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Friday, January 22, 2016

Giants a powerhouse, but not perfect

After what has been one of the most exciting, intriguing and expensive winters in recent San Francisco Giant history, there will be plenty of expectations in 2016. Despite having some smaller question marks (mostly health related) surrounding some of the key players, those expectations should be high to the point of World Series or bust.

I mean, let's take a look at the caliber of acquisitions the Giants made this winter, not being shy and making savvy decisions. Move one: bringing flame-throwing Jeff Samardzija back to the NL where he had a lot of success with the Cubs in 2012 and 2014 especially. Move two: bringing in an even bigger, more potent arm in Johnny Cueto who clearly gives them one of, if not the best, 1-2 combo's with Bumgarner. Move three: Shore up the outfield in a big way with Denard Span, a dynamic leadoff man and center fielder who completed the lineup. And even better, I don't feel like they overpaid anyone except for possibly Samardzija, but I think he'll be just fine at AT&T. Had he not had that 4.96 ERA and allowed 228 hits and 29 home runs and was coming off his '14 season after a solid '12/'13 when being made a full-time starter, this guy would easily have gotten something like 5/$125M, if not more. Some want to worry about Cueto's fall-off with KC last summer and his little arm issue but I mean let's be real, any of these hard-throwing big-time arms are always at risk of injury. Even Matt Cain, the guy who seemed so much like the iron man of the Giants rotation has run into problems the last few years.


What I really want to talk about though is the outfield, and how things have come together with the Span signing. First off, let's not forget that Angel Pagan was a integral part of two of the championship teams and the Giants aren't about to give him a short leash at the beginning. Some fans want to pick on Pagan after the sub-par season he's coming off but the guy was playing hurt a lot cause the Giants just didn't have the options. When he's healthy though, he's gonna hit .285'ish and he's gonna hit for some sneaky extra-base power with an OBP around .340. Plus, he's great on the base-paths and is a shoe in for 20+ swipes if healthy and a decent center fielder (for the most part) on top of all that. That said, if he's hitting .242/.303/345 come June and isn't providing anything, then yes, a team with aspirations such as the Giants' will certainly be looking at alternative options. That's so far away from happening though and so far off the Giants current radar right now. I'm actually optimistically curious to see how Pagan fairs lower in the lineup. He does have more extra-base power than your typical leadoff guy and now can let a little more swing out, and his very average OBP isn't really great for the leadoff role anyway.

The other Giants' outfielders have questions themselves. Hunter Pence should be OK, as his injuries last year were pretty much just freak accidents, but boy was that a different offense during those 52 games Pence was out there. Barring something un-foreseen, he should be good for his usual 150+ games as his DNP's last year were his first for any reason since joining the Giants in the middle of 2012. Denard Span, the newest Giant and the guy who could end up being one of the biggest steals of the offseason, also spent more than half of 2015 on the DL. All signs and reports out of his camp and from the people who did his physical say his hip is back to normal but only time will tell for the 32 year-old who played just two games in the 2nd half of '15. The exciting thing about him though, and the reason why the Giants took that risk is because of the player he is when he's healthy and right. He's got the ability to change a game with his speed, his glove and his extra-base abilities. He doesn't hit for home run power, but averaged 36 doubles and 8 triples from '12-'14 (and that was with him only playing 128 games in 2012). His career batting average of .287, OBP of .352 and his average of 28 SB/full season show why the Giants and many other teams were so keen on him.

Matter of fact, I'd be willing to bet, as long as they both stay healthy, Span's average, hits, OBP, stolen base total and runs scored will all be higher than Jason Heyward during the next three seasons. Heyward will hit a dozen or so more big flies, drive in a 15-20 more runs thus carrying a higher slugging percentage, but it's the fact that he's 6 years younger is what makes him much more valuable. Basically, for what the Giants need over the next three years though, Span should outperform or equal Heyward in many areas and is coming at $31M instead of $184M. We already mentioned how he's a better leadoff man than Pagan and should lock that spot down for the next three years as well as center field.

I liked the idea off bringing in a slugger with the capability to be a threat to hit a 3-run jack every time he steps up with guys on but would you rather have paid Yeonis Cespedes say, 5 years and $130M or Span the 3/$31M deal he got? Seeing how the Giants aren't power starved by any stretch and could have used an upgrade at leadoff and a guy to take over center field as early as '16, it became a no-brainer. I mean, just look how that move completes the lineup now. They've not only upgraded over Pagan and Aoki at leadoff over last season, but also have lengthened the lineup a lot with Pagan moving down to the bottom of the order. It's not going to make things any easier on pitchers that have to face one of the best hitting shortstops in the game now in Brandon Crawford and a guy who's hitting either 1 or 2 in plenty of other lineups in Pagan, holding the 7-8 holes.

So yes, they should be good, they should be really good. That is if they don't end up having "Hunter Pence doesn't strain his oblique after Denard Span pulls his hammy, Brandon Belt suffers another concussion and Joe Panik's back knocks him out a month" kind of luck. Because while the starting lineup and rotation certainly do look nice, they don't have a lot of room for error in terms of depth. They do have Gregor Blanco, who's a solid 4th outfielder, as well as some intriguing younger options, but they're not deep with experience, that's for sure.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Saturday, January 09, 2016

2016 Giants' set after big trio of signings

It now looks like the Giants 2016 Opening Day lineup and roster appears to be set, and it looks better on paper than any of their championship rosters, in my opinion. Just look at the projection:

Lineup:
(L) D.Span CF
(L) J.Panik 2B
(R) B. Posey C
(R) H. Pence RF
(L) B. Belt 1B
(R) M. Duffy 3B
(L) B. Crawford SS
(S) A. Pagan LF

Bench: C Susac, IF Tomlinson, IF Adrianza*, OF Blanco, OF Williamson*/Parker*/Blanks*

The only parts I'm curious about (aside from whether Bochy will do the right thing and move Pagan to left) are who Bochy will wind up using in the three-hole most nights. Possibly move Matt Duffy up into the spot and drop everyone else down a notch, but I do like the idea of Buster hitting in the first inning and getting as many AB's as possible. The other, lesser important part is who will end up in the 8-hole? Pagan makes most sense as he's considered the weakest hitter in the lineup and his speed would be nice to have on for pitichers to bunt him over, but B-Craw has done a terrific job there the last few seasons.

The bench isn't great but at the same time it's not terrible. Susac is a bright young talent and we saw a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in Tomlinson with his August and September splits. Tomlinson also doesn't have the positional versatility to really be a utility guy a la Joaquin Arias. What happens at shortstop when Crawford needs an off-day if Adrianza doesn't make the roster (which let's face it, he has no business on a 25-man ML roster)? Also, they need to figure out who's going to be their fifth outfielder. Preferably a right-hander with some thump and I think Marlon Byrd would be ideal if they could convince him to take on that role. Kyle Blanks (singed to minor league deal earlier in winter) is interesting as he hit .313 with an .875 OPS in a 71 at-bat stint in Texas last September so he may be an outside candidate. That big right-handed bat would sure be nice off the bench and Mac Williamson is also a dark-horse candidate for that slot.

Rotation:
LH Bumgarner
RH Cueto
RH Samardzija
RH Peavy
RH Cain

Peavy and Cain could switch, and if either of those two struggle or need shelve time, Chris Heston or Clayton Blackburn will be on he ready. Despite spending over $200M to upgrade this unit this winter, they may find themselves searching for a serviceable back-end guy come July if Cain and Peavy can't pull their weight.

Bullpen
CL Casilla
RH Romo
RH Strickland
LH Osich
LH Lopez
RH Kontos
RH Heston*

*not assured roster spot but front-runners at this point

The 'Pen is what it is. Should be better than average but it's not quite the championship's versions. A lot lies on the maturity of Strickland and Osich as well as Heston's adaptation to his new assignment (assuming he wins it in the spring). It definitely made more sense for them invest in their rotation and outfield, but Sergio Romo has become more hit-able the last couple of seasons and Santiago Casilla seems to always go through periods when he can't be trusted. They should be fine down there, but they don't have much room for error. Hopefully Strickland and Osich really burst onto the scene this year and take that pressure off Romo and Lopez.

We've got about 6 weeks before players and coaches start trickling into Scottsdale to kick-off spring training for the Giants, so a lot can happen between now and then, but I'm pretty sure the Giants are content after the signing of Span. Outside of maybe a few non-roster invitations handed out to some lower-tier free agents still looking for homes, I think this is the Giants roster we'll start 2016 with (so long as nobody gets hurt during spring), and I gotta say, I'm much more excited about this bunch than 2015's crew. That being said, with the glut, and I mean glut of mediocre talent still out there, I'm surprised the Giants bolster their roster even further. I mean, don't you think an Alexi Ramirez to back-up the middle or even a return of Marlyon Byrd to bolster the outfield. The Giants are clearly in go for it mode and I think they're ready to pull out all the stops this summer. It's good they didn't need to deal any of their prospects away during their upgrade!
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, January 08, 2016

Denard Span finalizes 'Giant offseason

There was plenty of speculation over the last 3 weeks, after the Giants shored up their rotation with the addition of Jeff Samardzija followed with the big splash of Johnny Cueto, as to whether their moves for the winter were done. The answer was no!

The Giants came to terms with former Washington National' Denard Span on a 3-year contract Thursday. San Francisco had been monitoring Span closely all winter long and made it no secret that they were also looking at outfielders that may be able to take over center field everyday when Pagan's deal is up after '16. Well, in fact, with the Span signing, the Giants would be better off expediting that process a year and letting Span handle center field from day one. He's by far the superior defender to Pagan and that's one of the major reasons the Giants found him so appealing. They don't have any hot-shot defensive center fielders who's bat is anywhere near major league-ready in the lower levels, so they certainly needed someone beyond this season. Not only should he end up taking Pagan's role as the everyday center fielder, Bruce Bochy has to slot him into the leadoff spot in the Giants order and that should be a given. Span has had an OPS south of .342 just once over past 4 seasons while Pagan has reached that number just once in the same period.

I know these numbers don't necessarily mean much, but it is worth noting the newest Giant has also hit .310 with an OPS over .850 in his career vs. NL West pitching and has his average north of .300 hitting in the ballpark by the bay.

So yes, if that hip can keep healthy and keep him that dynamic presence on the base-paths as well as center field, then I think this is going to end up being a terrific deal. This was kind of a two-for-one for Bob Myers as he takes care of left field this year while also cementing the team's center fielder/leadoff opening that would have created next fall/winter. It will also allows guys like Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker to compete a bit in left if/when Angel Pagan goes down with his token DL appearance. Being in his last year of his contract, Pagan should be more than determined to have a big year, but at the same time the Giants aren't tied to him next year so if he's slow out of the gate he'll find himself on the hot seat early.

Today is all about Span though and when it comes down to my personal opinion, I do like Denard Span as a ballplayer. He reminds me almost of a left-handed, outfield version of Marco Scutaro as he's just such a tough out and just knows how to do all those little things to beat you. He's a decent leadoff hitter, but I don't think he's a great leadoff guy because he doesn't walk quite enough and his OBP isn't as steadily high as it should be. You wanna be getting on at a 35% or higher clip as a leadoff guy. If someone starts dipping into the .330's or lower and don't hit for any extra-base power or steal 35 bases it's tough to justify keeping said player in that role. Therefore, not only did the Giants upgrade the outfield defense with Span, but they improved the leadoff spot and quite drastically if Span reverts into his '14 version of himself. He's got the ability to be much more than just a typical, Juan Pierre-type leadoff guy (no knock on Pierre) and in that spacious yard, his legs could lead to huge offensive numbers.

Not saying Pagan is a terrible leadoff hitter, the Giants won two tittles with him in that spot the majority of the time, but they can do better, and I also like Pagan down in the lower part of the order anyway where he can let out some swing and reach that 12-15 HR potential he's got in him. All I'm saying is that if Denard Span is healthy and is performing at the level he was during his last injury free season in 2014 (.302/.355/.771) with that rock solid defense out in center than he's going to be an upgrade over Pagan in all facets.

Now, with that being said, although the Span signing does make the team better, and the 3-year/$31M commitment isn't necessarily going to handi-cap them in the future, but the last time they singed a player similar to Span (an outfielder to come in and leadoff) was David Roberts and that did that not work out so well. I certainly expect Span to be much better than Roberts, but will he be $8M better than Gregor Blanco will wind up being the real question? Span was certainly on my list of options the Giants should consider just because he's a good leadoff man and good center fielder, but ideally I wanted that big slugger like a Yeonis Cespedes, Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton but it just goes to show again, power hitters don't want to hit at AT&T Park. Plus, chances of Cespedes or Cargo were slim to none after the Giants shelled out just shy of $250M in contracts prior to the Span signing. So seeing what market they were able to compete in, and the player they ended up with, it doesn't look too bad. I don't know what Dexter Fowler would have cost them. I'm sure slightly more per season and probably another year or two and fact is, Span is a superior defender and a much better contact hitter than Fowler but Fowler is younger with more power and still a little more upside.

The big question for Denard will be keeping healthy. Had he not gotten hurt and missed 100 games with Washington last season, he probably would have found himself up there among the top-15 free agents this year. He was one pace for a .302/12/51/.796 slash with 29 swipes last season but was limited to just 62 games because of that same hip injury that the Giants are hoping he's well beyond.  Had he stayed healthy and put up numbers like that, he'd easily be looking at a $75-$100M deal he was looking like he'd be getting after his big 2014 campaign. So as long as he can get back close to that level, the Giants may have gotten themselves a steal at 3/$31M.

All in all, I give it a solid B. Would have loved to see a Cespedes or CarGo come to town, but since that wasn't likely, Span makes sense in more ways than one. Again the contract was friendly too and I've seen this guy get on at times and carry an offense. Certainly one of the more underrated leadoff men in the game. Oh by the way, better average, OBP, more RBI and HR than Brett Gardner who's  making $13M a year and many consider a solid leadoff man.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

With Cueto in tow, LF only void

With Johnny Cueto passing his physical last week and officially being introduced  as a San Francisco Giant, the orange and black have shored up their starting rotation. Now, with roughly 8 weeks until players report for spring they can shift all of their focus into the outfield.

Obviously a popular question after the Giants signed Cueto last week was whether or not the Giants had the resources left to upgrade left field. Most assumed that the Giants would pretty much be done, but Bobby Evans actually said he would be surprised if they weren't able to upgrade there. He also said recently that the team would be more than comfortable with Gregor Blanco heading into the year if need be. So the big question is which route is the most realistic way to upgrade left field, if they are indeed able to? All outfielders who were available after Jason Heyward are still available on December 22nd, which is a bit surprising as many thought things would start falling into place after Heyward signed. However, after committing over $200M this winter to Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, it's doubtful the Giants will be in on the top few guys on the free agent market. That likely rules out Justin Upton, Yeonis Cespedes and Alex Gordon. That being said, we're getting close to January, and if the Giants somehow get lucky and bring Yeonis Cespedes or Justin Upton in on something like a 5-year, $80M deal or something like that then who knows? It's doubtful, as both are likely to get north of $100M, but not many expected the Giants to snag Cueto and look where we are now!


So, outside of those top guys we've talked about here before, the Giants are likely focused on the second-tier guys, led by Dexter Fowler. I mean, Fowler is borderline up there with those guys above him, as his defense is superior to all and he's the only one with the natural ability to play center field, which is where he could slide in 2017 after Pagan's deal expires. The question I have about Fowler would be how his bat would fare at AT&T Park. He's coming off a year where he hit 17 jacks but hit only .250 while playing his home games at Wrigley Field. I think the spacious outfield at AT&T would allow for more hits to drop for Fowler, but his power would probably take a nice hit. So when your all said and done, you may be looking at a younger version of Angel Pagan with better defense and will get on base a helluva lot more. Not a bad player at all, but not worth $17M/year if that's what he's seeking. Fowler would be great on a 4-year/$50M deal. I'd even go as high as $60M over four years but I don't think he's worth more than $15M oer year. That's getting to the point where I'd really rather just pay the extra couple million per season and get a legit offensive slugger like Upton (it's not my money after all).

The other free agents worth a look after Fowler would be Denard Span, Gerardo Para, Austin Jackson and Marlon Byrd. Seeing as they have Blanco on the roster already, it doesn't make a ton of sense to go at Span, as the two are similar players. Para is a little more dynamic offensively, and also a defensive stud, but his asking price is likely going to be inflated after his .291/14/51/.780 season and he's really just a notch above Blanco as a glorified platoon corner outfielder. Jackson is a little more intriguing as he to has been a solid center fielder in the past and is just 29 years old. My guess is that if the Giants go the free agent route, a return of Marlon Byrd, who wasn't bad during his stint here last year (39 G .272/4/31/.764), or an Austin Jackson dice-roll would seem very plausible.

As far as trade, it's tough to gauge because there are still a lot of free agents out there and teams aren't quite sure yet how their final rosters are going to look. Too many teams feel like they have an outside shot at contending. Carlos Gonzalez has been the most intriguing name on the rumor mill, but he'd probably cost half the farm system. Matt Kemp is someone who I've been keeping an eye on this winter and is an interesting subject. The Dodgers ate a lot of Kemp's contract upon the his trade to San Diego last December, so the Giants would be on the hook for four years and $60M (not bad in today's market). Kemp is coming off back-to-back solid, healthy seasons. Petco slashed away at his slugging and batting average, but he still hit 23 jacks and drove in 100 runs. Another slugging outfielder who's been rumored to be on the block is Jay Bruce. He, however, is coming off back-to-back dreadful seasons in which he hit .217 and .226, respectively. Still, his 30+ HR/year potential and age, 29, gives him value and the Reds certainly won't part with him unless they're getting back at least two prospects who are pretty sure bets to be good major league players.

The trade route is certainly an option but it would definitely cost them, prospect wise. They could also look at someone like Khris Davis, who would probably come cheaper, but also doesn't have the upside a guy like Bruce does. Again, I really don't think the Giants wanna do another long-term, big money deal this winter and won't go after one of those top outfielders. They may not even wanna pay Dexter Fowler what he's going to get, which is why I really think bringing back Byrd on a one-year $4-5M deal is where they're going to find themselves. He can platoon with Blanco and then if that combo isn't getting it done come June, then they dial up Cincinnati and check on Jay Bruce (if he's still there) or make that big blockbuster splash and bring in Carlos Gonzalez.

We may not post again until after the holidays, unless there is a move that is made. We'll try to get one more in before the calendar flips to 2016 (hopefully bringing some even year success with it) but just in case we don't we wish all our readers a very happy and safe holiday week. I truly appreciate everyone who stumbles across this site and a true thank you to anyone who's taken the time to read and comment on posts. I appreciate all feedback, good and bad, and look forward to expanding out website in the new year with possibly a new domain and updated graphics. So stay tuned!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE GIANTS BASEBALL BLOG!!! 
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Monday, December 14, 2015

Elbow checks out, Giants sign Johnny Cueto

Well, if you remember earlier this offseason when the top-three free agent starting pitchers came off the board so quickly, it left Johnny Cueto as the cream of the crop pretty early on. I also posted shortly after the Zach Grienke signing that it was Johnny Cueto or bust for SF. Needless to say, the team did not "bust"!


The Giants were reportedly in on Johnny Cueto sort of all along, but were never considered favorites after signing Jeff Samrdzija to that big deal earlier this month. However, the Giants still needed a starter, probably compared the money they'd give to Cueto to the money they'd have to pay a guy like Mike Leake and decided it better to take that last "potential ace" off the market, signing him to a 6-year, $130M contract. I don't blame them one bit. I mean, Mike Leake, who's about the same age as Cueto, has nowhere near Cueto's ability to dominate when he's on. I mean, just look at game two of the World Series last year. If there were any doubts about his right-elbow entering the offseason and free agency, they were pretty much cleared up with that dominant, two-hit complete game shutout of the Mets. That was apparently the big worry about Cueto, as it has been for much of his career, the health. However, he's made all his starts the last two seasons and has only had one year since 2008 in which he started less than 24 games.

The thing about Cueto that probably made him so appealing to the Giants though, is how he performs when he is out there on the mound, which can reach MadBum levels. This guy has been really good for about 6-7 years now and will be just entering his age-30 season. Since the start of the 2012 season, he's gone 55-33 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.01 WHIP while striking out about 8 hitters per nine innings and walking just over 2. He's one of the tougher pitchers in baseball to hit and what makes this resume even more impressive is the fact that half of his starts over that time span have come in the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark (The Coors Field of the mid-west). He was runner up in the Cy Young voting last year after going 20-9 with a 2.22 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 243 K's while hurling 246 innings in 2014. So I'm sure you get it, and I'm sure you've picked up on it the last half decade or so when he's gone up against San Francisco: Johnny Cueto is a damn good pitcher..... When he's healthy.

So, what's the deal look like? It's actually not that bad at all, after considering what the two guys ahead of him got (David Price $217M, Zack Grienke $207M). When free-agency first started, I kinda was looking at Jordan Zimmerman as the bargain, as I thought his price tag would be the cheapest of the premiere arms, and he could be nearly as effective as the others at a discount rate. However, guys who've undergone TJ Surgery haven't historically done well deep into their career's after the surgery, so giving him a long term deal taking him into his mid-later 30's wasn't ideal. Now Cueto seems like a bargain. The dread-locked ace will receive $130M over 6 seasons, granted he does have an opt-out option after 2 years and $46M, which almost view as a positive. One thing I like about the opt-out clause as it does give Cueto extra incentive to keep healthy and sharp at the beginning of the deal. I mean, wouldn't signing Cueto to a 2-year $46M deal be reasonable anyway? The contract also includes a team option for a 7th-year which could take the deal over $150M. So when you look at it, the Giants nearly ended up getting both Jeff Samrdzija and Johnny Cueto for not much more than they would have had to pay just one of David Price or Zack Grienke. I'm much happier with the Cueto/Samardzija duo than a prospective Grienke/Heston duo, that's for sure.

Just look at the rotation now:

LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Jeff Samardzija
RHP Jake Peavy
RHP Matt Cain

Wow! I mean, if the Giants get any kind of rebound out of Matt Cain and Peavy can stay on the field, this could again be among the better rotations in the game. Bumgarner and Cueto now give them a 1-2 punch that equals any in baseball, period, and the last time Samardzija was in the NL, he looked like a top-end rotation guy himself. This staff has a lot of interesting things going on with it now. If their two new signings can dominate in the NL West like they were able the NL Central then things should be great for the Giants. The move pushes Chris Heston into the long-relief role previously held by Yusmiero Petit and allows Bochy to slot Petit in for Cain if need be or Peavy if/when he makes his token DL appearance(s) this season. It gives the Giants so much more depth, and makes them so much more quality, I can't help but give Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean two thumbs up for this one. If they aren't able to find a starting left fielder, it's a question of would you rather have had Dexter Fowler or Johnny Cueto? I think you take a potential ace over a slightly above-average outfielder any day of the week. That said, the Giants are still expected to find an everyday solution in left, as Bobby Evans said on KNBR Monday, so things could be getting even better really soon.

I'll tell you one thing, I'm much more optimistic about the Giants heading into the 2016 season right now than I was in even their championship seasons (although I did like 2014's team a lot coming in). I still would love to see them upgrade left field significantly, but this signing takes some pressure off that and if Bobby Evans says he intends on finding an everyday guy I won't doubt him. Especially not after inking one of the most effective right-handed starters of the last half-decade! As long as he stays healthy.......
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A look at the top of the outfield market

There has been so much talk all over the airwaves and throughout internet media sources about Major League Baseball free agency and most of the talk has centered on the free-agent starting pitching market.

It does make some since though as there were really only two true, legit aces on the market in David Price and Zack Greinke. That's no knock on Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmerman (who are aces on plenty of squads out there) but the former two are the top guys on whatever staff they join, baring maybe a few exceptions. So, it makes since why so much attention has centered around the starting pitching market, but with Johnny Cueto the only real intriguing arm yet to find a home (and my guess is that should be coming sooner than later), let's just hope it's not the Dodgers. As for the next wave of arms (Samardzija, Mike Leake, Wie Yen-Chen, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kenta Maeda), Jeff Samardzija, considered by many the next best thing after the front-four, landed with the Giants. Although you know here that I was a strong advocate of going after Johnny Cueto but since the Giants didn't feel that same affection, what can you do as a lowly blogger and fan after all? A

Anyway, away from the mound for a moment and into the outfield, where yes, they still have a major hole to fill, and it's a little more important than many people are making it out to be. I hear the "We have Jarrett Parker now, we have Blanco yadayada" but if the Giants fail to address their outfield depth AGAIN and role into next season without some legit options out there, I may just protest outside AT&T Park on opening day (if I weren't so damn lazy).

The one name we've been hearing most about filling Nori Aoki's void in left field was Ben Zobrist, but it came out Monday that the 34 year-old super-utility All-Star would prefer to play second base on a daily basis. That pretty much rules out the Giants unless they overpay or have some trade in the works involving Joe Panic and some outfielder, but that's so doubtful. So, with Zobrist slipping further off their radar, the Giants need to decide whether they go the next-tier up and spend a little more for the Alex Gordon's, Jayson Heyward's or Justin Upton's?

Yeonis Cespedes showed last summer he's a superstar who's only gotten better but the Giants haven't been linked to him, much like with Jordan Zimmerman. I don't think the Giants like something about him or how he'll develop over the next couple of years. But wow, look what dude did in just two months in the spacious Citi Field: 230 AB, 39 R, 17 HR, 44 RBI, .287, .337,.934) shredding NL pitching and he wasn't much worse in that huge Detroit yard before the deal. He did, however, disappear significantly in the playoffs. I wouldn't give him the $150M deal he's looking for, but I would give him 5-years in the $100M range, I mean, he's proven healthy and durable with the ability to hit 30+ a year with a nice average and a dependable left fielder who can play center in a pinch. So long as they feel he could fit in here. He's been the model of consistency since coming over and has even improved each year. At 30, he still has plenty of high-level play and the ability to carry an offense when he's on, left in him.

As for the others, I feel like Cespedes just slightly behind the top-men Justin Upton and Jason Heyward and then Gordon is the clear fourth option (Note I'm not including Chris Davis in this because he won't be playing outfield where he signs). I think Heyward's game would translate well at AT&T as he hits those home runs down the right field line a lot and that 309 foot porch could be conducive to that. Plus he's fast with gap power and could hit them out to triples alley and run for days. It's just too bad he can't play center for when Angel Pagan moves on after this season (assuming he does) or else he'd be so much more valuable. Heyward does a little bit of everything well though. Almost like a left-handed version of Hunter Pence and who wouldn't take another one of those guys on the team? However, your going to have to pay for his services, because not only is Heyward valuable now, he's 26 and hasn't even hit his prime yet, meaning his agent will be telling people he's only a shade of what he'll be in  four years. That's something that I think will shy many people away besides the notorious rich teams like Boston, New York, St. Louis, Chicago and Washington.


Then there's still my personal favorite, Justin Upton, who along with Heyward, Gordon and Cespedes, are the last of the real impact-able corner outfielders left on the market and Upton is a guy who always seems to pop-up on the Giants' radar. Problem is, if I remember correctly, he voiced worry about possibly joining the Giants and having to hit in their home ballpark each night, but who knows how serious that was, or whether his tune has changed. I do know he does strike out his fair share, but he also does get on base and is a shoe in for 25+ long balls and 85+ RBI and typically a .270+ average (minus last year). He's the guy that was looking like he was gonna take off and become one of baseball's elite in 2011 with that huge bat speed and ability to run and and get on base. However, ever since that year, he's either gone down or stayed the same, which is odd for a player in his mid-20's with that skill-set.

As much as I like him, Upton isn't coming to San Francisco though, and I doubt the Giants are even pursuing him. One guy they are pursuing, however, is Alex Gordon, and of all the upper-echelon free agent outfielders, I see him as the most likely option for the Giants. He probably won't break the bank, but should get five years in the $100M range. But I do think he'd be worth it, in this market. He's been Kansas City's Buster Posey the last five years and he's been about as steady as they come. He'd really be a good fit in the clubhouse, is a terrific defensive left-fielder and would probably see his numbers return closer to 2011 (.303/23/87/.879) hitting in front of Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. He's very similar to Ben Zobrist, who was clearly the Giants number one option, but I think Gordon is better because he's better suited for everyday left field duties and I think he's got more offensive potential than the elder Zobrist.

The things that drew them to Zobrist was switch-hitting bat and the defensive versatility, both of which make him a WAR monster (at such a reasonable price too!). Zobrist just does everything pretty well, but Gordon plays a better left field and is a more dangerous hitter than Zobrist. He's also three years younger than Zobrist which is a pretty big deal when your talking four and five year contracts.

The intriguing things with Upton and Heyward is their age under-30 age. Upton is curious at age 28, as that's when Barry Bonds came to San Francisco really went to the next level (Not in any way comparing the two, just saying Upton has similar skill-set and still has breakout potential). Because he's two years younger, I'd lean toward J-Up over Cespedes just because his ability to get on base when he's not hitting. Plus Upton's still so young to where he may take a 2 or 3 year deal to prove himself and become a free agent again at 30 and really cash in. But all in all, like I said, if it's a free agent, most all signs point right to Alex Gordon. He's the safe bet, will come cheaper than  the aforementioned options and still give you that middle-of-the-order threat.

I mean, there are more outfielders out there to and probably they're the ones the Giants will be going after. The likes of Dexter Fowler and Gerrado Para but the outfield class is slim pickings this year in terms of free agency. Teams know that too so if you try and trade for one your gonna have to overpay as well.

Speaking of trade, Bobby Evans made it clear the Giants aren't ruling out the trade route in their search for outfield help and even kept open the possibility of trading for an infielder with the ability to make that switch to left field. Heck, Michael Morse/Travis Ishikawa and Pat Burrell were the starting left fielders on a couple of those championship team after all. Far from defensive wizards in the outfield.

*Updated Giants' Free-Agent Wish List (The Giants Baseball Blog Edition)* 
1. SP Zach Greinke (Signed w/D-Backs 6 yr/$206M)
2. SP David Price (Signed w/Red Sox 7 yr/$217M)
3. SP Johnny Cueto
4. OF Jason Heyward (Signed w/Cubs, 8 yr/$184M)
5. OF Justin Upton
6. OF Yeonis Cespedes
7. OF Alex Gordon
8, SP Jeff Samrdzija (signed w/Giants, 5 yr/$90M)
9. UT Ben Zobrist (signed w/Cubs, 4 yr/$54M)
10. SP Mike Leake
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Saturday, December 05, 2015

Giants settle for Samardzija: 5 years/$90M

For a team that was heavy in the running for the two top arms on the free agent market, David Price and Zack Greinke, the Giants had to settle for a consolation prize on Saturday.

The Giants came to terms with free agent right-hander Jeff Samradzija on a 5-year, $90 million deal in order to slot hard-thrower into the number 2 spot in their rotation behind Madison Bumgarner. Even when the Giants won their last tittle in 2014, they didn't really have a starting pitcher (or many relief arms for that matter) that Bruce Bochy felt comfortable using and Jeff Samardzija will give them just that.

There are some concerns about the season Samardzija is coming off of with the ChiSox where he struggled throughout and posted an 11-13 record to go with a 4.96 ERA. It's not like it was a fluke ERA either as he was hit hard, giving up a league-high 229 hits coupled with 29 big flies. Now of course the Giants are hoping a return to the NL will mean a return to his pre-2015 numbers but to tell you the truth, the big righty has only had three full seasons since 2008 in which he's performed like a front-end pitcher. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012 he's posted ERA's of 3.81, 4.34, 2.99 and 4.96. So, your looking at an average ERA in the low-mid 4's as a starter and that just doesn't have me elated about the Giants new number two. Not that I dislike the move necessarily, I just felt there was a better one to be made.

Now, I know the general theme of my response to the move so far has been somewhat negative, but that being said, of the arms out there in free agency not named Johnny Cueto, I do think Samardzija was probably the best choice. I mean, if he was coming into free agency after his 2014 season, he probably would have been easily the third choice after Greinke and Price and would have likely got himself a deal well into the $100 millions. So, on that front, if the Giants convinced themselves 2015 was more of an aberration rather than the start of a downward trend, I can see why Samardzija did attract them. I do like him much more than Mike Leake and would have been livid had they given Leake that deal instead. Another positive is that they didn't have to shell out $150M or whatever some of these top-flight starters are getting this winter and now have an extra chunk of change that they can use to really upgrade left field rather than throw another one-year stop-gap out there. They also still should have some dough left to solidify the back end of that rotation too. One intriguing guy I'm keeping tabs on is Scott Kazmir, who may be inclined to take another one-year deal after his terrible second half in Houston. I doubt he'll settle for 4th or 5th starter money though and shouldn't have trouble finding more.

With Samardzija signed sealed and delivered though, it does leave me to question why the Giants weren't more active in pursuit of Johnny Cueto. I mean, he's a guy who's an ace when he's right, is just 29-30 years old and absolutely shreds the NL. There are only two reasons I can really think of which may have scared them away. One is they just don't feel like he's going to age well into his contract and only has another couple of seasons tops, as an elite arm. His second half of last year after his huge 2014 workload may have signaled him hitting some sort of career wall.

The other area, and probably the one which was ultimately the deciding factor, is the health issues but looking at his track record, he's started 30+ games in all but 2 seasons since 2008. He also sports a nice 90-72 record with a 3.30 ERA and 1.18 WHIP during that span while throwing in the NL Central which is something like a 2.50 ERA and 1.03 WHIP translated over into the NL West. So yeah, I wanted to see what that guy could have done in this big spacious yard but alas it wasn't meant to be and it's gonna be big 6'7" Jeff Samardzija taking the ball in game two of the 2016 season for your San Francisco Giants!

For anyone who didn't know much of Samardzija outside of his sub-par 2015 run with the South-siders, here's a little 2 minute video "The Shark" shutting down Toronto, and you can easily see how he put up that 2.99 ERA and 1.06 WHIP (regardless of the 7-13 W-L record) in '14!

The Giants don't appear to be finished yet either. They reportedly have intentions on meeting with or have already met with Ben Zobrist Saturday and he's been a guy they've been eyeing since they had a void at second base in 2014 (before Joe Panik came and saved the day). Now the Giants are looking to him as a possible replacement for Nori Aoki in left field and I kind of have that feeling that their going to get something done with him. They also are still looking at back-end options for their starting rotation as well as other outfielders. It wouldn't surprise me to see them get all their work done soon either, so stay tuned cause this is the time of year when things start happening in the blink of an eye!

In closing, not a bad deal by any stretch, just not quite the one I wanted, but hey, they got the best of the second-tier, I'll give them that. Positives: Great health history, in his prime at 30-31 and has had a light enough workload over his career, being a reliever for much of it, that he should have plenty left in the tank. He's got the high-powered fastball that hits the upper-90's which will be fun to see and that fall off the table breaking ball. A great three, a solid two. I grade the contract/addition a solid "B".
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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