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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Constant injuries too much for SF to overcome

It's been a very tough year, injury wise, for the San Francisco Giants in 2018, probably more so than any other season in recent memory. Still, they've managed to stay relatively in the mix in the NL West but with just over a month left and the waiver trade deadline approaching, they once again have some decisions to make as they look towards 2019.

While they've played .500 baseball for most of the year, they've done it without ever really having the 25-man roster they envisioned having when they arrived in Scottsdale in February. Starting off the year without Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Will Smith and Mark Melancon, to then losing Brandon Belt, Johnny Cueto (multiple times), Joe Panik, Hunter Strickland and Evan Longoria, all for significant amounts of time in-season never allowed them to really come together as a full unit. When they would start to get momentum and start getting guys back from injury, someone else would go down. The biggest losses, obviously, were Bumgarner for the first 2+ months and then Cueto. If Bum starts the season healthy, the Giants would have been in a much better positioning through the season's first 2 months and maybe would have had a cushion to help overcome the nagging injuries that followed. Cueto, who started out April looking like he was in for another 2016-type campaign. However, after making multiple stints to the DL after that hot start, the Giants number 2 starter went down for good with a blown out right elbow that required Tommy John surgery. That was a gut punch to not only this years chances but will also hurt the team next season as well as the Giants probably won't be counting on anything from Cueto in 2019 and certainly not before, possibly, the very end of the season.

Then, there were the next two being the loss of Brandon Belt and third basemen Evan Longoria. Now I know Belt only ended up missing a few weeks, but what really hurt is that before the injury, Belt was clearly having his best season of his career and was looking like he was finally in for that 30+ HR season that we've been waiting for, as well as a very solid OPS and a .300 average. Unfortunately though, after his comeback, he hasn't quite been that same impact bat that he was prior to the injury. As far as Longoria, he wasn't having the best of seasons before fracturing his hand being hit by a pitch, but he was an anchor in the middle of the Giants lineup and was producing runs despite a less than stellar average in the .240's. Had Belt and Longo not hit the DL this season, I think that would have certainly impacted where the team currently sits. Now, add that scenario to the one in which Bum and Cueto didn't get hurt and miss months of baseball, then I'd be willing to bet that the Giants would be right up there with the Dodgers and D-Backs, possibly even above them.

The reason why I think that is because even when they were dropping like flies with injuries, and all that they've had to overcome, they're still a .500 ball club and still have a very, very long shot at making a final 6 week push to try and overcome the 8.5 games that separate them from the top of the NL West.

The one positive that you can take away from all the injuries though, is that the Giant found
themselves some nice talented young pieces that should certainly be huge influences on next years club and are the reason why the Giants feel optimistic that they still won't need a full on makeover this winter. They have solid young pieces in place, most notably on the pitching staff. Dereck Rodriguez has been one of the best rookie pitchers in baseball this year, and has looked like a top end of the rotation starter. Now even he suffered an injury last week when the Giants and Dodgers had an on-field scuffle in a game that D-Rod wasn't even playing in. Luckily for the Giants, Rodriguez will be making his return this week and will have the opportunity to further improve on what's been a terrific rookie season. He's been the most consistent starter on the Giants ever since he joined the rotation and will be a key part of it going forward.

Another couple of guys who've broken through in 2018 are starter Andrew Suarez, reliever Reyes Moronta and utility man, Alen Hanson. Suarez hasn't quite been as impressive as fellow rookie Rodriguez and if you look at his numbers at the moment they don't do him proper justice as to how well he was throwing from late May to late July when he and D-Rod were basically holding the staff down in June and July with Cueto and Samardzija both out and Bumgarner a little rusty upon his return.

In the pen, Moronta has arguably been the Giants best reliever, not named Will Smith, throughout the season. His one and only flaw that once he improves, will make him one of the best set-up men, and possibly future closer in baseball, and that's to cut down a bit on the walks. The guy is extremely tough to hit though. allowing just 27 knocks in 56+ IP (less than a hit per each 2 innings of work), good for a BAA of .136.

Then on the field, Alen Hanson has been the breakout Giants rookie with the stick. While he's cooled off considerably from his first 100 at-bats, he still is second on the team in batting average, third on the team in OPS and 2nd in stolen bases, despite having about half the at-bats of an average starting position player on the team. His solid play and ability to play all over the diamond, including 2nd and 3rd base, shortstop and even LF in a pinch have made him a key player heading into 2019 and beyond. So much so that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Giants shopped Joe Panik this offseason to open up 2nd base for Hanson everyday. That's a long shot though, as the Giants really like Panik, despite his off-year, and probably wouldn't get a whole lot in return for him after what's been a hugely disappointing year. I mean, take away that brilliant first few games of the season where he looked like he was locked in for a huge season, and the 27 year-old is having the worst season of his career to this point.

Hunter Strickland's injury mid-season after punching a wall in anger after a blown save, certainly wasn't a positive, but it didn't hurt the team as much as some anticipated, thanks to Will Smith providing an even better closing option that Strick since then. Mark Melancon is another one who missed a lot of time to start the season and was brought back extremely slowly. However, he's now back and has clearly pitched his best baseball as a Giant since his return. He still hasn't reclaimed the closer spot though, and it should be interesting to see what Boch does in September as he tries to get an idea of what kind of bullpen roles will be penciled in for 2019. Will Melancon take back over as the closer? Will Melancon be dealt and it's going to be Will Smith and potentially Reyes Moronta's job going forward? I think we have to see Melancon get a few save opps before the season's done as I believe it would be best for the team if he can retake that role in 2019. The Giants need to be able to flexibly use Smith as he's their ace left-handed reliever, and the same can be said for Moronta as far as being the main RH set-up man.

While the chances of a Giants playoff push is dim, there is still plenty to watch and assess for next season. Beside from figuring out the bullpen roles, they'll be losing Andrew McCutchen and Hunter Pence from their outfield and will likely be looking at filling both the corner spots somehow. Then of course you have the pitching staff, with Cueto likely missing all of next season and Samardzija's future an unknown at this point. They'll have Bumgarner, Rodriguez and Suarez as the only ones guaranteed rotation spots heading into 2019.

We'll talk a lot more about that stuff though later on and after the season. Right now, as I said, the Giants aren't mathematically out of the NL West and a good couple of weeks to close out August/open up September, could move them up under 5 games out by early September and we've seen a lot crazier things happen. If they can't gain any ground between now and the August 31st non-waiver deadline, then we could see them try and get something for McCutchen as they aren't about to offer him the qualifying offer of $15M+ with their payroll situation, so they may try and get a prospect or two for him rather than letting him walk in free agency. Granted, if he can finish up halfway decent, I don't think Cutch would take the offer and should still get multi-year offers in the $15M/year range. They could also subject Hunter Strickland to waivers as well as I think a lot of Giants management and players have had enough with his antics.

No, it hasn't been a great season for the Giants, but it's been much better than 2017 was and the development of some young guys and performance from guys who've missed significant time with injury are giving fans some optimism moving forward.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Saturday, July 07, 2018

Big trade deadline decisions looming for Giants

The Giants have essentially been floating around the .500 mark for much of the last month, getting as many as 6 games above at one point but consistently staying above it for much of the last few weeks.
Add that to the fact they're 4 games back of the first place Dodgers in the NL West and 5 games back in the Wild Card race and it's really giving the Giants' brass a lot to mull over between now and the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, now just a few short weeks away.

Now, I know Giants fans would like to hear that the Giants are going to be active and be buyers at the deadline, swooping up a power hitting left fielder they've needed since Pence, Mac Williamson and everyone else they've put out there this year have collectively provided the league's worst production. Couple that with the fact that they haven't gotten top-end production from center or right field either and you can obviously see where the Giants primary focus will be if they are indeed buyers at the end of the month. Andrew McCutchen is the only outfielder locked into an everyday role right now, and the right fielder's play has been picking up a little bit too.

Over in center, it seems like Gorkys Hernandez has become the primary guy there and has been thrust into practically an everyday role despite Bochy ideally preferring to use him as a the teams fourth outfielder. With their lack of outfield depth and none of young players stepping up and taking the bull by the horns, Hernandez is stuck in a starting position and while he's certainly not a star, he's done a pretty admirable job in comparison to what he's done throughout his career up to this point. Also, despite not playing nearly everyday for much of the season, he still leads all Giants' outfielders in home runs (11), batting average (.276) and OPS (.783).

So, that leaves left field as the most logical place to add a slugger if they find one they feel would be both good enough to push them into the mix for a deep run into October and can be obtained without going over the CBT. Of course, if they feel like a center fielder would more so fit what they're looking for offensive wise, they could go that route and slide Gorkys Hernandez over to left to possibly platoon with Austin Slater/Steven Duggar.

Now, the CBT situation changes things a lot this year, making things very tricky and more complicated than in years past. If they so choose to be buyers this summer, there aren't a whole lot of true difference makers they'd feel compelled going over the luxury tax mark for. So in order for them to land a hitter, unless maybe they can miraculously land Bryce Harper in the Bay or Manny Machado (who'd have to move out to left or possibly even over to second), would be by having the opposing team eat the players contract, which in turn would increase their asking price from SF, prospect/player wise.

Of course I'm not going to name every singe possible outfielder on the trade market, but aside from Machado and Harper, there are a handful of guys that could provide upgrades to this teams current outfield group. There's another big name on the trade market and one of Machado's teammates in Baltimore. Adam Jones would certainly fit the prototype of an offensive tool that could come in and fill into an everyday role in either center or left field. He'd be my first choice amongst the outfield options not named Harper or Machado (assuming the Giants could find a spot for him), as he does have the ability to carry a team on his back when he gets hot. The thing is, he's not having a very good season and has been ice cold lately. He's rocking only a .278/.303/.427 slash line with 10 long balls and 38 RBI. Despite the mediocre line thus far, he's averaged just shy of 30 HR/year since 2011 and he's collected 4 gold gloves over that time period making him a star in center. He's similar offensively to Andrew McCutchen and would provide a marginal upgrade and stability in center on both ends, but not if it meant going over the CBT. So in that case, the O's would have to eat most, if not all of his salary and just take prospects back in return. Seems unlikely but you never know.

Another potential option, and someone who would likely be much easier to obtain, although he too would still cost a few top-end prospects, is a guy who's playing right across the bay in Oakland. Khris Davis is on pace for another 40 HR season along with 100+ RBI. He won't bring a high batting average, hovering around .230-.240, but with his run production the Giants could easily overlook that one flaw. The one they may not be able to overlook though is Davis' lack of defense in the outfield. Corey Dickerson and Shin-Soo Choo would lead the next level of outfield trade options, but Dickerson has been up and down this year, and if continues down the path he's played at the last month. Choo has been a DH or right fielder for much of his career, playing just 10 games in LF since 2014. Don't get me wrong, if the Giants could nab any of those guys for a reasonable minor league package and the luxury tax wasn't an issue, I'd be much more inclined to jump at one of these guys but really the only two who really would be worth going over the tax, assuming they're don't fall out of it over the next three weeks, would be Harper and maybe Jones.

Now, if they have a dreadful three weeks leading up to the deadline and they find themselves below .500 and possibly 8+ games out of a playoff spot, they need to seriously consider being sellers for the first time time in a decade plus. Yes, it would be unfamiliar waters for Giants fans to see them deal away veteran big name players for prospects that may or may not pan out, but if they aren't going to make a serious run this fall, it would be wise for them to try and free up some payroll for another potential re-tooling next winter when guys I already mentioned, like Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, Manny Machado plus many more will be free agents. It's not really the Giants style to be sellers when they even have an inkling of hope at making a postseason run, so I would bet against them dealing away players come July 31st, but they have some guys who they could deem expendable and other teams may very well want. With the emergence of Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez, the Giants could listen to offers for Samardzija and maybe even Johnny Cueto, although both players contracts and recent injury issues this season may detour teams from them. Still if Cueto dominates over the next few weeks and/or Shark comes back strong but the Giants still find themselves 8+ games back in the West and multiple teams ahead of them, then a whole slew of teams between them and a wild card spot, then all bets are off.

Extras: Coming out of Friday night's victory, in which Dereck Rodriguez provided another gem and led the Giants to victory over the Cardinals, the Giants got some injury news regarding Joe Panik. The 2nd basemen who was the talk of the town over the first couple of weeks of the season, however has really disappeared ever since, has hit the DL for the second time in the last 6 weeks with a strained groin. The last time Panik went on the DL, Alen Hanson emerged as one of the bright young talents on the Giants and although his play has declined a bit since being moved around and not having an everyday role, he'll be back at second base until Panik is back and hopefully that bat that was hitting .350 when at second base returns as well.

It looks like the Giants closing situation may have finally been settled. Bruce Bochy has rolled with the same closer over the last 3 save situations without playing the "match-up game". Will Smith has been the Giants most lights out reliever really ever since he returned and has been especially tough lately and it looks like he's going to be the guy manning the ninth inning moving forward. That is at least until Mark Melancon is deemed ready to retake his role in that spot or Hunter Strickland comes back and proves healthy and effective enough to retake that role. For the time being though, it's gonna be Smith and while I think Smith is ideal in the "Andrew Miller role", the Giants need someone consistent in the ninth inning and Smith is the guy who makes the most sense. Reyes Moronta was someone I thought would get more of a look but he's too valuable in the 7th/8th innings and the same can be said for Tony Watson and neither of those guys are as dominant as Will Smith is when he's one.

So, there's a lot going on within the Giants roster. Just as we get some clarity with Will Smith being anointed the closer, they also lose another player to injury and detract from the overall depth of the squad.

I've been saying it the last couple of posts and I'll say it once again. These next few weeks are really going to make or break the Giants season and I really have no idea what to expect. It wouldn't surprise me to see them take off with Cueto and Shark back and wind up 10 games over .500 come late June. However, they're just about as likely to see Cueto and Shark struggle in their return and take time to get back into rhythm while the offense continues to try and overcome injuries leaving the team a handful of games below .500 and their playoff hopes dying out as the season's fourth month comes to an end. So stay tuned Giants fans, and really hope for the best. I think this team has enough drive and enough talent to keep themselves in the mix and avoid being sellers come July 31st, but at the same time, unless they really take off between now and the 31st to where management deems them a likely World Series contender, I'd be surprised if the Giants made any noteworthy addition.

So my consensus on July 7th, with 24 days until the deadline is that the Giants will have to figure things out with the players they have on their current roster and in their farm system as I don't see them going over the CBT with hopes it keeps them in the Wild Card or NL West race. Still, it's going to be a fun 3+ weeks to watch as their rotation gets healthy and they have some sort of order in their bullpen. If only they could find that set lineup that could churn out 5+ runs on a consistent basis.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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