A Wild 24 Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Abreu

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The Barry Zito Era

Barry Zito started for the first time since September 2 last night, and did something that he hasn’t done very often this year: he earned a victory, against the Dodgers no less. It was only his 5th win of the year, and his first since May 30, against the A’s. Odds are, it was Zito’s last start as a Giant, and the club will probably buy him out this offseason and call it a day. $7 million to tell a below-average pitcher goodbye… Man, the Giants really flopped on that contract. Big time. However, all of that aside, it was very nice to see ol’ Zito flip a few good benders in there in his final start.

CSN Bay Area ran a story this morning saying Zito was a little miffed he didn’t get a final ovation from the fans, being he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the 5th. He still had more in the tank, and wanted to stay out there longer. I love it how the media plays this crap up, especially in a losing season. Last time I checked, Zito is about the last guy in the league who would criticize his coaching staff for anything. So the crowd didn’t get to give him a hero’s ovation in his final start? Give me a break. What if Zito had come back out for the 6th, walked the bases loaded and let the Dodgers tie it before Bochy took the ball out of his hand? It’s happened many times during his Giants career, so maybe, just maybe old Boch was looking out for the lefty’s best interests. Either way, I think Zito is and should be happy with a win in his final AT&T performance. After all he went through, it was a nice way to go out.

For the Giants’ beats, Baggarly and others, I think it might be time to find work elsewhere. Baggs’ himself seems to be getting bitter with Giants’ management. Maybe I’m off base here, but some of his comments lately make you wonder.

It feels a bit weird saying this, but Giants baseball in my lifetime has been as much about Barry Zito as it has been about Barry Bonds. Hell, Zito is one of only a handful of guys to ever start multiple Opening Days for the Giants. I had just begun my senior year in high school (2006) when the Giants finished below .500 for the second season in a row. That was a big transition season for the pitching staff. You had Jason Schmidt’s last year with the team, Matt Cain’s first full season in the bigs, and two hard-throwing rookies in the pen (Brian Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez). Jamey Wright, Matt Morris, Armando Benitez and Kevin Correia were on that team. Steve Kline and Noah Lowry too. Holy smokes.

Those Giants also had one of the oldest offenses ever fielded by a Major League club, including 41 years-old Bonds and Steve Finley, and 39 year-old Omar Vizquel. But that’s a topic for another time. Long story short, Brian Sabean needed to find a frontline pitcher that offseason that he could plug in front of guys like Cain and Lincecum, who was getting seasoned on the farm. Sabean found his guy that winter, and made him the richest pitcher in baseball history.

I knew much less about baseball in those days than I do today (and I still don’t really know all that much). What I did know then: baseball teams have plenty of money, and Zito was the hottest pitcher on the market. 7 years, $126 million were just numbers to me then, not much else. Zito was a Giant, and that’s all that mattered. I followed the A’s loosely when I was younger. I wouldn’t say I was a big fan or anything, but I still remember having a Zito poster in my room in middle school. It was a mock ad with the line, “Zito’s curveball; guaranteed to buckle your knees,” and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Now, 4-5 years later, he was trading in the green and gold for orange and black, to replace my favorite pitcher in the game (Schmidt) as the Giants’ ace. Sounded like a plan to me.

I’ll never forget that first spring. After a decent debut on Opening Day (albeit only 5 innings pitched), the wheels came off in Zito’s second start, against the Dodgers. When the dust settled, he’d allowed 8 ER. I think that’s when I had my “wake-up” moment with Zito. Like I said, I knew very little about the game then, and apparently knew nothing about Zito aside from the big curve. I remember seeing that fastball and thinking… “86? What the hell is that? This is the guy who’s replacing Schmidt?” That was TWO starts into his Giants career, and I don’t think I ever really regained my initial excitement for the guy.

Seven years later, I think the greatest thing you can say about Barry Zito is that he made it through that contract with class and resiliency. If you were there for those years, as many of us were, you know how many times it seemed realistic that the Giants would cut ties with him. But you don’t cut the highest-paid player in your franchise’s history, and eventually you knew he would continue to take the mound every 5th day until that contract expired. If you’re like me, you rooted for him every time out, but you also hoped he wouldn’t give up a 6-spot in the process. 17 losses and 102 BB in 2008; being left off the playoff roster in 2010; falling flat on his face and losing his rotation spot in 2011; there were some serious down points on the front end of that contract. I seriously thought he was done after 2011.

Once again, he bounced back. Would there still be a second championship flag flying above the ballpark if not for Zito? What are the odds that Sabean finds another 5th starter who hits his stride down the stretch like Zito did last summer? Pitching 7.2 shutout innings in St. Louis, beating Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series… those are two of the unforgettable efforts in recent Giants history. Does any other 5th starter do what Zito did there?

Seven years and $126 million are more than just numbers to me now. Eleven years removed from his Cy Young season in Oakland, Zito is wrapping up his roller coaster career in San Francisco. What the future holds for the crafty lefty, I guess we’ll find out. If history tells us anything, I wouldn’t put it past him to catch on with somebody out of spring training and make an Opening Day roster. The dude has an amazing ability to bounce back, and has to be one of the most positive people in the game. Somebody better make a movie about the damn guy some day. When they do, it’ll probably put Moneyball to shame. And I’ll be there in the theater when it comes out, I can tell you that much.

The Barry Zito era is over, for better or worse. It’s been real, Barry.

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