsburgh offering Bay to the Indians, Marte probably is gone in that deal, and I'm not sure which other 3B is available, though I've seen rumors that Encarnacion can be had from the Reds (Lowry or Sanchez?) and the 'Dres have Headley and Kouzmanov, but that's intra-division so very unlikely, plus they might move Headley to 2B as some rumors state.
If I Were GM
Basically I would want to stand pat. Not that I think that we are all that great (except Cain and Lincecum, natch), but that doing any move for the most part is, to steal from what others have written, like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic (not that I think the Giants are like the Titanic, that's others thinking).
We have two great pieces in Cain and Lincecum. They impart advantage in our starting rotation for the reasons I have given before. Unless someone is willing to trade us, say, a young starting 1B, young starting 3B, and another good prospect (preferably SS, like if D-gers offered us Loney, LaRoche, and Hu), I wouldn't give either of them up. But if someone is willing "shock" me, as Sabean had put it, then I would have to consider and probably do the trade.
Trade When It Makes Sense
But even then, I don't want to trade just to make a trade. Lowry and Sanchez are probably our two biggest trading chips, followed by Hennessey (long, set-up, closer plus starter), Correia (SP/RP), Misch (SP/RP), and perhaps Henry Sosa (I'm assuming Villalona is untouchable; he signed for less because he liked us, to trade him away would send the message to all other Carribean players that they shouldn't sign with us for less because we might just trade him away soon afterward. Plus, he has 40 HR potential, it would take Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder or someone similar to entice enough to take Villalona off my hands).
The way I see it, we have a nice set of pitchers, and it is special in terms of Cain and Lincecum, but we are not yet overflowing in talent, there is no great surplus as people have been saying we have. If we trade people away, we create holes in pitching that will need to be filled up quickly by prospects in 2008. And what if they don't, or, as some fear, one of our young pitchers become injured, stating TINSTAAPP. That just drops us back into the hole of needing more talent.
So before we go too far with our rebuilding, we need to know exactly what we are rebuilding. Trading away what we think is surplus today, especially given TINSTAAPP, could result in us needing pitching again. So even for our lesser trading chips than Cain/Lincecum, we should not be looking to just trade them just to mix things up, we need to make sure we get equal or better value in exchange for them.
What's wrong with taking a pause in 2008? We should see what we got with all our prospects, not just Lewis, Schierholtz, Frandsen, Ortmeier, but give another year of development for all our prospects in the minors, plus, probably most importantly, giving Bumgarner, Alderson, Fairley, Noonan, Culberson, Williams, D'Alessio, Oteri, and other draft picks a full season to see what they can go. For example, Sabean thought that Bumgarner and Alderson could be contributing to the majors in two years, which means 2009. 2008 would be proof in the pudding whether such a timetable is feasable or not.
And, of course, all our pitchers in the major league staff as well. Cain and Lincecum appear to be great but yes, pitchers are high-priced china-dolls waiting to break, and they are not often what they seem. I think one more year should tell us what to expect from the two of them. Wood and Prior, to name a prior young two-ace constellation, started having physical problems within a couple of full seasons.
But trading them off because of this physical reality seems like a way to CYA, it is not one of going for the gusto. I want a World Series championship. I'm not going to beat myself or the team up if they don't win one, but I want one. I believe a two-ace rotation is a powerful way of controlling a short series and that's what the playoffs are, a series of short series. Whether it is Cain/Lincecum or a combo of one of them with one of our upcoming starters, I don't really care, but I feel very strongly that this is the way to greatly improve our chances in the playoffs.
Some believe that we first need to focus on winning in the season now. That's useless ultimately because if you trade away your advantage now, there is no guarantee that you can trade your way back to that strength after you build up the team. Either way, you need to rebuild the team, so why break up your advantage now to get an incremental rebuild that still requires a lot of rebuilding (the Miguel Cabrera gambit) and why not keep your advantage (Cain/Lincecum) and continue the rebuild in 2008 and see where the pieces fall.
I strongly believe in pitchers with a lot of command (i.e. high K/BB). Cain, unfortunately, has struggled there all of his career. Both Bumgarner and Alderson have been huge command pitchers (as well as dominating with the K) and we should have a good feel for how good both of them are in 2008, and whether either can replace Cain in this duo-ace role.
Another thing that people seem to forget is that there is a ying/yang to offense and pitching. If you have great pitching, you don't need to have such great offense. If you believe in Bill James Pythagorean concept, winning is a function of run scored and runs allowed, and if we concentrated on keeping runs allowed low, we don't need a great offense to win 90 games and (most times) make the playoffs. Heck, we don't even need an average offense, to be at .500 this last season, we only needed a slight improvement in the offense to reach that.
For example, last season the Giants allowed 4.44 runs per game. We averaged 4.22 runs per game, good for 15th in the league. A 4.44 runs scored would have moved us up to just 14th place. I think trying to get back to .500 should be our first step in rebuilding, and it should not take much to reach there.
Also, if we keep the same pitching together, growth, maturity and development should drop that to the 4.2-4.3 range. Or we could trade off one of our good pitchers and replace him in the rotation with a lesser pitcher, and stay in that same 4.4-4.5 runs allowed range, but add hitting that raises us up by 0.2 runs per game. In other words, unless we hope to rob another team, whatever hitting they provide us will only be offset by the loss of pitching and lower replacement, it is pretty much a zero sum game unless you can trade off non-starters and prospects who were not part of the sum in the previous season.
Trading off a core member of the previous season's team creates a hole there unless you have someone to replace and pretty much duplicate his performance. We have no one of the caliber of Cain and Lincecum coming up in 2008 to replace their performance, so we take a hit there in order to improve our hitting. Zero sum.
That's why trading off Lowry and/or Sanchez would lead to an improvement. Lowry is a good pitcher, but Misch appears to be a similar type of pitcher and is even better at both striking out batters and not walking as many. Lowry can be replaced in the rotation with someone similar and, more importantly, someone who might match his performance. Sanchez was only in the bullpen, and we have a number of people ready to move into the bullpen who were not there in 2007, again, adequate performance replacement.
You don't trade just to trade, you need to take the whole team into context and move your chess pieces accordingly.
Take Pause in 2008
As noted above, we should take a pause in 2008. Trade only if it clearly makes the team better, but otherwise stand pat. By pausing, I mean we see what we have in our hand with our prospects. We need to see if Ortmeier is any good at 1B, Frandsen is any good as a hitter, Schierholtz is any good in RF, Lewis is any good in the OF, see if our pitchers get better or get injured/inconsistent, see if our prospects continue to develop (or not). I think things will be clearer where we are and what we got after the 2008 season.
Thus, assuming we stand pat and do no trade (the main trade I would like to see is to get a young 3B prospect cheaply plus unloading Durham for either bullpen or 1B and perhaps trading Winn for good prospect or two), I would want to see a lineup at the start of the season of:
C - Benjie Molina
1B - Dan Ortmeier
2B - Ray Durham
3B - Kevin Frandsen
SS - Omar Vizquel
LF - Roberts/Davis
CF - Winn
RF - Schierholtz
UT - Alfonzo/Rodriguez, Aurilia, Lewis, Davis, Velez?
SP - Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Lowry, Misch
RP - Wilson, Walker, Hennessey, Correia, Sanchez, Chulk/Messenger, Kline
1B: I understand the concern over Ortmeier. I'm not saying he's going to be as good a hitter as 2007, but it's not like he hasn't been a good hitting prospect before. Let's see what he can do before we trade off someone valuable to fill 1B. Given the strategy of punting 2008 and taking a pause, why not give Ortmeier half a year to see what he can do? If he fails, we insert Aurilia in there or make that trade that people have suggested to get a 1B.
2B: If we unable to trade off Durham, we have to play him in hopes he can return to his previous normal good hitting self. If he hits, then we work hard to trade him off for someone so that Frandsen can play 2B, or even play Frandsen at 3B and Velez at 2B. 2008 should be all about finding out what our prospects can and can't do. Though if the rumored Durham for Sexson trade goes through, I would be OK with playing him over Ortmeier, as I think it is more important to see what Frandsen can do at 2B than Ortmeier at 1B, for all the reason Chris used in his excellent rebuttal to my suggestion of starting Ortmeier at 1B. I would prefer trading Durham for bullpen help, if I had my druthers.
3B: I understand the concern over Frandsen's fielding at 3B. But he couldn't be as bad as Ryan Braun's hacktastic fielding (and not that he would match Braun's hitting), and since he played there before, he couldn't be THAT bad a fielder, as long as he is about average, that's all we can hope for, the main thing is we need to see what type of bat he has so that we can decide whether to start him at 2B in 2009 or search for another 2B. So we find him a position to start at and go from there.
LF: Davis's horrible slump in September screams that his first month with us was a fluke, but that's OK, he's perfect as a platoon buddy with Roberts, particularly since he hits much better against LHP than RHP. I would not have been happy seeing him start in CF and Schierholtz on the bench. Roberts I have extolled his second half after he was healthy, he was back to where he was over the past few years when he established himself.
CF: I would rather give Fred Lewis the start here to see what he can do, but Winn makes too much plus he actually was one of the team's best players in 2007, so we need to let him play and continue to be good so that we can perhaps trade him for a nice prospect or two and THEN let Lewis start in CF. Sitting or platooning him as some suggests, just kills his trade value and we might then have to eat his salary, and I hate wasting payroll.
RF: Got to give Schierholtz a full season to show himself, so even if he has a slow start (much like Kouzmanoff in 2007), he needs to play and get his bearings. Prior in his career, he has needed time to adjust to the higher level of competition, but then once adjusted, he just blasts the ball around. We need to give him that time, even into 2009, as long as he is hitting decently and not like under 600 OPS.
UT: Aurilia is our insurance at 1B and 3B, in case either totally flops, but in no case should he take over starting, he would just be playing a lot more and Frandsen and/or Ortmeier, a lot less, both should still see playing time. Velez I threw in there because we need another infielder, though I suppose Niekro or McCain could fit in there as well. Lewis should still get a lot of AB's, either CF for Winn (give Winn more rest, play him about 140 games), plus RF (Schierholtz isn't playing 162 games), and he gets all the DH opportunities (that's another 15-20 games normally). That should give him about half a season of play, more if Roberts has an injury, which he appears to be prone to.
SP: I would like to see Sanchez take the last spot but realistically, Misch has shown the most as a starter, and I expect him to take the last spot. That's why I think Lowry should be aggressively marketed in trades and see if we can get someone to overpay a bit for him, because I think Misch can step in and do well in his place. And Correia did so well in starting, that he might beat out Misch, but I like Misch striking out so many, whereas Correia doesn't.
RP: Wilson will hopefully hold the closer spot this time, and Walker look like he would be good in setup, in combo with everyone else. Hennessey probably can be traded for good prospects because of all the roles he can take on, particularly closing in a pinch, plus setup and starting, but probably not until mid-season when a team is desperate. That's OK, he can help anchor the bullpen until then. Correia will probably end up here, though I would be just as happy if he pitches knock-out baseball like he did late in 2007 and snare a spot in the rotation instead.
I am not that worried for a variety of reasons. The offense without Bonds in 2007 was potent enough to put us middle of the pack in 46 games, and while that is small samples, it was spread across the season and there was only one real outlier (the 15 run game, plus the 10 run game but that I consider normal). It should be better in 2008 because Roberts will be healthy the whole year (as a hitter, though might have nagging injuries like Durham had before; in previous years injury didn't affect hitting, just playing time), Schierholtz usually improves in his second try at a level and even then he was at 85 OPS+, Frandsen should be able to outhit Feliz's 710 OPS at 3B, and Ortmeier/Aurilia at 1B should not be any worse than Aurilia/Klesko in 2007.
Plus, we don't know what talent will be available after the arbitration acceptance due date next Friday. We picked up Jose Cruz Jr. one time because he was non-tendered (and those should be apparent now, though I'm not aware yet who has been let go) and who knows which players refuse arbitration and go out into the market as free agents. There might be other options available to us soon.
In addition, cost/performance is what is trying us now, so maybe once we get into Jan/Feb we can do what KC and Pittsburg has done in previous years, take on cheap vets who can hold a spot for us while we evaluate things. So maybe get a 1B/3B type who can sit on the bench behind Ortmeier/Frandsen, and Aurilia would truly be a utility player instead of a potential starter.
In any case, there is still a lot of time until opening day to tweak the lineup in a cost effective way while rebuilding. And even if all the things I speculated on doesn't happen? We are re-building, it don't matter much, if we lose more, we'll just get a better draft pick in 2009.
Which should probably be the more important goal of 2008. We got a great pick in 2008's draft, #5, and we should get another good one in 2009's draft. These picks could be just as important to our future as our picks in 1985 and 1986, when we selected Will Clark and Matt Williams.
So why trade for a 1B prospect with a valuable pitcher? See if Ortmeier works and if he doesn't as some suspect, we can still trade for a 1B prospect with a valuable pitcher. Same for 3B. Same for RF. Losing don't really matter, evaluating what we have for the future should be the issue.
Same for Cain and Lincecum, I'm not saying we never break them up, but we wait to see what else springs up from the farm system, there is no urgency to change things up now, there is no need to upgrade positions now, all these changes can be delayed and it won't really affect our chances in 2008 or 2009 much. Such is the fate when your team is re-building and in poor shape talent wise.
Don't worry, be happy we have Cain and Lincecum (plus Villalona too).