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Friday, January 22, 2016

Giants a powerhouse, but not perfect

After what has been one of the most exciting, intriguing and expensive winters in recent San Francisco Giant history, there will be plenty of expectations in 2016. Despite having some smaller question marks (mostly health related) surrounding some of the key players, those expectations should be high to the point of World Series or bust.

I mean, let's take a look at the caliber of acquisitions the Giants made this winter, not being shy and making savvy decisions. Move one: bringing flame-throwing Jeff Samardzija back to the NL where he had a lot of success with the Cubs in 2012 and 2014 especially. Move two: bringing in an even bigger, more potent arm in Johnny Cueto who clearly gives them one of, if not the best, 1-2 combo's with Bumgarner. Move three: Shore up the outfield in a big way with Denard Span, a dynamic leadoff man and center fielder who completed the lineup. And even better, I don't feel like they overpaid anyone except for possibly Samardzija, but I think he'll be just fine at AT&T. Had he not had that 4.96 ERA and allowed 228 hits and 29 home runs and was coming off his '14 season after a solid '12/'13 when being made a full-time starter, this guy would easily have gotten something like 5/$125M, if not more. Some want to worry about Cueto's fall-off with KC last summer and his little arm issue but I mean let's be real, any of these hard-throwing big-time arms are always at risk of injury. Even Matt Cain, the guy who seemed so much like the iron man of the Giants rotation has run into problems the last few years.


What I really want to talk about though is the outfield, and how things have come together with the Span signing. First off, let's not forget that Angel Pagan was a integral part of two of the championship teams and the Giants aren't about to give him a short leash at the beginning. Some fans want to pick on Pagan after the sub-par season he's coming off but the guy was playing hurt a lot cause the Giants just didn't have the options. When he's healthy though, he's gonna hit .285'ish and he's gonna hit for some sneaky extra-base power with an OBP around .340. Plus, he's great on the base-paths and is a shoe in for 20+ swipes if healthy and a decent center fielder (for the most part) on top of all that. That said, if he's hitting .242/.303/345 come June and isn't providing anything, then yes, a team with aspirations such as the Giants' will certainly be looking at alternative options. That's so far away from happening though and so far off the Giants current radar right now. I'm actually optimistically curious to see how Pagan fairs lower in the lineup. He does have more extra-base power than your typical leadoff guy and now can let a little more swing out, and his very average OBP isn't really great for the leadoff role anyway.

The other Giants' outfielders have questions themselves. Hunter Pence should be OK, as his injuries last year were pretty much just freak accidents, but boy was that a different offense during those 52 games Pence was out there. Barring something un-foreseen, he should be good for his usual 150+ games as his DNP's last year were his first for any reason since joining the Giants in the middle of 2012. Denard Span, the newest Giant and the guy who could end up being one of the biggest steals of the offseason, also spent more than half of 2015 on the DL. All signs and reports out of his camp and from the people who did his physical say his hip is back to normal but only time will tell for the 32 year-old who played just two games in the 2nd half of '15. The exciting thing about him though, and the reason why the Giants took that risk is because of the player he is when he's healthy and right. He's got the ability to change a game with his speed, his glove and his extra-base abilities. He doesn't hit for home run power, but averaged 36 doubles and 8 triples from '12-'14 (and that was with him only playing 128 games in 2012). His career batting average of .287, OBP of .352 and his average of 28 SB/full season show why the Giants and many other teams were so keen on him.

Matter of fact, I'd be willing to bet, as long as they both stay healthy, Span's average, hits, OBP, stolen base total and runs scored will all be higher than Jason Heyward during the next three seasons. Heyward will hit a dozen or so more big flies, drive in a 15-20 more runs thus carrying a higher slugging percentage, but it's the fact that he's 6 years younger is what makes him much more valuable. Basically, for what the Giants need over the next three years though, Span should outperform or equal Heyward in many areas and is coming at $31M instead of $184M. We already mentioned how he's a better leadoff man than Pagan and should lock that spot down for the next three years as well as center field.

I liked the idea off bringing in a slugger with the capability to be a threat to hit a 3-run jack every time he steps up with guys on but would you rather have paid Yeonis Cespedes say, 5 years and $130M or Span the 3/$31M deal he got? Seeing how the Giants aren't power starved by any stretch and could have used an upgrade at leadoff and a guy to take over center field as early as '16, it became a no-brainer. I mean, just look how that move completes the lineup now. They've not only upgraded over Pagan and Aoki at leadoff over last season, but also have lengthened the lineup a lot with Pagan moving down to the bottom of the order. It's not going to make things any easier on pitchers that have to face one of the best hitting shortstops in the game now in Brandon Crawford and a guy who's hitting either 1 or 2 in plenty of other lineups in Pagan, holding the 7-8 holes.

So yes, they should be good, they should be really good. That is if they don't end up having "Hunter Pence doesn't strain his oblique after Denard Span pulls his hammy, Brandon Belt suffers another concussion and Joe Panik's back knocks him out a month" kind of luck. Because while the starting lineup and rotation certainly do look nice, they don't have a lot of room for error in terms of depth. They do have Gregor Blanco, who's a solid 4th outfielder, as well as some intriguing younger options, but they're not deep with experience, that's for sure.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Saturday, January 09, 2016

2016 Giants' set after big trio of signings

It now looks like the Giants 2016 Opening Day lineup and roster appears to be set, and it looks better on paper than any of their championship rosters, in my opinion. Just look at the projection:

Lineup:
(L) D.Span CF
(L) J.Panik 2B
(R) B. Posey C
(R) H. Pence RF
(L) B. Belt 1B
(R) M. Duffy 3B
(L) B. Crawford SS
(S) A. Pagan LF

Bench: C Susac, IF Tomlinson, IF Adrianza*, OF Blanco, OF Williamson*/Parker*/Blanks*

The only parts I'm curious about (aside from whether Bochy will do the right thing and move Pagan to left) are who Bochy will wind up using in the three-hole most nights. Possibly move Matt Duffy up into the spot and drop everyone else down a notch, but I do like the idea of Buster hitting in the first inning and getting as many AB's as possible. The other, lesser important part is who will end up in the 8-hole? Pagan makes most sense as he's considered the weakest hitter in the lineup and his speed would be nice to have on for pitichers to bunt him over, but B-Craw has done a terrific job there the last few seasons.

The bench isn't great but at the same time it's not terrible. Susac is a bright young talent and we saw a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in Tomlinson with his August and September splits. Tomlinson also doesn't have the positional versatility to really be a utility guy a la Joaquin Arias. What happens at shortstop when Crawford needs an off-day if Adrianza doesn't make the roster (which let's face it, he has no business on a 25-man ML roster)? Also, they need to figure out who's going to be their fifth outfielder. Preferably a right-hander with some thump and I think Marlon Byrd would be ideal if they could convince him to take on that role. Kyle Blanks (singed to minor league deal earlier in winter) is interesting as he hit .313 with an .875 OPS in a 71 at-bat stint in Texas last September so he may be an outside candidate. That big right-handed bat would sure be nice off the bench and Mac Williamson is also a dark-horse candidate for that slot.

Rotation:
LH Bumgarner
RH Cueto
RH Samardzija
RH Peavy
RH Cain

Peavy and Cain could switch, and if either of those two struggle or need shelve time, Chris Heston or Clayton Blackburn will be on he ready. Despite spending over $200M to upgrade this unit this winter, they may find themselves searching for a serviceable back-end guy come July if Cain and Peavy can't pull their weight.

Bullpen
CL Casilla
RH Romo
RH Strickland
LH Osich
LH Lopez
RH Kontos
RH Heston*

*not assured roster spot but front-runners at this point

The 'Pen is what it is. Should be better than average but it's not quite the championship's versions. A lot lies on the maturity of Strickland and Osich as well as Heston's adaptation to his new assignment (assuming he wins it in the spring). It definitely made more sense for them invest in their rotation and outfield, but Sergio Romo has become more hit-able the last couple of seasons and Santiago Casilla seems to always go through periods when he can't be trusted. They should be fine down there, but they don't have much room for error. Hopefully Strickland and Osich really burst onto the scene this year and take that pressure off Romo and Lopez.

We've got about 6 weeks before players and coaches start trickling into Scottsdale to kick-off spring training for the Giants, so a lot can happen between now and then, but I'm pretty sure the Giants are content after the signing of Span. Outside of maybe a few non-roster invitations handed out to some lower-tier free agents still looking for homes, I think this is the Giants roster we'll start 2016 with (so long as nobody gets hurt during spring), and I gotta say, I'm much more excited about this bunch than 2015's crew. That being said, with the glut, and I mean glut of mediocre talent still out there, I'm surprised the Giants bolster their roster even further. I mean, don't you think an Alexi Ramirez to back-up the middle or even a return of Marlyon Byrd to bolster the outfield. The Giants are clearly in go for it mode and I think they're ready to pull out all the stops this summer. It's good they didn't need to deal any of their prospects away during their upgrade!
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Friday, January 08, 2016

Denard Span finalizes 'Giant offseason

There was plenty of speculation over the last 3 weeks, after the Giants shored up their rotation with the addition of Jeff Samardzija followed with the big splash of Johnny Cueto, as to whether their moves for the winter were done. The answer was no!

The Giants came to terms with former Washington National' Denard Span on a 3-year contract Thursday. San Francisco had been monitoring Span closely all winter long and made it no secret that they were also looking at outfielders that may be able to take over center field everyday when Pagan's deal is up after '16. Well, in fact, with the Span signing, the Giants would be better off expediting that process a year and letting Span handle center field from day one. He's by far the superior defender to Pagan and that's one of the major reasons the Giants found him so appealing. They don't have any hot-shot defensive center fielders who's bat is anywhere near major league-ready in the lower levels, so they certainly needed someone beyond this season. Not only should he end up taking Pagan's role as the everyday center fielder, Bruce Bochy has to slot him into the leadoff spot in the Giants order and that should be a given. Span has had an OPS south of .342 just once over past 4 seasons while Pagan has reached that number just once in the same period.

I know these numbers don't necessarily mean much, but it is worth noting the newest Giant has also hit .310 with an OPS over .850 in his career vs. NL West pitching and has his average north of .300 hitting in the ballpark by the bay.

So yes, if that hip can keep healthy and keep him that dynamic presence on the base-paths as well as center field, then I think this is going to end up being a terrific deal. This was kind of a two-for-one for Bob Myers as he takes care of left field this year while also cementing the team's center fielder/leadoff opening that would have created next fall/winter. It will also allows guys like Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker to compete a bit in left if/when Angel Pagan goes down with his token DL appearance. Being in his last year of his contract, Pagan should be more than determined to have a big year, but at the same time the Giants aren't tied to him next year so if he's slow out of the gate he'll find himself on the hot seat early.

Today is all about Span though and when it comes down to my personal opinion, I do like Denard Span as a ballplayer. He reminds me almost of a left-handed, outfield version of Marco Scutaro as he's just such a tough out and just knows how to do all those little things to beat you. He's a decent leadoff hitter, but I don't think he's a great leadoff guy because he doesn't walk quite enough and his OBP isn't as steadily high as it should be. You wanna be getting on at a 35% or higher clip as a leadoff guy. If someone starts dipping into the .330's or lower and don't hit for any extra-base power or steal 35 bases it's tough to justify keeping said player in that role. Therefore, not only did the Giants upgrade the outfield defense with Span, but they improved the leadoff spot and quite drastically if Span reverts into his '14 version of himself. He's got the ability to be much more than just a typical, Juan Pierre-type leadoff guy (no knock on Pierre) and in that spacious yard, his legs could lead to huge offensive numbers.

Not saying Pagan is a terrible leadoff hitter, the Giants won two tittles with him in that spot the majority of the time, but they can do better, and I also like Pagan down in the lower part of the order anyway where he can let out some swing and reach that 12-15 HR potential he's got in him. All I'm saying is that if Denard Span is healthy and is performing at the level he was during his last injury free season in 2014 (.302/.355/.771) with that rock solid defense out in center than he's going to be an upgrade over Pagan in all facets.

Now, with that being said, although the Span signing does make the team better, and the 3-year/$31M commitment isn't necessarily going to handi-cap them in the future, but the last time they singed a player similar to Span (an outfielder to come in and leadoff) was David Roberts and that did that not work out so well. I certainly expect Span to be much better than Roberts, but will he be $8M better than Gregor Blanco will wind up being the real question? Span was certainly on my list of options the Giants should consider just because he's a good leadoff man and good center fielder, but ideally I wanted that big slugger like a Yeonis Cespedes, Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton but it just goes to show again, power hitters don't want to hit at AT&T Park. Plus, chances of Cespedes or Cargo were slim to none after the Giants shelled out just shy of $250M in contracts prior to the Span signing. So seeing what market they were able to compete in, and the player they ended up with, it doesn't look too bad. I don't know what Dexter Fowler would have cost them. I'm sure slightly more per season and probably another year or two and fact is, Span is a superior defender and a much better contact hitter than Fowler but Fowler is younger with more power and still a little more upside.

The big question for Denard will be keeping healthy. Had he not gotten hurt and missed 100 games with Washington last season, he probably would have found himself up there among the top-15 free agents this year. He was one pace for a .302/12/51/.796 slash with 29 swipes last season but was limited to just 62 games because of that same hip injury that the Giants are hoping he's well beyond.  Had he stayed healthy and put up numbers like that, he'd easily be looking at a $75-$100M deal he was looking like he'd be getting after his big 2014 campaign. So as long as he can get back close to that level, the Giants may have gotten themselves a steal at 3/$31M.

All in all, I give it a solid B. Would have loved to see a Cespedes or CarGo come to town, but since that wasn't likely, Span makes sense in more ways than one. Again the contract was friendly too and I've seen this guy get on at times and carry an offense. Certainly one of the more underrated leadoff men in the game. Oh by the way, better average, OBP, more RBI and HR than Brett Gardner who's  making $13M a year and many consider a solid leadoff man.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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