Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Accolades Continue: Buster Posey Wins Spinks Award

According to news from sfgiants.com, Buster Posey was named the winner of the 50th annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award as the Topps/Minor League Player of the Year for 2009. The article noted all of Posey's accomplishments this season. Showing how the award selection might not be the most rigorous of processes, last year's winner was Matt Gamel, Brewer's infielder - he's good, but was he the top minor leaguer last season? I would rather doubt that.

Still this is just the latest in a long line of awards and recognition. Before we signed him (but after we drafted him), he won the Golden Spike award. He then was a Hawaii Winter Baseball Post-Season All-Star last season. This season, he was a California League mid-season All-Star, and he recently was named the top prospect in both the California League and the Pacific Coast League by Baseball America.

The article also noted that Posey "reached base in his first eight starts with Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League this month." I could have sworn that the reports were that the Giants did not send him to the AFL. OK, it was in this post in Baseball America's Prospect Blog. There they list three pitchers—lefty Steve Edlefsen and righties Dan Turpen and Joe Martinez - and SS Brandon Crawford and OF Thomas Neal. No Posey.

However, a previous report (that I wrote on here) had Posey going to the AFL so I thought the Giants had changed their minds on him going since the BA account did not list him, particularly since they took Runzler off the roster and added Turpen. Clearly, the BA account failed to note that he was going as well.

Well, while he might have reached base in his first eight starts with Scottsdale, after 9 games, he is only hitting .194/.295/.250/.545 in 36 AB, 2 doubles but no homers, 5 walks, 11 strikeouts (it does not include his 1 for 3 with a walk today). Either Posey is really rusty or he's just being outmatched. .280 BABIP suggests that while he is having a little bad luck, he's not having a lot of it. Since he was hitting the ball with authority in AAA while he was there and the AFL is a hybrid AA/AAA equivalent league, I would think that he's just having some problems right now that he will eventually get out of at some point. He's also been shaky defensively as well, having committed 3 errors already.

The good news it that in his past 5 games (out of 10 so far) he is 4 for 17, with 5 walks and 4 strikeouts, and he had two doubles. That means he had both of his doubles and 5 of his 6 walks in his last 5 games, plus he is finally showing the type of discipline he normally exhibits. He is hitting .235/.409/.353/.762 in those 5 games (assuming no HBP or sacrifices of any kind), which shows that he was out of sorts initially and is starting to adjust after being out of it for basically 5 games or so.

Based on some Posey info that I wrote about a while ago, Posey sounds like he should be our starting catcher sometimes next season, if not to begin the season. A mid-season listing of prospects (that I missed) had Posey 5th on July 31st (he was 19th in the pre-season list; Bumgarner was 2nd after being 6th previously and Villalona was 50th falling a bit after being 48th previously). Hopefully the Giants do not decide to go after more of a catcher in the off-season, or even re-sign Bengie Molina. Posey's era should begin next season, sometime mid-season at worse, following Weiters script for his career, or better, he should be the starter from the get-go.

I suspect that the Giants will keep him in AAA to June so as to get one more season of control over him (as I have read some said they might), particularly since the Giants are just starting their upward climb back to respectability. We should be around our peak in terms of competitiveness around the time Posey is mid-way through our control of him, when Lincecum and Cain should be hitting their physical peaks, and Bumgarner should be established by then, if his velocity returns and they are all able to stay healthy.

That would hopefully mean that we would get a rental catcher, much like what the Orioles did last season when they signed Zaun to a one year plus option contract, then traded him away mid-season to Tampa Bay after Weiters came up.

Friday, October 23, 2009

20th Anniversary of the 1989 Quake

I know I missed it by a week, but I've been busy with work. It was 20 years ago, on October 17th , 1989 at 5:04 pm, that one of the most devastating earthquakes ever to hit the Bay Area interrupted the 1989 Bay Area World Series.

Below is what I posted on MCC:

I was in the upper deck, 3rd base side, nose-bleed seats with my brother

My regular seats were down in the lower section, section 9 (I think), middle of that area, 1st base side, so that I could just zoom straight on a line to my car when the game ends, where I parked near the gate so that I wouldn't have to wait for a million cars to cut in ahead of me trying to get out. But since I was just a partial season ticket-holder, I guess that got me pushed above to the upper deck. Thank goodness, I am not sure what my thoughts and actions would have been had I been underneath.

I think the World Series game saved the lives of the many who normally would have been in the freeway sections that collapsed in Oakland. As someone who took that route many a time at that time, it was normally a parking lot at that time of day. It was relatively sparse that day, I guess due to people either leaving early for the game or leaving early to avoid the traffic.

And that's what I did, I took the day off so that I could relax and leave early for the game. I was excited, had my new handheld TV tuned in, sitting next to my brother, who was not a sports fan in any sense possible, but who knew the significance of the game (Bay Area World Series) so he took up my offer to go to a historic event. Little did he know how historic. I was just being nice in offering, because I love my brother, but I never thought in a googol-plex years that he would accept due to his absolute total lack of interest in sports.

Since we got there early to avoid the traffic, we were up there for a while, tuned into the TV broadcast and talking. Not a lot of people were in the stadium yet, at least not in my memory, or maybe it was just that upper upper section (we were basically near the lip of the stadium). I don't remember there being that many people around me.

I remember when it hit. First, you're wondering "what the hell?", then you're wondering "what the f*ck!". I had been through a number quakes before, my first about 10 years prior, but this one just shook and shook, longer than any I had felt before. At one point, I saw one of the light fixtures break off and fall a bit above our heads, but still secure. When it stopped, I stood up and gave off a great yelp of excitement and relief.

Then the fear set in.

The broadcast of Al Michaels et al ended, but other news streamed in about the damage. People would come in from the parking lot and one man told us about how the ground liquified during the tremor and he saw a low sports car rise above the large van/truck next to it in the parking lot. Lots of death and destruction reported, and we had no way to check on our family or friends in the East Bay or SF.

We decided to stick around and not fight the traffic, so we just wandered around the stadium, seeing what others had to say or report, plus somehow it seemed better to be on the move than sitting there waiting. We learned of damage in parts of Candlestick and people would share when some news came up.

After many hours, we finally decided to leave and the freeways were relatively clear. We first hit my brother's girlfriend's family home and they reported no damage of any sort. We called home from there and found out that nothing happened to our family's home either.

Which I found utterly unfathomable, my mom and sister collected a lot of junk that was all over the place, and there were items that I would have bet would have fallen over and perhaps hurt someone.

Aside from some piles of stuff falling over, there was no visible effects of the quake at home, we were very lucky, very thankful.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sabean and Bochy Sign For Two Years Plus Option

The news has been reported by both Baggarly and Schulman, plus, of course, sfgiants.com by Chris Haft. Baggarly then blogged the details of the press conference.

Of course, I'm happy because I think Brian Sabean has put together a good foundation for a playoff competitive team over the next 5-8 years, and I think with further development by Posey and Bumgarner, plus Wheeler reaching his potential, that the team is poised to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs every year, barring significant injuries to key players. He deserves the opportunity to see what he can do with the team he has put together.

Now, if only fans would be more patient with a rebuilding team, a potential masterpiece is in the making. The team is rebuilding nicely and have all the core pieces they need - plus extras - that should help propel the team to greater heights. We still need a few more pieces and hopefully Sabean can get or develop them.

Somebody commented mistakenly that following this plan guarantees anything. There are no guarantees, as King George has learned with his $200M payroll. However, as long as the players stay healthy and the top prospects develop as expected, the Giants should be in good shape and position for the next 5-8 years to win it all.

I think that is all you can reliably ask for, though, that said, if we don't win a World Series championship within this winning cycle, then I think it would be time to let Brian Sabean go. And he should be let go sooner if we are struggling to win a title, let alone get into the playoffs, within the years of his new contract. Because I'm not happy with Bochy, so that's on Sabean, and if Bochy screws things up, I would be OK with getting rid of Sabean in two years, and replacing the two of them. We need to see progress still with this contract for the two of them, and the first leg of this gaunlet starts now, with this off-season.

I don't really expect a middle of the order bat to come out of nowhere. My best bet previously was Jason Bay, but now I think he's going to be overpriced. I think Sabean will work at getting either a leadoff bat or a bat that is patient and can get on base a lot, both by hits and walks. Or possibly both. I think at least one will be by free agency.

I don't think that there is anything good available via trade, though a dump of a unwanted player (like Milton Bradley) could be a possibility, with the Giants taking on his whole contract without giving up much in prospects, as the trade off.

Because of the current bad batch of free agent hitters (i.e. no impact middle-lineup hitters), I think the Giants will do like last off-season and try to improve the pitching. So I think they will try to re-sign Penny for a year and, with the bad economy plus his poor year overall, he could agree to one with incentives that will be paid in future seasons (that would help the Giants with payroll this season to afford him). He seems to be a bad-ass and I think he would love to stick it to the D-gers by helping the Giants win the title in 2010. However, it is possible that a NL team might go multi-year with him and take him away. But if everyone is leary and go with one year, he should be ours, as the Giants indicated interest, but not money to do it.

And, now that the AFL roster appears to have been reconstituted because of the September call-ups - both Posey and Runzler are no longer on the roster - I take it that the Giants have seen enough of the two of them to determine what they are going to do with them next season. Runzler, clearly, is slated for the 25 man roster.

Also, Bochy has already noted that Posey could start if he does well in spring training, so I have to assume that they will sign a catcher to a one year contract, with that player fully understanding that the Buster Posey era could start at any minute. And all Posey has to do is keep up the good work during spring training and he is the starter.

That should mean that Bengie Molina should be gone for 2010. Whether we get any draft picks or not for him will depend on whether a team signs him before the deadline and give us two picks, as I don't think the Giants will offer him arbitration, as having him on the roster will 1) take up more payroll, a lot of payroll, meaning they can't get a pitcher or hitter they want more, and 2) having him would complicate thing with Posey, because at that much pay, he's probably playing most of the season, and Posey would just stay in AAA.

And I don't think that is good for the future of the Giants. Posey needs to spend a good part of 2010 in the majors, acclimating to the majors, the lifestyle, the pitchers, his pitchers, before he's ready to really contribute in 2011. Kind of like how Will Clark had his first season before really breaking out the next season. And if he is a fast learner and start contributing in 2010, all the better for us to do more damage in the playoff scramble.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why You Don't Make Big Trades: Cardinals

I saw some fans who wanted to trade away Bumgarner, even Posey in an isolated case or two, just to make the playoffs this year. Many wanted to get Matt Holliday. Hopefully they can learn from what happened with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals traded away, basically, their Bumgarner or Posey (yes, we have two of them) in Brett Wallace (plus other players!) in order to get a couple of months usage of Matt Holliday. Clearly, they were a better team than we would have been had we had Matt Holliday on our roster. And yet, they get pushed out, rather meekly too, in the first round of the playoffs.

Making the Playoffs is NOT our Goal

There is no guarantees in the playoffs. Even the better teams will have an off-series and lose 4 out of 10 times, if this were a game played on the computer. So betting your future on a gamble for this season is not an easy choice, you have to believe that this year is your best and basically your only chance to make the playoffs and do something.

The Giants were not in that position. This is their first season of success in a long while. Hopefully, if Sabean is up to the job, it will continue for the next 5-10 years and give us some thrills along the way. And our goal is not to make the playoffs, but to go all the way and get us a World Series Championship.

But trading away our great prospects just to make the playoffs this season is not a luxury that we could afford, not if we wanted to be good for the next 5-10 years, not if we want to eventually win the World Series. We need Bumgarner and Posey to deliver at the MLB level for us to make the next leap (and later Wheeler) and be a serious contender, and not a "just glad to be here" team, as we would have been this season.

And Alderson and Barnes are not great prospects, they have some potential, but limited upsides means that ultimately not that valuable, plus they are years away from delivering value to us. They got us players who are proven major leagers, to varying degree of performance. And they could be traded later to recoup some of that value, if necessary, and if they are lost, well, we did not really lose that much in the trade, it is only the Fanboys who think that both Alderson and Barnes has that much value.

Patience was needed, and an understanding that any big trades to get what we needed to make the playoffs in 2009 would bite us in the rear big-time in terms of limiting our potential to be good in the long-run instead of just the short-run. I don't want to be a Brewers team that sold off a big part of their future to get a CC Sabathia, and now is struggling in the aftermath of that decision.

I would rather we keep the young guys, hopefully develop them to their full potential - and they should blossom in the 2011-2013 time frame, and get our team that much more closer to winning it all. When we reach that time, then we can think about trading off our best prospects to win it all. Then is when we need to capitalize on our time with Lincecum, Cain, etc., not now.

Now would doom us to more of 2005-2008 and with no chance of a 1997-2004.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Age Old Debate: Umpires and the Human Element

There was a nice post on Baseball Prospectus Unfiltered on The Human Element of having umpires decide plays. The author, Joe Sheehan, played with that argument that many make that taking the umpire out would "take out the human element out of the game," and he noted all the things non-human that we are using today while we are not listening to or watching baseball.

I happen to agree with Joe, for the most part, but, of course, I'll be writing about the part I differ on. :^) But first, I totally agree with Joe that there is a lot of rules about baseball that is not open to interpretation, whether who touched first base first, or where the strike zone is. I don't like when umpires make a mistake that costs my team.

This was particularly egregious to me late this season, as I heard a lot of calls go against the Giants, and not an equal amount go for them. And some were blatantly obvious too, like the Schierholtz play at first base, he was clearly safe. I would like such plays to be removed from the game. As Joe noted, there are a lot of things we are non-human that we do and use.

Plenty of Human Element

But I think that goes away from the point, which is about umpires in a game, and losing the human element. I have never understood this point, to be honest. I mean, players are human, are they not?

I think the whole game is very human and taking away the mistakes that umpires make in a game does not remove the humanity from the game, it removes the errors in judgement that umpires make. I think the players make enough errors on the field to keep the human element in spades in the game. Giving the umpires the technology to make the right calls would just make the best sporting game in the world that much better.

Implementation is a Bear

But how would this be implemented without disrupting the game totally? Do we do it like football with replays and the coach gets three for the game? I've never seen any ideas that caught my fancy, but while thinking of it today, here is an idea I came up with, because I don't really like the limit placed on the coach/manager, what if the refs/umpires just have a bad day and just making a lot of poor calls? I mean, we all are human, no?

I think that the following would be a novel way to do it, it should limit the times it happens, yet does not limit the manager if he thinks the umpire team is just not having a good day. Each manager is allowed to question any call that is crucial, that is, causes something to happen on the field. Thus, strike one could not be questioned, but a called strike three can be and, of course, a questionable call on the bases. QuesTech makes correcting pitch calls easy (though not swinging strikes) and viewing a replay (with today's mobile/portable tablets, they can get a good viewing on the field quickly, particularly with a zoom feature and multiple angles) is already being done with HR calls.

However, that could lengthen the game a lot if the manager just feels very disagreeable that day. As a consequence, if the manager is wrong for questioning the call, he has to remove a player off his roster for the game, as if he announced the player to pinch-hit, then took him out when the other team changed their pitcher in response. Thus, this would limit the team from making a lot of calls for replays on any old play, but, if they truly believe that they are being wronged, then they can bring it up. Heck, they can announce the player the team is potentially sacrificing in order to make the call, that can add some suspense.

And it is still human, when you think about it, well, except for QuesTech. The umpires are still looking over the video and deciding what is right and what is wrong. There is still that human judgement involved. Now, however, the clear errors can be removed from the game, and any possible bias is removed (if you don't believe that an umpire can hold a grudge against a team or player, or still secretly roots for a team, then you don't really understand the human element).

Leaving a still very human game to be played, only the rules of the game are applied equally and not randomly going against one team or another. The main negative from this idea is that some player's feeling is going to get hurt, either once his name is announced, if that is what happens, or when he is removed from the game, knowing that the manager didn't think that he was that essential to the team.

The Game Has Changed Over History

Still, it is not like the game has not changed. There are not only divisions now, but the wild card team. And the abominable DH is still in the AL, and will probably stay there forever, the question is whether the NL can be strong enough to not implement it too. I like having the pitcher hit, otherwise, allow designated fielders too, heck, why not be like football and have an offensive and defensive team? It is not like that would slow down the game, heck, they can get in and out faster, no need to take a quick break, get your glove or whatever. The main problem would be, how do you now fit 40-50 people in a dugout built to fit 25-30? And there is the HR replay now, and probably other technology that will make their way into the game some day.

Heck, nobody today remembers, but it used to be 3 balls for a walk, the distance to the mound was variable for a while, we used to allow spitballs, batters hit without batting helmets, we used to continue to use the ball until it was falling apart, players would spike others regularly. The game has changed and will continue to change. But it should still be the great game that we love.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Giants 2010 Draft Thoughts

A poster on McCovey Chronicles discussed the Giants 2010 pick, analyzing how 24th picks in the past fared (BTW, as reported in Baseball America, the Giants pick 24th in 2010 :^). Below is part of my answer there, regarding signability picks, that I wanted to post here as well:

And I totally agree about making signability picks with not just the #24, but going forward. That's the MLB today and there seems to be more and more of those in recent years, so it wouldn't stick out as unusual. The Giants would be remiss not to budget money for doing that, much like when they signed Ishikawa for nearly $1M in the later rounds. People were upset about not getting Porcello in the Alderson slot but you could not justify to Bumgarner's people paying Porcello $3.5M when you are only giving $2M to Madison. I like Bumgarner more than Porcello, I think Sabean and company made the right decision on who to pick there.

But now, we have no such restraints and it is much more common today to do stuff like that. Hopefully the Giants are keeping (hear this Neukom?) some budget aside for any possible signability selections in the early rounds, so that we can pick up somebody like Casey Kelly that Boston signed, for the picks after a winning season.

Heck, the money we saved this season on payroll and draft (combined, they were much less than in 2008, by $5-10M, plus didn't sign any Latin bonus babies) should just be put aside and fund rainy day signability picks, plus money should be set aside every year for that. If the Giants hope to build a dynasty during the 2010's - and they have a great base to build from - they will need to feed the prospect making machine with talent.

The only consistent ways to get prospect talent is to 1) lose big time, so that you get a Top 10 pick and ideally a Top 5 pick, 2) sign top international free agents, both Latin and abroad, and 3) when you don't have a high pick in the first round, use your first picks to try to sign signability picks. Once you start winning, 1 is no longer an option, so the team needs to keep investing, and that's the key word here, INVESTING, in the future. Not that this rule cannot be bent once in a while to sign a free agent that you need to be competitive that season, because, as shown above, you ain't losing much, but the general guiding priniciple is the need to keep feeding talent into the farm system.

Using business terms that Neukom should understand, consider this to be your R&D budget. The best companies, particularly technology companies like Microsoft, devote a large portion of their budget to R&D, because it is your pipeline of future products/prospects. This was not really possible in the MLB until the past couple of years, because teams were not doing that regularly plus, more importantly, amateurs weren't playing this game much either, so there were not that many falling, but with the Yankees and Red Sox shoving the door wide open on this practice, the leading MLB teams going forward are those who are willing to budget for these signability buys.

Not that throwing $2-3M on a signability pick is going to guarantee you a good prospect - that would be the MBD (Matt Bush Disorder) where you think the guy is good just because you gave him $2-3M - so you must still have good scouting, but if your scouting is good, they should be able to pinpoint a few signability plays for their first pick every season. I have seen picks down to the 4th round (I think it was the Angels and Harvey a couple of years ago) that were based on signability, so the Giants need to be prepared to pull the trigger when the opportunity presents itself.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

2009 Giants Post-Season Press Conference

The great Andy Baggarly posted his transcript for the 2009 Giants Post-Season Press Conference at his blog recently. Chris Haft just posted his transcripts, but with the actual questions asked, at his blog, but it is unclear whether he provided the whole Q&A session or just select questions, as I haven't compared his with Baggarly's yet.

I normally go through the transcripts and give my thoughts and opinions on each answer, but just too busy with work right now. But I wanted to link to both transcripts, just in case someone hasn't seen either yet.

I will try to write my usual stuff on this over the weekend, and otherwise will be quiet unless some big Giants news come out.

But here are some initial thoughts.

Typical Brian Sabean press conference: nothing really newsworthy, no blockbuster as usual, but some good hints as to 2010, like Freddy Sanchez most probably coming back, and the budget being about the same, and, of course, some defensive posturing, this time regarding Edgar Renteria.

Free Agency Pursuits

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that the Giants will get someone to make a statement for next season. Sabean intimated that something has to be done, and free agency is the easiest route.

As I noted before Holliday is out of reach, and I've reached the point where I think Bay is out too. The more I look at Ankiel, the more I don't think we are going after him, particularly since Boras is his agent, I believe. But those are the only OF that makes any sense, powerwise and age-wise, though Gary Sheffield is available, but hasn't played a full season for years now.

An interesting option, however, is Mike Cameron, who is great defensively in the OF and has good pop in his bat, he hit 24 HR last season. The only issue is that he's 37 next season. Maybe Rowand would be willing to move to RF and let Cameron take CF, then Cameron could bat 3rd, making it Velez/Torres LF, Franchez 2B, Cameron CF, Pandoval 3B, Renteria SS, IshiGarko 1B, Rowand RF, FA C (or maybe Posey, in which case, he hits 6th and push down).

That brings us to 3B. Adrian Beltre could be one target, he's great defensively at 3B and has some pop in his bat, though not what we are looking for. Joe Crede is another one, though Boras is his agent too (Hmmm, Beltre too, now that I think of it). Chone Figgins can play 3B and the OF, so he could be an option: he could leadoff, since he has a lot of speed, plus play at a number of positions, 2B, 3B, LF, CF, allowing flexibility in where they play him while playing him full-time. There is also Miquel Tejada, he's been an RBI producer, but he hit pretty bad outside of Houston so I hope the Giants don't pursue him.

At 1B, the choice many would suggest is Hank Blalock. Just say NO! He is horrible outside of Texas. He can credit his ballpark for him making it to free agency, otherwise, he would have been sent down long ago. Nick Johnson and Adam LaRoche are nice options, but Johnson is very injury prone while LaRoche has benefited from good home parks, hitting less than 800 OPS on the road, which is OK if he was good defensively, but he isn't. Russell Branyan is an interesting choice, given his nice 2008, but he'll be 34 and I'll bet his defense isn't any good on the corners either. Carlos Delgado would fill the need but at 38, could have had his last good season already, plus was injured in 2009.

Actually, there are two other options in the OF: Bobby Abreu and Brian Giles. Sabean mentioned during the session that the Giants might have to go in another direction because there is not a lot of power options out there, meaning OBP. These are two very high OBP guys, and have enough power to bat 3rd in the lineup. Both are pretty old, though, and could decline in 2010, just like Cameron might.

Other options include DHers and former OFs, Vlad Guerrerro and Hideki Matsui. Both are old and declining, and probably not that good in the OF anymore. But both have been middle of the lineup hitters before, so they are also possibilities in the OF, just not likely. There are also Aubrey Huff and Jim Thome, but age and decline dooms Thome, and Huff isn't any good defensively, if I remember right.

So, really, there are no clearly good options in free agency for the Giants situation.

That means that Sabean might be forced to trade for someone, which at best means whoever he can get for Jonathan Sanchez, because I don't think Cain is going anywhere. Power hitters who are free agents after next season might be appealing: Garrett Atkins, Carl Crawford (assuming his option picked up this off-season), Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, Ty Wigginton, Scott Rolen.

The latter two might be obtainable without giving up much, as both have big negatives, Wigginton plays poor defense and Rolen is injury prone. Lee might be easy because of age and they have some good prospects coming up on the corners (Fox and Vitters), so they might be happy to dump his salary and go younger and cheaper. I don't think Crawford is going anywhere with Ricciardo fired, they are probably not doing anything until a new GM comes in. Atkins has already been pushed aside by Ian Stewart, and Helton is still at 1B, but they probably would not want to deal him to another NL West team, particularly the one they will most probably be competing against in 2010.

Pena is a possibility, as we could give them Garko and a lot of other prospects, if they want to save some money (but have not heard that money is a problem, yet). I also heard that they are tired of BJ Upton's act, but would a Sanchez be enough to land him? Probably not, given that Sanchez is arbitration eligible.

All in all, nothing really obvious among the free agents, either signing or trading for. Sabean will have a tough job to make a truly positive change to the offense without giving up a lot.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Rumor Has It: Sabean and Bochy Back Next Season

As most Giants fans know, the news have come out, first from John Shea of the Chronicle, then confirmed by Andy Baggarly at his great Extra Baggs blog. As Andy noted, "Contract length and other terms are being negotiated presently," and "it's expected he'll [Sabean] sign a multiyear contract. Bochy was coming to the end of his three-year deal and probably will receive a contract that dovetails with the GM; Sabean told me last week that Bochy would be his one and only choice to manage the club."

As any reader of my blog knows, I'm very happy over keeping Sabean, but not so much Bochy. Maybe he can learn to be less diplomatic when he needs to make the hard decisions during any playoff-pressure situation - which is where I finally decided that I don't want him around anymore - or one of his coaches can get him to think that way, I don't know. Maybe he can learn. But I'm worried that Bochy could hurt our chances in the playoffs, should we ever make it with the Sabean/Bochy team.

I was mostly neutral before on Bochy, so it's not like I don't like him as a manager. I think that he is a good manager overall, which I consider to be one who does not get in the way of the talent and cost them games, but neither is he a good manager who can win more games with his moves, which I think Tony LaRussa can do. I just don't think he has what it takes to get us to the World Series finish line, which is what we Giants fans want.

I have so many issues with what people have been saying about Sabean that I've been frozen as to what to say, I just focused on one particularly galling statement, I think, in commenting on the public boards. Here are short snippets of things said and my thoughts:
  • I think it's ridiculous that people say he doesn't know how to build an offense when the Giants offense from 1997 to 2004 was in the Top 3 most seasons, plus a couple of 4-5 seasons, all above average. That was after three straight (1994-1996) seasons of below average offenses, all with Bonds in it.
  • They complain that the team was losing, and when he delivered a good team this season (86 wins and counting), they complain that he didn't win enough, when they didn't even expect a .500 team, let alone a playoff contending one.
  • They think that they had the answer to the offense - whether trading Cain pre-season, or Bumgarner or Posey mid-season - but never addressed the big problem with their recommendations: the consequences. If Cain is gone, who takes his place in the rotation, Joe Martinez or Ryan Sadowski? They forget that trades are zero sum games where you only improve if you steal the other team blind, else you get what you give up, fixing one problem but creating another problem to replace it.
  • And trading Bumgarner or Posey would have had huge future implications: if the Giants had done that, they still most probably would not have made the playoffs. We are five games back. Nobody we are going to get for Bumgarner or Posey would have made up five games. So not only would we lose one or both of our top prospects, we wouldn't even make the playoffs, and get at best two lousy picks for the guy we traded for. Plus now, we won't have Bumgarner or Posey coming up to boost the team in 2010 or 2011.
  • Some think rebuilding mean using only prospects for every position, that there is no veterans. Teams don't rebuild that way. No team can have good prospects at every position. They need to fill in gaps in talent with veterans, particularly if the prospect is not proven enough.
  • Some are bemoaning the loss of Alderson and Barnes, and neither profile to be a top rotation guy, Alderson is at best a middle (i.e. average) starter - and his minor league stats suggest back of rotation at best now - and Barnes is at best a back of rotation guy. That's nothing when we can boast two ace-level starters in Lincecum and Cain, and two above average starters in Zito and Sanchez. Sure, I would have preferred that the Giants not trade for Garko or Sanchez, but you need to be able to distinguish the moves that hurt the Giants long-term from the ones where, if it fails, it's no big deal. These are no big deals.
  • Really bad are the people who hold long-term grudges for past and present trespasses. Again, there is the element of being able to distinguish the moves that hurt the team long-term vs. the ones where you have to take a risk and if it fails, at least you tried. No GM is perfect, and certainly not Sabean. You have to look at the big picture, but people just nurse their grudges.
  • To me, GM's need to take risks, they need to be willing to fail with their moves, whether trades or free agents. But I don't like stupid risks. I don't recall any stupid risks that really rankles me, other than passing up trying to sign Vlad (though supposedly Vlad hated Felipe Alou, so perhaps that was a factor). The thing is that fans tend to forget about the context of the move made, they don't remember that at all, remembering just the final results. Evaluation is not all about final results, though that is part of it, you need to take the thinking process and decision making into account as well.
  • People also worry about the money too much. The team took risks and spent the money. I would rather they tried - for the most part - than to sit back and wait for the "right" deal. GM's who do that end up with an empty basket.

The big picture, to me, is that the team is primed to be a serious contender next season. We control Cain and Sanchez for another two seasons, Lincecum and Wilson for another four, Sandoval for five. Posey and Bumgarner are poised to join this group and contribute. Hopefully Zito is over his problems with the contract and can continue to pitch like this season, but I think we just have to take each season one at a time and continue to hope for the best. That is a great core group to have.

We can also expect to get improvements next season over this season. In particular, Sandoval and Sanchez should hopefully put together a full season instead of a half season of excellent performance. And we got so little from 2B and SS, that it won't take much to get improvement there. 1B should be an improvement, whether Ishikawa or Garko or both there. Rowand is apparently this average with us, but right now, I would take average, at least that is consistent. I think either Schierholtz or Bowker can deliver more offense in RF than what Winn did this season, he was pretty bad this season. And while I hope Bowker would be the LF (with Velez and Lewis as backup), it sounds like Velez will be the starting LF next season, and LF was so bad that he should be able to match that. And while Posey can't replace Molina's 20 HR, I think his batting can be good enough to replace his OPS with a much higher OBP, which I think would be key for making our 2010 offense better.

I think we are set up nicely for the future, and thus that is why I am glad Sabean will get the extension.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Innocence Lost: Angel Villalona

As most Giants fans know, top prospect Angel Villalona sits in jail, on charges of having shot and killed someone in a bar fight, reportedly over the deceased occupying Villalona's "seat". He faces 20 years in jail. No matter how this ends up, a person lies dead, his family and friends grieve. There's nothing worse than that, and my condolences goes to his family and friends. And hopefully justice is done.

There was a great article in the Chronicle a few days back, that I will link here. The reporter went to his home town, and gave a great view of Villalona's background, his neighborhood, and some initial reports on the incident.

Of course, the responses were what one would expect. The ones who back the deceased says that Villalona was the one who "shot him in the back", that he will get off because of his fame and reputation. The ones who are Villalona's friends says that he didn't do it and that the other side is just fingering the one person with great wealth, Villalona. In fact, one friend, a co-Yesowner of the bar, claims that he was with Villalona when the fatal shot was fired, and Angel was not the one who fired the shot. He also claimed that Villalona does not even own a gun.

Evolving Story

As can be expected, the story has been evolving as news trickles out. Initially, there were claims that the deceased was shot in the back. However, the autopsy concluded that he was shot in the chest, with the bullet coming through the back (see this post on McCovey Chronicles by Harold S about three-quarters down a long thread of comments) and came out his neck. But if you read further down, Harold S then notes that a new report says that the victim had been shot twice, which could explain both reports. Obviously, we don't have all the news yet, and won't for at least two months, if not more.

My view is that unless the police locates the gun used to fire the fatal shot and get fingerprints off of it, and perhaps get gunfire residue off the perp's arm, they most probably will not ever figure out exactly who did the dirty deed. Then things will just degenerate into a "he said, she said" scenario, with conflicting accounts, and justice is not done.

Neither side is unmotivated to lie. Obviously, Villalona's friends would lie to protect him, if he really did do this heinous deed. However, the other side stands to gain too. The brother is the one interviewed who claims that he saw Villalona shoot him in the back. His family stands to gain in a lawsuit, or at least get hush money, to make things go away.

In addition, his statement suggests that he has something against Angel.

"He changed totally after getting that money from America. He wasn't docile anymore - he'd come flying down the street in his Nissan like a devil, and he never has less than eight people around him."
Of course, he should have something against Angel, he claims Angel killed his brother, but I still find this statement interesting. For one thing, what does not being docile have to do with anything? If he's more confident, that's probably because he made $2.1M, which is probably 10-100 times more than any of them will ever make in a lifetime. And I find that most kids who can get a new car when they are a teenager drives like a devil. And, if their culture is so gun obsessed that many carry guns because of the potential violence, I would have that many people around me for protection, because someone of that wealth will be a target for robbery and perhaps kidnapping.

Innocence Lost

Either way, no matter now this ends up, Angel Villalona's innocence was lost with this sad event. If he did fire the gun, then his innocence is lost because that is a horrible, wretched thing to do, particularly over something as petty as a barstool seat, and I think that anybody who has ever killed someone else is greatly affected for the rest of their life. And it would be horrible if he got off, but I suspect that if he really did it, enough people will have his back that he would still get off, because for every person saying Villalona did it, there will probably be two people saying they were off to the side with Villalona, watching the whole thing.

If he didn't fire the gun, Villalona's innocence is lost in another way. Even if he didn't pull the trigger, it was his fame and fortune that precipitated the encounter and resulted in a death. That would weigh on most people. In addition, being falsely accused (again, we are here assuming innocence) just because the other people want your money, that's also a hard thing to take. Juan Uribe noted in an interview, "when people know you have money, they do things."

Another thing I would note is that Scott Boras is reportedly his agent (he claimed that he was when Villalona signed with the Giants without Boras around, which made him mad). Whether Villalona is innocent or not, I would expect Boras to bring all his legal resources around to help Villalona. That could swing things Angel's way, either way.

Is Villalona Capable?

It is hard to say what type of person Villalona is. In this Mercury news item, Villalona's host family when he was at San Jose said that Villalona is shy and reserved, a good natured boy. An account with the Chronicle noted that Villalona is afraid of dogs and even carnival rides. They interviewed Jack Hiatt, the Giant's former director of player development, and he says that what he has heard "doesn't sound like him at all. He's a great kid and borders on extreme quiet. I've never seen him get angry." Villalona's host family, in this interview, noted that Villalona is a very nice person with a mirthful sense of humor. "He was a sweetheart."

The thing is, it is hard to tell how one might react in a situation that you are not familiar with. Studies have shown that the way people act around one group of friends can be quite different when the people are with another group of friends, and that also goes for situations as well. That's how a "nice boy" to neighbors can be the opposite when he is at school. Thus, Villalona could easily be the shy quiet boy in San Jose, but who is not docile and drives like the devil at home.

Oddity About the Two Gunshot Wounds

I will end with some thoughts about the latest reports about there being two gunshot wounds. If that report is correct, that one shot was in his chest, exiting his neck, and another shot in the back, that seems weird. The only way a shot in the chest comes out the neck is if the gun was basically in the deceased ribs and pointed upward. I would have to assume this shooter is a friend of Villalona's.

Now, the second shot in the back is supposedly shot by Villalona, according to the brother. But if a friend of Villalona is in close contact with the deceased, Villalona, by shooting him in the back would be also risking shooting his buddy as well, because they are so close to each other. That doesn't make sense to me.

Giants Thoughts

All in all, no matter what happens next, a very sad situation all around. If Villalona did do this, I hope justice prevails and he is put behind bars per the laws of his country. Of course, as a Giants fan I hope he is innocent and did not do it. But even if he is cleared, a cloud of question will always surround him for me from now on, unless there is some conclusive evidence that he didn't do it, because I won't know if he got off because he was innocent or if he got off because he's an influential person in his hometown.

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