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Monday, March 20, 2017

Will depth be an issue?

We've got a little over a week left in Arizona until the Giants break north for their three exhibition games on the doorstep of the 2017 MLB opener. Then it's right back to Arizona to open up vs. the D-Backs.... For real this time!

As we enter the final stages of the Cactus League schedule, the Giants and Bruce Bochy have to be generally pleased with what they're seeing from their squad since early February. From what I've seen, this Giants squad seems a little hungrier to me. I mean, they have proven veterans like Gordon Beckam, Aaron Hill, Jimmy Rollins and Nick Hundley fighting for the minimal bench spots that currently exist and all seem to be portraying great attitudes in the process pf making their cases. I mean, J-Roll has been an All-Star starting SS in his career and has been in the MVP discussions multiple times and has plenty of experience deep in playoff baseball. Even though he's inching closer to 40 years of age, he still knows the game well enough to provide value so long as his body holds up and he can continue to contribute a few times a week. Hill, a notorious Giants' killer, has had a pretty nice spring and could provide legit backup support for the fragile Joe Panik at 2B as well as Eduardo Nunez at third (the Giants are also trying him out in left field as well). Then there are returnees Kelby Tomlinson, Mac Williamson and Gorkys Hernandez along with standout Chris Marerro (who's arguably had the best spring of any Giants' hitter).

So, how are things going for the Giants as we've hit the home stretch of the Cactus League? I'd say all in all, pretty darn good. The one guy who's really stuck out this March and someone who looks like they're set to run away with that starters left field job is Jarrett Parker. Barring some major fall off or injury between now and April 2nd, Parker should be your starting left fielder vs. Zach Grienke and the D-Backs on the nationally televised opener. The major improvement I've seen and been reading about regarding his approach at the plate which results and waiting out better pitches to hit, which in result, gets him pitches he can put the bat head on the ball and drive it. It's been pretty evident for the 28 year-old slugger that he's determined this spring to make this roster out of spring and not only that but be a key cog in the lineup. As of March 17th, Parker has had 36 spring at-bats, resulting in 12 hits (.333 BA), 4 HR, 12 RBI a .455 OBP and a 1.15 OPS.

Once I realized the Giants weren't going to be upgrading left field around mid-December, Parker immediately became my choice just because I remember how hot he can get when he filled in during those stints in both '15 and '16 (I think both times in which Pence was shelved). He showed he can hit balls out of the park with consistency and it's carried over to the spring. If you take what he'd done combined over the last two seasons at the big league level in limited duty, it doesn't look too shabby whatsoever. The left-handed slugger has collected 178 at-bats and has slashed .267/11/28/.371/.494 (.865 OPS), scored 33 runs and walked 24 times. The walks and ob-base percentage are really what really impresses me because most young players are over-anxious and want to swing at everything. He's not just up there hacking for McCovey Cove every time he steps into the box, I just really hope that holds up in a full-time gig come April. I don't know how it will wind up for Parker, but so far we have nothing but positive thoughts based on what we've seen. It wouldn't surprise me to see him become Fred Lewis-type talent, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him become a  Brandon Belt-type talent. I'm leaning more toward Belt though, just because I think his power can translate at AT&T whereas Lewis could not hit there.

Mac Williamson certainly had his moments in Pence's absence last summer as well, especially in the outfield. He and Chris Marrero are the two other candidates for the starting LF job but Parker has better than 50/50 odds to be out there April 2nd vs. Zach Grienke. The issue the Giants have to deal with now is what to do with Williamson. He has options left so many believe they'll start him in AAA where he can play everyday. With the way Chris Marrero has played this spring, the Giants may feel comfortable enough with him being Parker's primary backup. I personally would like to see Williamson on the big league roster because I think he can still get a lot of bats as a role player but Marrero has earned it.

Another guy who may force his way onto the roster like Marrero is trying to do is Korean free-agent signee over the winter, Jae-gyun Hwang. He's made a very strong impression with the Giants' brass with surprising power and bat speed, a strong arm and the ability to play multiple positions. Another flexible asset that could make Bruce Bochy's life easier. The only thing wit Hwang is that this is his first few months in the states playing baseball and management will likely want him to work his way up the ladder a bit to get a good idea for American Baseball. He's certainly a guy I'm excited about as he's gotten off to a nice start in spring and he should continue to get acclimated even more as he enters his prime at age 29. He's slashed .320/.310/.989 with 3 big flys and 8 driven in.

Some reasons, however, why he may not quite make the opening day roster is his defense. He's got to polish  that up a little but it seems like that's already happening. He's got good baseball instincts so I do expect him to settle in over here just fine and continue to imrprove. He looks like a legit bat speed and the athleticism (things you can't teach) and that should translate into the Major Leagues. Will he hit .320 with 25 jacks and a .950 OPS like he did overseas? I sure hope so, but no, probably not. Nonetheless, he obviously has natural talent, has played well in spring and is still very much in the running for a roster spot with Opening day 11 days away.

I could keep going on for every and ever about guys that have surprised, young guys (Ryder Jones, Tyler Beede, Chris Arroyo etc...) on the rise and more, but I'm trying to keep it more Major League related. My final prediction for the bench heading into the season (as of March 20) looks as follows: Nick Hundley C, outfielders Justin Ruggiano/Williamson/Marrero and Gorkys Hernandez (because they have nobody else who can man center field the way he can) look like the lead dogs for the 4th and 5th Outfield spots. Then there's some guys who look like they still are trying to prove themselves in the infield before spring ends, an infield where there's still plenty TBD. Connor Gillaspie should be there, especially after the spring he's had but that's the only given. The downside to having those guys is that neither of those two can play shortstop naturally like the Giants really need, which is why they;re giving Jimmy Rollins every chance at making the team. I personally like the idea of having the veteran in the clubhouse but if he does make the squad and is still contributing nothing at the dish, he'll be doing more bad than good at that point.

While I would have liked to see them pay a little more attention to the bench this winter,  there are things I do like about it. Barring any injury, unforeseen trade or addition, I think the unit is pretty much set already. My picks as to who deserves a spot based on their spring performance/team necessity (not necessarily the five that Bochy will go with) are as follows:

C: Nick Hundley (He will be Busters backup this year)
IF: Jae-gyun Hwang (Would like to see it but most likely AH or KT. get nod here)
IF: Connor Gillespie ('16 postseason hero having best spring on team, if only could play ss)

OF: Chris Marrero (Ruggiano probably gets it but Marrero deserves it)
OF: Gorkys Hernandez (only bench candidate who can defend center field competently)

On the bubble: OF Justin Ruggiano, OF Mac Williamson, C Ted Federowicz, IF Kelby Tomlinson, C Trevor Brown and IF Aaron Hill

Again, I'm going on the guys I want to see and who I think would best make up the roster, not necessarily what I think Bochy will go with. Hundley was brought in to give Buster that veteran back-up who knows how to handle a staff which should help keep Posey fresh as he's now 30 years of age which is like 35+ in catchers years. So that along with his streaky bat I think make him the clear-cut favorite there and I don't think it's closer. As for Gillespie, he pretty much solidified his spot with his big (albeit brief) 2016 postseason and also leading the team in hitting this spring so far. He'll get regular time at third when Crawford needs off days and Nunez shifts to short as well as be the Giants' primary bat off the bench (after last October).

They have some other catcher and infield options, but as I mentioned after they were eliminated by Chicago last October, this team tends to overlook their bench often and I would have loved to see them put more money into bringing in at least one big bat or proven pinch-hitter... Easier said than done, sure, but the Giants had the resources to go out and add another positional role player but maybe nobody really grabbed their eye. I, however, would have thought someone like Carlos Gomez would have been a perfect fit as insurance for left field and if anything happens to Span (granted I don't know Gomez's clubhouse rep).

Notes: We've always done our annual MLB division-by-division preview here at the Giants Baseball Blog, however, this year we're going to stick to the National League only. 95% of the Giants' games come against NL teams so there isn't necessarily a reason to preview the AL. It also will free me up more for what matters most, and that's more Giants talk. OPENING DAY IS 11 DAYS AWAY people, and I am extremely stoked to see how the squad comes out of the gate.... On a negative note, Will Smith continues to be plagued with arm problems and will miss the foreseeable future with elbow issues. That could mean a month or that could me the season. Either way it's a huge blow and could have the Giants on lookout for left-handed reliever.
The Giants Baseball Blog

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 attention to. 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 signed a replacement for 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 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. Teams were looking at Hernandez last trade deadline, including the Giants, and now they get him on a minor league 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 which 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

Friday, January 27, 2017

A closer look at Jae-gyun Hwang

After about 6 weeks of silence on the player movement front, the Giants have gotten a little more active in the new year. None of their recent signings are anything earth-shattering, in fact only one of them is likely guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster, but there's one guy who could end up being a diamond in the rough.

They made sort of an under-the-radar move this week, by coming to terms on a minor league deal with Korean star third basemen Jae-gyun Hwang, who was Jeff Passan's 25th ranked free agent on Yahoo's 2016-17 list this winter. The 29 year-old third basemen is coming off a career year in 2016 with a .335/26/104/.949 slash to go along with 24 swipes and I believe it was also Passan who compared to a Ben Zobrist-type. The Giants feel like he is a real "player" for one of the bench spots because he'd give Boch the flexibility move Eduardo Nunez around, possibly even into left field. Here's a 5 minute video on the newest Giant and his highlights from 2016. His plate approach reminds me very much of fellow countrymen Jung Ho Kong who had a nice rookie year in Pittsburgh and his glove, range and arm look like nobody the Giants have had on the hot corner in quite sometime. The million dollar question will be whether or not he can adapt to big league pitching. Either way, he'll be an exciting watch this spring. There area a lot of guys who will be vying for one starting outfield spot, two back-up outfield spots and a back-up infield spot, (assuming Tomlinson's spot is concrete), but Hwang seems to have upside and flexibility that some of the other competitors don't have.

A few things I found out about the newest Giant that I really like his power and his defense/arm over at third base. Not only does he have big time power your, if you watch that video I posted in the previous paragraph, probably aware of his opposite field pop as well. That's a sign of truly a good hitter and makes me optimistic that he will figure it out over here in the states. Plus, if you see those jacks he's hitting, most of them aren't just skimming the top of the wall on their way out, those things are hit halfway up the bleachers or more, even into centerfield. As far as the defense, that's something that's going to translate anywhere, and by the limited looks I've seen of him he looks like a fine defensive third basemen with a very strong arm. He definitely comes in on the ball well and has good range. Although I haven't seen him play in a game yet, I'm fairly confident he's a better defender than Nunez which, again, would bode well for a possible Nunez move to left should Hwang show the ability to handle major league pitching this spring.

The Giants also brought in a seasoned backup catcher in Nick Hundley which I think was a very smart move. Buster's turning 30 this season and he's going to start needing more and more time off behind the plate. Trevor Brown had a great April last year but really fell off offensively after that and for a team with Championship aspirations, I think they wanted a little more of a sure thing behind Buster. Hundley's a guy who's good enough to start on a number of teams and will be a nice safety blanket for Bochy and make him much more confident on days he has to rest Buster or move him over to first. Not saying Brown was bad, he did an admirable job, but a major issue on this Giants' team last year was lack of experience off the bench and bringing Hundley aboard helps that.

So with the two newest signings, it certainly does change the makeup of what the Giants bench could look like come April. If I were to guess on what exactly it will look like come April 7th (assuming no injuries of course and they go with 5-man bench), I'd go: C Hundley, OF Parker/Willimason (whichever isn't starting), IF Kelby Tomlinson, IF Jimmy Rollins, OF Gorkys Hernandez. Hernandez makes it because of his defensive abilities in center over Morse's bat off the bench. I think Hwang will get his feet wet with American ball in Sacramento but so long as he performs up to his capabilities he should be up in the big leagues sooner than later. Brown (assuming Hundley takes the backup spot) will be there if anything happens to Hundley or Posey but that's how I see the bench unfolding with spring training set to kick off in roughly 3 weeks. If Hwang does produce similarly to Kang did with the Pirates last season, we could see a lot of Hwang at third and Nunez out in left. Then again, we could just as likely never see Hwang appear in a Giants uni a for a single game. Only time will tell, and it's just one story line that should make this one of the more interesting springs in recent Giants' seasons.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Offseason Review: Roster decisions loom

Its been a while and there's a few reasons for our lack of posting, but the main being there simply hasn't been anything in the much of way of big Giants news, really ever since they found their closer back in early December. Therefore, we're going to talk about how the offseason has transpired and how  roles will change come April. I get the feeling this team still has something up their sleeve in terms of left field or even third base (because Nunez is most versatile and can play LF), but anything like that probably isn't happening until games start counting for real.

They've made a few under-the-radar, small minor league level signings by bringing in aging veterans Jimmy Rollins and Justin Ruggiano while reuniting with Michael Morse but none of those guys are sure bets to make the roster on opening day. The Giants front office and brass have been as quiet as a mouse really ever since that Melancon inking well over a month ago. With Spring Training kicking off in just a couple short weeks, it doesn't look like they're focused on bringing anyone else into the mix. That said, I really hope they aren't completely closing their mind all the way just yet because I still think this team can improve before the season.

Obviously, the big move and number one priority this winter was getting themselves a reliable closer who won't make fans endure 9th inning panic attacks on a regular basis, especially down the stretch. They successfully filled that void, but now need their new $62M closer to do his part. Mark Melancon was surely needed and should come and fit right into the Giants clubhouse according to all the reports I've seen and the stuff he's talked about when being interviewed about the move. I was always pretty certain the Giants would find their ninth inning guy one way or another just because of how dreadful that second half was and the contribution that played in the NLDS loss to Chicago coupled with the amount of options that were out there this winter The 32-year old will feature a heater in the lower 90's with some big cut that occasionally gets up around 95. What makes him special though are his secondary pitches including his big 12/6 hook, that hard cutter and slider that really give him his tough-to-hit arsenal. However, despite covering their clear-cut number one need for a top-flight stopper, this team had other issues to deal with, including the outfield.

Denard Span came over on a three-year deal prior to the seasons and left a lot to be desired after year one in the Orange and Black as he wasn't exactly terrible, but wasn't his explosive self we saw over in Washington years prior. Hunter Pence was fine, when he was out there, but hit the shelf a few times because of nagging injuries and was pretty much banged up all year in some form or another. Then there was left field, where Angel Pagan was actually one of the more steady Giants, especially early in the season, but he's on the wrong side of 35 and tailed off pretty well in the second half. It was pretty clear early on that he wouldn't be back and now here we are on the door-step of February Pagan is still searching for employment. The Giants have said they want to go younger and give Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson a legitimate shot to take over that slot. But who knows, if they find someone on the real low via trade or somehow find themselves back with Pagan on some sort of agreement to let the young guys get a shot too, then maybe they still add to that spot, but it's not likely.

In addition to Morse, the Giants brought in another veteran presence in Jimmy Rollins. As far as the expectations for J-Roll, I'm sure the Giants will be happy with whatever they get out of the 39 year-old shortstop. I think he's there more of a mentor for the younger guys like a Christian Arroyo and Joe Panik and should be a great guy to have around camp. He'll have to beat out some tough guys to make the team as a utility infielder (including Connor Gillaspie and Kelby Tomlinson) but his ability to play shortstop at a decent level still could bode well for his chances. All those roster decisions will come down to spring, including the starting left fielder (assuming they don't add one via trade over the next 2 months or Michael Morse reverts back to 2012 Morse) and the bullpen set-up roles.

Needless to say, Bochy and co. will have their hands full this spring deciding those roles and it's going to be one of the more important March's this team's had in quite a while. It's the first time since the World Series run started that the team will enter spring with a starting position spot up for grabs. Many anticipate that gig going to Mac Williamson, because of the defensive prowess and ability to get on base, but Jarrett Parker possess one of the more explosive bats in the system. Then of course don't forget the 35 year-old Morse who is just 2 seasons removed from his 16/61/.811 line he put with the Giants in '14 and I'm sure the Giants are hoping to strike lightning in a bottle twice with the big fella. He also had some really big hits in the postseason that year and helped immensely during the Giants championship run. Heck, the Giants even gave Justin Ruggiano a try-out deal to see if he's healthy. He too is up there in age but has proven to be a valuable guy off the bench when healthy and if nothing else may provide depth at the Triple-A level and be called upon if Pence pulls a hammy or something of that nature.

So no, if you were hoping for that big thumper in left and Aroldis Chapman closing games for the Giants in '17 and beyond then maybe you were a tad dissapointed. However, they did get themselves one of the better closers in the game and a guy who should hold value throughout his deal and lock down that 9th inning for the Giants into 2020. As far as the thumper for left field, they just couldn't find anything that made sense, so, again, they consolidated a bunch of guys who they hope they'll be able to coax at least one into having a big year and taking over left and even improving it. Otherwise, Bobby Evans will be spending plenty of time the first couple of months of the season on the phone searching for that illusive left fielder they can never seem to find.

After two years without a return to even the NLCS, the Giants' faithful are going to start demanding some changes as they've become somewhat spoiled with the 3 tittles in 6 years. Everyone's going to want them to get things back in order and something tells me they powers that be will pull out all stops to ensure they give themselves the best shot to win in 2017. They know that pitching staff won't be in it's prime and together forever and that core lineup (Posey, Pence, BCraw, Belt, Panik) are in right in the middle of their primes so they have to focus now. If that means they part with a Chris Arroyo and Tyler Beede for a CarGo or someone of that elk that will help this team win for the next few years, then I wouldn't be surprised at all if they pulled that trigger this summer.

Now all that being said, and if I were have to give the Giants an offseason grade I'd have to give them a C+. They got themselves their number one need and although it wasn't the guy I really pinned for in Kenley Jansen, Melancon was clearly my number two choice as he has some crazy stuff too and knows what he's doing out there. Not to mention, there was no way I wanted to find myself rooting for the arrogant, overrated Aroldis Chapman (essentially a younger, harder throwing left-handed version of Santiago Casilla without the guts and team spirit) for the next 4/5 years. I really think Chapman will not be closing by the third year of his deal as the league is going to figure him out and he's to hard-headed to adapt.

But enough pointless Chapman bashing. I wanted to give them a straight B or even B+ and would have had they just made one more move. The bullpen was clearly their downfall last year and it wasn't all Santiago Casilla so how are they going to expect just one guy, the closer that is, be the one to change it all. They didn't bring in more bullpen help that would defy more roles within that group. Also, of course, they failed to really fix the left field problem. I really didn't anticipate them doing anything big in the winter do essentially to lack of options so I get why nothing was done. I figure that move will come via trade in-season if one is to be made at all, so I could have lived with rolling into the year with the guys they have. I did, however, hope they would have spent a little more to help solidify that pen and not rely on Josh Osich and Cory Gearin to be pitching season-changing type inning late in September, but I hope for all our sake, those guys are ready.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Remaining FA's that could help SF

Well, we're about halfway through the MLB offseason and what few big name free agents that were out there have started to find homes, leaving just a select few options remaining for teams looking for help, including the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants completed their primary objective with the Melancon signing earlier this month, but have yet to address left field or add any other veteran arms into their bullpen mix. I recently scoured over the list of remaining free-agents and although there doesn't appear to be a left field answer waiting for them right now, there are still a couple of guys that I think can come in and compete for a roster spot and legitimate playing time if not a starting gig. I went ahead and composed a short list with a brief description on each player and how they may be able to fit in with the Giants.

Jose Bautista OF: We'll start with the only remaining right-handed power bat capable of playing the outfield on a regular basis (sorry but Trumbo in left at AT&T would not be a good fit long term). If the Giants would be willing to sacrifice some defense for offense out there, then he could be their guy (if he's willing to take a one year deal). He's gonna hit for power wherever he goes, but the Giants big selling point to him should be to come over for a year and take a shot at winning a tittle. He could see them as more likely to reach World Series then his other suitors and may be willing to give the Giants a try for a year. A big year or a World Championship could put him in even better position next winter too. He wanted 5/$150M before the season, but now he'll be lucky to get half of that after a major, major drop-off in production from '15 to '16. Still the most exciting bat on market not named Trumbo and better defensive fit although neither would be great out there.

Luis Valbuena, UT: The Giants have Connor Gillepsie under team control, but could view Valbuena as an upgrade. He's got more pop than Gillespie, although Connor's postseason heroics may have cemented his spot on the '17 roster. Still though, Valbuena is the type of bat any manager would love to have at his disposal as he's capable of lift-off every time he steps up. Sort of the left-handed version of Juan Uribe, and remember how big he was at times for this club for 2010's World Series run! Valbuena could really give Boch some flexability though. He could move Nunez into left field and play Valbuena at third if need be or even use Valbuena or Nunez over at 2nd should Panik's struggles/injuries return in '17. For a guy who won't break the bank and can do a number of things for you, Valbuena is certainly an intriguing player.

Rajai Davis, OF: The Giants are losing Gregor Blanco, and Rajai Davis would be a fine choice and an upgrade in his vacated role. He can play all three outfield positions well, and while he doesn't usually hit for much power, he has a propensity for the big hit and still is one of the faster players in the game. He could find himself a starting job somewhere but if he wants to contend he may have to settle for a 4th outfield spot. He is going on 37 years of age but still plays like he's 28, leading the AL in steals in '16 and showing he still has plenty in the tank. I mean, right now, Gorky's Hernandez is lined up to take over Blanco's former role and this is the type of area the Giants usually overlook and it usually costs them. Say Denard Span, who's no spring chicken, goes down for two months with some bad hamstring tear or something? Nobody else on the current roster can play center on a daily basis besides Hernandez and I'd much rather roll with Rajai.

Jae-gyun Hwang, LF/3B: He's a interesting guy because scouts compare him favorably to Ben Zobrist, who the Giants loved and tried desperately to sign last winter before he wound up in Chicago. Hwang is 29 years-old, and like Zobrist, hits for moderate power, good average, has a good eye at the plate, provides some speed and can play all over the field, but he's not necessarily a standout star. From what I hear, he could be a .285/15 HR/15 SB type with decent run production depending on where he hits in the lineup. It seems like more and more serviceable big league talent is surfacing from Asia and although the Giants don't usually get involved in international free agents like this, but look at how effective Jung Ho Kang was in Pittsburgh last year and if Hwang can produce on that level he'd be well worth the investment.

As for the remaining arms, obviously they aren't looking at any starting pitchers, but there are a few bullpen guys who I would certainly take on this team in an instant. Gone are Romo, Casilla and Lopez and so far, they have replaced them with just Melancon. I still think they need at least one more proven arm down there to help Melancon out even though Derrick Law is lining up to be the 8th inning guy and Hunter Strickland is coming off a very nice year as well. However, what happens if Strickland struggles and Law, who's had injury problems in his career, hit speed-bumps? This bullpen would be up a creek without a paddle to say the least. Ideally, I'd like to see another late inning right-hander added to the mix as well as a lefty specialists a la Javier Lopez of 2010.

Brad Zieglar, RHP: He's a guy who's been about as consistent as they come over the last half decade, but as he approaches 40 his luck is bound to run out sooner than later. I think he'd be worth a dice roll for the Giants, as he could provide some veteran stability to what is now a very young and in-experienced pen. Derick Law and Hunter Strickland will compete for the set-up role, but neither has carried that role full-time and the Giants got into trouble last year with lack of depth in the pen and not having guys with defined roles. Zieglar could be that low-stress, steady as a rock 8th inning guy much like Romo's been with the Giants and in very similar style as well. Plus the Giants have lost a lot of veteran leadership now down in that pen and could really use another guy like Zieglar who can be a leader.

Jerry Blevins, LHP: After the 2014 season Javier Lopez's production took a nose-dive and the Giants haven't been able to find that "LOOGY" through their farm. I'm not a big Josh Osich guy as I think he's had ample time to prove himself and hasn't done a whole lot. Okert is intriguing, but I would feel a lot more comfortable with Blevins in the mix with the old Lopez role while Will Smith hopefully has a good year and sort of rekindles the Jeremy Affeldt slot and then things would be OK I think.

J.P. Howell, LHP: See Blevins above. Whether it's Howell or Blevins, SF could still use that one, proven left-hander to come in and get an Adrian Gonzalez, Corey Seager or Carlos Gonzalez out when needed. Again Smith's stats actually favor him facing righties more, hence the reason I see a need for one of these two. Maybe Osich or Okert eventually become that, but for a team with aspirations like the Giants', they need all the sure-fire talent they can fit onto their roster. Travis Wood is another guy who you could put in this mix too.

Drew Storen, RHP: Now he and the next guy are more reclamation projects. Storen had a dreadful first half of 2016, but finished strong and could provide a legit set-up man to Melancon and a strong veteran presence in the ladder stages of the game. Strickland and Law have the ability to be that guy, but you can never have too many good relievers and Storen's an under-30 guy who's notched a few 35+ save seasons on his resume.

Daniel Hudson, RHP: I saved the best potential set-up guy for last. Hudson is really the guy I'd like to see brought in along with one of the lefties listed above to really make this bullpen a strength. I like George Kontos, but I think they can upgrade. I didn't quite get the rush to re-sign Cory Gearin either, but I suppose that wouldn't detour the Giants from a guy like Hudson if they had a legit chance at getting him. Outside of the three closers, Hudson is the consensus next best reliever on the market so he may be priced out of the Giants range but I really think they need a player like this. Look at all those guys who were throwing 95+ the Cubs and Indians where throwing out there. The Giants need more of those guys. They have one in Strickland but that's about it. Speaking of Indians' relievers, Hudson's career path has sort of followed that of now phenom relief ace Andrew Miller. Former top starting prospects with huge stuff that never translated in the rotation, but could translate great in releif.... Just sayin'!

Wild Card Relievers: RHP Greg Holland and RHP Neftali Feliz: Both these guys are likely going to take a one-year, make good deal and really try to cash in next winter with a solid season. Holland has been an elite closer with a heater in the high-90's but TJ Surgery has taken a few MPH off his fastball and he still hasn't found a team to bite on him since his showcasing in November. Feliz is coming off a decent year and was once a highly touted reliever who is still just 28 years of age, but he showed why nobody trusts him to close full-time with his bad second half. That being said, if you got one of these guys and they turned out to be pitch closer to their potential than not, they could have themselves a steal. Feliz would seem to be a better bet although having him and Hunter Strickland on the same roster with very similar stuff may seem redundant. Now had they not signed Gearin to that one year deal, I certainly think they could have used that spot to upgrade but what do I know? That's why I'm typing on this site rather than directing the Giants player personnel decisions. 

Of course Sergio Romo is out there too still, and on paper looks close to being as good as any of the guys I mentioned above, but I think we all saw Romo sort of hit a wall last season and I think he's only got so many seasons left with getting people out with his 85-mph sinker and 72-mph slurvy slider that's lost a lot of bite and quickness the last two seasons.

The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Giants find their closer but work remains

Pretty much ever since Brian Wilson went down with his shoulder injury at the start of 2012, the Giants have used a few different guys to close out games. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla, career set-up guys, basically shared the duties, with Casilla becoming Bochy's #1 choice the last couple seasons. But after that epic second half collapse, largely attributed to that bullpen, and the team getting knocked out in the NLDS because of the bullpen, the Giants made solidifying that 9th inning as their number one priority this winter.

On Monday, the Giants finally found a guy they hope is their answer to their ninth inning woes that reared their ugly head in 2016, signing Mark Melancon to the richest contract in relief pitcher history (although both Kenly Jansen and Aroldis Chapman will most likely set new records after they sign). The Giants will pay the soon to be 32 year-old $62M over four years, which is right around what I thought he'd get. Chapman and Jansen are most likely looking at deals in the triple figures, so the $15.5M annually should be a bargain compared to the other two elite closing options. Not to mention, if you look at all three of their numbers over the last few seasons, aside from strikeout rate, Melancon has been neck-and-neck with those two. I would have loved to see the Giants pry Jansen away from LA, but I knew that would be a long-shot, so this move is the next best thing in my opinion. Chapman is flashy and hurls that 103-mph heater, but we saw him walk the tight-rope quite a bit in the postseason and blow a couple big saves, including one to the Giants in the NLDS that resulted in the Giants one and only win of the series.

Now, Melancon's numbers over the last four seasons are what got him this very lucrative deal, as they have been about as good as any relief pitcher in the game during that span. His highest ERA posted since the 2012 season has been 2.23 (2015) and in the other three seasons he's gone 1.39, 1.90 and 1.64 last season between Pittsburgh and Washington. During that span, he also posted a sub-1 WHIP in each season as he doesn't walk hitters and very rarely gives up the big fly. Since becoming a full-time closer in 2014, he's posted save totals of 33, 51 and 47 while blowing just 10. I don't have the exact number that the Giants blew last season but I'm pretty sure they blew 9 or 10 in September alone. All these reasons, along with him being a fine clubhouse personality and he being a good bet to age well over the course of the deal because he doesn't rely on a 100 MPH heater, are why many baseball people felt like he was the ideal fit for the Giants. Instead of the high-90's fastball/cutter like with Jansen or a 100-MPH laser beam and hard slider Chapman throws at you, Melancon can get you out in a number of different ways. For the most part, we'll be seeing a hard cutter in the low-90's as well as a big sweeping curveball though. He's got a change and a 4-seemer as well.

It's definitely a big sigh of relief for the Giants club and Giants fan alike. Their ninth inning problem is fixed and they did it without dueling out 100 million bucks or parting with half of their farm system. However, they still have question marks pertaining to that bullpen. I'd imagine that the plan is to roll with Derek Law as the primary set-up man with Hunter Strickland also getting an opportunity, but the Giants problem in the pen wasn't just with the closing situation. They struggled all over the place in the second half and although Melancon does change that landscape majorly, I think this pen could still use another sure fire arm or two. The need 2 guys like Romo and Casilla were back at the beginning of the Giants championship run, and strong left-handed presences like Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt (let's cross-our fingers that Will Smith's rough 2016 was just a down year and he's back to norm in 2017 cause that would help a ton).

There's still a long way to go in the offseason, and I expect the Giants to keep all options open regarding both left field and the bullpen, but it sure is a relieving feeling knowing they have a legit, premium closer now on the roster; the one thing many feel cost them their shot at another even year tittle. I personally think they needed another bat as well but who knows what a legit closer could have done with that bunch. They probably win the West and avoid the wild card game and maybe they avoid the Cubs all together or at least face 'em with home field advantage. Anyway you slice it though, that Cubs team seemed to have what other teams didn't this year and I don't know if any team was going to stop them. That was an epic postseason on the north side of Chicago. One very similar to the Giants' huge Fall in 2010, but only about 50+ more years in the making!
The Giants Baseball Blog