Monday, December 5, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Giants Sign Mark Melancon

Leading up to the Winter Meetings, the Giants had one huge priority.  They had to come away with a frontline closer!  Anything less would have been a major psychological setback.  There were 3 frontline closer available on the FA market:  Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.  You might count Wade Davis as being a frontline closer available on the trade market, but the Giants could not afford to waste precious time on trade talks and risk coming up empty.  Chapman and Jansen have more dominant stuff and more dominant strikeout numbers than Melancon, but there are a whole host of reasons why getting either of them was a longshot.  Again, rather than waste time chasing Chapman and Jansen while some other team made off with Melancon, the Giants focused on him like a laser beam from the minute the Hot Stove was lit.  They brought him to SF they made no effort to hide that he was their guy.  They came to the Winter Meetings and closed the deal on day 1.

It wasn't fancy.  It wasn't brilliant from a wheel and deal perspective.  There were probably more imaginative ways the Giants could have solve their closer problem.  A GM like Billy Beane would almost certainly have not gone this route.  On the other hand, there is something to be said for understanding what your needs are, setting your priorities and then getting the deal done.  That type of focused efficiency and decisiveness is what has characterized the Bobby Evans era as GM.  He pulled if off again.

So yeah.  Mark Melancon was the guy the Giants had to get.  Yes, he's expensive at 4 yrs/$62 M.  Yes there is risk here.  No, the Giants had no other reasonable option.  There were plenty of "second tier" options out there, but all came with significant question marks.  After last season's bullpen debacle, the Giants could not afford a question mark in the closer role.  They had to fill with a no-doubter.  That was going to cost a lot of money. The Giants probably got the best deal out of the big 3.

The contract is structured similarly to Johnny Cueto with an opt out after two years.  Like Cueto, if you add in the signing bonus money, the contracts are frontloaded for the first 2 seasons making it more likely the player will choose to opt out.   I get the feeling that in both cases, the Giants are actually hoping they opt out after the 2 years so they are not stuck with the more risky back-end of the contracts, but that remains to be seen.

As for the rest of the Winter Meetings and Hot Stove League, the Giants are now in a position where they can be on the lookout for ways to improve the team, but don't have to do anything.  Evans has already said he probably will not be signing any more RP's except maybe a minor league deal or two.  As for LF, if the Giants feel they need a veteran with a track record in LF, I'm OK with that.  They know more about player evaluation than I do.  I'll just say as a fan, if they stand pat and go with Mac Williamson and/or Jarrett Parker, I'm more than OK with it.  They have  backup plans already in place as Eduardo Nunez could play LF with Conor Gillaspie taking over at 3B if they had to.  Austin Slater should be ready by midseason.  Steven Duggar might be.  They can also make a midseason trade if they  have to.

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The Dodgers agreed to terms with LHP Rich Hill for 3 years/$48 M.  If fully healthy for a full season Hill is worth every penny.  That is a big if as the 110 IP Hill pitched last season is the most since 2007 and just the second time in his career that he's topped 100 IP.  Last year, the Dodgers and Dave Roberts did a good job of splicing together a season out of a stable of injury prone pitchers, who…..were injured a lot!  We'll see if they can keep that magic going in 2017.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Yankees Sign Matt Holliday

The Yankees reportedly agreed to terms with Matt Holliday for $1 Yr/$13 M.  Silly me, but I kind of figured Holliday would get more in the $8-10 M range, and thought he might be an affordable 6 inning LF option for the Giants, so I obviously think this is an overpay.  On the other hand, as I've said many times, I'm not sure overpay is a relevant term in MLB anymore.  Holliday is expected to mostly DH for the Yanks and he seems like a bit of a downgrade on what they've been used to.  2017 will be Holliday's age 37 season and it's an OLD 37!  Maybe DH will help revive his career?

Anyway, a bit of a curious signing by the Yanks but it's just for 1 year.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Astros Sign Carlos Beltran

The Astros young core of hitters is decidedly RH:  Altuve, Springer, Correa, Bregman, Gattis.  That is quite a Murderer's Row of hitters, but they are all RH.  The Astros decided to spend the offseason balancing that core with veterans who bat left-handed.  They acquired Brian McCann and Josh Reddick and now add Carlos Beltran who switch-hits.

Beltran has had a remarkable career starting in 1998, 19 seasons.  His career slash line is .281/.354.492 with 431 HR and 312 SB's.  A true 5 tool player in his prime!  Giants fans may still have some hard feelings over a perception that Beltran may not have given 100% after an ill-fated deadline trade to the Orange and Black in 2011, but the man has been a terrific player for a long time.

Beltran's contract is 1 year/$16 M.  His last team, the Texas Rangers could not make a QO because they acquired him in a midseason trade with the Yankees.  His numbers in Texas were not as good a with the Yanks, possibly due to the absence of that short Yankee Stadium porch, but he is still an upgrade for the Astros lineup with the 1 years deal making it a minimal risk.  Great pickup by the Astros!

Scouting the 2017 Draft: Hans Crouse

Hans Crouse is a lanky RHP from Dana Point, CA.  PG did not have much of a scouting report, but he's hit 95-97 MPH consistently in tournaments.  At 6'4", 185 lbs with a thin frame, he will probably always be on the thin side, but his frame looks like it can handle 20-30 more pounds fairly easily.  There is some effort in his delivery with a late acceleration and a somewhat abrupt deceleration.  There was one pitch on one video where he dropped down and came in sidearm.  He has performed well in competition allowing just 1 hit with 11 K's in 7 IP against Cuba in the championship game of the 18U Pan American Baseball Classic.  He is committed to USC.

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Updated Draft Board:

1.  Jordan Adell, OF, HS
2.  Mark Vientos, SS, HS
3.  Hunter Greene, RHP, HS
4.  Tanner Houck, RHP, College(Missouri)
5.  Alex Scherff, RHP, HS
6.  JB Bakauskas, RHP, College(North Carolina)
7.  Jeren Kendall, OF, College(Vanderbilt)
8.  JJ Schwarz, C, College(Florida)
9.  Alex Faedo, RHP, College(Florida)
10.  Conner Uselton, OF, HS
11.  Hans Crouse, RHP, HS
12.  Royce Lewis, SS/OF, HS
13.  Tristan Beck, RHP, College(Stanford)
14.  Brandon McKay, LHP, College(Louisville)
15.  Hagen Danner, RHP, HS
16.  Alejandro Toral, 1B, HS

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Derek Norris to the Nationals; Giants Signings

With Wilson Ramos recovering from a torn up knee AND a free agent, the Nationals really had no choice but to move on.  That they did today with a trade of pitching prospect Pedro Avila for Padres catcher Derek Norris.

Norris is coming off a terrible season as the plate.  Yes, he hit 14 HR and stole 9 bases, both decent for a catcher, but oh, the slash line!  .188/.255/.328, 7.9 BB%, 30.3 K%.  That line comes with a BABIP of .238 so maybe there is room for positive regression, but Steamer projects a .225 BA for 2017.  A healthy Wilson Ramos he ain't!

The Padres get to unload Norris' salary and make room for Austin Hedges to take over as the starting catcher with Christian Bethancourt backing up when he is not pitching.

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D'Backs non-tendered catcher Welington Castillo who is now a FA and signed C Jeff Mathis.  Will Mathis or Herrmann but the starting catcher?  This one is a bit of a head scratcher and looks like a lot like a salary dump.

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Giants signed Ehire Adrianza to a $600 K MLB contract and a $300 K minor league deal.  Adrianza was out of options several years ago.  Does this mean he would not have to clear waivers if sent to the minors?

Giants also signed Cory Gearrin to a 1 year/$1.05 M deal.  I also read that George Kontos signed, but I do not have details.  Gotta think the Gearrin signing pretty much spells the end of Sergio Romo's Giants career, at least for now.

Hot Stove Update: Jaime Garcia to the Braves

The Braves have been extremely active this offseason acquiring several under-the-radar pieces which may make them more competitive in their new ballpark until the vanguard of their cadre of pitching prospects arrives on the scene.  The Cardinals have a surplus of veteran pitchers with several prospects trying to kick the door down, so they traded the talented, but oft-injured Garcia to the Braves for 3 prospects.

Garcia's ERA ballooned last year after a stellar 2015.  The culprit seems to be an unusually high HR/FB which may or may not regress in 2017.

10-13, 4.67, 171.2 IP, 2.99 BB/9, 7.86 K/9, 56.7 GB%, 20.2 HR/FB.

Garcia, Bartolo Colon and RA Dickey will round out a Braves rotation with Julio Tehran and Mike Foltynewicz.  Look for the 3 vets to be trade bait in July.

The Cardinals get...

RHP John Gant:  1-4, 4.86, 50 IP, 3.78 BB/9, 8.82 K/9.

RHP Chris Ellis(AAA):  4-7, 6.52, 67.2 IP, 6.92 BB/9, 8.65 K/9.

2B Luke Dykstra(A):  .304/.332/.363, 17 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 7 SB, 1.8 BB%, 9.1 K%.

Gant may be a long man out of the bullpen for the Cardinals.  Chris Ellis has some upside if he can ever cut the walks down.  The Cardinals will try to fix that.  Dykstra is the most interesting prospect here.  He is the son of Lenny.  As you can see, Luke is an extreme contact hitter with no power, zero.  He doesn't even hit many doubles!  Hey, a few players have made MLB careers out of that profile.  Matty Alou seems to the the top comp I could find.  He just has to keep on hitting .300 all the way to the majors.  I'm thinking the Cardinals see him as a player who with some work can eventually turn into something like Matt Carpenter.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thoughts on the New Collective Bargaining Agreement

Baseball fans breathed a sigh of relief as MLB and the MLB Player's Association came down to the wire but at the last minute agreed to a new CBA, thus averting any possibility of a strike or lockout for the next 5 years.  In some ways the changes to the CBA were less than anticipated while in other ways some very strong signals about the future of the game were sent.  Let's break it down with emphasis on how the new deal may affect the way the Giants conduct their business:

Competitive Balance(Luxury) Tax:  The threshold rises modestly to $195 M for 2017, escalating to $210 by the last season of the agreement, 2021.  The increase is perhaps not as dramatic as some teams may have hoped.  At the same time, MLB inches closer to a "hard cap" with increased penalties for exceeding the threshold which could reach 90% for teams that repeatedly exceed it by more than $40 M.  Brian Cashman of the Yankees had been particularly outspoken about how limiting to Luxury Tax is to their business plan.  Obviously, the Electoral College is not the only institution in the country where the biggest cities lose at the voting booth!  The Giants have as much committed money over the next 5 years as any team in baseball so this may significantly impact their flexibility on the free agent market and cause them to rely more heavily on their farm system over the next 3-5 seasons.  It may also impact how high they can go with a contract extension for Madison Bumgarner.

Roster Size:  After a lot of talk about 26 man rosters and limits on September roster expansion, rosters stay the same with 25 players for the first 5 months of the season and up to 40 for September.

International Market:  Commissioner Rob Manfred had lobbied hard for an international draft.  He didn't get it.  On the other hand, MLB got a "hard cap" on international bonus pools at $5 M for all teams.  Exemptions for Cuban players were tightened so now a Cuban player must be at least 25 years old and have 6 seasons experience in the Cuban Serie National to be exempt from the hard cap.  I expect these changes will lead the Giants to be more aggressive in the international market.  Q:  Will it be better to sign 1 or 2 players to $multimillion bonuses or 10 players at $500 K or 50 players at $100 K?  Verrry interesting that the MLBPA apparently found a "hard cap" on bonuses to be more palatable than a draft.  Is this perhaps a model for eliminating the domestic draft in 5 years?

Free Agent Compensation:  Teams will no longer lose any first round draft picks.  All teams will lose draft picks if they sign players who have rejected QO's but it will be a single 3'rd rounder for teams under the Luxury Tax threshold and a 2'nd and 5'th rounder for teams over the threshold.  Teams will only receive a draft pick if they lose a player who signs for over $50 M and the value of the pick will be variable depending on the size of the market the team plays in.  The Giants may be more willing to forfeit a couple of lower picks than a first round pick, but they are already going to be limited by increase penalties for exceeding the Luxury Tax threshold.  Don't expect to see many extra draft picks coming the Giants way over the next 5 years!

The Oakland A's get phased out of "revenue sharing" over the next 4 years.  Wow!  This is extraordinary!  How PO'd is the rest of MLB at the A's?  Just my opinion, but this totally exposes the hypocrisy of the A's and their frugal spending.  Obviously, the MBLPA didn't have much trouble convincing other owners that the A's are sandbagging the rest of the league and pocketing revenue sharing money instead of spending to improve the product on the field.  This is also a huge incentive for A's ownership to get off their butts and get a new stadium, and not in San Jose!

Incoming players to MLB will be banned from using smokeless tobacco while current players will be "grandfathered" in, allowing them to continue using.  This is a step in the right direction, but many current minor leaguers and even college and HS players chew.  If they can quit, why can't MLB players?  It will also be interesting to see how enforceable this rule is.

IMO, the big news here is the significant movement toward a "hard cap" on payrolls and perhaps the beginning of the end of the amateur draft.  The major impact for the Giants will likely be an increased reliance on the farm system and the international market for future talent.