Monday, February 19, 2018

The older Giants may not be a losing team

Dan Lash of The Frisc (who used to post as Lefty Malo) wonders if the even-year magic for the Giants is going to work 

But for the first time in a long time, the Giants could be facing a drought. Years of baseball La Niña, if you will. The trouble began in mid-2016. They went from a juggernaut to the worst team in the second half, barely making the playoffs. Then in 2017, they tied for worst record in the bigs.
Smart observers think the team can, at least near-term, turn fortune around. The brass has restocked the team without too much farm-system depletion, while keeping the payroll under the sport’s luxury tax threshold. (More on that in a moment.)
But reloading, instead of rebuilding, is as much as about the team’s relationship to San Francisco as it is about competitive calculus. This is an expensive town, full of transients. How many times have you met someone who grew up in San Francisco? When you do, is it hard to contain your surprise?
A disproportionate amount of people aren’t from here. They have brought hometown allegiances with them. Or they’re happy to root for the Giants casually—when the team is on a roll and the park is full and buzzing. Or they’re into tech or art or robots or polyamory or politics or social justice or drugs, and they don’t give a crap about baseball.
If the Giants don’t win, and they keep not winning, they’re likely to see more of what happened down the stretch last year: Painful patches of empty seats, like the bare skin of a mangy dog, amid the official end of a long streak of sold-out games.
Already squeezed by the nation’s highest or second-highest cost of living (depends who you ask), our discretionary entertainment dollars have a ton of competition. A few years of intentional badness, plus an economic dip, and suddenly the bells and whistles of the home park — the great views, the urban location, the, uh, garlic fries (do people still eat those?) — don’t distract as much from the cold nights, the menacing seagulls, and of course, the crappy baseball.

 He says a losing season isn't inevitable ....

This year, however, they’ve stayed sober and under baseball’s $197 million payroll threshold not just to avoid massive immediate surcharges, but to give themselves leeway to spend ridiculously next winter, when a slate of stars, including Washington’s Bryce Harper and Baltimore’s Manny Machado, hits the free market.
Meanwhile, the bridge to that potential spending spree is no longer built with rotting shoelaces and Legos. A losing 2018 is not inevitable. The Giants traded, in essence, their incumbent center fielder Denard Span, a couple well-regarded minor leaguers, and a relief pitcher for two former superstars, Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, who were beloved in Pittsburgh and Tampa, respectively, where they had spent their entire careers until now.
There are two operating principles in play: One, pray that the declines McCutchen and Longoria have shown recently don’t accelerate. Two, hope all the team’s incumbents who sputtered or got injured last year — first baseman Brandon Belt, outfielder Hunter Pence, ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner, co-ace pitcher Johnny Cueto, and most of the relief pitchers — do better across the table.
More than for any team in baseball, in fact, the latter could happen. The stat-nerds call it positive regression. Others call it good players bouncing back from a collective bad year.
The team has obvious flaws, so it would be a miracle if they finished 2018 ahead of the (boo) Los Angeles Dodgers. But the Giants should be interesting to watch and — what the ticket-sellers truly hope for — remain in the thick of competition for much of the summer.
Some people ask why bother striving for a ceiling of “Hey, not bad, Giants!” They would prefer the team trade their stars and start the rebuilding process. After all, the three World Series champs since the Giants last won it all — Astros, Cubs, Royals — reached the mountaintop only after a ruthless, multiyear exile to Death Valley.
But as they said in 1990s sketch comedy: “Homey don’t play that.” Even in the dreadful mid-aughts, the team was loath to trade too many aging veterans. They stubbornly spent too much on mediocrity because — well, we never quite figured that out.
But I’ll take an educated guess. It’s the same reason they want to reload for 2018 instead of rebuild. If the Giants aren’t good, they at least have to pretend they’re trying. Or have Barry Bonds chasing a home run-record. That always helps.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Spring training questions -- are the Giants too old???

Henry Schulman of the SF Chron has a good column as spring training opens --

As team slogans go, “We have nowhere to go but up” is not exactly inspirational, but it’s largely true. The Giants are tired of hearing about 98 losses in 2017. As they open spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday, they understand what they need to do to bleach that awful number from everyone’s minds.
Other teams in the same boat might be thrilled to improve by 17 wins and finish at .500, but not the Giants. They want to reach the postseason for the fifth consecutive even year.
Can they?
1. Can an older team win?
The Giants are still looking for center-field help to complement newly signed Austin Jackson, but if Jackson is their Opening Day center fielder, their projected lineup will have seven position players who will be in their 30s in 2018.
Ten teams in the wild-card era have had at least seven over-30 players who registered 400 or more plate appearances. Five reached the postseason, and one, the 2001 Diamondbacks, won the World Series with nine over-30s getting to the plate that many times. So it can be done.
 To be fair, the Giants are not decrepit. Most position players will be 30-32, including newcomers Jackson, Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Hunter Pence will be 34 but is expected to platoon. Still, older players have a harder time staying healthy, which means the Giants would be well-served to get a fair share of plate appearances from their farm system, particularly outfielders Steven Duggar and Austin Slater.

2. What can the Giants expect from Longoria and McCutchen?
Both unquestionably make the team better, but they come to San Francisco in some decline, Longoria offensively and McCutchen defensively — or so the numbers say.
On a team full of players with multiple World Series rings, the Giants do not need them to play like MVPs (which McCutchen was in 2013), but instead blend with Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Joe Panik and the other outfielders.
However, the Giants gave away a lot to get McCutchen and Longoria, hoping the two could hoist the worst offense in the majors from 2017 and get much better defensively in the outfield. Longoria and McCutchen do not need to be All-Star-caliber, but given the team’s lofty ambitions for 2018, that sure would help.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Five homers by SF pitchers in 2017

Friday, January 26, 2018

The good old Giants

John Shea of the SF Chronicle talks to Bruce Bochy about the 3 new Giants -- Longoria, McCutcheon and Austin Jackson.

As the Giants were winding down their 98-loss season, Sabean said they needed to get younger, more athletic and better defensively. They’re 2-for-3.
Once Brandon Belt turns 30 in April, only Joe Panik among the projected everyday players will be in his 20s. Hunter Pence turns 35 in April.
On the other hand, defensive-minded Steven Duggar, 24, will be given an opportunity in spring training to win playing time in center field, perhaps in a platoon with Jackson.
Sabean said the Giants could add an outfielder from the outside — they’re monitoring “minimum-service type of players who are obviously low in salary.”
Sabean and general manager Bobby Evans reiterated their goal to stay below the $197 million competitive-balance-tax threshold to avoid penalties. That virtually rules out any pursuit of a high-end free agent or trade target.
“He’s certainly a viable option,” Sabean said of Jackson. “Did we get him to be our everyday center fielder? Probably not. I don’t know that in his recent history, he’s been able to go out there in that fashion.”
Jackson, who got a two-year, $6 million contract, played just 139 games the past two years and could float around the outfield, backing up Pence in left and McCutchen in right. Manager Bruce Bochy also sees Jackson as a possible leadoff hitter.
“Right now, as we start the season, I think you’ll see Austin out in center field as much as anything,” said Bochy, noting that things could change if Duggar or someone else enters the fold. “We’ll see where we’re at when we break camp, but that’s a need for us out there in center.”
Bochy said he has been having fun thinking of different lineups and said he spoke about the newcomers with Buster Posey, who’s “pumped and excited” about his new teammates.
“If you had told me after the season we would’ve gotten this much done and added these players, I wouldn’t have been happier,” Bochy said. “I really like where we’re at. I love the guys we acquired on both sides of the ball and the character of these guys.
“I couldn’t feel better going into spring training.”

Friday, January 19, 2018

Steven Duggar starting in center

Now that the Giants have Andrew McCutcheon as a one-year rental, they've decided that he will play in one of the corner outfield spots. Steven Duggar, who was hurt last year, will probably start in center

Grant Bisbee at McCovey Chronicles says it makes more sense to use what little spending money is left on a fifth starting pitcher. Here's the key part --

 Bobby Evans confirmed it in an interview with Gary and Larry on KNBR on Wednesday.
“It wouldn’t be a guess, it would be Steven Duggar,” Evans said, when asked if he could make an educated guess about who would man the middle of the outfield if San Francisco didn’t add another player to its roster this offseason.
It’s possible to make a list of things that went wrong with the 2017 Giants that’s 100 deep before you get to Duggar getting hurt, but that’s on the short list of things that went wrong with the 2017 that are also affecting 2018. With a little better luck last year, Duggar could have received 200 at-bats and come into the season as the clear favorite. Or he could have at least wowed everyone with his glove and made us all feel less nervous about him being the offseason’s backup plan.
As it stands, though, he’s something of a mystery. He has a career .384 on-base percentage in the minors, but he’s played just 13 games above Double-A. Steamer projects him to hit .242/.315/.351, which isn’t ideal, but also not dreadful. It’s the kind of projected line that can make a team think it could do better.
Still, if the internal evaluations have Duggar as a plus-plus defender — not just a “yeah, sure, okay” defender, like Gorkys Hernandez — it wouldn’t be wacky to throw him into the fire. The Giants aren’t going to get a plus-plus defender who can hit if they want to stay under the luxury tax threshold, which means they aren’t going to get a plus-plus defender who can hit. If that’s already a foregone conclusion, and if they think Duggar can be that kind of defender, shouldn’t they just save the money? There’s at least a chance he can hit, after all.
This brings us to a larger point that probably deserves its own article: It’s possible the Giants would be better off spending money on a fifth starter than a stopgap center fielder. The Blach/Beede/Suarez trio with Jarrod Dyson makes me just as nervous as, say, Duggar and Chris Tillman. There are a lot of half-decent starting pitchers looking for work right now, and if the Giants can get one of them and stay under the luxury tax, they just might be a better team.
The idea would be to figure out if the difference between a name-brand fifth starter like Trevor Cahill and a will-work-for-exposure fifth starter like A.J. Griffin would be greater than the difference between Dyson and Duggar. This is the kind of conversation the Giants’ front office is having right now, and don’t be surprised if they come down on the side of the fifth starter.
It all depends on how good Duggar is, I suppose, and if the Giants would be patient with him through a slow spring training. But if you’re wondering what the team’s plan would be if Jarrod Dyson, et al go somewhere else, we already know that. It would be Steven Duggar. Depending on who would take the additional payroll room, this might be a good thing.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tyler Beede getting ready

He's the top pitching prospect for a team that developed Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner 

The Giants offered him and Joe Panik in a package for Giancarlo Stanton but Derek Jeter decided to trade Stanton to the Yanks instead 

 Here's part of the story on the Giants web site --

Rated the Giants' No. 2 prospect overall by MLB Pipeline, Beede might have received a promotion to San Francisco last year. But he was sidelined by a groin injury in late July.
Before that, Beede posted a 6-7 record with a 4.79 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Sacramento. He admitted that his seemingly impending ascent to San Francisco might have distracted him.
"If I had a good start, [I'd be] sitting there by the phone, waiting for a phone call. And that sort of got in my head," Beede said. "I think I needed to have a new perspective of why I was playing, my routine, my mindset. ... I think the injury put me in that new state of mind where you don't take it for granted where you're at."
When Beede does reach the Majors, he'll have the pointers he learned through the various seminars at the Rookie Career Development Program to guide him through his journey.
"It meant a lot," said Beede, who was selected by the Giants in the first round (14th overall) in the 2014 Draft. "I know how prestigious this is. I know how much you can learn from being here, the knowledge that they bring in on the panels and discussions for these meetings. It's great just to be a sponge, to learn things and implement them into my career, on and off the field. It's been awesome, and I've learned so much while I've been here."

Monday, January 08, 2018

McCutcheon not coming to SF

Grant Bisbee at McCovey Chronicles says it won't happen because of the emotional cost to Pirates fans

It is lengthy but it makes sense -- here is part

The third reason is the most important reason. It’s that the Pirates view McCutchen as something more than a 2.5-WAR player making $14.5 million in the last year of his contract. That is, he’s something more to them and their fans than a simple cost-benefit analysis, and they’ll want some prospects back. Imagine the Giants trading Buster Posey for three prospects who don’t rank in the Blue Jays’ top 10, and them coming back to explain, “See, here’s what Posey was owed, and here’s the WAR-based analysis of what he was expected to produce. We’d rather save the money.” You’d be furious.
If you think that’s an inappropriate comparison because Posey helped the Giants win three World Series, you’re mistaken. McCutchen helped the Pirates become relevant after two decades of being a punchline, and that counts for a helluva lot. There are logical reasons for the Pirates to trade him, but the emotional reasons for keeping him are much stronger. There would have to be something for the Pirates to bring back to their fans. This is why we had no choice, they would say. The chance to strengthen the future was just too great.
The Giants have no interest in strengthening someone else’s future, though, and that’s the biggest problem. They’ve already traded Christian Arroyo away, and they don’t have a lot of interest in trading Tyler Beede and/or Chris Shaw for a one-year rental. There is no emotional attachment to McCutchen, no franchise-building nostalgia. There is only an idea that the Pirates would prefer not to pay $14.5 million for a player while they slog through a purgatory season, only to lose him for a compensation pick, at best, so why wouldn’t they give him away for a couple of lesser prospects and save the money?
The two teams are looking for two different things, in other words. And unless the Pirates are looking only to save that money — possible! — it’s unlikely a trade will make sense. The Giants would probably rather spend the extra $25 million on Jay Bruce and keep the prospects, hoping that Bruce provided at least a little value in the years that followed. And the Pirates would probably rather keep McCutchen for a final victory lap, reminding their fans that they didn’t just ditch the expensive fan favorite for prospect flops this time, no sir.
Without the context, a trade makes sense. The Giants can spend over $10 million for a new corner outfielder. The Pirates don’t want to pay over $10 million for a corner outfielder if they’re half-in/half-out next season. Here’s a way for everyone to be happy.
Then comes the context. Do the Giants really view McCutchen as a corner outfielder? Would he even be okay with a transition? Why would the Pirates be that desperate for some of the lesser prospects in a lesser farm system? Why would the Giants trade some of their better prospects for a one-year rental, even if they’re committed for 2018?
None of it makes sense unless the Pirates are absolutely desperate to ditch the financial obligations. They could figure that $14.5 million and two lesser prospects in the hand are worth more than -$14.5 million and a compensatory pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, and that would make some measure of sense. That would ignore all of the emotional ties, though, which are legitimate and important. They want a haul. They probably won’t get a haul. Andrew McCutchen is staying put because of this, most likely.