Mike Morse: Potential Steal?

The Beast has a new home… and he’ll be roaming around Bonds’ old stomping grounds.

I was back home in Northern California all week for a business trip that doubled as a vacation with the family, so I apologize for being late to the Morse party. I’ve definitely got my share of opinions, though, and have been making mental notes since the signing was made a few days ago. The rumors of possible LF candidates picked up some steam on Wednesday with names like Franklin Gutierrez and Jeff Baker being tossed around. In the end, Sabean found his guy, and snuck out of Orlando with Mike Morse, aka The Beast, signed to a 1-year deal. Apparently Houston was among the other clubs trying to lure Morse in. Personally, I think it was a no-brainer… 2 years to DH for the Astros, who really don’t look to be going anywhere for at least a few more seasons, or 1 year to play LF for a winning organization that’s hoping to get back in the race. Hmmm…

Anyway, Morse is a Giant for $6M, with some possible incentives that I haven’t read too much about yet. It turns out the skipper thinks pretty highly of Morse, and probably advocated to Sabean on his behalf. Bochy wanted a LF with some pop, and that’s what he’s getting with Morse. Compared to what else was available, and what other teams were asking for in trades, Morse was definitely a realistic candidate all along. Maybe he was so realistic that most people just wrote it off from the start. I think that’s what I did, although I did say back in October that I wanted Sabes to find the next Pat Burrell-type player to man LF. I’d say Morse fits the bill.

I know the reactions to this deal were pretty mixed, and I expect it to stay that way until the big guy has spent some time on the field next year. But I’ll be honest, I’m glad the Giants made this move. Obviously, Morse has his issues, but he’s also got as much upside of just about any other player that was available on the cheap. Had he performed up to expectations in Seattle this year, he’d have probably earned himself a nice little extension, or at least received a qualifying offer. Instead, his season fell apart, and the trade so Baltimore late in the year didn’t do him any favors either. So, The Beast went on the open market, looking for a reclamation deal. The Giants know a thing or two about those.

It’s already been stated that Morse is going to play everyday, and that Gregor Blanco will be the late-inning sub. This has quite a few folks in a rage, and I’m sure most of those people will be ready to strike with the old “I told ya’ so” if Morse struggles next season. Look, we all know the dude lumbers in the field. He’s a liability in left, and probably more suited for a DH role at this point in his career. But Sabean set out to find himself a starting LF with power, and Morse is exactly that. Sure, it’d be nice to have a guy with a power bat and above average defense out there… but those guys are called 5-tool players, and they general don’t come cheap on the open market. So, you just hope that Morse is healthy enough to crack a few moonshots out of the park, and trust Bochy to get Blanco or Perez into the game for defense when it’s necessary. They showed us they knew what they were doing with Pat the Bat in 2010, so it’s hard not to envision a similar situation going down next year with Morse. And I would also be willing to bet that Blanco will get his fair share of AB’s, as Morse and Pagan are both pretty injury prone out there.

I’ll tell you what I like most about this deal: Morse lengthens the lineup. The Giants now have 5 guys with legitimate 20-HR power in Morse, Pence, Posey, Sandoval and Belt. And just by walking through the door, Morse becomes the only player on the team with a 30-HR season to his name. Not a lot of guys can say that in MLB today, and those who can generally don’t come cheap. If he’s healthy, Morse is a .275+ hitter with tremendous power and without platoon splits. That’s a huge upgrade in the 6 or 7-hole over Blanco, and it also pushes Brandon Crawford back to the #8 spot. That’s what I call depth through the entire order, something the Giants haven’t always had. Yes, you’re asking for a few things to break right here, but if they do, we could be looking at a pretty stout lineup, and hopefully not a lot of Blanco-Crawford-Pitcher wasted innings anymore. I can say this though. If Morse is productive in the 7-hole, I’d expect the Giants to be very much in contention.

Let’s be clear about something: I’m not naïve to the issues the Giants face heading into next season. With the addition of Morse, we’re now looking at four players with serious health concerns (Morse, Sandoval, Pagan, Scutaro). If one of these guys goes down, as they all did last year, where’s the backup plan? Bringing in Morse definitely helps add depth to the OF, as Blanco and Perez could platoon if Morse or Pagan misses time. The infield might be a bigger concern at this point. Obviously though, if both Morse and Pagan hit the deck, it’s going to be a long season… I don’t like to speculate on things like that, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind. And of course, defense certainly could become an issue at some point. Again, though, I’m going to trust the organization’s better judgment to not let one player’s defensive shortcomings hurt the team. Bochy seems to pull the right strings with late-game replacements most of the time.

So, Morse is a Giant for a year, and maybe another offseason steal. We’re hoping he’ll hit 20+ HR and not kill us on defense. Can he stay healthy? Who knows? But for the price, I’ll gladly take a shot on that upside. He’s big and charismatic, and I think he’ll fit in well with the rest of the club. It looks like the roster is mostly set at this point, except for a few bench and bullpen spots that should play out in spring training. We’ve got plenty of time to look at what this group has to offer going forward, but for now, at least we don’t have to speculate about LF anymore. That job belongs to The Beast… and hopefully he makes the front office look like geniuses by this time next year.

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A Wild 24 Hours

On a day when the Giants gave their minor league players a day off from conditioning camp after one of their team vans was involved in an accident, I think it fitting to take a day off from the Cove Chatter 100 prospect lists. If you missed all the commotion this morning, here’s the write-up over at CSN Bay Area. Fortunately, all of the players that were taken to the hospital (Mejia, Bandilla, Soptic, Tomlinson, and Slania) were released without any serious injuries.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter which players were in that van. What matters is their safety. The pictures of the car that hit them aren’t pretty… what a scary situation. This is one blog that is sure thankful those guys are all safe.

In other, not so stressful baseball news, it’s been a very busy 24 hours for the hot stove. Last night was the non-tender deadline for MLB, and the Giants were pretty generous with their contracts. No surprise that Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Yusmeiro Petit, and Joaquin Arias were re-upped, but it was a bit of a shocker to me (and likely a few others) that Tony Abreu was tendered a contract. I guess Sabes doesn’t think too highly of the infield market… not enough to cut ties with Abreu – who really didn’t provide much support last year – anyway.

While all five of the arbitration-eligible guys were awarded contracts, Sandy Rosario and Francisco Peguero were sent packing last night. The Giants apparently couldn’t find a trade partner for Peguero, as they did with Johnny Monell (Baltimore). I’m sure someone will offer Peguero a minor league contract eventually, but his MLB future is very much in doubt at this point. Rosario’s time as a professional has sort of become a revolving door, as I remember his name popping up on numerous waiver claims last winter. He’s a guy I’d take a chance on, but the Giants seem to be looking for more stability from the bullpen next year… I can’t blame them.

So… it would appear that the same reserve infield/outfield issues still loom for the Giants going forward. Let’s assume for a second that Arias and Blanco have two of those spots locked up (which I think is a safe bet). If that’s the case, you still have Juan Perez, Brett Pill, Ehire Adrianza (who is out of options), Nick Noonan, and now Abreu all fighting for the final two spots… plus any other IF/OF Sabean decides to bring in before camp. I don’t know about you, but I sure hope there are more moves to come, even if it’s a guy like Mark Ellis, who I’d gladly take over Abreu to back-up Scutaro at 2B. Abreu and Adrianza are both switch hitters, but Abreu can’t stay healthy, and Adrianza’s ability at the plate is TBD. This is going to get a little messy, friends, and likely won’t be decided until spring.

Around the league, there really weren’t all that many interesting names on the non-tender lists… again, let me show you my surprised face. Noticeably absent from those lists were Justin Ruggiano and Drew Stubbs, two guys who I could see as decent fits to platoon with Blanco in LF. If Sabes is interested in either of those two (which is purely speculation at this points), he’ll have to acquire them in a trade.

The few non-tender players who do intrigue me: Justin Turner, John Axford, Wesley Wright, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Bailey, Jerome Williams. Among this list, I think Turner could be a nice fit (although I seriously don’t know the priority for middle infielders now that Abreu was tendered). He plays all over the diamond, seems to be passable on defense, and is accustomed to a reserve role. The OBP isn’t all that great, but the positional flexibility would be nice. The rest of these cats are pitchers. Hudson isn’t very far removed from a pretty darn good season with Arizona. Axford, Wright and Bailey could all be valuable pieces in a bullpen, but Bailey especially comes with the high injury risk. I would think all three of those guys will find a home pretty quickly. Finally, if the Giants want a little more depth in the rotation heading into spring training, Williams could be a nice full-circle story on a minor league deal. I didn’t really find much else that caught my eye… remember, these are the guys that other teams DIDN’T want.

We’ll wrap up with a quick overview of the recent trade/FA signing action. To my knowledge, there have been approximately 250 moves in the past 48 hours – and those are just from the office of Billy Beane. Seriously, though, the past couple days have been trade central. The A’s (Jim Johnson, Craig Gentry, Luke Gregerson) and Rays (Ryan Hanigan, Heath Bell) have certainly been the most active, but the Nats probably swung the biggest deal in snagging Doug Fister from the Tigers. Fister is a very nice addition to that rotation.

If we’re learning anything here, there are certainly trades to be had out there. The winter meetings are next week, and I sure as hell hope Uncle Sabes is working on that shopping list for a LF. Even if it’s a Ruggiano type, I don’t care. I’m not satisfied with a Blanco/Perez platoon, and I hope you aren’t either. Maybe the front office will completely surprise us with a trade nobody was expecting. They sure have enough interesting prospects to snag a decent player, but whether they’ll pull those strings or not remains to be seen.

We’ll pick back up with the CC 100 tomorrow, with another honorable mention list to be released. For now, though, we’re just thankful here at Cove Chatter that those prospects are safe, and still able to play the game they (and we) all love.

Tony Abreu

The Hitting Market: Buyer Beware

We’ll turn our attention now to the offensive market this offseason. The caveat here: it’s pretty bare – even more so than the pitching market in my opinion. But Sabean promised us more depth, despite his lack of confidence in free agency and potential trades. So, what should we expect this winter? Well, here are 10 players that might be of interest for Uncle Sabes during his shopping trip this offseason. Ok, it’s actually 12 players if you count all 3 of the Dodgers’ infielders, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities here. Some of these guys are a little more likely than others, of course, but each might be a reasonable name to file away in your offseason guide as we start to wade deeper into free agency.

If Sabean were to take up an ad in the classifieds this offseason, I’d expect it to look something like this:

WANTED

A Left fielder – right-handed hitting; defensive-oriented; home run power preferred (this is starting to sound a little like an oxymoron, isn’t it?) Draft pick compensation players need not apply.

A Utility Infielder – part-time starting position available. Must be willing to take a back seat to gritty NLCS MVP, but also available to step in on late notice when said gritty NLCS MVP wakes up with a stiff back… cagy veterans welcome, positional flexibility preferred.

That looks about right, you think? Now, we watch the applications roll in… but seriously, the Giants need some kind of an offensive upgrade in left field. Aside from filling the back end of the rotation, this is one of the greatest needs on the team going forward. Here’s what Baggs had to say about the situation in his weekly chat last week… “I think you’ll see the Giants either try to trade for a left fielder, or find a better right-handed bat (with some power) to platoon with Gregor Blanco…Defense remains a big part of the equation.” And “…that would mean Blanco would get most of the at-bats in that scenario. I think the Giants know they need to do a little better than that.”

Wow, I’m painting a picture in my head right now, and it looks something like a kindergarten splatter-paint masterpiece. A right-handed, defensive-minded, power bat… in this market, that won’t be easy to find, folks. That’s just the way it goes. Even Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, the top outfielders available this winter, don’t fit that description. They are both left-handed… they both received the qualifying offer as well, so the masses out there wishing for a Choo or Ellsbury signing almost assuredly aren’t going to get their wish. Sabean already spent his big money in the outfield, and it’s sitting in the bank account of the Rev. Hunter Pence. There’s not much dough left for the opposite corner at the moment. It’s going to take some creativity to get better production out of left field next year, that’s for sure.

The utility infielder spot actually shouldn’t be all that difficult to fill. And it shouldn’t take a whole lot of money. The Giants have quite a few in-house options to consider as well. If they still see Marco Scutaro as the primary starter, they’re really only looking for a player to come in and make roughly 50 starts… essentially a Ryan Theriot role.

Those are your needs… now, who’s going to fill them? I’ve listed a handful of players who might fit, whether through free agency or trade. I even added a couple of wildcard candidates to consider as well.

*One thing to note here: I included the 2013 and career OPS+ for each player to give just a quick snapshot of his recent production in comparison to what he’s done for the long haul. Remember, a 100 is average.

Free Agents:

Chris Young, CF, 30 yo | 2013: OPS+ 85 (94 career), 12 HR, 10 SB – career .837 OPS vs LHP. The A’s declined their option on Young last week, and if Sabean decides his best bet is a platoon partner for Blanco, he’s probably one of the better fits. He offers center field-caliber defense, some potential for power, and a little speed to boot. He should come cheap, but you have to remember he only hit .209 against lefties last season.

Mike Morse, 1B/LF, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 84 (119), 13 HR – career .819 OPS vs LHP. If the Giants want defense, Morse may not be a good fit. He had a pretty messy 2013 campaign, and his wrist injury is a concern. If he’s healthy, he could be a great offensive bounce back candidate.

Marlon Byrd, RF, 36 yo | 2013: OPS+ 138 (102), 24 HR – career .804 OPS vs LHP. Byrd resurrected his career last season, and could definitely be the right-handed power bat the Giants are looking for. But do you trust him to post those numbers again next year? Maybe on a one-year offer…

Omar Infante, 2B, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 113 (93), 10 HR. Two weeks ago, Infante was my under-the-radar dynamite pickup… his bat and positional flexibility would fit perfect in the Giants’ infield, and he’d probably push Scutaro to a reserve role. Problem is, this is a very overpriced market, and a guy like Infante now stands to get close to $10 million a year… so much for that.

Dodgers MIF: Ellis, 36 yo, OPS+ 92 (94) /Punto, 36 yo, OPS+ 87 (76)/Schumaker, 33, OPS+ 90 (94). Dodgers, and plenty of them. All of these guys fit the reserve infielder, scrapper profile. Ellis was my first choice, but the more I think about Schumaker’s positional flexibility, the more I come around to the idea.

Trade:

Brandon Phillips: 2B, 32 | 2013: 92 (96), 18 HR. He’s as “good as gone,” in Cincy, according to one report. I’ve always like Phillips, and those damn Reds always seem to mash in AT&T… he stands to make $50M over the next four years, so the Reds would need to eat some money. Definitely a long shot, but he would certainly make the team better, both offensively and defensively.

Mark Trumbo: 1B/OF, 27 | 2013: 109 (114), 34 HR. Like Phillips, he’s available. You want a power bat from the right side? Here it is, with some contact issues as well. The Angels want starting pitching. I’ll give you a Kickham and a Surkamp, straight up… just kidding… but seriously, they’re on the table.

Justin Ruggiano: CF, 31 | 2013: 90 (102), 18 HR, 15 SB – .834 career OPS vs LHP. He’s a late bloomer who’s kind of bounced around organizations. But the last two seasons in Miami have been very intriguing. The batting average fell off quite a bit in 2013, but he’s got all the makings for a very realistic trade candidate. Power against lefties, speed, and CF defense. Also, the dude had a (short-lived) Marlins’ blog named after him… so there’s that. Credit to DrB of When the Giants Come to Town on the initial find of what could be a very under-valued trade candidate.

I truly believe a Ruggiano deal could happen, and don’t think it would cost Sabean all that much in return. Kickham, Ehire Adrianza, Nick Noonan, Francisco Peguero… Pick any two, and size the newest Giant for a hat.

Wildcards:

James Loney: 1B, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 118 (106), 13 HR. Not finding a match in the right-handed hitter department? What about a 2-year offer for another former Dodger? He’d require Brandon Belt to move to LF against righties, but Loney’s been a pretty safe bet to hit .280 for most of his career. He’s got gap power from the left side, which is exactly how lefty hitters should approach AT&T Park. He shouldn’t cost much, and could really give Sabean and Co. a nice 7th hitter who adds depth to the lineup.

Brian McCann: C, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 115 (117), 20 HR.  “If you asked me right now, McCann is the only player who received a qualifying offer that I could see the Giants punting the draft pick to sign.” ~ Baggs. So, the Giants really are interested in McCann… fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your priorities), he’s got a very large market this winter, and reports have him signing for $100M+. It won’t be with the Giants, who should have a very good chance to use their 1st round pick on another power pitcher. Don’t get me wrong –McCann is a pro who’s going to help some team out greatly. But he’s not a good fit for the Giants right now, and kicking the draft pick for him would be a serious mistake, in my opinion.

There you go… free agents, trades, and a couple wildcards. 10 (ok, 12) potential players to fill two needs. Young or Morse might be the most likely fits for a short-term deal, but keep your eye out for Ruggiano in a trade if the free agent market turns sour after the New Year.

Happy shopping, Sabes… and good luck.

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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

Giants 2014: Center FIeld

This is post #2 in a series looking at the state of the Giants going forward, one position at a time. We started with right field and Mr. Pence, the $90 million man. Now we’re on to the ever valuable center field. Much like right field, the center field spot for the Giants is one with little debate these days, as Angel Pagan is heading into year 2 of 4 in a $45 million contract. Pagan is one of the most valuable players on the team, and like Pence, he plays the game all-out, all the time.

May 25th, he crushes one into triple’s alley in the 10th inning of a tie game against Colorado, proceeds to bust it around 3rd, and keeps-on-a-goin’. He slides in safe for the winning run, a walk-off inside the park homer. Hands down, that’s the sweetest play of the year. Dust flying, Pagan’s helmet down over his face, Flannery running around high-fiving like a lunatic… utter chaos, and one of the most amazing AT&T Park scenes I’ve ever seen that didn’t involve the postseason or a Bonds home run.

That play was the essence of Pagan. It was the last time he’d take the field until August 30th. That walk-off made the Giants 27-22. When he came back, they’d been out of contention for two months. There were so many things that went wrong this year, but you could make a pretty strong argument that Pagan’s absence was the one that sunk the ship. Sure, Torres and Blanco held their own as the CF/leadoff hitter for a little while after Pagan went down. They were exposed eventually, though. Especially Torres… he fell apart, both at the plate and in the field. It’s pretty simple: when Pagan plays, the Giants are a much better team.

So Pagan is the undoubted center fielder and leadoff hitter going forward, as long as he can stay healthy. There’s no doubt about that, as he is being paid handsomely to be that guy. Pagan is an asset on this team, a player who kind of drives the bus in a sense. But, the center field position hasn’t always been a known commodity or strength for the Giants. Like right field, center had been pretty unstable before Pagan entered the picture.

Where it’s been: Remember Aaron Rowand? If there’s any question about Brian Sabean’s preference to lock up players who’ve already contributed at AT&T Park (especially hitters), you can look no further than the Rowand contract to find answers. One year after the Zito deal, Rowand got 5 years and $60 million… I don’t have to remind you that he didn’t make it through 4 full seasons as a Giant. But Rowand was the primary CF for a few years until Andres Torres came out of nowhere in 2010. 2011 was a mix and match farewell tour for Rowand (cut in September), Torres (traded) and Cody Ross (left for free agency). That’s a four-year overview of center field before the Giants acquired Pagan for Torres prior to 2012. Nothing special. But there were trophies and rings earned during that period… just goes to show what can happen when a team gets hot.

Where it’s headed: Pagan is signed through 2016, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be the everyday center fielder for the length of his contract. He’s 32, heading into his 9th year in the bigs, and has only played 150+ games in a season twice in his career. He’s also not the greatest defensive center fielder in the world, and many think he’ll eventually be pushed to left. When he’s healthy, he’s a .280 hitter with extra base power and some serious speed. Health is the big wildcard… he’s starting to seem like one of those guys that can’t avoid a trip to the DL every year. You just hope you don’t end up getting into a Freddy Sanchez situation with Pagan, because he’s owed a lot of money. Next season will go a long way in telling how much value the Giants will get out of the deal.

The Giants will likely fill in behind Pagan with Blanco or Juan Perez next year. In reality, both are stronger defenders than Pagan, but neither have his impact bat. Neither will spend much time in center next year, either. Pagan was given big money to be the center fielder, and you can bet that’s where he’ll be when he’s on the field. Whoever gets the 4th OF job will probably spend most of their time as a late inning replacement in left, as there won’t be many innings to go around in right field either… Mr. Pence has those taken care of.

I’m not sure if the Giants will go with two outfielders on the bench next year. Blanco and Perez are both above average defenders, but I don’t think you need both of them on the 25-man unless there’s an injury. Perez has an elite arm, but Blanco has the better bat. I think Blanco’s bat will win out and Perez will start the year in Fresno. If he can develop a little plate discipline, I can definitely see Perez getting himself some more playing time in the future. He’s just too good of an athlete.

Where does Gary Brown fit into all of this? As recently as a year ago, Brown was the top prospect in the organization and the CF/leadoff hitter of the future. Now that future’s in big trouble. The 2010 1st round pick has seen his average drop from .336 in San Jose, to .279 in Richmond, to .231 this year in Fresno. His stolen bases have also dropped each year, from 53 to 33 to 17. Brown is a tremendous athlete in center with one of the best outfield arms in the organization. The Giants definitely have some superb defensive CF’s in their system, but Brown, like so many others, is seeing his bat fall off as he advances through the minors. Coming in, his contact and speed tools were supposed to be elite to go along with the advanced defense. So how does he strikeout 135 times in Fresno after striking out only 164 times combined over the two previous seasons? What the hell’s going on with him these days?

One thing is for certain with Brown. Whether he can rebound to his future MLB-regular status or not, he’s going to get his opportunities. You don’t give up on top prospects, and while many in the national media will write him off after this year, he still has every chance to get the bat going and move Pagan to left field by 2015. Brown’s a stubborn kid with a great story. I think he’s got a ton of untapped potential left, the coaching staff just needs to help him find it… and he needs to be willing to make changes.

The only other real CF prospects of note in the system are Gustavo Cabrera, Jesus Galindo, and Joneshwy Fargas, all of whom are at least a few years off (if they ever make it). Galindo has plus speed and was a Future’s Game participant this year. Don’t know if he’ll ever hit enough. Fargas is a recent draft pick from Puerto Rico with some athleticism and speed tools. He had a nice summer with the bat in the AZL, and will be a sleeper guy to keep an eye on. Very young. Cabrera is the big ticket, the million-dollar baby, the potential 5-tool stud. But he’s yet to play a professional game in America. He’s a top-10 prospect in the system to me, but no way is he even sniffing San Francisco for another 4 or more years.

I think that’s a pretty fair look at CF in the organization. If I’m missing something, please feel free to let me know. The first two installments of this series were pretty easy, but we’ll get into some of Brian Sabean’s heavy lifting with the next one when we tackle left field. As we all know, the position could go one of about a thousand ways this offseason, and I don’t have any better of a clue than anyone else out there not working within the organization. But I’ll sure take my best stab at it! 

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Giants 2014: Right Field

We’ll kick the “state of the franchise” series off with the most secure position in the Giants organization right now: right field. You may know this area as the Pence Territory, and for good reason, as it’s hard to see anyone unseating Hunter as the everyday RF at AT&T Park for the foreseeable future. Pence is the most recent Giant to earn a major contract, as he was locked up last week for $90 million over the next 5 years. Odds are, he’ll spend most if not all of those 5 years as the Giants’ everyday right fielder.

I call right field the most secure position in the organization for a few reasons, and we’ll address some of them in future posts. But I think the biggest proof I have is the fact that Pence started EVERY game this year. All 162, good times or bad. I think he played all but something like 16 innings this season. In this generation, that kind of durability is incredible. It’s also invaluable. There are certainly a few positions on this team that are unsettled going into the offseason (more than you’d think, actually), but right field is not one of them. Barring an unforeseen injury, you can pencil Pence’s name in the middle of the lineup card and the #9 on the scoresheet for the long haul.

There’s really no debate here, and that is a very good thing for an organization facing a difficult offseason. Pence was priority #1, and the Giants locked him up before he could test the waters of free agency. A little rich, maybe, but it’s a deal the Giants had to get done. You can’t go into the offseason with holes at both corners of your outfield… you just can’t. Pence banked on his torrid September, and he really had all the leverage in negotiations. He would have gotten his money somewhere, and it’s a good thing he got it in-house.

The Pence deal gives the Giants another centerpiece to build around, but right field hasn’t always been a strength for this team. In fact, it had been quite a carousel prior to Pence arriving last summer. AT&T Park is a difficult right field to play; it’s one that definitely takes some getting used to. But other than Nate the Great, the Giants really haven’t had much consistency in front of the Levi’s Splash Landing wall (or whoever the hell sponsors it now) in recent years.

Where it’s been: We’ll start in 2009, the beginning of the 4-year stretch of winning seasons. That was Randy Winn’s last year… seems like yesterday, right? Winn wasn’t cutting it, so the Giants gave their homegrown kid Schierholtz a shot. That was Nate’s first significant playing time, and really the job was his to lose for the better part of 3 years. Unfortunately for him, he managed to lose it just about every year! But Nate played RF in San Francisco like nobody else, with a cannon for an arm. He just couldn’t ever get the bat to play on an everyday basis, and in 2010 we saw guys like Bowker, Huff, Cody Ross and the memorable brief stint from Jose Guillen. Of course, we all know how that season ended. History, folks.

In the first title defense year, RF was Nate’s job again, with Ross platooning from time to time. Then came the Posey injury, and eventually the move that thousands still cannot get over to this day: Wheeler for Beltran. The Giants were one of the top teams in the NL at that point, even without Posey. Lights out pitching from some guy named Vogelsong, but a miserable offense. They had to do something, so they gave Nate’s job to Beltran. I thought it was a solid move at the time. If I remember correctly, Wheeler wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire at that point. Injuries, wildness, inconsistency… but yes, the upside was there. We all knew it, the Giants knew it. The Mets knew it too. In my book, if you can use a minor league talent to acquire a perennial all-star in a contending season, you do it. Every time. Of course, you’d like to re-sign that player in the offseason in a perfect world. Alas, it didn’t work out, Beltran got hurt, took some heat and signed with St. Louis on a bargain of a deal in the offseason, where he’s got one ring and is working on another. He looks good in red, while Wheeler looks good in blue. That’s the one people will never let Sabean live down, but it’s water under the bridge to me. Sorry if that offends you.

Sabean spent that offseason making his outfield over. Savvy trades, new faces in center and left. Nate the Great patrolling right again, and showing spurts. New guy Gregor Blanco got a little time out there too. Nate wasn’t too happy with his role, and this time he didn’t just lose his job at the deadline; he lost his uniform as well. For the second year in a row, the Giants used July 31 to upgrade in right field. This time, they got a player who fans could rally around, a guy who would be a clubhouse leader. I don’t think season-saving motivational speeches were written into Pence’s contract. Even though he wasn’t sporting the .285 lifetime average he’d brought to the Bay Area, he always seemed to be in the middle of the big moments.

The Giants wanted Pence back for title defense, part II, but they weren’t willing to lock him up long term. Nobody had been willing during his consistent, productive career. He took the qualifying offer and returned for another year to the city that embraced him. It certainly wasn’t a guarantee that he’d get another new deal with the Giants this year, however. Remember the trade deadline? There were many teams knocking on the door, but the Giants didn’t budge. Personally, I think they wanted him back all along. If there were doubters out there, he put them to bed with a September for the ages. In 99 AB, he went .293 with 11 HR and 32 RBI… and it earned him $90 million and a permanent place to call home for the first time in his career.

Where it’s going: There are people who certainly will look at Pence’s contract and scoff. Yes, when the team was scuffling in July, he was a .242 hitter with only 1 HR. But he always finds a way to get his production in. Is he incredibly streaky? Yes. Is he the greatest defender? No. Does he lose his plate discipline entirely at times? Yup. But Pence is the type of player whose game can’t be summed up by one statistic. He does a little bit of everything. He hits for average, he owns some of the most raw power in all of baseball, he makes athletic plays in the outfield, and he steals bases at a very high percentage. For the first time in his career, he’s a 20-20 player. He hit .293 with runners in scoring position this year. He hit .309 against lefties. He hit 18 of his 27 HR versus divisional opponents. At 30 years old, his line of .283/.339/.822 is nearly identical to his career mark. Consistency is so important in baseball. Yes, he has his flaws. He’s not an elite hitter, and never will be. But he is a 5-tool player, and I’ll take the upside any day. You know what you’re going to get when you put him on the field… hard work 24/7.

So, Pence is a Giant until he’s 35, with a full no-trade clause. In a different time, maybe his talents are worth $40 million instead of 90. But that’s not how baseball operates anymore. The Giants needed Pence. Had he left, I just don’t see a realistic way where they could have made up for his production. We’ll talk more about some of the outfield options on the market this year when we get to LF in the series. Having Pence locked up now also means one less position the Giants need to plan for in the immediate future. Big Mac Williamson is the top corner outfielder in the system, and could be in the bigs by 2015 if he can pass the big Eastern League test next year. If he does, he’ll almost definitely be in left field, with the other OF spots locked up. That bodes well for the Giants.

So, the Giants enter 2014 and beyond with an every day RF, and it’s likely that you will see him out there every single day. You can also likely pencil him in for 20 HR and 80-90 RBI while you’re at it. Five more years of Hunter Pence, and finally some stability in right for the Giants. It’s about time.

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Elimination

The Giants managed to avoid being mathematically eliminated from contention with a pair of walk-off wins on Sunday and Monday. They couldn’t avoid it last night, however, blowing a 6-0 lead over the Rockies. Trailing 8-6 in the 8th, Hunter Pence tied the game with a 2-run single, but Sergio Romo gave up a go-ahead home run to Michael Cuddyer in the 9th, and the Giants were cooked. To lose like that at home is both heartbreaking and embarrassing, regardless of the standings. So, the team that made it look easy down the stretch last season is now officially eliminated, with 3 weeks still to play… although realistically they were eliminated two months ago.

A tough night, in an even tougher season. But last night really highlighted a lot of the difficult decisions the Giants’ will be faced with in the offseason. Let’s look at a couple of them.

At the top of the list, Pence stayed red-hot with 4 hits and 6 RBI. That’s right, the Rev knocked in each of the Giants’ 6 runs last night. He did it with a 3-run HR, an RBI double, and the 2-run single in the 8th. The homer was his 20th of the year, and he’s the first 20-20 Giant (20 HR, 20 SB) since Barry Bonds 15 years ago, and only the 7th San Francisco Giant to accomplish the feat. That’s impressive stuff. That’s impact player stuff, and you can be darn sure the rest of the league is watching. The Giants want the guy back (as they should). Pence wants to be in San Francisco. He’s prime real estate in a thin outfield market, and someone is going to give him the big bucks. If the Giants don’t make a deal before he hits the open water this offseason, you can kiss his hustling behind goodbye. That’s the way I see it, at least.

So, how important is it to bring Pence back? Well, let’s take a look at the picture without him. If Pence leaves, what you’re left with is oft-injured Angel Pagan and a slew of guys who probably aren’t MLB starting material – Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Francisco Peguero. That absolutely will not cut it. Maybe they (the front office) makes a push for Jacoby Ellsbury or Chin-Soo Choo, the other top outfield names on the market. But if they aren’t willing to pay for Pence, why would they be willing to throw down big dollars for another fragile player in Ellsbury or a guy about the same age as Pence (Choo)? All three of these players are going to get big bucks, and the Giants have not been big into the bidding war for free agents lately. Ideally, I’d like to see them lock up Pence AND go after Choo as well. Will they? I’m really not sure.

Pence is 30 years-old, and he’s a career .286/.339/.475 hitter. After his down year in 2012, he’s back to .289/.340/.474 in 2013 – literally right on par with his career line. He’s also swiped 20 bases this season for the first time. He’s one of the best athletes in baseball, and one of the only guys who you can pencil in every single night. Put it this way; if the Giants give Pence 5 years, I’d be willing to bet he makes good on those 5 years, even playing into his mid-30’s. You just can’t say that about a lot of players these days. The dude wants a long term home. Lock him up, Sabean!

The next order of business is Ryan Vogelsong. Vogey pitched last night, and had a 5-0 lead going into the 5th inning. Then, it all fell apart, as it has in so many of his starts this year. He finished the 5th, but not before allowing 5 ER. He also didn’t record a single strikeout last night. A few weeks ago, it seemed pretty likely that the Giants would pick up Vogelsong’s option for next season (which I believe is in the neighborhood of $6-7 million), but now I’m not so sure. The Giants need starting pitching, it’s true. But are they really willing to spend that money on a 35 year-old journeyman with a 5.82 ERA? Don’t get me wrong, Vogey has been a huge part of this team for the past couple years, and he’s as competitive as they come. But right now, Yusmeiro Petit looks like a better option than he does.

Lots more decisions to be made for the eliminated Gigantes, and we’ll get to them in due time. But for now, I say give the Rev a home, and let Vogey walk if he can’t pick up the pieces in his final couple starts. If he wants to come back on a cheap, minor league deal, great. If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.