Offseason Happenings

I thought we’d kick the week off with a little recap of last week’s hot stove action, including the signings of Brian McCann, Jhonny Peralta and Dan Haren over the weekend. Things are starting to really pick up now, so we’ll try to stay in the know here at Cove Chatter.

Giants Updates:

The Giants knocked another item off the to-do list last week with a 3-year, $13M deal for Javier Lopez. Again, Brian Sabean took some pretty good heat from callers on KNBR for signing another 35+ year-old pitcher to a multiple year contract (Tim Hudson being the first). Again, though, I think people are failing to understand the significance of this move… and I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical a couple months ago about giving any kind of money to a lefty specialist in his upper 30’s. But look closely at the numbers; 2013 was Javy’s best season as a big leaguer. A 1.83 ERA… a .156 batting average against vs lefties. You have to have a guy like this in your bullpen, and Lopez is the best there is right now. He’s a stud, and yet another reason why the Pirates are probably done making trades with Sabean (Jason Schmidt, Freddy Sanchez anyone?). As long as Bochy keeps pulling the right strings and the Giants can keep Lopez’ arm fresh for potential postseason runs, I love the deal. Javy’s the man, and I actually thought it would take more money to bring him back.

Pitching:

Breaking news: Veteran pitchers love the California sunshine and spacious NL West outfields… and can you blame them? If there’s one commodity that’s not in short supply this winter, it’s veteran pitching, and the Golden State NL trio is on the case. The Giants pulled the first card with their two-year deal for Hudson, and the Padres and Dodgers responded with one-year reclamation deals last week. Sand Diego inked Josh Johnson for a year at $8M, and LA signed Dan Haren to a 1-year, $10M contract yesterday afternoon. Both Johnson and Haren wanted to be in California, and both were in at least some form of discussion with the Giants as well. All of these short-term deals could turn out to be major bargains, especially when guys like Jason Vargas are getting four years in the AL. To me, Haren would have been the better fit of the two for Sabean, as Johnson is just too much of an injury risk for a team looking for reliable arms. I think Haren could have a very nice season in LA, and I was hoping he’d join Hudson in a Giants uniform. My guess is Sabes isn’t interested in shelling out $10M for another starter at this point.

With the Haren signing, the Dodgers essentially have a full rotation. Are they still planning on going after David Price? What about Masahiro Tanaka, if he’s posted? I’ve got a slight hunch they’ll still be in on the bidding for Tanaka, but I certainly can’t see them pursuing both of these guys anymore. Of course, it’s not a guarantee that Tanaka will even be available this winter anymore, so Haren could turn out to be an underrated move for LA come April.

So, with some of the middle-tier pitching talent starting to drop, where does that leave the Giants? I guess it depends on what Sabean is looking to spend, but I get the feeling he doesn’t want any “5th starters” in his Opening Day rotation. I like that idea, although I’d say Tim Lincecum is about as close as you can get to a 5th starter these days. It doesn’t sound like Bronson Arroyo is going to be a good fit, as he’s looking for at least three years. Jason Hammel’s name has been tossed around a bit, and he might be a good fit on a short-term deal. Personally, I’d like to see Sabes make a push for a guy like Scott Kazmir, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Giants connected to guys like Bartolo Colon or Paul Maholm on a one-year offer when it all boils down.

Quick Take:

Mets sign Chris Young for 1-year, $7.25M – another possible Giants LF platoon option is off the books, and I don’t understand the Mets’ reasoning in paying out that much money, even on a one year deal. Kind of a head scratcher for a team trying to get out of the cellar.

Indians sign David Murphy for 2-years, $12M – Definitely not on the Sabes winter shopping list, but this deal could impact Cleveland outfielder Drew Stubbs, who looks to be the odd man out. If Stubbs is non-tendered, maybe the Giants look to him on the cheap as a right-handed partner to Gregor Blanco in left. Stubbs strikes out in bunches, but he’s a solid defender with wheels who sports a career .796 OPS vs LHP. Just a thought…

Royals sign Jason Vargas for 4-year, $32M – the AAV isn’t bad at $8M, but I’ll take Hudson and Lincecum and hope for Kyle Crick and Edwin Escobar in 2 years rather than giving 4 years to a soft-tossing lefty with a career 4.30 ERA. Don’t get me wrong, Vargas is consistent when healthy, but my gut says Kansas City fans will be fed up with that contract in less than two years.

Yankees sign Brian McCann for 5-year, $85M – The Yankees had Chris Stewart behind the dish for a good chunk of 2013. They’ll also likely be getting a compensation draft pick when Curtis Granderson leaves, so losing their first round pick for McCann shouldn’t have much of an effect. Comparing the McCann deal to the 5-year, $90M whopper the Giants gave Hunter Pence, I’d take Pence over McCann (for the Giants) every time. McCann’s lefty bat should play well in Yankee Stadium. The back end of that contract might look rough, but back ends of contracts usually do.

Cardinals trade David Freese for to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, sign Jhonny Peralta for 4-years, $53M – Freese is a solid but not elite 3B who’s had one great offensive season in his career. Bourjos is a fairly young outfielder with plus defense and injury issues. Considering everything the Cardinals touch these days turns to gold, I’m sure Bourjos will be a star in St. Louis. I guess I’m a little unmoved by this trade, but the Cards did just replace Freese’s production with the Peralta signing. I don’t say this kind of thing very often, but I hope Peralta just tanks for the next four years, or gets suspended for using PED’s again. This is getting to be a little ridiculous, and I’m not exactly seeing the downside for players who use these days. If MLB is serious about getting rid of the problem, they need to step it up… and they need to start by getting rid of A-Rod… for good.

Tigers trade Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler – Wow, I didn’t see this trade coming at all. The Tigers get a solid all-around player in Kinsler. The Rangers get a big slugger to make the women swoon in Arlington. Everything’s bigger in Texas. How long was Prince in Detroit? Two years! He played all 162 both seasons, and was a huge bust in the playoffs. Now his $214M contract is headed for Texas, who seems to be in desperation mode after falling short the past couple years. Don’t get me wrong: I’d take Fielder’s bat in the Giants lineup any day. But that much money for a one-dimensional player? Maybe Uncle Sabes isn’t as crazy as we thought for staying away from these major free agent contracts.

Final thoughts:

A trade for a LF or a minor league contract is looking more and more likely for the Giants at this point, as I’d imagine the rest of the offseason money will be going to a pitcher. This shouldn’t surprise a lot of people, but it will certainly upset them. Yes, it would be ideal to start the season with Blanco as the 4th outfielder, but the (realistic) options just aren’t out there right now.

**Update** Here’s your minor league signing, but it’s not an OF. The Giants signed IF Brandon Hicks this morning. Hicks is a 28 year-old journeyman whose most recent MLB action was in 2012 with Oakland. He’s a former 3rd round pick, has 90 big league at-bats to his name, and is a career .247 hitter in the minors. He did hit 3 HR in 22 games with Oakland, though.

Keep your eyes open in the next couple weeks as we get ready to unveil a major project dedicated to the Giants farm system. I’ve been working on it for a couple months now, and can’t wait to go live with it. Exciting times here at Cove Chatter, folks. As always, thanks for reading.

Advertisements

GM Meetings: Hank has the Dirt

As the GM meetings take place in Orlando, you can cross one name off the list of outfielders available this winter. The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a 2-year, $16M deal this morning. The deal itself isn’t all that surprising, as MLB Trade Rumors had him signing at a projected 2-$15M, but I think the Phightin’ Phils are sending a pretty clear message to the rest of baseball here by not wasting any time. With such a slim market this year (especially for outfielders), teams really do need to get their negotiations going early… Does that mean they’ll have to overpay some? Probably, but it might beat the alternative of waiting, as this market could dry up pretty rapidly.

One team who’s not waiting around to throw their name out there: that’s right, your own Gigantes. While Baggs’ is tossing around unrealistic qualifying offer hitter fluff pieces over at his place, Hammerin’ Hank Schulman got down to business this morning, and just called into KNBR from Orlando to chat about his findings.

First off, a big surprise. The Braves apparently low-balled Tim Hudson. According to Hank, the offer was low enough that it all but sent the message “We don’t want you here anymore.” Those are his words, not mine. I would say most people (myself included) didn’t see that coming. Hudson spent 9 years with the Braves, and only posted an ERA north of 4 once. To lowball him is a pretty big slap in the face, in my opinion. Enter the Giants, pitching gurus! Word is Hudson’s willing to go west, and multiple sources are calling him a “chief target” for Brian Sabean.

The Giants need pitching, and they prefer shorter deals. According to Mr. Schulman, they’re not afraid to bump up the yearly salary on those deals to get their man, either (see Lincecum, Timothy). So…Hudson’s available, and could probably be had on a one or two-year offer… he made $9M last year, and he’s predicted to earn about the same this year. If the Giants upped it to $11M (they can afford it), he’d probably accept. But what do I know anyway?!

Personally, I’d take Hudson in a heartbeat. The guy is a total pro, and he’s quietly been one of the most consistent pitchers of this era. 426 career starts, 25 complete games, a 3.44 ERA, and a .649 win%. Age is really the only thing working against him, although the brutal ankle injury might scare a few teams away… like Hank says, though, “There’s nothing wrong with his arm.” I know there are certainly people who would ream Sabean for a two-year deal for a 38 year-old in the twilight of his career, but I wouldn’t be one of them. If that two-year deal prevents us from three years of Bronson Arroyo, that’s all the better in my opinion.

Speaking of Arroyo, Schulman mentioned him as a guy the Giants might stay away from, as the interest for him might indeed push his offers to three years… thank goodness.  Hank did bring up Scott Feldman and Dan Haren as two other starters that could be on Uncle Sabes’ shopping list, though. One thing I found interesting, he seemed to think that Ryan Vogelsong’s days in the orange and black are done. If Sabean wants a rotation that’ll compete with the Dodgers and Cardinals, he needs to come in with 5 solid options. Long story short, Vogey and Petit are Plan B, and the Giants know they need to focus on Plan A.

A couple other things before I wrap up the “Schulman Talks.” As for trading Pablo; there’s certainly interest out there, and the Giants should listen to any offers. But unloading the Panda would probably create more hills than it filled, and the front office probably isn’t willing to subtract his valuable “power potential” at the moment. Honestly, unless someone blows you away with an offer, I too think it makes more sense to hang onto him this winter.

Finally: playing the qualifying offer games. Hank says he’s talked to a few folks from the Giants in Orlando who report there is a scenario where the club could give up its first round pick. If someone gets the Kyle Lohse treatment, and remains available this spring, there’s a chance the Giants could swoop in and make a discounted offer. Overall, though, I expect (and hope) they’ll hold onto that pick.

So we have our first pretty significant Giants rumor, and the market for outfielders is already shrinking. I’d expect Sabean to start tossing some offers out there in the coming weeks, so there should be plenty to talk about in the hot stove department going forward.

Pitching Market Part II: 10 Names (and a Vogelsong)

In Part I of the offseason pitching list last night, we looked at some of the more unlikely candidates for the Giants rotation, including (depending on your opinion) some of the top dogs on the market in Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza. As I said, Tanaka should be someone the Giants put a good amount of effort into. Unfortunately for all of us, MLB and the Japanese NBP still haven’t worked out the new posting system, and a report today says they still may be “several weeks away” from doing so. Until then, I guess we’ll just remain in a holding pattern… ugh.

Whether or not Brian Sabean will make a run at a front-line pitcher this winter remains to be seen. It’s just speculation at this point, and I wouldn’t say anyone other than Sabes and his staff really knows what the full extent of the offseason plan entails. We do know that the Giants have two spots to fill in their rotation. How much money they’ll spend in doing so is anyone’s guess.

Today, I wanted to look at another group of guys. I’ll call this the B-List, and say there is a very real chance that at least one of these fellows dons a Giants hat for the next year or two. If Sabean doesn’t pursue or fails to land a Tanaka/Garza type, I would guess that two of these guys will ink deals to join the party.

I’ve used John Heyman’s free agent list and projected contracts to form a list of 10 reasonable options, and added on Ryan Vogelsong as the wildcard 11th man. The rankings listed are Heyman’s, and I’ll admit I would have ranked them quite differently… It was easier just to work my way down his list. I also included ages and a snapshot of 2013 stats to go along with the player’s expected contract.

B-List:

#17. Bronson Arroyo, Age: 36
2013: 32 GS, 3.79 ERA, 32 HR
Expected Contract: 3-$35M

#18. Jason Vargas, 30
24 GS, 4.02 ERA, 17 HR
3-$30M

#23. Scott Feldman, 30
30 GS, 3.86 ERA, 19 HR
2-$20M

#28. Phil Hughes, 27
29 GS, 5.19 ERA, 24 HR
2-$18M

#34. Scott Kazmir, 29
29 GS, 4.04 ERA, 19 HR
2-$15M

#35. Bruce Chen, 36
15 GS, 3.27 ERA, 13 HR
2-$14M

#39. Bartolo Colon, 40
30 GS, 2.65 ERA, 14 HR (18 wins for the Moneyballin’ A’s… What the hell Bartolo?!)
1-$12M

#44. Paul Maholm, 31
26 GS, 4.41 ERA, 17 HR
2-$12M

#48. Tim Hudson, 38
2013: 21 GS, 3.97 ERA, 10 HR
1-$9M

#51. Dan Haren, 33
2013: 30 GS, 4.67 ERA, 28 HR
1-$8M

Wildcard:

NR. Ryan Vogelsong, 36
19 GS, 5.73 ERA, 15 HR

Thoughts: I’ll tell you the first thing that stands out to me after putting this list together: the Giants overpaid like hell for Tim Lincecum. But you already knew that.

Moving on, I’d have to say there’s some value to be had with this year’s pitching class, even a couple cats who are still under 30. Most of these guys are going to sign short-term deals, which bodes very well for Sabean’s needs. Unless they flirt with Tanaka, the Giants aren’t looking to lock up pitchers for 4-5 years at this point. I’d say it’s pretty realistic that at least a couple of the Crick/Blackburn/Escobar/Mejia/Stratton/Blach/Flores/Agosta group will be contributors in the rotation by 2016, so Sabean would be wise to leave a little wiggle room for when that time comes.

A lot of these guys will come pretty cheap as well, at least by today’s outrageous salary standards. $6 million for Paul Maholm…$8 million for Dan Haren…$9 mil for Hudson? Those aren’t bad at all, folks. Personally, I wouldn’t give anyone on this list 3 years, but I could handle 2 for the quite a few of them.

So… 10 names and a Vogelsong. What to make of this mess? Fortunately, I’ve come up with a few groups.

Give me one: If Sabean goes large and shocks the world by outbidding for Tanaka, or pays Matt Garza handsomely for 4 years, I’d take Maholm, Haren or Vogey on a one year deal to fill the back end of the rotation. Maholm’s not my favorite by any means, but he’d make a decent 5th starter. This is also probably the only scenario where I’d like to have Vogey back, as you’d already have three very reliable options at the top of the rotation. Anything extra from Lincecum and Vogelsong would be the icing on the cake. Here’s something to ponder: put Vogey’s 2012 numbers by his name up there, and he’s one of the better options on the list. You never know. Haren is another guy I like. He wants to play on the west coast, and getting him out of DC and into AT&T would probably cut those 28 HR down. He had a nice second half, but his velocity has definitely dipped.

Give me two: If the Giants decide not to pursue Tanaka or Garza or come up short, they’d likely need to grab two guys from this bargain bin to form a competitive rotation. In that case, I think a Kazmir/Hudson combination would fit pretty nicely. Hudson would be perfect on a one year deal, but he’s probably the least likely of this group to be lured to San Francisco at his age. Kazmir was a steal for the Indians as a resurrection story, and he rolled down the stretch. He’d give the Giants a second lefty in the rotation, and he boasts some of the top fastball velocity of this group. I like Kazmir, and I think he’s really turned things around.

Sabes’ Special: The Giants have been already been connected to Arroyo and Haren quite a bit, and I see them as the most likely Sabean signings. Baggs has tossed their names around a handful of times, Arroyo has been quoted saying he loves San Francisco, and Haren was the lone top 50 free agent assigned to the Giants in MLB Trade Rumors’ predictions. As of this afternoon, Buster Olney has people connecting the dots to Arroyo with comments about the Giants being “well-positioned” in his bidding… whatever the hell that means.

Ok…Can I get something off my chest here? I don’t like Bronson Arroyo. I think he’s smug, and those MLB commercials of him playing the guitar and singing drove me up the wall last year. I didn’t like him in Boston, and I certainly didn’t appreciate him throwing up and in on Vogelsong in 2012. Look, there are very few players in the game that I legitimately don’t like. That’s not my style. But for some reason, the dude just rubs me the wrong way.

There, I said it. I don’t like the man, and I hope we go a different direction. I understand he’s been very steady, and admit that he’d make a solid 4th or 5th starter. . If he helps us get back to the playoffs, I’m sure the grudges will fade away. But seriously, Sabes, two years max… for the love of all things good. But enough about that.

So, final verdict for Uncle Sabes and the starting pitcher market: Close your eyes, cross your fingers, and hope for Tanaka. If we fall short, close your eyes again and hope the Dodgers don’t land him. When the dust settles, a one year deal for Haren and a two year deal for Arroyo is probably a pretty reasonable bet.

Two More Years for Timmy

Tim Lincecum won’t be wearing a different uniform for the next two years. I’m sure you’re already aware of the 2-year, $35 million contract Lincecum signed with the Giants yesterday. There are numerous reactions and perspectives to Timmy’s new deal that you can find all over the internet, and I’m sure most are more insightful than mine. But this wouldn’t be a San Francisco Giants blog if we didn’t discuss a new contract of one of the most influential players in franchise history. So, here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

I found out about the Lincecum deal by way of Twitter yesterday afternoon, and I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t catch me completely off guard. For the second time in a week, reports on CSN Bay Area had us believing one thing, while in reality something entirely different was going on behind the scenes. I love the coverage their website provides (I don’t get the local CSNBA channel anymore, so I’m strictly an online follower), but between the misleading reports about the Jose Abreu sweepstakes, the Lincecum contract talks, and all of the recent posts tied to the Dodgers, they’re beginning to lose a little respect in my eyes. Baggs and the crew over there need to take a breather and let things play out a bit before they start making conclusions. Lately, I feel like I get a more realistic outlook on the Giants in the blog scene than I do with Comcast.

Let’s not get off track here. The point is, as of a couple days ago, the CSN report had me believing that Lincecum’s days in orange and black were all but done. Supposedly, he’d rejected their two year offer and wanted to see what he could get on the open market (most likely from Seattle). That, however, is quite the opposite from what Bobby Evans explained on KNBR yesterday. What I took from Evans was the Giants and Timmy had a tentative deal in place for a while, but were finalizing the numbers for a while. Either way, the reports of Timmy spitting on the Giants offer and heading for greener pastures don’t seem to have much backing now.

Along with being surprised that Lincecum had re-signed with the Giants before hitting the market, one of my first reactions to the terms of the deal was that it was a significant win for Lincecum and a drastic overpay by the organization. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to react that way, but I sure was blasted by a few people on Twitter for making my feelings known. After two very un-Timmy-like seasons, he’s essentially taking a measly $2.5 million pay cut to stay with the team. For a guy with diminishing velocity and plenty of hiccups throughout his last two-year contract, that’s highway robbery in my book…

***

My initial reaction to the Lincecum deal was very negative, as is often the case for me. But over the years, I have learned to step back and try to look at the bigger picture, instead of griping about money that isn’t even mine. Instead of running to the blog and criticizing the Giants for something I clearly hadn’t allowed myself ample time to process, I decided to read as much about the topic as I could. And I read a lot, including Shankbone’s take at “You Gotta Like These Kids”, DrB’s at “When the Giants Come to Town”, and OGC’s at “Obsessive Giants Compulsive.” Those blogs are run by some of the most dedicated and intelligent fans in Giants Nation, and I admire them highly. I also read the beat writers’ takes, from Baggs to Pavlovic to Kawakami and even Ratto, that eternal pessimist… and all had their own unique take on the Freak’s new contract. And I’ll tell you what, they sure helped me put things into perspective.

Here’s what I know about the Giants and the way they do business in the modern era: They are a players-first organization. If a player comes in (via the farm system, free agency or trade) and has success, generally Larry Baer, Brian Sabean and company reward that player for his contributions with a nice, shiny contract. This is especially true for the guys who gain admiration from the fan base – the Cain’s, the Posey’s, the Romo’s, etc. The Giants value players who buy into the team mentality, and they have a squad full of those type of players right now. Think about it: it’s pretty hard to have a beef with anyone on the team… maybe Pablo for his lack of conditioning, but even he’s an upbeat person who contributes to the clubhouse camaraderie.

In my opinion, the biggest reason the Giants didn’t offer Carlos Beltran a contract in 2011 was the way the fans perceived him. Beltran had pretty good numbers in his short time with the club, but the fans didn’t think of him as a team player. It turned out the Giants might have been able to bring him back at a reasonable cost, but they sent him packing anyway. In the end, he didn’t fit the “Giants way.” Really, about the only recent case I can think of where a fan favorite type of player wasn’t offered a contract was Cody Ross. Even Ross was a little different to me, though, in that he wasn’t ever really seen as a full-time player. He didn’t even take over an everyday position in 2010 until the playoffs started, and platooned for the most part in 2011. Still, it was a little surprising when the Giants let him walk after the 2011 season, after the adoration he’d earned in those 2010 playoffs.

My point here is this: Nobody embodies the modern day San Francisco Giants as much as Tim Lincecum. They call him the Franchise for a reason, and his emergence as a young ace was the catalyst in changing the course of history for the organization. And he’s still a fan favorite, six years later. As his fastball velocity and strikeout rates have diminished, his leadership and maturity have grown substantially. The general word around the organization is that Timmy is a very hard-working player, and one who is well respected by his teammates. All of those things have made him a very valuable commodity to the Giants, even if his in-game performance isn’t what it was three years ago (and probably never will be).

I want to be clear about something: I don’t think a player with Lincecum’s numbers over the past two seasons deserves to be paid anything close to $17.5 million. So, in that regard, I do feel the Giants are overpaying for his services. But baseball is a very wealthy sport, and that’s how business is done in this era. Really, that’s a completely different issue, and one which I’m not prepared to tackle at the moment. In regards to the Giants and Lincecum, I can now clearly understand (after my initial frustration) why the Giants made the offer they did, even if Timmy’s performance last year doesn’t reflect the offer.

Lincecum wanted a short-term contract. He always has, and in this case the shorter deal benefits the Giants. Their crop of talented arms in the minors should be near MLB-ready in 2016, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get when #55 takes the hill anymore. You always hope for good Timmy, but it’s been bad Timmy showing quite often recently. Just look at his two starts which separated the first and second half of the season. Final start of the first half, he puts on one of the most dominant performances in Giants’ history (and one nobody was expecting) by no-hitting the Padres,  striking out 13 and throwing 148 pitches in the process. His first start of the second half? How about 8 ER and 3 HR allowed in 3.2 IP against Cincinnati. The same guy who used to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game now has the ability to get absolutely obliterated when his stuff isn’t on.

Back to my point about the contract offer. The Giants had already made it clear that they were going to give Lincecum the qualifying offer, which would have been a one-year, $14 million contract, which he would have reportedly declined. So, with that in mind, Sabean really had no leverage in offering his former ace anything lower than $14 million per year. With Timmy’s previous contract earning him $40.5 million over two seasons, it seems pretty clear now that the two sides had to meet in the middle to get a deal done. $17M for next season, $18M in 2015. Full no-trade clause. The Freak may be a northwest kid, but he likes playing in San Francisco (and why not, for that kind of money?).

Sabean said re-signing Lincecum was one of his offseason priorities. He wasn’t lying. Like the Pence deal, he got Timmy locked up rather quickly. Now it’s on to Javier Lopez, who should be getting a two-year offer this week, I’d expect. The Giants like their guys – they’re a players-first franchise, like I said. But here’s the biggest question I have in regards to the Sabean offseason plan? Are the Giants going to be a better team when they step on the field next spring, as a result of these moves? With Pence, I’d say that’s a resounding yes. But what about Lincecum? Does an inconsistent mid-rotation starter who’s still figuring out how to make it as a finesse guy really make you that much stronger? If this were 2015 and Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar or any combination of the Giants’ top young arms were ready to step into the rotation, I would say the team could afford to let Lincecum go. But with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots guaranteed heading into the winter, the Giants needed another sure bet in the rotation. And make no mistake, Timmy is as much of a sure bet to take the ball every 5 days as anyone in baseball. In his 6 full seasons in the bigs, he’s made at least 32 starts every year. That’s consistency, and it’s something the Giants need… even if he can’t give you top of the line production anymore. So, at this point, after some serious consideration, I will say that bringing Lincecum back does make the Giants a stronger team – or at least more stable.

So, Timmy’s coming back to the Giants for a couple more years, for a bit more money than some of us would like. Can he improve? Of course he can. Will we see him as the leader of the staff again? I think that’s unlikely, but I guess you never can be sure. He’s only 29, so he could potentially still have some quite a few seasons left in him. He’s a former Cy Young, and a fan favorite. For the sake of putting butts in the seats, Sabean had to make this deal. For the sake of being a competitive ball club, I hope Sabean continues to shop for starting pitchers. He has said that is a priority area for the team, and they simply have too many holes right now to stand pat. But for now, I’d say it’s been a pretty productive postseason for the organization. Hopefully they’re doing a little less negotiating and a lot more competing by this time next year, though.

Pence Cashes In

If I’ve learned anything from Brian Sabean over the years, it’s that when he puts something at the top of his priority list, he usually gets it done. And he has a definite preference for guys that have already proven themselves in a Giants uniform. Both of those things were the case for Hunter Pence, whose re-signing Sabean called the number one priority for the organization this offseason. Well, they didn’t wait for the offseason to get a new deal put together, and it looks like Pence could spend the rest of his career in San Francisco.

Good for him.

Five years, $90 million for the eccentric, gangly right fielder who does and says all the right things, and never takes a day off. As of this afternoon, he’s also got 27 HR, a career best. He’s also sporting a .282 average for the year, which is back around his career mark. That return in average was very important, as he was only a .219 hitter in 59 games with the Giants after the trade deadline last year (regular season). It’s pretty much a given that he’s going to hit a good amount of home runs; the dude has some of the most power in the game. But he’s much more valuable when he’s hitting for average as well.

Whether you think 5 years is too long or $90 million is too pricey for a streaky 5-6 hitter like Pence, this was a deal the Giants had to make. They needed a corner outfielder (or two), they love Pence, Pence loves San Francisco. It all worked out. With so much media speculation and rumors these days, it’s pretty refreshing to see a team and player follow through on their sentiments.

With the Pence deal, Sabean now has his CF and RF locked up for a combined $135 million over 9 years, although Angel Pagan now has 3 years left on his contract. Don’t forget Buster Posey’s blockbuster either. For a team that’s prided itself on pitching for the past few years, there’s certainly a lot of cash behind that lineup.

The Giants got their “heavy lifting” done with the signing of Pence, in the words of Sabean. They’ve still got plenty of work to do once the offseason does begin, but this is definitely a nice start.

Image

Hope

Yesterday was a pretty emotional day for the Giants, from the front office to the players down to the fans. The trade deadline came and went without a move from Brian Sabean, and I decided I would take a little time to process my thoughts before posting. That turned out to be a good idea, because this post will likely have quite a different tone than the one I was going to write yesterday afternoon would have.

I’ll admit it, when the deadline passed and the Giants were quiet, I was pretty disappointed. Why? I guess I’d just become fed up with this season – like many other fans I’m sure – to the point where I felt it was time to make some changes for the better. While I was in favor of holding onto Hunter Pence, I didn’t understand why Javier Lopez wasn’t moved, why they weren’t listening on Scutaro, Pablo, or even Belt. Maybe they were, who knows. But when a bottom-feeder (which is what the Giants are this year) remains silent at the deadline, to me that doesn’t send the right message to the fan base. “We’re a last-place club, but don’t expect any changes.” That’s how I felt, at least.

A couple of things happened yesterday afternoon in the aftermath of the trade deadline that softened my stance somewhat. First, the reports about guys like Pence pumping his arms and Lopez shaking hands with everyone upon finding out they were staying in San Francisco. Professional sports are hard for most people to wrap their heads around – even the most serious fans. Yes, we watch the games, we read the reports and we crunch the numbers, but I think sometimes we forget about the human element. Sure, these guys are paid like kings to play a game that most of us stop playing when we’re 12 or 13 years-old, but for them it’s still a way of living. Can you imagine having to wonder at July 31 every year if you’d be staying with your company and co-workers? While there are many players who could care less where they play, and don’t give a damn about their managers, teammates or the fans, there are so many others who do care about those things. You have to give Sabean credit; he’s assembled one hell of a group of quality guys on this team. To hear about Pence, Lopez and some of the others whose names were swirling around the rumor mill all week expressing their gratitude for getting to remain a San Francisco Giant this year, now that says something to me. Most players are dying to get moved from a team 13 games below .500, and I think that just goes to show the bond that this group of guys have.

Sabean also revealed yesterday that he was a bit embarrassed at some of the offers he received in the hours leading up to the deadline. He said he wasn’t going to move his guys unless he was blown away, and apparently he wasn’t. Honestly, I think that’s fair at this point. If you don’t get what you’re looking for, there’s no reason to deal a player who doesn’t want to be dealt in the first place. Make no mistake about it, Sabean has some decisions to make in the offseason for how he can put a contender on the field again. Right now, I’m definitely concerned for next season, but I will say that I have changed my opinion about his lack of moves yesterday. Like I said, it was an emotional day for all of us!

****

Gosh, the games have been tough to watch lately. I’ll be honest, I barely tuned in for Tuesday night’s loss. For some reason, I just couldn’t get myself too excited for a game with Zito and Quiroz as the battery. However, with Roger Kieschnick making his debut yesterday, that’s a game I’m not going to miss. Even in a season as dismal as this one, I still get pretty amped up to see guys get promoted from Fresno. Especially when it’s a player I’ve been following since he was drafted. So Kieschnick (and Brett Pill) gave me a reason to watch, and it turned out they gave me many reasons to be excited as well.

I don’t care whether your team is 15 games up or 15 games down, you still have to remember why you love the sport. If you can’t laugh with your best friend when Chad Gaudin pulls the bat back and slaps a seeing-eye grounder through the left side (as I did yesterday), maybe you need to rethink your fanhood. By the way, that first hit is the toughest Chad. For me, seeing guys like Pill and Kieschnick who’ve grinded their way up through the system make the most of their opportunity in the big leagues, I get pretty fired up. When those two drove in 3 runs in the first, I was a fist-pumping machine. A 2-5 with 2 RBI in your debut? Not too shabby, Roger.

Ultimately, Kieschnick and (our new power hitter) Pill led the offense to a blowout win, and Chad Gaudin was steady on the mound again. The Giants played like a team that was relieved to be together. Sabean showed a lot of faith in this group by keeping them intact yesterday, and I’m really hoping everyone will breathe a little easier, and maybe start winning some ball games again. Right now, we’ve got some fresh faces providing energy out there, and we might be saying goodbye to few older ones soon. This team is basically dead to rights in the standings, but there’s hope for a better finish… and that’s all I can really ask for.

Deadline Day

With the trade deadline looming today, it’s still not clear at all whether the Giants will be active. We’ve talked about this before; this could be a great opportunity to strengthen the club going forward, if the right deals are made. It sounds like Sabean is still very interested in finding partners for Javier Lopez and Hunter Pence. Apparently, Pence told the team last night that he’d be open to signing a contract with them in the offseason, even if he is traded today. I’ll tell you what, Pence is a class act… and even if you look at this game strictly from a business perspective, it’s hard not to want guys like that on your team.

Here’s my take on this whole ordeal. If Pence gets traded to a team like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, and goes on to play in or even win another World Series, his love for San Francisco will probably be the last thing on his mind. To put it simply, if the Giants trade him today, don’t expect Pence to be coming back in the offseason. If you trade him, you lose the qualifying offer with draft pick compensation (although he probably would accept the offer and the subject would be a moot point anyway). So, Sabean has some tough decisions to make. If he does swing a deal, he’d better be certain he’s got a realistic option in mind to help make up Pence’s production.

I’m not saying Pence won’t get traded, and he really could fetch us some nice pieces if he is. But I’ll be honest, after giving this a lot of thought lately, I’d rather hold onto him, make a qualifying offer when the season is over, and bring him back on a two or three year deal. He’s not a superstar, but the Giants need his 20-HR bat and diligent work ethic in their clubhouse.

Another note on the trade front. I had no idea the A’s were willing to move Grant Green! They swapped him for Alberto Callaspo last night, and I think the Angels came out with a nice middle infield prospect. I like Green a lot, and wouldn’t have been upset if the Giants threw Scutaro’s name over to Billy Beane… maybe he wouldn’t have been interested, but that would have been a nice swap for the Giants.

****

It was quite a night for Giants pitching, at all levels of the organization. Here’s a quick rundown:

San Francisco – Barry Zito floundered in another road start, and it was reported that he had a closed-door meeting with Bruce Bochy after the game. If the Giants want to get any kind of momentum back in the second half, they’ll probably need to get Zito out of the rotation. Maybe they’re looking to move him to the bullpen for now, but I wouldn’t be shocked if his up and down career with the Giants is coming to a close.

Fresno – Eric Surkamp had an impressive start last night in AAA, going 7 strong with 5 K. He allowed only 3 hits and 1 ER, and walked only 1 batter. Outings like that definitely help build Surkamp’s case for rotation spot in San Francisco down the stretch.

Richmond – Ryan Vogelsong continued his rehab with a start in AA last night, where he looked very good. He opposed Anthony Ranaudo, one of the Red Sox’ top arms, and Vogey won the battle. He threw 5 shutout innings, allowed 5 hits, struck out 3 and surrendered only a single walk. The Giants need a healthy Vogelsong back in the rotation soon, and it sounds like he’s well on his way.

San Jose – Top prospect Kyle Crick took the ball last night after giving up 9 hits in his last outing. This time, he was back to his dominant ways. His line: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 11K. The 11 strikeouts are a season high for Crick, and possibly a career high too. His fastball was 95-96 according to Joe Ritzo, and was overpowering as always. Crick has now made 10 starts in San Jose, and I don’t think a promotion to Richmond is out of the question at this point.

Augusta – Kendry Flores made sure every level of full-season ball for the Giants had stellar starting pitching last night. The 21 year-old righty is having a very good season in Low-A, and tossed 7.1 shutout innings last night. He allowed 6 hits and struck out 7, without a walk.

That’s what I’d call a pretty impressive night of pitching… with the exception of Zito, of course. But these days, the major league Giants don’t really resemble a team.