Losing Stinks

Of course it does!

While I know probably 98% of my readers here don’t need this pep talk, I think sometimes we all need a little reminder that a baseball season is a marathon. Let’s be honest; dropping 7 of 8 is frustrating. Blowing late inning leads at home, playing sloppy defense and getting thumped on the road, seeing your offense go quiet… all of these things make you want to turn off the TV and throw down the remote. We’re Giants fans – we have very high expectations. And sometimes, over the course of a marathon, you just need to get pissed off every once in a while.

So get mad, folks. Get irritated. I know the past week has irritated me. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when you cool off, remember to take a step back and glance at the standings. The Giants played some of the best baseball in the history of the franchise up until this skid. They were bound to come back to Earth! One other thing I like to remind myself of a lot, especially in a season that began as well as this one has for the Giants, is that you never want to play your best ball in June. The goal this time of year is to keep yourself in the  picture. You do that, get a reinforcement or two at the trade deadline, (hopefully) call up a couple minor league guys who can help down the stretch, and you take your A-game into September. That is generally a formula for getting to October. To this point, I’d say the Giants have done very, very well. 

What I’m trying to say, in a nutshell, is no, I’m not concerned about the standings right now. When this team is playing with confidence, it’s already shown it can be one of the best, if not the best, team in baseball. So I’m not overly concerned with this losing skid. I am however, concerned about a couple of individual players going forward. If the Giants are going to contend down the stretch and into October, they’re going to need Matt Cain to step up. I don’t know about you, but I think maybe I’ve taken Cainer for granted over the past 8 or so years. Maybe I never realized just how steady he was… because the way he’s been pitching lately sure alarms me. Adding Hudson to the fold has certainly shifted some of the focus, but the reality of the situation is that isn’t the Matt Cain we have grown accustomed to out there these days. I really don’t know what it is… mechanical, mental, physical? Cain looked rough last night, and that is a trend that really needs to even out during the second half.

The other guy that concerns me is Angel Pagan. You had to know that one was coming. A lot of players have gotten credit for getting the 2014 team to where it is now, but Pagan is a name you sometimes don’t hear mentioned with the Posey’s, Pence’s and Morse’s of the world. He goes about his business, works hard, and has been a major catalyst for one of the better offenses in baseball. But he’s injury-prone, and we all know that. No, he probably couldn’t sustain the pace he was on in April and May all year, but I have to believe the Giants struggles in June go hand-in-hand with Pagan’s own struggles, which seem like they’ve been aided in large part to a back issue. The Giants do have better outfield depth this year than they did last season, so I do think they would be all right if Pagan had to sit out a week or two. Any longer, and we’ve already seen just how different this team is when Angel isn’t setting the table. Get healthy, man.

Yes, there are some concerns to keep an eye on going forward. The good thing is, though, that these are June concerns, for a 1st place team. A team that features two of the best pitchers in the NL atop its rotation, a deep and experienced lineup, and a bullpen that had been nails all year until its recent slump. Not to mention, the Giants are still in 1st despite losing Brandon Belt over a month ago. This team is in a very good spot. And personally, I’d prefer them to get their losing stretch out of the way now.

Losing stinks folks, there’s no doubt about it. But this skid won’t last forever, and more good baseball is on the horizon. A win against Chris Sale tonight would sure go a long way in getting this team back on the right track.  

Advertisements

Giants Win on TV

It was SoCal TV, but we’ll take it!

3/5 Box Score:

We got our first look at the 2014 Giants today (sans Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Marco Scutaro), who picked up a 3-2 Cactus League win over the Angels (sans Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton) in Scottsdale.

We’re already seven games into the spring slate, so most of us have seen a good chunk of short highlight clips already. But it’s still wild to think this was the first live-broadcast Giants game since last September. Seems like ages ago! I was able to catch today’s action from the second inning on. Let’s discuss it, shall we?

First, the good stuff…

Matt Cain: Cainer tossed his first three innings of the year, and kept up the trend of consistent starting pitching early on. I didn’t see all of his work, but I can tell you he threw a couple of curves in the third inning that were just filthy. He looked sharp, allowing only one baserunner.

Middle Order Bats: No Posey or Belt today, but Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and Mike Morse combined for four hits and three RBI out of the 3-4-5 spots. Pablo really does look great, which may seem like it’s not news since it’s been beaten mercilessly into the ground already. Honestly, it is news. Big news for the Giants. The Panda is in solid playing shape, and he swung the stick impressively against Jered Weaver this afternoon.

Morse laid a pretty mighty cut in the 5th, roping a double down the left field line and scoring Pence from first. Morse is another one who looks very good early.

Heath Hembree: Hembree had an atrocious inning in his first outing of the spring, but his second came with much less drama. Yorvit Torrealba turned one around to lead off the 9th, but Roger Kieschnick made a diving catch in the left-center field gap. After that, Hembree cruised for the final two outs, ending the game with a swinging strike 3 on an elevated fastball.

And to cap it all off, it was another two-hit day from Mark Minicozzi, aka Mr. Inspirational.

Now, the really good stuff…

Why is Jose De Paula on the 40-man roster? Because he’s nasty, that’s why. The offseason signee pitched two innings today, and was very surprising all the way around. His size, surprising. His frame, surprising. His left-handed stuff? Whoa Nellie.

Now, there’s obviously a reason this guy didn’t make it to camp with San Diego this year. He’s got age issues, he’s never pitched in AAA, and he’s pretty unknown. But he flashed some sweet control today, of both a fastball that he ran in on the hands of righties, and a sweeping back-foot breaking ball. Even Hank Schulman said it this afternoon: Remember this guy’s name. If he can continue to harness his stuff like he did today, and keeps pumping mid-90’s heat, he’s a serious threat for a roster spot come April.

Ok, it wasn’t all roses today. Here’s the bad…

Young bats: Between Roger Kieschnick, Nick Noonan and Gary Brown, I’m just not that impressed. Noonan had a hit today, and Kieschnick made that diving grab, but the offense is just looking a little 4A at the moment. Brown does have a few hits this spring, but he struck out in a big situation late in the game, and his swing just doesn’t seem like anything to write home about. I hope I’m wrong.

Younger bats: Included in the late-game substitutions were Andrew Susac, Mac Williamson and Joe Panik. While they only had one AB apiece, none of those AB’s were all that exciting. Mac had runners on the corners and nobody out, but grounded out weakly to the right side. Susac had two men in scoring position, but grounded out to short. Panik led off the 8th, but was also retired weakly.

All three of the kids looked like they were pitched backwards, and that’s something they’ll have to make some adjustments against when they get to AAA/AA respectively. Nobody’s expecting huge things from these guys in camp this year, but it would be cool to see one of them open some eyes before it’s all over.

Finally, the REALLY bad…

I didn’t get to see Ehire Adrianza (he didn’t play)! Bummer!

Overall, it was great to see the squad back in action. Now, I think I can say it officially feels like baseball season.

AFL Wrap Up

Kyle Crick was impressive in another pitchers’ dual in Scottsdale’s final AFL game on Thursday. The right-handed gunner squared off against Aaron Sanchez, who’s the #1 prospect in Toronto’s system… Sanchez had an impressive fall campaign, and he earned the victory with five solid innings for Salt River. Crick was no slouch himself, allowing two walks over three hitless frames. He sent five Rafters’ hitters back to the dugout by way of the strikeout. By all accounts, he was pumping 95+ for the entire outing again, and dialed it up to 98 to get out of a jam in the 3rd inning. He also had an offering that clocked in at 90-91 on the gun… a slider… a cutter? Don’t know, but the kid had a very strong finish to his fall league campaign, and seems to be adding new tools to his belt almost every time out these days.

I figured this would be a good time to look at the final numbers from each of the Giants’ farmhands in the AFL, and maybe take a peak at a few of the other winter league Gigantes if we have time.

2013 Scottsdale Scorpions (10-21)

Kyle Crick: 7 G, 5 GS, 2.87 ERA, 15.2 IP, 9 H, 11 BB, 24 K, 1.28 WHIP

Make no mistake, 15.2 innings does not a dominant pitcher make, but I think the minor league baseball world got a glimpse of Crick’s immense talent this fall. It wasn’t all roses early on, as he was moved to the Scottsdale bullpen after yielding 8 ER on 8 H and 8 BB in his first three starts. Whether the move was made to get Crick ready for the Fall Stars game or send him a message, it wasn’t completely clear… what was clear, however, was the impact that move had on the top prospect in the organization. In his final four appearances, Cricky allowed only one hit, 3 BB, and most importantly, no runs in 9 innings of work. He struck out 12 in that span, and was flat out dominant in his final two starts; he regularly popped the mitt at 95-98 mph. For the short season, he had a .161 batting average against, proving yet again that his stuff is unhittable when it’s on.

Let’s be clear here: Crick is very much a work in progress, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m anointing him the greatest thing since sliced bread. Yes, the similarities to Matt Cain are uncanny, but Crick has a long way to go to live up to those expectations. Do I think he has the goods to get there? Hell yes. But he’s still just a (newly) 21 year-old kid who doesn’t offer much in the secondary pitch department, and often has no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. All we can hope for at this point is a healthy 2014 that allows him the opportunity to increase his workload and experience in Richmond. If that happens, I think he may very well be on the fast track to the show… and I’ll be rooting him on all the way.

Just for fun, I totaled his 2013 numbers, including the Cal League postseason and the AFL… read it and weep: 23 G, 21 GS, 95 IP, 1.80 ERA, 64 H, 2 HR, 53 BB, 132 K.

Ditch the walks, and we’ve got a monster on our hands folks. He’s 21 years old.

Adalberto Mejia: 7 G, 3 GS, 8.47 ERA, 17 IP, 18 H, 8 BB, 14 K, 1.53 WHIP.

Like his buddy Crick, Mejia got off to a rocky start in the AFL. Unlike Crick, Mejia wasn’t ever really able to settle in. His best outing was a relief effort, in which he entered in the second to get Crick out of a bases-loaded jam. All told, the young lefty allowed only one baserunner (and no runs) over 3.1 innings that game, striking out 5 in the process. But that was the highlight for a campaign that saw him allow 18 H and 16 ER in only 17 IP.

Mejia is like most of the other pitchers not named Crick in the Giants’ organization. He has to rely more on control than stuff, and I think the AFL was a great learning experience for him. He flashed a pretty dirty slider at times in San Jose this year, and he’ll need to gain a better feel for it going forward if he wants to make it at the upper levels.

To me, this performance doesn’t set Mejia back, but may show him and the organization what needs to improve. He’s another very young pitcher with a ton of upside, and should easily make every top 10 Giants prospect list out there next spring.

Cody Hall: 9 G, 3.00 ERA, 9 IP, 13 H, 4 BB, 7 K, 1.89 WHIP, 3 HD

Hall definitely wasn’t the most impressive reliever for Scottsdale, and he wasn’t used a whole lot either. But that probably has more to do with his 2013 workload than anything else. Unlike some of the other guys, Hall wasn’t assigned to the AFL to make up for lost time. Instead, he (like teammate Derek Law) was probably given the challenge by the front office to see how he’d handle top competition. I think the Giants see big league dreams in Hall’s near future, and I wouldn’t say he did anything to negate his chances of making it.

I saw him toss an inning in one of the televised games last week, and the dude looks cut from the same cloth and Heath Hembree, with a fastball nearly as impressive. I think he’s in the same boat as a lot of other MiLB power relievers (Hembree included), in that he really just needs to find a consistent secondary pitch to make it. He’s not the youngest guy by any means, but his 2014 numbers don’t lie. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty excited to see some of these big-bodied relievers break through. Hall should be part of that bunch.

Derek Law: 11 G, 0.00 ERA, 12.1 IP, 8 H, 6 BB, 16 K, 1.14 WHIP

If you haven’t heard of Derek Law, it’s time to do some homework. As much as Crick helped raise his stock this fall, Law might have taken the cake as Giants pitchers go. This is a kid who came out of almost complete anonymity to post a ridiculous 102 K in 66.1 IP during the regular season… with 12 BB and a 2.31 ERA, I might add. He also didn’t allow a run in the fall league, and may have earned himself a big boy spring training invite in the process. Law has nearly everything you look for in a polished late-inning reliever… presence, velocity, secondaries, and a heavy ball. His curve is filthy, and his fastball has good sink. It was his funky delivery that turned scouts off at some point in his career, but his professional numbers have grabbed everyone’s attention. If you were reading closely in Baggs’ weekly chat last week, you might have noticed the response he gave to a question about Heath Hembree and potential Giants relievers… there’s a dude out there with as much talent, if not more than Mr. Hembree… yup, the one and only Derek Law. Stock is way up for this kid!

Andrew Susac: 17 G, 50 AB, .360/.507/.480, 2 HR, 16 BB, 11 K, 3 E

Susac has been an injury case for most of his collegiate and professional career, and he missed significant time this season in Richmond. To this point, it seems to me there’s a lot of mixed opinion about the guy on the scouting front. Future starter? Bench player? Will he stick at catcher? Honestly, I think Susac’s performance in the fall may have quieted some of that talk… it impressed me, at least. He led the team in batting average, showed pretty adequate skills behind the dish in the games I saw him catch on TV, and all in all displayed a solid plate approach – one that I think will carry him all the way to the bigs. He even looks a little like Buster Posey when he’s at the plate. Now, is he a potential .300, 25-HR hitter? Doubtful, but a .260 guy with solid on-base skills and 15-20 HR power might not be out of the question. If he can stay healthy, I think he’ll have every chance to earn a job in the majors one day. Will it be with the Giants? That might be the real question to ask.

Angel Villalona: 19 G, 65 AB, .200/.243/.246, 0 HR, 3 BB, 19 K, 2 E

Ok, I promise I’m not just a Giants prospect homer, and I’ll prove it to you here. Villalona did receive some positive reviews on his 1B defense this fall (something that’s always been a big question for him), but maybe that’s because there wasn’t much to say about his offense. He knocked in 7 runs and hit a few doubles, but those were really his only highlights at the plate. I’ll be honest; if the three innings I saw Crick pitch were all I needed to tell me he could be a MLB star, then the handful of AB’s I saw Villalona take this fall were all I needed to know that he may not ever make it. Yes, the power is there, and he proved it in San Jose and Richmond last year. But the plate discipline just isn’t at this point, and he looked absolutely overmatched a few times. I don’t think you can just talk yourself out of being a relentless hacker without sacrificing some of the power that makes you special in the first place. His stock is down, in my opinion, but he’ll have a chance to prove me wrong in the upper minors next year.

Jarret Parker: 17 G, 60 AB, .300/.366/.333, 0 HR, 8 BB, 19 K, 1 SB, 0 E

Parker was a nice surprise this season, and I’ll say the same about his AFL performance. He doesn’t really doesn’t do anything amazingly (although his defense in center was pretty impressive), but he’ll give you a little bit of everything. I’m starting to see him as a type of poor-man’s Hunter Pence. Now he certainly won’t ever be hitting .290 at the major league level, but Parker is a guy who shows you why he was such a high draft pick a few years back… he’s just an all-around ball player, and one who might just stumble his way into a MLB stadium some day. We should get a chance to see how he stacks up with the guy who was drafted ahead of him, Gary Brown, in Fresno next year.

All in all, I’d say 2013 saw a pretty nice showing from Giants prospects in the AFL. I mean, when was the last time you saw a group of Giants pitchers like the four representing the team this season? Add the performances of Crick and Law to what Susac did at the plate, and I’ll call it a successful fall for the orange and black Scorpions, and one that gives us a lot to look forward to for the 2014 regular season.

Image

Cain, Bumgarner… Crick!

I had the pleasure of watching Kyle Crick on the tube for the first time last night. Sure, I tuned into a couple of his starts with San Jose on the computer this season, but the video quality of those minor league games really isn’t very good. As far as TV goes, I missed his outing this summer in the Future’s Game, and wasn’t able to catch him in the Fall Stars game last week either. So, when I found out he was starting on MLB Network last night, I knew I wasn’t missing it.

Crick took the mound at the home of the Giants’ Spring Training complex last night, with fellow Gigantes prospect Andrew Susac calling pitches for him behind the dish. It was Cricky’s fourth AFL start, but since before the Fall Stars Game (he’d made three relief appearances in that time), and his first three hadn’t gone so well. So I had tempered expectations going in, hoping that the young hurler could just control the strike zone and get some outs… He did, folks.

For those who missed it last night, allow me to recap Crick’s outing: Jared Mitchell (CHW #10 prospect); Eddie Rosario (Min #5); Yorman Rodriguez (Cin #15); Brandon Jacobs (CHW #7); Max Kepler (Min #8)… Grab. Some. Pine.

If there’s anything we know about professional sports and baseball in general, one performance can’t possibly define a player’s potential, good, bad, or otherwise… but it sure can help. Had Crick walked the bases loaded last night and been pulled in the second inning, we’d have said that he needs to learn to command his pitches, understanding that he still had some maturing to do as a pitcher. But we already knew those things about Crick, and one outing wasn’t going to diminish his prospect value. Something entirely different happened last night though, something that you should be very excited about. Crick took the hill opposite the top pitching prospect in Minnesota’s stacked organization – the towering Alex Meyer – and the two young studs put on a show.

Crick’s line for the night: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K… and those numbers don’t even begin to tell the whole story for the Giants’ number one prospect. The 6-foot-4, Texas-grown righty dominated a pretty stacked Glendale lineup, with basically just a fastball. From the very first batter, Crick popped Susac’s mitt to the tune of 94,95,96 and even a 98 mph heater. He threw it down the middle, he threw it on the corners, he elevated it above the hands… and some of the top prospects in baseball couldn’t touch it. He struck out the side in the first, and then two more in the second. For a kid known for his inability to control the strike zone, Crick had only one 3-ball count on the night – the final hitter in the 3rd inning, to which he induced a chopper to 2B to finish his outing. One of the few changeups he threw all night was knocked back up the middle by Colin Moran in the first… that was the only blemish in an otherwise perfect performance for the Giants’ 2011 supplemental first round pick. This was literally a group of future MLB hitters getting blown away by nothing but high ched from a future MLB pitcher. Awesome stuff in a coming out party for Crick.

This post is certainly about Crick, but Meyer was just as dominant on the other side, taking a no-hitter into the 6th inning, striking out Susac twice in the process. Quite an impressive night from a couple of promising pitchers.

Crick was ranked #42 on MLB.com’s midseason top 100 prospects list this summer, but I’d have to think last night’s performance will have Johnathan Mayo and his posse considering a move into the top 25 for Crick next spring… that’s how good last night’s outing was. Yes, the same issues about control and developing offspeed pitches remain, but there’s no doubt to me that Crick’s got a promising MLB career ahead of him. This kid is the reason the Giants felt comfortable trading Zack Wheeler a couple years ago, and I think he’ll help all the fans who are still (inexcusably) bitter forget about that trade in a couple years. Like most 20 year-old power pitchers, he just needs time. If he stays healthy, I have to believe he’ll be a part of the 2015 rotation, and I’d say there’s even a slight chance we see him in a Giants’ uniform late next season… they did it with Madison Bumgarner in 2009.

One final thought here. The Crick comparisons to Matt Cain are well documented, and certainly have some backing. The similarities between the two really are uncanny. Right-handed, Southern country boys, similar body builds, easy deliveries, power pitcher profiles, prep first round picks… Crick is a carbon copy of Cain, and will hopefully find similar success at the big league level. But watch the video of Crick’s interview from last night. Not only does he resemble Cain, but he’s got the same dry, gruff personality of another pretty good Southern boy, Bumgarner. His response to the compliments about his start killed me. “Yeah, thank you.” And the slightest of smirks to go along with it. Seriously, if that interview doesn’t make you chuckle a little bit, I don’t know what will. The Giants know their pitching, and will have a great opportunity to draft another electric arm next summer… I have a sneaky hunch they will.

So… Cain, Bumgarner, and now Kyle Crick. It won’t be much longer, folks. It won’t be much longer.

Winter Shopping: Pitching Part I

Been on the road this week with an iPad. Lots of reading, but writing any posts was pretty much out of the question. Back home now, and so much to catch up on! I was able to draft a tentative Opening Day 2014 projection, but after much reading and speculating, I feel there are changes that need to be made. Predicting the Giants’ offseason moves is never easy, as they really do play things very close to the chest. I’d always followed the offseason pretty passively until last season, but this blog has given me an outlet to follow along much more intently this winter. So many things are up in the air right now, and I’ll admit I’m not sure how aggressive the front office will get in rebuilding this team for next year. We do know what the needs are though, and it never hurts to take a closer look at the options.

The hot stove is upon us, and Uncle Brian’s going shopping kids. Wonder what he’ll find…

For starters, he’ll need to find two more starting pitchers to join his 3 first round picks, who’ve all been rewarded handsomely for their efforts. Matt Cain, $20 million next season; Tim Lincecum, $17 million; and Madison Bumgarner, 2013 ace, maybe getting the short end of the stick at $3.75 million next year after his arbitration years were bought out. Over $40 million going to 3/5 of the 2014 rotation, and the dude with a sub-4.00 ERA gets 3.75! This group is getting expensive, but they’ve got the rings to back it up. So, who do you get to join them?

There really are a ton of starting pitchers on the market, but the high-end talent is very thin, as I’m sure you already know. I’ve taken 21 of the “premier” names out there (20 free agents + David Price), and sorted them into some groups.

Qualifying Offer Gang: Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana.

The only three to get the qualifying offer. The Giants goofed up and won a few too many games down the stretch, missing the protected pick. They aren’t giving up their first round pick, plain and simple. I don’t know that any of these guys would have been a great fit anyway. Kuroda’s steady but nearly 40. Ubaldo could be interesting, but not for the money he’ll get. I told a buddy Santana was looking for $100 million; his response was “Where? Under his couch cushions?” Not happening!

Damaged Goods: Doc Halladay, Johan Santana, Josh Johnson.

The former elite, currently busted up group. Some team might get a steal with Johnson on a one-year deal. Maybe Halladay too. It also could be money down the drain. Sabean needs to fill two spots, and he needs some certainty. I don’t see him calling this group.

No Thanks: Ricky Nolasco, AJ Burnett

Nolasco was intriguing for the brief period when the Giants had a winning record last spring. The guy has his first above average season (101 ERA+) since 2008 and they project an Edwin Jackson 4-$52 million deal? How’s that contract working out for the Cubs again? Burnett, like Kuroda, is considering retirement. No thanks.

A-List: Masahiro Tanaka, David Price, Matt Garza

Here’s the cream of the crop. You’ve got the international phenom in Tanaka, the prized trade piece in Price, and arguably the top free agent starter in MLB with Garza. The Giants have been connected in some form to Tanaka and Price, but a trade with the Rays is highly, highly unlikely to me. The high-ceiling prospects just aren’t there to make it happen right now. Kyle Crick would be a given, but I think Tampa would ask for Bumgarner or Belt as well. I just don’t see it happening. Peter Gammons can see a Price trade happening for the Dodgers, though… that’s scary.

That leaves Tanaka and Garza. Had you asked me about the Giants’ going for one or both of these two even a week ago, I’d probably have told you it wasn’t going to happen. But something seems to have changed this week. If you read the Baggs chat transcript on CSNBayArea.com yesterday, you might have read this: “The Giants are being very quiet and kind of trying to deflect interest. Which is precisely what makes me think they’ll make a push. That and they sent almost everyone who owns a panama hat (stereotype!) to see him pitch in Japan.” Those are Baggs’ words, followed by an article this morning. John Shea also wrote a Tanaka/Giants piece too. What’s going on here?

After giving it a lot of thought, I think Sabean will indeed make a run at Tanaka, and I for one cannot fault him for it. 25 years old…mid-90’s heat… dirty splitter… reports of intelligence and poise not shown by Yu Darvish… that’s hard to beat, regardless of the price. The kicker, though… like Price, Tanaka’s already been connected to the Dodgers. Again, that’s not good. Sabean has said he needs to build a rotation to compete with the big dogs. Tanaka could go a very long way in making that happen. It’ll be damn expensive outbidding the likes of the Dodgers and Yankees (estimates have been as high as $150 million for the posting fee and contract), and certainly a risk, but consider the alternative… Kershaw, Greinke, Tanaka, Ryu… Price? Can you handle that? I know I can’t…

The only real concern I have with Tanaka is his stamina going forward. He’s 25, and he’s already pitched 1,315 professional innings. He threw 160 pitches in his final postseason start in Japan… I’ll bet it wasn’t the first time.  There certainly aren’t any guarantees in baseball, but I think Sabean has to make a competitive bid. That’s all we can really ask for.

If the Giants come up short on Tanaka (which I ultimately think they will), I think Sabes needs to look to Garza next. He’s not an ace, and there are some injury concerns, but he’s really the top arm that doesn’t require draft pick compensation. He’s 29, and it’ll take a 4-5 year deal in excess of $15 million per, but Garza’s another guy who would add significant depth to the rotation. Will the Giants get involved with him? If they miss on Tanaka, I almost think they have to…

That’s it for tonight. In part two, we’ll take a look at some of the more realistic starting pitching options (or what I call the B and C-Lister’s) that Uncle Sabes may find at the market this winter.

Image

Two More Years for Timmy

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants Drop Final Two in Tampa

The Giants lost by a run for the second day in a row in Tampa Bay this afternoon. The Rays took two of three from the Orange and Black, who probably feel like they should’ve had a road sweep against one of the top teams in baseball. If this were any year but 2013, the Giants probably would have swept the Rays. Guillermo Moscoso made his first start since coming over in a trade with the Cubs, and was decent for four innings. His control wasn’t great, he didn’t have amazing stuff, and he served up a monster home run to Wil Myers. But he gave the Giants a chance to win. Ultimately, he didn’t make it out of the 5th, but I’d say he was effective enough. This might have been his only start anyway, as Ryan Vogelsong cruised through another rehab outing in AA Richmond. I haven’t heard anything official yet, but I’d guess we’ll see Vogey back in SF some time next week.

Moscoso wasn’t the reason the Giants lost today. Nor has starting pitching been the reason the Giants have lost six of their last nine. Take a look at what the starting hurlers have done during that span, starting with the Cubs’ series: 

7/26 vs Chc: Cain 7 ip, 1 er, 7 k (ND)

7/27 vs Chc: Bumgarner 8 ip, 0 er, 7 k (ND)

7/28 vs Chc: Lincecum 7 ip, 2 er, 10 k (L)

7/30 at Phi: Zito 3.1 ip, 4 er, 2 k (L)

7/31 at Phi: Gaudin 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (W)

8/1 at Phi: Cain 8 ip, 1 er, 7 k (W)

8/2 at TB: Bumgarner 7 ip, 1 er, 11 k (W)

8/3 at TB: Lincecum 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (ND)

8/4 at TB: Moscoso 4.2 ip, 3 er, 3 k (ND)

Total: 9 gs, 59 ip, 14 er (2.13 era) 57 k (3-2)

That’s pretty impressive stuff. Take Zito and Moscoso’s starts out, and you get seven starts that rival even the greatest stretches from 2010 to 2012. The difference; the Giants are 3-6 during is stretch. So, no, starting pitching is not the problem right now. Actually, if Vogelsong can post even average numbers the rest of the way in the #5 spot, the Giants will have a very strong rotation. Essentially, guys like Vogey, Gaudin and Timmy are auditioning for spots on the team next season, so I’d expect them all to be competitive this month and next.

Honestly, the dominance of the Giants rotation right now makes those lousy two months of play sting even worse. Had the team been able to win a few more games against the Marlins, the Mets, the Cubs, or anyone else for that matter, we may be looking at a very exciting last couple months of the year. Instead, it’s 12 games below .500 and an offense that inspires little confidence these days. In a 162-game season, all you have to do is avoid the awful month, because you never know what might happen down the stretch. The Giants couldn’t do that this season.

I read a tweet from Baggs this afternoon that Giants’ leadoff hitters own a .150 average since the All-Star break. Can we please see someone besides Blanco or Torres out there? What’s Francisco Peguero doing these days? How about Juan Perez? If you don’t like those options, maybe you move Scutaro up. Wanna get crazy? How about Javier Herrera in AA? Either way, this offense needs someone to be a rally-starter at the top, and neither Blanco nor Torres is doing that anymore. I think we all understand why the Giants gave Angel Pagan $40 million this offseason. You have to have a good leadoff hitter, and Pagan is ours.

The Giants head back home for four with Milwaukee, which may be a great opportunity to get some momentum going into a tough stretch of games. With the offense still sputtering (aside from an upstart Brandon Crawford), here’s what I would like to see: address the leadoff position – try someone different! Also, no more platoons please. Play the hot hitter. Belt nearly hits for the cycle against Chris Archer, then sits the next day against David Price. Francoeur gets three knocks off of Cy Price, then he sits today. I don’t care if lefties aren’t supposed to hit lefties and righties aren’t supposed to hit righties. If a guy is swinging the bat well, let him hit against whoever is pitching.

Ok, that’s enough ranting for one day. The Giants are at least playing better ball lately, and hopefully they can defend AT&T with a little more authority this time around.

Image