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Friday, October 25, 2013

What Lincecum's Return Means For Offseason

Roughly a week ago news broke about Tim Lincecum declining a 2-year offer from the Giants while hinting that he'd like to test the market. However, within 72 hours of that news, the Giants and their former ace agreed to terms on a two-year deal that somewhat clouds the rest of the offseason.

First off, if you look at the two years and $35 million the Giants are guaranteeing a guy who's gone 20-29 with a 4.76 ERA combined over the last two seasons, it may leave you scratching your head. Even in this inflated pitcher's market, that's about double what most other arms not named Tim Lincecum would have received this winter. At his best the last two seasons, Lincecum has looked nothing more than a quality number 3 starter, and for the most part, a number four or five. For the Giants to be giving a guy like that $17.5M each of the next two seasons is a bit concerning. I mean, that's nearly ace money, and Lincecum has not been an ace since early 2011. That said, the Giants definitely had their reasons for keeping Timmy in the Bay Area. He's still a fan favorite and huge draw, and he still does posses the talent to be an above-average starting pitcher when he's on. He had the no-no, and we saw some him improve his ERA nearly a full point from his disastrous 2012 campaign, but he's still got a ways to go to get back to that front-end rotation guy. The Giants are taking a mighty big gamble he'll get there, but only time will tell.

I'm really on the fence about this deal right now, and will be until I see what plan the Giants have this winter and how giving Lincecum nearly $20M the next two seasons will hinder their budget. After all, even with Linecum in tow, and assuming he's slotted into the #3 rotation spot, the Giants still need two more rotation spots to fill. Sabean said himself they must upgrade the starting rotation, and bringing 4/5 of their under-achieving 2013 staff back would not be a step in that direction. That leads me to believe Ryan Vogelsong will not be back and in order for Sabes to keep true on that statement, he's going to have to go out and get another two solid arms in free-agency. Problem is, the Giants also need a quality outfielder too, and after giving Timmy that contract, already have nearly $130M committed towards their 2014 payroll. Sabean said before the end of the season that their 2014 budget would be around $145M, so that leaves roughly $15 million to find themselves two quality starters, a left fielder and some much needed depth in all areas.

We looked at a couple of starters last week (Ervin Santana, Matt Garza) that I wanted to see targeted, and I'd still like to see those guys pursued, but with payroll space limited and so many holes to fill, I can't see them being in the market for any of the top arms any longer. There are some intriguing names coming off down years who may be worth a gamble, and if they're indeed set on keeping that payroll under $150M for 2014, those are the names they'll be forced to look at. I know a couple that come to mind right away are Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Edinson Volquez, Phil Hughes and Wandy Rodriguez. All those guys may be able to be signed to short-term, "prove yourself" type of contracts that could end up being steals if they stay healthy and pitch to their capabilities. But would signing any of those guys really be that much of an upgrade from Vogelsong and Yusmiero Petit? The one guy in that bunch that is semi-intriguing that I wouldn't mind giving a one-year, incentive-laden deal to become the #5 starter is Josh Johnson. He'd probably thrive in a return to the NL, and if he passed a physical and agreed to something reasonable I'd have no problem with Sabes rolling the dice on him. I'm also getting a strong Jason Vargas vibe for some reason. He's a California guy, has always been a solid, unspectacular starter and probably won't break the bank. Plus he's a lefty, and the Giants may want to balance out the rotation with another left-handed starter to go with Madison Bumgarner.

In summation, I'm glad Lincecum will be pitching for the Giants again, but at the same time, believe the money they ended up giving him could have been better spent. I think it ties their hands a bit for the upcoming free agent season in a year in which the Giants really don't have a lot of margin for error. As many good memories as he's provided Giants' fans, this is a "what have you done for me lately" era and the honeymoon period with Timmy has faded the last two years. If Lincecum pitches closer to what his career average at this point would suggest (3.46 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .233 BAA and a 3:1 K/BB ratio), then this move looks solid. If he's more the Lineceum of the last two seasons, this move really hurts the Giants over the next two seasons, similarly to the way Zito's hurt them the last seven.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, October 18, 2013

Lincecum to Test Free Agent Market

The Giants' best shot at retaining their two-time Cy Young award winner was to do so before players could officially file for free agency after the World Series. Now, if Timmy has any shot at returning to San Francisco, the Giants will likely have to pony up more than they originally had hoped.

With the way things have been adding up between Lincecum and the Giants, ever since his horrible struggles started early in 2012, you kind of had to see this one coming. The Giants have tried multiple times over the last couple of years to negotiate a long-term deal with their former ace, but they could just never get on the same page. Lincecum turned down a 5-year deal worth upwards of $100M before the 2012 season, and after the way his career has down-sloped the last 2 seasons, I'm sure he's got to be kicking himself for not taking that deal. The latest, and perhaps the last effort at retaining Lincecum again did not come to fruition, as the Giants offered him a reported 2-year deal but came away with the news that Timmy has every intention on testing the free agent market. Now there's no telling whether or not they'll connect again later on in the winter and try to hammer something out again, but something tells me if they haven't gotten on the same page yet, it just isn't going to happen, especially now that they'll be bidding against other teams. I would like to see Timmy pitch again for the Giants, but under no circumstances would I get into a bidding war for him, nor go beyond 3 years and $40-45 million to keep him in the orange and black.

It should definitely be interesting to see what the market for Lincecum will indeed be. I know the Mariners will be calling, and they may blow him out of the water with a deal just because of the hype it would create in the area. However, as I've been talking about a lot here recently, the market for a number 3 or 4 starting pitcher is plentiful this winter and that's really where Lincecum is at this point. In fact, there are a few arms out there who I would deem as upgrades, judging on the way things have gone over the past couple of seasons. I think the guy at the top of my list in terms of potential number 3 starters if I'm Brian Sabean would be Matt Garza. The 30 year-old is from Northern California, and would probably welcome a homecoming to pitch at AT&T Park and throw for a perennial contender. Garza is a bit tricky though, just because of the health issues he's dealt with throughout his career. Add that to the fact that he's one of the top free agent pitchers out there this year, and it makes for a tough situation, but one that would be worth the risk in my opinion. The number two arm on my list is Ervin Santana. He's got electric stuff, just like Garza and can be a legit #2 when he's on his game (as he was throughout the 2013 season). While Garza is the more consistent out of the two (when he's on the field), Santana has a leg up in the health department.

Either way, the Giants will need to bring in at least two starters from outside the organization if they lose Lincecum, and that may end up being 3 if Vogelsong follows him out the door. Yusmiero Petit will be around and in the mix for the fifth spot, but for a team with plans to return to the postseason and get back to their championship level, they may have higher aspirations. The Giants have to get better in their starting rotation, it's Sabean's number one priority. I mentioned Santana and Garza briefly here as viable candidates for the open #3 spot, but there are a handful of other decent options out there for mid/back-end rotation help. In our next post, I have to do a NL Awards selection post for The Baseball Bloggers Alliance, but after that, we'll take a closer look at some of the quality arms that are set to become free agents.

Note: In case you were keeping up on where Cuban slugger Jose Abreu would end up, he just went off the market after agreeing to terms with the Chicago White Sox on a 6-year, $68M deal. He was definitely an intriguing talent, but Sabean isn't keen on investing in unproven talent to that extent, so I'm not surprised the Giants didn't more serious players.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 Review: What Went Wrong/How to Fix It

I was going to dedicate a whole post to things that went wrong for the Giants in the 2013 season that saw them sink from World Champs to a 10-game below .500 finish, but we already have a firm grip on that. Instead, I thought I'd discuss some of the things that they could actually fix over the winter to get this team back to championship caliber.

Instead of analyzing every little detail, I figured it be best to nut-shell the negative in this case, cause every Giants' fan has heard the complaints enough over the last few months. To start things off, the main reasons why this team failed so miserably this season is because they simply had no depth to speak of. They didn't come in with a very good plan in left field, and they ended up getting minimal production there, then when Angel Pagan went down, they just couldn't fill the void. That, coupled with other minor injuries throughout (Pablo Sandoval's issues, Vogey's 2-month absence, Casilla and Affeldt's missed time, Marco Scutaro's bum finger, etc...), are what really did this team in. They got solid years out of guys who were there from start to finish like Belt, Pence, Crawford (for the most part) and Posey (when he was out there), but it seemed like the lineup was changing on a near daily basis in the second half, and the Giants didn't have the talent to fill it out.

Big Decision On Timmy Looms
We also cannot forget the abysmal year the starting rotation had. Matt Cain's first half, and Tim Lincecum's start and finish were both very forgettable. Barry Zito was nowhere near the help he was down the stretch in 2012 this year and Vogelsong was hot and cold after returning from his lengthy mid-season absence. Although the Giants got nice performances out of Chad Gaudin and Yusmiero Petit (in September), lack of depth in the starting rotation again came into play, just like it did in the everyday lineup. Vogelsong was the only Giant to miss significant time, but Zito's major fall-off made the Giants really need 2 solid options to step in to keep them up to snuff with the Dodgers, and they just didn't quite get it. Although the bullpen had some ups-and-downs of it's own, they still managed to find enough depth to at least stay serviceable over the second half. Not saying they don't need an upgrade or two, but the bullpen was being taxed because the starters weren't doing their jobs, and they were exposed at times because of it.

Now, I didn't want to use this whole post to just rip on the 2013 performance, but instead start discussing what needs to be done in order to fix it. Obviously the Giants saw throughout the second half of the season that they don't have much major-league ready talent in their minor league system, at least in terms of everyday players. Heath Hembree looks like he may be a real key to the 2014 bullpen mix, and Tony Abreu looked better than Joaquin Arias as the utility infielder in 2013, but other than that, I wouldn't expect too many in-organization fixes for next year. With the lack of minor league depth lower in their system, it also takes them out of the larger trade market, leaving free agency as their best course of action in order to get better. However, we all know Sabean's been skeptical signing outside free agents in recent years, rather working through trade, so we'll see how it goes when he has to fill so many holes with outside help. Luckily for the Giants, this free agent market is pretty deep in areas they need help at. There aren't really any aces out on the free agent market, but there are bunches of mid-rotation level starters saturating the market, and the Giants could go for a couple of those.

Would Abreu Be the Answer?
Also, it's no secret they're wanting to add another bopper to the lineup, and although the hot name out there right now is Cuba's Jose Abreu, there are other more realistic options available in the outfield for the Giants as well. Abreu is mighty intriguing though, to say the least, especially after seeing successes like Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes happen seemingly overnight. We'll certainly discuss him, and other options as we get closer to free agency opening. Right now though, I'd say the Giants have 4 major spots to fill, and a couple of minor ones. They need a left fielder who can hit, or a first basemen like Abreu who would push Belt out to left field. I have no problem with Belt in left, he's athletic enough to pull it off, especially if he gets to start there day one of spring training. Even higher on the priority list though is the starting rotation. It was the downfall of the 2013 team and right now only Cain and Bumgarner are guaranteed spots next season. I'm open to bringing Timmy back under the right terms as the fourth man, and even Vogey as a fifth starter option (again, at a reduced price from his 2013 figure), but ever if both return, it leaves a spot in the middle of the rotation in which the Giants must upgrade. Even with Vogelsong missing 2 months, they had those four healthy together for much of the year and it just didn't work out for them, so change is definitely in order.

Up next, we'll start breaking down some of the free agent options they may look into, especially in regards to the starting rotation and either left field or first base. Jose Abreu is the only name I've heard really linked to the Giants so far, as we probably won't start hearing significant movement until free agency starts in November, but there is still plenty of speculating to be done as we prepare to enter what I believe to be the Giants' most vital winter for the since they sort of overhauled the team after the 2002 World Series breakdown. I certainly don't expect to see the overhaul to the everyday lineup, but I wouldn't be surprised to see 3 new faces in that rotation as well as a big addition to the middle of that batting order.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, October 04, 2013

SF Giants 2013 Review: What Went Right

Any time a reigning World Champion fails to make the playoffs the following season, it has to be considered a large disappointment. However, there were some silver linings to be taken from the 2013 campaign for the Giants.

Although there weren't a whole lot of things that went the Giants way in 2013, the biggest positive that can be taken out of this year was the play of team MVP Hunter Pence, and the reason why it's so big is because
he'll actually be sticking around for a while Pence hit a career high 27 home runs, drove in 99, hit .283 and stole 22 bases, also a career high. He displayed a combo of power and speed the Giants haven't seen in their outfield since #25 left. Outside of Hunter Pence, I don't think there was a more steady, consistent Giant in that lineup than Belt throughout, especially over the 2nd half (after adjusting his mechanics a bit at the plate). Over the last two months of the season, Belt hit 7 home runs, drove in 27 and matched a .347 batting average with a .997 OPS. The HR and RBI total still aren't quite where they could be, but it appears they're indeed getting there. Belt finished 2nd on the team with 17 long balls, 39 doubles and 67 RBI to go with a .289 average and .841 OPS. I think he really has the potential to breakout in 2014.

As for the rest of the everyday lineup, not much really jumps out at you. Buster Posey was adequate as he battled minor injuries throughout much of the second half and the Giants decided to take it easy on him as they were out of the race. Other than that, Marco Scutaro, while not quite the hit machine he was down the stretch a year ago, still was solid when he was out there, leading the team in hitting (.297) despite missing time and playing 2/3 of the year with a crushed finger and some back issues.

Onto the pitching staff, where the area that's been a strength for this team for the last 5 years surprisingly became its weakness. Again, this is a post looking back at some of the positives, so we'll save the criticism for next time, but it was a largely disappointing year for the Giants starting rotation. Madison Bumgarner was the only Giants starter to go more than 200 innings this year (201), and the only Giants starter that finished with a +.500 record (13-8) and a solid 2.77 ERA. Matt Cain did come on strong in the second half to alleviate some of the concern that he may be running out of gas, and Yusmiero Petit and Chad Gaudin each had admirable roles in the rotation at various points in the season, filling in nicely, but other than that, most of the pitching talk has to be saved for the "What Went Wrong" post.

The bullpen was an area that was in shambles a bit early on in the year, but there were some young players that emerged late in the season that helped right the ship a bit. Sergio Romo was pretty solid throughout in his first full season in the closers role, though I still think his best spot is that 8th inning if the Giants could manage to find a more traditional shut-down closer. He was solid in the role though, converting 38 of 43 save opps. and sporting a 2.53 ERA. One of the young bullpen arms that arrived in September, and a name Giants fans have been hearing for a few years now, may be in line to eventually wrestle that job away from Romo. Heath Hembree has had a roller coaster couple of seasons in Fresno the last two summers, but once he arrived with the Giants, we saw exactly why this guy is the system's top-rated reliever. Granted, it was only a brief 9-game showing, he was dominant, allowing just 4 hits and fanning 12 batters over 7 2/3 innings. Between Romo, Hembree, Santiago Casilla and Jean Machi, who quietly put together a strong rookie year (3-1, 2.38 ERA, 51 K's, 1.09 WHIP in 53 innings), the Giants look relatively set in the right-handed reliever department. Pending free agent Javier Lopez had a stellar season as the team's main lefty out of the pen (69 games, 1.83 ERA, .203 BAA).

There were other positive moments or stretches for various players in 2013 though as well. Of course, Tim Lincecum had a memorable moment in what may end up being his final year in San Francisco when he threw his first career no-no in July. Tony Abreu emerged as a legit utility option, perhaps even surpassing Joaquin Arias. It was also good to see Angel Pagan come back strongly in September after missing 3 months, and Pablo Sandoval sort of salvage what would have been a terrible year for him with a strong September (though his season was again a "large" underachievement). However, as far as individual seasons from April through September, the only four guys who should be content with their overall performance in 2013 are Pence, Belt, Bumgarner and Romo. Everyone else had/has room for improvement, and we'll talk about that next time.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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