Tuesday Morning Catch-All

**Edit: Kevin Frandsen is officially a free agent: Just how desperate ARE the Giants for a middle infielder?

Only two more Cactus League games left… wow, where is the time going?! I really don’t feel like this spring has drug on like some in the past, but maybe that’s because we haven’t actually seen the full starting lineup play together yet. The Giants seem like they’ve been on a mission from day one of camp, as they’ve trimmed their roster frequently and aggressively. We’re down to what, 29 guys now? At the moment, odd men out appear to be Law, Gutierrez, Colvin and Scutaro… with Scutaro obviously starting the season on the DL, and Brandon Hicks getting the final roster spot.

Andrew Susac gets the start behind the dish in today’s game, which happens to be Bumgarner’s final start of the spring. As Baggs tweeted out earlier, this is a great opportunity for Susac, but I also wonder if the organization isn’t trying to show the kid off a bit. Yes, Posey is playing 1B today, and Hector Sanchez is getting a day off, but the timing is a little odd in my opinion. I’m probably just reading into it more than I should. Either way, today should be a great chance for Susac to show off his spring progression.

Another note from the game today: Mike Morse is playing LF and batting #2. That’s pretty significant to me, as Morse really hasn’t spent much time in the field this spring. He swung the bat very well against the Angels yesterday, but you really have to wonder if he’s healthy enough to play every day at this point. Between Morse, Scutaro and Pagan, the Giants seem like they’ve been babying a few of these guys so far. After last year, we definitely don’t need anyone going down before the season even starts, but you have to wonder if the rust will carry over into April. In Scutaro’s case, what was even accomplished in 2 AB this spring?

Getting back to Morse… Baggs had a story up last night about options for the #2 spot in the order while Scooter is out. Belt, Morse and Crawford were a few of the names thrown around. I think he mentioned Arias as well. Morse got the nod yesterday, and they’ve penciled him in there again for this afternoon. Now I certainly don’t know everything in this world, and I would defer to Bruce Bochy’s knowledge of his players 100% of the time… but I really don’t see Morse as a good fit for #2 in a lineup. Yes, he can be a high average guy when he’s healthy, but he’s never had a great OBP. I watched quite a few Seattle games last year, and the dude is definitely a hacker. To me, Belt seems like a much better fit for the #2 spot than any of the others in consideration.

What else is on tap today? How about the “Sandoval Talks,” as I like to call them. Look, this is a very touchy subject for people. It’s a fanbase divider, without a doubt. Pablo is a fan favorite, and a genuinely likeable guy. But come on, is the organization really supposed to just give him any amount of money he wants? The comments from his agent about training 24/7 and never having weight problems again are laughable, but I guess that’s what an agent is supposed to say.

I want to make this clear: I am a big fan of the Panda, and I would be sad to see him go. But the organization has to stop shelling out major contracts at some point, especially for a player who’s been very inconsistent for the past four years. Believe me, I know there are 100 valid arguments to make in both parties’ favor at this point, but I’m not sold that Pablo Sandoval is a $100M player yet. I do have a caveat though: if the organization really has no desire to get creative in replacing Pablo at 3B (i.e. shifting Buster/Crawford/Susac), then I guess you might as well pay the man… because you’re going to have one heck of a time finding steady production from the free agent market. But, if you’re willing to explore every possible option, including the obvious internal switches, then hold your ground. If Panda wants the big money, he’ll have to earn it… and maybe, just maybe he’ll help get you back in another pennant chase while he’s earning it.

Ok, it’s probably time to wrap this thing up. Looking back, it feels like I’ve taken on a very negative tone in this post. That was not my intention, and I apologize if you’re a bit put off by it. But there have been a few things on my mind lately, so I figured it was time to share them. Believe me, I’m VERY excited for the season to get started. I’m also jacked for the minor league seasons to open as well. I want to start talking prospects again!

Just one more thing… Speaking of prospects, I do have a quick bit of news to share. Joe Ritzo was reporting on the Giants High-A squad yesterday in Arizona, and he tweeted out the lineup. Apparently Chris Stratton had a very nice outing, inducing tons of grounders in 5 solid innings. But something else caught my eye: Joe had “Chavez” listed as the Giants DH. I sure as heck couldn’t remember any Chavez from the farm system, so I asked Ritzo about it. Turns out it’s Matt Chavez, an independent league guy the Giants picked up over the winter… He’s a Burlingame kid, former USF Don, and was drafted in 2010 by the White Sox (as a pitcher). He’s 25, so definitely not a young guy. But a pretty interesting story no less. Here’s the link Joe sent me, give it a look if you have time. Could we be looking at another Daniel Nava story here?

I think that’s about all for today. Thanks for checking in. Before you know it, the Giants will be playing at AT&T this weekend. That, my friends, is a very good thing.

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GM Meetings: Hank has the Dirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants 2014: Second Base

Back to the Giants 2014 series, let’s take a look at second base. To be honest, there seem to be more questions here than answers going into next season… and that really has become a pattern for the position recently (aside from 2012). Can Marco Scutaro stay healthy? Is he too much of a defensive liability to play every day? Will Sabean find him a platoon partner? Another issue to consider here is the logjam of middle-infielders on the 40-man… how will the Giants sort that out?

Lots of questions; we’ll see how many we can answer.

Where it’s been: The story of 2nd base for the Giants in recent years is one that features a mixture of trades, aging vets, organizational fillers, injuries, and (most importantly) big-time performances in the postseason.  It’s been a mixed bag to say the least, and one that’s led to a pair of rings. But the organization has been searching for a long-term answer at the position for quite some time, and will likely continue to do so as it moves toward 2014.

The last player that I’d consider a mainstay at 2nd base in San Francisco was Ray Durham, who played his last year with the club in 2008. Durham was a Giant for roughly five and a half years, and he held his own pretty damn well for the majority of that time. The dude hit 26 home runs in 2006… 26! He was a consistent hitter, and did a pretty good job filling the hole left by Jeff Kent in the mid-2000’s. The Giants tried to replace Durham with homegrown cats Kevin Frandsen, Manny Burriss and Eugenio Velez. We all know how that turned out. Frandsen is really the only one who has had any kind of a decent career, but even he never turned into a true everyday player.

In 2009, Good Panda Pablo Sandoval and his buddies came out of the woodworks under Bruce Bochy, and Sabean set out to find a 2B (among other positions) at the trade deadline. I remember thinking at the time that Frandsen deserved a shot at the full-time gig… that he could hold the position down as well as anybody on the trade market. In my mind, I played Frandsen out to be a Dustin Pedroia grinder type who just needed an opportunity to shine. Now, I wonder what the hell I was thinking back then. Luckily, Sabean did not give the job to Frandsen, instead trading Tim Alderson to Pittsburgh for Freddy Sanchez. That’s right about the time that I was beginning my days as a prospect hound, and nobody excited me more in the organization than Bumgarner and Alderson. I didn’t know exactly how to feel about the deal at first, but it only took a couple Sanchez AB’s with runners on for me to shake any previous doubt. Honestly, I haven’t had a second thought about that trade since. The fact that Alderson never really did anything with the Pirates made it that much easier… but it’s astounding to me that there are people in this world who still question that deal. You’re kidding me, right?

As we’d find out, Freddy was a walking injury waiting to happen. But he (like Edgar Renteria) was healthy long enough in 2010 to help bring home a title, and that’s really all that mattered in the end. It was the injuries after the 2010 World Series that really hurt for Sanchez. Regardless, I’ll always remember him as a good Giant, and part of the band of misfits who shocked the world. Tim Alderson? I can’t say the same.

Freddy’s career as a Giant was effectively over after 58 games in 2011, and the rest of the season was spent trying out a number of different, mostly ineffective options to replace him. Mike Fontenot, Jeff Keppinger, more Burriss, even a Bill Hall sighting… again, 2011 turned into a trash can year in the final month and a half.

The 2012 season saw another vet enter the mix in Ryan Theriot, who played 91 games at 2B, providing somewhat of an improvement over Burriss (whose days with the club were becoming numbered). By the trade deadline, Theriot actually had a pretty good hold on the everyday job. That’s why, if you remember correctly, Scutaro was actually acquired to add depth to the infield, not necessarily to take the 2B job from Theriot. It was a bit of a head-scratcher move at the time, but Scooter sure put a quick stop to any doubt. A .387 average in 45 games…Hardest hitter in the league to strikeout… NLCS MVP… One day, you’re being traded for a minor league middle-infielder with a good-looking wife and almost no professional experience, the next you’re driving in the winning run in the World Series. In 3 months, Scutaro went from being infield depth to postseason hero in San Francisco. The Giants’ marketing team even created a “rain-globe” of him to commemorate Game 7 of the NLCS. Funny game, that baseball…

Where it’s headed: Despite his age, the Giants gave Scutaro a 3-year deal worth $20 million last offseason. But 2013 became a lost season very quickly, and Scutaro battled injuries seemingly all year. With all the talk of the WBC and health issues, I’d have to throw Scutaro into the mix of guys whose seasons were screwed up by the early competition. Throw in the fact that the Giants had a very short offseason, and Scooter really didn’t appear to be in the healthiest condition this spring. He fought problems with his back all summer, and I’d be willing to bet that had a direct impact on his poor defense. Throw in the mallet finger case, and you’re talking about a very rough season. But Marco’s a gamer, and he did his best to play through it all. Despite the injuries, he was still one of the most consistent hitters on the team, flirting with .300 all year. Maybe he doesn’t show much pop anymore, but he still gives you a very solid AB every time out.

So, year one on the Scutaro contract didn’t go all that well. The Giants were short on middle-infield depth for most of the year as well. Tony Abreu was supposed to be the guy that provided that depth, but he spent a good portion of the season on the shelf with injuries. Nick Noonan got a shot out of spring training, and while I thought he was impressive at the plate early on, it became pretty obvious that he wasn’t the right fit. Joaquin Arias played a handful of games at 2nd too, but to me he’s needed more on the left side of the infield (although I’m sure he’d be happy to play anywhere at this point).

All of this leaves quite a few questions surrounding the position going into the offseason. Scutaro still has two years left on his deal, and we know he’s a capable hitter. But he missed 35 games last year, and really doesn’t have the range to play adequate defense on a nightly basis anymore. Even if he is fully healthy, at age 38 I can’t see him being a guy who plays more than 125 games next season. To me, it’s more important to keep him fresh (hopefully for another postseason run) than it is to run him out there every day with nagging injuries. The latter had a bigger impact on the Giants’ struggles this season than most people think. Ryan Theriot gave Bochy a nice infield option off the bench last fall, and I think his absence was felt this year.

It would be very wise of Sabean to find a reliable player this winter who can share time with Scutaro next season. Really, we’re talking about another Theriot-type guy here – someone who understands he’s probably not going to play every day, but who Bochy can trust to run out there if Scutaro struggles or goes down. Ideally, I see a 60-40 split, with Scooter playing roughly 100 games if he’s healthy… Depending on whether Sabes looks outside the organization for help, maybe Scutaro actually comes off the bench. I’m talking about trading for a guy like Brandon Phillips, who’s reportedly on the block in Cincinnati. Phillips would be an obvious upgrade, both offensively and defensively. It’s not out of the question that Scutaro could be unseated at this point, and he’d provide a solid late-game bat off the bench if so. Another trade candidate the Giants could take a look at is Daniel Murphy of the Mets, who would likely play a secondary role if he were acquired. I think Murphy would be a good fit, and Shankbone of “You Gotta Like These Kids” has a nice take on Murphy as a target over on his site (linked to the right).

On the free agent front, there’s really only one player I feel would be worthy of offering a contract to; Omar Infante. Infante’s game profiles pretty similarly to Scutaro’s, but he’s a few years younger, and likely would give you a little better defense. Infante can hit, and he’s got quite a bit of playoff experience. If the Giants were to make him a 2-year offer for $5-7 million a year, I wouldn’t be upset a bit. One other name to keep an eye on is Mark Ellis, who the Dodgers parted ways with recently. He’s another guy who seems to fit the Sabean mold of grinder-type middle infielders… and he’d probably come pretty cheap on a one year deal.

The other piece to consider here is that the Giants have a logjam of middle-infielders on the 40-man roster at the moment. Between Arias, Abreu, Noonan and Ehire Adrianza, you’ve got four guys who could all be vying for one utility infield spot next year. Add in Brett Pill as another potential bench option, and the front office has some personnel decisions to make. Who gets a contract, who doesn’t? Right now, that’s anybody’s guess. Personally, I’d give one of the positions to Arias… he’s been a very valuable player the past couple seasons, and he can play all over the infield. He is due for a slight salary bump though, as is Abreu… Neither one of them is set to make all that much money through arbitration, but the Giants might choose to go cheaper with Adrianza, who’s been a top prospect in the system for quite a while, and is out of minor league options. I’ll take my best guess and say the Giants give one of the backup spots to Arias, package Adrianza with a pitching prospect in a trade (possibly for a guy like Murphy, but maybe a LF as well), and fill the other infield spot with a free agent. Whatever they do, Sabean has made it pretty clear he will be looking for more depth this winter, so I’d definitely expect to see a new face platooning at 2B next season with Scutaro.

Finally, I wanted to touch briefly on the position long-term. The Giants have tried and missed on a handful of players in the organization recently, most notably Frandsen, Velez and Burriss. Not all that long ago, Noonan was drafted very high as an 18 year-old, but his progression really hit a wall in AA. But he kept grinding, and eventually made it to San Francisco. As a guy who the organization once had very lofty expectations for, I’m sure he’ll get a few more chances before it’s all said and done, but I don’t see much of an upside from him anymore.

Another former 2B prospect the Giants had hopes for was Charlie Culberson, who gave the Giants the gift of an NLCS MVP when he was shipped to Colorado for Scutaro last summer.

A bit more recently, the Giants have taken middle infielders as their first round pick in two of the past three drafts. Both were drafted as shortstops, but known more for their bats than their gloves. Joe Panik was moved to 2B full-time this season in Richmond, and is no longer considered the future everyday stalwart that he was even a year ago by many in the scouting world. Personally, I think it’s much too early to write the guy off. No, his numbers in Richmond weren’t spectacular. But many hitters with lofty expectations have been absolutely defeated by the Eastern League. I wouldn’t put Panik among that group. To me, he did enough to earn a promotion to Fresno next year. He’s only 23, and I’d like to see the Giants put him on the 40-man eventually so he has a chance to learn from Scutaro at the highest level. Is Panik an elite prospect? No. He likely won’t ever hit for much power either. But he still showed above average plate discipline last season, and if he can have a bounce back season in Fresno, he could be looking at a potential call-up late next year.

The last player I want to note is Christian Arroyo. Arroyo was drafted as a SS, but like Panik, I’m sure he’ll eventually move to 2B. If he can stay at short, great, but that’s not what most of the scouting world tells us is going to happen. Again, Arroyo was drafted for the bat, not the glove. His pick was also mocked up and down by the baseball world, much like Panik’s. I think it’s safe to say the mocking has subsided for now, as a #2 ranking in the AZL Top 20 by Baseball America this fall has put Arroyo on the map, and likely near the top of most Giants’ prospect rankings. It’s going to take some time, for sure, but the Giants (and all of us) hope that Arroyo’s bat will help him get to the shores of McCovey Cove someday, putting an end to the exhaustive search for a long-term answer at second base.

Giants 2014: Hot Corner

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

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

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

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

Well…not exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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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.

Long Ball Power

If you missed it yesterday, the Giants broke a Petco Park record by knocking six balls out of the yard in a 13-5 win. The first three of those homers came from Brandon Crawford (his 9th), Hunter Pence (18), and Hector Sanchez (3). The final three left the park off the bat of Pablo Sandoval, who now has 13 for the year. Every starter in the lineup had at least one hit for the Giants, who cranked out 17 hits total. All of this without Buster Posey. For some odd reason, I feel like many of these offensive outbursts (not that there have been an abundance or anything) have come when Posey is out of the lineup. I’m not trying to get at anything here, but it’s definitely a weird coincidence.

So… in the last calendar year, Pablo has had a pair of 3-HR games. Obviously, it’s hard to compare them when one was in the World Series against Justin Verlander, while the other came on a September afternoon between two bottom-feeders. Seriously, though, if a guy is going to have multiple 3-HR efforts, you’d think he’d get at least one of them in places like Arizona, Milwaukee or Cincinnati. Sandoval did it in San Francisco and San Diego, in two of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the game. Yesterday’s outburst was the result of Crawford calling out Pablo after his (Crawford’s) home-run that started the party, according to Baggarly. Want the Panda to go big at the plate? Just show him up. What a crock, Baggs.

Look, so many things have gone wrong this season, and there are a handful of players who’ve had letdown years, for injury purposes or lack of performance. Pablo’s name should be right at the top of that list. I’ll be honest, I typed up some informal projections for each Giants’ starter before the season. That was back in March, and I hadn’t revisited those numbers until today. I didn’t really need to. Expectations don’t change, and I could’ve told you which players exceeded my projections, and which ones who came up short. But Pablo’s performance yesterday made me wonder exactly what I’d predicted him to do this year, so I finally opened the file again. Get ready for it.

Prediction: Pablo Sandoval: .312, 35 HR, 99 RBI.

Reality: Pablo Sandoval: .277, 13 HR, 71 RBI (in 119 games).

Was I crazy? That’s up to you to decide. But the Panda truly was my breakout candidate, and I thought all of this pieces were in place for that breakout to happen. It didn’t, and I don’t know that it ever will in a Giants uniform. After hitting 25 HR in his first full season, he’s got 61 dingers over the last four years. That’s an average of 15 a year, and the biggest reason has been his conditioning, as well as a slew of injuries. He hasn’t made it through a full season since 2010, and that was his worst year in the league.

If yesterday’s outburst tells us anything about the Giants’ 3rd baseman, it’s that he’s still got an incredible amount of natural talent stored in that body. He’s a .357 hitter over the last month, with 9k/10bb. He was also the hottest hitter on the planet through the season’s first 6 weeks. If he can manage to put together a healthy season, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be a .300 hitter with 20-30 home runs. Will he ever do it? Who knows. But next season is a contract year for the Panda, as many of us know, and he will certainly spend it with the Giants. That could be Sabean and Co.’s last chance to tap into that potential.

We know the front office isn’t happy with Sandoval, but games like yesterday definitely help ease the tension a bit. Either way, the guy knows how to put on a show every now and then, and he did it yesterday. Whether he can sustain success for a full season is the million dollar issue.

Going Large in Miami

With Buster Posey on the bench, the Giants finally unleashed the offense, and held on to win a long, furious game in Miami. They did it against a good young pitcher in Nathan Eovaldi, a hard-throwing righty who overpowered them in San Francisco back on June 23. Things didn’t go so well for Eovaldi this time around, however, as the Giants’ middle of the order led the way for the second game in a row. In all, the orange and black pounded 19 hits, including 4 doubles, 3 triples and another home run from Hector Sanchez. They scored 14 runs, which they would need on a night when Chad Gaudin couldn’t make it through the 5th inning. The Giants needed a night like this to drive away the bad vibes of the past few months.

Thoughts:

Brandon Belt has completely turned his season around since adjusting his grip on the bat. His 4-hit night yesterday extended his hitting streak to 11 games and raised his batting average to .431 for the month of August. The same guy who was sat down three weeks ago because his struggles had put him in such a funk is now the Giants’ hottest hitter. He’s also got an .842 OPS and 15 HR for the season. Pretty impressive stuff from the young 1B lately. We’ve seen these prolonged hot streaks from Belt lately, so I’ll be interested to see what happens when his bat cools back off. Hopefully he’s turned a corner.

Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval combined for 7 hits (4 XBH) and 8 RBI yesterday. Pence is hitting .359 over the last month, but without a single home run. If he can hit for extra bases like he did last night, the home run power isn’t a huge deal. But I’d like to hope he’d regain some of that pop before season’s end.

Sandoval really couldn’t sink much lower at the plate, but it’s still nice to see him swinging the bat well again. He’s 9 for his last 18, including a 4-4 last night. Still no home runs for the Panda lately either, but for right now, he just needs to keep building confidence. I truly thought Sandoval would be a 30-homer guy this year, but he’s fallen far short of expectations. Next year could be his last in a Giant uniform, so we’re really going to need some steady production from him if we want to compete again. I think he’s got it in him, but there’s really no way to predict how he’ll look come March.

The Giants finally found their bats… and it felt amazing. That’s how you’re supposed to hit the worst team in the National League. Now let’s just hope they saved some offense for tonight.

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