Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Travis Ishikawa Named to Topps MLB Rookie All-Star Team

As reported by Haft on sfgiants.com, Travis Ishikawa was named to Topps' MLB Rookie All-Star Team. Congrats to Ishikawa for his award, that will always be on his Topps baseball card, and a nice capper to a nice season.

That said, I like Ishikawa, but it must have been a poor year for 1B, when you compare him to the other players named:

  • White Sox second baseman Chris Getz,
  • Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus,
  • White Sox third baseman Gordon Beckham,
  • Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan,
  • Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen,
  • Rangers outfielder Nolan Reimold,
  • Mets catcher Omir Santos,
  • Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson and
  • Phillies left-hander J.A. Happ

The only other "huh?" on the list for me is Omir Santos.

Not that I thought Ishikawa did poorly. As I have shown, he did pretty well after May 10, but the judging of how he did will always focus on his overall season and he didn't do that well overall because of how poorly he started the season. And most of the above did stuff that budding stars did. Ishikawa, at best, could be a competent average firstbaseman - nothing to be ashamed of, and that's good for a nice career in the majors, just ask JT Snow.

Giants Thoughts

As much as I would like to see the Giants improve offensively for sure by acquiring another hitter, the consequence of that would be the loss of opportunity for certain Giants prospects.

Getting a LF (or CF if Rowand agrees to move to LF) is the least intrusive and obstructive, as it would force Bowker to compete with Schierholtz for the starting RF position, but as nicely as both have done in AAA, neither is a slam dunk to do well if they were inserted as starters. I would still like to see how Schierholtz would do if given the chance, and I'm realistic enough to know that there's a significant possibility that he might not do well. Same for Bowker.

Getting a 1B, 2B (shifting Sanchez to 3B, and Pablo to 1B), or 3B (shifting Pablo to 1B) would be more obstructive as it would effectively end any use the Giants would have for Ishikawa or Garko, forcing them to either DFA or trade them.

Given Garko's history and right-handedness (where many Giants prospects are left-handed), plus the fact that Barnes was traded for him and Sabean said that he would not acquire anyone who is not part of the Giants future plans, I have to think that the Giants would not acquire an IF which would force out Garko (as well as possibly Ishikawa since has no position flexibility).

For that matter, there usually are a good number of available LF and while Ishikawa-Garko would probably make a good enough platoon team, only Nick Johnson would rank as high as the two of them in a platoon at 1B, and his big problem is that he is better but only when he is healthy enough to play for most of the season. Unless they are thinking of moving Bowker back to 1B, acquiring Johnson would probably result in both players being DFA, with Garko probably netting someone (though not as good as Barnes, I would bet) and Ishikawa being claimed by another team through waivers, and the Giants would only have Bowker and Jesus Guzman as 1B possibless should Johnson go down, as he has to some extent each and every season he has been a major leaguer.

For me, like for 2009, I would have preferred the Giants go and give the best prospects the chance to show what they could do, good or bad. That's not the edict that Neukom gave - he wanted to see enough improvement so that the team was at least .500 - and I understand his position as he needs to worry more about the business side and attracting fans to come see the games.

My 2010 Preference

For 2010, this would be how I would want to do things.

Obviously, the pitching rotation is the strength of the team. I would not diminish it with any trades right now. Lincecum, Zito, Cain, Sanchez is a pretty formidable rotation. For the 5th spot, I would prefer to see Pucetas get a chance to see what he can do up here, with Martinez in reserve.

The bullpen is another strength. Brian Wilson was superb as closer in 2009 and Jeremy Affeldt even more so as our main setup guy. Sergio Romo was mostly superb, except for a brief period where he was lost. Dan Runzler looks to also be in the mix for set-up duties, lessening the need to use Affeldt as much or in lower leverage situations. Merkin Valdez was OK too, and Waldis Joaquin looks like he will take a spot too. And Brandon Medders was a find. These are probably the seven we take to the season, and leaves out Justin Miller and Bobby Howry, both of whom did very well for us, but are probably gone in 2010.

The lineup, of course, is a work-in-progress. I would start with giving Posey the catching job but also signing a free agent catcher who is good defensively and hopefully a mentor too, ideally like Gregg Zaun. Brad Ausmus and Jose Molina look to be viable alternatives if Zaun really wants to stay near his hometown area of Tampa Bay.

1B would be a platoon of Ishikawa and Garko, though it won't be strictly by LHP and RHP. I would also play Garko in LF sometimes to get his offense if the LF is struggling, and Garko is the DH anytime we play against an AL team.

2B is Freddy Sanchez, with Frandsen or Rohlinger as backup.

3B is Pablo Sandoval, with Frandsen or Rohlinger as backup.

SS is Edgar Renteria with Frandsen or Rohlinger as backup.

LF is John Bowker with Torres, Garko, and Frandsen as backups.

CF is Aaron Rowand with Torres as backup.

RF is Nate Schierholtz with Bowker (someone else would take LF) and Torres as backup.

This would mean that Frandsen is DFA or traded if Rohlinger wins and Velez is DFA or traded, as there would be no space for either and neither can be sent back to the minors without exposing him to waivers. It is possible that Velez might shine in spring training and make a good case for LF, but I would just (in my mind, at least) have the above slotted and just announce my "decision" after spring training, justifying it any way that I can. It's time to see what Posey, Ishikawa, Bowker and Schierholtz can do playing pretty regularly, then adjust in May-June was needed.

I think the Giants are pretty much going to follow this route except that they will most probably pursue one of the second tier players who falls through the crack and finds himself without a team in the middle of January and willing to take a small contract in order to secure a starting position with the Giants. Then they would adjust the rest of the roster in reaction to this signing.

I think that there is also probably a good chance of them also signing a free agent starter to take the #5 rotation spot, also another guy looking for a spot and willing to take less. I would not have minded getting Brad Penny back, and who knows, he could find himself on the outside looking in and sign with the Giants for less in order to give the D-gers another slap in the face.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giants Added 4 to 40 Man Roster; Second-Tier FA; Sign Cain to Extension

Catching up with some news, the Giants recently added four prospects to their 40 man roster. This was reported at their website by Haft, Baggarly, and Schulman. Here they are in order of where I think they rank in terms of contributing eventually (and also probably in order of contributing) to the Giants:

Kevin Pucetas

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

Brett Pill

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.

Francisco Peguero

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.

Darren Ford

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.

Giants Thoughts

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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lincecum: 2 Cy U Later

Congrats to the two-time in a row winner of the NL Cy Young Award, Tim Lincecum!

According to the Baseball Writers' Association of America website (which will probably change with the next award it gives out), it was a historic vote in many ways.

First, Lincecum had the lowest victory total of any starting pitcher who have won the award in either league (for a season with a full slate of games). The previous low was Brandon Webb for Arizona in 2006 and Zach Grinke of KC this year. Lincecum had a total of 100 points, 11 firsts, 12 seconds, and 9 thirds.

Second, it was only the second time that a pitcher won the award without receiving the most first place votes. He was named first on only 11 ballots, while Adam Wainwright of St. Louis got 12 votes and his teammate Chris Carpenter got 9 himself. They were the only ones to get first place votes out of the 32 ballots. He and Wainwright were the only ones listed on every ballot, which allowed three votes, one for first (worth 5 points), one for second (worth 3 points) and one for third (worth 1 point). Only Tom Glavine did this previously, in 1998.

Lincecum beat Carpenter by 6 points, which was tied for the third closest election in the NL since the ballot expanded from one to three pitchers in 1970. And the 10 point difference between him and third (Wainwright tallied 90 points) was the second closest in NL voting since 1987, when Steve Bedrosian was only 3 points ahead of third place, who was Rick Reuschel, the year he joined the Giants.

The only consecutive repeat winners, a great list to be on, are:

  • Greg Maddux (4)
  • Randy Johnson (4)
  • Sandy Koufax (2: 1965-66) (NL)
  • Roger Clemens (twice 2: 1986-87 and 1997-98) (AL)
  • Denny McLain (2: 1968-69)
  • Jim Palmer (2: 1976-76)
  • Pedro Martinez (2: 1999-2000)

Of course, if Denny McLain were not on the list, it would be a great precursor to a great career. Now the warning is, hope he's not a Denny McLain.

BBWAA-HA-HA-HA: Change, My Ass

Now, I've seen some articles that state that this is a sign that writers today are moving past the old ways of voting where wins and fortitude counts big, but stats not as much. I would disagree.

I would say that this is more of a sign that writers has shown the same bad traits that they showed before: wins-mania and favoritism/familiarity. The only reason Lincecum won was because it happened that the other top two candidates were on the same team and the writers could not rally behind one or the other.

He was named below first on 21 ballots, meaning two thirds of the voters thought there was a better pitcher than he. And 9 of them (roughly 30%) thought that there were 2 pitchers better than he.

I think the argument can be made that he and Chris Carpenter were too close to tell. That I can buy. Just look over Baseball Reference's NL Pitching leaders. ERA, Carpenter and Lincecum, 1-2. WHIP, 2-4 (Haren 1, Vazquez 3). Reverse in H/9, Lincecum 2, Carpenter 4. Carpenter was way better than Lincecum in BB/9, third (Haren 2nd), but he still had a good rate, 2.7. And, of course, K/9 Lincecum was way better than Carpenter.

Where I think Lincecum comes out ahead, and tips things his way, is in games started: he had 32 starts while Carpenter only had 28. Both our local writers (Schulman and Baggarly ) thought Carpenter was better than Lincecum. Carpenter missed almost a month of the season. So how did he show up ahead of Lincecum on so many ballots? If two writers didn't show Carpenter any love and voted for Vazquez 2nd and Haren 3rd, leaving Carpenter off their lists, it would have been even closer, he would have had 98 points to Lincecum's 100 points. In that case, only one voter had to swap the two and it would have been Carpenter ekeing out the win instead.

Then what about Wainwright? He had the 4th best ERA, but 10th in WHIP, nowhere in H/9, BB/9, K/9. He was 4th in total strikeouts, but that was a function of him pitching the most innings, 233.0, and starting the most games, 34 (tied with many others). And, of course, he did lead in wins with 19, which shows again that wins matter to a large percentage of the voters.

He had 12 first-place votes, one more than Lincecum. Wins matter. Carpenter got 9 first-place votes, when he missed a full month and wasn't demonstrably better than the other pitchers. He bettered Lincecum by 5 ER (the number he needed to equal Lincecum's ERA). Wins matter. Basically Lincecum was ranked third by 9 voters and the only two pitchers who were probably ahead of him on those ballots: Carpenter adn Wainwright, and what areas are they better than Lincecum? Wins matter.

Glaciers Thawing

But there apparently is some change afoot, though, so while Lincecum's election is not the sign people think, there is a definite thawing. Javier Vasquez only had 15 wins too, but great ERA, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9, IP, strikeouts, and games started. One could argue that he should have been one of the three spliting votes, not Wainwright.

I would love to see the ballot that put Vasquez 2nd: who did the writer vote for 1st and 3rd? Given that he voted for Vasquez, and both Lincecum and Wainwright was on every ballot, one would think that, of course, Lincecum was first on that ballot. But then how did Wainwright beat out Carpenter for the third place vote when the only things he did better than Carpenter was start 6 more games, strike out a lot more, and won 2 more games.

People think that Lincecum getting voted for is a sign that voters are changing, but really, that's a fallacy. There are two things that voters like. Wins, obviously, is one. The other I would add is strikeouts. It is like HR for hitters, voters love the big strikeout guys. And Timmy has it and with flair and a personality.

It is that plus the fact that Carpenter and Wainwright split votes that Carpenter might have gotten if not for Wainwright winning 19 games. Those are why Lincecum won, not because the voters have suddenly seen the light and embrace saber-stats. That's baloney (or bologna, as Jim Gaffigan might say).

Arbitration Mania

Now for the scary part: seeing what Lincecum will get in arbitration. Ryan Howard got $10M in his first year in arbitration. He was averaging 50+ HR for each full season, so he did have that, plus leading the league in HR before. Won ROY then followed with MVP. Pushing down a little because of the bias towards hitters over pitchers, but then add back some baseball salary inflation, and the Giants are looking at paying Lincecum at least $10M.

That's because Lincecum now has that shiny Cy Young #2, which trumps even what Howard did. I would guess $12M at least, maybe as much as $15M, depending on whether the Giants are stupid with their arbitration offer (like they were with AJP years ago) and underbid. And that high end is possible, as Howard was the test case, got the lower Phillies $10M but then had another monster year in 2008 and so the Phillies signed him to an extension and jumped him to $15M for 2009. As long as they are in the ballpark, they probably can meet Lincecum's agent in the middle and sign him without going to the arbitrator.

That's why the Giants can't sign Lincecum to a long-term contract in hopes of holding down his salary. He's going to get scary sized awards in arbitration. Let's say he does get $12M. If we do the math for the 4 years he's in arbitration - maybe $12M, $15M, $18M, $21M - for a total of $66M. So let's sign him to that.

Bargain, no?

But what if his decline in the second half was related to something physical, and not to him partying hardy last off-season after his great 2008 season? Like what happened to Noah Lowry. Then that bargain contract becomes a huge albatross of a guaranteed deadweight on the team's payroll for the next 4 years.

Pitchers are much different creatures than hitters. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with them than for a hitter. And, as much as I love that he does what he does, as great as he does, he is most definitely an outlier, physically.

So I would prefer the Giants treat this on a year by year basis. If Tim is willing to sign for a contract with a nice home discount, say $40M for the next 4 seasons, I can see that as acceptable risk on both sides. But with him probably getting $12-15M this season, that's chump change for the next three seasons, so I don't see him signing any long-term contract for less than $50M for 4 years, and he probably wants something closer to the 3 year, $54M that Howard got, which with the extra year is much like the $66M I was talking about above.

I expect a one year contract this year, then perhaps the Giants by next offseason would be willing to sign Lincecum to a three year contract for around what Howard got, maybe $45M for 3 years. At that point, Lincecum might be willing to accept less than what he could get in arbitration in order to lock in guaranteed money for 3 seasons, and the Giants would not be as daunted as Lincecum would have another year in the league under his cap (presumably healthy else forget about it).

Otherwise, I would be OK with going year to year, he's going to be here for the next four seasons even if we don't sign him, as long as he's healthy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Roster-bation: Initial Thoughts on Starting Lineup

The Giants starting lineup, as iffy as it looks, could also be considered pretty set, in terms of probability of finding someone currently with the Giants in the starting lineup. So I thought I would ruminate on the possibilities as the players line up for the free agency period.

Obvious Where Changes Could Occur

Since the Giants were OK with 4 young question marks to start the 2009 season, that gives us a benchmark with which to guess what might happen for 2010. I think that they will consider Rowand, Renteria, Freddie Sanchez, and Pablo Sandoval to be relatively sure things to produce at a certain rate. That could allow them to experiment at C, 1B, LF, and RF.

But 2009 was considered a year to just be competitive while 2010 was considered a year to contend, so that would suggest that the Giants would like to solidify one more position in the starting lineup, particularly since Renteria does have a bit of a question mark over him (I am hoping, but not hopeful, that Rowand was just struggling with performance anxiety as he struggled to perform up to the standards he had set before, and just need to get over his contract in 2010 and beyond). Thus they might look to acquire a starter at C, 1B, LF, or RF.

Catcher and Firstbase Are Relatively Set

Posey is ready, if not already, for the starting lineup at catcher. My guess is that he is ready but the Giants might do like the Orioles and hold off promoting him in order to control him for one more season. That would suggest that they won't go that route at C, unless the starting caliber catcher is willing to sign for one season - unlikely, though if Molina is still unsigned by spring training, he could possibly be signed for one season at a lower value than he had been seeking.

1B is loaded with two possibly OK players in Ishikawa and Garko, who both need extensive playing time to show what they can do plus who can only play one position, 1B, realistically. Garko could play LF on an irregular basis as he is very poor defensively there but could be the option there when the opposing pitcher is a LHP and they think that Ishikawa would do better than one of the OF left-handed options or Andres Torres.

OF is Most Likely Area of Acquisition

That leaves the outfield as the most likely spots to be filled by free agency or trade. Both Bowker and Schierholtz, the most likely starters right now, are no sure things. Bowker, as nicely as he did in 2009 in the minors, could still find things hard in the majors, like he did in 2008. Schierholtz regressed in 2009, not showing the average offensive capabilities that he showed in 2007 and 2008 in the minors (and briefly in the majors).

The other choices are not as good, though. Velez, Torres, and Lewis are possibilities but there are strong negatives with each of them. Velez's poor performance still in 2009 except for hot month is a big negative, as well as his relatively poor defense, though apparently greatly improved. Torres is a journeyman, unlikely to have suddenly figure it out. The fact that he struck out 45 times in only 145 AB suggest that he was just very lucky with his BABIP in 2009 and not the shiny new thing that some Giants fans believe. Lewis looks like a different hitter each year, while consistently walking a lot while striking out too much for a guy with little power. Plus he's getting up there in age, he'll be 29 next season, kind of late to finally figure things out.

Obtaining, say, a LF would increase the probability of production out of that position, while only requiring only one of Bowker and Schierholtz to actually figure things out and start in RF. I thought that Chone Figgins would work there, but he's a Type A free agent, and I don't think the Giants want to lose another draft pick. So my best guess right now is that they will keep in contact and then swoop on a free agent who is on the cheap but with some potential to either get on base or drive in runs with power, but still unsigned in January.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Winn Loses But Giants Win; Plus Elias Rankings and Free Agency

According to a blog by Andy Baggarly, the Giants have informed Randy Winn that his services would no longer be needed by the Giants.

Giants Thoughts

First off, thank you to Randy Winn for his many years of service to the Giants. Good luck in your future endeavors and hopefully you can make the playoffs with another team, though, of course, should you face the Giants in the playoffs, I hope you don't do so well.

Andy opined that this move might be because the Giants management is worried that Bochy would play Winn regularly instead of letting the younger players play. There is some validity in this statement. Winn started 22 games out of 28 games in August and 18 games out of 31 games in September/October, while hitting around .600 OPS over two months. To Bochy's credit, at least the percentage fell from 79% to 58%, but that type of hitting usually warrants a benching, not playing over half the games.

But he was kind of forced to use Winn. In August, Velez hit .273/.307/.405/.712 in 121 AB and Schierholtz hit .208/.255/.417/.671 in 48 AB, while Winn hit .247/.304/.301/.605 in 93 AB. Lewis did hit well in limited (34) at-bats, but that was probably mainly against RHP and probably small samples as his stats then tanked the rest of the season.

In September/October, Velez hit .239/.294/.413/.707 in 92 AB, Bowker hit .222/.276/.444/.720 in 27 AB, Schierholtz hit .222/.273/.293/.565 in 41 AB, and Lewis, balancing off his hot August with a very poor end to his season. Winn didn't do much better, .230/.329/.262/.591 in 61 AB, but he at least is a veteran with a strong track history. With the days in the season dwindling, usually betting on the veteran is a good bet.

However, his track record in the 2009 season was pretty poor. His OPS was at or below the 700 OPS range in 5 of the 6 months, he only had one month similar to his usual production in May. More importantly, he was striking out much more than he usually did, even in his poor 2006 season, and such a negative turn in his contact ability spoke to his probable physical decline and inability to make contact with pitches he once hit with authority.

The one good thing that Winn at least was able to do was to get on base a lot. Despite a lower OPS than his career, his OBP was at least presentable, unlike the other OF starter options, at the end of the season. So it was not like Bochy was totally off base with his decision to start Winn.

Personally, I would have just given the starting job to Bowker at the start of September, in recognition of his great season in 2009, much like how Sandoval and Ishikawa got to start a lot of games at the end of 2008 season. That would have also given us a look towards 2010 plus allowed him to chillax a little and show what he could do.

But when you are trying to win in the last month of the season, you don't go starting young prospects with that extra pressure on, it is hard enough to show what you can do earlier in the season when the pressure is not that high, but playoff pressure is an additional negative factor on a young prospect's performance. Though sometimes you are forced to do that.

In any case, this is a good move. Right now, LF and RF are open positions, with Fred Lewis, Eugenio Velez, Nate Schierholtz, and John Bowker competing for the two spots, with Andres Torres a dark horse candidate and Jose Guzman an unlikely possibility but still could be in the mix. If the Giants want to ensure another steady bat in the lineup, LF is one possibility to fill with a player, like free agent Chone Figgins.

However, Sabean's comments thus far suggest that they are content with going forward with their current roster of players, avoiding any early free agent signing. That is the way he likes to operate, but waiting to see how the free agent market shakes out and perhaps provide us with a nice cheaper alternative. Perhaps after the non-tendered arbitration candidates in December is one way he might go or waiting until Jan/Feb for the vets still looking for a job and perhaps ready to give the Giants a nice deal.

Plus, the Giants pick is not protected, so he most probably won't be going after any of the Type A free agent because of this and the size of the contract in terms of years and dollars that the top hitters will want.

Unfortunately, Chone Figgins is a Type A free agent (list just released today, check here at bizofbaseball for their account) so there goes my best idea of who the Giants might pursue among the free agents.

The good news for Giants fans is that Bob Howry, Randy Johnson, and Randy Winn are Type B free agents, so if some team were to sign them before the deadline for offering arbitration, they would earn us a first round supplemental pick. However, odds are that probably only Howry would beat that deadline, as the other two will probably be after thoughts, given how poorly they performed. Also, Bengie Molina is a Type A free agent, so there is some possibility that a contending team needing a good starting catcher might sign him (like the Brewers), though a rising team might want him too (like the Rays). But it is no sure bet that the Giants will get both a first round pick and a supplemental sandwich pick for Molina.

Plus, the free agents catchers I was hoping the Giants might target as the veteran backup who will backup Posey this season, either all season or keeping the starting job warm until Posey is brought up won't cost us any compensation: Ausmus, Zaun, and Jose Molina would not cost us anything in terms of draft picks (Zaun should also have an option that the Rays might pick up).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Vets are Important to Rebuilding Teams

I have been trying to figure out a way not to chase my tail in answering people concerns (OK, really, complaints) about how the Giants have gone about rebuilding over the past few years (I consider a team to be in rebuilding mode once it has gone through two years of losses, no matter what their management's intents were at the time, as there is no way to easily research that via the data available on-line. And really, if you are losing while trying to win, that's a sign that you are fighting an upward battle and should really be rebuilding). I think I will try to create a series of posts related to rebuilding where I try to address one particular myth regarding rebuilding and this will be the first.

What got me started now is that there is a great post on Fangraphs that captures one particular aspect that I have seen people post their comments on: if a team is rebuilding, they should not be acquiring veterans. It was written by Dave Cameron and titled, "The Value of a Win To A Losing Team" and I think it discussed this issue well.

While rebuilding teams have to look towards the future, they also have to avoid the death spiral that can occur when a small revenue team fails to put a good product on the field, drives away the fan base, and in the process lowers future revenues. There is a financial cost to losing that is magnified when teams are uniformly awful, and that cost can inhibit a team’s growth potential in the long run. Developing a fan base is in many ways like developing a farm system – it requires a present term investment that theoretically returns greater future value...

Sometimes, that value will come in the form of a thirty-something nearing the end of his career, but the value they can add in the short term can make that kind of player a better choice for a rebuilding team than giving an inferior young player playing time in the name of rebuilding.


You just have to look at any team that went from bad to good to find that they never eliminated all their veterans nor did they not acquire veterans via free agent or trade to help with the rebuilding process. Why play a prospect who is not particularly good when you can get a veteran at market value who has a better odd of providing a certain level of production, so that you can play young players at other positions and thus the vets help keep the team afloat and not crashing and burning.

The Braves did not rebuild from the ashes of their 80's without signing some free agents to fill spots that could not be filled internally. Detroit in their rebuilding signed players like Magglio Ordonez to help them get over the hump. The D-gers signed players like Derek Lowe and traded for players like Brad Penny and Manny Ramirez. The Phillies signed Jim Thome to make their big push from up and down, slightly above .500, to consistently in the high 80's. And the Yankees bought their way to their pennant, they have not really rebuilt much.

I have challenged all to point out teams that have successfully rebuilt without acquiring a veteran at market value to help them in their rebuilding process. Even the Tampa Bay Rays, which some have pointed out, signed Pat Burrell last off-season to help with taking the next step forward and Troy Perceival the year before. Another team that some point out, the Brewers, signed Jeff Suppan to a big contract a few years back, plus Braden Looper this past off-season, plus acquired Jason Kendall, who had a huge contract, in a trade with the A's.

The closest would be Tampa Bay as they have pretty much built via their farm system with minimal veteran presence. But the way they did it, is it a price you are willing to pay? They had a losing record for 10 straight years, often having the worse record in the majors. They averaged 60 wins over a three year period during those 10 years, and had the first overall pick in 4 of those 10 years, a top 3 in 7 of those 10 years, and a top 4 in 8 of those 10 years. Heck, most Giants fans couldn't even stand what we went through, let alone 10 years worth. And that is one example, not how most teams have rebuilt.

The Braves, who some point at as a good example of rebuilding, had 7 straight years of losing and not just losing but losing bad, they averaged 60.7 wins in one 3 year stretch, finished 6th in a 6 team division 4 times, and was 5th two other times. They had a top 3 pick 4 out of those 7 years, a 5th pick and a 6th pick. Sabean Naysayers were beating the drums on him just 2 or so years into the losing, saying many of the same things that Braves fans were probably saying about Bobby Cox.

And really, the Braves went through a rebuilding period from 1967-1991 (they moved to Atlanta in 1966), as they were not able to sustain any period of winning beyond two seasons, and only did that once, in 1982 and 1983.

And really, any team that has rebuilt has gone through stretches of losses at least 4-5 years in length, and most a lot more. And those teams that finally made it from rebuilding to perennial playoff contenders relied on key veteran players who they acquired either via free agency or trades.

Of course, that does not mean that the veterans the team acquires is the right type of vet to acquire, but that's another topic. It is a myth that teams rebuild solely by the draft without any veterans on the team.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Giants Sign Freddy Sanchez: 2 years, $12M

Announced late Friday, the Giants signed Freddy Sanchez to a reported (Chron's Schulman then Merc, based on what sfgiants.com's Haft wrote), 2 years, $12M contract. Reports from sfgiants.com, Chronicle, and Merc. As a side note, Noah Lowry (unsurprisingly), Justin Miller, and Kelvin Pichardo have been released, freeing 3 spots on the 40 man roster. Baggarly also noted that the following players are eligible for arbitration: Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Sanchez, Brandon Medders and Ryan Garko. Plus, the Giants are having conversations with all their free agents, but only about what the Giants are thinking, not that the Giants necessarily want them back.

Sanchez could have had an $8.1M contract for 2010 if he really wanted to, so in essence he is being paid $3.9M for 2011. Given that Hudson, a comparable 2B, last season only got $3M plus incentives (which eventually got him a total about $8M, if I recall right), Sanchez was trading off the risks that 1) he could be in Type A free agent hell for two years, not knowing who he would be playing for, and getting stuck with which ever team happens to be looking for a cheap 2B, and accepting whatever contract they offer, particularly considering his injury problems this season, and 2) he could be injured again, you never know considering he's entered his 30's, look at what happened to Ray Durham, healthy all his 20's then every, s-i-n-g-l-e season he's injured.

For that, he knows he's playing for a good rising team that was in the playoff hunt in 2009 and possibly the next two years plus don't have to worry about where he's going to be for the next two years nor what contract he might end up with. And there's the injury thing.

Also, for what it's worth, he felt bad that he was not able to contribute to the pennant run, as was intended by the trade, and that the Giants traded a "pretty high prospect" for him.

Giants Thoughts

Not surprised about a deal, I expected a deal to happen. But 2 years at $12M was an unexpected and nice surprise. I thought that perhaps the 3 year $20M offer that Sanchez gave Pittsburgh might be resurrected, but this is even better. Perhaps he wanted security for now but wanted to test free agency with a healthy body next time. Taking one year at lower pay when there is an $8.1M option doesn't make sense, but a 2 year at these terms does.

That's why all the hand-wringing a lot of Giants fans (i.e. the section of Sabean Naysayers out there) did, worrying about what might happen, was all for naught. They just automatically think that Sabean is going to screw it up in some way, but as I noted, it made sense for both sides to work out a deal for a reasonable amount of money. So we did end up with somebody good for Alderson, and given how poorly he was doing in AA for the Pirates, it looks like we sold high, and all the angst over Franchez was much ado over nothing.

Not surprised that Lowry was released (technically, his option was turned down and then he was outrighted, so as to avoid arbitration, and now he has the right to turn down the assignment and become a free agent, which will happen). His agent accused the Giants staff of incompetance, which is pretty silly because Lowry had problems that had never been seen in baseball before, they had to go to another sport to find such an instance. The Giants said that they are still open, but there is no way they can come back to the Giants and not look bad for the lawsuit that appears to be percolating on Lowry's end. Good luck with your career Noah, thanks for all the good pitching.

I was a little surprised by Miller being outrighted until I found out that he's up for arbitration. With so many players up for arbitration, they probably thought that they could outright him and then try to keep him as an option for next year, since he was signed to a minor contract last year and had his arm surgery. Medders, however, would have been a hot item on the free agent market. I think Miller will stick around and the Giants are talking with him.

Kelvin Pichardo's release possibly ends the Michael Tucker saga in SF. Pichardo was who we got in the trade for Tucker and for a number of years, it looked like he might make the team as a reliever, but despite good numbers in the minors, he never got the call up to the majors, even when basically every pitcher on the 40 man got called up and got at least a cup of coffee in the majors, in 2008. He's probably gone, probably will sign up with someone else since it doesn't look like it's going to happen here.

I am good with the deal for Sanchez. Forget his great season, that's ain't happening again. Still, if you average what he did in his other four seasons, that's a .326 OBP and .407 SLG for a .733 OPS. Plug that into the lineup calculator, compare batting 2nd (which is where the Giants envision him hitting, though apparently 3rd is an option too; .250/.299/.332/.632) with what we got from batting 2nd last season (guys hitting 2nd in lineup didn't do much better than the 2B too; .236/.281/.329/.611), and we add roughly 0.15 to 0.2 runs to the lineup, just with that one move. That would move us from 4.06 runs per game to at least 4.2 runs per game, maybe 4.25 runs scored per game, which, if our pitching holds up, would add two wins to our team.

We should also have improvements at 1B (Ishi-Garko platoon) and SS (Renteria healthy and back to normal offense), plus possibly 3B (Sandoval produce over full season) and RF (someone got to do better than what Winn provided, either Schierholtz or Bowker), leaving LF for a possible free agent or trade acquisition for an upgrade.

Plus, over the last two months of the 2009 season, after the acquisitions for the offense, the team averaged 4.24 runs per game. Obviously, a big chunk of that was from Uribe (who according to the press conference is looking to go free agent, not surprising), but what I wanted to show is that improvements we already have now at 2B, 1B, and SS (relative to 2009), should be at least equivalent to that uptick in offense, meaning that is not a pipe dream that the offense could be improved over last year's 4.06 runs scored without any new additions.

Still, hopefully the Giants can take a calculated risk in the free agent market and improve the team to get us to the 90+ win range. And not just by adding a power hitter but also by adding a #5 starter who can do better than what we got from our #5 starters, Randy Johnson, Ryan Sadowski, and Joe Martinez (obviously, Brad Penny did pretty well). Plus, if Sanchez can continue to improve, that would also help too. Same with Zito.

As I've been noting, I'm happy with how the Giants are set up for 2010. We have clear areas of possible improvements in both our offense and pitching that look like we have a pretty good chance of improving on the number of wins we get in 2010 over 2009. Still, enough could go wrong that we could take a step back in 2010 too.

As much as I would like to see Posey starting, I think the Giants are going to follow the Orioles/Weiters route and acquire a catcher to be the starter holding the seat warm for Posey in 2010. Given that Weiters is considered a better hitter than Posey and yet did not do that well in the majors until his last month, it might behoove the Giants to keep Posey in AAA for most of 2010, and just get him ready for the starting job in 2011. Research by Baseball Foreaster showed that it is usually better to keep the prospects in AAA for a whole year in order to have a better feel for the prospect's true abilities and have a better chance that he succeeds when he does make the majors, than to assume his good hitting over a partial season will hold up on the majors.

According to the news from the press conference announcing Sanchez's deal, Sabean "sees a late-developing free-agent market, particularly for the Giants, because he feels no desperation to sign players." That does not preclude the Giants from pursuing one of the bigger names (Holliday and Bay) as they are usually late developing too, particularly Boras clients. But it probably does mean that it will be a relatively slow off-season for Giants news, as the Giants will not be actively pursuing many (if any) free agents for a quick signing. That probably means no quick signing of a reliever, like we did last year with Affeldt and Howry, or a LF, at least initially. And that could have been predicted once the season ended, not a lot of spots open on the team, as much as people want wholesale changes on offense.

Late (meaning Jan/Feb 2010) signings for LF, RF, 1B, and 3B (and I suppose C) are possible as the Giants take a chance on somebody and giving them a chance to win a starting spot or a vet is unsigned and looking for a spot. That's also when teams have released arbitration eligible players in December and they could be available in that time frame and desperate for a shot somewhere, anywhere. I would also throw out Dallas McPherson's name out there, if he's healthy and hitting in spring, he could push Sandoval to 1B and get a semi-starting job at 3B.

Sabean also noted that he's working on stabilizing the top of the order (1-4), and the only way we can stabilize leadoff is via signing a free agent leadoff hitter. The premier free agent there would be Chone Figgins, who could play 3B or LF for us full-time, or move around as needed, though he would probably prefer to be in one spot, and as a free agent, that could become something that he is looking for in a team. If they got him, the Giants would be set at three of those spots: Figgins, Sanchez, and, of course, Sandoval, and might leave batting 3rd open for Schierholtz or Bowker to try to win.

Also, since they are looking at Franchez batting 3rd, I have to assume that could mean Renteria 2nd, Franchez 3rd, and Sandoval 4th. The news keep on focusing on getting a cleanup hitter, but Sandoval is that already, in my opinion, so they could go this route during the season. And that would work if Renteria was back to his normal self (heck, if he's back to his normal self, he would probably be better off hitting 3rd).

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