He had been winning big in the minors until his 2009 big bump of a season, once winning the title of "Most Spectacular Pitcher of the Year" for having the lowest ERA in all of the minors. Baggarly notes that he is the only guy of these who won't appear in his top 30 prospect list for Baseball America because of how poorly he did in 2009. He has never had the "stuff" that pitchers have/need to dominate in the majors. But as Baggarly notes, he is "a strike thrower and he competes well in all aspects ... The Giants always seem to have an affinity for those types of guys."
Not everything was bad. He made a big jump from Advanced A to AAA last season and was only 24 last season, so a bump would be expected. Plus his BABIP was high (.315) so there was some bad luck involved. In particular, the bad luck was in his home park at Fresno. His FIP MLE overall was a 5.01, which is OK for a 5th starter, but his FIP MLE for the road was 4.47, which would put him in middle rotation talent. So I don't see why he was left off the 30 man for the Giants next season, are there really that many better prospects?
Unless the Giants re-sign Penny (right now, unlikely, but if he's not signed by EOY, he might just do it to tweak the D-ger's noses), #5 starter will be filled internally by either Joe Martinez or Kevin Pucetas. He had done very well before, so I think that he should be able to hold down the #5 starter job, if not here, somewhere, and maybe be one of those guys like Brett Tomko or Sidney Ponson who drifts from team to team. At only age 25 plus already one AAA season under his wing, he probably only needs an opportunity on someone's rotation to get to stick around the majors for a few years under cheap team control, then if he can
Had not done that much with the Giants prior to this season. Like Sandoval and Bowker before him, had a breakout year in AA Connecticut, but really, .830 OPS in AA is not all that impressive. His 20 HR was, as that was double his high before, so at age 24 his power finally kicked in. He also had an odd split in Dodd Stadium, hitting better at home - perhaps they finally figured out how to fix up the park so that it would be more of a hitter's park, because he's another guy who did well there but not on the road in the past two seasons.
In any case, his hitting was not all that impressive, .300/.352/.478/.830 with 20 HR is very nice, but at AA, the MLE for that is only .252/.292/.400/.692 with 18 HR. That's a nice bench player who can start in a pinch with power. His strikeout rate improved slightly to be slightly better than what you want to look for (which is 15%; he had 13.7%), but he's always been on the edge in that way during his minor league career, just slightly above. His walk rate is about what it has always been. And his BABIP was right in range, so this was a season unaffected by luck in that matter.
Why he's on the Top 30 list for BA but not Pucetas, I'm not sure, other than the surge in power plus consistent discipline at the place. At 24 in AA, he's a bit old in the league for a legitimately good prospect, but OK for someone on the fringes of making the MLB roster. I would want to see how Pill does in AAA before I would put him above Pucetas, and he would need to replicate his good strikeout rate and HR power, plus decent ability to get on base. At 25 next year, it is pretty much do or die for his prospect status.
If his eligibility wasn't over, he probably wouldn't be on the 40 man roster but would be close to making it anyhow by next year. He had a bad start with Augusta, so, whether by injury or management move (could have been injured or maybe he got put into instructional league), he ended up a step back at Salem-Keizer in June, where he finally got hot in July, whereupon he got returned back to Augusta for the rest of the season, where he hit well in July and August, then after a cold Sept there, moved to San Jose where he hit well there. Baseball America ranked him as the Northwest League's 8th best prospect for 2009.
He improved greatly on his discipline at the plate in 2009, striking out much, much less, and getting it below the 15% threshold. But he wasn't that great in August even though he's right in the mass age range for the league, and his BABIP was extremely high in 2009, though it has been for the past two years, so perhaps his speed accounts for a large amount of that. Even his great San Jose stats MLE is only .303/.361/.333/.694.
That with his speed would make him a good CF candidate, but he is going to have to prove it at every level, and he still has Advanced A, AA, and AAA to conquer before reaching the majors. If each takes a year, that would make him 25 when he reaches the majors. So maybe he makes the majors and right now he's looking like a utility guy, unless he starts hitting for more power plus continue his good discipline and speed. Could be a leadoff guy with defense in CF if he can continue to develop. Again, not sure why him and not Pucetas.
He is the guy we got for Ray Durham in trade. He's been in Advanced A for the past 3 seasons, basically, so it is about time he figured out the level and league. At 23 for 2009, he's old for the league, so we don't know if his improvement to .294/.382/.451/.833 is because of actual improvement or just because he's now much more experienced than much of the league. Part of it was because he hit 9 HR and another part was because he was able to reduce the number of strikeouts, though it is still too high. However, his BABIP was horribly elevated in 2009 compared to his recent MiLB career, so he would need to keep that up in order to be OK in the majors with that OPS, and a .381 BABIP is not really sustainable except by players like Ichiro.
He is a speed burner (one of the fastest in the minors) and very good defensively in CF, so if he could only figure out how to get on base and steal a lot of bases without many CS, he could have a long MLB career as a utility guy. But he'll be 24 in AA next season, and if he only takes one season, 25 in AAA in 2011, putting him at 26 for the majors in 2012. And it took him two years to figure out Advanced A.
The good news is that he hit .310/.382/.514/.896 on the road for San Jose (their park is a pitcher's park relative to the rest of the Cal League), so he did OK in that way. But the MLE for his away numbers are still only .226/.273/.353/.626, which puts him on the Calvin Murray and Jason Ellison career path. Again, not sure why him over Pucetas.
Second Tier Free Agent Talent
Sabean recently noted in a conference call (partial account by Haft and Schulman; oddly, no full account that I can find) that there is a second tier of free agents - below Holliday and Bay - that would appeal to the Giants. That includes Boras' clients, as it was reported that Sabean acknowledged that the club has contacted Boras about some of his clients. "We know who is available," Sabean said. He also noted that Boras clients are often prolonged negotiations.
This was mentioned after Tim Lincecum's conference call regarding his Cy Young award. Sabean said that he refuses to be a "stalking horse" for any player who is just using the Giants to get more money elsewhere. This is probably a result of the Soriano and Lee snubs before, particularly Lee, whom the Giants were willing to go higher, but Lee told them not to bother, as he apparently got what he wanted from the Astros. Sabean said he doubts Holliday and Bay will have genuine interest because the Yankees, Red Sox, and other bigger-market teams would be pursuing them.
There are some potential for all these players, so I can see why they were protected before the upcoming Rule V draft. However, the Giants only have one spot remaining on the 40 man and the presumption is the Giants were going to sign at least a backup catcher, which would take the last spot. Thus, if the Giants decide to sign another starter (like Penny) or find the second tier free agent hitter that Sabean said recently he would pursue, some of these players could likely be dropped off the roster and designated for assignment.
First would be Ford, I think. I think Eli Whiteside is probably next after Ford, once a backup catcher is signed. Alex Hinshaw is probably on the bubble as well, with the emergence of Dan Runzler. Brian Bocock has to be on the bubble as well, I was surprised others (like Sadowski) were dropped before him.
It is also possible that someone might get traded, but that's hard to predict, it would depend on the other team thinking that our guy is worth giving up one of their prospects for. But I would think that Merkin Valdez could be a possibility, as well as Garko or Ishikawa, depending on the circumstances.
Second Tier Not Really News
I think that it was pretty clear that the Giants were probably not going to sign either of the top two hitters, Holliday and Bay. Holliday has openly said that he hates hitting here. And Bay is being strongly courted by the Red Sox, so I have to assume that they have the money land him if they want him.
Bay is a possibility if other teams are not interested in matching his price (whatever that is) and it happens to fit the Giants valuation. Not sure what the threshold is for the Giants, but I wouldn't pay more than $15M per year for Bay and the guess I've seen right now is that he would get 4 years at $15M per year. I think I would rather pass and let Bowker and Schierholtz have the opportunity to start if it goes above that.
In addition, there are probably second tier outfielders who will be available on the cheap in January. Particularly if there are any surprise non-tenders when it comes time to offer arbitration, the Giants will probably be perusing that list pretty carefully.
I still like Chone Figgins, but he probably won't be a target for the Giants until the Angels decide to not tender arbitration to him as he is a Type A free agent, and thus not cost the Giants their first round pick. I don't see the Angels offering him arbitration, as they might want to play Brandon Wood or Sean Rodriguez at 3B, and Maicer Izturis is another backup option if neither claims the position.
Still, with a billionaire owner (we need such a guy owning the Giants and there are plenty of them in the SF Bay Area), he can afford to eat contracts easily (like Matthews Jr's) and so they might just play chicken and offer him arbitration. At only $5.8M last season, he probably would only get $8-9M tops in arbitration, which the Angels might be willing to risk.
With his great OBP and SB speed, he would be great as our leadoff hitter. The only problem is that he played well at 3B last season, so his acquisition could push Sandoval to 1B and Garko and Ishikawa off the team. He has played LF before, and that would be ideal for us, but I don't know if he prefers to stay at 3B or not.
Speaking of free agents, Dallas McPherson became a minor league free agent a few weeks ago and was recently signed by the Oakland A's, which has recently become a landing place or waystation for a number of former Giants players, like Rajai Davis and Jerome Williams.
Giants Interest Does Not Equal Enough Interest to Sign
There is going to be a lot of agents talking about the Giants interest in their clients because in this economic climate, they have to broadcast that teams are interested, in order to help create some demand for their client and some sense of scarcity. Simple economics and sales savvy.
Just remember that the Giants contact a lot of free agents at this time, because they might have a cursory interest, but that does not mean that they are interested at any price. They are notorious window shoppers. Remember, the Giants contacted Gary Sheffield's agent once and asked if he would be willing to sign for under $10M, when any fan who follows the Hot Stove could have told the Giants that there was no way he was signing for under $10M with any team, he was going to get more (and he did, I think with Detroit). You don't get if you don't ask, but sometimes you are just insulting or disconnected with reality by giving low-ball offers like that. Players, particularly those with big egos, are going to remember that about you.
Need to Sign Cain to Extension
Also, someone on El Lefty Malo suggested that Cain could be traded because he would be very expensive once he gets past our last contract year, which is 2011, and thus we might not be able to keep Lincecum, Zito, Rowand, and Cain on the same roster, and I would have to agree that is a possibility. So one thing to watch for this off-season is if the Giants are able to sign Cain to a two-year extension at a relatively cheap price, say, 2 years at $18-25M. He probably could get $12-15M right now on the free agent market, and with a bit of inflation, in 2011, that would put him around $15-18M per season.
However, he signed a really cheap contract with the Giants already so he and/or his agents might decide that his next contract needs to be for fair value. And that would probably put us out of his price range given our other contracts at that time. Players do accept lower amounts now for the bird in the hand vs. two in the bush, but hard to judge how much lower.
But Cain appears to love being here, he has planted roots here, marrying someone from the area, buying a home here, and since he had no team that he rooted for when he was young, the Giants are the only team he has ever really felt bonds with. A two year contract for the amount I suggested above ($18-25M) would secure his future, and he would still be only 29 for the next season when he becomes a free agent in 2013 offseason. So it might be possible to get him signed to a good extension.
Else, the Giants would need to strongly consider trading him either 2010 mid-season or the next off-season, as then we would only have one year of him remaining. If a trade is envisioned, then I would want something similar to what the A's got for Haren from the D-backs. I'm not sure who else has a farm system like that to give up for Cain, though. But the Brewers have a lot of hitters and need pitchers. The Rays and Angels also have a lot of young hitters in their farm systems too. And the Angels look like they will be losing Lackey, after having lost Nick Adenhart at the start of the season, and don't have good pitching prospects looking ready for 2010.
And there is the suggestion on ELM that the Giants trade Cain to Detroit for Cabrera and Granderson. Thinking further on that, I noted that we would have to either give up Bumgarner too or accept another bad contract like Dontrelle Willis to do the trade as that commenter suggested (which included us throwing in Rowand, Merkin Valdez, Garko/Ishikawa, Henry Sosa, and Jesus Guzman, if I remember the details right; no kitchen sink :^).
A new thought while writing this that occurred to me is that the Giants could perhaps make it Cain for Cabrera, plus we throw in Valdez, Garko, and Guzman, and they throw back a mid-tier prospect, say, any of the Baseball Prospectus Three-Star prospects. They might also want us to take on Dontrelle Willis's $12M contract as well, but then I think that is where I would draw the line unless they are willing to take on Barry Zito back (but I don't know if he is even tradeable or whether he can block trades to certain teams).
But, personally, I would prefer to keep Cain and sign him to a two year extension. I think our rotation is superior with him in it, but if we don't have him, then it is Lincecum, Zito, Sanchez, Bumgarner, as our main starters, which might be superior in 2011, but questionable for 2010: will Zito continue to do well? Will Sanchez do well over a full season? Would Bumgarner be able to do well his first season, most do not duplicate how well they do in the minors, there is usually at least some period of adjustment. What will we get out of the #5 starter?
Cabrera would be nice, but I think it is more important to keep the rotation as strong as possible right now, as Bumgarner is probably not ready for the majors yet. Trading off starters starting mid-season 2010 is probably OK, as by then we should know how Bumgarner and Wheeler are doing in the minors, and how ready each of them look for the future.