Monday, March 31, 2008

Walk Tall: Play Ball! Giants 2008 Season Opener Against D-gers

"Walk Tall" That's what Krukow was told by long-time Giants employee Jim Davenport before a home opener. For me, while I would prefer that the Giants be a contender every year, sometimes life don't work out that way. In any case, I will "walk tall" and be a proud Giants fan.

As I sit here with a Barry Zito t-shirt on (Thanks Sis!), I know this won't be the best season ever or even a winning season, but I will enjoy it as there is a lot to enjoy. Cain. Lincecum. Even Zito and Correia.

Bochy made the point today in his pre-game show to point out that Velez and Lewis will see a lot of time in the field (that's not good for Ortmeier, oh well), so that will be interesting as well. And I think Schierholtz will be up, on merit, eventually and that the Giants will clear a spot for him. I think Bowker and Ishikawa will also see time up here at some point as well.

People say that Rowand is more of a complementary piece, but if he can hit for near-mid-800 OPS, that's basically what Carlos Lee, who the Giants were in the running for in the previous off-season, has done in his career, 830, 840 OPS, and he got a lot more money and years but he isn't even close to Rowand in defensive ability. I think he will be more of an offensive contributor than people have been saying.

Together, I think the offense will be just good enough to help our superlative pitching to win some games this year. And we are not that far off. The Tigers were in a similar situation in 2004, adding a good offensive/defensive player in Ivan Rodriguez, then adding Magglio Ordonez the next season plus other free agent signings. They were competitive two seasons later in 2006.

Don't worry about the wins, just enjoy the games, it's baseball! Go Giants!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Your 2008 Giants: Big 6 Questions

Named in honor of Big 6, Giants Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, I will posit on what I see as the Big 6 questions that the Giants face this season. I will give my thoughts on the possible answers.

1) How Many Losses?

As I've outlined in previous posts, I think the Giants are capable of besting last year's 71 win total, even without Bonds and Feliz, and perhaps even reach the .500 mark, or 81 wins. I think they will be closer to 81 than they will be to 71. I'll give further detail in my upcoming post on my thoughts on the 2008 season.

But I will say that it looks like the theory that Sabean has been espousing in recent years, that the league will switch from power to speed, much like the 80's and the Cards, will be put into practice, as speedsters like Davis, Velez and Lewis are added to the Giants roster, with Bocock, Burriss, Richardson, and others moving up the system as well. If they can execute this well, then their offense will be better than expected (and not much is expected), and will contribute to getting their record closer to .500 than last year's record.

2) Which Young Position Players Will Shine, Which Will Fail?

Obviously, I cannot answer this question at this time but can give some thoughts. I think Dan Ortmeier can hit well enough to hold the position until one of our better prospects come up and take it over, most probably Angel Villalona by 2009-11, but it could be another prospects, as I'll go into later. Kevin Frandsen might have lost his best chance to get to start in the majors, as Eugenio Velez looks to take 2B this season at some point, but either appear to be keeping the position warm for when Nick Noonan is ready, 2010-11 time period.

The Giants could keep 3B waiting for Frandsen for 2009, but while I like his bat, I don't think it's one that is suited for 3B unless we can get power (or speed) from other positions. But there is no one in the minors who look ready to take 3B, so that works to Frandsen's advantage. My only speculation there would be perhaps the Giants might move Travis Denker there, as he has shown some power in the minors (but not real 3B power, just more than Frandsen). Velez will get a chance to be the Giants "Figgins" until he finds a position he can stick at.

In the outfield, I think Nate Schierholtz will take RF at some point, and it looks likely to me that John Bowker will eventually win LF, but unless trades happen neither will do it this season. Fred Lewis' defense appears to be pretty bad, and his offense is not good enough to counter that. As athletic as he is, he might be best suited for the DH role in the AL, utility OF role in the NL. Rajai Davis can't hit righties but mashes lefties; Dave Roberts can't hit lefties but mashes righties. Both run like the wind and are similar leadoff hitters. A better match for platoon buddies does not exist.

I think Winn will be traded by mid-season once Schierholtz shows that he can duplicate his hitting for average and power again to start the 2008 season in AAA. Winn might go earlier if the Giants are serious about letting Lewis start more, but they admit that Lewis doesn't hit lefties that well.

3) Will the Pitching Rotation Be As Good As Advertised?

I think they will be better than projections currently show, and they are pretty good already. I guess the corollary question is then, will they be healthy? And by they, I mean Cain and Lincecum. Right now, it looks good, but you can never really know. Lincecum has developed a new slider that appears to be working quite fine, thank you. So the top of our rotation looks pretty good right now and should be quite an effective 1-2 punch eventually; they will be manning the #2 and #3 spots this season, which is good, less pressure on them, particularly Lincecum, to do well.

I think Zito can do as well as he was doing in the last 1-2 months of the season, plus he added some tweaks this spring training by changing his pitching motion. He should be in the high 3's ERA range. Lowry I think will do as well as he has been doing for most of the past two seasons (around 4.00 ERA) once he returns from the DL in early May/late April and become the best #4 starter in the majors. And between Sanchez and Correia, I think at least one will do well enough and that would be good enough for the #5 starter.

4) Will Brian Wilson Sing At Closer?

I think he is finally ready. He needed his butt kicked last season and responded well to being sent down. He was superb at the end of the season pitching for us as the closer. He will greatly improve the 2007 bullpen all by himself.

5) Which Vets Will We Eventually Trade?

I think the fire sale rumor was true, as it was reported from two different media sources citing their own sources. So I think that eventually all the ones named will be traded - Aurilia, Durham, Winn, perhaps even Roberts, opening spots for young prospects to take over. I think some of the young bullpen might be traded as well, as add-ons, to get a better position player.

In a recent interview, Sabean noted that he wants a lefty to break up Molina/Rowand/Durham, but if they trade away Randy Winn and insert Nate Schierholtz there, Nate can be that lefty bat. In fact, if Schierholtz can hit like he has, we could put Molina lower in the lineup and bat Rowand or Durham in the #4 and #6 spots, with Schierholtz #5.

6) Who Will the Giants Pick With their #5 Pick Overall?

The Giants need an impact bat. Most experts I've seen think that such a bat exists for us at the #5 overall. Unfortunately, most of them are 1B, which is where the Giants are trying to move Villalona to this season. Most mock drafts have the Giants picking Justin Smoak, college 1B. There were some speculation that they might go for pitching again, but in a recent interview on KNBR, Sabean admitted that they may have overdone the pitching drafting thing, and thus would put more emphasis on position players. There is also a current 3B in Pedro Alvarez, but he's expected to go #1 and some think he's eventually moving to 1B.

The Giants also have a high supplemental first draft pick because of the Phillies signing Feliz, and a number of good hitters fell there in 2007, such as Nick Noonan. But each year is different in terms of talent pool, so you can't rely on that fact, you can only note that 2007 was good. And Noonan is no sure thing to reach the majors and do well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bad News: Frandsen Probably Out All 2008 Season

Boy, the season as it was, was not going to be the greatest, but there were a few things I was greatly looking forward to: Cain getting better, Lincecum getting best, and Frandsen breaking out and becoming a starter. OK, maybe not a starter, but getting a lot of ABs a la Feliz when he broke out, getting consistent ABs all over the diamond. Lewis I'll believe when I see it, I have hopes for Ortmeier but know that years of poor performance in the minors says nix on that thought, Schierholtz don't have a spot, and I don't think Davis is the real deal.

But, Bam!, suddenly Frandsen's Achilles' heal burst, along with his season, and possibly his career - opportunities like this don't fall out of the tree that often, just ask Lance Niekro. This type of injury generally requires surgery and 5-6 months of recovery. He'll be lucky to make it back before the September call-ups.

Now, with Frandsen apparently out for the season, that causes a lot of things to happen. First is that Jose Castillo is pretty much guaranteed a spot, basically the spot that Frandsen was going to get, whereas before he was just backup in case anything goes wrong, like, for example, this injury. He might also get to start a lot, like Frandsen was suppose to do, depending on how his competition does. Second, and more importantly, Eugenio Velez, who is now Castillo's main competition, is now most probably not only making the team, but probably will get a lot of starts that Frandsen was going to get.

I believe the Giants were serious about giving young guys playing time, and now that Frandsen is out, that means Velez, who was already making the Giants think about giving him starting time with his great spring, will most probably see starting time at 2B, 3B, OF, probably even SS, much like Feliz did in the season he first played in a lot of games. Heck, though he hasn't hit well as a RHH, he is a natural righty, so he might even get some of the platoon game in LF with Roberts, instead of Davis, who has been pretty invisible this spring, it seems, I can't even think of what he has done, whereas Velez has been in the media constantly.

And that kind of leads into my third thought, which is that this might work out in giving Ortmeier starting time at 1B to start the season. Durham says everything is fine, that he is starting opening day, but this is not the first time he has cried "wolf". At least once every season he has been with us, there has been a 10-15 game period where he can't play, but he says he is almost ready to play, he just doesn't want to risk anything. So I expect him to waste a spot on the bench by having his cranky body unable to start, forcing the Giants to play Aurilia at 3B, Velez at 2B, and thus Ortmeier at 1B.

Heck, I hope the Giants just DL Durham to start the season - tear the bandage off the scab - and start Velez at 2B, Aurilia at 3B, and give Ortmeier 1B for a while. In any case, Castillo would be the utility guy plus get an occassional start at 2B and 3B. And Ortmeier has been turning around his hitting the past few games after it was made known that he's not guaranteed anything. Made it seem like he had been pressing and getting that ultimatum got him over the hump and just do it, instead of worrying each AB and not doing well.

I was not sold on Velez before, but he's doing more and more to impress me. Fred Lewis too. Hopefully, now that my Frandsen hopes were dashed, we can see Ortmeier, Velez, and Lewis get a lot of ABs and show what they can do.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More Cuts: Misch and Rodriguez

Unsurprisingly, Pat Misch and Guillermo Rodriguez were the latest to get the cut.

Misch wasn't making the rotation and, having a horrible spring, meant that he would not relieve either. That's OK, I want him in AAA and starting, ready to come up should the need arise. And you never know. Rodriguez didn't help himself by hitting so poorly, an even decent spring would have beaten Alfonzo handily who is actually doing worse, but has more MLB experience. Plus Taschner has secured a job in the bullpen with his new pitch that has worked wonders this spring.

Alfonzo can't sit easy either, though, as the Giants are keeping Steve Holm, a power hitting catcher who probably was slated for AAA this season. I recall him being among the few HR power-hitters in Dodd Stadium. Plus the Giants are looking at other catchers. Reportedly, they spoke to the Angels about 1B Kotchman and C Mathis. Either would be a good catch, but they probably then want one of the elite pitchers, and we don't have any to spare.

It also sounds like Chulk will probably go on the DL for at least the first series, which would mean that both Valdez and Threets would start the season with the Giants, and perhaps Yabu too. The speculation is that by doing this, after the rosters are set for all the other teams, they could make the move to waive one of them (probably Threets) and squeeze him through. I doubt he would make it through, though. At minimum the Marlins are looking for bodies, else they would not have made the trades to jettison their best players, heck, they even picked up Linden and tired of his act quickly and let him go.

Ortmeier's either getting the message or finally is hitting again, that is good news for him, he has 5 hits in the last 3 games, plus some power to boot. Then again, the rule is that switch-hitters take longer to round into hitting conditions.

Lastly, Peter Magowan is asking the Giants fans to show some patience in light of the younger team now. Good luck with that!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Take a Chance on Me: Jerome Williams

The news the other day was that Jerome Williams came around, hat in hand, trying to get another chance with another team during spring training. He was willing to even start all the way down in A-ball.

What Andrew Baggarly of the Merc mentioned too was that Jerome was a svelte 230 pounds, 40 pounds less than his weight the last time he was a Giants player. No wonder the Giants traded him, he was ballooning up and wasn't listening to the Giants brass so they ditched him.

Jerome Williams was one pitcher I was pinning a lot of hopes on as he rose through the system. Ainsworth I liked more but he always seemed to get injured, for one thing or another. He kept on doing well as he climbed and, at one time, I recall one of the mainstream baseball writers (can't remember if blog or published) compared his accomplishments with Dwight Gooden, and how Jerome's comparables were mostly highly accomplished pitchers.

Then he had his great first season, and lo, here was our next ace, who would pair up very nicely with Jason Schmidt in the rotation. I thought we were going to have a great rotation because all the word I always heard about Jerome was how mature he was, that he had a good makeup. Unfortunately, that was a lot of hooey, as it is clear now that he ate his way out of baseball.

Out of sentimental reasons, I would like to see the Giants give him a chance down that low. (That's why I'm glad they signed Foppert too). At that level, he shouldn't be holding back any of our real prospects. And if he really is in shape and capable of pitching well again in the majors, that only adds to the pitching staff and makes it that much more stronger. I don't see him taking a position on the rotation, but he should be pretty good coming in relief. He can rear back and use his best stuff instead of holding back like when he was a starter and pacing himself. Plus I wouldn't trust that he won't relapse once he is successful again, so a reliever is easier to replace than a starter.

Other News

Lots of other news bits:
  • Nate Schierholtz was sent down to AAA. It was clear he wasn't going to make it, but he got sent down this early because the rules say he has to stay down there 10 days, and the Giants want to be able to bring him back up to the majors if, for some reason, the Giants need an OF by opening day. Could a trade of an OF be in the works? Perhaps to get a 3B.
  • Sabean had an odd way of talking about sending Nate down, due mostly to the fact that he still has options and Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis, and Dan Ortmeier didn't: "He's the victim of the rule, really. It's a matter of keeping our inventory." How's that for being a piece of meat, bought and sold.
  • Also going down to Fresno with Nate are Travis Ishikawa (finally!), Travis Denker (skips horrible Dodd Stadium, lucky him), and Billy Sadler. In addition, they reassigned Emmanuel Burriss, Ivan Ochoa, and Victor Santos to the minor league camp.
  • Swimming upstream is Ryan Rohlinger 3B of Level A Augusta, who was brought back to the major league camp, after coming up for single games at a time, and the Giants are serious about giving him a chance to win the 3B job. He hit for a ton of power in A-ball, but not much for average, so he looks to be a low (very low, Mendoza level of badness) average hitter who can hit for some power.
  • On that note, Eugenio Velez apparently has made the 25 man starting day roster, and is in the running for the 3B position as well. He had a good spring and forced the team to consider him.
  • Falling down in the running during the spring was Dan Ortmeier for 1B, though the Giants at least realize that part of his struggles were because of the difficulties of a crash course learning how to play 1B. However, he has started getting hot again, getting a homer in his last game. But right now it looks like Rich Aurilia will get 1B, which leaves 3B open to a number of candidates: Frandsen, Rohlinger, Velez.
  • The rotation looks like Zito, Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Correia, in that order so that Zito would not pitch right after him. Misch will probably be the first or second to be called up from AAA.
  • The bullpen is full of surprises. Kline is doing horribly and could be traded or even released. Messenger was waived the other day and cleared so the Giants sent him down to the majors. They are very seriously considering Erick Threets, who had done OK this spring, and is also out of options. Merkin Valdez is showing his magic again and looks like he will get a spot. Jack Taschner has had a superb spring training, and probably got another spot even though he still has an option for the season and the other pitchers have no options.
  • The Giants have announced a change in size, with the bullpen having seven pitchers now: Brian Wilson, Tyler Walker (who learned the split-finger fastball over the off-season), Brad Hennessey, Vinnie Chulk, Jack Taschner, and Merkin Valdez plus the seventh guy.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why I Love Cain!!!

In today's Mercury, Andrew Baggarly has a nice article on Cain and comments on his greatness from competing players in the NL West:
  • Peavy: "Dude can pitch, man. Do me a favor and tell him I like his style."
  • Webb: "Guys ask about myself and Peavy all the time. But (Cain) is one of the top pitchers in the league, too. I definitely feel for where he's at." (Webb was 7-16 with 3.59 ERA - ranked 15th - when the Diamondbacks lost 111 games in '04; Cain was 7-16 for the Giants last season).
  • Peavy again: "He is as good as anybody in the N.L. on a given day. He's a big, strong kid who's going to hold up. He's going to eat innings. I love the mentality, the vibe you get when he's on the mound. I love to see a pitcher stand up for himself and be a competitor on the mound. I totally get that vibe from him."
  • Holliday: "I'd sure take him on our staff. There is no doubt he's one of the top young pitchers in the league. He's in the top tier of pitchers in general. He's got a great fastball that moves and he can pitch inside."

Now here are some great quotes from Cain:

  • "It's just not respecting the game when that stuff happens, and that's why I get upset about it. That's kind of my little area on the mound and I guard it. I don't want anybody to mess with it, and that's the way I take it. You want to own the mound and you want to own the plate, too. That's my mentality all the time." (said in reference to when Scott Hairston flipped his bat after homer off Cain)
  • "There's so much to learn. I definitely look up to Webb and Peavy, Maddux, all those guys. I can learn from them. I can learn from Timmy (Lincecum), even though he doesn't have as much (service) time. I just don't ever think I'm bigger than the game."
That's what I love about Cain. He's a huge competitor and wants to be the best. Yet, despite how well he has pitched so far, his ego is totally in check, he is totally self-effacing and just looking to get better all the time. He has shown this attitude from day One and has not veered from it. And he's only 22 years old, turning 23 in October. I hope the Giants are able to sign him to an nice extension when the time is appropriate and keep him as a Giant for a long time.

Over his career I have seen fans suggest that we need to trade Matt Cain to fix other parts of the team. To me, that's like cutting off your arm, you don't trade a Matt Cain, you keep him around for a long time.

Shame on any Giants fan who even thought of trading Matt Cain at any point. Shame!!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mild Shocker: Jose Capellan, Gone!

As reported in the Chronicle (at bottom of article in a little blurb), the Giants waived reliever and Rule 5 draftee, Jose Capellan, and surprisingly, the Reds picked him up. The Red Sox will have to wait a little longer to get their guy back, I guess, but it won't be from the Giants now. This is a mild shocker after the big buildup the Giants gave leading up to spring training, particularly with all the Felipe Alou crowing about what a steal he is, but ultimately this is a good sign that they are willing to admit mistakes and move on from them, not cling to them. That happens to the best of us.

Feliz to Crede to Inge

In other news, ugh, the Giants are looking into obtaining Brandon Inge, who is owed $19.1M over the next three seasons by the Detroit Tigers. He is basically another Feliz-like 3B like Crede, hits for HR power, but don't get on base much, and has a good glove, I think he was high in the rankings for 3B in the Fielding Bible's top 10 list for 3B. I guess Frandsen isn't giving the Giants any reason to hand him 3B, but I disagree, he hit well last season at the end when he was given regular play. Just start him at 3B and see what happens. What happens, happens.

Better than giving Detroit any prospect for Inge. The only reason I would be OK with getting Inge is if he suddenly agreed to play C for the Giants periodically, say, late in the game when Bochy wants to pinch-run for Molina, Inge would take C and give the Giants flexibility, PLUS it is Steve Kline who is traded to the Tigers (saves us $1.5M this season plus open a spot for a young pitcher), and the Tigers give us about $2M each year in 2009-10. That clears a spot in the bullpen for someone young, which is now one less with Capellan gone, and makes Inge affordable and tradeable with a low salary, assuming the Tigers give us some money.

Latest 12 Man Staff

Let's see, we know for the most part who the 5 starters are, and if Kline is traded that opens up a spot, and with a 12 man staff, that's 7 relievers: Wilson, Walker, Hennessey, Chulk, Valdez, Threets, Taschner. Plus, though I would prefer they just start, either up here or down at Fresno, the loser for the #5 starting spot between Sanchez and Misch might relieve too.

Boy, it was looking like a log jam just a little while ago, with Capellan looking like he's sticking no matter what and Kline probably sticking around, plus Messenger was a contender for a position until he blew up, both on the field and off. Now, if the Giants are smart about it and move Kline out, and make both Sanchez and Misch starters no matter what, the bullpen look like it is set and set nicely with the addition of the young blood looking to take key roles in the bullpen.

Lincecum Coming Around

The linked article talked about Tim Lincecum's new slider he is trying out. That's one thing I like about Lincecum, as he was going through college, he would need a new pitch to get to the next level, and he would work on it and get to the next level. Learning and progressing are good things in a pitcher, improving themselves for whatever goal they are trying to reach.

A new stat in Fangraphs is being provided now, a pitcher's type of pitches thrown in a season for the past three seasons. The Kid obviously has just the one, but, wow, his fastballs averaged 94.2 mph. AVERAGED! Most pitchers would be happy to reach 94 regularly while pitching in the low 90's, but he averaged that. Of course, he threw mainly fastballs. Why not when you can throw at that high a velocity.

His second most thrown pitch was his curveball. It is nearly 14 miles slower than his fastball, at 80.6 mph. That is more separation than he gets with his changeup, which runs around 84.4 mph. That is still about 10 mph separation, which is what most pitchers need to be effective pitchers. Now he is adding a slider to the mix, to become a 4 pitch starter, and he's feeling good about it right now. Makes me feel good too, I think that if he, Cain, and Zito can put in very good years, we have a chance to be decently competitive, even with the bad hitting we will get.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Giants Fire Sale: Addendum

MLB Trade Rumors quotes Jayson Stark's take on the fire sale rumor that confirms the Ken Rosenthal article. Where's there smoke, there's a fire sale. His article provides three additional names to the list: Tyler Walker, Rajai Davis, and Merkin Valdez. It also includes the usual suspects: Durham, Aurilia, Winn, and Kline.

I had speculated on Davis being on the list but totally missed Walker and Valdez. I saw Hennessey being the one to be traded, but Walker credentials are almost that of Hennessey in that he has served in all the roles of the bullpen, he just hasn't started much, if any. So, in terms of value, he could be near that of Hennessey, even though he's many years older and just recovering from TJS.

But given the clear statement by the Giants that Hennessey is not starting, then I don't see why Walker and not also Hennessey. They are only really necessary if the Giants are really serious about competing in 2008, not so much if it is a rebuilding year. Perhaps the Giants think they can get more for Walker than for Hennessey. Or maybe they simply think that he won't be good enough, long enough, so may as well see what they can get for him today. If they don't get offered enough, they can simply pull him off the table then.

Valdez I am surprised by, especially since he is doing well this spring training. Maybe they are just doing a switch and bait with him on the list, to get a feel for how much teams are willing to give up for him plus get the team on the phone and talk them into another player. Maybe he still does something the Giants don't think will work out in the long run, much like how they gave up on Jerome Williams so fast, faster than fans (including myself) were willing to, but ultimately they have been correct, Williams and Aardsma have not amounted to much, and they at least got some usefulness out of Hawkins and Kline.

Still, surprising to see his name there. After all this waiting, I want to see what we got, not trade him away. I would only be happy getting an interesting position prospect for him. Though I guess I would be OK with another starting pitcher prospect who is semi-decent.

About Davis, another thought just popped in: perhaps Bowker is opening the eyes of the Giants brass this spring, and they are thinking of jumping him to the majors to platoon with Roberts. He isn't hitting particularly well in terms of results, but maybe they are impressed by how well he is swinging.

Or it could be that they are looking at Davis's horrendous September stats and realizing that he was just really lucky in August when they got him, he is just not that good a hitter, so trade Davis now, while his value is high, and try out someone else in platoon with Roberts.

Again, there is no Dave Roberts on the list. I know a lot of fans want him gone instead of Winn, but really, he's the one who mkes the most sense for the Giants going forward, both in terms of lead-off abilities and allowing a young player or two to get significant playing time, plus the fact that we would get more back in a trade from Winn than we would from Roberts. And he has some skills that are plus, whereas Winn is plus nowhere, he is just Mr. Average.

And that's not a knock, just the truth. That is because even an average player is worth something in baseball, the average player is still much better than the so-called replacement level player who are on the margins of baseball. And even the best teams don't have stars at every position, they need average players to complement the good players.

Fire Sales, per the comments made on the other post, don't necessarily mean that you sell off all your good players. It could mean clearing out the deadwood that gets in the way of the new growth, the young players. And before spring training, Durham and Aurilia probably had very little value, given how poorly they did in 2007, so a good showing thus far makes them all shining and, well, not new, but gritty vets with something left to prove. And spring is the time for injurie to crop up, making teams suddenly need players, perhaps, like Durham or Aurilia.

For example, Aurilia would fit in nicely with LA right now, given LaRoche's recent injury, and provide coverage at 3B in case Nomar gets injured again, plus if LaRoche takes longer to recover (or alternatively, they don't have to rush him back), and at worse he's the uber-utility guy across the infield again. Guys who can play multiple positions are especially coveted these days because of the expanded bullpens and 5 man rotations.

And Chicago has been getting dry humped over and over again by the Orioles regarding Brian Roberts, maybe they get tired and pick up Durham again, he's a known quantity, he's from Chicago White Sox before, so the fans know him, and he is good when he is hitting well, and he has been hitting very well this spring. Or any AL team who needs a better DH, Durham could do that as well.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Giants Fire Sale?

The MLB rumor site quoted Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sport reporting that the "Giants have informed several teams that they are shopping over a dozen of their major league and minor league players." Ken Rosenthal said some of the players include Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, Randy Winn, and Steve Kline. The author of the site then actually called the Giants "and found out that Travis Ishikawa and Noah Lowry are both on that list as well." He suggested that this is a Giants fire sale.

Not quite because not every player who should go in a fire sale were mentioned. All the players listed make a lot of sense to trade because they are holding back younger players or is not as necessary anymore or both.

Durham out = Frandsen starting at 2B. Durham's horrid 2007 notwithstanding, he has had a very solid career, and a good spring could convince another team that he is back enough to obtain. The level of player we get back will correspond fully with how much the other team believes Durham is back.

Aurilia out = Velez as uber-utility guy. Aurilia had a horrible 2007, probably caused by a fender bender in spring training. But he's a relatively cheap vet who can play the whole infield and hit OK enough for a team to take him for a nothing prospect sent to the Giants. And the Giants are happy to oblige because they don't need him right now, except as 3B insurance, but there are others who should do OK at 3B, like Frandsen and possibly Velez.

Randy Winn was one of the few to have a good 2007, so the Giants should want to trade him because he could net a good prospect, unlike the others = Nate Schierholtz and/or Fred Lewis getting a chance to start in RF. They can't platoon since both are lefties, but they would be competing for playing time there. Or they could give Lewis the starting role for half a season, and if he can't hold it, bring up Schierholtz, or even Bowker, depending on who is doing better (though it appears that Bowker might be prepped as Ortmeier's replacement if Dan falters).

Steve Kline out = probably Jose Capellan being kept. Giants have a number of young good RP who are out of options or could be lost: Valdez, Threets, Capellan. The first two have been doing well, and the third, Capellan, comes highly recommended, Felipe Alou would lose a lot of face if they return him to the Red Sox because they got him in Rule 5 draft.

Noah Lowry out = Jonathan Sanchez or Pat Misch in. Both need to start in the majors to see how they do, but Correia looks good to go in winning the only open spot, and Lowry is the most expendable of the top four of Cain, Lincecum, Zito, and Lowry (obviously Zito's contract precludes any trade, and the Giants aren't trading the other two, no matter how many fans want them to).

Unfortunately, Lowry went under the knife Friday for surgery, so he's not going to be traded right now. I assume the Giants are kicking the tires, as Sabean would say, in order to set the table for trading him by mid-season.

Travis Ishikawa is a failing prospect and there are now other prospects looking to be the Giants future 1B. First, we have Angel Villalona, who most rate as being in the Top 30 (or better) overall among all prospects. So even if Ishikawa came up this year, Angel will take the spot in a couple of years. Then there is Dan Ortmeier who looks to be getting the chance to start there until Angel is ready, plus if he is OK at 1B, he colld always return to the OF. If Ortmeier falters, then John Bowker would next get the chance. And there are a number of college 1B who the Giants could pick in this season's amateur draft with their #5 pick overall.

Still, Ishikawa is a great defender and has considerable power plus walks a lot, and he really needs to start in AAA or he'll be lost by the Giants next season as he only has one option left. But they appear to like McClain and he plays 1B at AAA plus they are trying out John Bowker at 1B as well (he could also come up mid-season and start in RF too).

I think they should keep him because he has been severely bothered by the poor parks at San Jose and Norwich (see MiLB.com's series by Jonathan Mayo for insight on how bad these parks are for hitters), they need to see how he does in AAA, in more regular parks. But it is not like he's a sure thing, it is just that he showed a lot of power and ability to walk despite the bad hitting environment in San Jose and Norwich is just a bear to play in for almost any power hitter. There should be other teams willing to give him a chance, heck, even Todd Linden got picked up and Ellison was traded twice and was a glorified pinch-runner with each team.

Giants Thoughts

The names on the list above are no surprise to most Giants fans. What is surprising, at least to those who don't read here, is that Dave Roberts is not on the list. As I have been harping on, the Giants want Roberts around to teach tips to the speedsters we'll have up here in 2008 and 2009. The key to making aggressive basestealing work is to not get caught and Roberts steals both in quantity (23-49 while starting regularly) and quality (81% career success; 88% last two seasons).

There was only six names revealed in the two articles, meaning that about five to seven more names are on the list that were not noteworthy enough for the authors to mention. Here are some of my thoughts on who else might be on the list.

Given that the Giants list outfielders as a desire, I have to think that Rajai Davis and Clay Timpner are on the list. Rajai Davis was never much of a prospect, a AAAA candidate until he had that nice month with us before the league caught up with him. And Clay Timpner really only works in CF and we just signed Aaron Rowand to play CF for a long while. Maybe Fred Lewis is on the list too, though I would think he would be mentioned if Ishikawa was.

In addition, they are reportedly looking for set up relievers, so it could be that Brad Hennessey might be on the list as well. As nicely as he has done, in a wide variety of roles - starting, long relief, set-up, and closing - he does not have the power arm that Giants management likes, so he could be a case of selling high, after doing so well in 2007 in a number of roles, as well as oping a spot for one of the trio of relievers we would lose if not on the Giants 25 man roster come starting day: Merkin Valdez, Erick Threets, and Jose Capellan.

He could net a good prospect due to how well he has done, how flexible he can be in a variety of situations, and how much longer they have to control him. It could explain why the Giants started him recently in spring training. You know, show how valuable he can be to prospective teams.

I would also add Randy Messenger and maybe Vinnie Chulk as possibilities too. Particularly Messenger after his big blow up over his demotion the other day. With so many other good young relievers who cannot be sent down, the Giants could afford to trade these two while the trio are doing well and the two have some trade value as major league relievers.

Chulk would not get sent down in any case, but had a nice year last season and thus could net a nice prospect back. Messenger was just sent down recently, as the Giants still had an option on him, but, still, he did well for us until he busted his fist in the wall, which probably cost us any chance of getting anyone good for him in trade, but I would not mind losing him because he don't strike out that many batters on a K/9 basis. We need strikeout pitchers to be more successful in the playoffs and neither of them are stellar in that regard.

Oddly enough, the Giants are looking for backup catchers, which implies that they are not happy with Eliezer Alfonzo or Guillermo Rodriguez as our backups. Given their offensive show during the Carribean Winter Leagues, that suggest they are looking for a strong defensive catcher to complement Molina, whose defense has seen much better days. I like Alfonzo as backup, but given the Giants future relies so much on pitching, it would behoove us to pick up someone solid defensively as a backup catcher, for defensive purposes at the end of the game, plus he could see starts when Bengie Molina is struggling offensively, which is his only area of value-add.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Giants of the Future: Augusta

Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury had a really nice article on Villalona and the nice team the Giants are assembling at the Level A team, the Augusta Greenjackets of the Sally League (South Atlantic League). But read it fast, it will be gone in about 4 days from now.

For those who get the newspaper, there is a great picture of Villalona in there. It makes it very clear why the Giants are moving him to first base, he is Ginormous! The other pictures I've seen of him must have been taken from a very good angle, because he just looked big, but this picture really makes it clear that the Giants have to move him to 1B. After all, he's only 17 and still growing!!! Felipe Alou claims that it is just baby fat, and that he will grow out of it. I will just have to accept his word on that.

In any case, too bad he's probably moving to 1B because we have no one who is ready to take on 3B plus the best position prospects available to us at the #5 pick of the amateur draft this season are firstbasemen. Not that he wouldn't be valuable there too, just it would make our future lineup more clearer. Now we have a question mark at 3B for the future.

But what a nice looking future it is shaping out to be, here on the field in Augusta this spring and summer. Angel Villalona at 1B. Nick Noonan at 2B. Charlier Culberson at SS. Wendell Fairley in CF. Madison Bumgarner at SP, plus maybe Tim Alderson. There is some good info on them, but mostly about Noonan and Villalona:

  • Noonan: He has the best strike-zone judgment of any Giants position prospect, according to some coaches. The Giants feel that Noonan's baseball acumen is so off the charts that they even put him on the travel roster for a Cactus League game last week. (Note: they might do the same with Villalona later this spring.)
  • Villalona: Lots of quotes by and about him, so I thought it would be easier to just quote them from Baggarly's good article.
    Though he signed as a third baseman, Villalona - who is 6-foot-3 and appears
    well beyond his listed weight of 200 pounds - is working at first base and is
    expected to play there at Augusta.
    "I think I am better at first base," Villalona said with the help of an interpreter. "I feel more comfortable at first base, and they put me there for a reason."
    There are some concerns about Villalona's expanding waistline, though Alou calls it "baby fat" and said it's typical for young players to replace it with muscle when they hit their late teens.
    For now, Villalona is getting past the initial culture shock and beginning to settle in. He was soft-spoken but comfortable when speaking with a reporter, as Merengue music drifted from the iPhone in his locker.
    "I'm learning many things," he said. "I want to get my hands dirty and see what I can do."
    While some call him "Baby V" or "Big V," his teammates just call him
    Villa.
    "Villa is just a big kid," Culberson said. "He'll be in the outfield doing cartwheels and the next minute he's hitting bombs."
    Said Alou: "When he first got here, the other players were more advanced, in baseball and in life. He wanted to compete with them, and it was difficult. But I tell you, he is competing with them now. A year later, he is competing."
  • Alderson: The reason he might be at Augusta is because he is so advanced that he might get placed with San Jose instead, like how Lincecum started out there (I'm not trying to compare their potential, though, because clearly The Kid was much more advanced, he was a 3rd year college hurler; I'm only noting the similarity of both starting up so high after signing)
  • Culberson: During instructional league, he showed that he was pretty advanced with his glove.
  • Fairly: Might be the best athlete in the Giants farm system.
One last thing about Villalona. He has been a sensation during spring training, hitting deep drives beyond the left-field fence, over a protective netting, clearing the trees and bouncing off the pavement about 450 feet away. And the vision of him doing cartwheels, given how huge he looked in the photo, is jarring. :^)

Other News

The fallout from Lowry's surgery and being out the month of April continues. Sanchez hasn't been doing well and thus is not holding the last spot in the rotation. The Giants know that Hennessey wants to start and will give him a start today, though there is no plans to stretch him out beyond 2 innings. I have to assume that Misch is in the mix as well. Any rumor about them adding a vet pitcher - I saw one rumor mill mention Kyle Lohse - I have to assume is media-driven speculation, the Giants have been pretty good this winter about going with youth where they can.

In addition, Bochy now says that he will probably have to keep 12 pitchers as a result of the injury. This means an extra guy in the bullpen and they are doing this because the uncertainty in the back of the rotation could result in the need for more relief appearances due to the #5 starter getting pulled early.

I think the team was also influenced by how well both Merkin Valdez and Erick Threets have been throwing, plus the desire to keep Jose Capellan. With a 11 man pitching staff, the Giants would have to lose at least one of them (all of them would be lost if not kept on the 25-man roster). They would also have to lose another if they keep Steve Kline. Valdez, if he continues to pitch well, could slide into a set-up spot and allow the Giants to move Hennessey to starter or long-relief.

Unfortunately, there is also news about Lincecum having a groin injury, so the Giants have shut him down. His slim frame and long stride could cause other physical problems if he should compensate for the groin injury while throwing. I think this was a good precaution.

The good news continue on Wilson and Walker. Both have been doing well, and Wilson was "sharp in his first save situation of the spring." He earned his first save of the spring striking out two and getting a groundout, exactly what you want to see from him as he relies greatly on his cutter that he learned from watching Mariano Riviera demonstrate one on TV.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I Guess Lowry Won't Be Traded Now

The Giants announced today that Noah Lowry will undergo surgery on his left wrist. The 411:

Lowry, 27, was diagnosed with exertional compartmental syndrome in his forearm. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Lowry could resume throwing in two to three weeks and might not rejoin the starting rotation until late April, although an official prognosis won't be issued until after the surgery.

The Mayo Clinic's Web site described exertional compartmental syndrome as "an exercise-induced neuromuscular condition that causes pain, swelling and sometimes even disability in affected muscles of the legs or arms. The condition can occur in both beginning and seasoned athletes in sports that involve repetitive movements."

In layman's terms, throwing causes compression in Lowry's forearm compartment, resulting in a pressure buildup that squeezes a nerve which weakens Lowry's hand. Dr. Gordon Brody will perform Lowry's surgery, which is expected to be a mild procedure, by making a small incision and releasing the fascia -- akin to slicing a sausage casing -- around the forearm muscles.

Ew, TMI!

Obviously, this should kill all the stupid Lowry for Crede trade rumors that have been flying around. Why the Giants would give up 3 cheap years of a good pitcher for one year of a below average 3B, I don't know, but all the Sabean haters were having a field day crying over how Sabean would do this trade.

I'm OK with this news. It is not great, but I'm OK because it will allow the Giants to start another pitcher in April - whether Sanchez or Misch, as I'm assuming that Correia is now in for sure, though, heck, either could push Correia out with a stellar April when Lowry comes back. In addition, Lowry clearly has been having health issues and this is probably the straw that breaks the camel's back for most teams, his value is severely devalued now, if it wasn't before. Still, getting to basically rest during April should keep Lowry fresh for the second half and he should be able to pitch the rest of the season relatively healthy (though that didn't work in 2006).

In other news, Frandsen has been removed from being the starting SS both because he was struggling there and there seems no use to putting him through a huge position change when he is struggling and it would only be for a week or two during the regular season. The leading contender is Brian Bocock, who has impressed with the glove (some report him as the best fielding SS in our system) and bat, though his bat was the problem last season in Advanced A level. Also competing are Emmanuel Burriss and last year's AAA starter, Ivan Ochoa. I would prefer Ochoa, just to see what he can do up here, but I would be OK with Bocock.

Lastly, Randy Messenger was sent down and he was not happy about it, though he has been horrible this spring, and the odds of him making the 25-man roster was between slim and none. Merkin Valdez has been having a hot spring, which is good because we are out of options and lose him if we try to waive him to the minors. Erick Threets is also out of options and likewise has been doing well. If they make it, then the odds of Jose Capellan making it seems pretty slim if the team goes with a 11 man pitching staff, as Bochy would like to do. Haven't heard what he has done so far. The bullpen right now looks like Brian Wilson, Tyler Walker, Brad Hennessey, Vinnie Chulk, plus two others, with Valdez, Threets, Capellan, and Kline the main competitors there. I can see Kline being traded to make space before the end of spring. El Lefty Malo has been having a nice series of articles on the bullpen, check there for more info.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Stronger Sanchez

Jonathan Sanchez had been having strong bullpen sessions before the exhibition games, but has been unable so far to repeat it during the game. That is therefore something he will have to work on this spring. Still, he appeared to be generating more power from a strengthened lower body during those sessions, so hopefully this will start translating into the games.

This is from working out during the off-season. He gained five pounds of muscles in his legs, it was reported by Andrew Baggarly (how he knew that specifically, I have no idea). The wonders of youth properly applied!

That's kind of scary good for Giants fans as he was known for high cheese for a lefty before this. That's how the rotation is going to improve over time, the cream will rise and thus good pitchers like Lowry (9 walks notwithstanding) and other starters can become trade bait in the future.

Another thought that popped up for me regarding how some Giants fans have been criticizing Sabean for the farm system. I realized this morning that a lot of the Giants better prospects are missed by the experts. Correia rose up before anybody thought he was worth bringing up. Yet he has done well. Accardo as well. Sanchez was also one too. Now throw in Wilson and, hopefully, soon, Henry Sosa, who basically came out of nowhere. Heck, throw in Velez if he continues to shine like he has and Bowker if he can repeat or improve on his 2007 in Fresno this season.

And I really like Misch, he's why I'm not too worried about Lowry right now, I think Misch can come in and take Lowry's place - hence my posts on trading Lowry. Not that I think Misch can throw a sub-4 ERA just like that, but he profiles much like Lowry in terms of performance and rise through the system, only he has done better at every stop, so I am hopeful that he can put in a good enough performance in 2008, while we are re-building (or re-grouping, however you want to define it) and give him a leg up at being ready to do well in the majors in 2009. Certainly well enough to be a #5 starter in the majors, I would take that.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Learning Lincecum

[Continuing to catch up on good Andrew Baggarly news] Apparently Aaron Rowand had a positive impact on the Giants before he signed on the dotted line. Last season, facing Tim Lincecum, he taught The Kid a very important lesson. Lincecum:
I just missed a fastball down and away, it was a 2-0 count and I threw it to the spot. It was 96 MPH and he hit it out. He stands so straight up, you don't think he can reach a pitch out there. But it was like he knew it was coming. He made the adjustment. That's when I understood what separates major league hitters from everybody else.

Rowand apparently learned a lesson as well from that game. He had struck out horribly against Lincecum earlier, and didn't look good doing it. So he can't gloat too much over the homer.

He possibly learned another lesson: "I need to get on his team!" :^)

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