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Friday, February 16, 2018

After active offseason, Giants report to Scottsdale

They're baaaack! After a strange, slow start to the offseason, The Giants were arguably the most busy team in baseball this winter, making three significant moves that they hope will help turn their fortunes around in 2018 after a dismal '17 season.

 The Giants have been lacking thump in their lineup really every since Pablo Sandoval left and Busey Posey and Hunter Pence (for different reasons) both have seen their power numbers plummet over the last few seasons. This winter, they were able to tune up their offense in a big way, bringing in former all-stars and MVP candidates in Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, while also finding themselves a capable defensive and productive offensive centerfielder in Austin Jackson. Now all three additions are 30+ years of age so the Giants clear goal is to really go all out for another ring over the next year or two.  And while they were able to fix up their offense while also improving their all-around defense, the one area the team did not add to, in fact they subtracted from, was their pitching staff. Both their starting rotation and bullpen where issues last season and were contributors to the near 100-loss season, maybe not quite as much as the potent-less offense, but certainly an area of concern heading into the offseason.

Fast forward to this week when pitchers and catchers reported to Scottsdale to get the 2018 season's beginning stages underway, and they still have not been able to really find any sure fire upgrades to either the bullpen or the starting rotation. They, in fact, lost a starter who wasn't very good in 2017, but still has the potential to be solid #3 starter when he's on in Matt Moore, but giving up more was essential in clearing cap space for 'Cutch and 'Longo. By giving up their expected fourth starter though, it's created somewhat of a void in their rotation. Granted, based off last years numbers, Ty Blach, the guy expected to take Moore's rotation spot, was a little better than Moore was, but Moore has the ability to be much better than Blach. To me, Blach is best suited at doing what's needed out of the bullpen while bringing the ability to spot start rather than being penned into the rotation with 30+ starts in mind. Chris Stratton's performance down the stretch last season has basically positioned himself into the fourth starters spot, unless he absolutely tanks this spring. It's entirely possible that both Blach and Stratton struggle this spring as both are still pretty unproven at the big league level.

The Giants did bring in Derek Holland for extra support but he's a guy who's coming off the worst season of his career which made Blach look like Clayton Kershaw in comparison. So it's doubtful, unless Holland's down year was due to an injury that's all of the sudden behind him and he's back in 2013 form, that this guy really has any sort of role for the Giants, at least out of the gate. The team is also said to be looking at Tim Lincecum, who impressed onlookers with his recent workout this week. Although 33 years of age now, Timmy has pretty much had the last 2 seasons off, so he should be pretty fresh and his velocity, which sat between 90-93 MPH, was his best posting since 2013 if I'm not mistaken. I think it was 2014 when his velocity dipped below 90 on average though he was still touching 90-91, but if he is indeed back to above 90 MPH with the heater and he's got command of it and still has his secondary pitches, then he would be well worth a roll of the dice in my opinion. He's a guy who could join the battle for the final 2 rotation spots as well as present an option for long/mid-relief for Bochy. Nobody knows Timmy like the Giants do though, so if they see something in him that they believe will yield some results, you can bet that they'll do what they can to bring him back.

The only other name I think that's still out there that could make sense in the battle for a rotation spot is R.A. Dickey. We've talked about him at length already in previous posts so I won't keep beating a dead horse on this topic, but to me, he's the one other free agent out there who may take that minor league deal if the Giants guarantee him a rotation spot, while giving him a shot at a ring. Unless the Dodgers, Nats, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians or Cubs offer him a deal, then the Giants are probably as good a bet as any other squad to reach the postseason with their history and the moves they made this winter. I considered Lackey in the same arena as Dickey, but Lackey I think is too much of a hot-head and may not fit well into this clubhouse.

As for some relievers, there really isn't much left as all teams pitchers and catchers have reported to their teams camps. Kojie Uehara is probably the biggest name still out there but there's no way he's taking a minor league deal although he would be a nice add to the late innings of this bullpen. One name who may be able to come in and help out the pen though on a lesser contract like a minor league deal or a MLB minimum and someone who was linked to the Giants a few days back is left-hander Tony Watson. With Will Smith coming back from Tommy John surgery and likely going to be monitored over the first weeks of the season (assuming he's ready by opening day, which the Giants are hopeful he'll be), and the left-handed options after him very un-inspiring, Watson makes a ton of sense. He's coming off a strong year for the Pirates and Dodgers, actually posting a 2.70 ERA for the Dodgers after coming over in a trade from the Pirates in July. The 33 year-old lefty has regularly posted ERA's in the low 3's throughout his career, never once reaching 4, and sports a 1.08 lifetime WHIP. So you can see why the Giants would be interested in him when you consider their in house options to be Stephen Okert and Josh Osich, both guys who've posted ERA's of 5+ throughout their brief careers in the bigs.

Anyhow, with spring training officially underway, the offseason (despite the majority of the top-100 free-agents still without homes) is officially over. And with the offseason coming to an end, it's only fitting we give the Giants an offseason grade.

They were a team that was banking heavily on trying to get Giancarlo Stanton and believed themselves to be the front-runners in those sweepstakes. However, when he declined the trade to San Francisco, if prompted Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans into action on their backup plans. Considering they basically turned the Stanton spurning into Jackson, Longoria and McCutchen, I'd say they actually came out better than they would have had they just landed Stanton and done nothing else. Not only for the future of the team but for 2018 as well. So I give them a solid A for doing all they could to upgrade their lineup with the resources they had even though I hated the fact they had to give up Christian Arroyo. However, again, they didn't do much of anything to help their pitching staff out as a hole. I don't think it was for lack of effort, I think they just prioritized offense early and got mixed up in the Stanton sweepstakes which took up a lot of their focus as a lot of the relievers found homes early on in the offseaosn. Then after obtaining Cutch and Longo, they didn't have the money to make a play for any significant starting pitcher. Now they are hoping a lot of their guys who under-performed in 2017 (either due to injury or whatever reason) rebound, but even so, they should have made a couple moves to improve their staff.

So, because of the lack of ability to get any pitching reinforcements whatsoever (I know it's easier said then done, the pen has been an issue for 2 seasons now), I rate their overall offseason any higher than a B. Now, if they somehow land Watson and Dickey in the next week or two, then that grade gets bumped up to at least a B+, but we'll have to wait and see. An offseason grade of a B isn't bad though, and if their guys rebound like they're expected to, then this team will be right in the wild card race.

One thing I can tell you though is that I'm extremely excited for opening day and to see this new look lineup in action. McCutchen still has MVP abilities, I think, and Longo's still going to hit 20+ jacks with 80+ RBI and play gold glove third base at the very least (as long as he's out there for 145+ ballgames). Jackson too should be a welcome addition in center, and provide much more range than Span had the last two seasons while also providing a bat with .300 potential, some sneaky pop and the ability to swipe a base from time to time. Those guys are what really have most of this fan base at least somewhat optimistic that this team will flip their fortunes around after a horrendous 2017, but all we can do is speculate until March 29th roles around!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Giants ink Derek Holland for SP depth

The Giants, in their search for pitching help for the low, aka the bargain basement of the free agent pool, found their first arm they've inked all season long, signing former Ranger's LHP Derek Holland to a minor league deal on Friday. Far from the level of guys I was hoping they'd be able to lure in on a minor league deal or Major League minimum, Holland will come in and join the competition for the two remaining rotation spots that are up for grabs.

 I mean, I get the deal in the sense that the Giants need some pitching depth that has major league experience and Holland will provide that and be there in case Chris Stratton, Ty Blach or Tyler Beede don't pan out this spring. However, that being said, I really was hoping the team would be able to get someone with a little more success in recent seasons. Now, the good part of this deal is that it's a minor league deal and won't preclude them from adding another starter with a better chance at making their rotation as we get closer to the season. With the amount of pitchers still looking for work, they may just get lucky and land someone on a minimum deal they could add incentives to. Holland, though, cannot be counted on for very much as he hasn't put together a full successful big league campaign since 2013. He's also coming off the worst season of his career last summer with the White Sox, in which he posted a 6.20 ERA and 1.71 WHIP over 26 starts. Granted, he may not have been 100% healthy, he's been trending down for a few seasons now and he's 31 years old. Unless the Giants found themselves a Ryan Vogelsong part 2, another player who re-invents their career after multiple down or injury-plagued seasons, then he probably will reside in AAA for most of 2018.

As I mentioned before though, there are still names out there like R.A. Dickey, Jeremy Hellickson, Jaime Garcia and John Lackey, that may have to settle for a much lesser deal than I think all of them were anticipating. Hellickson and Garcia should almost certainly get deals out of the Giants price range, but it's been a weird offseason and if they're still looking for work in March, they may have to take what they can get. SF could provide a place to boost their value for next winter while playing for a team with hopes of contention. As for Lackey and Dickey, they could be appealing because both of those guys are coming off of decent seasons and at their age they've earned plenty and may be seeking a team that will give them a chance to win. Lackey, in my opinion, should be the number one target. He's pitched so well in a hitters yard and division for the Cubs the last few seasons and heading into his age 39 season, Baseball Reference has him projected to throw 165 innings with a 4.09 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and nearly a K per inning. Those are good numbers for anyone, let alone a guy on doorstep of his 40th birthday. Dickey too would be an interesting option and I'm sure he wants a shot at a ring before he hangs em up. He's 43 years old, but his knuckle ball and pitching style allow him to stay successful as he hasn't posted an ERA above 4.46 since '09. If you put either Lackey or Dickey on this team last year, they'd have been the teams second best, most consistent starter after Samardzija.

Those are the two I'm looking at mostly because their age won't require any long-term, high salaried contract, and they showed last season they still have some strong innings left in those right arms. I know the Giants seem to be prioritizing more bullpen help at this point, but as I've said in recent posts after they seemed to have shored up their lineup, they cannot neglect their rotation. Yes, their front-3, barring a return to health by Cueto and Bum, are as strong as most in the league, but after that it's really a crap shoot. Stratten looked the part last September but those were in low pressure starts on a team that lost nearly 100 games.

I know the pen can't be overlooked either, and that's the area that has repeatedly unable to get fixed via outside help so they're once again going to bank on their own guys magically turning it around and providing better performances than they have the last 3 seasons. Granted, with a healthy Melancon and hopefully Smith, it will give them two weapons they never really had a season ago.. They have their closer and a couple of set-up options in Dyson and Strickland as well as the return Will Smith, who will be their top left-handed set-up option at the end of the bullpen. Their mid-relief has shown glimpses of being very good (first half of 2016 and the second half of 2017) but have been largely inconsistent over the last two seasons which needs to improve. Derek Law really needs to rebound and they need another guy to step up and be that second lefty (fingers crossed that Smith is healthy enough to be the primary late-inning lefty out of the gate as hoped). I'd love it to be Blach but it looks like he'll be forced into the rotation no matter what he does this spring, unless. on the very off chance. Derek Holland has a lights out March and thoroughly outperforms Blach.

Although the Giants got the as close to the power/defenisve upgrades added to this lineup as they could without going over the luxury tax, they still have some things to figure out within their pitching staff and whether or not they'll be adding more names to the mix in the coming days before they report to Scottsdale for their first P and C workout on the 14th. They also, apparently, are still open to adding some more outfield depth if they can find the right situation. Again though, due to them being less than $2M from the CBT, they really don't have much money to throw around and any move they make will likely have to be a minor league deal or they may have one major league minimum offer that they'd be able to make.

In summation, the Holland deal doesn't make me feel one way or another. I guess I'd lean toward supporting it just because its not costing them major league money while providing depth at Sac if nothing else but I just don't see this guy coming in and making the Giants rotation, otherwise they may be in worse shape there than even I was worried about.... Still time to lure in another arm or two. Bring me Lackey or if not him then bring Liriano, or if he passes his physical, Chris Tillman could be a huge steal if they could get him on the cheap. Scott Feldman is another guy in that class, who at the minimum could make a lot of sense. He is 35 years old, but didn't pitch too bad at all for the abysmal Reds last summer, as he made 21 starts and rocked a 4.77 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. The 3 years prior to last, Feldman posted ERA's below 4 in each season and is equally well versed at starting and relieving so although he's a little older, he could have some major value to a team looking for pitching depth in both the bullpen and rotation.

Granted, Feldy and Liriano's '17 numbers weren't much better than Ty Blach's in most areas, one area they clearly dominated him in was the strikeout column. Also, something just seemed to happen to Blach down the stretch that really made me lose confidence in him as the league seemed to figure him out in a big way. I know strikeouts aren't his bread and butter but when a ML starter K's less than half a batter per inning, it tells you that their stuff isn't the type of stuff that will miss bats regularly. So unless you've got uncanny command and can place the ball where you want when you want (something Blach did not do last season), then your asking for trouble.

Giants Fan Fest 2018: I'm sure that if your a big enough Giants fan then you're well aware that the annual pre-spring Fan Fest is taking place this Saturday afternoon (2/10) at AT&T Park, and it should be quite a different fan fast than in years past. The Giants have some new players they've  added to their core and it will be all three, Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson making their first appearance as Giants reps and I';m looking forward as to what these guys will be saying and the optimism surrounding the team. I read that the team is "Euphoric" about the upcoming season and cannot wait to get things kicked off this weekend at Fan Fest before catching their flight out to Arizona to get his comeback attempt officially underway. Usually it's the younger squads that are overly amplified for their upcoming season and not veteran teams coming off a 100'ish loss season so when you got a bunch of vets who, half the squad about has already won a ring this excited and Euphoric about the upcoming campaign it's always a very good sign. I don't remember anything close to this kind of optimism heading into last spring. They also know that if they play well enough to be in the hunt come mid-season and are missing a piece or two then management is essentially showing that they'll do anything possible inside their budget to get this team the players they need. 

Extras: So with the Giants' heavy lifting done for the offseason and Spring Training officially kicking off in 5 days, out next post will be our 2018 San Francisco Giants Preview. In that post, we'll break down the projected 25-man roster as we see it at the time of posting it. Of course plenty can happen over the long month of spring training baseball, and things could change but as we enter spring, we wanted to give you an idea in terms of the Giants full roster, projected lineup/rotation/bench/bullpen as well as some names to keep an eye on during spring training who could have outside chances at making the big leagues out the gate. Those are always one of my funner posts as I get to lay out the Giants 40-man roster and sort of asses it heading into the season. Granted I won't be writing about all 40 guys on the roster, I will project the 25 man as well as 3-5 guys who are right on the bubble and should be watched closely this spring and during the early season.

Of course eventually we'll break off  and start our division-by-division previews, which is another one of my favorite posting topics as we get to become familiar with the National League in its entirety and get an idea of how the Giants match up with the rest of the league. During those stretch of posts we'll, of course, stay tapped in with the Giants happenings and news as well so don't worry, we'll still be covering the team like we regularly would. Time permitting we'll try and do something similar for the American League but depending on what's happening in Giants camp, I may or may not be able to get a full American League division-by-division preview but I will give my thoughts on each division regardless.

It's unlikely the Giants did enough to overtake the West from LA, but they'll likely be in the battle for the wild card spots with the likes of Arizona, Colorado, St. Louis and Milwaukee. If they're healthy, the Mets could be as dangerous as any of those teams with all those power arms and a potentially much improved lineup from top to bottom with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez, the return of Jay Bruce and the bargain 2 yr. deal they signed Todd Frazier to (that's $8M/year to possibly come in and hit 30 jacks and drive in 90 for them over 2 years). Also with Cespedes still in is prime and 2017 breakout performer, before his injury, Michael Conforto, not only will the Mets be able to pitch with anyone in the league, they should be able to score some runs as well! But I'm getting too in depth on that and there will be a time for more team previews in the coming weeks so stay tuned!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Few questions remain, but offseason has sprung optimism

We're just a couple weeks away from spring training kicking off, and with the Giants fanfest coming up next weekend, things are really starting to heat up and the expectations for this team will be as high as ever. Fans are excited about the makeover the team went through over the winter, and to see the new faces making up 3/8 of the teams starting lineup (including potential all-stars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in particular).

While the team wasn't quite able to fill every single one of their needs (or at least haven't yet), they still made three huge additions that have most fans, including myself; optimistic that this team should be right back in the playoff mix in 2018. That said, they'll still need a lot of things to go right, even with their three big adds, in order to overtake the Rockies, D-Backs and/or Dodgers in attempt to birth another postseason appearance. Just getting into the tournament is so important to them because they don't always have the best regular season record, but something about this core, and their leader Bruce Bochy just clicks in October. Look no further as their 3 tittles in 4 postseason appearances since 2010 as evidence!

But I digress back to the areas they weren't quite able to shore up, or at least haven't been able to do so yet. When you consider them on the doorstep of the CBT which they don't want to go over though, it's really left them with limited options in terms of trying to add depth to their pitching staff. Ideally, they could use a serviceable veteran starter who could take the 5th starter spot and allow Blach to slide back into a role I think he's most comfortable in and that's doing a little bit of everything out of the pen, from coming in to pitch 3-4 innings in mop-up duty, coming in to get a tough situational lefty out and also filling in as a spot starter as needed throughout the year. I just don't like him starting every fifth day because I don't think he has to stuff to really fool lineups on a regular basis more than maybe one-time around. However, due to their financial standing, the only way the Giants would be able to bring in another veteran arm to add to the mix would most likely be via a minor league deal (much like the one they inked with Gregor Blanco a few days ago), and I just don't know what pitchers would be willing to take that.

If I'm Bobby Evans/Brian Sabean and Co., I'd be convincing guys like R.A. Dickey, Hector Santiago, Francisco Liriano and John Lackey to come aboard a potential contender at a discounted price with possible incentives. Any of those would all be welcome additions in my mind but the savvy vet Lackey probably has another decent season and I'd rate him atop the third-tiere starting pitchers. Francisco Liriano still has that nasty stuff that can win him 12-15 games while he strikes out a batter an inning but showed last season that he's just as likely to go wild and have a down season (5.66 ERA, 1.64 WHIP in just under 100 IP) but he obviously wasn't 100%. Only question with him is whether or not he can stay in the zone consistently. I'm just still not super keen on the idea of rolling into 2018 with two relatively big question marks filling out 2/5 of the rotation on a team that just made drastic attempts to their everyday bunch in order to get back to contending. I'd hate to see them treat the rotation/bullpen this year like they treated the outfield last year and just hoped and prayed that someone would step up and take left field, which obviously never happened.

So, Liriano and Lackey would be my two top choices because they've been the most consistent in previous years and Lackey knows how to win and has a tittle under his belt. Sure, he's about 47 years-old (I'm exaggerating of course, but only slightly).  I'd have Santiago right there too but he has major health concerns that cost him half his 2017 season and has left his future a little uncertain. Dickey is probably going to command too much money but if they could get him on the minimum then he and Lackey would be 1A and 1B options. Jaime Garcia and Jeremy Hellickson aren't as intriguing to me but if we're talking getting rotation depth for the low,  then I'd welcome either of those two as well.

With time running out in the offseason though, one of more of these options will likely be forced to take a minor league deal if they want a guaranteed job for this upcoming summer in this bizarre, slow moving offseason.

I personally feel a little more confident in the pen as is than mos do, as many Giants beat writers would prefer them to beef up their pen with any remaining free agent dollars, but I think those guys should be much better already. I mean, if Mark Melancon is pre-'17 Melancon, Dyson pitches like he did with the Giants in the second half, Derrick Law rebounds, Will Smith is fully recovered and back to his usual self and Hunter Strickland get's his head in the right place and comes with more consistency then this pen could be a very good one as they currently stand. Of course, there's basically a question mark surrounding every one of their guys down there, the upside is definitely there as well and cannot be overlooked. I mean, would a Drew Storen, Fernando Abad, Trevor Cahill or Zach Duke really provide that much upgrade to what they currently have? I don't really think so, at least not as much as Dickey or Lackey would provide to the back of the rotation.

One name that's still laying way down at the bottom of the free agent list and apparently garnering little to no interest publicly is former Giant Sergio Romo, who I would take back in a heartbeat on a minor league deal. Romo was terrible after signing with LA last winter, but was  then was dealt Tampa where he was lights out for the Rays. The 34 year-old posted a 1.47 ERA, 28 k's to 7 bb's over 30 innings while posting a ridiculous .88 Whip, showing he still has plenty left in the tank. Chances are he finds a big league job but he could see the revamped Giants and want to join and be a part of another run, even if it's in the minors to begin the year.

I really don't see the Giants completing any other moves before they get their guys in camp and start to assess what they have and areas they may need to improve on before the season, if possible. There should still be at least a few options out there on the market at that point so they should be in no rush to do anything. Eventually some of these guys are going to have to settle for minor league deals or Major League minimums and the Giants need to be ready when they do.

Blanco Returns to Giants' 4th/5th OF situation: I mentioned it briefly at in the post, but in case you hadn't heard, one the Giants' fan favorites from a couple of their world series teams rejoined the team a couple days ago, as Gregor Blacno agreeing to a minor league deal. He'll of course come to spring to compete with Gorkys Hernandez, Jarrett Parket, Austin Slater, Mac Williamson and Steven Duggar for the expected two outfield bench spots and should have just about as good a shot as any to make the club. And if he doesn't, he'll be a nice option to keep in Sacramento as I'm sure we'll be seeing him a bunch this year even is he doesn't make the squad outta spring (he's always been a Bochy favorite). This guy did play key roles in two of the Giants championships after all and aside from maybe Hernandez, he's the best defensive outfielder to be joining the team in Scottsdale in 2 weeks.

Of course the spring performances by the potential backup outfielders will determine who makes the opening day club, at this moment If I had to put money on two guys they'd be Gorkys and Jarrett Parker. Gorkys because I think Boch likes him and his ability to play center as well as pinch run and he hit over .280 in the second half last. As for Parker, the thing that puts him ahead of Blacno heading in is that he's out of options and unless the Giants figured out a trade scenario for him, I just don't see them letting him hit waivers because somebody will pick him up and this guy has Adam Duvall part 2 written all over him if that did happen. He's got the power that will translate in almost any ballpark if given regular time and he's around the same age as Duvall was when he was let go by the Giants and picked up by the Reds only to go on and have an All-Star season his first full year in Cinci. Therefore, Parker and Hernandez really do make the most sense but Parker needs to be productive in spring. Heck, with Hunter Pence missing the majority of he last 2 seasons, Parker could be in line for big playing time in order to keep Pence's hamstrings as fresh as possible.  ''

Ahh, spring training is approaching quick guys, and I'm extremely stoked. Probably the most excited and intrigued I've been about a Giants squad since the 2012 team with their all-world starting rotation, solid young core that added Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan then traded for Pence and Scutaro in-season to put them over the hump. It's still premature to call what they may need at the deadline this time around but I think the team should be good enough to be right in the thick of things come July and if they need that starter or reliever, or Austin Jackson isn't cutting it as the leadoff man, then maybe they make a couple of deals to put them over the top at that point. I don't think they went through this big offseaosn over-haul only to come up a tad short so if they're within striking distance or just feel like they need a shot in the arm come mid-season, this team has the fortitude to make the necessary move to  help increase their odds.

March 29th cannot arrive quick enough!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Giants sign Austin Jackson to complete outfield

No, he's not an earth shattering talent, but on Monday the Giants finally found the guy they expect to be their everyday center fielder, at least to start 2018, and that is veteran Austin Jackson.

 The Giants signed the soon-to-be 31 year old to a 2 year deal worth $6M guaranteed but has clauses in it that could bring the total value up around $8.5M. The deal doesn't come as a shock to me whatsoever, as the Giants made it clear after the McCutchen trade last week that they were still in on center fielders and that McCutchen would in fact move into right field to improve the outfield defense as a whole. I talked in our last post about how Jackson really has the best bat/glove combo out of the handful of center fielders the team was looking at. That group included Cameron Maybin, John Jay and Jarrod Dyson but none of those guys present the offensive upside that Jackson does. However, of the bunch, Jackson is at the bottom of the list in terms of defensive rating in center field. He's basically a league average defender there, which is a big improvement over Denard Span from a year ago, plus the arrival of Cutch in right and moving Pence over to left should result in a much better defensive lineup in the outfield than fans were forced to watch the last couple of seasons. 

What got him signed though, in my opinion, is his bat. Although he was injured for much of 2017, he appeared in 88 games, hit well over .300 and sported an OPS of .869, which would have led the Giants a year ago. It's still unclear on where exactly he'll slot into the lineup though. The logical choice would be to have him leadoff, but I saw a lineup posted today on one outlet that has Joe Panik sliding into the leadoff spot and Jackson down in the 8th spot. Wherever he hits, he is expected to be out there on opening day, as the signing leaves the Giants with maybe a million or so dollars left over to possibly throw at a veteran starting pitcher or reliever.

Right now, they have Chris Stratton and Ty Blach penciled in as their 4th and 5th starters, but they may want to at least add some competition into that mix. Stratton looked strong, but Blach was pretty abysmal last season, especially in the second half, so banking on him as the fifth man may be asking a lot. Their payroll situation though doesn't allow them much breathing room and the most they could possibly offer someone at this point would be about $1M/season without going over the CBT. This is an area they probably will just wait out though and see what veteran arms are still looking for work after spring training kicks off next month and hopefully they can bring in someone halfway decent to lock down the fifth spot so Blach isn't forced into big innings. Jeremy Hellickson, Jaime Garcia or possibly R.A. Dickey may find themselves in that category looking for work when camps start up, but who knows if those guys would take the 1 year, $1M deal? I think all three would be interesting candidates to battle it out with Blach and Stratton for the two spots and create some real competition rather than forcing guys into the rotation because they simply have no other options.

So, assuming this is the last move the Giants will make this offseason, do you think they've done enough to turn a 98-loss team into contenders in 2018? I think the answer is yes, although how serious of contenders will depend on how their returning guys like Pence, Cueto, Belt and Crawford perform after a lackluster 2017. I'll tell you this though, I'm excited about spring training starting and I look forward to seeing what this squad does once the bell rings on opening day. The Giants haven't had this much turnover to their starting lineup within the last decade so it's going to be interesting to see how things click. I think the quality of players they've brought in though, both on the field and off, should have everyone feeling a little optimistic. After missing out on Giancarlo Stanton, they essentially turned that into Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson. If those three play like they can and like the Giants expect, then they'll be much better off having missed out on the reigning NL MVP!

Anyway, since people are throwing out their projected lineups now that the team appears to be done adding, I'll go ahead and put my two cents in on how I think they should at least start the season. We know Bochy will make changes throughout and guys will get hurt, but this is what I expect to trot out there on opening day:

CF Jackson
2B Panik
RF McCutchen
C Posey
3B Longoria
1B Belt
LF Pence
SS Crawford
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Giants trade for McCutchen, still have $4.4M to spend

*Update added to bottom of post*

With the clock ticking on the MLB offseason, the Giants finally made that big addition to their outfield we've been waiting for by obtaining Andrew McCutchen from Pittsburgh and likely ending their work for the winter. Whether they've done enough to fix the problems that cost the team just shy of 100 losses though remains to be seen.

Early Monday morning, the Giants and Pirates struck the deal that brings the all-star outfielder to the bay area in exchange for Kyle Crick and outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds. Upon hearing this news, I wasn't surprised at all, the Giants have been linked to the outfielder all winter and after losing out on Giancarlo Stanton then Jay Bruce, it became apparent that McCutchen had moved atop the their wish-list. Although I know he's not the ideal, young stud outfielder the Giants can build around into the next decade or so, McCutchen's still an impact player and I really do like this trade. Much more so than the Evan Longoria trade, that's for sure. McCuthen's defense has slipped a little the last couple of seasons, but he's still a halfway decent center fielder. His bat, however, is clearly a strength, as he's coming off a nice rebound season at the plate (.279/.363/.486 with 28 HR, 88 RBI and 11 swipes) and he immediately becomes the teams second most valuable offensive weapon. The only questions that lie ahead for the newest Giant is where exactly in the outfield and in the lineup he'll slot in at.

As of now, he's likely the teams opening day center fielder and leadoff man and with the team so close to the luxury tax penalty line, it's unlikely they'll be able to make any other noteworthy moves unless they somehow unload some more payroll in the process. I would really still like to see them bring in a more defensive minded center fielder, especially now that they appear to have upgraded the offense pretty significantly (as long as everybody doesn't fall off a cliff next season). Carlos Gomez and Jarrod Dyson, among others, still remain on the free agent market, but I don't think either guy will have to settle for a minor league deal and that's pretty much all the Giants are able to offer free agents at this point. I'm most intrigued by Gomez's dynamic abilities at the plate, and think he could be a 20-20 threat but patrolling center may be an issue for him on a day to day basis and the Giants have made it clear they want defense in center. Jarrod Dyson would look pretty good right about now, as he's sort of a Gregor Blanco-type with a little more bat though. Jon Jay is similar to Dyson, with more bat but not the speed or quite the defense but nice splits. Cameron Maybin really seems like the guy who's the most attainable though. Solid defender, but coming off terrible year at the plate.

If the Giants can somehow finagle another starting caliber outfielder onto the roster to play center and leadoff, it would allow the Giants to run out a heart of the order containing McCutchen, Posey, Longoria and Brandon Belt. It's not necessarily the most intimidating middle-of-the-order in the league, but I think they have to be pretty pleased with where they are now compared to what they were trotting out there last summer. I know we all were hoping for Giancarlo Stanton heading into the winter, Longoria and McCutchen are nice fallback additions in the short term. I'm much more intrigued with McCutchen than I would have been with Jay Bruce and the Giants will have some options regarding McCuthen after the year rather than being tied to him for the next three-plus seasons like they would have been had they wound up with Bruce. In fact, with money and/or potential trade pieces taken into account, McCuthen was probably my top remaining choice left on the market. J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain are each going to get long-term deals worth over $100M and while I won't deny that Martinez's bat would have been a tremendous add, he too is no spring chicken and who knows how good a 5-year deal for him will look in a few seasons? As for Cain, yes he's a better defender than McCuthen at this point, but McCutchen is much more dangerous at the plate and more so fits what the Giants' urgent needs are.

Lastly, another thing that made McCuthen and attractive option for the Giants was the fact that they aren't tied to him in the long-term, although if they so choose to be, I'm sure they'd have a helluva shot at retaining him after the season. I mean, if he plays well he'll likely be an integral part of the team winning and they'll likely try and re-sign him. Most players that come over to San Francisco via trade end up wanting to stick around and if not, they'll at least send him a qualifying offer which would net them a high draft choice if he signs elsewhere. Also, if he plays well but the team is still struggling, then they have themselves what could be one of the bigger trade pieces this summer in late July and if he ends up struggling and having a down year, which is unlikely, then the team can just simply let him walk after the season.

I don't see the latter part happening though, as McCuthen has been a mark of consistency throughout his impressive career and only once over his 9 years at the big league level has he finished a season with a sub-.800 OPS and has hit 21 or more home runs in each of his last 7 seasons. The Giants need power and production at the plate, plain and simple, and McCutchen will most likely provide just that. Some people may be worried that coming to AT&T Park will hamper McCuthen's numbers as it does with most hitters that join the Giants from other ball clubs, but 'Cutch has played his career in a ballpark very similar to AT&T in terms of favoring the pitcher slightly more than the hitter. This is what has me confident that his power will not take a hit at all. I fully expect him to be right around .280/25/85/.850 again next season and if he comes within range of those numbers then this trade will turn out just fine for the Giants.

Bryan Reynolds has gotten a lot of attention the last couple of seasons and looks like he could have some sort of future in the big leagues, and Kyle Crick was once the teams top prospect, is still relatively young and still has that live arm but unlike with Christian Arroyo, I don't see either of these guys coming back to haunt the Giants a few years down the line. That coupled with the fact that I have little doubt that McCuthen is going to come in and produce like an all-star for the Giants is what has me much more sure minded about this one than giving up Arroyo for Longoria last month. Like with all deals made in the offseason though, only time will tell how both these deals ultimately effect the team.

At least very least, this offseason has gone better than last years. This winter they identified their needs early and although it took some time to get the deals complete, they chose a plan of attack and a blueprint they wanted to follow and they stuck to it. I know they didn't necessarily get the guys who were at the top of their wish-list, they had backup plans in place and acted on them. Whether or not those plans were good ones and will work out in the long run remains to be seen of course, but at the very least, they tried, and we can't say they didn't. Now the offseason is not quite yet over, and they do still have some questions remaining and we'll see if they can pull anything else off and miraculously avoid reaching the CBT. If not though, McCuthen and Longoria look so much better penciled into the lineup than Denard Span and Pablo Sandoval would have been, that's for sure.

In my opinion, the pressure is now really on the Giants' returnees who are coming off down and/or injury-plagued seasons to get on track (like Mark Melancon, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence) and if those guys are at their career norms in 2018 then things should definitely be looking up....Anyway, after the most recent addition, this is how the Giants lineup looks to be shaping up, at least in the order I'd put them:

RF McCutchen
2B Panik
C Posey
3B Longoria
1B Belt
RF Pence
SS Crawford
CF Hernandez/Duggar/Slater
You can see where a leadoff hitting center fielder would really round things out, but this is a much stronger bunch then what they entered 2017 with already!

UPDATE: The Giants announced in a conference call Tuesday regarding the McCutchen deal that they will indeed play him in right field, move Pence to left and still have just shy of $5M left to pursue that defense first center fielder they're seeking. According to MLB trade rumors, the three guys they're targeting are Jarrod Dyson, Cam Maybin and Jon Jay, supposedly in that order. While Carlos Gomez likely isn't high on their list because his slipping defense, he rebounded in a lot of ways after his trade to Texas last summer and not too long ago was one of the premier outfielders in the game in terms of going and getting a ball.

Austin Jackson is another guy who's out there and he's an option I would rank neck and neck with the top-3 seeing what he did in Cleveland last summer (129 OPS+ which equaled Buster Posey's). Only issue with him is he'd only be a marginal upgrade over McCutchen in center whereas the top-3 are above average defenders. Cam may be best suited to play everyday with the most upside, especially if he can get back into the rhythm he was in during '15-'16 when he combined for a .289/.352/.389 slash while playing everyday in Atlanta in '15 and mostly everyday in Detroit in '16. However, he's just as likely to be the hitter he was last season, which was abysmal, as he was the previous seasons due to his inconsistencies but Dyson and Jay have shown more consistency... Much more on this to come though. I'm sure with so many options left and the market yet to really get going, one of these guys should fall to them at a more than reasonable price because there just aren't that many centerfield jobs open, apparently, and you have about 5-6 guys still looking for one with Spring training starting in a less than 4 weeks.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Giants ink all arb. players, full focus now on OF

On Friday, one day after it was announced that Jay Bruce, the outfielder seemingly destined for San Francisco instead wound up back with the Mets on a three-year deal, the team made progress in a different way, as they came to terms with all their arbitration eligible players. 

While that is a nice step for the team, avoiding any nasty arbitration hearings and getting all five guys taken care of well before spring training, it still leaves them with a couple of gaping holes in their outfield, as well as lesser needs in other areas. On Thursday though, it was announced that the one free agent outfielder most closely linked to the club and the one who's agent said "he'd be thrilled to join the Giants" actually inked with the New York Mets, taking away one of the Giants limited options for their corner outfield vacancy. Jay Bruce was considered the most likely of the free agent outfielders to join the Giants after his agent said those things about the Giants and after Bruce apparently realized he was going to have to settle for the three year deal rather than his preferred four-year pact. However, The Giants must have been offering him much less than the Mets were if he decided to take their 3 yr./$39M deal instead of joining the team that was supposedly at the top of his wish list heading into the winter. I gotta say, I was a bit surprised at the number Bruce got and it makes me wonder what the Giants were offering because if you would have told me the Giants could have gotten Bruce for three years for a total of less than $40M I probably would have gone forward with that move. My guess is the Giants' offer was closer to the $10-12/year range as Bruce's agent said that the Mets offered the slugger more money than any other potential suitor.

So with the Bruce news, if I'm Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean, I would really try and woo Carlos Gonzalez at this point. He's not going to get as much as Bruce, and I would absolutely take the 32 year-old on a 1 or 2 year deal worth $12M per and I'd even throw in some incentives to make that deal potentially larger. Bruce's signing could end up working in the Giants favor if they are indeed able to pull off a deal like that with CarGo, but my guess is he'll wind up in Houston on a short-term deal where he'll not only have a chance to win, but also hit in a park similar to Coors Field and potentially boost his number from last season for another free agent run next winter. If I'm the Giants though, I'm doing all I can to get Gonzalez to come aboard, as he's the last corner outfielder on the market in their price range who can bring in the power they desperately need.

I've been hearing more and more about Lorenzo Cain, but I just don't see him as a good fit for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he'd cost the team a few high-end draft picks in Junes amateur draft and this is not the winter the Giants want to forfeit draft picks if they can help it. Secondly, Cain is a nice hitter, but he's not great in any one area. In an average 162-game season, he's slashed .290/.342/.421 with 12 HR, 69 RBI and 27 steals over his career. He made the all-star team in 2015 and was third in the AL MVP voting that year, but aside from that one season he's been above average at best. I saw an article today about how "SF should set their sights on Cain" and if they somehow could get for a deal that Bruce just signed then maybe I'd consider giving up the picks, but I personally don't think Cain is the middle of the order bat that this team needs. Best case, he'd be the player Melky Cabrera was with the squad in 2012 (minus the PEDS and probably without the .350 BA), but he does everything pretty well but isn't great in any one particular category like Melky was. Worst case, and one I fear more likely would he being the next Aaron Rowarnd, while maybe not that bad at the plate and certainly better in center, just an overrated guy that signs long-term and never becomes the guy you were banking on.

Now, don't get me wrong, Lorenzo Cain is a very good baseball player and one, draft picks and money aside, I would take on the Giants in a heartbeat. If the Giants were able to bank on Pence to play 150 games and be that 25/100 guy he was a few years ago, Longo to come in and be the offensive stalwart he was with the Rays most recently in '13 and '16 and Brandon Belt to finally play a full year and produce to his potential, then Cain would be a perfect fit for what they'd need. He'd be nice atop the order and although his mediocre power would probably take a hit, he'd still hit  around .300, steal some bags and bring a solid glove to center. However, Pence hasn't played a full, productive season since 2014 and saw his OPS drop to a career low .701 last year, Longo is coming off one of his worst seasons of his career and Brandon Belt is coming off another year in which he underachieved while battling concussion issues at the end of the year. I just think the Giants' big addition this point, if they make one, needs to be more of a middle of a reliable middle of the order type who can hit behind Longo and Posey.

I'm not entirely sure on how Bochy is going to set his lineup, and it still will be determined by what else they do before spring training, but as of now, the only guys that are really middle of the order on the team are Posey and Longoria. However, those two combined for 32 HR and 153 RBI in 2017, so you can see why they need another guy who can at least threaten to hit 20-30+ HR and drive in around 100 runs and to me, that guy is Carlos Gonzalez. One of our readers in a prior post suggested to go the double CarGo route and sign Gonzalez and Gomez, which I would be OK with. Gomez, in a part-time role in 2017 put up some impressive numbers with Texas, slashing .255/.340/.462 with 17 HR, 55 RBI and 13/18 in the stolen base department. Plus he's as good of defender or better than Cain is, with two gold gloves on his mantle for center field and should have no problem roaming the spacious outfield at AT&T. I mean, Cain and Gomez are very similar players, you just get more pop with Gomez and a little more average and stolen bases with Cain. The asking price, however, will be drastically different for both players though, with Gomez likely to be had on a short-term deal that doesn't cost any draft picks and probably cost no more than $5M annually whereas Cain will get a long-term deal and cost closer to $15M

Extras: As we said at the top of the post, the Giants took care of all their arbitration eligible players in one day, which is no small feat. Joe Panik led the pack by agreeing to a one-year, $3.45M deal and left-handed reliever Will Smith signed for $2.5M for the upcoming campaign. If both players are healthy then those numbers will wind up being more than fair on the Giants end, so good job on both those by Evans and Co. Relievers Sam Dyson, Hunter Strickland and Cory Gearin also locked up their contracts for 2018 although I haven't seen numbers linked to those three, I would assume they're not as much as either Panik or Smith's deals are for.... So with all the little stuff out of the way, the Giants can fully focus on filling out their roster for 2018 and although things are finally setting in motion on the free agent market, they still have some options out there that can help them contend in 2018. And now with Bruce off the table, I would expect this team to narrow it's options down quickly and make a move soon before they miss out on everybody they were negotiating with/for. It's going to be an interesting week guys as I expect a lot to be resolved, not only with the Giants, but with the other top-end FA's like Martinez, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish. So get ready, a lot should be happening in the next 10 days or so, lets just hope the Giants are on the winning end of things.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Giants' fans still waiting on next move

We're now about a week into the new year and baseball business is beginning to pick up a little bit of steam, at least rumor wise. J.D. Martinez seems destined for Boston, and that should kick things into gear a bit on the free agency front and it appears all of the Giants potential options have now come to the forefront and it shouldn't be much longer before we see the next addition for the 2018 roster.

So far, the names linked to the Giants have included about a half-dozen outfielders, as the team still has two gaping holes in left and center, and they're going to hope like heck they can land two of those 6-8 guys that have been linked to them or have been discussed by the team. The primary names linked to the team have been Jay Bruce, Carlos Gonzalez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Billy Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen, Christian Yellich (although a long shot) and Jarrod Dyson. If I were to bet right this second on the most likely of the six to join the squad, I'd go with either CarGo or Bruce taking over a corner spot and Jarrod Dyson signed to play center. However, if they could somehow figure out a way to land both CarGo/Bruce for left and McCutchen for center, it would completely revamp their lineup and set theme up to be a force in 2018. The thing is, if they indeed brought in a Gonzalez on a new deal and absorbed most of McCutchen's $16M salary for 2018, it would put them well over the luxury tax threshold. So unless they get creative and defer some money, or maybe drop another big contract (which doesn't seem likely unless they found someone to take Belt and felt like Chris Shaw could take over 1B in 2018), they probably are only settling for one bigger budget signing or trade and a much smaller budget signing/trade for their outfield. With whatever may be leftover after that, they could look into pitching depth, but that does not seem high on their priority list.

I really want to be optimistic about 2018, and be able to truly consider the Giants much improved from 2017 and a playoff contender next season, but I just don't see how they're going to be able to make the additions they absolutely need without getting into collective bargaining luxury tax penalty range. I mean, let's say they do finagle a trade for McCuthchen, or sign Bruce/CarGo and Dyson, it would still leave the Giants with question marks in right field, their bench, and the back-end of their rotation. In an ideal world, they could use another reliable late-reliever to throw in the mix, preferably left-handed, but two outfielders and a back-end starter completely outweigh any bullpen needs.

The Giants' pen, if healthy, should be improved significantly in 2018. Mark Melancon should be back in top-end closer form and hopefully Will Smith will be back in his Milwaukee Brewer form after his major surgery last spring. If that's the case, then they'd be set at the back-end of the pen with Melancon closing and Hunter Strickland and Smith being the primary set-up guys. The mid-relief isn't terrible, but they need Derek Law back closer to his 2016 form rather than last years 5.00+ ERA and ridiculous 1.57 WHIP output. Cory Gearin is coming off a solid season and should have his spot locked in either as a  long reliever or in mid-relief and Sam Dyson, who thrived for the most part as the Giants closer in the seasons final two months, should find himself in some sort of role in the '18 pen.

Sam Dyson's situation is tricky to predict though as he could settle in anywhere from being a set-up
man to Melancon to being in middle relief or ending up not earning a job out of spring at all. I mean, he's had such a bizarre couple of seasons after having a very successful run in 2016 as Texas' closer, it looked like that would be his job for the next few years at least, but he was so poor for the Rangers to start the year, that they essentially forgot about his 38-save campaign the season prior and cut him loose. He then came over to the Giants and took over the closers job and did a decent job, posting 14 saves and a 4.03 ERA in two months as the teams closer, although they'd like to see that 1.42 WHIP he posted drop at least a tenth of a point and that ERA drop under 4.00, which he's more than capable of doing seeing as he's sported an ERA in the mid-3's on average throughout his career. Dyson could end up being a centerpiece in this bullpen or completely irrelevant but the Giants need him to be the former if they want this bullpen to have the depth to compete.

The starting rotation though is an area, again, I'm very surprised has not gotten more attention this winter. The reason I find that ironic is because, in everyone of their championship runs, they were led with an outstanding rotation and a solid bullpen. Their pen had some questions in some of the tittle runs, but for the most part was reliable and when they weren't they had MadBum fall back on. So I find it ironic that a team who won three tittles this decade on the backs of their starting pitching has totally neglected their starting rotation this winter and hasn't really made much chatter at all about trying to improve upon what was their worst rotation in 9 years last summer. I know their offense was atrocious last year, and they have to do everything they can in attempt to right that ship, but they never needed a top of the line offense when they had their rotation/bullpen clicking on all cylinders. So, unless they landed a flat out difference maker and game  changer like they tried so hard to do with Giancarlo Stanton, as well as a legit center fielder like a Christian Yellich or McCutchen, this lineup wasn't and isn't going to carry this ball club on it's own.

Right now they have Madison Bumgarner, who's a true ace and perfect guy atop the rotation, however he himself is coming off a year in which he missed 3 months and wasn't necessarily the lights-out, tough to hit and score upon pitcher we've seen in years past. Granted, he threw well for the most part after his return, just not quite up to his expectations I'm sure. But he's now had an offseason to recover and the missed time in 2017 may have been a blessing in disguise seeing as the Giants weren't going anywhere even had MadBum stayed on the field all year. Instead, he got some major rest in 2017 and should be the most fresh he's ever been heading into a season this spring. Aside from Bumgarner, Cueto too had injuries he dealt with for most the year, and was pretty darn mediocre when he was on the mound and was no where near the pitcher he was in '16.

Then there's the Samardzija, who despite his 15 losses and 4.42 ERA, was arguably the teams most reliable starter from start to finish. Despite the higher ERA, he posted a very solid 1.13 WHIP, which is right around what MadBum usually posts, plus "Shark" led the team with 205 K's and 207 innings of work. As for the coming season, I think MadBum will be back to his usual form, and I expect improvement from Cueto. Although I don't think we'll get another 2016-level performance from the number 2 starter, 200 innings pitched, a sub-4 ERA and a WHIP at 1.25 or lower would be acceptable compared to last years 4.52 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and only 147 innings pitched. As for projected number-3 Samardzija, I would take a repeat of last years performance, with hopefully a more reliable bullpen and a little more offense could flip-flop his win-loss numbers from a year ago and also see that ERA drop back down below 4.00 as well, where he was in his first year with the club in 2016 (3.81 ERA).

Again though, those are some big questions and a lot of things that need to get back on track for the Giants front-3 starters so they could certainly use some stability at the bottom half of the rotation. As I've said all offseason, I'm completely content with Chris Stratton being the 5th guy, but if it's Blach as the fifth guy and Stratton bumped up to 4th then this rotation just isn't as strong as it's been in years past. It's certainly not a rotation I see competing with the likes of Arizona, Colorado and the other Wild Card contenders, especially on a team with a mediocre offense and without a lights-out, shut down bullpen, or at least not that we've seen thus far.

I get all the attention that's being given to upgrading the outfield/offense, but even if they do accomplish what they want in that area, I don't know that they'll have the pitching depth to to be world series contenders like they want to be next season. Of course, Stratton could become the next big arm to come up through the system and build off his solid 2017 showing and maybe Tyler Beede bursts onto the scene in 2018 in a big way, but you can't bank on that, and the Giants cannot just completely ignore their rotation before spring training. I don't expect anything big, but a Jeremy Hellickson, Jaime Garcia or R.A. Dickey may not be bad, cheap one-year options to throw into the rotation mix. I would prefer to have Blach as the long reliever/spot starter if needed and I don't think Tyler Beede is quite ready, so another veteran with a history of some success could do a lot for this rotation. They simply can't forget about the area of their team that's been the focal point of their success, that being the starting rotation!
The Giants Baseball Blog