- Andy Baggarly and Mercury News: closer; coaches; power
- Hank Schulman: closer and other news; coaches
- Chris Haft: free agents; bullpen and other news; coaches
- Alex Pavlovic: free agents; closer; coaches; injuries and other news
Honestly, this used to be my first thing I would do after Giants seasons end, be prepared to hear the press conference and transcribe as much of it that I could. Some years they would post the audio or video, and I would start and stop it a million times to catch every word and syllable. I frankly forgot about it this year.
I haven't been that uptight about the Giants since the 2014 season. I didn't worry all through the battle to get into the playoffs, didn't worry through any of the playoff series. I just enjoyed each as baseball games played by my favorite team. And this season, after my sister passed away, even less angst over how bad the Giants were playing, and they were playing pretty bad in the second half.
I guess part of the reason for not feeling the urge to blog has also to do with my original reasons for starting up my blog. I felt that I had a different voice than what I was seeing. I soon was one of the few who had a positive view of the Giants future, whereas most were dystopian views of 100 game loss seasons, I was talking about the Giants having the core players who we could build a Team of the 2010 Decade. And they did.
Now, not that many arguments about how good Sabean is as a GM. Whereas I was booed mercilessly when I celebrated his signing a two year contract, every two years, most people understand that he's actually pretty good at what he's been doing, which is evaluating baseball talents. Free agents he has no control over what's available, sometimes you just need to sign the best of the bunch, and pick your poison. But when he has had the prospects in his hands, or picked up prospects tossed away by other teams, he has been very good about keeping the good ones and trading away the ones who at least had trade value. And his mantra for most of his tenure has been pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
And that is going to be important now, because the changing of the guard that started with Sandoval leaving, then Lincecum leaving, will now be accelerated by the number of free agents who has rings who most probably will not be with the Giants in 2017, and it will be important for Sabean and gang to be able to figure out who to keep and who to trade.
Changes, they are a-coming
The Giants have six free agents and, most likely, none of them are coming back: Peavy, Casilla, Romo, Lopez, Pagan, Blanco. Blanco has the greatest chance of returning, since he's stated that he's willing to take less in order to "stay home". However, his defense has slipped a lot in the past two seasons, into below average territory, and Gorkys is like a younger version of him, and delivering above average defense, at least for the Giants. Romo has the next best, as he still has skills, but is not very likely to return, due to his salary level, the iffiness of his right elbow, and Roogy tendencies. I only fear that he'll join the Dodgers. Peavy has no spot in the rotation, Casilla appears to have lost all of Bochy's confidence, hardly being used late in the season, and not at all in the fateful 9th in the last game, and Pagan was slated to be gone at least a season or two ago because of his injury proneness, and while he had a nice season, missing the two most important games of the season because of his back was probably the last straw for the Giants. That's 14 rings going away, but the argument can be easily made that it's for the best. More importantly, thanks to all for their contributions to this golden era!
Among the arbitration eligible players, most of them are expected to be kept, but the only sure ones are Nunez and Smith: Adrianza, Nunez, Gillaspie, Smith, Kontos, and Gearrin. Adrianza is in the mix again for utility infield, along with Gillaspie and Tomlinson.
Lots of Infield Bench Options
Honestly, I was surprised by the Giants first signing Gillaspie, then bringing him up, then keeping him up all season, until he started hitting a storm at the end of the season. I would be surprised if he's not kept, for while Nunez appears likely to be the starting 3B, Gillaspie I expect will back up both 1B and 3B, and could start at 3B, with Nunez playing super utility and giving everyone regular rest.
Adrianza, like previous seasons, is out of options, so if Tomlinson plays well and Gillaspie wins a bench spot (and given his bat, he probably will), Kelby could end up winning a bench spot - which, remember, is limited to one backup catcher and four fielders, and usually two infielders and two outfielders - and Adrianza would be DFAed, as many seem to want, unless the Giants go with only one backup outfielder.
I still like Ehire, he shows potential when given the chance to play regularly, plus he's the only true defensive SS on the bench, but I'm losing my patience as he has gotten injured every time he starts to play well, losing many opportunities to win a spot, whether 2B (won by Panik) or 3B (won by Duffy). He actually bats well when starting regularly - enough to be a complementary bat - but then gets some sort of injury. This is probably his last year to show something more before I give up on him.
But good SS fielding plus good contact bat with some power, hard for me to give up on that. Still, Tomlinson would provide speed and OBP off the bench, hard to give that up as well. Going to be tough choices again, will be interesting who the Giants chose to keep.
I put Gillaspie in a similar spot as Ishikawa a couple of years back, except that whereas Ishi was behind both Belt and Posey at 1B, Gillaspie could battle for the starting position at 3B. But with the Giants carrying at least 12 pitchers on the roster, the bench is limited to four position players beyond the backup catcher, who you must have. So generally the two infield utility players are middle infielders who can play the corners as well, which generally means a poorer bat is involved. Hence why I was surprised to see Gillaspie last all season on the bench. So he'll definitely get a contract, especially since he's only a arbitration player, and probably will make the roster, but if, say, Adrianza and Tomlinson's bat suddenly show up in spring training, he could be odd man out, as well. The bench choices could go a lot of ways.
And there could even be another way things could work out. Gordon Beckham was with the team for basically a week, and he'll be a free agent as well. The Giants could give him a minor league deal, similar to what Gillaspie got last season, and give him more of an extended look next season. Unlike Gillaspie, he can play 2B as well as 3B, and probably a passable SS, as he was a SS in college. And he has better power potential than any of these players.
Bullpen Probably Won't Change Much; And Don't Need To
In the bullpen, some have called for an overhaul, but Evans said that would be a "tremendous overstatement." He believes the bullpen would be fine with a big add that clarifies the roles for everyone in the bullpen, saying:
“We’ve got to do everything we can to be clear on who is finishing our games,” Evans said. “The bullpen performs at a much higher level when you know who the ninth-inning guy is. It puts everybody at ease. It helps Boch as he defines roles. Ambiguity creates tension and unknowns that can ... detract to performance and ultimately lead to struggles.”
Among the arbitration guys, Smith is clearly going to be kept, and Kontos and Guerrin look like they are pretty close to being locks as well. We traded some big assets to the Brewers to get Smith, so I don't see how they could let him go for nothing (though they did do that to AJP). And even though Smith was clearly an Affeldt replacement, able to handle RHP as well as LHP, Bochy used him mostly as a Loogy. Hopefully this will be changed in 2017 and beyond, but not so much in his usage so far. Hopefully Bochy just wanted to see how the young right-handed relievers could handle things.
Part of me wonders if Bickford and Susac, along with another prospect, could have been enough to secure one of the available closers in the trade market, Melanson in particular. Sabean noted, however, that in some of the deals, the Giants were already told that they didn't have enough, and the conversation ended. And Evans openly brought up whether he should have offered more, in hindsight. I think we had to trust that our guys could come through, they had before, and for many years, and usually the wheel don't fall off the reliever in the middle of the season, like it did with Casilla, but it did, for whatever reasons. Maybe the pressure of having no contract, and seeing the Giants bullpen full of the young guys unnerved him and got him thinking too much in the 9th. He was great in the 9th before, but just lost it.
Kontos should be kept, at least into spring training. Even with the loss of the remaining Core Four, our bullpen could be full (and hence why it is likely none of them are returning): Smith, Law, Okert, Strickland, Osich, Guerrin, and Kontos. That's seven relievers and only six spots (assuming one spot is giving to a long reliever, either Suarez, Cain, or Blach), and hence why it does not look likely that any of our free agent relievers are returning.
Osich looks most likely to be the one ending up in AAA (though it was just revealed, on CSNBA, that Osich had suffered a torn tendon early in the season, which just got operated on; that probably was a good reason his 2016 was nothing like his 2015), as both Smith and Okert appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart, but I think he could still beat out Okert with a good spring, since Okert has options. Then again, so does Osich (and Law).
Then, assuming the Giants either sign or trade for a closer, that would mean another RP need to be let go (or traded, perhaps thrown into the deal to get the closer). As noted, Smith and Okert appear to be the lefties in the bullpen. Guerrin by most accounts is taking Romo's spot. Law is considered the best of the bunch as possible future closer. Strickland has been a good reliever, still relatively young, and throws triple digit heat, which is what most teams want today. That leaves Kontos as the odd man out, as he is the relative old guy of the bunch, doesn't strike out a lot, and probably cost the most as well (though really pocket change in the grand scheme of things), so he seems to be the odd man out if the Giants do sign a closer.
Given our experience with Benitez, the high price tag that comes with signing one of the elite closers, and this bullpen squeeze with so many viable relievers, part of me wonders if the Giants talk of getting a closer is just that, talk, to placate the fan base, so that later they can say, after not signing anyone, that there just wasn't any matches, no rose to be given. Just speculation on my part.
Coaches Gone: Giants Old-Timers Moving Up?
In addition, the Giants fired two long time coaches, our 3B coach, Roberto Kelly, and our 1B coach, Bill Hayes. Both could be exploring new roles within the team or could be gone, it was not clarified. Flannery, from all reports, is enjoying his gig with CSNBA, so he's already told the media that he's not coming back. Steve Decker, currently assistant hitting coach, and AAA manager Jose Alguacil, who has been highly praised for his work in the minors, are potential replacements, but they will explore outside as well.
Here are some notes from Baggarly:
Triple-A Sacramento manager Jose Alguacil has earned raves for his upbeat attitude and baseball acumen. He is a strong candidate to join the major league staff, which lost its only fluent Spanish speaker with Kelly’s firing.
Assistant hitting coach Steve Decker, who replaced Kelly for a few games this season, is hyper-aware and has experience as a base coach, should the organization decide to shift his duties.I can see both moving into the two jobs. Alguacil both because they probably want a fluent Spanish speaker, but more importantly, a leader who probably managed most of the younger guys at one point or another, in the minors, to be a reference for the other coaches. Decker they have liked for a while now, and clearly wanted a better look, so they made up a new position as "assistant hitting coach" so that he could spend time up here.
I view these two to be getting an audition for taking over for Bochy when he's ready to go. He's signed to 2019, and has had a couple of heart related issues in the past couple of years. I would have to think his wife would like him to start enjoying the fruits of his success, as well as spending more time with her in semi-retirement (he'll probably still have some advisory role with the Giants, though more honorary than official). I don't think that they will go with Ron Wotus, who has interviewed for years for a variety of open manager's jobs and not gotten any, as I think that the head brass will want someone young to take the team and lead it for 10-20 years, as long term stability has been a hallmark of the organization.
Better Than Last Year
Despite the changes coming, Larry Baer expressed his opinion that the Giants are in better shape now than they were in when they held the 2015 presser. Despite the additional age of the core and other players returning, I would agree just from the fact that our rotation right now is Bumgarner, Cueto, Moore, Samardzija, and Cain/Blach/Suarez with Beede as a dark horse candidate.
Plus, we still have a good core of position players in Posey, Pence, Belt, Crawford, Panik. They are older but other than Pence who will be 34 next season, the rest are 30 YO or younger, still in their prime of their career. And one could argue that we are better off, because Crawford did it again, and it was his best season for BA, Belt had ups and downs, but still, his best season ever, and elite .868 OPS, and Pence and Posey had good though not great seasons.
Only Panik had a poor season, but given his good contact rate and high walk/strikeout ratio, it's pretty clear that 2016's batting line was a huge fluke that was probably related to his concussion screwing up his timing. Plus, he ended the season on an uptick, hitting .241/.329/.407/.736, which is not too bad at 2B when combined with good defense.
At the other positions, I see Span as an improvement over Pagan, just from health issues, though his drop down to platoon status was not encouraging. And Nunez, while not as good as Duffy, is at least comparable, and given his speed, could be the new leadoff hitter, which would be an upgrade as well, given his good speed. Plus, he's not so good that when Arroyo is ready to play in the majors in 2017-2018, he won't be blocking Christian's promotion.
At the moment, the Giants feel that Arroyo, while still on the rise, still needs to improve some, based on his batting line in AA last season, which wasn't the greatest (though it should be noted that Arroyo was young for the league, so that is part of the reason), and is expected to start the season off in AAA. He's probably the top position prospect, and will battle Beede for top prospect in the system, now that Bickford is out of the picture.
In LF, I expect the Giants to keep the spot open for Parker and Williamson to battle over, the Giants do like to keep a spot in the starting lineup for prospects. The Giants mentioned in the conference that they expect more power from the two as they become more experienced, and had projected both to have more power than Adam Duvall, who hit 33 for the Reds this season.
Plus, Gorkys Hernandez looks like he's good enough offensively as well as defensively (Blanco was a disaster this season, and already on the decline previously) that he could battle for the starting LF spot, while getting spot starts in CF to rest Span. While not as good as Pagan when he is healthy, he's never really been healthy in a full season except in his first season with us.
Then there is the possibility that the Giants could sign a good hitter who falls through the cracks and take a one season deal in Jan/Feb. Another option would be to just carry Parker and Mac, and use Nunez as a LF when necessary (shifting Parker or Mac to RF or CF as necessary; Bochy has played them in CF before and Nunez has played LF, and that's been his best defensive position as a utility player), which would free a spot for Gillaspie and allow the team to keep both Adrianza and Tomlinson on the 25-man roster.
On the bench, probably a push, perhaps an improvement. After 2015, it was: Adrianza, Tomlinson, Blanco, Parker, and Susac. After 2016, it is currently: Adrianza, Tomlinson and/or Gillaspie for two spots, Hernandez, Parker, and/or Williamson for two spots, and Brown. One could argue that 2016 is better because Gillaspie seems to be a proven enough hitter, and Hernandez appears to be a better player than what Blanco was after 2015, for those assuming a regression to the mean in 2016 from Blanco due to his very good season in 2015. Plus, Tomlinson showed that his 2015 was a fluke, but improved in his 2016 by not striking out as much, while keeping his BA up high, and a low 700 OPS for a bench player is pretty good, especially for a MI.
The bullpen one could argue is worse now, as we still had the good version of Casilla, Romo, and Lopez in our minds after 2015. It was definitely better based on experience. But it wasn't like the new guys in Law, Okert, Smith, and Guerrin weren't pretty good in their own way, though. Only Osich and Guerrin of the group had ERA over 4, and Guerrin was just very unlucky (or unsupported) as his FIP was a great 3.28, compared to his 4.28 ERA. If we combine the stats for Smith, Kontos, Law, Strickland, Okert, Osich, and Guerrin, the ERA would be a great 3.21 among this group. I would take that any year.
Can Still Spend To Get Better
Baer stated that they will up the budget if the Giants see the need to spend on a free agent or two, in order to get better. Here is what he said:
“We have every commitment to 2017 to return to a championship-caliber club. Resources will be expended as necessary to get us there.”
According to my math, they are roughly a little more than $150M right now, but for the purposes of the cap, they are basically right at the prior penalty threshold of $189M (due to nearly $30M in benefits added), meaning that any substantial free agent (and a closer would be) would push them into the penalty. However, the CBA is being renegotiated again this off-season, and the threshold is expected to be bumped up, and whatever that boost is - I would guess an additional 10-15% or $38-57M, though hopefully it will be an escalating one rather than a static one, as in the last CBA - that will be a ceiling on how much the Giants are willing to spend in this off-season.
Given my calculation that we are already near the threshold, with the new CBA allowing the only cushion, that would explain their plans to mostly do nothing on the free agent market and to not sign any of their free agents back, as they don't have much leeway right now in the budget and threshold. At minimum, the threshold will probably rise enough for them to sign a closer ($10-15M range), which is the only area that they said that they will try to address potentially with a free agent (they also noted trades as a possibility). If the threshold is higher than that, then they'll have more to pursue other free agents.
But given the current salary situation, it does not look like the Giants have that much money to spend on free agents, no matter what you have read from other sources, as the penalty threshold includes additional spending on benefits (almost $30M), and most do not calculate the ACP, as I'm doing here. And that is the budget limitation we need to pay attention to, now that we are approaching that penalty threshold. The CBA will allow some spending, but nobody knows how much right now. It seems likely that they'll have enough space to get a closer, but anything beyond that would have been speculative, which is probably why they did not mention any other possible free agents. Perhaps they might pivot by getting an Affeldt type: a closer-like performer who would help firm up the back end of the bullpen, even if he's not that anointed closer.
Short and Sweet: Giants have told Bumgarner's agents that they are ready to talk when Madison is ready to talk. Giants still have sweet and cheap team options on Bumgarner, covering 2017-2019, but are probably looking to incorporate them into a big long term contract. To my thinking, that is so that he can claim a big contract, but since the Giants have him already signed, technically, for the team, it is just an extension of 3 less years than whatever he eventually signs for (Kershaw got a 10 year deal, and that would cover Bumgarner to 37 YO).
Team of the 2010 Decade
The Giants are still in pretty good shape to get called the Team of the 2010 Decade. With 3 championships out of 7, they are ahead of every other contender in wins, obviously, but also appearances: Rangers have two, Cards have two, Royals have two. And with LA, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, and Toronto Blue Jays, the remaining teams, someone with a long drought will win the championship (I'm rooting for Indians and Cubs, in that order - I would never root for the Dodgers).
Furthermore, we had a pretty good team this season and basically have all the best pieces returning in 2017. Hard to blame any one particular group in baseball, as there is generally a mix of reasons why, but it was our bullpen that let us down, over and over again, during the season and ending things appropriately with a massive bullpen let down in that fateful 9th inning, with a 3 run lead where the team with the lead had won, like, 829 times and lost only 3 times. Now there are 4.
While a tremendous overstatement that the bullpen needs an overhaul, it still flamed up pretty massively at inopportune times. I think the Giants need not only a new closer, but another guy to shut down the 8th inning, the way it was when we had Affeldt and Romo to shut down things in that inning.
Is Will Smith that guy? I thought so, given what they gave up and what he has accomplished so far in his career, but Bochy did not use him like that in the regular season or even in that 9th inning - had he trusted Will, he would have kept him in to face at least another hitter if not get out of the inning with the lead. I'm still hopeful he will get that role in the 2017 regular season, by earning it in spring training.
But teams always have things to fix up, even the latest champion, and needing to fix that is actually not that bad, and another sign that we are in better shape after 2016 than 2015. Our rotation is pretty set, and if Cain somehow disappoints again because of injury, I feel pretty good that we have Blach, Heston (people seem to have forgotten him already; maybe we can trade him for another reliever at the trading deadline next year, if we aren't using him in the majors, he should have some trade value), Suarez, and Beede, waiting in line. And who knows, maybe Cain could be that closer we need, he pitched well in stretches, maybe he just can't stay healthy pitching so many innings, but can be effective in short stints.
Our lineup looks pretty good too: Nunez, Panik, Posey, Belt, Pence, Crawford, LF, Span, with Span sometimes batting 9th, like Pagan did in 2016. Span is the weak link after last season (even if Mac or Parker is in LF), but he hit better in prior years, so we'll see what happens in 2017.
Unfortunately, while it is pretty good when looking at the baseball card back, injuries seem to trip up our lineup pretty badly, as well as steep ups and downs, such as that we had with Belt again (but you live with that when you get .868 OPS.
I have seen dreams of getting Cespedes in LF, but as I tried to show above, we don't have a lot of spending window, unless the threshold is set up about $35M higher than it is now, so the lineup is probably what it is, unless we get a $5-8M contract fall to us in Jan/Feb with a "prove it" season that gets him a better contract after the 2017 season.
One stat that I've been following on Bochy has been his career long ability to be at least 4 wins above .500 in one-run games, and, in fact, be among the leaders in the NL, with at least 8 wins above .500. He first did it in his second season as manager. But the last time he was able to do that was in 2012, when he was 10 games over .500 for the Giants.
And in his career, he never had two consecutive years of negatives (i.e. more losses than wins) until 2014-2015, the last two seasons. And in his career, the longest stretch he had where he didn't win at least 8 more over .500 was two seasons, 1999-2000, 2002-2003, and 2009-2010: 2016 is his four straight season with out winning at least 8 more one-run games. Prior to 2013, in 18 seasons, he had 9 seasons with 8 or more, or 50% of his seasons, and as just noted, this is four straight seasons without one. He was actually up around +8 sometime mid-season, obviously before the All-Star game, when the Giants had one of the best records in the majors. A lesser manager might have been fired for a collapse as great as the Giants had this season. And this has been the pattern in 2011, 2013, 2015, the Giants were actually battling for the playoffs, but injuries would kill our chances, but could this be part of the overall reasons for the decline?
In addition, this is the first time Bochy has had consecutive seasons with a record that is negative relative to what the team should have done per Pythagorean. In fact, he only had two of these with San Diego, he beat Pythagorean most years as a manager of the Padres. He now has four in ten years with the Giants. These have generally occurred when he was new to the team, and perhaps when there is a transition going on in the bullpen (like 2010 and 2015-16). It would seem to be significant if he has another poor season in this regard in 2017.
I have studied managers, good and bad, on how Pythagorean relates to them, and generally, the acknowledged better managers were generally good at beating Pythagogean, while lesser ones don't. Interestingly, managers like Lasorda and LaRussa did not beat Pythagorean. But talent is part of the equation too, Joe Torre wasn't all that good, horrible really, in his prior managerial stints, but was a genius with the Yankees, per Pythagorean.
Bobby Cox had a similar career pattern, during Bochy's early career: Cox was winning a lot more games in one-run games than he was losing, but then at some point, he stopped being good at doing this. So one has to wonder if Bochy might have reached the point where he stopped being good at it too. Something to monitor for Bochy.
Another thing I should check when I have time: Bochy's career in one-run games when Flannery was his 3rd base coach and when Flan was not. SD forced him to fire Flan during parts of his SD tenure: I think he actually did well, but since the last two has not been good, I should check, just to see.