2016 Giants: What’s the [Catcher] Plan?

First in a series of late-season/offseason posts concerning current 40-man players, as well as a few other relevant names both inside and outside the organization. I’ll try to address contract status, current and future production, projected playing time for next season, and whatever else I feel is pertinent to the 2016 team.

Let’s start with the backstops, a position where the Giants are still incredibly talented. While Posey is still the man, a surprising new name has emerged from the farm system, adding to what was already one of the deepest positional groups in the organization.

6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!
6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!

Buster Posey | Age 28: One of the elite talents in the game, and arguably getting better. Considering the resume he already boasts, it’s pretty darn impressive that Buster lowered his K% to 8.5 (career mark of 12.3%), while walking more than he struck out in 2015. Behind the dish, he raised his caught-stealing rate to 36%, best since his shortened 2011 season.

He’ll get a nice bump in pay next year, up to $20M. He’ll follow 2016 with 5 consecutive seasons at $21.4M before an option in 2022. A lot of folks are still asking how much longer he’ll catch full time at that price. My response to that: don’t expect anything different in the immediate future. He’s started 38 games at 1B to date this season, and I’d say that’s probably right about on par with what we’ll see next year. Until another catcher in the organization proves he’s capable of forcing the organization’s hand, Buster will be the team’s main attraction and its starting catcher.

Andrew Susac | Age 25: There was a lot of excitement surrounding Susac this year, but it’s hard to look at his first full MLB season as anything but a disappointment. It’s very hard to get into a rhythm when you aren’t playing consistently, but Susac did log 120 PA during the first half. He hit only .239, and then made only 5 starts after the All-Star break. Injuries have been a theme throughout his playing career, even dating back to his college days. They cut his 2015 campaign short, and it really is a bummer for him, as he’d probably be seeing most of the playing time that is currently going to Trevor Brown. Susac is young, cheap, and talented offensively. Though he’s probably very intriguing to some teams around the league, I’ll say the Giants aren’t trading him this winter. He’ll have to stay healthy and produce a little more though if he ever wants to unseat Posey behind the dish.

Hector Sanchez | Age 25: It’s hard to believe Hector is still only 25. It’s also hard to envision him having much of a future with the organization when 2014 was the last season he hit over .200. He’s team controlled through 2019 and arbitration-eligible again this winter (he earned $800K this year). There’s nothing wrong with having catchers with MLB experience in AAA, but at Hector’s relatively young age, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s better off asking for a trade to get out from behind Posey and Susac.

Trevor Brown | Age 23: The Giants went heavy on college pitching at the top of the 2012 draft, but it’s the hitters who’ve made the most noise from that class so far. By chance and injuries, Brown joined Matt Duffy (and later Mac Williamson) as the first members of that crop to reach the majors, and he’s played well enough this month to earn a longer look. 9-31 (.290) with 3 BB, 5 RBI, a stolen base, and respectable pitch-calling behind the plate in 10 games has earned him some press time – and even a little love from the coaching staff. The versatile backstop may not profile as a starter, but I can see a backup MLB gig in his future. Now, the question is “What do they do with all these catchers?” Maybe Brown shares time with Hector again next season in Sacramento, but maybe his September in the big leagues gives the organization some flexibility to explore a trade this offseason.

Jackson Williams | Age 29: Bringing Jackson Williams back to the organization (and calling him up in September) gave the Giants two first-round catchers on the active roster, drafted in back-to-back years no less. The difference? Posey was a top 5 pick in 2008, and Williams was the 5th first round pick in 2007 by the Giants alone. Still, it’s noteworthy that four of those six picks made it to the majors (the other was Charlie “Marco Scutaro” Culberson), and three of them (Bumgarner, Noonan and Williams) are all on the current Giants roster. That seems like it could be the answer to an obscure Giants-related trivia question. Either way, Jax has logged only 23 MLB plate appearances, and I have no idea if he’ll be in camp with the team next season or not.

On Deck: In my next post, I’ll analyze the young, talented, and ever-increasing group of infielders on the Giants 40-man roster. Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Game 1 of 162: Fireworks on Opening Night

Holy smokes!

If last night was any indication, we could be in for one heck of a ride this week in Arizona. If you missed the game (I’m sure you didn’t), it was a doozy of an opener. Fortunately, the Giants have Buster Posey, who looks ready to have another monster season at the plate. Buster’s 2-run shot with two outs in the 9th capped a big comeback from the Giants, who squeaked out a 9-8 dogfight.

Is it me or was last night’s game eerily similar to the games the Giants played in April and May of 2013? Less than stellar starting pitching and sloppy defense, bailed out by late-game offensive heroics. I’ll take an exciting win like that on Opening Day, but make no mistake, last night was not a formula for long-term success.

Positives from Game 1: The “big-picture” positives for me last night were the bats of Posey and Brandon Belt. If there’s one knock on Posey at all, it’s that it usually takes his bat a while to heat up this time of year… especially when it comes to extra base power. The same can be said for Belt, who obviously hasn’t seen the same success in his short career as Posey. But for two usually somewhat slow starters to hit absolute moonshots like that on day one, that’s a very good sign. I’m still in awe of Posey’s homer!

Another positive: I think we saw last night just how flexible Bruce Bochy can be with this roster. While some people outside (and maybe even inside) the organization will scoff at the Giants bench, I see a group that can do a lot of different things. In fact, after the abysmal defense we saw early on, I was very excited when Bochy brought Ehire Adrianza and Juan Perez into the game late. Between those two, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Hicks and Hector Sanchez, the Giants have some weapons they can employ off the bench.

Honorable mentions: Jean Machi… holy splitter! The dude takes a lot of heat from fans on the Internet, but he was nails last night. Good thing those fans don’t set the 25-man roster, or Machi wouldn’t have been able to shut the door last night!

Adrianza: Pinch-hit double and a rally starter. Watch out Joaquin Arias.

Angel Pagan: If Pagan can set the table like he did last night, the Giants will have some good times on offense this year.

Negatives: Infield defense. Wow. When Mike Krukow is putting you down, you screwed up. Grounders through the legs, errant throws all over the diamond, misplayed rundowns. Those are plays I would have been upset with my 7th grade Little League team for making. Tighten that stuff up, fellas!

Madison Bumgarner: Victim of some bad defense, but not the shutdown start we were hoping for from MadBum on Opening Day. It’s a long season though, and the kid will bounce back just fine. I’d be surprised if that’s his last Opening Day start… and he’s only 24!

Cainer takes the hill for game 2 of 162 tonight. More fireworks to come? I’d be just fine with a 3-1 win and some good fundamentals, to be honest!

Big League Dreamin’

Well, I learned the answer to a question I thought I’d never have to ask yesterday morning: What does -50 degrees feel like? The answer: About how you’d think it would… way too cold. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but there is one thing I’m sure of: Montana will never make national news for weather. It’s dangerously cold out here, but we just go about our lives like nothing’s changed. Snow day? There’s no such thing. Another thing I’ve learned during my time in Big Sky Country; spend a year in Montana, and you’ll be prepared for just about anything life throws your way. I’ll be headed for the Golden State on a work trip in a few weeks, and it can’t get here soon enough.

But this is a baseball blog folks, not a “KG’s life story” blog. And boy, could I sure use some baseball in my life right about now. We’ve spent so much time on the prospect front lately, I think it’s about time we get back to the 25 men who are the envy of every minor leaguer in the organization. This isn’t really intended to be a formal post, but more of a place to chat about a few things that have been on my mind lately. It may seem a little random, but try to stay with me here.

The Big Question

The big question everyone seems to be asking these days is, “Did the Giants do enough this winter?” There’s definitely some major disagreement on the part of the fanbase regarding Sabean’s offseason work, but there’s also a good chunk of the fanbase who would fire Sabean in an instant. Most of that crowd doesn’t hang around here, which is just fine by me. Honestly, how can anyone actually tell you a team did or didn’t do enough before a Spring Training game has even been played? I don’t think they can.

When I look at the overall body of work Sabean and his staff put together this winter, I see every major roster hole filled. Maybe you have an issue with the individual players who they signed to plug those holes, but it’s hard for me to be overly critical when the only position battles in camp are for bench and bullpen jobs. There are certainly other teams in baseball who would like to have that kind of certainty this time of year.

Weaknesses

For me, the key to this season will again be depth. And I do feel like that is still an area of weakness, despite Sabean talking so much about it during his end-of-year press conference. I really don’t know how much more could have been done about the starting rotation (I’m not going to nitpick the Lincecum and Vogelsong signings), but the Giants just don’t have an Archie Bradley or Jameson Taillon sitting in AAA right now ready to move in at the first sign of trouble. Between Petit, Huff, Kickham and Escobar, there should be enough options in case one of the regulars hits the 15-day DL. If someone suffers a more extensive injury like Vogey did last year, then you may have to start looking at trade options. Obviously, you can’t plan for things like that.

When I talk about depth, the two areas that concern me the most are the infield and bullpen. I really think this roster could have used another proven reliever, so guys like Hembree, Kontos and Machi would have been battling for one spot rather than two. Another MLB arm, lefty or righty, would have really tied things together. There are a couple kids lurking in the minors like Derek Law and Josh Osich, but I can’t envision either of them in San Francisco before mid-season.

I also would have liked a more reliable option to take time off Scutaro’s hands at second. This is really where I feel the front office didn’t do enough, as the options were certainly out there. Shankbone talked very early on in the offseason about the Dodgers’ utility guys that would hit the market, and I certainly thought the Giants would have looked at one of them. As it went, those guys didn’t stay unemployed for very long. The A’s scooped up Nick Punto in a hurry, the Cards brought in Mark Ellis to provide Kolten Wong insurance, and Cincinnati plucked Skip Schumaker. Any one of those guys would have been a good fit for the Giants, and probably could have seen plenty of playing time. Even the Dodgers – after losing all three of those guys – got back into the infield market recently by giving Justin Turner a minor league deal. He was a non-tender guy, and it wouldn’t have taken much to bring him in for a look.

These are certainly small problems to have in the grand scheme of things, but I do think there will come a time this season when depth will be an issue again, and the lack of proven options off the bench might come back to haunt the front office. The Giants just have too many players with injury history to ignore that possibility. At that point, maybe a trade or two would need to take place. We’ll see how that all plays out.

Posey’s conditioning

Have you seen the pictures of Buster from the commercial shoots and Fanfest? Wow, he looks good. There’s been all kinds of talk about his offseason regimen, building strength to get through the grind this summer. Well, he certainly looks bigger to me, both in his arms and upper body. He’s supposedly up to 215 lbs now, and I have no problem with that. Personally, I think he’s as upset as anyone about what happened last season. When he was needed most to pick things up (in the second half), the production just wasn’t there. Buster seems to be one of those guys for who it only takes one time to learn a lesson, and his poor second half was likely a wake-up call. I’m looking for big things from him this season. He’s a leader on this team, and the Giants will go as he goes in 2014.

Final Word

Sorry if this seems a little scattered, I know it’s a little different from most of my posts. But there are so many things to catch up on right now, so many different storylines to discuss. Rather than writing one exasperating post, I figured I’d break them up into some smaller ones, touching on three or four topics each time. We’re less than a week from pitchers and catchers reporting, and the days are moving slower. If you’re like me, you need some baseball chatter this time of year to keep your spirits up.

So, hit me with some feedback. Did the Giants “do enough” this winter? What are the weak areas of the team? What are you expecting from Buster this year? Feel free to chime in, and I’ll be working on a few more of these to get us through next week. As always thanks for reading, and stay warm… it’s chilly out there. Seriously, seriously chilly.

Buster Posey

(Sfgiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

Scenes from the AFL

Just wanted to give a quick tip for those interested in Crick and the boys in the Arizona Fall League. Conner Penfold over at sfgiantpotential.com made the trip out to the desert to get some footage of the Giants prospects, and he’s got some sweet new video up from the last couple of days. He also has a write-up from each of the games he attended… so far, there’s video posted of every Giant farmhand except Cody Hall and Derek Law. As of the 8th inning in Peoria today, neither of the two relievers have pitched. I’ve seen a few clips on Law before, but Hall is a guy I’d be very interested to watch. Just how hard does he throw that fastball? Kyle Crick, who is working out of the pen in preparation for the AFL All-Star game, tossed two scoreless innings today, and his ERA has crept down to 4.66.

More about the videos. In Crick’s one inning of work, he’s rocking the heater. To me, he seems to really increase his pace when he’s in a groove. I love pitchers who do that, a la Tim Lincecum in his prime. My favorite part of that Crick footage though? Mr. Colin Moran, pride of North Carolina… grab some pine, meat! A side note here: I recently watched the “Homegrown Giants” feature that was produced as part of the “Inside the Clubhouse” series by the Giants media team. This one was released in September, but I hadn’t seen it before. Very cool stuff. Posey, Romo, the All-Star Game in New York… but it follows Crick around for a bit, and gives quite a bit of insight on the Giants’ player development philosophy. If you haven’t seen it, I’d definitely recommend setting 20 minutes aside to check it out. Here’s the link. In regards to Crick, I’ve just got to say, I really admire the kid, and I think the Giants have another future stud on their hands. Everyone involved understands what he needs to do to make it, but I get the feeling nobody thinks he can’t get there. He’s an intelligent young man – confident and incredibly talented… and I really am excited about his future.

Jarrett Parker is quite a bit slimmer than I thought. He’s listed at 6-4, 210 pounds, but he doesn’t look it to me. We know he strikes out at incredible rates, but he puts on a pretty spirited AB too. He gets deep into counts, takes his share of walks, and hits for a good amount of power. Sounds like he covers a ton of ground out in center as well. His lefty bat will need to find those gaps at AT&T if he wants to make it as a big leaguer, but hey, the guy is a former 2nd round pick, he’s probably headed to Fresno next year, and the organization sent him to Arizona to run with the big dogs. They’ve got their eye on him, and as far as I know they’re still looking for someone in the organization to grab ahold of left field…

Adalberto Mejia made his first start of the fall yesterday and got knocked around a bit in 2.1 innings of work. The first inning got off to a rough start after DeShields battled for a walk right out of the gate. Personally, I thought Mr. Mejia had him beat with an 0-2 slider that snapped in at the knees (4th pitch of the AB)… but he didn’t get the call and couldn’t put him away. DeShields is a tough out, and Mejia is still just a young kid gaining some tremendous experience this fall. He really wasn’t that wild, he just couldn’t quite find the zone… and he left some pitches up, which will get you run pretty quickly against competition like that.

A couple more thoughts on the young lefty. Wow, he’s a big-bodied kid! Very similar body type to Clayton Blackburn, in my humble opinion. If you’ve never been over to Giant Potential, I’d highly recommend clicking on the video section of the blog. Penfold gets some great footage, in full-on HD quality. In a previous piece about Mejia, he talks about him throwing a back-foot slider that’s very Bumgarner-esque. It didn’t look to me like he threw too many of them in the AFL clip, but that 0-2 pitch to DeShields was nasty. If he can hone that sucker in, the sky is absolutely the limit for him.

Andrew Susac and Angel Villalona went hitless, but Angel V. did put together some tough AB’s. Personally, I’d like to see the Giants challenge him with a Fresno assignment this season and see if he can hang. His time out of the country definitely set him back a bit in terms of professional development, but he showed the power potential in Richmond. So I say send him to AAA and see if he can swim. If not, he’s back in Richmond. If he does, look out ladies and gents!

Susac is a player I’m growing fonder of by the day. Small sample sizes in the AFL aren’t anything to get too worked up about, but the more digging I do on this guy, the more I like. In my eyes, he’s got a legitimate major league bat. Maybe not a big batting average guy, but he’s patient, powerful, and seems to have a real calm at the dish. If he’s even average defensively, the Giants have their excuse to get Buster Posey out of the gear. Speaking of Posey, I couldn’t help but notice Susac has a few tendencies in his batting stance and swing that remind me a lot of Buster… even the leg kick in his load. Now, I hope nobody reads too much into this comment, I’m not saying anything about Susac being the hitter/player Posey is. But I do think the kid has the potential to have a solid MLB career if he can change his injury-prone ways, and I hope he does so with the Giants. Is it crazy to say Susac is a bit of a sleeper in the organization?

Lastly, I just wanted to note that the blog hasn’t been as active lately. I apologize for that, but I hope you will stick around, as I’ve been working on some very big projects on the minor league front. I’m learning more and more about the Giants farm system every day, and I hope to start sharing some of these things pretty soon. I know they will be worth the wait.

Giants 2014: Hot Corner

It’s been a while, but back to the state of the franchise series. Part 4 is dedicated to the hot corner, AKA the home of one Pablo Sandoval, hit machine. At this point, I can’t really call it a full-time home, as the Panda’s missed a significant amount of time to injuries, lack of conditioning, weight gains, etc. in the past few years. Pablo has all the talent in the world, and is one of the best pure hitters in the game. Don’t believe me? Ask Justin Verlander. Sandoval is also a fan favorite, and his career (and body type) has resulted in one of the longest-standing modern day Giants marketing schemes: the panda hat. But is he trustworthy anymore as the starting 3B? Will he even be on the team come next April? I’m not so sure, and neither are the Giants these days it seems.

Where it’s been: Admittedly, this post will mostly focus on the trials and tribulations of Sandoval, but there are a handful of others who’ve manned the corner in his absence – or benching, in the case of 2010 – over the past few years. The Giants signed Pablo, a 16 year-old catcher out of Venezuela in 2003. He debuted the next summer in Arizona, and had a breakout season at the plate as an 18 year-old in Salem-Keizer in his second season. By 2008, though, he entered his 5th year as a pro as mostly an afterthought to prospect watchers. But that summer saw one of the greatest offensive surges ever by a Giants farmhand (only Brandon Belt has put together a better campaign since), a .350 average and 20 HR between San Jose and Richmond. By September, Sandoval was a full-fledged major-leaguer, with his own nickname to boot. Few actually remember him by his original handle of Little Money (catcher Benji Molina was known as Big Money), but that’s the name that caught on early. Pablo hit everything in sight over the season’s final 40 games, and an unexpected star was born.

After nearly claiming the National League batting title and leading the team with 25 HR in 2009, the Giants 23 year-old switch-hitter (who’d moved to 3B full-time) was becoming an icon. Kung Fu Panda was born, and he would lead the young, upstart Giants into a new era of NL West contention. But neither ownership nor the fan base could predict the letdown that would ensue for Sandoval in 2010. While the Giants were surging for the postseason, their former offensive leader was playing himself out of a job and into a bigger pant size. This was the first time any of us really saw the “Bad Panda” side of Pablo, who watched Juan Uribe take over as the starting 3B down the stretch. Sandoval rode the pine through October while teammates forever changed the city of San Francisco and the franchise.

Since then, it’s been quite the mixture of Good Panda and Bad Panda. His 2011 season could’ve been even better than 2009, but the first installment of the hamate bone saga sent him to the DL for weeks. In 2012, he’d play in only 108 games (a career low), thanks in large part to hamate bone, part two. This time, though, he’d come back with a resurgent final month of the season. He’d follow that up with a postseason performance for the ages. Three moon balls in a World Series game… the stuff of legends. Again, ask Verlander about it. After watching from the dugout during the 2010 go-around, there’s no way Pablo was missing the fun in 2012. That run, and the Game 1 heroics, were a nice reminder to the entire organization that the Panda could still be one of the top hitters in the game. I’ll be honest; I bought into it whole-heartedly, as many others probably did too. After the hamate bone saga and the Bad Panda episodes, Sandoval (26 years young) and Buster Posey were ready to tag-team the rest of National League on their way to a third title in four years. The Panda was back, and the Giants were primed for a long run of greatness.

Well…not exactly.

Where it’s headed: Bad Panda showed up early and often this year, and aside from a 6-week stretch in the early part of the season, he stuck around well into the summer. Yes, Pablo stabilized both in the field and at the plate a bit late in the year after coming back from his mid-season foot injury, but the damage was done, and the organization seemed fed up. A ridiculous thought as recent as a year ago, the Giants are now rumored to be listening to offers on their 3B, who is still only 27 years old. But will they trade him? And how do they replace him if they do?

The biggest factor to remember with any Sandoval trade talks is that he’s entering the final year of his contract. And he’ll do so at the age of 28, which is pretty rare in baseball these days. Most guys don’t hit the open market until at least age 30. With Pablo’s track record of success, he’s got every opportunity in the world to earn a massive payday next offseason. From the Giants? Right now, that seems unlikely, but if he can prove healthy and productive next season, there’s no reason Sabean won’t look at extending him a little longer. If he breaks out – say .300 with 25 HR (which we all know he is capable of) – he’ll certainly be in line to get a shiny new deal from a team who believes his conditioning issues are behind him. Either way, I really think this isn’t the time for the Giants to trade him. If they stand to acquire a top prospect or an upgrade in the starting rotation, then it might make sense. Otherwise, it makes more sense to hold onto him and see if he’s motivated in his contract year.

If the Giants don’t trade Pablo, they still would be wise to enter 2014 with a backup plan in place. The Panda has had at least one significant DL trip in three straight seasons… so there’s a definite pattern here. For the past couple years, Joaquin Arias has done a pretty nice job filling in, both as a temporary starter and late-game defensive replacement. Sabean found Arias and Gregor Blanco on the bargain shelf in 2012, and they’ve both been very valuable role players in their time with the club. But Arias is arbitration-eligible this year, and while he doesn’t stand to get a tremendous raise, the Giants will need to decide if they want to bring him back. They’ve got a logjam of reserve-infield types in the organization right now with guys like Tony Abreu, Nick Noonan and Ehire Adrianza, so there’s some sorting out that’ll need to take place this winter. Personally, I’d make sure there’s a spot for Arias, although that may mean Adrianza and his slick glove are headed for another organization.

But what if the Giants do bite on a trade offer for Sandoval this winter? What if the Yankees are willing to part ways with one of their outfield prospects and a starting pitcher? It wouldn’t be the first time the Evil Empire sold some kids to bolster their offense, and there’s a definite corner infield need in New York at the moment. Hey, stranger things have happened. In the event the Giants do find a trade partner for Sandoval, they’ll have an immediate hole at the hot corner. How will they get consistent production? If they aren’t confident that Arias can handle the starting job, they could look to free agency. How about a 2-3 year deal for Omar Infante? Infante is a professional hitter whose bat profiles very similarly to his fellow Venezuelan vet Marco Scutaro. Infante doesn’t strike out much, he’s a career .279 hitter, and he’s played all over the infield in the past. He won’t be too expensive, and he should be able to handle 3B. If you’d rather play him at 2B, you can move Scutaro to the left side. That way, you can lift Scooter late for Arias, much like Bochy has done with Pablo the last couple years. Personally, I’d make Infante an offer even if Pablo doesn’t get traded. Sabean said he needs more depth. Infante helps give you that in the infield.

What about Buster Posey? Would the Giants consider moving him to 3B in the future? It’s been talked about by the media quite a bit in the past year, and it makes sense. If Pablo plays 2014 in San Francisco and decides to walk for greener pastures next winter, it may be more reasonable to replace him with Posey, a proven hitter, than hoping you can find some production in free agency. 3B isn’t a deep position; the Evan Longoria’s and David Wright’s of the world are in short supply. Getting Buster out from behind the dish is something the Giants need to look at heavily, but that’s a topic we’ll cover later. With Belt holding down the 1B job these days, moving Posey to 3rd by 2015 could really bolster that offense. I’m not saying he’d be a Gold Glove infielder, but he did play some shortstop at Florida State (as a freshman), so it’s not like he’d be incompetent without his catcher’s gear. It’s definitely an intriguing idea, and one that the Giants would be wise to start talking about this winter.

There are a couple other in-house 3B who could play their way into some kind of role in the near future: the Louisville hackers, Chris Dominguez and Adam Duvall. Dominguez could be in line for a call-up if Sandoval is traded or misses significant time next season. He’s got as much power as anyone in the organization, but it seems like he sacrificed it a bit to make more contact this year in Fresno. Hey, whatever it takes to get to the dance, right? It worked in AAA, but will it work in the show? Dominguez is also pretty good defensively, and has a cannon for an arm. The defense gives him an edge over Duvall, in my book.

Everything I’ve read about Duvall says he’s pretty rough in the field, but he’s another guy with insane power. Again, he doesn’t make a lot of contact, which might be a red flag, but he actually held his own at the dish in the tough Eastern League this year. Had he stayed healthy all season, I think his offensive numbers would’ve been even better. I like Duvall as a nice sleeper in the org, but he’s not a fresh-faced baby anymore. Neither of these guys are the long-term answer (Sabean is hoping Ryder Jones can be that guy someday), but both might get an opportunity to provide some infield depth sooner than later.

Honestly, I don’t think Pablo is going anywhere this winter. Like Lincecum, Cain, and Posey, Sandoval played a major role in bringing the Giants back from the dark days of the late 2000’s. He’s a fan favorite, and he puts money in the organization’s pocket. Those players generally don’t get shipped off easily. If he can put together a solid season in his walk-year, maybe Sabean gives him the shiny new contract. At this point, who knows? But I’d like to see Good Panda get one more shot. He should have all the motivation in the world to perform. If he doesn’t, so long panda hats. If he does, however, the Giants could have a strong offense in the mediocre NL West. When healthy and in shape, Pablo’s a fun player to watch. He’s upbeat, goofy, and one of the best damn natural hitters in baseball. See-ball, hit-ball, Pablo. Giants Nation is counting on you… don’t let us down.

Giants 2014: Left Field

*Update: Forget the part about signing Jose Abreu… 6-years, $68 million deal with the White Sox. What happened to the Giants as favorites here? Much more on that topic to follow. 

What are the Giants going to do with left field? That’s the question everyone is asking this offseason, although the more I think about it, the more I feel left field is a secondary issue to solidifying the starting rotation. The Giants are a pitching-driven team, and it’s very likely they’ll head into winter with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots locked down. Finding three worthy pitchers to fill in around those two will be an incredible challenge for Brian Sabean – getting a #3 might be the toughest task of all (Tim Lincecum ain’t it). I think the rotation is more of a priority for Sabes than left field, but finding that elusive everyday left fielder is still an issue, and something that will be discussed and speculated all offseason. So I guess it’s our turn on Cove Chatter to dip our toes into the left field water.

Where it’s been: Barry Lamar Bonds had a 1.045 OPS in 2007. Barry Lamar Bonds wasn’t invited back for 2008, for reasons I still can’t understand. But those days are long gone. In the six seasons since the Giants decided they no longer needed the services of the greatest hitter in their franchise’s history, left field in San Francisco has taken the form of a community bicycle – nearly everyone has taken a ride. During those six seasons, here are the guys who’ve started more than 50 games in a season in left field for the Giants: Fred Lewis, Randy Winn, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Melky Cabrera, Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres. Seven players in 6 seasons – That’s a revolving door, folks. Lewis is the only homegrown player among that group. He wasn’t bad for a couple seasons, but he also had the insurmountable task of replacing Bonds… he never had a chance.

Burrell was as valuable as anyone on the 2010 squad – and he was a Sabean Special dumpster dive. Burrell also demonstrated how valuable raw power can be. Sure, his outfield defense was miserable, but his bat was a key factor in the Giants’ late-season surge. Maybe more important though, Burrell and Aubrey Huff made one hell of a cocky pair, and their swagger went a long way in leading that young team down the stretch. Sometimes a little attitude goes a long way in this game.

Melky was a Godsend in 2012, and we all found out why in August. Remember all those early-season cries for management to lock him up long-term? That could have been bad…real bad. Regardless, Melky’s production gave the Giants a very deep lineup. The platoon of Blanco/Torres in 2013 didn’t come close to making up that production. The floodgates opened when both of those guys were thrust into starting roles after Angel Pagan’s injury. I have to give Sabean some credit, though. He definitely tried to get production out of LF after Pagan went down. But neither the vets (Tanaka, Francoeur) nor the kids (Perez, Kieschnick, Peguero) could really establish any consistent offense out there.

Where it’s headed: All of these things have made LF a significant hole in the Giants offense for the second consecutive offseason. So… how do they fix it? I’ll be honest; there are about a dozen different ways they can go here. But we can definitely look at a few of those ways Sabean may take to fill the void.     

In-house options: Blanco, Perez, Kieschnick, Peguero. Those are your in-house outfield options. Maybe Brett Pill to a lesser extent. All of them have spent time in the majors, but very little for the 3 rookies. It’s conceivable that any of these 4 could be your Opening Day LF next spring, depending on who steps up in spring training (don’t forget John Bowker once opened the season as the starting RF after a strong spring). Here’s my issue with these guys: none of them are MLB regulars right now. Blanco is the closest, and the Giants have sure tried their damndest to make him a starter. Yes, he’s got a nice tool belt – defense, speed, OBP. Give him 155 starts in left, and he’ll probably give you a .330 OBP with 5 HR in return. That’s not awful, by any means. Some guys will spend their career trying to put together a season like that. But I need more offense from my everyday corner outfielder, regardless of how good his defense is.

But Blanco hits pretty well against righty’s, you say. Give the kid Perez a chance to platoon with him, you plead. I know for a fact there are people out there who would be satisfied by a Perez/Blanco platoon. Not me. Not on a team that wants to contend. Both of those guys can be valuable bench players. Both can be game-saving defensive replacements in the late innings. Maybe Perez has more in the bat? Maybe Peguero and Kieschnick can put it all together? That would certainly be great, but the Giants don’t have time to find out right now. Entering the year with one or a combination of these in-house guys as the starter is the most conservative approach the Giants can take, and in my opinion the worst. So… what next?

Free agents: If you haven’t seen the free agent list, you check it out here. There’s not much depth, but we already knew that. As outfielders go, Ellsbury and Choo are the obvious prizes. I would love either of them in San Francisco. Ain’t happenin’. Granderson, Beltran? Probably not. But we need a starter, and he needs to come from outside the organization. So who’s it going to be? The Giants aren’t going to find a long-term solution to LF within this group. So I’m looking for my new Pat Burrell… and I’ve got some guys in mind: Mike Morse, Delmon Young, Marlon Byrd, Corey Hart.

Maybe these aren’t the sexy names on the market. Maybe some of them have injury concerns or defensive issues. Maybe they’re prone to strikeouts. But they all have one thing in common: power potential baby. Pat the Bat wasn’t a gifted defender, remember? Pat the Bat didn’t make a lot of contact. But Patty had confidence, and he could unload the long ball from time to time. Any one of these guys can, too. If you’re trying to hold a late lead, enter Blanco or Perez. If you need to lift this guy for a pinch runner, you can do that too. But each of these four guys has the ability to make an impact with his bat when he’s on the field, and that’s what I want to see out of my starting LF. If Sabean decides to kick the tires on one of them to the tune of a one or two-year deal, I’ll have no beef, as long as it’s within reason.

It might cost a little more to pry Hart away from Milwaukee, but I think it’s worth it if the guy can prove he’s healthy. Could be a nice comeback story. Morse’s wrist surgery makes his case a little complicated, but he’s another guy who could provide a nice power piece in the lineup if he’s healthy. With Byrd, you’re banking on one more productive season, as he’s older at 36. Stopgap option. Young could be a classic Burrell story. Former top prospect, castoff, playoff vet with pop. He’s an unknown at this point, but might be worth a flier along the lines of the deal Philly gave him last winter. Tampa gave him a shot down the stretch. Will the Giants?

Trades: If Sabean doesn’t find the free agent class enticing (which is completely understandable), maybe he looks to the trade market to find his nightly “postgame leap” buddy for Pagan and Pence. Sabean rebuilt his outfield through trades prior to 2012, so maybe he sneaks in another one this offseason. This is tough business though. Who does he offer… and who does he even go after? Peter Gammons recently suggested Pablo as a potential trade candidate this winter. Maybe Sabes dangles the Panda in front of the Yankees’ noses. Would they be willing to part ways with Tyler Austin? In the unlikely event, Austin would probably start the season in AA anyway, so that wouldn’t fill the LF void next season. Who else is out there that may be expendable? Colby Rasmus? In all honesty, your guess is as good as mine. Sabean hasn’t been afraid to make trades in the past, but this offseason doesn’t seem like it’ll boast a very favorable market.

If not a Blanco or Perez, a Morse or Byrd, or a [insert trade candidate here], where else could the Giants possibly look to patch their LF hole? There’s one more scenario, and I saved it for last not because I think it’s the most likely to happen, but because it just may be the best option the organization has at this point.

Brandon Belt: The idea of Belt moving to LF isn’t anything new. If you recall, Belty played a handful of games out there as a rookie, when Huff was still on the team – 31 starts to be exact. How was Belt as an outfielder? Hell if I remember. But I imagine he could settle nicely into the position if they committed to him being out there. He’s an athletic guy, tall, with a very strong left arm. I don’t think it’s too far off to say he could eventually be an asset in LF. Maybe it wouldn’t be the easiest transition in the world, but he could certainly do it.

If you’ve been watching the Giants the past couple of years, I think you can understand how getting Belt some time in LF would be in the team’s best interest. For two seasons, Buster Posey has been sliding over to play 1B on days when he wasn’t behind the dish. Posey’s bat is too valuable to keep out of the lineup, but he’s not going to play all 162 with the gear on. That’s perfectly understandable, but something happened this season that should change the way the Giants view this Belt/Posey situation: Belt became one of the team’s best hitters down the stretch. If he can carry his second-half momentum into next spring, the Giants really need to consider whether they can afford keeping Belt out of the lineup on days when Posey isn’t catching. What then? Does Posey play some 3B? We’ve all been suggesting it, but the Giants haven’t made any indication that they’re willing to try it. Just like they haven’t been very receptive to the idea of Belt playing LF. Maybe Posey just gets a complete day off? Either way, the writing is on the wall… this team needs more positional flexibility. They’ve got a young, budding talent in Belt, and there’s absolutely no excuse for not getting him some more experience in the outfield.

Of course, if the Giants are as interested in making a run for Cuban free agent Jose Abreu as they lead on, Belt may be heading to left whether he wants to or not. Any team who signs Abreu is banking on his bat, not his glove. And they sure as heck aren’t signing him to play the outfield. To me, there are numerous reasons to give Belt a chance in left, and many of them are starting to present themselves. Here’s a scenario for you: Sabean/Bochy sit Belt down, tell him he’s switching positions. Not only that, but they’re locking him up for his arbitration years. Essentially, you’re telling the kid that you’re committing to him as your everyday LF going forward. In my opinion, that’s ultimate job security…not a demotion or rejection. I’m sure not everyone looks at it that way. Yes, you’d be losing Belt’s above average defense at first. But I’d rather hide a poor defender at first than I would in left, especially if it’s an Abreu or a Morse-type player. Could allow Sabean to be a little more creative this offseason as well. Just a thought.

Ok, I think I’ve exhausted almost every possible scenario for addressing LF this winter here. That being said, I’m sure the Giants will pull something completely unexpected out of their hats and shock us all. Choo for $100 million? Naaaah. This is by far the longest post in this Giants 2014 series so far, and for good reason. The LF situation could literally go in a dozen different directions. I’ll try to keep the next few a bit shorter, and save some breath for the starting rotation. Thanks for reading, and it should be very interesting to see how Sabean goes forward with the position.

Blanco

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.

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