Decisions, Decisions

There will be plenty to talk about, as we get closer to the Giants leaving (Thursday) and returning to Arizona (Monday). So I’ll try to keep this one short, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts and do a little weekend roundup.

First, the big news: Tony Abreu is out, put on release waivers. The Giants had to eat a quarter of his salary, or something like that. Big whoop. I did have some hope for Abreu. When you look at his minor league pedigree, you see a guy who could be an asset at 2B from an offensive standpoint. But the guy just isn’t consistently healthy or productive. That seems to have plagued him his whole career. Regardless, Adrianza definitely looks to have the inside track for the primary reserve IF spot now.

I imagine will see two more roster moves before game-time tomorrow. The first will be Scutaro to the DL. If the Giants hold true to their word, then this weekend was supposed to determine Scooter’s fate. Well, I didn’t see him out there, unless he was hiding. The second move should be Brandon Hicks on the 40-man. With Abreu off, that’s an easy switch. We’ve talked about this already, but Hicks should be the guy to grab the extra roster spot if Scutaro is DL’d. Then it’ll be a 3-way battle for playing time between Arias, Adrianza and Hicks at 2B as the regular season gets going. Maybe there’s a trade in the works to patch things up? I doubt it.

The other big decision resides within Bruce Bochy’s bullpen. Heath Hembree is out, while Derek Law is technically still in. If you listened to Bochy during his in-game interview with Kruk & Kuip on Friday night, it sounded pretty clear that the coaching staff wants to carry guys who can go multiple innings in relief, at least to start the season. That bodes very well for Yusmeiro Petit and David Huff, who are both out of options, and both happened to pitch lights-out on Friday.

Speaking of lights, I don’t know if anyone else caught that tweet from one of the beat writers Friday night against Oakland. It was something to the extent that the lighting in Scottsdale was less than ideal. It was pretty apparent to me that the hitters weren’t picking up the ball well at all (on either side). When Petit blew an 88 mph fastball by Yoenis Cespedes, it was all the proof I needed. I’m not trying to make any bold statement here, but it’s just another reason why you have to take spring training stats with a grain of salt. Both Petit and Huff helped their causes that night, regardless of the circumstances.

So, it would seem that there’s really only one bullpen spot up for grabs with a week to go until the season starts. As it stands, the Giants will likely open up with the core four of Romo, Casilla, Affeldt and Lopez, plus the righty-lefty swing combo of Petit and Huff, who should actually add some versatility in April. If both guys pitch well, that’s great. But both are out of options, so keeping them both on the 25-man initially seems like kind of an extended tryout to me. Maybe they give it a few weeks, and if one is floundering they can let him go in favor of a guy like Hembree.

Who gets that final bullpen spot then? I would guess Jean Machi, but George Kontos, Dan Runzler and Law are technically still in the running. Personally, I’d go with Law. Get a little funky youth in there! If not, we’re looking at a big time veteran bullpen, but I think that will be ironed out as the year goes along.

I’ve gotten a little long-winded again. Let’s wrap it up. Lots more to talk about this week, as I said. I’ll try to get to the Pablo talk, as well as a little pre-season prediction nonsense. I don’t know about all of you good people, but I’m sure ready for Opening Day. Tried to watch a couple innings of the Australia game last night, then thought better of it. But hey, at least the regular season is underway!

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Updated Camp Battles (Part 2): Long Reliever

Updated Camp Battles (Part 2): Long Reliever

This might be the most wide-open battle in camp at the moment. With the front runners struggling early, a couple of dark horse candidates have emerged as real threats to win the long-man spot.

Yusmeiro Petit:  12.60 ERA, 5 IP, 14 H, 1 BB, 2 K | Odds: 60% (80% pre-spring) | Trending: Down

Outlook: Petit had a job to lose this spring, and so far he’s heading that way. While it’s a very small sample size, he’s been very hittable in almost all of his outings. There’s still time to iron out the wrinkles, but I don’t think he’s guaranteed the spot by any means unless he shows some improvement.

David Huff: 9.00 ERA, 1 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 K | Odds: 50% (40% pre-spring) | Trending: Stable

Outlook: His odds of making the team have risen, but that’s more an effect of Petit’s struggles than Huff’s performance. The lefty made his spring debut over the weekend, and looked a little rusty after missing some time to shoulder stiffness. He’s nothing spectacular, but the Giants like his versatility. He’s definitely in the running for this spot if he can show some consistency in the next few weeks.

Edwin Escobar: 1.50 ERA, 6 IP, 1 H, 5 BB, 1 K |Odds: 40% (N/A) | Trending: Up

Outlook: Ideally, the Giants would like Escobar to start the season in AAA, a stop he’s never experienced before. That’s probably still his likely destination, but Esky isn’t going away without a fight. He stepped up big in his start against Clayton Kershaw last weekend, working through some control issues and only allowing one run over 3 IP. I didn’t even include him in my pre-spring battles series, as I honestly didn’t think he was in the running for this spot. He’s definitely in the mix now.

Jose De Paula: 0.00 ERA, 4 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 4 K | Odds: N/A (25% pre-spring) | Trending: Up

**Update: Assigned to minor league camp.

Outlook: Offseason waiver claim wasn’t really even in consideration for the long-man spot when camp opened (I had him in the bullpen group as a lefty specialist). Four appearances later, De Paula’s got some folks talking about him. He features a 92-94 fastball from the left side, as well as a hard breaking ball and a nice changeup. In the outing that I watched, he was filthy for two innings. Lefties are very valuable out of the bullpen, so watch out for this guy going forward.

Jason Berken: 4.50 ERA, 6 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 3 K | Odds: N/A (N/A) | Trending: Stable

**Assigned to minor league camp.

Outlook: Another guy who wasn’t really in the mix when camp broke. He’s not flashy, but Berken has MLB experience, and was solid in 3 IP against LA over the weekend. Like I said, this spot is wide open at the moment right now, and stranger things have happened. Don’t forget about him.

Mike Kickham: No stats | Odds: N/A (25% pre-spring) | Trending: Down

**Assigned to minor league camp.

Kickham hasn’t appeared in any Cactus League games yet, although I think he’s pitched an inning or two in “B” games. I don’t recall what injury had been holding him back, but I’m curious to see what his stuff looks like this spring. Sounds like he throws a cutter now, but you can’t win a job from the bench, so he needs to get going.

2014 sf giants, spring training, photo

(SFGiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

Fire up the Stove

As of yesterday, the options for Andres Torres and Barry Zito have officially been declined, making them free agents. No shocker there. Both guys had their time in the sun with the club, but it was time for the Giants to move on. Neither guy really made any significant contributions all season, when both were expected to play somewhat significant roles… the organization can’t let that happen next year.

The free agency period is nearly upon us. The exclusive negotiating window teams have with their potential free agents will end in the next day or so, at which point the offseason will officially begin. As it stands, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong’s status with the Gigantes is still very much up in the air. In his live chat last week, Baggs’ stated what most of us know on the Lopez front: there’s mutual interest, but no deal is in place. Javy’s been a huge (and underrated) piece in Bruce Bochy’s bullpen since he came over from Pittsburgh, and I expect there’ll be a deal announced shortly… probably another two years for the lefty extraordinaire. The Giants specifically didn’t trade him at the deadline because they wanted to bring him back. Generally, when a player and the club have mutual interest, a deal gets done.  I’ll say this though: if Lopez doesn’t sign, there are a few other intriguing lefties out there. A guy I’ve always liked is JP Howell. He had a very good year for the Dodgers, and he’s only 30.

As for Vogey, Baggs has been indicating for a while that the Giants won’t pick up the $6.5 million option for next year, but they’ll renegotiate a cheaper deal. There hasn’t been much talk either way so far, which isn’t all that surprising when it comes to Sabean doing business… but I did find the comments on from Vogey’s agent last week interesting. I can’t seem to find the article now. Essentially, that there hadn’t been any contact from the Giants yet… Can you picture Vogelsong sitting by his phone, staring intently, waiting for the call to come in? Me neither, but it really didn’t sound like there’d been a whole lot of communication. Vogey wants to come back, but Sabean would be absolutely nuts to give him anything more than $1 million at this point. If they could come to some reasonable terms, I’d gladly have him back to compete with Petit/Surkamp/Kickham for the 5th starter spot. I wouldn’t expect anything more than that at this point.

With Lopez and Vogey being the last remaining free agents-to-be on the club at the moment, the Giants aren’t going to be offering any qualifying offers. There’s some significance here, as at one point they could have potentially been looking at a couple of potential first round picks… but they weren’t willing to take the chance of losing Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum to free agency. I have to admit, the more I think about the Timmy situation, the more I wish they would have waited and made the qualifying offer. It’s all water under the bridge at this point, though. The Giants will take their 14th pick in next year’s draft, and they’ll like it.

A few more offseason thoughts here. CSN has had a few free agent power rankings posts on their site lately. If I remember right, they basically copied and pasted the left field, starting pitcher, and relief pitcher rankings from hardballtalk.com. I want to address the site comments on these posts. It’s amazing to me how unrealistic or distorted a view people have on Sabean, the Giants and their offseason agenda. The front office has said numerous times already that they aren’t going to sacrifice their first round pick, which is not protected. So… Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo are out of the picture, as are any other players who receive a qualifying offer. If you aren’t familiar with the qualifying offer and draft pick compensation, take a look at this article from SB Nation. Pretty good explanation of the process.

Also, you have to look at the market for free agency. There’s not much talent out there this year. Cano, Ellsbury, and Choo are going to make some major green. Even if you take the qualifying offer out of the equation, when’s the last time Sabes forked out $100 million for a free agent not named Barry Zito? It’s not the way he does business, and the Giants have already committed nearly $130 million to the payroll for next season. Barring something very unforeseen (like a hard push for Masahiro Tanaka), Sabean has already spent his big money for the offseason. As hard as it is for those of us who support the orange and black to watch what the Dodgers are doing down in La-La Land, you have to understand the way the Giants do business. Every team has holes that need to be filled, and while the Dodgers may be willing to empty their pockets and farm system to acquire talent, the Giants just don’t play that game. They never have. You may disagree with the way they do business (as I do from time to time), but this club won the World Series only one year ago. Sabean is banking on his key players from 2012 having a bounceback season in 2014, despite his comments about windows closing.

Personally, I don’t see any indications that the Giants will be in on Tanaka. I don’t think they’ll even make the final three teams involved. The estimates being tossed around for his services are pretty outrageous, but there are teams willing to spend that kind of dough. Tanaka could be a game-changer, but I’m really not getting my hopes up anymore. I’d bank more on a Bronson Arroyo or AJ Burnett. Maybe Sabes ponies up a bit more for a guy like Ubaldo Jimenez.

One thing I do expect to take place this winter is a trade or two. Every indication I’ve gotten is that the Giants don’t think too highly of the free agent class (and how can they?). If that’s the case, maybe they’ll put some packages together to land a pitcher or left fielder. But who do they trade? Other than Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar and Adalberto Mejia (all mentioned by Baggs last week as “untouchable”), I’d think every other minor leaguer in the organization is available. I think Clayton Blackburn could be a nice trade piece… Add Joan Gregorio and Chris Stratton to that list, as well as any of the high-octane relievers. Stratton is a guy I’d like to hold onto, though. On the hitting side, I’d have to think Sabean would listen on anyone. I’d like to see Susac and Williamson be off limits, but those are probably the two most coveted guys. Either way, the Giants understand the limitations of modern-day free agency, and may try to get creative in strengthening the roster.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to talk about in the coming weeks, but that’s all for now. The hot stove is almost upon us, so things should start to get interesting (or not interesting, depending on your expectations) very soon.

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Expectations

The Giants snuck out of New York with a close victory yesterday, spoiling Mariano Rivera’s farewell ceremony with a 2-1 win. It was the Giants’ only win of the weekend in Yankee Stadium, and Yusmeiro Petit outpitched Andy Pettitte in Pettitte’s final regular season start in New York. Ehire Adrianza homered off Pettitte for the Giants’ first run, and Tony Abreu drove in the go-ahead run late. Juan Perez singled off Rivera in the 9th, and also plucked another runner at home. So, I guess you could say the kids stole the show in this one.

The Giants didn’t play as well as we would have liked this weekend, but they weren’t that far off either. On Friday night, Timmy held his own against CC Sabathia, and George Kontos’ hanger to A-Rod in the 7th was the difference in a 5-1 loss. Saturday’s game was the outlier, with Ryan Vogelsong getting it handed to him on national TV. If you had to choose between $6.5 million of Vogey, or a cheap Petit for next season, it’s beginning to look like a pretty easy decision. Petit is averaging better than a strikeout per inning with the Giants in 44.1 IP, and if you combine his MLB and MiLB numbers, he’s got a 3.88 ERA with 144 K and 27 BB in 137 IP… and to think he was DFA’d earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Vogelsong can’t strike anybody out, or make it past the 5th inning these days. He’s a good dude with determination, but that $6 million option isn’t looking any better than his fastball is anymore.

Anyway, the Giants may not have put up much offense against the Yankees, but they finished a 10-game road trip at 6-4, their first multi-city winning road trip all year. Yeah, all year.

A final thought here. I watched the Rivera farewell ceremony yesterday. Pretty cool stuff. I learned a few things in the process too. I didn’t know Dave Righetti was the Yankees’ all time saves leader before Rivera, and I also didn’t know Rivera made his debut at 25. 25! That’s old for a prospect, right? Just goes to show that you can’t ever write a player off. Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte and Posada all debuted in 1995. Wow.

Yes, the Giants have their rings, and none of us will ever forget it. But I sure as hell hope 2010 and 2012 are the norms, not 2013. This season has definitely been a struggle, but it’s hard to be angry at a franchise that has given its fans so many positives over the past four years. Watching those games against the Yankees, as well as the Rivera events, it’s hard not to respect and appreciate what they’ve done. That franchise has set the gold standard, and even when they aren’t winning titles, they’re in the hunt every year.

With the talent the Giants have, they cannot have another season like this. Not with players like Posey, Bumgarner and Cain anchoring the team. Yes, last year was fun. But this year was inexcusable, and Brian Sabean has a ton of work to do this winter. You can’t get comfortable in this business, and this is a fan base that now expects to be in contention every year, just like the fans that sit in Yankee Stadium.

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Elimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing on the Wall

The Giants split an old-fashioned double header last night with the Reds, dropping the first game in ugly fashion and gutting out a win in the night-cap. The split kept the Giants at 8 games under .500, but they lost a half-game in the standings to the division-leading Dodgers, who made a furious comeback last night in Toronto.

Game 1: Reds 9 Giants 3

Eric Surkamp made his first big league start in nearly two years after recovering from Tommy John surgery… it did not go well. Surkamp’s start was eerily similar to Mike Kickham’s against the Reds in Cincinnati earlier this month; after breezing through a 1-2-3 first inning, Surkamp could not locate his pitches, and the Reds teed off. Apparently somebody forgot to tell Votto, Cosart, Bruce and the rest of the Cincy hitters that AT&T Park is not a hitter-friendly stadium, because balls seem to leave the yard frequently whenever they’re in town. Ultimately, Surkamp was tagged for 9 hits and 7 runs in less than three innings of work. Yusmeiro Petit, who was called up with Surkamp to provide some bullpen relief, did just that, eating 5.1 IP and allowing 2 ER. I know it probably wouldn’t have been a popular decision among the fan base, but maybe Petit should’ve taken the start rather than rushing Surkamp up before he was ready. Either way, Petit’s efforts may have saved the night for Bruce Bochy, who needed all the bullpen help he could get in the second game.

Game 2: Giants 5 Reds 3

After two embarrassing losses to start the series, the Giants needed a win badly in the night game. Luckily, the offense came out hacking, posting 3 runs in the 1st and another in the 2nd. Sandoval and Pence had two hits apiece in this one, which was nice to see. The four early runs were enough to earn the win, although it didn’t come easy. Zito allowed three ER and couldn’t make it out of the 5th, but Bochy used five relievers to seal the win, including a 4-out save from Romo, who allowed a hit but recorded all four outs by way of the K. The win marked #1,500 for the skipper Bruce Bochy, who is building himself quite a lengthy list of accomplishments. Way to go, Skip!

A few thoughts here:

The Giants are 6.5 back of the Dodgers right now, with a week left until the trade deadline. That really isn’t a huge deficit, especially for how the Giants have played. But let’s be honest here, are the Giants really a good baseball team this year? To me, the eyeball test is sometimes a better indicator than any statistic on how a team is performing. They’ve been battling injuries and inconsistency most of the year. They’re still not scoring many runs. They’re not playing good defense. They don’t have three, let alone five reliable starting pitchers. They can’t beat anybody outside the NL West, and they haven’t proven they can compete on the road… they play nine games against the AL East alone in August.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are surging. They’ve won 22 of 27 and 9 straight on the road – and they’re doing this with a cooled-off Puig and almost entirely without Matt Kemp. To me, it’s pretty clear that one team is headed in one direction, while the other is headed in the complete opposite.

You’d have to think that Brian Sabean and his team know all of this much better than any of us, and I hope they use the trade deadline to make some tough decisions. There really isn’t one player out there who can transform the Giants into a contending team, but this certainly isn’t a time to completely sell the ranch either. The Giants are a proud franchise, but 8 games below .500 is a steep hill to climb. I think it was a mistake to publicly declare Lincecum safe at the deadline, but maybe they toss Romo’s name out there in the next couple days. Why not get some value for a few of these guys while we can? Yes, you’ll probably lose some casual fans in the process, but if the sellout streak at AT&T Park ends and the team is forced to lower ticket prices, allowing the die-hards to start attending more games again, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

The Giants have given its fan base so much to be thankful for in the past few years, so there really shouldn’t be too much complaining here. And if today marks the start of a historic resurrection and they end up playing their way back into the playoff race, I’ll gladly look like an idiot for saying all of this. But I just don’t see it happening this year. At this point, though, what takes place between now and July 31 is really anybody’s guess.