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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Starting Pitching Looks Good Early

After Saturday's game, the Giants have now had all five of their projected starting pitchers throw in a Cactus League game, and Bruce Bochy, Dave Righetti and Co. have to be happy with what they've seen thus far.

The Giants top young arms, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum (fresh off his newly signed 1 year, $650,000 deal; more at bottom of post), threw well in their first starts of the spring and in the most recent outing, the Giants got 2 hit-less innings from Barry Zito on Saturday. Zito allowed no base runners and struck out a batter in those two innings and hopefully it means the 30 year-old lefty is on the right track. Over the previous two springs, Zito hasn't really had many outings to feel good about, but this was certainly one of them. Jonathan Sanchez is another guy who opened some eyes in his appearance as well. Sanchez didn't start his game, but came in after Randy Johnson's 2 inning, 1 hit start and dominated the Royals. Sanchez went 3 innings and stuck out 4 while allowing a run on 3 hits. The most impressive stat though was that Sanchez didn't walk anybody which is no small feat for the hard-throwing, wild-at-times, left-hander. Sanchez is looking to build off of an overall solid first season as a full-time big league starter, and after impressing in spring training batting practice sessions, the young lefty looks like he is ready to take that next step and give the Giants a solid 180-200 innings pitched without tailing off in August and September. Sanchez will be be leaving the Giants to play for Puerto Rico at the end of next week, but will probably get one more outing with the Giants before he takes off.

The Bullpen candidates haven't been fairing as well as the starters. Projected closer and set-up man, Brian Wilson and Bob Howry, each threw well in their first spring outings but the guys expected to get them the ball haven't fared as well. Jack Taschner, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Alex Hinshaw, all guys expected to make the team, have all been less than stellar so far this spring. I know it's only spring and most of the guys mentioned above have only had one bad outing, so you can't pick your team based on what's happened so far, but normally this early in the spring, the pitchers are supposed to have the edge on the hitters and most of these bullpen guys are facing the opposing teams back-ups and minor leaguers. Alex Hinshaw is a little concerning too, as he has had two outings and has been wild and in-effective in both of them. Some of the young guys who are trying to beat the odds and make the team and have thrown well here early on are Billy Sadler, Kevin Pucetas, Luis Perdomo and Brandon Medders.

The offense thus far hasn't been bad at all, but since their explosive Cactus League opener, they haven't done too much. The team continues to be led by the young guys. Travis Ishikawa has hit safely in his 3 games and still leads the team with 2 home runs and 4 RBI and has played very well. Another guy who has driven in a couple of runs who is also trying to certify his starting spot in the infield is Kevin Frandsen. The 26 year-old second basemen has 4 hits in 5 at-bats so far and along with his 3 RBI, he has a home run and a double. The problem for Frandsen is that Emmanuel Burris looks like he is going to really make this a tough decision for Giants' management. Also, Fred Lewis, who is trying to ease his recovering heal into game shape, hit a a majestic shot on Saturday, his first time hitting in the third spot, the spot I think he makes the most sense at. The Giants have been talking about hitting Lewis behind Bengie Molina in the 5th spot, but I like the speed and the ability to get on base in the third spot with Sandoval hitting 5th. Other Giants who have hit the ball well through the springs' first four games are Rich Aurilia, Juan Uribe (don't be fooled by his solid start, he's still a below average player), and Nate Schierholtz.

As I said at the top of the post, Tim Lincecum signed his deal for the 2009 season and the '08 NL Cy Young Winner is only getting $650,000. I say only just because of what the market value is for your typical Cy Young winner. I think the Giants should have at least given him a million bucks, just as a token of appreciation at what he's accomplished already and a sign that they want him in SF for the next 10 years. Lincecum will be arbitration eligible next winter, so he realistically could start making $10,000,000+ per season as early as 2010 if he has another all-star season. Get him signed Sabes, and do it sooner rather than later. I would feel completely confident giving Timmy a 5 year, $40 million deal and if the Giants offered that too him this season, they probably could lock him up for the foreseeable future.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bats Show Up In Spring Opener

The big question coming into the spring was whether or not the Giants were going to score enough runs to match-up with their brilliant starting pitching. They certainly displayed enough in Wednesday's Cactus League opener against the Indians.

Travis Ishikawa headlined the day as he hit two impressive home runs and went 3-3 overall with 4 RBI. Ishikawa's first shot was a majestic home run that bounced on top of the roofing in right-field then out of the complex. His second jack was more of a line drive shot and left the yard in about 3.5 seconds. Oh yeah, he all also added an RBI single in there as well. With the Giants recently passing on Joe Crede, it means that Ishikawa will get a real look at first base this spring and the 25 year-old looks ready. The Indian's broadcasting crew was mentioning just how sweet Ishikawa's swing looked and I absolutely concur. The kid looked really balanced today and swung at pitches in the strike zone. If he keeps that up, not only will he win the first base job outright, but he will probably end up being a solid hitting first basemen in addition to an above average defensive one. Ishikawa's cross-diamond mate also impressed in his debut at his new full-time position. Pablo Sandoval made a few very nice defensive plays while getting on base 2 out of 3 times and scoring a run. Yes, it's early in spring training, but the young Giants corner infield combo answered the bell on day one, and that's all you can really ask at this point.

The Giants' opening exhibition game was really all about the youngsters actually. In addition to Ishikawa and Sadoval's fine afternoon, Nate Schierholtz also hit an impressive home run, Emannuel Burris turned an ordinary single to left into a double with his blazing speed, and the two others battling for time at second base, Kevin Frandsen and Eugenio Velez both came up with clutch RBI singles late in the game that ultimately put it out of reach. Oh yeah, the pitching (until late in the game) was pretty good too. Tim Lincecum started the game and went one scoreless inning. Brandon Medders and Luis Perdomo also had scoreless outings as both of them try and overcome the odds against them to make the team.

A couple of guys who have a good shot at making the team didn't fair as well. Alex Hinshaw and Keiichi Yabu each had performances to forget about as Yabu allowed a 3-run home run in the 3rd and Hinshaw battled wildness (something he has to improve on this spring in order to cement his role on the big league team) and allowed a majestic home run himself. Some of the notable hitters who struggled were Juan Uribe (0-3), Jon Bowker (0-2, k) and Bengie Molina (0-3, 3 LOB). All the other notables who played contributed in some way offensively.

A few guys who didn't get into the game today were Rich Aurilia and Fred Lewis. Aurilia should play in Thursday's game, but it's not clear whether Lewis will be in the lineup or not. I'm a little surprised that the Giants chose to roll with Uribe at DH over Rich Aurilia, but I guess that they are trying to figure out just exactly what Uribe's all about, as they already know plenty about Richie. Needles to say, Uribe looked like a cross between Niefi Perez and Jose Castillo in his debut as a Giant. He looks more like Castillo in the way he stands at the plate and his mechanics back there, but the ball comes off his bat like it used to come off of Perez's (which is by no means a compliment). I still don't know exactly wha they expect from Uribe. I'd really rather have Rich Aurilia at short over Uribe on the days Renteria needs off. Whatever small advantage Uribe has over Aurilia defensively is absolutely negated by his woeful approach at the plate. I hate to rip a guy on the first day, of the exhibition season nonetheless, but still, he's a waste of at-bats that could be going to younger, brighter players who will actually help the Giants at some point.

*Note: There was some negative news coming out of the Giants' clubhouse after the victory Wednesday. In yet another set-back for the Giants' left-hander, Noah Lowry reported stiffness in his throwing elbow and will take about a week off for tests and what not before he attempts to throw again. I mentioned it at the end of last season and unfortunately I have to bring it up again. It looks like Lowry may need to eventually try the Tommy John Surgery if he wants to try and get back on the mound. Hopefully it's just a strain or something, but even if it is, Lowry hasn't pitched since August '07 and I don't think he's anywhere close to being able to pitch 6-7 innings per start. Anything he contributes to the Giants in 2009 would be an unexpected bonus if you ask me.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Monday, February 23, 2009

Giants Spring Training Notes

What has been a relatively quiet spring training in Scottsdale so far is about to start picking up. The Giants have a scheduled intresquad scrimmage planned for Tuesday, followed by Wednesday's Cactus league opener against the Indians.

The only Giant who is leaving the team and heading off to the World Baseball Classic is Jonathan Sanchez. The Giants' 26 year-old lefty has been penciled in to start the Puerto Rican squad's third game of the tournament. The interesting thing here is that Sanchez is also battling the recovering Noah Lowry for the fifth starters spot in the Giants' rotation. Now, Sanchez had a leg up on Lowry before pitchers and catchers reported and absolutely nothing has changed. Sanchez's delivery has apparently been toned down and smoothed out a little bit which is hopefully going to keep him in the strike zone more often and he's looked in control in his first 2 sessions throwing to hitters. Lowry on the other hand, is still trying to work his way back to the mound as he's been relegated to throwing off of only flat ground over the last couple of days. He's been reporting no serous set-backs, but it's still undetermined when exactly he will throw to live hitters or possibly make his Cactus league debut. I like Lowry and for numerous reasons, I'm hoping he'll get healthy this spring, but I'm not too optimistic that he will be ready for opening day.

With the Giants getting ready to close down spring workouts and start Cactus league games, live pitching/batting practice has kicked into another gear, and it's still the pitchers that are for the most part, dominating these match ups. Fred Lewis has been one of the more impressive hitters during the sessions though as he has displayed some intriguing power. Lewis has also mentioned that he expects to be more of a power threat this season as he has one full year under his belt and has familiarized himself with NL pitching. The Giants starting left fielder is still battling an ankle injury that pre-maturely ended his 2008 season, and may not start the first couple games of the exhibition season.

Another young outfielder who's been hitting for noticeable pop during batting practice has been Nate Schierholtz. I've seen pictures of Nate this spring and he looks like he added some upper body bulk this winter and that should translate to some more power. Schierholtz has displayed above average power numbers in the minor leagues, but has only hit one long ball in 187 big league at-bats, which for a corner outfielder, isn't quite what your looking for. Now nobody ever projected Schierholtz to be a big power guy at the major league level, but averaging 15-20 jacks a year easily within his grasp if he gets the opportunity and lives up to his potential. He's probably a safe bet to hit around .300 too (as he has in every season of his pro career so far). Like I've said a few times already this off-season, this is going to be a big year for Schierholtz. The Giants have Randy Winn's contract expiring after the season and would love for the 25 year-old Schierholtz to force himself into the mix and allow them to let Winn walk if need be.

Also, as I mentioned at the top of the post, the Giants will hold an intresquad scrimmage on Tuesday at Scottsdale Stadium. Surprisingly, Randy Johnson and Barry Zito will start for each team as both requested more work before they start their cactus league assignments. I wouldn't expect for either of them to go much more than an inning or two though and then we'll likely start seeing some of the younger arms like Kevin Pucetas and Henry Sosa. Expect the same thing for the position players, as they'll likely get an at-bat or two then yield to the younger guys. Still, it will be the first live action of spring and it should be interesting to see how things go. The Cactus league exhibition season begins on Wednesday and the Giants game will actually be on TV. For those with Direct TV, you can catch the game on D-TV channel 662 at noon. I haven't heard any confirmation but I believe Matt Cain will get the start. Cain has slimmed down this spring and looks determined to take that next step this year. I really can't wait to see how the weight-loss will improve his overall effectiveness on the mound. Lincecum also could get the start, but he's been kind of ill lately and the Giants may keep him in Scottsdale.

*Note: I also wanted to post this link to Pablo Sandoval's incredible VWL home run derby performance. It's not the highest quality, but you can see some of his moonshots. This kid has some sneaky power and could very well hit 20 bombs this season.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Friday, February 20, 2009

Spring Battles To Watch

With spring training now in full swing, and cactus league games less than a week away, I thought now would be a good time to take a closer look at the top five battles that will be going on in Giants camp over the next 6 weeks. The battle for the 5th starters job, the starting second basemen spot, the final bench and bullpen spots as well as the fight for the bulk of the at-bats at first base will all be under the microscope as the Giants try attempt to field their first winning team since 2004.

The 5th Starters Spot: The most publicized battle this spring has been and will continue to be the battle for the fifth starters spot. There are only 2 contestants in this one so it's pretty cut and dry: Either Jonathan Sanchez or Noah Lowry will be in rotation come April, but not both (unless an unforeseen injury takes place). Noah Lowry leads the Giants in wins over the last 4 years, even after missing all of '08, so he's been very important to the pitching staff, when healthy. Jonathan Sanchez looked dominant at times in '09 and many, including myself, see his ceiling being a lot higher than Lowry's. Sanchez is the favorite right now, but he's been inconsistent a throughout his young career (inclduing a brutal finishing of last season) and he has to put together a solid spring to solidify his spot. Lowry is looking to get healthy and rolling this spring too. Unlike Sanchez though, Lowry has to first prove healthy, then he has to prove game-effective. After all, Lowry hasn't thrown in a regular season game since August 2007. So Sanchez has the edge and I think he'll be in the rotation come April with Lowry either on the DL or starting off in Fresno to build strength. Still this battle is going to be a good one to watch this spring, if Lowry can stay healthy and in it. If all 6 major league starters are healthy and pitching well at the end of the the spring, it would be intersting to see if the Giants would entertain the idea of carrying a 6-man rotation to start the year, or at least until they could deal someone.

Starting 2nd Basemen: This fight is going to be a three-way tussle between the favorites, Kevin Frandsen and Emannuel Burris, and the underdog, Eugenio Velez. I guess Juan Uribe should also be considered here but a lot of things would have to go wrong for him to end up the Giants starting second basemen on opening day. Frandsen has been in line for a few years and with Durham now finally gone, this was supposed to be his time. He's hit .300 at every minor league stop and when he got a got his look in September of '07, he hit .370 with 14 runs in his 73 at-bats. However, he got injured last season and it really put him behind the 8-ball. Many around the organization feel that Burris has more upside than Frandsen, but feel his future with the team is at shortstop. Still, if he outplays Frandsen, he'll likely get the job. I still envision KFrand winning this job out of the gate, putting Burris at shortstop in Fresno and Velez on the bench as a utility guy in San Francisco. This is going to be another good one though because nobody is being given the edge. There is no veteran incumbent and this should be a good old fashion case of "whoever plays the best, wins the job".

Bullpen Spots: The fight for the final remaining bullpen spots won't be as heavily watched as the others, but it's still going to be something to keep an eye on. The Giants currently have 5 guys who are pretty much locks to make the team: Brian Wilson, Bob Howry, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Jack Taschner. That leaves 2 remaining spots for about 6 guys to battle for. The most likely candidates to fill those spots are Alex Hinshaw, Merkin Valdez, Keeichi Yabu, Justin Miller, Osiris Matos and Billy Sadler. Rule V draftee Luis Peredomo will also be given a look but isn't as likely to make the team as the others mentioned. If Merkin Valdez is healthy, he should be on the team for sure as he proved to be one of the Giants' most effective relievers in the early part of last year. He carried a 1.69 era in 17 games before suffering a season ending injury in mid-May. Alex Hinshaw should also have a leg up on the rest as he threw extremely well during his stint last year, except for a few outings in August, and struck out 47 batters in under 40 innings pitched (had 3.4 era, but has to bring his 1.5 WHIP down). Keeichi Yabu (3.57 era, 65 games) and Justin Miller (3.65 era, 76 k's in 62 games in '07) are two veterans who are very capable and have thrown well over the last year or two, so those two can't be counted out, even if the odds are against them. Again, my 2 favorites to take those spots will be (if healthy) Merkin Valdez and Alex Hinshaw. If Valdez isn't healthy, then I'd expect to see Yabu or Miller to swoop up his spot.

Lions' share of 1st Base: This job really is Travis Ishikawa's to lose, but there are some other options in Giants' camp this year in case he does struggle. John Bowker got a long look at the big league level last year and although he has to improve, he definitely showed some positive signs. The team also added Josh Phelps this winter for depth at the position and he has been putting together great seasons in AAA ball over the last few years and is itching for another look at the big leagues. Then there is the young Jesus Guzman who isn't really battling for first base, but if he plays like he's capable of this spring at third base, he may force the Giants hand at moving Pablo Sandoval across the diamond to first while Guzman gets his look at third. Again, though, all signs are pointing towards Ishikawa, who at least will provide very solid defense over there. The Giants are also still exploring other options at third base as well (Joe Crede, Andy Marte) so a move could still happen that would push Ishikawa out of a starting job.

Bench Spots: Now, the battle for the bench spots aren't what people are going to think about as they're sitting in sunny Scottsdale this spring watching baseball, but it's something the Giants will be monitoring closely. Rich Aurilia, Jesus Guzman, Juan Uribe, Jon Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, the loser of the second base battle and a handful of catcher are all trying to make the team as reserves, but the Giants will only have room for 5. There is a good chance that Dave Roberts will be let go before the end of spring, but if he isn't, that's one spot that will be taken. Also right now you'd have to assume that Bochy will carry a back-up catcher and Steve Holm would be the favorite for that and that would be 2 spots taken. So there really are only 3 spots available right now for about 6 guys to battle for. Nate Schierholtz is likely to get the job as the 4th outfielder unless he tanks this spring and I don't thing the Giants brought Rich Aurilia back to have play for Fresno, so I think they'll have themselves a spot. So that would leave one remaining spot for: Velez, Bowker, Guzman, Uribe, Ryan Rohlinger ect... Velez has the versatility and Bochy will likely want to keep him on the roster as they head north, so he'd be my pick at this juncture.

*Update: The Joe Crede watch is officially over as he has signed a one year deal with the Twins after all. Again, I'm glad he won't be in San Francisco this year as he wasn't what this team necessarily needed and wouldn't have been much of an upgrade to what they already have in the infield. However with him on a one-year deal, something tells me that we haven't heard the last of the "Joe Crede to the Giants" rumors that started in 2006.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Full Squad Workouts Begin

Wednesday marked the first day of full-squad workouts, but there was still plenty of buzz about the pitchers, and even gold 'ol Joe Crede was back in Giants news.

One of the newest Giants showed up and looked good, according to our good friend over at Giants Jottings. I reported a few weeks back that Edgar Renteria showed up for the fanfest looking about 15-20 pounds lighter than he ended the season at with Detroit. Renteria looked lighter on the field as well as he supposedly put together a strong fielding session followed with a solid batting practice. The Giants, once again, have a lineup built around contact hitters, so Renteria will have to rebound and carry his share this year if the Giants are going to improve on last years league's worst offense. The 33 year-old shortstop is still being significantly overpaid in this market ($18.5 million over the next 2 seasons when he should have gotten $10 over 2 years max) but as I said when he signed, if he reverts to the way he played in Atlanta and during his better years in St. Louis, then he'll be fine. The new shortstop could also be getting a new third basemen flanking him after all as Joe Crede's contract talks with the Twins have apparently stalled, and the Giants may end up being his only remaining option. More on that as it comes.

As far as the pitchers are concerned, a lot of the talk has shifted to Tim Lincecum's contract situation. Now I know that it's spring training now, and we're supposed to be done with contract talks for a while, but this one is important. It looks like Lincecum could start becoming eligible for arbitration after this season (aka a Super-Two player) in which case he could start netting 9-12 million a year from the Giants if they end up going down that route. The best thing the Giants could do is go ahead and sign the kid long-term. The Phillies and the Brewers are two teams to look at who've recently looked up their young stars before they got into arbitration. The Phills locked up Cole Hammels for 3 years and a little over $20 million while the Brewers nailed down Braun at 8 years and $45 million. I think Lincecum's going to commnad a little bit more than either of those guys did as he already has a Cy Young award under his belt in barely a year and a half in the league. The Giants should be thinking of 5+ years at $8-10 million annually, but I don't think I'd do it until after the season. Not that I am at all worried about the kid, but let's make sure he starts off well here in his second full season before committing 50+ million dollars to him. But yes, the Giants do need to lock him up long term and better sooner than later.

Another pitcher I wanted to mention in today's post is Merkin Valdez. The 27 year-old right handed reliever has shown up to spring training, taken part in full workout and is supposedly feeling no pain at all. This is huge news for the Giants and Valdez. This kid was arguably the teams best reliever over the first month of last season and if he can get healthy again, he will provide a huge boost to the bullpen and possibly challenge for the right-handed set-up role. With Valdez, Romo, Wilson and Hinshaw, along with the new free agents, the Giants could have the makings of their best bullpen since 2003.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Monday, February 16, 2009

Posey Impresive in Opening Workouts

Finally, instead of contemplating on Joe Crede and discussing the ongoing Manny Ramirez saga, we have some real baseball to talk about as Spring Training 2009 has officially begun.

Most of the buzz from the first few days of Giants camp has surrounded young Buster Posey. The Giants number one pick (and fifth overall) from 2008's amateur draft showed up to spring training and looked like a top five pick is supposed to. Posey hit a shot over the left-field fence on his first swing in his first spring batting session and he didn't stop there. According to those in attendance for the workout, Posey was ripping the ball all over the yard and was the only Giant hitter to hit a ball out of the park on each of the first two days of workouts. Just by looking at some of the photos taken from the batting sessions, and from the limited at-bats I saw him take for Florida State in last year's College World Series, you can tell this kid has a special swing that's balanced and finishes high, a lot like Will Clark's classic stroke used to look. Posey also appeared to carry a confidence on the field that he belonged and obviously stuck out more than any other player over the first couple of days. I know it's just spring workouts, but I get the feeling we could be seeing this guy in San Francisco a lot sooner than some think (like the second half of 2009, soon). Fred Lewis didn't put on the show that Posey did during his BP, but he also hit the ball hard as he was among a few of the early arriving position players. It's pretty clear Lewis is trying to take that next step this season and become a game changing offensive player. He's added some muscle and has visions of a 20-20 season in 2009. A 20 home run season may be stretching it by a few, but Lewis does have potential and it's good to see him doing his best to reach all of it.

Another new Giant that gained a lot of attention over the first couple days of spring workouts was Randy Johnson. The Unit apparently showed up a little late on day one but apparently looked like the Randy Johnson of old on day two. According to Andrew Baggarly, who is in Scottsdale monitoring workouts, Johnson's bullpen session went so well that teammates started gathering around him to watch the legend go to work. If Randy Johnson improves on what he did for Arizona last season, which is entirely possible now that he's finally entering a season at 100 percent, not only will he be an asset to the teams rotation, but this guy could realistically be an all-star again. Johnson looked very good in the second half of last season (posting an era under 2.5 after the all-star break) and if he gets healthy and comfortable pitching in a spacious yard like AT&T Park, then lookout. Now, I am well aware that Johnson is into his 40's and isn't near the pitcher he was 10 years ago, but still, I could still see him pulling off another 15-18 win season in this yard if he gets the proper support and keeps that back loose and healthy.

Other than the impressive workouts by the newcomers, there really hasn't been much to talk about yet as things are just at the early stage and nothing too exciting will happen until the first full-squad workouts and scrimmages began happening in about a week. Though not necessarily in great shape (Bengie Molina), everyone but Noah Lowry is in good health. Lowry is still battling the stiff shoulder, but he has been out on the field with the pitchers doing some of the things they are doing like bunting and running, but no fielding or throwing drills for Lowry yet. It's still unclear on how long this shoulder issue will keep him from participating but it will be a huge disadvantage for him if he's not ready to start pitching when Cactus league games start up in just 12 days.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers Report

Spring Training 2009 has officially begun for the Giants as pitchers, catchers and various other position players reported to camp on Saturday. There wasn't much going on as today was just the reporting date and the first official workout isn't scheduled until Sunday, but there were a enough tidbits to come up with a small post on reporting day.

Apparently Noah Lowry isn't 100 percent healthy after all as he has reported some shoulder stiffness upon arriving in Scottsdale. The lefty was supposed to be on schedule to take part fully in pitchers workouts on Sunday, but his recent set-back will likely limit any throwing he may do. However, Lowry thinks he'll be fine in due time and also adressed the the questions regarding the starting rotation. He hinted that he would expect a move of some kind if everyone is healthy come April, even a possible trade. There have been whispers of Lowry possibly starting the year off in Fresno as he still has a minor league option left, but I wouldn't count on that happening. However, if Lowry is expecting to be in a starting rotation this season, whether it be the Giants' or another squads, he has to prove himself healthy. Shoulder stiffness shouldn't be taken too seriously with pitchers at the beginning of the spring, but with Lowry it always raises red flags. I will be interested to see exactly what his workload is as workouts get started over the coming days.

It also appears that the Joe Crede watch will be coming to an end. A Giants' front-office member told the Mercs' Andrew Baggerly that he expects Crede to sign with the Twins in the coming days before their players report to camp. It's still not officially dead, but the chances of Crede signing with the Giants are looking slim to none at this point. If Crede doesn't sign though, it doesn't mean the Giants will stop searching for a third basemen. They still don't appear to be fully confident with Pablo Sandoval getting the full-time share at third so some movement could still take place before Opening Day that doesn't involve Joe Crede.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Free Agency Picks Up

Over the last 48 hours, a few of the top remaining free agents have found homes. It looks like Adam Dunn will be playing in D.C. for the next 2 seasons as he signed a two-year $20 million deal with the Nationals. Bobby Abreu also found a home, signing a bargain basement one-year, $5 million deal with the Angels. With those two back-up options off of the market, it would seem that the Dodgers need Manny Ramirez now more than ever. If they loose out on ManRam, they won't have a shot at legitimately replacing him. Whatever small percentage chance the Giants had at signing Manny Ramirez has likely gone out the window now under the current circumstances. The Dodgers are going to go all out for Manny and the Giants aren't going to be ready to compete with what they'll eventually offer. My guess is that Manny returns to LA for 3 years and $65 million within the next week or so. The Giants aren't likely to guarantee Manny anymore than one year, two years tops, but would probably be open to giving 2nd and 3rd year options on a deal. Although they realistically could make a play for him, it would be smarter for the Giants to forget the Manny situation, focus on what they have, and save some of the dough for next winter. If Manny and the Dodgers have another fallout, who knows, maybe he falls onto the Giants lap for 2 years and $40 million, but they shouldn't be focusing on that. They should also be keeping in mind that Matt Holliday is going to be a free agent after the season and he's in his prime (29), is much more of an all-around player, and won't bring the circus that Manny does to ballpark every night. Save the dough and push for Holliday next winter. Holliday is getting familiar with the Bay Area playing in Oakland this season and the Giants will have about 30+ million dollars in salary coming off the books after '09. It could be a perfect match.

The Giants have had their own free agent frenzy going on over the last couple of days as well. However, theirs has been of the minor league variety. After inking Juan Uribe and Rich Aurilia to minor league deals (though Aurilia's will likely become a major league deal) over the previous 2 weeks, the Giants picked up former Angels starter, Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz didn't pitch in the bigs in 2008 and hasn't really been succesful at this level since 2002 (as all Giants fans can painfully remember). The 35-year old right hander did throw in Japan last season but didn't do too well their either. He recently shined in the Caribbean Series for the Dominican team as he threw 6 2/3 innings allowing no runs on 3 hits while striking out 5 batters in his only start in the tournement. That outing likely got him signed. I don't think Ortiz is on board to do much other than be insurance down in Fresno in case the Giants need an emergency starter or somone to make a few fill in appearances. He will have an outside shot at making the opening day roster out of the bullpen but there are about 6 others vying for the 2 open spots and it isn't likely he'll be in one of them.

The Ortiz signing could also be insurance in case the Giants deal away Noah Lowry during or after spring training. Lowry is said to be healthy and ready to go, but Brian Sabean recently made comments suggesting that the fifth starters spot is Jonathan Sanchez's to lose. Sanchez has gotten bigger and stronger this winter and the feeling arund the organization is that he's ready for big things in '09. It got thinking that maybe it will be Noah Lowry who is packing his bags and wearing different colors in 2009. Everyone assumed it would be Jonathon Sanchez who'd be dealt away when everyone got healthy, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Now, even though Lowry has proven himself as one of the better left-handed starters in the National League, his trade value is decimated and he will have to prove himself over a period of time before it's replenished. A few names that came to mind when thinking of trade targets for Lowry are Texas' Travis Metcalf and St. Louis' Chris Duncan. Both are young corner infielders (Duncan can also play the outfield), have no guaranteed role with their respective teams and have power that the Giants could sorely use. Metcalf seems to be the odd man out in Texas as they have shifted Michael Young over to third base while Chris Davis claims first and Hank Blalock DH's. The 26 year-old has been on the doorstep for a few years now, but the Rangers haven't had a spot for him. Texas always needs pitching and may consider a Metcalf for Lowry deal. Duncan could be an option at first for the Giants and give them some solid power from the left-side. He really also has no place with the Cardinals as they already has a stacked outfield and they have some guy by the name of Pujols at first. However, if Lowry shows healthy and starts throwing like he was in 2006 then he's worth more than Duncan or Metcalf, so being patient with Noah may not be a bad idea either.
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Monday, February 09, 2009

Giants Re-Sign Richie

It took the weekend for Rich Aurilia to finally except, but the man who debuted for the Giants all the way back in 1995 will be back with the team this season. Now, Aurilia officially signed a minor league deal so he won't count against the 40-man roster during spring training, but unless he absolutely tanks, and others blossom, Rich will be back in the utility role for the Giants once again in 2009.

I am not surprised by this move at all since it was well publicized that the Giants had a deal on the table for Richie. He can play first and third in a pinch and those are two places the Giants will likely be going young at in 2009 with Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa. The only question I have about this deal is that it is exactly like the deal the Giants signed Juan Uribe to back in late January and I don't think the Giants will end up having room for the both of them. Since Bruce Bochy is planning to carry a 5-man bench, that would likely lead to the team carrying 2 infielders, 2 outfielders and a catcher. Right now the Giants have about 5 guys vying for those two infield spots and not all of them are going to make the team. Both Aurilia and Uribe have their strengths and weaknesses. Aurilia is older than Uribe and not as good a defender or as mobile as the former White Sox second basemen. Uribe is also the closest thing to a back-up shortstop the Giants may have as Emmanuel Burris will likely be the starting shortstop at Fresno. However, Aurilia is better at the plate than Uribe and offers a right-handed option at first base which is the only infield position Uribe doesn't play. With the Giants planning to roll with Ishikawa at first base, they will likely want the veteran right-hander backing him up and spelling him on days vs. tough left-handed pitching. In addition to the battle for second base, the final bullpen spots and the fifth spot in the rotation, the battle for the bench spots will be something to keep an eye on this spring.

With the Aurilia now locked up, it would appear the Giants may now officially move past Joe Crede. They apparently still have their one-year offer on the table for him, but chances of him signing it at this point aren't very high. It's probably for the best. If Crede came aboard it would mean bad news for Travis Ishikawa and he did enough last year to earn himself a strong look this season. Ishikawa tore up the minor leagues and then came up strong to San Francisco, although he faded somewhat towards the end of the year. If Ishikawa struggles, then the Giants have Jon Bowker and Josh Phelps right behind him who aren't necessarily your top options, but Bowker is young and is hopefully improving on his 326 at-bat, .253 avg, 10 home run, 43 RBI rookie campaign. And Phelps is still looking for another opportunity at the big league level after a successful cameo with Pittsburgh in '07 followed by an all-star year at triple-A in '08. Not saying that the Giants back-up options are potential stars, but they do have some and they aren't desperate for a %75 healthy Joe Crede who is not the missing link that this team needs.
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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Giants Notes: Lowry Healthy

The annual Giants Fanfest took place this weekend at AT&T Park and some pretty good news came out of it. The Giants trainers and manager Bruce Bochy declared that Noah Lowry is healthy and is on track to report with fellow pitchers and catchers to participate fully in workouts when spring training begins in a week.

This is great news for Noah who tweaked his forearm last spring and it ended up costing him the whole 2008 season. I think a lot of people have forgotten how important Lowry is to the Giants starting rotation. Even after missing all of 2008, he still leads the team in wins since 2005. And if Lowry is indeed ready to go and shows so early on in the spring, it would provide the Giants with 6 legit options for a 5-man starting rotation. It's still unclear how Lowry will react to the daily grind of getting back into game shape so if you wondering why the Giants don't go off and deal Jonathan Sanchez for a hitter, that's part of the reason. However, I really don't expect to see Sanchez in the bullpen anymore and Lowry certainly won't be demoted, so if he proves he's ready to reclaim his spot in the rotation, Giants management are going to have some decisions to make. If all 6 starters are %100 healthy and throwing well come opening day, then Bochy and Sabean may need to consider carrying a 6-man rotation to start the year. It's still too early to determine as to whether the 28 year-old lefty will be ready to pitch 6-7 innings per start once the season starts, so any possible trade wouldn't likely come until late in spring training, or early in the season. Remember, Lowry has only put together a 30+ start season one time in his four seasons at the big league level so you can't really pencil him in for 200 innings per year like you can a Matt Cain and now Tim Lincecum.

As far as the other hot topics around the Fanfest, Pablo Sandoval and Bruce Bochy declared that the rookie catcher/infielder will bypass his opportunity to catch for the Venezuelan national team in the World Baseball Classic. Sandoval is likely to be the Giants everyday 3rd basemen and third place hitter once the season starts so the team wants him preparing in the infield rather than behind the plate this spring. Sandoval is also stoked about the opportunity to play third base everyday and doesn't seem to mind missing out on playing with the best players from all over the world. I reported on this back when Sandoval got the invitation and felt that it would have been a great experience for the youngster if he would have gotten to play under that spotlight, but it made more sense for the Giants for him to stay with them and get his work in at 3rd or possibly now 1st base. Joe Crede (although the reports on his workout last Thursday have been mixed) is still firmly in the mix as a possible third basemen for the Giants in which case Sandoval would start getting reps at first base. A late report Saturday from the Giants official site reports that the Giants have actually offered Joe Crede a contract so that situation should be resolved, one way or the other, within the next couple of days.

Edgar Renteria was also in the news this weekend as he showed up in the Bay Area looking slimmer and in much better shape than he supposedly did when he reported to spring training with Detroit last February. I don't think that there is any question that the Giants should get more out of Renteria than the Tigers got from him last year, and he looks determined to get himself back to the lever he was at with Atlanta and St. Louis. A lot had been made about Renteria's loss of range up the middle over the past couple years and I think he wants to erase those whispers as well. I see '09 being a successful campaign for Renteria, and at 9.5 million dollars, he better make sure it is.
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Barry Zito Gearing Up For Rebound

We have officially hit February and pitchers and catchers are starting to pack their bags as spring training reporting dates are only 2 weeks away.

One Giant that could be reporting early is the newly determined Barry Zito. The 30 year-old lefty has gone through a new workout regime this winter, in effort to break out of the funk he's been in over the previous two seasons. The Giants' top earner has been working out with the teams' closer, Brian Wilson, and has put an extra emphasis on strengthening himself this winter through the use of weight training. Zito has seen his fastball drop in velocity over each of the last two seasons (all though he did get it back up into the 87-88 mph range toward the end of the year) and whether that's attributed to strength and conditioning isn't clear, but getting stronger won't hurt anything. 2009 is a very big year for Zito. It's still early enough in his contract where he can turn things around and start changing the minds of his doubters, but he's going to have to put up some solid numbers this season if that's to happen. If he ends up struggling through year number 3 like he did in his first 2 seasons in San Francisco, chances are likely that he'd never get back to normal in a Giants uniform. Again, I don't think all of Zito's problems were attributed to conditioning, I think they were more mental than anything else, but being in top shape should give him a boost of confidence heading into the new season. I also believe that with the addition of Randy Johnson along with the rapid rise of Tim Lincecum, the spotlight will drift from Zito a bit and he can enter the season without feeling like the success of the starting staff rests directly on his shoulders. If a pumped up, determined Zito can't get back to .500 this season, I don't think he ever will (at least with this team).

As far as roster movement is concerned, I don't think Sabean is quite done putting some final touches on the team and we could see another addition, likely to the infield, in the next week or so. Joe Crede worked out in Arizona last Thursday and apparently impressed the two teams that are pursuing him the hardest, the Giants and Twins. I think Crede would make a lot of sense for this team if healthy and apparently he is now. The only question with him is how long can he stay healthy. He was an all-star last season after putting up 17 first half home runs, but his defense and batting average slipped last year. Another option for the team could be swooping up Orlando Hudson (another name who's been discussed here a few times this winter) on a 2 year-deal. Again, Hudson isn't the ideal, power hitting cleanup hitter that the Giants need, but he is an offensive catalyst (kind of like a younger Ray Durham) and a gold glove second basemen.

Still, signing Crede is much more likely of scenario for the Giants as they have options at second and adding a third basemen would seemingly complete the infield. Whether it's Crede, Hudson or someone like Ty Wigginton, I do think there will be another infielder coming on board before the start of spring.
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Monday, February 02, 2009

Events And Tickets in San Francisco

San Francisco is an amazing place to visit. There are tons of things for tourists to do in the city by the bay, from hanging out on the beach and eating at the famous fisherman's wharf to hitting the City at night for a Giants game and a good old fashion night on the town. I wanted to go ahead and write about some things to do in San Francisco for anyone planning on visiting who's never been, or for those that live in the bay area that are looking for something new to do.

First off, this is a Giants Blog, so you know I need to mention the San Francisco Giants. My favorite thing to do in San Francisco during the spring, summer and fall is attend Giants games at the beautiful AT&T Park. Now the Giants don't get the Yankees or Red Sox Tickets coming to town for interleague play this season, but there still will be plenty exciting match-ups coming up in 2009 and plenty of cheap San Francisco Giants tickets available as the Giants write another chapter in their rivalry vs. the dreaded LA Dodgers as well as the cross bay rival Oakland Athletics while attempting to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003.

After an afternoon or evening at the ballpark, go out and hit the town! Right across the street from the yard lies the famous Momo's Restaurant, an Amercian bistro. The drinks are a tad pricey, but they have very good food and a nice outdoor/indoor venue with a view of AT&T Park and the San Francisco Bay. The other hot spots are mostly located on Broadway where there is a whole strip of bright lights and extravagent venues. And to cure your hunger, grab a bite to eat at the reasonably priced Mels' Drive-In located on Van Ness, Mission or Geary St. in downtown SF, a traditional favorite since the 50's.

If your not much of a "downtown" kind of person or not much of a sports fan, then check out Fishermans Wharf, the beautiful San Francisco Bay and the monumental Golden Gate Bridge or take a tour out to "The Rock" and check out Alcatraz while getting a look at the City from out on the water, it really is a site to see. There also is the option of heading north of the Golden gate an hour or so and hitting Sonoma County's Wine Country.

I hope anyone who needs this finds this post helpful and informative. If you have any more questions about what to do in the City and where to do it, don't hesitate to e-mail us or check out Best Show Las Vegas' Sports Blog about upcoming shows/concerts that are coming to the Bay Area.
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