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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pivotal spring lies ahead for Giants: Part 2

As we talked about in our our previous post, "Part 1", we've been discussing what the Giants team is looking like as Spring Training is just underway and Cactus League play is less than a week away. And after missing their first even year World Series tittle since 2008, the Giants should be hungry to get back to the fall classic again in 2017, and that journey starts Friday afternoon!

We mentioned the outfield and the inability to find an everyday, sure fire answer there. I knew getting a starting left fielder in the winter was going to be a long shot (their best bet, if they find they Mac/Parker aren't the answers would be an in-season trade), but really solidifying this bullpen from top to bottom was something I think could have been given more effort. Now, not saying the pen as is should be considered bad by any stretch and with a legit closer now, they're much better than they were a year ago on that fact alone. However, going back in line of what I was saying about left field; for a team with aspirations like the Giants should have, I feel like they could have added more than just their new closer. Where else do you see this team upgrading at from last year? They lost their ace RH set-up man Sergio Romo, ace LH set-up man Javier Lopez (although Romo had a nice drop-off in '16 and Lopez's career seems to have ran it's course). And let's not forgot how they never found a replacement for the ever important Jeremy Affeldt after 2015. That caused them to part with an arm and a leg to get mid left-handed reliever, Will Smith, who was no Affeldt in his two months here. He, however, should rebound and I do I have high expectations for Smith in 2017.

Throughout the offseason, we discussed several guys that could have made a lot of sense as far as non-closing relievers. I mean, as of now it's Melancon at the helm, followed by the still green and injury prone, yet very nasty, Derrick Law, the enigmatic Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich who's had his brief moments but for the most part looks like a middle of the road LH reliever. Now, I really like Law taking over the Romo 8th inning role if he can just stay healthy, and he's gonna get that spot baring some injury or catastrophic spring. Same can be said for Strickland, although I like him more in the 7th inning than the 8th in close ballgames due to his proclivity to giving up the long ball in those situations. Then there's good 'ole George Kontos, the squads longest tenured reliever now with Romo, Casilla and Lopez gone. Kontos' numbers always look serviceable at the end of the year, but it seems like he can get hit and gives up his runs at times when it matters the most. He'd be the ideal guy to have in AAA as the primary call-up each time a reliever hits the shelf, or possibly even as a long man. So there are question marks as to what certain guys roles will be and who exactly will make the team out of spring as pretty much every role is up for grabs, sans the 9th inning gig.

All in all, it was a very quiet winter on the Giants front aside from the much needed Melancon signing. They did complete a few, under-the-radar minor league signings/spring invitees, including some that may end up helping the big squad as they need it. My favorite of those was the addition of Nick Hundley for various reasons. I like Trevor Brown and he could end up being a major key in the future or a trade chip, but Hundley brings a veteran presence that should allow Bochy the freedom to move Posey out from behind the plate comfortably, on a more consistent basis. Buster's entering his age-30 season and although that's still pretty much right in his prime, he is a catcher and those guys tend to age a little quicker than first basemen.

The Giants also brought back Michael Morse, the team's starting left fielder for the 2014 championship squad, the last season the Giants brought home a ring. Morse has gotten a little older and much more banged up but it should be fun to see what he does when the Cactus League kicks off here. Bay Area native Jimmy Rollins also got an invite, and he too could work his way onto the Giants opening day roster with a hot spring and ability to play shortstop. Then, for good measure, they added yet another name into the infield mix last weekend, bringing in Aaron Hill. It wouldn't surprise me if both Rollins and Hill were the two backup infielders come April but don't forgot about Tomlinson and SF's 2016 postseason Mr. Clutch, Connor Gillespie. They also added reliever David Hernandez on a minor league deal over the weekend in another no-risk, potential reward type deal. He had one of his better years last year in terms of strikeout rate and ERA, and garnered interest at the deadline from contending teams (including SF) but his big issue is allowing too many base-runners (1.5 WHIP in '16). He's got good stuff, but he's gotta get ahead of hitters and put them away quicker.

As for the outfield reserves, the Giants don't have nearly the options as they do in their infield. Your likely looking at whoever isn't starting between Parker and Williamson (assuming one of those guys wins the job) as the 4th guy, then the speedy center field prowler, Gorkys Hernandez as the fifth outfielder (another area I feel they could have really upgraded). The concern about that projected OF bench is the lack of proven guys with a track record of succeeding at this level. I mean Parker/Williamson have shown glimpses of being legit players, but neither to the point where they're getting annointed the LF job, much like Panik did at second a few years back and Matt Duffy did at third in 2015.

Then, as far as the outfield depth, when you consider Denard Span and/or Hunter Pence are not likely to make it through the 6-month marathon without at least one or both hitting the shelf for an extended period of time means a guy like Hernandez all the sudden finds himself starting for 3-4 weeks. That's the area which has really hurt, even in their championship years. Luckily for them they had the likes of Travis Ishikawa, Cody Ross and Gregor Blanco come through and surpass everyone's expectations or else they may not win those three championships, but obviously they can't be counting on that happening every time and need legit plan B's and even C's in some cases.

For example, Chris Carter, big slugger formerly with Houston and just inked with the Yankees 3 days ago, isn't really an everyday player unless he's in the midst of a hot streak, but he brings a lot of attributes in his game and can hit 40 home runs in 400 at-bats. He's just one of the guys who lingered on in free agency and I think he's a good clubhouse guy and would have been well worth a roll of the dice. I don't get why the Giants didn't at least kick the tires on him? Carter gets on base over 35 percent of the time despite having an average down in the lower-.200's. He's a guy I was low key hoping for just to fill that Pat Burell role because dude has way more pop than Burell and is actually in his prime rather than on his way out like "Pat the Bat" was in that 2010 season. Bobby Evans brought in a little bit of depth in the form of Justin Ruggiano and Morse but I just feel like better upgrades could have been made in terms of adding depth.

I really think Hundley is the only guy "guaranteed" a spot on the 2017 bench before any Cactus League play has begun, and for a team with the Giants' expectations, you wanna come into camp with maybe a couple of non-crucial roster spots up for grabs. Not the fifth starter spot, the whole bullpen alignment around Melancon, the starting left field spot and pretty much the entire bench, sans Hundley and probably Tomlinson (who's a Bochy favorite). Parker, Tomlinson, Hernandez, Rollins and Hundley would be my guess for the five man bench the Giants would roll with if the season started tomorrow, but does that bunch really inspire you? I feel like they could have upgraded over Hernandez and could have found a younger, more versatile version of Rollins, but who knows?

The 2017 San Francisco Giants are lining up to look almost identical to the 2016 Giants, minus Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javy Lopez and add Mark Melancon and Nick Hundley. The organization gave only two guaranteed contracts to outside players (Melancon and Hundley), so what that tells me is the Giants' brass is completely confident in the squad they have in tow or they're very confident in their ability to go out and trade for whatever position(s) they may need after spring training.

Extras: As I'm sure your all well aware of, Cactus League play kicks off Friday (tomorrow), as the Giants open up in Glendale vs. the Reds. MadBum will take the hill in the opener and then I believe Bochy mentioned Matt Cain as the Giants starter for game 2. Speaking of Cainer, I don't think there's a Giant who will have more eyes on him this spring than Matt Cain. He's in the final year of his huge deal and probably his last season in a Giants uniform (barring some drastic turnaround of comeback player of the year proportions) but I don't think the Giants are asking too much out of him. He'll be facing other team's fifth guys too, and as long as he can give them 5-6 innings consistently without giving up more than 3 runs, then he should be just fine. Cain's performance, along with how the bullpen shakes out and who takes over in left will be the area's I'll be focusing mostly on as Cactus League play kicks off tomorrow.

Now, I'm not as high on this team heading into spring as I've been the past few seasons. I really liked the 2012 squad and had a good feeling about the 2014 team heading in, but this one feels more like the '13, '15 and '16 teams; right on the brink but just not quite there. But hey, that's why they play the games. Maybe Mac goes on to hit .300 with 20 jacks, the bullpen falls into, Eduardo Nunez is more the player he was with the Twins in 2016 than with the Giants and finally, most importantly, they keep their core 12-14 guys (Pence, Posey, BCraw, Belt, Span, Nunez, Bum, Cueto, Moore, Samardzija, Melancon, Law and Smith) off the disabled list.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pivotal spring awaits for SF: Part 1

With all the hoopla surrounding the Superbowl at the start of February as well as the NBA all-star game and March Madness right around the corner, the early part of spring training often gets overlooked. However, Major League Baseball's official work year is upon us and spring games will be getting underway this week.

So, with that being said, we'll take the next two posts to sort of recap how things went for the Giants this winter, what the team is currently looking like and projected to be come opening day. I honestly don't see them as a serious World Series contender as currently assembled, but at the same time, their starting pitching is premiere and they really are a move or two away (or a huge breakout or two of their own farm players) from being right up their with the Cubs and

The Giants held their first full-squad workout over the weekend in Scottsdale, marking the beginning of a long journey that they help ends up netting them their 4th world tittle since 2010. However, this team has a lot of work to do and after a relatively quiet offseason, they're going to be banking on a lot of their returnees to both stay on the field actually produce up to their career norm. The first name that comes to mind in terms of staying on the field is Hunter Pence. He's arguably their 2nd most important hitter and missed large chunks of time last year with DL stints and didn't really seem like himself for much of the second half. Hopefully those hamstring woes are behind him and he gets that production back along the lines of the ~.280/25/90/.800 line that's been his career norm. It's not only Pence though. The Giants need to really spend the spring figuring out what sort of lineup will be optimize ability to produce runs without having many home run hitters on the roster. They were unable to bring in that big thumper or proven bat for left field that would have been penciled into the middle of the order and instead will open the season with Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson (with Justin Ruggiano and Mikey Morse both in camp trying to earn a job).

Speaking of healthy, another guy like Pence who missed ample time in '16 was Joe Panik and he'll be watched closely during spring to ensure he's 100% ready to go come April. In terms of production, I'm sure the Giants' brass would like to see more average and speed from center fielder Denard Span. Eduardo Nunez had some ups and downs after his trade over from the Twins and hopefully his further learning of NL pitching will result in better, more consistent production. When Nunez first came over, he was touted as an improving, explosive player with quick bat-speed, slightly above-average pop and great base-running abilities.Well, his power was almost non-existent after the trade and pretty much the only area in which he did live up to his reputation was his ability to run. Span, on the other hand, just never really got it going from the start. He had a few little bursts which helped make his season ending numbers bearable but he left a lot to be desired from Giants fans and I'm sure management after they just gave him a 3-year deal

The pitching is by far the teams strength and is the unit that they're banking on helping them overcome the lack of power and speed in their lineup. The starting rotation, as long as Matt Cain can contribute at least at a fifth starter level, should be up there amongst the best rotations in the game. Matty Moore is fully healed and in his prime and some believe this guy could be in the Cy Young hunt one of these years and he certainly showed it down the stretch. This is a possible walk year for Cueto so I expect him to be on his game, and I'm really hoping Jeff Samardzija figured out his mechanical issues this winter because even with that guy losing his release point seemingly every other start, he still has good enough stuff to get by as a better than average pitcher. Imagine what will happen when he gets that delivery down on repeat? Look out! On the same token, he's 32 years-old and something has to give here sooner than later. His stuff is so much better than the .500-type pitcher with a mid-4 ERA he's been putting up lately, so lets hope this is the year he out it together.

As for MadBum, we all know what to expect from him: 220 IP, 3.00'ish ERA, 200 K's, 1.05 WHIP etc... I mean, give or take a few numbers here or there, this guy is about as sure a bet to have that ERA within 20 points of 3, right around 200 K's and plenty of quality starts as well as a few complete game shutouts. I mean, will he probably won't be 20-3 with a 2.20 ERA and 265 K's like a "Thor" (Noah Syndegaard) or someone in that elk, but as far as big game starters, there aren't many, if any, I'm taking over MadBum. But moral of these last two paragraphs are that, once again, the Giants rotation should be pretty darned good even if Matt Cain still doesn't figure it out in the fifth spot. The Giants have Ty Blach (who I think is more effective than Cain at this point, and definitely was in '16) waiting in the wings and could come in and solidify things.

Most importantly, by far though, was their addressing of their closer situation, and they did a very good job at filling that glaring hole. The number of teams that needed to add a closer vastly out-number the amount of available, high-end closing option. Because of that, it was far from a sure thing that the Giants would find their guy, although I think we all knew they would do something, some way or another. Thankfully, they were able to come to terms with Mark Melancon on that nice 4-year deal in December and he alone is going to cause a positive ripple effect throughout that bullpen. They did just that in obtaining the second best closer on the market (IMO). I mentioned early on how 28 year-old Kenlyy Jansen would have been rad in a Giants uniform with that nasty 99-mph cutter (which makes him arguably the top closer in the NL right now) but he was never really an option as he was returning to LA all along. Therefore, Melancon was the best choice in my opinion, just cause he's so consistent, and seems like his stuff will age well throughout the deal. I just didn't want to endure Chapman and his nonchalant approach, plus we saw in the October how teams can get to him when he's not on 100%.

Now, they got a closer, but they weren't able to fill their void left in left field. I kind of get what their "hopeful" vision is, but the Giants just can't produce outfielders and for a team with championship aspirations I don't really get just rolling the dice on two guys when they had the money to upgrade. I mean, I like Mac Williamson and Jarret Parker, but I don't want to just hand them the jobs. If they fail then teams have the Giants at a disadvantage knowing they're desperate for an outfielder come trade time if the duo doesn't work out.

You might be saying to me, well Trevor, Joe Panik got playing time and became a starter. Joe Panik was a late-season call-up to take over for the injured Freddy Sanchez, he wasn't given the job out of spring that year. He "earned" the job by not being fazed down the stretch or in October and hasn't relinquished it yet. Same with Duffy, who impressed during the '14 run after being a late-season call-up and then just ripped away the starting 3B job from Casey McGehee in '15 (SF never get's Matty Moore if not for that season by Duffy). I'm not saying Mac/Parker aren't going to be a regulars someday. Parker has that Barry Bonds type surge pop where he can hit 7 homers in a week and Williamson, with that defense and pop and arm, have each shown glimpses, but neither have grabbed the bull by the horns and forced their way into the order, a la Joey Panik. And it's not like they've lacked for opportunity because Pence and Pagan were both shelved for significant time last year...

Part two coming in next two days!!!
The Giants Baseball Blog