Thursday, November 28, 2013

2013 Hot Stove: Sabean Presser After Hudson Signing

This is pretty late, but wanted to get it out, now that I'm free to do it.  The below is the transcript of sections of the Sabean press conference after the Hudson signing (courtesy of Tim K), with my thoughts included, and if you want to cut to the chase, I have a summary at the end:

-SABEAN intro: Unfortunately with the kind of year we had we were able to have a lot of meaningful and serious meetings of how we wanted to go forward to rebuild our pitching staff…
As time went on and we developed our list, Timmy (Hudson) was very much a pitcher we wanted to see if we could get him to leave the comforts of Atlanta… to have him now in a Giants’ uniform huge step in us turning around our fortunes for next year…
To have him in our staff, it shows that we mean business to try to get back to where we need to get back to, which is a pitching staff we can be proud of, and get back to the playoffs…
I guess if you went off a check list he virtually had every boxed checked.
ogc thoughts
Typical stuff you are going to say about a player you just signed.  "yes, we really liked him."  
If I remember the sequence right, though, it was Hudson who came to the Giants and let them know that he's available if they are interested.  And typically, for the Giants and Sabean, if there is a mutual interest with a player, the deal usually gets done relatively fast.  That said, it implies that Vogelsong is holding out for more money than the Giants are offering, since the Giants are interested in him coming back.
-Q: Why are you so heavily focused on pitching coming out of your meetings?
-SABEAN: I think if you look at the Dodgers and more so who went to the playoffs in the National League, the National League is very pitching-centric and we failed in that area from top to bottom, some of which was health-related.
In our estimation this is a proven model and it worked for us in ’10 and ’12 and it’s working for other teams as we speak, including the teams that went to the playoffs.
ogc thoughts
Part of their talking lines with the press, Baer spoke to that point in the interviews I saw on CSNBA, that the Giants success was built on pitching and therefore they are trying to duplicate that success by getting good pitching.  Of course, they tied it to our top competitor in the NL West, the 2013 NL West division champs, LA, and to playoff teams in general.  And we did fail in our pitching this season, we had been a top team in the majors from 2009-2012, everyone had some problem except for Bumgarner.  
Good to obscure why they want pitching, assuming they are aware of the studies that show that it is pitching and fielding that leads to playoff successes.   No reason to share the secret sauce with your competitors via the press (or a book).  The fact is that the Giants has been focused on pitching, pitching, pitching since the very beginnings of the Sabean era, particularly once Tidrow came in and ran player development.  For a long time every first round pick was a pitcher, pausing for Posey, then another pitcher in Wheeler, but since Posey, four of six first round picks were position players (though Crick was a supplemental first, if you want to count that too), so there has been a shift since Barr took over with the Posey draft (I think he would have been chosen, Barr or no Barr, FYI).  
However, as I covered in another post, the Giants farm teams are filled with good starting pitching prospects at all the full-season minor league levels, with nary a spot open, really.   So the Giants have been doing a good job of identifying pitchers who could join the Giants starting rotation, can't imagine all of them failing to make the majors.  And with Bumgarner and Cain as the core of the rotation, plus Lincecum could be a third if he can make his final adjustments in his transition from thrower to pitcher, all they really need are pitchers who can fill the rear of the rotation.  Thus anyone who could pitch atop the rotation, like Crick might, and I think Escobar could be good too, are a bonus that makes the rotation even more bullet proof during the season and particularly during the playoffs.  
-Q: Could you be adding more than 1 other starter?
-SABEAN: We are in play with Vogelsong–we were shortly after we did not pick up the option. We’ve had other conversations other than Vogey’s possible return. You’d like to fill it out sooner or later.
It’s a very competitive market… As you know, we’re not going to get tied to a compensation-pick player. We don’t want to give up our first-round pick….
And we do have some pitching coming, so a long-term contract might not be the best medicine for us…
ogc thoughts
Basically the 5th starter will most probably be someone signed to a short deal.  Seems like they want Vogelsong at a certain price and he is seeing if he can do better, but the Giants aren't waiting for him to select him.  Does not answer the question here, but does later, that no, only will be adding one starter, noting Petit and Escobar too, so if Vogie wants to be that #5 starter, he will have to decide that before another pitcher does.
A reason the Giants might be hesitant to go with Vogie as the 5th starter is that a recent Bill James study found that pitchers throwing more strikes and swinging strikes tend to do better (I know, no duh), and that Vogelsong, both in terms of throwing strikes (62%) and getting swinging strikes (9%) is at the level where pitchers do the worse.  Particularly swinging, it starts to go bad at 11% and he's a full two percent below that.  And throwing strikes go bad at 61%.  I've already read that his velocity was down too.  Whether all that can be blamed on the WBC or not, or age, is not clear from the stats, but given the Giants actions - declining his option, reportedly offering a low base contract - they believe it is not something he can recover from.  
Plus, with so many young players potentially ready to join the rotation, they could be suffering from riches not unlike the Cards and Braves in recent years where they have a lot of options for starting pitching.  That would produce a lot of trading chips as well, to get good players we need for other positions.  That is what I've been saying for many years now, that as the Giants pitching oriented development creates more and more surplus talent, the cream will rise to the top, becoming our top pitchers, closers, set-up men, and the rest we can trade away and fulfill our needs in other areas, particularly our lineup. 
-Q: Could you possibly re-sign Vogelsong AND sign another free agent starter?
-SABEAN: Probably not, in fairness to Vogey… We also have Petit and I’m really banking that (Edwin) Escobar will accelerate his development. To answer your question I would doubt it.
ogc thoughts
Looks like the Giants are going to sign someone to be their 5th starter, no battle, with Petit and Escobar expected to the first and second options after that.  I think that Escobar really did well in AA and is very close to contributing nicely in the back of our rotation, so I'm not really that worried about the 5th starter, and would be OK with picking up a high risk, high reward guy.  
-Q: Are you involved with Masahiro Tanaka?
-SABEAN: We’ve pretty much moved past that.
ogc thoughts
Left some wiggle room with the "pretty much", but otherwise, sounds like the Giants will not be in.  But really, what can he say, you don't want to tip your hand to other teams - assuming you are interested - and make them think that they need to bid more.  Maybe the Giants will bid and see what happens.
I am on-board with the Giants strongly pursuing Tanaka, he sounds like he would be a good pitcher in the majors, and he's young to boot, Shankbone has been pressing this point and I agree now that this is the right path.  Hopefully this is a smoke screen statement.
-Q: When you look at adding a left fielder, is it the same idea you’ve done with Lincecum and Hudson–shorter-term deals, maybe higher on the annual number?
-SABEAN: Left field’s going to be challenging as we speak.
And the first order of business will be to further the pitching staff. We just spoke to the fifth starter, getting some things done in the bullpen, fully engaged with Lopez, hopefully get him signed soon enough.
I think left field’s going to have to play out over time.
ogc thoughts
Looks like LF improvement is not going to happen.  Baer in his interviews pressed the point that the Giants didn't finalize the OF in either championship years until acquiring Burrell, Ross, and Pence.  In other words, don't worry so much about it grasshopper, we can handle it later and it will be fine.
-Q: Are you basically looking at Gregor Blanco as your left-handed hitting left fielder and looking to add a right-handed hitter there for a platoon?
-SABEAN: We saw what Gregor can contribute when he was a platoon player–that’s probably in his best interests and ours.
I don’t think we’ll upgrade his skill set as a left-handed hitter or more so on the defensive side of the ball. Maybe the best scenario is to add a right-handed-hitting complement…
It’s not a particularly deep list on the free-agent market, almost non-existent… Trade-wise, perhaps.
To Boch’s juggling act, I think he’d want to settle for a more of an every day guy, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.
ogc thoughts
Round about way of saying that Blanco's going to be platooning with somebody but not a free agent and probably not a trade, suggesting an internal option or perhaps, if they are lucky, a non-tender RHB LF.  And that even improving on Blanco, particularly defensively, would be a challenge.
-Q: Could you pull of a trade like two years ago when you got Pagan and Cabrera?
-SABEAN: I don’t see it this time. But it is so early. Some feelers were sent out before the GM meetings. What I see from a lot of teams is to do what you can do first in the free agent market… as things usually goes a trade happens over time.
ogc thoughts
Has to temper expectations if he views the trade market as a little cold for their needs.  
-Q: Does the $7M buyout for Zito count against your 2014 payroll goal in-house?
-SABEAN :We’re a cash-flow payroll. We’ve got plenty of money to spend.
In the partners meeting we were talking about (the number to) land… it’s not a function of money…
To restructure this year’s team, I think we have plenty of money to do it. But I don’t know if the outside world’s going to be that appetizing or it may be a challenge.
ogc thoughts
Knows that the talk is that the Giants have plenty of money, wants to assure fanbase that they have plenty of money to spend IF they think the player is worth it.  Most interesting point is that the Giants are "a cash flow payroll".  With cash flow surging $20-30M in 2014 just from the new TV contract, plus money from MLBAM, and rules limiting spending on draft bonuses and IFA, things should be good for the payroll.
-Q: Could you go after Shin Soo Choo?
-SABEAN: Anything’s possible, but I think it’s probably doubtful.
We’re trying to reshape our pitching staff. Until we do that and then take a step back, I’m not sure we’ll be involved in a big-time… I guess the opinion of who’s out there and whether they’re big time remains to be seen. But again we’re committed to the pitching first.
ogc thoughts
Took a back hand slap on the big time names out there, noting whether they are or not remains to be seen.  Remember, most teams (per BP and THT research) know the talent they got and tend to try to keep them, so you need to be beware with free agents.
-Q: How did you decide that your No. 1 pick, 14th overall, was more valuable than a free-agent outfielder who would cost the pick?
-SABEAN: I think there’s a lot of history involved starting with our own ball club, you can look at who was picked where in that range. In any draft usually you usually have the quantity and quality to choose from at that number. That’s really what our tenet is now.
ogc thoughts
Ergo the Giants believe that quantity and quality of talent exists down to 15 or so in the first round.
-Q: Was Hudson your top guy once you made up your free-agent want list?
-SABEAN: He was on a primary list. Once you eliminated longer-term possibilities we didn’t necessarily want to get involved in or those with qualifying offer tied in, he was right there in there. Obviously one of our top choices.
ogc thoughts
Had a number of targets, perhaps didn't want to list as he might still be working on another one on their primary list.
-Q: With what you’ve done so far–keeping Pence and Lincecum, adding Hudson–where you do think you’re positioned in the NL West?
-SABEAN: I think the good thing is whether it’s as we visit with ownership or more so with Boch, we’re in lock step of who we thought was important to bring back, the nucleus or the core of who we needed to keep together, and (who we wanted) outside in the market and Hudson’s the first step towards that. I think we’re going about our business methodically…
Lopez is very close we hope to signing back with us. That’s what good teams do, they retain their good or best players.
ogc thoughts
Notes that Hudson is the first step, so they hope to do more still.
As we now know, Lopez is signed and passed his physical.
-Q: Is it safe to say ownership has approved a significant jump in payroll from last year’s number of about $136M?
-LARRY BAER: It’s a jump. Our history tends to be we don’t take very wild swings up or down. So it’s up, it’s a jump.
Things move around as you go through it, but the plan is for it to go up; it’s gone up really every year in recent memory. Can’t remember when it went down.
ogc thoughts
Nothing of note, he reacts defensively, noting that, no, it has gone up every year for a while, when the reporter is only trying to confirm that it is a "significant jump".
ogc summary

The Giants want to make clear that they got money, that it will not affect their baseball decisions, talent will (this is the change in attitude that Neukom introduced into Giants management).  So don't worry about the payroll, that won't enter into the decision on whether to pursue a free agent or not.  However, the exception is that they are committed to keeping their draft pick for next year under most expected scenarios (for example, if Choo or Kuroda came to them wanting to play for $1 per season, they probably would be OK losing the pick), so any QO free agent is most likely not on their radar.

Part of that reasoning, apparently, is that the Giants are not necessarily convinced that the players with QO available have the talent people think, noting "whether they are big time remains to be seen."  Another part is that the Giants think that, at the 14th pick, the quantity and quality of talent that they think is available will result in a good prospect falling to them at that point.   And that makes some sense, while the Giants selected Lincecum and Bumgarner with the 10th pick, they both could have conceivably fallen to the 14th pick, and Wacha, who apparently the Giants were interested in, was selected just before the Giants 20th pick where they got Stratton (h/t to Shankbone for that key bit of info).  Plus, undoubtedly, they probably have already compiled a working draft of their prospect ranking, and is happy with the names falling into the 5-15 range.

With Hudson in the fold, they got one of the pitchers they were targeting for improving the rotation.  That gives them four pretty good or better starters in their rotation, their formula to be one of the top teams in ERA in the majors from 2009-2012.  Their major heavy lifting appears to be done, with regards to the 2014 team, getting Pence, Lincecum, and Hudson signed (plus Lopez, which happened after this press conference).

The Giants are still looking for a 5th starter SP and a LF, in that order, perhaps exponentially so.   They make the point that they won their championships with pitching and that 2013 was a huge disappointment, so they are reloading the rotation to get back to their dominating 2009-2012 ways.  As well, they view options in SP to be more viable than in LF in the free agent market.

For the 5th starter, the Giants are apparently willing to go with Vogelsong as their 5th starter, at the right price.  However, he is, up to now, hesitant to accept that lower contract.  If he wants the spot, it is currently in his power, but once the Giants sign anyone to be the 5th starter, Vogie will have to move on.   Given Vogie's uncertain expectencies with regards to his 2014 production, the Giants clearly have a low bar in what they are hoping for from the 5th starter.  Still, if they can get a clear improvement over Vogie at a fair value, it sounds like they won't hesitate to move on from Vogie, and I wonder if they are waiting for the non-tenders to see what is available there as well.  Movin' on up!

In addition, the Giants are clearly cognizant of the talent percolating up their farm system.  Sabean noted that a long term contract for the 5th starter is not exactly the best solution for them given their young pitcher advancing upward.  In particularly, he specifically named Edwin Escobar and noted that the Giants are "banking" that Escobar "will accelerate his development."  In other words, this is similar to 2010 when the Giants took a flier on Wellemeyer as the 5th starter, but when he happened to get injured, he got Wally Pipped by Bumgarner, not even getting a chance to stay with the team when he came off the DL, he just got DFAed (at least he got a ring).  Because they expect Escobar to be ready for the majors (hence "banking"), they are not thinking big with the 5th starter spot (Petit was also mentioned as a possibility for the 5th spot), but if the opportunity presented itself, they would listen.

I was really impressed with what Escobar and Petit did in 2013.  Escobar posting a 9.0 K/9 and 4.15 K/BB in AA at age 21 is rare, and the better prospects do well in AA at age 22 or lower.  He should be very close if not already.  Petit did really well in AAA for us, and in his limited chance with us as a starter, he nailed it and did well, and probably is the long reliever to start the season and has first dibs on the 5th spot if whoever the Giants get fails and Escobar isn't ready.  Also, Petit was incredibly good with strikes, getting 70% strikes thrown (best at 66%+) and 19% swinging strikes (best at 18%+).

For LF, it sounds like it will be Blanco in a platoon with a RH batter.  The Giants don't like the talent out there, don't think that it is better than a Blanco platoon with a righty.   A trade is always possible, either for a LF or platoon partner with Blanco, but it sounds like the Giants are OK with an internal RH OF playing with Blanco.  Right now, that would be Perez, who was superlative in defense in 2013, piling up a high DRS despite not playing that many innings in the OF, but perhaps Brown will be competing too, plus perhaps a signing, either a non-tender or a free agent left without a team by February.  In addition, Perez has the added feature of being capable of playing the whole infield as well as outfield.  And as Baer repeatedly said in other interviews, the Giants were able to fill OF positions with starters during the season before and could do so again, should you be dissatisfied with their Blanco decision.

I like that they are not stressing over adding a better LF, Blanco is actually not that bad.  For example, replacing him with say, if Pagan was available on the market, would not necessarily result in an improvement, for while Pagan is a better hitter, Blanco is a superior defender in LF, making up much of the difference in projected wins.  Is it worth $10M (Pagan's per season salary) to get a marginal improvement in LF?  Another Pagan in LF probably don't add one extra win to the team over Blanco, and that is without a RH LF platoon partner, who might hit even better vs. LHP than Blanco.

And the team, based on the current lineup and pitching (using Bill James projections in the lineup calculator), is projected to win around 92 games in 2014, which in the past dozen years has been enough to get any team into the playoffs, and with the added wild card team, should make it that much more likely.  And once they get into the playoffs, their superior pitching, as well as depth in quality, will make them a hard team to beat in a series, much like in 2010 and 2012.

Go Giants!

1 comment:

  1. Nice summary of the tea leaves. Can't disagree with a thing you put up. Blanco has a non-traditional LF profile, but he has generated 2-2.5 WAR for both years putting in significant PAs for the Gigantes. His defense is superb. You can do much worse.

    Looks like they were jockeying a bit with Vogey, and decided to fold. My bet is they got sick of fielding 2-year and even 3-year deals with agents. There wasn't enough separation between what Vogey brings and anybody else. He's cheaper, in money a bit and in years a lot. He brings his intensity and dedication, and he came through when it counted in the post-season. Sure, the Giants have been known to overvalue that once in a while.

    Backed by Petit, Kickham and Surkamp, I can live with the 5th starter being a placeholder. Escobar makes that Fresno rotation look pretty lefty-licious eh?

    Bullpen arm might come. And a trade of low-minor pitching prospects for a LF, but I don't see a very viable candidate. Looking at the arb-eligible list again, I still see Drew Stubbs, Trevor Plouffe and Daniel Murphy as likely candidates.

    More important than LF is having a backup plan for 2B/3B flakiness.



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