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Monday, February 26, 2007

Team Hosts Second Annual "Giants Idol"

For the second consecutive spring, the Giants held a charity event called "Giants Idol," where many of the rookies in camp all perform a song of their choice and are judged by various veterans. As many remember last year, Barry Bonds dressed up as Paula Abdul and served as one of the judges. Keeping the same theme this season, Barry Zito dawned the Abdul costume. Bonds was at the event, but did not participate in the judging this year. Randy Winn and Rich Aurilia where the other judges and Omar Vizquel hosted the event. Among the youngsters that sang/performed in the event were top prospects Tim Lincecum, who performed a Frank Sinatra act, and Kevin Frandsen, who dressed up like Will Ferell and performed a song from the movie Anchorman. It looks like this "Giants' Idol" thing is becoming quite a hit, and I hope they consider televising it next spring.

The Giants' will be playing in the first live action game of the spring Tuesday as they have their first scheduled intrasquad game. Bruce Bochy said that he plans to get in 4 inning scrimmages both Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for Thursday's cactus league opener. In Tuesday's practice, Tim Lincecum will start for one of the teams. I am looking forward to getting the reviews back from Lincecum's outing. He'll likely only go an inning, but this will be his first action vs. actual big league hitters, even though they're his teammates. Barry Zito is expected to get the ball on Thursday when the Giants play the Cubs in Mesa. Barry Bonds will not be making the trip to Mesa, but Bruce Bochy said he does plan on using Barry on the road at times this spring. Bonds should make his spring debut Friday in Scottsdale when the Giants hos the Brewers.
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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Giants Not Jumping At A Sabean Extension

Brian Sabean may not be as secure in his job as I thought. I always had the the idea that Sabean would never fired, or let go by the Giants, but in Saturday's Mercury news article, it was made pretty clear that Sabean isn't such a sure bet to stick around after all. Sabean's contract runs out at the end of the year, and Peter Magowan has said that he won't entertain extending a deal until the end of the season. The Giants have gone from one of baseball's consistently better teams, to a virtual bottom feeder over the last few seasons, and that's on Sabean. However, the fact that the Giants' have been competitive over the last decade also has a lot to do with what Sabean did. I personally think it's time for a change in the Giants front office. I respect Sabean and I think he has made some solid moves. I am sure the Giants would have never made the series in '02 if Sabes didn't go out and acquire Kenny Lofton. Unfortunately, ever since that move, Sabean has been un-impressive to say the least. I don't want to blame the Giants lack of success over the last 2 seasons directly on Sabean, but the Giants have been sticking with the same team outline and same plan for years. Fill holes with veteran players, even at the expense of younger ones. They need a fresh start and a new team philosophy. I just don't see the Giants ever winning a world series with Brian Sabean as their general manager. It's good he's on the hot seat, let's see how he operates with his back to the wall this season.

Omar Vizquel has mentioned to the Giants' front office that he wants to play baseball past the 2007 season. If the last 2 years are any indication on where this guy is physicaly, then I think he can play another 10 if he wants to. Out of all Sabeans questionable moves over the past 3 years, the one move that has stuck out the best was signing Omar Vizquel. This guy is still doing amazing things with the glove as he enters his 40's. Not to mention, this guy has also been somewhat of an offensive catalyst while he's been here. He's been a leader in the locker room and has gotten every one's respect in the organization. The Giants' couldn't have asked for anymore than what they've gotten out of Vizquel so far and I think a 1 year extension would be great. The free-agent market for shortstops after this season is pretty thin, so he will be a commodity. I just hope they don't go two years. As much as I like Omar, I don't think I'd give him 2 more years at this point. Shortstop is a demanding position and while I think Vizquel can hold up for another 3 season's, I'm not sure if the Giants will want to be paying him 5 million dollars to be their everyday shortstop in 2009.
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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Giants Need More out of Morris

Throughout most of the winter and into the early spring, most of the talk about the Giants pitching has been about the signing of Barry Zito, and how he will become the new ace and mentor to the Giants younger pitchers like Matt Cain and Noah Lowry. Lost in all the talk was Matt Morris. He didn't quite have the season he or the Giants' wanted in 2006 and I think people are kind of writing him off. He signed a big deal before the '06 season and I think many fans are already marking this as another bad move by Sabean. After all, 15 losses in a season to go along with a 5 era isn't quite what you expect when you give a guy 3 years and 24 million dollars. I know he didn't perform up to expectations, but I am not ready to call the Morris singing a bust quite yet. I know he has some things to work out, but this guy has always been a winner, and I have more reason to believe he will rebound than not. Whether Morris' ribs and back where an issue, as he expressed after the season, or not, the Giants need him throwing well if their starting pitching is going to be the "strength" that most people (including myself) think it will be. A lot is lying on Barry Zito and Matt Cain to carry the staff. It's up to Morris and Noah Lowry to help them out. If both Morris and Lowry are getting knocked out of games in the 5th inning and continue their inconsistencies from a year ago, it won't matter how good Cain and Zito are. Not saying Morris needs to return to the 17 game winner he was in his St. Louis Cardinal days, but 14-15 wins and an era lower in the 4's should be attainable.

The Giants have always seemed to have a solid defensive first basemen from the days of Willie McCovey to Will Clark and J.T. Snow. This year, they will be transplanting a former shortstop to first, and the gold glove memories at first base are now a thing of the past. However, Aurilia is learning to play first base from one of the best. He has been working out with J.T. Snow over the past couple days. Aurilia will be in battle with Ryan Klesko for at-bats at first base. I am very interested to see how the Aurilia to first experience plays out. I know he has had some work there with the Reds, but I he's never have 1st base be his main position, so there will be some kind of transitional period. Nomar Garciapara did a very nice job for the Dodgers transitioning from shortstop to first base last season and kept up his offense. If Aurilia's offense doesn't suffer as he concentrates on learning a new position, the Giants may have themselves Nomar at 1/2 the price.
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bonds Arrives

Barry Bonds' much anticipated spring training arrival took place Tuesday and he came ready to play. In the teams first full squad workout Bonds impressed, and proved he is ready to start his 22nd summer of major league baseball. He took batting practice of the Giants' top two pitchers, Barry Zito and Matt Cain, and was roping the ball all over the yard. His most impressive swing came off Cain when he hit a mammoth shot to right field. According to all the reports and judging by what I saw on ESPN, Bonds' looks like he's in great shape, better than when he reported last year. He participated in the full team workout and was shown chatting it up and getting along with all the players. The Giants' "Two Barry's" also had a nice surprise for the media as Bonds' and Barry Zito even sported matching shirts that stated on the back "Don't ask me, ask Barry" with an arrow pointing horizontally. As always, Bonds met with the press before the first workout of the spring, and of course didn't have much to say regarding anything about off-field issues. I don't think the Giants' could have asked for a better kick off to the spring. Everybody arrived healthy, on time and ready to roll.
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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Zito Just Going Through the Motions

Apparently all the commotion over the past couple days over Barry Zito changing his motion was all for not. Zito cleared up the mis-understanding Saturday saying that the change in his delivery was just to help work out some kinks in his old one. Back along with his old delivery was his big sweeping curve and he had a couple of teammates impressed. Bengie Molina, who faced Zito many times in the American League, is now Zito's main catcher. After catching Zito's bullpen session Saturday, Molina said he now knows why he couldn't hit him over the years. This is refreshing news to a lot of people, even Giants coaches and management, who wondered what in the world he Zito was thinking for totally making over his whole pitching motion. I really didn't question it as long as he knew what he was doing and didn't hurt himself. Zito looks like he's on well on track to cementing his spot as the opening day starter for the Giants. Bruce Bochy hasn't officially said it will be Zito's job, but he has hinted it. All signs are pointing towards Barry Zito vs. Jake Peavy, for April 3rd's opener at AT&T Park. Should be a good one.

Noah Lowry has also come to camp and has impressed so far. Lowry worked out with center fielder Dave Roberts and Padres All-Star closer Trevor Hoffman among others in San Diego this winter and said he, like Zito, really concentrated on strengthening his core muscles this winter. This is going to be a big year for Lowry. He looked like he was on his way to becoming one of the premiere young lefties in the game after his first 2 season's in the bigs, then 2006 rolled around, he got injured in the first inning of his very first start of the year, and never fully recovered. Besides a nice string of starts he put together in August, he was inconsistent all year. The Giants need him to step up and build off of that brilliant second half he put together in 2005. I think Zito should work wonders for him if. Lowry has a good change-up, but he needs to work on the consistency of his curveball. When Lowry has his curve working along with his change, he is tough to hit. When he's just relying on his change-up and fastball, he gets predictable. Lowry also seemed to lose velocity in his fastball late in the year. He went from being in the 89-92 mph range in '04-'05, but was down in the 85-87 range last season. Let's hope the core strengthening will help out in these areas.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bonds Deal Approved, Spring Begins

Barry Bonds has officially been added to the 40 man roster as MLB finally approved his deal(Press Release). Bonds originally signed the deal a couple weeks ago, but MLB rejected the deal because of some of the clauses in contract. Bonds had already said he would be at the ballpark on the first day of full-squad workouts, so I wasn't surprised the deal got done before Tuesday's first full practice. I was expecting Bonds to show up this weekend sometime and finalize the deal, but apparently he wanted it done sooner. I found it pretty interesting reading that Bonds' locker will be right next to new ace, Barry Zito's. This offseason, after Zito signed, he was asked at his press conference if he had contacted Bonds at all. Zito replied that there where"attempts" but there was never a connection. Apparently Zito has asked to be locker buddies with Bonds, not only in Scottsdale for the next 6 weeks, but also for the regular season at AT&T Park. Zito is already showing what kind of leader he is. He knows it's best for everybody if him and Bonds get along, and Zito has the kind of personality that can adapt well to different people. These guys are two very opposite personalities, It will be interesting to watch how that relationship unfolds throughout the spring.

Speaking of Barry Zito, he has officially begun work as a San Francisco Giant. He was one of the Giants who reported earlier than expected for the start of spring along with Steve Kline. The first official workout for the pitchers and catchers was today. There wasn't much to report on for the first day's workout but everything coming out of camp sounded pretty good for a first day. Armondo Benitez was throwing and looks "slimmer" than last year. Barry Zito has also apparently changed up his delivery. I'm not quite sure what he did, but the change is in attempt to increase velocity and delay the break on his curve ball. I also read that Russ Ortiz looks like he is in pretty good shape. That definitely step one on his way to regaining form. I think the Giants are really counting on him being able to nail down the 5th spot in the rotation enabling Jonathan Sanchez to strengthen the bullpen.

I'd like to give a thanks to Mike Edelman for his technical help with The San Francisco Giants Blog. Mike writes a blog about the Boston Red Sox. Check it out.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Benitez Reports to Camp Early

The Giants pitchers and catchers aren't scheduled to have their first full squad workout until Thursday, but Armondo Benitez has already been in Scottsdale a week for some much needed extra conditioning. He also is trying to prove to the Giants (and Marlins) that his knee is fully recovered from last years injury. Benitez's name has been floated in the sports sections' as being "on the move" all winter long, but nothing ever materialized. The Giants were in talks, and still may be, about sending Benitez to back Florida, but they couldn't come to an agreement with the Marlins on which player they'd receive in exchange for Benitez. I have already said in various posts that I don't think the Giants should get rid of Benitez just for the sake of getting him off the team. He is in his contract year, and if he wants to keep earning big money, he is going to have to turn in one helluva season to cover himself for the last 2. For this reason, I expect a determined Armondo Benitez this season. Don't get me wrong, I have read the reports about how bad of a teammate he is, and how he is overweight and doesn't wants to be back in Florida, and if the Giants could get a solid young arm in return for him, then I'd deal him. However, the Giants bullpen has so many question marks as it is, if they loose Benitez, not only will they not have a clear cut set-up man, but they also won't have a closer. So either way you look at it, Benitez is more of a value to this team than some are giving him credit for. Whether it's for their own bullpen, or for a trading chip, the Giants' need this dude healthy.
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

ST Preview: A Lot of Bench Options

After discussing the potential spring bullpen battle for the last 2 spots in the Giants' bullpen, it is now time to look at their bench situation heading into the spring. The Giants have plenty of options when it comes to filling out there bench, and the battle for the last couple bench spots should be as interesting as the battle for bullpen hierarchy. The only two guys who are sure to have spots on the Giants bench come opening day are back-up catcher Elizier Alfonzo, and free-agent signee Ryan Klesko. If the Giants are going to carry 12 pitchers, which is most likely the case coming out of spring training, it would leave 3 remaining bench spots to be filled with plenty of candidates in the running. As they stand now, the Giants will need to find a utility infielder, and 2 outfielders to fill out the roster by opening day. The two favorites to earn the 4th and 5th outfielders roles are Mark Sweeney and Todd Linden. Linden had a solid year at the plate in limited time last season but also showed excellent defensive flexibility. Linden can play all 3 outfield positions, and is a switch hitter, unless the Giants find a place to deal him, or he gets hurt, I would be surprised if he isn't on the big league roster when they head north at the end of spring. Sweeney is basically only a left fielder or first basemen, so his value is limited. Jason Ellison can also play all 3 outfield positions, but doesn't bring the bat that Linden or Sweeney do. Ellison's ticket onto the team are his wheels. A wild card in the competition for a spot could be Freddy Lewis. Lewis is the better athlete and is faster, and younger than the rest of the bunch, but Lewis has to show some consistency at the plate this spring to even be mentioned.

As far as the infield goes, things are a little more clear. Kevin Frandsen looks to have the inside track at becoming the Giants' utility infielder. Frandsen isn't a great shortstop, but Rich Aurilia will be available to play shortstop when Omar Vizquel gets a day off, so Frandsen can concentrate on 2nd and 3rd base. The interesting decision for Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean will be as to whether they want to carry Klesko as an outfielder or an infielder. The Giants have Mark Sweeney still on the roster, but there have been a lot of rumblings that his days with the team may be numbered. The Giants really only need one back-up outfielder with Klesko on the roster. If they decide to go with only Klesko plus one other outfielder for the bench, it could open a door for Lance Niekro to make the team as the back-up to Aurilia at 1st. After starting the year out horribly last season, Niekro rebounded and had a great 2nd half, but it was in Fresno. If Niekro tears it up during spring training, then it could force the Giants hand to carry Klesko as strictly an outfielder and release Sweeney.
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Saturday, February 03, 2007

ST Preview: Battle For Last 2 Bullpen Spots

As it stands now, if Armondo Benitez is healthy and on the team, the Giants have 5 arms that look like they will be guaranteed spots in the bullpen. Benitez, Steve Kline, Kevin Corriea, Brad Hennessey and Jonathon Sanchez look like they have spots reserved for them. If Sanchez beats out Ortiz for the 5th spot in the rotation and Ortiz is released by the end of spring, it would open up another spot. Right now it looks like there are 2 spots to be had and there are going to be a handfuls of People battling it out for those final roster spots. There has been a lot of talk about Brian Wilson this winter, some are even labeling him as the next closer of the San Francisco Giants, while some say they will be surprised if he makes the team. I am right in the middle on him. I haven't seen anything to make me believe he is anywhere close to being a major league closer, but I do like his arm and I do see some upside there. It looks like he will likely be on the staff unless he blows it during spring training, which is entirely possible. Another guy who will be invited to spring training who has a lesser chance of making the team is Tim Lincecum. The Giants still haven't committed to whether they want Lincecum in the pen or in the rotation. Because of the teams needs in the bullpen, it may pursued the Giants to use Lincecum there this summer. I hope they keep him in the rotation and get him ready for a 2008. It scares me a little when the Giants bounce their farmhands between the bullpen and rotation. I just think of how bad it has worked for Merkin Valdez. The Giants' had high hopes for him, but couldn't figure out if they want him to close or start, and he's never really gotten a grip on his role. I hope they keep Lincecum in the rotation and not mess with him.

A couple of the other arms battling who will be battling it out for the final bullpen slots are Vinny Chulk, Jack Taschner, Damian Moss, Tyler Walker and David Cortes. Billy Sadler, who closed in AA and dominated last year will also be there battling it out and he has an outside chance to start the year in San Francisco. Chulk looks to have the upper hand within this group. He did pitch pretty well in spurts for the Giants' after he was acquired as part of the Shea Hillenbrand deal. Plus I have a hard time seeing Sabean cut loose the only player he has left to show for the Jeremy Accardo trade of last summer. Taschner has been up and down between Fresno and San Francisco a lot over the past 2 years, but he'll likely be left off because the Giants appear to already have 2 lefties already in the pen. Damian Moss and David Cortes where brought in as long shots, but you never know where an outstanding spring could land you. Walker could be a darkhourse here. He was inconsistent in his time as Giants "fill-in" closer for Benitez in '05, but he did show that when he's on, he's tough to hit. Although he probably won't be healthy early due to recovery from surgery. I still have the memory of him striking out the side in Detroit with the bases loaded and nobody out, getting out of the jam and winning the game. Walker has the most experience closing, outside of Benitez, then anyone else going to spring training. If Benitez is dealt, he'll probably find his way onto the team at some point in the season.
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bonds Signs, Team Set to Start The Spring

Even though the commissioners' office is making the Giants "re-word" the deal Barry Bonds signed, and he still isn't officially on the 40 man roster, it looks like it is all but official. Bonds alread passed the teams' physical and said he will be present for the first spring training full squad workout which takes place on February 18th. This is good news for the team because now when pitchers and catchers report in 2 weeks, at least they won't be distracted by the media regarding Bonds status on the team. Now, there is no doubt that when players start showing up in Scottsdale, they will still be questioned about Bonds in some way or other, but at least he'll be around as well to shoulder some of the load. With Bonds under contract, it looks like the Giants are set to kick off the spring at full strength. The interesting thing I read this week, was the fact that Barry Bonds is 100% sure he will be playing baseball in 2008. If this is the case, there is no way he'd be back with the Giants. The Giants' won't want to go through this mess again, plus if Bonds plays in '08, it will most likely have to be exclusively as a DH. I think Bonds' could just be saying that to take some of the media pressure off the home run race this year. It would put the question as to whether Bonds will or won't break the record to rest. If Bonds plays in 2008, he will undoubtedly surpass 756 home runs at some point. The media wouldn't even need to make it a question. So yes, in a way Bonds commitment to play in '08 both posses a new question/distraction, but it will also eliminate one.

2007 is going to be a very interesting season as far as the Giants are concerned, I won't be surprised to see them finish in the bottom half of the division, but it also wouldn't surprise me if they win it. The NL West, once again, lacks a dominating team. The Arizona Diamondbacks will be better than they where a year ago with the addition of Randy Johnson and further development of some of their young hitters and they should be right there with the Giants, Dodgers and Padres. Outside of Zito, I wasn't overly hyped about any of the Giants free agent signees, but I still think they are better than they where a year ago. They have more speed on the team, and they are more versatile. There young pithcing should also become the strength of this team for years. The 2 big questions I have entering spring training are: 1. Who will be pitching the late innings in the Giants bullpen? 2. Who will bat 3rd? I am also looking forward to seeing Tim Lincecum. He has been as hyped as any Giant farmhand in the last 10 years, and this should be the year we at least get a glimpse of the potential ace or dominant closer. If Lincecum can come up in the second half and contribute, especially in the bullpen, the Giants will be better because of it. I have a feeling they are going to need a shot in the arm (or 4-5) for that bullpen come July.
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