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Monday, December 30, 2013

A glance at names for depth

Even though the Giants' heavy lifting of the offseason has been completed for the better part of a month, their 25-man roster is not concrete and there are still some spots where they could upgrade should they so choose.

I've come across a group of names that would appear, at the least, suitable additions to this team, to provide some depth where they sorely lacked it last year. If these guys came on cheap, one-year deals like they're all expected to, I would love to see the Giants take a dice roll on one or two of them. Especially in the bullpen, where the Giants are set up well but could certainly upgrade. Plus, after witnessing what the Dodgers have done with their pen, Sabean may feel obligated to.

RHP Francisco Rodriguez: We've talked K-Rod here a few times this winter, and he's still dangling out there in free agency waiting for the right fit. I think his fiery competitiveness would play well in the Giants' pen, and he'd give them a legit set-up man for Sergio Romo (as well as fallback option should anything happen to Romo). More importantly though, another late-inning arm like K-Rod would allow Boch to use Santiago Casilla more freely, which in turn would make the bullpen a helluva lot better.

RHP Grant Balfour: Similarly to K-Rod, he'd provide another arm with closing experience on a short-term deal. He's coming off a couple of terrific years as Oakland's closer where he's been one of the best relievers in baseball, and could give the Giants quite a duo with Romo at the end of ballgames. He is 36, but he's been a bit of a late bloomer and still has plenty left in the tank. It's a long-shot, but it's something the Giants have apparently considered, and the longer he goes unsigned, the more of a possibility it becomes. Even though Brian Sabean doesn't want to play "Keeping up with the Joneses", the fact that LA has 4 closers in their pen could persuade the Giants into adding one more.

RHP Jesse Crain: Was the best reliever in baseball last season up until his campaign was abruptly ended on June 29th. Because of injury, he'll be relegated to a one-year prove yourself deal, but if he's healthy and checks out, he would be well worth the gamble. Always has been one of the best right-handed set-up guys in the game, and is just the type of effective late-inning arm the Giants could use. (So much for that, Houston just announced a one-year deal with Crain)

RHP Frank Francisco: Sure, Francisco has his flaws, but when he's on, he's going to strike out over a batter an inning, won't walk many and is one of the tougher relievers to hit in baseball. If the price is right and he passes a physical, I'd have no qualms about him joining Casilla, Romo and Lopez as the main late-inning guys.

UT Jeff Baker: The "Swiss-army knife" can do a little bit of everything, and play every position on the diamond but catcher, center field and pitcher. He's not too shabby with the lumber either. Young would give you more offense, but Baker is the superior defensive infielder and can also play the corner outfield spots as well.

UT Michael Young: The 37 year-old has lost a step on defense, but he's still a threat with the bat. Although he's not a great defender at this point, he's still able to man every infield position, and would give the Giants a solid backup plan at 2nd and 3rd where Sandoval and Scutaro each missed time last season. He'd instantly become the Giants best asset off the pine and could rack-up 400 at-bats in that role.

1B/3B Mark Reynolds: Would be a better version of Brett Pill in the role as right-handed masher off the bench who can fill in at 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Rather would have the more versatile, better hitting Young, but having Reynolds coming off the bench and having to earn his at-bats wouldn't be such a bad thing either.

OF Brennan Boesch: The 28 year-old outfielder faded mightily down the stretch during Detroit's 2012 World Series run and hasn't really been heard from since. He had a handful of at-bats last season with the Yankees and will be looking to rebound somewhere in 2014. As a 5th outfielder who can hit with some power and play the corners, he may be worth a look see and an invite to camp.

Possible Minor League Deals: OF/1B Tyler Colvin, OF Reed Johnson, RHP David Aardsma, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, RHP Mitchell Boggs, LHP Clayton Richard  
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Giants' roster rounding into shape

The Giants have filled every major need they had coming into this offseason, and with over two months to go before pitchers and catchers start filing into Scottsdale, their 2014 roster is just about set.

Their first priority was re-sign all of their own free agents who they wanted to retain, and they were able to get that out of the way early. They took care of the biggest piece in Hunter Pence before the season was up, which in turn helped them apply more focus on other areas when free agency began. This helped them get Tim Linecum done so soon and eventually Javier Lopez as well. Ryan Vogelsong was a wild card cause they wanted a potential upgrade there, but just couldn't find anything that excited them too much and now he's back on a reduced salary. Then they did something they haven't done in years, and that's add two free agents that will take on starting roles for them in 2014. Sabean has always tended to make his big acquisitions via trade, but without much ammo to work by way of minor league talent/depth, their hand was forced into free agency this time around. They didn't do too shabby though in my opinion, and if both Tim Hudson and Michael Morse are able to avoid multiple DL stints, they both should wind up solid signings at the end of their respective deals. Both guys missed considerable time in 2013 because of injury though, so their health is far from a certainty, though both obviously passed their physicals and are expected to be a full go without any limitations to start spring.

And just like that, within about a months time, starting with re-singing Timmy and ending with the Morse deal, the Giants 25-man has been projected. Barring maybe an addition to the bullpen or another corner infield option for the bench, Brian Sabean's work, in terms of bringing in help from the outside, appears to be done on the major league level. There are still some intriguing bullpen names I like that are available, including Francisco Rodriguez, David Aardsma and Chris Perez, that probably wouldn't be reasonably priced and any could serve as a sort of double-barrel closer to precede Romo in the 8th inning. K-Rod pitched for $2M in 2013, and I'd take him in a heartbeat at that price in 2014. There are also some intriguing positional players still out there that may be willing to take a minor league deal, or a low-base major league deal and provide the Giants some depth. Tyler Colvin, Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young are guys I'm keeping tabs on. I've always been a fan of Colvin's bat and he broke out for Colorado in 2012 with a .290/18/72/.858 line in just 420 at-bats before face-planting last season. He can play all 3 outfield positions as well as first base and may have to settle for a minor league deal. Young has never won a championship and may be willing to come dirt cheap to play for a contender and provide a more potent offensive insurance plan for Panda and Scutaro than the Giants currently have. They've pretty much hit their budget after the Morse signing, but if they should always be looking for ways to further improve and add depth.

Right now though, this is looking like my best guess at the 25-man roster the Giants enter the 2014 season:

Lineup: CF Angel Pagan, 2B Marco Scutaro, 1B Brandon Belt, C Buster Posey, RF Hunter Pence, 3B Pablo Sandoval, LF Michael Morse, SS Brandon Crawford

Starting Rotation: RHP Matt Cain, LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Tim Hudson, RHP Ryan Vogelsong

Bench: C Hector Sanchez, OF Gregor Blanco, OF Juan Perez, IF Joaquin Arias, IF Tony Abreu

Bullpen: RH Sergio Romo, RH Santiago Casilla, LH Javier Lopez, LH Jeremy Affeldt, RH Jean Machi, RH Heath Hembree, RH Yusmiero Petit

I have to admit, looking at the Giants lineup on paper certainly appears more imposing with Morse slotting in for Blanco. It makes the bottom of the order stronger and gives the Giants 5 guys from 3-7, capable of hitting 20+ big fly's. The rotation looks stronger too with Hudson taking over for Zito, but Lincecum and Vogelsong are going to have to be on in order for that bunch to be the strength we've become accustomed to them being. The bench, again, could certainly use another veteran bat and the bullpen a veteran arm, but neither of which are considered pressing needs.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bochy gets his guy, Giants sign Michael Morse

Ever since Melky Cabrera's suspension in early August of 2012, the Giants have been void of an everyday left fielder. It didn't hurt them down the stretch that year, as Hunter Pence's arrival helped ease the loss, but it became a gaping hole in 2013 when they ranked last in the NL in offense from the left field position.

They weren't going to make the same mistake twice. After identifying a short list of potential targets heading into this weeks Winter Meetings, they moved on the guy they felt was the best fit under the circumstances and someone manager Bruce Bochy expressed a strong interest in.

It was never going to be a big-ticket, enticing free agent but the ideal plan all along was to find a right-handed bat with the ability to put balls in the left-field bleachers with regularity. So long as Michael Morse's wrists stay healthy and he avoids the nagging injuries that weighed him down in 2013, he should be counted on to do just that. He's coming off a forgettable, injury-riddled season where he was doing OK until going down in June and the Giants are hoping a shift back to the NL and improved health will help him get back to his pre-2013 offensive form. If you take his 162-game average over the previous 3 seasons (2010-12), Morse's numbers look pretty darn solid. In '10, he slashed .289/15/41/.870 over 266 at-bats followed by a .303/31/95/.910 line in '11 (522 at-bats) and a .291/18/62/.792 line in '12 (422 at-bats). If he gave the Giants a repeat of 2012, it'd be far better than anything they got in left in 2013. This isn't a slam dunk signing though, as there are certainly some weaknesses to his game that make this risky, and the Giants are aware of it. He's a hacker and doesn't have a high walk rate, though it's always been offset by his power and solid average. His outfield defense is below average and he could prove to be a liability out there at times in close games. The Giants appear willing to sacrifice defense for "potential" offense in this case, a la Pat Burrell in 2010. At just $5M base salary it's not a terrible gamble and his defense hopefully won't be too much of an issue with Gregor Blanco around to caddy him. His power is above average to all fields and he's equally effective, if not more so, vs. righties as he is vs. lefties making a platoon unnecessary as long as he's 100% and not butchering left field.

I don't love this deal by any stretch, but when analyzing all aspects of it from the money/length of the deal, the potential offense he'll bring to this club and his positive presence in the clubhouse, it's not the worst thing they could have done. I'm well aware that Morse has the type of holes in his game that will probably have us yelling at our TV more than once this season, but if his offense comes back around like the Giants are banking on, he'll be well worth the defensive gamble. He does instantly make the everyday lineup much more imposing on paper just by being here, as he's an offensive presence that can change the way opposing teams pitch guys in front of him. Blanco just doesn't give you that aspect. The bottom of the order improves and the Giants' overall depth has improved with the deal.. They didn't have to part with any prospects to get some offense and they didn't have to give away another multi-year deal. Worst case scenario with this deal, Morse battles injury again and becomes a platoon/power bat off the bench when healthy. Best case, he reverts back to 2010-11 form and gives the Giants a 30-HR threat who hits around .300 and drives in a ton of runs. That's not a bad dice-roll at all under these terms. Plus Morse knows the 2014 season is a big one for him personally, which is added incentive. If he has a year like 2011, it'll line him up for a huge multi-year deal next winter, and I expect him to be in "beast mode" this season because of that.

So, although it wasn't a big name like Jacoby Ellsbury, Nelson Cruz or Carlos Beltran, the Giants did something they failed to do last winter and that's find themselves an everyday guy in left. How good that guy turns out being remains to be seen, but the attempt has been made. In wake of the deal, Bochy gave some hints at the lineup he's leaning towards entering the 2014 season, with Brandon Belt likely slotting into the 3-hole, Posey sticking at cleanup, Pence 5th, Sandoval 6th and Morse 7th. I like Gregor Blanco, and he's still a very important piece to the 2014 puzzle, but the lineup just looks much more formidable now that he's not being forced into it as an everyday guy. He gets to take on the role as the clear-cut 4th outfielder and that's where he's most valuable. Morse also has the ability to play right field, first base and some third base in a pinch, which adds to his value.

It all comes down to his health and his bat. He's going to have some hiccups in left, that's a given. If he hits for power and average like they're hoping, and they can supplement Blanco in at the right times, those hiccups will be tolerable and it's a solid signing. If not, he essentially becomes a more expensive version of Brett Pill. I kind of liked the idea of Alejandro De Aza (if he came cheaply) and would have been ecstatic had a deal for Jose Bautista went down (without involving Crick, Blackburn, Escobar, Mejia or Williamson), but if it came down to Morse or the standing pat, I'm glad they got him. Plus it's not as if they're paying him so much that if it doesn't work out, they can't re-visit a trade mid-season.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More LF talk at Winter Meetings

We're on day three of what has been a pretty quiet Winter Meetings in Orlando thus far, and with things set to wrap up on Thursday, the Giants are still trying to find a find an alternative option in left field.

We've heard various names mentioned in regards to the Giants over the last week, from potential trade targets like Brett Gardner and Norichika Aoki to potential free agent options like Michael Morse and Corey Hart. Aoki was dealt to Kansas City on Monday though while Corey Hart followed Robinson Cano to Seattle as outfield options keep falling off the market each day. Perhaps the most intriguing name linked to the Giants over the last couple of days though has been Chicago White Sox center fielder Alejandro De Aza, who's become expendable in Chicago with the addition of Adam Eaton. San Francisco has reportedly called the White Sox about the speedy outfielder numerous times over the last few days and apparently have considerable interest. It makes sense. I've said all along that while a right-handed bat would be ideal, most plausible options for the Giants seem to be left-handed and it shouldn't detour them if they feel like they can upgrade. De Aza would be a substantial upgrade to Blanco as he's just as valuable defensively and is much more dynamic in the batters box. The 29 year-old is coming off a respectable season in which he saw his average take a bit of a dive from previous years (.264) but also saw his power and run production take a spike (17 HR, 62 RBI, 84 runs). He hit .329 with a .920 OPS as a part-timer in 2011, then had a .286/9/50/.760 line with 26 steals as he took over the everyday center field duties in 2012.

He's very similar to Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera (late bloomer, gap power and a lot of speed), each of which turned out to be great additions prior to the Championship 2012 season, and that style of play seems to translate well at AT&T Park. His home run total would take a hit, but with his speed and extra-base power, I could see him easily hit 40+ doubles and 10+ triples playing in this yard. He could take over the leadoff spot and allow Pagan to move down in the order, or he and Pagan could give the Giants a dynamic 1-2 punch atop the order while Scutaro moves down to 7th and solidifies the bottom of the order. Of course, it all comes down to what the White Sox would want for him, but judging by what Aoki and Logan Morrison just got dealt for, it seems to be a reasonable trade market for outfielders right now. Gary Brown straight up may be enough to get De Aza, though with their paper thin organizational depth, I'm not sure the Giants want to give up on a guy who was their clear-cut #1 prospect just 2 winters ago just yet.

Other than De Aza, there hasn't been much Giants' news coming out of Orlando this week. The general consensus still is that the Giants will find another outfielder, whether it be someone for some depth or someone that challenges Blanco for the starting job, but the longer they go without making a move, the less likely is seems that it'll be an upgrade. Another name that's out there that would provide that right-handed power the Giants are searching for is Josh Willingham. He's very much on the market and is similar to Michael Morse (who the Giants have shown interest) with a better track record and slightly better defense. He's in the final year of his deal that pays him $7M in 2014, and is just a year removed from a .260/35/110/.890 line that he put up in a tough hitters environment. Especially if the Giants take on all that salary for 2014, he would seem to be a guy they could get without parting with one of their top 4-5 prospects, and his high on-base percentage and power would make him a suitable platoon partner for Blanco even if he doesn't revert back to pre-2013 form.

Aside from De Aza, Andrew Baggarly just tweeted that the Giants are in negotiations with Jeff Baker, a super utility type who very well could take the role as Blanco's right-handed platoon partner. He simply tore up left-handed pitching last season (10 HR, 18 RBI, .314 Avg, 1.073 OPS in 105 at-bats). With his offensive ability and ability to play all over the diamond (3B, 2B, 1B, RF, LF) he's exactly the type of player the Giants could use off the bench, but if he does indeed sign, I hope it wouldn't preclude them for still looking to upgrade left.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Non-Tenders give Giants more options

MLB's non-tender deadline passed Monday, and 43 new free-agents hit the market. Although most of them would be considered afterthoughts for a team with the Giants' aspirations, there are a couple of guys that caught my eye as possible upgrades to the roster.

Besides the inconsistent starting pitching, the Giants downfall in 2013 could be attributed to lack of depth on the roster, and that's something they have a chance at improving. Of the non-tendered free agents, there are about four or five guys that would appear to strike Brian Sabean's interest, mostly relief pitching options, but also one intriguing corner outfield option.

San Francisco has plenty of internal options to fill out their bullpen, but Brian Sabean said in a conference call Tuesday that the team does have financial room to add some help should they find the right piece(s). A few of the non-tendered arms they should take a look at are John Axford, Ronald Belasario and Mitchell Boggs. With closing gigs becoming more scarce by the day, Axford is likely going to have to settle for a one-year, make good deal in order to up his value for a potential big payday in 2014, making him one of the more intriguing names out there. Based on his closing experience, finish to the 2013 season and overall ability with that high-90's heater and big hook, he'd be at the top of my list if the Giants are indeed set on bringing in another right-handed reliever. Sergio Romo met all expectations in his first full year as Giants closer in 2013, but based on his pitching style and reliance on that frisbee slider makes him susceptible to serious injury and having someone like Axford in tow would provide ample insurance in case Romo does run into problems or needs some nights off. Santiago Casilla is the only other Giant who could adequately take on that role but he's shown to be much more effective in the 7th and 8th innings though.

Belasario and Boggs are both in similar situations as both have had tremendous success in the past but neither was at their best in 2013. They'd be looked at more along the lines as middle relievers to challenge guys like Jean Machi and George Kontos for bullpen spots. If both returned to their pre-2013 form though, they'd be great additions. In 2012, Belasario posted a 2.54 ERA, 1.07 WHIP with 69 K's and .187 BAA over 71 innings while Boggs posted a 2.21, 1.05 WHIP and .221 BAA with 59 K's in 73 innings. Either of those lines would look great along side the steady arms of Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. If the Giants fail to add another right-handed reliever to the mix, they'll be choosing from a slew of in house candidates that aren't bad by any stretch, but also not as proven and seasoned as some of the other options on the free agent market.

The only bat I'd consider intriguing who was non-tendered was Pittsburgh's Garrett Jones. The 32 year-old corner outfielder/first basemen hit just .233 in 2013, but has the kind of power the Giants could use in their outfield. Now, if the Giants add an outfielder, it's likely going to be a right-handed platoon partner for Blanco, but Jones is the type of guy that could come in and take over that job if he hits like he did in 2012 (.274/27/86/.832). He's basically worthless vs. lefties, but still has enough value to warrant a look despite being left-handed, at the very least to provide competition for Blanco vs. right-handers and give the corner outfield some depth. J.P. Arencibia was also let go by Toronto, and although the Giants have Hector Sanchez slated in to backup Buster Posey, Arencibia could be a valuable add should they want to carry 3 catchers. He doesn't hit for much average (.212 career), but he's extremely dangerous. It would allow them to play Posey at first base more freely and Arencibia could give them huge right-handed power off the bench. I doubt the Giants would seriously consider either of these two guys, but if they want to add some power, there aren't many options out there who have more home runs over the last few seasons than Arencibia and Jones.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Sunday, December 01, 2013

Vogey's return leaves LF as priority

With Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants agreeing on a one-year deal Friday, you can pretty much put a wrap on San Francisco's pursuit of pitching. They could still look to add a reliever, but their primary focus should now be on upgrading left field.

First off, my thoughts on Vogelsong's return are pretty positive for the most part. I would have liked to see Josh Johnson or Dan Haren on short-term deals, but after those guys signed with San Diego and LA, I figured Vogey's return was inevitable. My guess is he will rebound from his injury-shortened 2013 season but I doubt he'll ever be the guy we saw in '11 and '12 again. After posting ERA's of 2.71 and 3.37 the previous two seasons, Vogelsong's ERA ballooned to 5.79 to go with a sub-par WHIP and K/9 inning rate. It would be easy to blame it on injury, but the truth is, he was actually a little better after returning from the broken finger than he was before it, so injury had nothing to do with his performance. Still, I'm expecting his ERA to drop back down at least a point and a half from 2013 and he should be sporting a WHIP closer to 1.2 than 1.5. His declining strikeout rate coupled with advanced age and him coming off a bad season makes him a risk, but it's one the Giants are confident in taking. In the end, they ended up saving themselves about a million by declining his option, and even if he's not the same guy he was when he got that contract, as long as he improves on 2013's disaster, he should be a steal at $5 million for 2014.

Now, with Vogelsong in tow, the Giants pitching staff, starting rotation through bullpen looks complete. They've got their starting five, then Romo, Casilla, Lopez, Affeldt, Machi, Petit and Hembree are looking like the 7 to beat for bullpen spots. They could look to add another veteran right-hander into that mix to battle it out with Machi, Kontos and Hembree for a spot, but their primary focus at this point should be to deepen the positional portion of the roster. Their primary area of need is obviously the outfield, where they only have 3 players under contract and could certainly use a starting-caliber corner guy. That's likely out of the question, but even if it's a marginal upgrade in the form of a right-handed platoon partner for Gregor Blanco, the Giants need some depth out there. We saw what happened last year when Angel Pagan went down and it wasn't pretty. Plus, with the Giants saving themselves some money by only spending $5M on a fifth starter, it should free up some extra cash for them to address the need. I know the list of outfielders on the free agent market isn't overly exciting, outside of a few guys out of the Giants' price range, but there are still some players out there that could be worth a gamble. They cannot expect the keep the status quo with their positional players and expect a big improvement on last season, aside from hopefully full seasons out of Pagan and Sctuaro.

With the Winter Meetings coming up next week, it's a good thing the Giants got their rotation taken care of and can focus on other areas in Orlando. There's still a bulk of the offseason ahead of them and they have plenty of time to assess the market for outfield help, both in free agency and trade.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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