Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Dodgers Sign Kenta Maeda

The Dodgers struck their second deal in 2 days, agreeing to a deal with Japanese RHP Kenta Maeda.  Terms of the deal are still murky with reports of a 5 years guarantee with options extending it to 8 years plus a lot of incentives.  One thing the deal means is we can stop buzzing about a 5 man LHP rotation as the Dodgers obviously did not sign Maeda to sit on the bench or pitch out of the bullpen.  The idea that they were going to go into spring training with Ryu coming off shoulder surgery was a non-starter anyway.

So, what do the Dodgers have in Maeda?  For one thing, he is a bit smaller than some of the previous Japanese hurlers who have posted and come to MLB in recent years.  His stat lines in Japan are clearly a tick below those of Tanaka and Darvish.  His closest comp, according to a Fangraphs analysis, is Kenshin Kawakami.  Let's just say Kawakami has not been very good for the Braves.  Maeda is not a particularly hard thrower averaging right about 90 MPH with the  FB.  His strength may be in his secondary pitches which feature tremendous downward movement on a slider and changeup.  Like almost all Japanese pitchers, he comes to a complete stop at the top of his windup just before delivering the ball.  This is a timing disruption device that helps their stuff play up more than you would ordinarily expect.

The typical history on Japanese pitchers in MLB is they perform great until the league has seen them a time or two after which they become more hittable.  They also pitch well as long as they are healthy, but most have had trouble with injuries possibly due to overuse during development in Japan and possibly due to the physical challenge of pitching every 5'th game for 6 months in MLB.

Overall, the additions of Kazmir and Maeda do not appear to be game changers for the Dodgers.  With the loss of Zack Greinke, their starting rotation is still less imposing than last year.  Compared to the Giants two signings of Cueto and Samardzija, the risks may not be much different, but Cueto/Samardzija have a much higher ceiling.  Of course the Giants paid a lot more for their signings, but hey, they had the stash of money and they had the swagger to flash it in the Dodgers faces.  So, the roles of big spenders vs penny pinchers are reversed at least for the time being.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #8 Josh Osich

Josh Osich, LHP.  DOB:  9/3/1988.  6'2", 230 lb.

AA:   0-1, 1.59, 34 IP, 9.00 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, 19 Saves.
AAA:  0-0, 0.00, 7 IP, 14.14 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, 2 Saves.
MLB:  2-0, 2.20, 28.2 IP, 8.48 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, GB/FB= 1.17.

I am not absolutely sure Josh Osich is still a prospect.  He definitely meets 2 of the criteria which is at least 50 IP and 130 AB's.  The other is less than 45 days on the active 25 man MLB roster not counting expanded rosters in September.  Not sure about that one.  By my count he has 43 days of non-September service time which puts him just under the wire.  BA lists him in their top Giants prospects list, so I decided to include him too.

Osich has always had good stuff.  In 2015, he finally got his walk rates under control and fast-tracked up from AA with a brief stopover in Sacramento.  He stepped right into the Jeremy Affeldt role of the lefty specialist who could go more than 1 inning if necessary.  In 35 appearances, he faced 1 batter 7 times and went more than 1 inning 6 times.  He features a hard FB that averages 95.7 MPH and tops out at 98, a cutter that goes 90-91 MPH and an excellent changeup that can be a wipeout pitch when it's working right.  The cutter and changeup enable him to attack RH batters as well as lefties.  He was actually slightly more effective against RH batters than lefties in his 2015 MLB stint.

Barring injury, which has been a problem for him in the past, Osich has a long future as a Jeremy Affeldt type reliever.  A bullpen spot with the Giants is his to lose in 2016.

Hot Stove Update: Dodgers Add Scott Kazmir

The Dodgers today agreed to terms with free agent LHP Scott Kazmir.  This signing comes as no surprise as Kazmir was one of the better pitchers left on the FA market and he has a history with Dodgers VP Andrew Friedman from back their Rays days.  The contract is for 3 years/$48 M or $16 M AAV.  Kazmir can opt out after 1 year.  So, if Kazmir opts out, the Dodgers would almost certainly give him a QO which would give them another draft pick if he leaves.  OK, let's see Dave Cameron spin THAT as being not team friendly!

A few commenters over on another Giants oriented website sound like they are about to go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge over this deal.  Really?  Kazmir has stretches where he is really good, but he also runs very hot and cold.  He was terrible down the stretch last year with an ERA of 3.94 in August and 6.52 in September.  In addition, while he had a shiny overall ERA of 3.10 last year, his FIP was 3.98 and his xFIP was 4.14.  His career ERA?  3.96.  In addition, Kazmir has had significant injury issues on and off throughout his career.

One novelty of this signing that has a lot of people buzzing is the prospect of a Dodgers rotation of 5 LHP's, Kershaw, Anderson, Kazmir, Wood and Ryu.  Apparently that is something that has never occurred before in MLB.  The Washington Senators had a 4-man rotation of all LHP's in 1954.  I assume there is a reason nobody has heard of any of them.  The Giants had a 15 game stretch in 1979 where they started all LHP's.  The starters in that short-lived 4 man rotation were Vida Blue, Rob Knepper, Phil Nastu and John Curtis.  The Dodgers of 1965 had 3 of 4 SP's left-handed and were the only team to start lefties in 100 or more games and win a championship.  The 3 lefties were  Koufax, Osteen and Podres.  The White Sox last year had 4 of 5 starting pitchers throwing from the south side of their bodies:  Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon, John Danks and Jose Quintana.  The ChiSox also had 4 lefties in their rotation in 2013:  Sale, Danks, Quintana and Hector Santiago.

I do not believe that handedness is a significant issue in the starting rotation.  Approximately 50% of the top 100 hitters in MLB by OPS either bat from the left side or switch-hit.  If the 5 best SP's available to you are all LHP's teams should not hesitate to run all 5 out there.  You do not mix and match starting pitchers.  You do not skip Madison Bumgarner's spot in the rotation because you are facing a righty-heavy lineup!  The Dodgers are not going to trade Julio Urias because they have too many LHP's!  Where handedness is important is in the bullpen where you want to be able to play matchups late in a game.  You need at least 2 LHP's in your bullpen and not more than 3.  The only situation where a 5 man lefty rotation might bite is if you run into a righty-heavy lineup in a postseason series.

In summary, as a Giants fan, I am not terribly worried about the Dodgers adding Kazmir, not because he is a LHP, but because he really isn't all that good.  Oh, and signing Marlon Byrd to be the RH platoon bat in LF just got a whole lot more likely!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #7 Adalberto Mejia

Adalberto Mejia, LHP.  DOB:  6/20/1993.  6'3", 195 lbs.

AA:  5-2, 2.45, 51.1 IP, 6.66 K/9, 3.16 BB/9.
AFL:  2-2, 3.48, 31 IP, 7.55 K/9, 4.06 BB/9.

Mejia has been working his way up the Giants organizational ladder since he was 17 years old and pitching in the DSL.  He got a late start on 2015 due to a 50 game suspension for use of a banned medication which is sold over-the-counter in the Dominical Republic as a weight loss agent.  What is more disturbing about that than the medication itself is the implication that he thought he needed to lose weight and thought that was a good way to do it.

He pitched successfully for AA Richmond after his return, albeit with pedestrian K and BB rates.  He was assigned to pitch in the AFL, got off to a rough start, but finished strong.  Over his last 3 starts he allowed 3 ER in 12.2 IP, with 13 K's and 4 BB's.  Over his last 2 starts he was even better with 2 ER in 9 IP with 8 K's and just 1 BB.

Mejia features a low 90's FB, a sharp slider and an average to below average changeup.  He is still learning to command the FB to both sides of the plate and is working on refining his secondary pitches.  He will likely be assigned to AAA Sacramento to start 2016 where he will compete with Chris Stratton to be #8 on the Giants SP depth chart behind Clayton Blackburn.

His ceiling is likely #3 SP with an ETA of Sept 2016 but probably mid-season 2017 before he sticks.

Hot Stove Update: Yankees Create a Monster Bullpen

In somewhat of a surprise move, the Yankees pulled the trigger on a trade for Aroldis Chapman despite an ongoing investigation into an allegation of domestic violence.  Apparently the Reds asking price in prospects finally got low enough that the Yanks just couldn't resist.  From a strictly baseball standpoint, the move makes a lot of sense for the Yankees.  All it costs them is 4 relatively low ceiling prospects.  While the outcome of MLB's investigation is not known, the worst case scenario, at least according to the commentators on MLB Channel, is if the suspension is for too long, it just delays Chapman's free agency for a year and the Yanks could get him for parts of two seasons including both postseasons.

Despite Brian Cashman's statements that the Yanks intend to keep all 3 pitchers, there is lingering thought that they might now trade Andrew Miller if they can get enough in return.  As it stands, the Yankees have taken the KC formula of taking the last 3 innings of the game away from a trailing opponent to an almost ridiculous extreme.  In Chapman, Miller and Dellin Betances, the Yanks not only have the 3 highest K/9's in MLB and the highest swinging strike percentages, but they have 3 closer quality pitchers who have demonstrated the ability to go more than 1 inning per appearance.  By mixing and matching, they can have at least 2 available almost every game or they can shut down a game with the lead after 4 innings if they decide they have to.  Of course, they have to get to the 5'th inning with a lead first, and it's not clear how often the Yankees starting rotation can do that.

We can't move on from the Yankees end of the trade without looking at the social aspects of the acquisition.  Leave it to the Yankees to use the unintended consequences of a policy that on the surface should be a huge negative into a winning situation for them.  In the process they exposed all kinds of flaws in MLB's new Domestic Violence policy to say nothing of their own hypocrisy on social issues.  Just for starters, how can a team that bans facial hair to maintain an organizational image, be OK with acquiring a player who is under investigation for domestic violence?  Even more disturbingly, the DV investigation and possible suspension lowered their acquisition price and may well enable them to control his contract for an extra year.  The Yankees were all too happy to take advantage of an ugly situation.  And what about the Dodgers?  Are they the chumps in this situation or the Good Guys?

As for the Reds, they were able to rid themselves of a player they no longer needed since non-contending teams don't need closers.  On the other hand, they got a rather paltry return on a trade that should have been a centerpiece of their rebuild.  Here's the breakdown of the prospects they got in the trade:

Tony Renda, 2B.  B-R, T-R, DOB:  1/24/1991.  5'8", 180 lb.

AA(Nationals):  .267/.333/.340, 1 HR, 13 SB, 8.3 BB%, 6.6 K%, 228 PA.
AA(Yankees):   . 270/.328/.372, 2 HR, 10 SB, 7.9 BB%, 7.9 K%, 304 PA.

Both these lines are from the Eastern League and look at those K rates!

Eric Jagielo, 3B.  B-L, T-R.  DOB:  5/17/1992.  6'2", 195 lbs.

AA:  .284/.347/.495, 9 HR, 7.3 BB%, 23.4 K%, 248 PA.

I liked him coming out of college, and he has some pop in his bat.

Rookie Davis, RHP.  DOB:  4/29/1993.  6'3", 235 lb.

A+:  6-6, 3.70, 97.1 IP, 9.71 K/9, 1.66 BB/9.
AA:  2-1, 4.32, 33.1 IP, 6,48 K/9, 2.16 BB/9.

Definite mid-rotation starter potential.

Caleb Cotham, RHP.  DOB:  11/6/1987.  6'3", 215 lb.

AA:  4-2, 2.77, 26 IP, 10.73 K/9, 2.77 BB/9.
AAA:  2-2, 1.74, 31 IP, 8.71 K/9, 1.45 BB/9.
MLB:  1-0, 6.52, 9.2 IP, 10.74 K/9, 0.93 BB/9.

Older bullpen arm.  Peripherals looked great despite the high ERA in a very SSS at the MLB level.

So there you have it.  All 4 of the prospects the Reds got in the trade have a good chance to contribute at the MLB level, but they had to be hoping for at least 1 high ceiling talent in return for Chapman, which they did not get.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

DrB's 2015 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #6 Clayton Blackburn

Clayton Blackburn, RHP.  DOB:  1/6/1993.  6'3", 230 lbs.

AAA:  10-4, 2.85, 7.24 K/9, 2.34 BB/9, GO/AO= 1.59.

Clayton Blackburn got himself in shape and lost his baby fat.  He had the top PCL ERA for qualified pitchers by a significant margin.  He did that in a league that does not generally favor pitchers with his statistical profile, dependent heavily on ground balls and command.  He got progressively stronger as the season went along improving his ERA every month and running up a 7-1 record with an ERA of 1.71 post All-Star Game.

Blackburn is currently likely #7 on the Giants SP depth chart behind Chris Heston, which means he will likely start the season in Sacramento barring a spring training injury.  People still question his ceiling, but if he can command his low 90's FB with sink, there is no reason he cannot become at least a #3 starter on a good staff.

ETA is 2016 depending on need in SF.

Do the Giants Need to Look for a Centerfielder Right Now?

Yesterday, Grant Brisbee of wrote a piece entitled "The Giants Need to Look for a Centerfielder Right Now."  In it, Grant rightly points out that Angel Pagan is not only coming off a terrible, injury plagued season, his second in a row, but 2016 is the final year of his contract.  Backup Gregor Blanco is currently penciled in as the starting LF, and he's going to be a free agent after 2016 too.  On top of all that, the 2016-2107 free agent class projects to be dismally weak at just about all positions, including CF, so if the Giants don't want to be stuck without a CF for 2017, they better be finding one now.

Someone posted a reference to that article in a comment yesterday, perhaps thinking Grant's thesis is something I disagree with.  In fact, I do not disagree!  CF is probably the shakiest position the Giants have going into 2016, and they have nothing there for 2017 other than possibly extending Gregor Blanco's contract.  I don't think they or anyone else thinks Angel Pagan will be back in 2017.  While I agree with the thesis of Grant's article, what the Giants NEED to do and what the CAN or WILL do are different things.  Let's start by taking a look at the current CF free agent crop:

Dexter Fowler put up nice numbers last year for the Cubs.  Dexter Fowler is also a career negative defensive CF and his 16 HR's with the Cubs would likely turn into single digits with the Giants due to park factors.  Do you really want the Giants to invest in a multiyear contract with THAT?

Denard Span is a fine CF when he is healthy.  He played 61 games last year and is coming of HIP SURGERY, for crying out loud!  Do you really think that is a better bet than Angel Pagan?

Austin Jackson is at least a slightly plus defender in CF, but he's basically stopped hitting.

Drew Stubbs hit under .200 in Coors Field last year and is currently a poor man's Justin Maxwell.

There may be something out there on the trade market:

Maybe the Giants could convince the Reds to include Billy Hamilton in their firesale for 2 or 5  top prospects?  The BoSox have at least 4 CF's, but no corner OF's and unclear needs in return.  Perhaps the Blue Jays might part with one of Kevin Pillar or Dalton Pompey?  The Marlins would probably trade Marcel Ozuna, but so far want MLB talent in return.  The Rays might part with either Desmond Jennings, who is also coming off an injury, or Mikie Mahtook.

So that is a summary of what the Giants CAN do.  It's not an inspiring list of options.  The other question is what they WILL do.  Bruce Bochy has said that Angel Pagan played much better in September when finally healthy coming off a DL stint.  Boch went on to say he considers Pagan his CF in 2016.  There is another report of a meeting the Giants management had before the Winter Meetings to set priorities.  Bochy reportedly told the higher-ups to give him another SP who could go 200 innings and he would sort out LF.  Notice he said he would sort out LF, not CF!

Lastly, let's look at the 2016/2017 class of FA CF's:  That list currently includes Blanco and Pagan plus Carlos Gomez, John Jay, maybe Cameron Maybin($9 M option), Colby Rasmus, Sam Fuld, Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp($13 M option), Craig Gentry and Peter Bourjos.  Is that class really all that much worse than the current one?

In conclusion, yes, the Giants do need to be looking for a CF now and the Giants probably know that.  The problem is options are unappealing and there does not seem to be much downside to waiting, possibly until mid-season 2016 or even into next offseason.

Monday, December 28, 2015

DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #5 Lucious Fox

Lucious Fox, SS.  B-B, T-R.  DOB:  7/2/1997.  6'2", 170 lbs.

Fox attended HS in the USA, but moved to his native Bahamas before his senior season to avoid the Rule 4 Draft and give himself a chance to make more money as an international signee.  Fangraphs had him ranked as the #3 international prospect while had him at #4.  His best tool, according to all scouting reports I've read is his speed which Kiley McDaniel called a "70" on a scale of 20-80.  Most scouts also think he will hit with gap power.  Scouts are split on his future power potential and whether he has the arm to stay at SS.  Based on Video I've looked at, he has a lean, athletic frame that appears to have significant room to fill out with a high probability that it will.  In other words, he is not skinny like Matt Duffy or say Johneshwy Fargas.

Based on the Giants willingness to forgo a top international signing for the next 2 years in order to sign him, I would say their scouts think highly of him.  In terms of absolute ceiling, he may have the highest of any current Giants position prospect.  I would say a probable ceiling is a .300 BA with 15-20 HRs and oodles of XBH's including double digit triples with 40 SB's.  He is probably a future CF.

Earliest ETA is 2020.  More likely 2021.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #4 Mac Williamson

Mac Williamson, OF.  B-R, T-R.  DOB:  7/15/1990.  6'5", 240 lbs.

AA:  .293/.366/.429, 5 HR, 3 SB, 8.6 BB%, 18.3 K%, 290 PA.
AAA:  .249/.370/.439, 8 HR, 1 SB, 11.5 BB%, 24.2 K%, 227 PA.
MLB:  .219/.235/.281, 0 HR, 0 SB, 0.0 BB%, 23.5 K%, 34 PA.
AFL:  .370/.442/.493, 2 HR, 1 SB, 12.8 BB%, 12.8 K%, 86 PA.

Williamson was drafted in 2012, round 3, #115 overall.  He as a slugging OF in college, but with a BA under .300, but his peripherals looked promising.  He looked like he might be on the fast track when he hit .292 with 25 HR's in his first full pro season for San Jose in 2013.  Unfortunately, he missed most of the 2014 season due to a torn UCL which ultimately required Tommy John surgery.  He was already a bit on the older side for a prospect, so had a lot of ground to make up in 2015.  He did his part by logging a total of 627 PA's between the 4 above listed stops and that does not count a 2 week mid-season stint on Team USA.

Big Mac would qualify as being at least a 4 tool player.  He hits, hits for power, has a cannon for an arm(at least before his TJ surgery) and catches the ball.  Although he'll never steal 20 bases which probably keeps us from counting running as a plus tool, he is not slow and can easily cover a conventional corner OF, but that probably limits him to LF in SF.

The Giants may yet add a LF to their offseason shopping cart, but as it stands now, their decision to go after pitching first, gives Mac an opening to grab the job in 2016.  Gregor Blanco is the nominal starter on the depth chart, but the Giants would prefer him to continue in a  4'th OF role and he will likely be needed for at least part of the season in CF.  That leaves an opportunity for one out of a trio of Kyle Blanks, Jarrett Parker and Mac to step up and take over the starting role.  Of those 3, Mac seems to me to have the top long term ceiling, so I am rooting for him to end up with the role by the end of the season.

As for what that ceiling is, I could see him putting up Pat Burrell type numbers with BA's between .240 and .270 with 30 dingers.  But what if he is a better hitter than that?  He has shown the ability to hit for higher average in the minors.  A .280-.300 BA with those 30 dingers would make him one of the top hitters in the game.  ETA is, of course, 2016.

I think you could make a reasonable case for any of my top 5 Giants prospects to be #1.  Big Mac might actually have the strongest case.  Not only does he have the high ceiling, but he is on the doorstep of the majors and he has performed well on the field at all levels.  The trifecta of prospect rankings!  The two negatives would be a question about whether his power is usable at the MLB level and his relatively advanced age.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #3 Phil Bickford

Phil Bickford, RHP.  DOB:  7/10/1995.  6'5", 205 lbs.

Rookie AZL:  0-1, 2.01, 22.1 IP, 12.9 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, GO/AO= 1.29.

Bickford is tall and wiry strong.  He has been on scouting radars since the 2013 draft when he was taken #10 overall out of HS by the Toronto Blue Jays.  He did not sign and pitched the 2014 season for Cal State Fullerton where he put up very respectable numbers as both a starter and reliever.  That summer, he wowed scouts at the Cape Cod League with a 98 MPH fastball while pitching in relief.  He also decided to withdraw from Cal State Fullerton and transfer to College of Southern Nevada, a JC that plays in a wood bat league.  You may remember a guy named Bryce Harper attending there.  Pitching in JC ball made him eligible for the 2015 draft a year earlier than if he stayed at CS Fullerton.

The Giants made him their first round selection in the draft, #18 overall.  They took it slow with him as he pitched just 22.1 innings with no appearance lasting longer than 3 IP.  Although his overall numbers are impressive enough, he really dominated over his final 3 appearances recording 18 of his 32 strikeouts against just 2 BB's in 8.1 innings of pitching.  Baseball America, in it's end of season draft report, ranked his fastball #3 in the entire draft.  It does not have as much velocity when he is starting, but he commands it well with excellent movement making it a swing and miss pitch.

It will be interesting to see how the Giants handle Bickford in 2016.  I could see them being aggressive and assigning him to San Jose, but they generally do that with pitchers who see post-draft action in Salem-Keizer.  They could also continue to take it slow and assign him to Augusta.  Between the two FA signings and a farm system stacked with quality arms, there is no need at upper levels to rush him.

His ETA for the majors is probably 2018 at the earliest with 2019 more likely.  His ceiling is #1 SP with #2 or #3 being his most likely peak.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Wish for a Giants Fan

MLBTR had a Christmas Day article about a 16 year old Cuban phenom named Lazaro Armenteros, and I've found my Christmas Wish and Giants New Year's Resolution all wrapped into one.  He's a 6'2", 205 lbs of fast twitch athlete. Here's a quote from an international scout:  "…a rare combination of dazzling speed, raw power and outfield arm strength."  Here is the one that hooked me:  "….reminiscsent of Willie Mays and Bo Jackson."  Well, gulp!  Do you know how long I've been waiting and hoping for the next Willie Mays?  And with Bo Jackson's size?  He even already has his own soccer style single name, Lazarito.  

The kid has an interesting story in that he grew up poor in Cuba, but in a family unit.  His father was 6'5" basketball player of some note.  He has played organized baseball with good on-field results.  Then he got shut out of organized baseball by the Cuban government, possibly due to suspected anti-government sentiment among family members.  He decide to defect.  He flew with his mother from Cuba to Ecuador, but was denied entry and sent back to Cuba.  He then flew to Russia and was again denied entry.  During a layover in Germany on the flight back to Cuba, he purchased a ticket to Haiti was was able to disembark there.  He then made his way to the Dominican Republic where he is reportedly working out 6 days per week in a secluded area of the country.  He is represent by the brother of the Hairston boys and has scheduled an exhibition on January 8.  Since he has yet to be declared eligible for the current international signing cycle, MLB scouts are not supposed to attend, but over 100 are expected to anyway.

He is applying for an exemption from the May 15 filing deadline due to circumstances beyond his control.  There is precedence for MLB granting such exemptions.  If it is granted, the Giants would have a chance to sign him.  If not, they will be limited to $300 K next year and have no chance.

There are several Cuban players still out there who are eligible to be signed this period including Jorge Ona, an OF who looks a lot like Yoan Moncada but bats exclusively RH.  There is also Yordan Alvarez a 6'4" B-L, T-R first baseman who looks a lot like Darryl Strawberry at the plate.  Jonathan Machado is a small B-L, T-L OF who is also eligible to be signed.  

The Giants are already over the penalty line for international signings for the current period. They still have to pay a 100% penalty for further signings, but do not get further penalties in terms of future signings, so they may want to maximize their haul this period.  I just know that if they do not end up signing "Lazarito" that Willie Mays reference will be just cruel!

I'll close with a reminder that you don't have to be a human toolshed to be a great player.  When asked about living up to his first year exploits, Matt Duffy gave this reply:  "I think it's human to think about that, but you just get back to what made me able to do it.  I wasn't worried about hitting .300 or hitting 10 homers.  I did it by focusing on the most simple thing:  See the ball as big as I can and put a good swing on it.  As soon as you think about other people's expectations, you lock yourself up trying to do the simplest things."  

That's from an article by Henry Schulman.

Gotta love it!  Matt Duffy!

Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday!

I'm busy with family stuff this morning.  I may post something late this afternoon or evening.  Hope everybody is having wonderful and safe day.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #2 Tyler Beede

Tyler Beede, RHP.  DOB:  5/23/1993.  6'4", 200 lbs.

High A:  2-2, 2.24, 52.1 IP, 6.36 K/9, 1.55 BB/9, GO/AO= 2.44.
AA:        3-8, 5.23, 72.1 IP, 6.10 K/9, 4.35 BB/9, GO/AO= 1.87.

Beede was the Giants first round draft pick in 2014, #14 overall.  2015 was his first full pro season.  Not only was High A a fairly aggressive placement, but the Giants and Beede reworked his entire pitching arsenal and his approach to hitters.  In college, he used the classic 3 pitch mix of 4-seam FB, curveball and changeup and was a big K pitcher.  For the first 2 months of the season, he reportedly threw exclusively two seam FB's and cutters.  Despite the new and limited repertoire, he dominated the California League combining an elite GB rate and BB/9.  I saw his last game for San Jose on 5/30.  In that game, he appeared to throw at least 5 pitches, 4-seam, 2-seam, cutter, curve and change.  The results were spectacular as he went 7 full innings, striking out 11 against just 1 BB in 7 IP.

He was promoted to AA Richmond which is generally a more favorable pitching environment than the California League.  He proceeded to pitch 7 more shutout innings in his first AA start and had a QS his second game.  He continued to get groundballs while striking out 10 batters in 13 IP over his first 2 starts.  He did give up 5 BB's in those two games.  The rest of the season was hot and cold, but he did turn in 7 QS out of 13 after his promotion and allowed 2 runs in 5 IP in his last start.

My theory has always been that he wore down physically in his first experience with the grind of pro baseball.  I had noticed a subtle but definite slippage in his command in the last 2 inning of that start in San Bernardino.  He also tended to issue his walks later in games.  Some of the scouting reports I've read this offseason confirm that he did wear down in Richmond and even lost weight.

I'll guess we see him back in Richmond to start the 2016 season. I expect he will be strong and back in command.  He'll have had an offseason to process the changes to his pitching approach and a chance to physically rejuvenate.  I am not going to worry about his second half until/unless we start seeing BB/9's above 4 again, although stamina is an important part of being an MLB SP.  I think he will build stamina with age and pro experience.

As for ETA, we could see him as early as September 2016, but more likely sometime mid-season 2017.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects: #1 Christian Arroyo

Christian Arroyo, SS.  B-R, T-R.  DOB:  5/30/1995.  5'11", 185 lbs.

High A:  .304/.344/.459, 28 2B, 2  3B, 9 HR, 5 SB, 4.6 BB%, 17.8 K%, 409 PA.
AFL:      .308/.360/.487, 3 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 1 SB, 4.7 BB%, 16.3 K%, 86 PA.

Arroyo is the Giants 2013 first round draft choice, #25 overall.  He was widely considered an overdraft due to a tools deficit.  But, the hit tool is widely considered the single most important of the big 5 and Arroyo can hit.  Everybody who has scouted him and written about it says he can square up a ball with the best of them.  He's got gap power with some pull HR power to boot.  He does not walk much, but when you are BABIPing at a .350 clip, why would you want to take a walk? The K% is maybe a bit on the high side, but I believe anything below 20% is solid.  As for the other 4 tools, they are all good but not great, with none being liabilities.

The other rap on him is most scouts don't think he is a SS although the Giants have shown that if the hit tool is working, it doesn't really matter where you play.

He will likely take on the big bad Eastern League next year at age 21.  I would expect some struggles and possibly some people jumping off the bandwagon like we saw with Joe Panik.  Just remember, the EL it one tough place to hit!  I'll consider the season a success if he hits .260 or better.  If he hits .300 again, then we really have something special here!

ETA to the majors is probably 2018 with a midseason or September callup in 2017 a possibility.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thoughts on Opt-Out Clauses

The Giants recently signed RHP Johnny Cueto to their first contract with a player containing an "opt-out" clause.  While the overall contract is for 6 years/$130 M, Cueto can "opt-out" and become a free agent after 2 seasons.  The way this generally plays out is if the player performs well for the first years of the contract, he can "opt-out" and essentially get himself a nice extension of the contract, presumably at a higher salary and for more years than what are left on the original contract.  On the other hand, if he plays poorly, the team is stuck with the bad contract for the entire length of the contract.  So far in MLB, there have been only a handful of these types of contracts.  ARod and Zack Greinke are examples of players who opted out and got much bigger deals.  I can't think of any examples of players not opting out.  If Barry Zito's contract contained an opt-out, he almost certainly would have stayed with his original contract.

It is easy to conclude that opt-outs are exclusively player friendly as they put all the risk on the team and none of the upside.  I am sure most Dodger fans would heartily agree with that notion.  They would much rather have Zack Greinke for the last 3 years of his original contract than the financial flexibility the team received when he opted out.  In the wake of the recent Jason Heyward contract and the Cueto contract, a new line of thinking has emerged claiming benefit in the opt out for the clubs.  The thinking goes that if the player performs well enough to opt out, that is good for the club and if the club does not extend the contract and the players leaves via free agency, the club is off the hook for the riskiest part of the contract, the final 2-3 seasons, and can then use the money they would have spent on that player for a younger player with less risk.  A veritable war of words has erupted on the internet with different writers taking opposite sides of the argument.  Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has possibly been the most outspoken on the side of opt-outs being 100% bad for the teams and 100% good for the players.  Let's take a closer look at Johnny Cueto's contract as I believe it contains proof that the Giants actually like the op-out clause and want him to exercise it after 2 years.

Cueto's contract calls for a $5 M signing bonus with a first year salary of $15 M then $21 M/year for the next 5 years with a $22 M team option in the 7'th year with a $5 M buyout.  Here's the kicker:  The $5 M buyout gets paid as a bonus if he opts out after 2 years!  Let me repeat that:  The Giants are offering Johnny Cueto a BONUS to opt out!  The only reasonable conclusion is the Giants want him to perform well for 2 seasons then want him to opt out of the contract freeing them from the final 4 years when he is older and possible not as effective.  But, you say, what if he pitches poorly and does not opt out?  The Giants are on the hook for the entire contract.  Well, they are on the hook for the entire contract with or without the opt out anyway, so there is no downside there!

The other thing to consider is that the opt-out clause probably saves the team money on the overall contract.  Think of it this way:  The Giants knew that Cueto was negotiating with the Dodgers for approximately the same amount of total money, except with no opt-out clause.  The Giants really wanted to sign Cueto, not only to add the best pitcher left on the market, but to keep the best pitcher left on the market away from the Dodgers.  There were 2 ways to do that:  1.  Outbid the Dodgers on a straight 6 year contract or 2.  Offer him the opt-out clause.  Yes, if Cueto pitches poorly the Giants are stuck with the entire $130 M on the contract, but they would still be stuck, and for more money, without the opt-out!

In conclusion, the one risk to the team on the opt-out is that, like the Dodgers with Zack Greinke, they lose a good player they may not be able to replace at any cost or pay more to keep him. The benefits of the opt out are 1.  The overall risk of the contract is probably lower due to the opt-out and 2.  They get the likely best years of the contract or the top surplus value.  While the opt-out is definitely player-friendly, it is not entirely team-unfriendly which is why teams are willing to sign these deals.  The proof that the Giants see it that way is the $5 M bonus they will give Johnny Cueto to opt out of the contract after 2 years.  The Giants WANT Johnny Cueto to opt out of the contract after 2 years!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Down on the Farm: DrB's 2016 Giants Top 50 Prospects

OK, enough kicking this around.  I could work on it another two weeks and have 14 different rankings.  Remember, don't get too hung up on the order here.  The most important part of the exercise is getting to know the Giants prospects better.  This was a tough one to rank.  What the Giants lack in top end talent, they more than make up for in depth  I am quite sure there is at least one name in the Honorable Mention category who will make a fine major leaguer someday.  On with the list!

1.  Christian Arroyo, SS
2.  Tyler Beede, RHP
3.  Phil Bickford, RHP
4.  Mac Williamson, OF
5.  Lucious Fox, SS
6.  Clayton Blackburn, RHP
7.  Adalberto Mejia, LHP
8.  Josh Osich, LHP
9.  Chris Shaw, 1B/OF
10.  Austin Slater, 2B/OF
11.  Chase Johnson, RHP
12.  Sam Coonrod, RHP
13.  Andrew Suarez, LHP
14.  Jordan Johnson, RHP
15.  Aramis Garcia, C
16.  Ray Black, RHP
17.  Rodolfo Martinez, RHP
18.  Jarrett Parker, OF
19.  Chris Stratton, RHP
20.  Mikey Edie, OF
21.  Johneshwy Fargas, OF
22.  Jalen Miller, SS
23.  Kyle Crick, RHP
24.  Joan Gregorio, RHP
25.  Matt Gage, LHP
26.  Hunter Cole, OF
27.  Ryder Jones, 3B
28.  Jonah Arenado, 3B
29.  Miguel Gomez, C/3B
30.  Michael Santos, RHP
31.  CJ Hinojosa, SS
32.  Ronnie Jebavy, OF
33.  Steven Duggar, OF
34.  Ian Gardeck, RHP
35.  Jake Smith, RHP
36.  Derek Law, RHP
37.  Ty Blach, LHP
38  Rando Moreno, SS
39.  Dan Slania, RHP
40.  Martin Agosta, RHP
41.  Christian Jones, LHP
42.  Jose Reyes, RHP
43.  Jason Forjet, RHP
44.  Jose Vizcaino, Jr, 3B
45  Deiyerbert Bolivar, LHP
46.  Logan Webb, RHP
47.  Mac Marshall, LHP
48.  Steven Okert, LHP
49.  Kelvin Beltre, SS
50.  Gustavo Cabrera, OF

Honorable Mention:  Matt Lujan LHP, Mitch Delfino 3B, Tyler Mizenko RHP, Mark Reyes LHP, DJ Snelton LHP, Patrick Young RHP, Nolan Riggs RHP, Ryan Halstead RHP, Cory Taylor RHP, Dominic Mazza, LHP, Luis Pino RHP, Tyler Brown 2B, Dillon Dobson 2B/1B, Kendry Melo RHP, Dylan Brooks RHP, Jack Snodgrass LHP, Daniel Carbonell OF, Hak-Ju Lee SS, Phil McCormick LHP, Ricky Oropesa 1B, Carlos Diaz LHP, Tyler Rogers RHP, Ty Ross C, Seth Harrison OF, Tyler Horan OF, Brian Ragira 1B/DH, Angel Villalona 1B, Tyler Cyr RHP, Dusten Knight RHP, Eury Sanchez RHP, Dylan Davis OF, Christian Paulino OF, Grant Watson LHP, Fernando Pujadas C, Julio Pena OF, Byron Murray OF, Jean Angomas OF, Jose Morel RHP, Matthew Pope RHP, Stetson Woods RHP, Kleiber Rivas C, Cody Brickhouse C, Kevin Rivera 2B, Nathanael Javier 3B, Hector Santiago SS, Trevor Brown C.

Dominican Dandies:  Manuel Geraldo SS, Victor Concepcion RHP, Sandro Cabera LHP, Melvin Adon RHP, Francisco Medina 3B, Sandro Fabian OF, Mecky Coronado, C/DH, Jesus Tona C, Beicker Mendoza OF, Jose Patino OF, Jose Rivero SS, Brayan De Pena OF/1B, Hengerber Medina RHP, Juan Rodriguez OF, Luis Amaya, LHP.

Did I leave anyone out?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Down on the Farm: Another Community Ranking

OK, we got great comments from our ranking of several pitching prospects.  Let's turn our attention to the OF where the talent is thinner but maybe no less interesting.  Rank these OF prospects with any comments/rationale you may offer:

Jarrett Parker
Hunter Cole
Johneshwy Fargas
Ronnie Jebavy
Steven Duggar
Mikey Edie

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Thoughts on Ryan Vogelsong

I've written a lot about Ryan Vogelsong over the past 5 years.  Hopefully this won't be the last time I write about him, but it might be for awhile.  Vogey's magical 5 year run with the Giants officially came to an end with the announcement of his free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the only other major league team he has ever played for and which also happens to be in his home state of Pennsylvania.

You all know the story as well as I do, so I am not going to bore you with a chronological review of one of the more remarkable stories in Giants and MLB history.  Instead, I will relate one game that will always stand out in my mind as a microcosm of Vogey's Giants career then review a few highlights.  It was his first season in 2011, when I was still trying to figure out what he was all about and still trying to figure out if he was for real or not.  I don't remember all  the details of the game, so I may not get the story exactly right.  I am going to tell it as I remember it.  It was a road game in either Cincinnati or St. Louis, but I think Cincinnati.  It was a brutally hot day game at the end of a long road trip.  The whole trip had been steamy hot and the Giants were wilting.  The bullpen was overworked and the Giants needed a starter to get deep into the game, a seemingly unlikely event under the conditions.

Ryan Vogelsong started the game and had a rough first two innings, throwing a lot of pitches and giving up a run or two.  His uniform was already soaked and it looked like he might have no more than 1 or 2 more batters left in him.  He had set up his "office" in the corner of the dugout with his water bottle and spot for his glove on a towel.  He quickly ducked into the clubhouse to change his shirt then stood at his "office" continuing to towel off and gulp water.  He had a LOOK on his face.  I will never forget that LOOK.  The Giants were able to extend their half of the inning long enough for him to cool off.  Voglesong came back out and proceeded to pitch inning after inning.  I don't remember if the Giants won the game or not.  I just know that Vogey saved the bullpen and it sure FELT like they won the game! That was one of the gutsiest pitching performances I've seen as a Giants fan and we've see a lot of those over the past 5 seasons.

Now, some highlights:

The story of how Vogey was offered a minor league contract by the Dodgers and begged his VWL catcher, Guillermo Rodriguez to put in one more word for him with the Giants because he didn't want to be a Dodger.  Man, THAT story never gets old!

The first Standing O as he came off the field after another Better Than Quality Start at AT&T Park with his wife, Nicole, in the crowd in tears.

Bruce Bochy naming him to the All-Star team in 2011 then inexplicably not letting him pitch.

16 consecutive Quality Starts in 2012.

Going 3-0 while allowing just 3 ER in 24.2 IP in 4 postseason starts in 2012 including 2 elimination games.

The Rally Enchiladas!

A total of 9 postseason appearances with the Giants winning all 9 of those games.

Asking Brandon Belt, "What are you doing?!" when Belt obliviously sat in Matt Cain's bench spot during Cainer's Perfect Game.  Belt replying, "I don't know!"

The nickname "Vogelstrong."

The flaring nostrils.

The 2011 Willie Mac Award.

And here's what makes me happiest about Ryan Vogelsong's tenure with the Giants.  You know, a lot of players make a whole lot of money in this game, but a lot more leave the game with nothing.  Nothing!  If anyone deserves to get some financial security from the game, it's Ryan Vogelsong and his family.  The Giants signing him to that minor league contract in 2011 enabled Vogey to earn almost $20 M by the time he finishes his current contract with the Pirates.  He was also one of the original investors in the Marucci sports equipment company which gives him additional financial security.

Lastly, I do hope, when his playing career is finally over, Ryan Vogelsong takes time to write down his story.  I still think it would make a very nice movie.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Down on the Farm: Thoughts on Community Ranking

So out of 17 responses to my request for a community ranking of 5 "second tier" pitchers in the Giants farm system, Sam Coonrod got 7 first place votes while Chase Johnson was a very close second with 6.  Chris Stratton got one vote from someone who values proximity to the majors over ceiling.  Andrew Suarez got one vote from someone who is impressed by his first pro performance and his combination of stuff and polish.  Jordan Johnson got one vote from someone who saw him pitch for San Jose and came away impressed with his stuff.

I find the Coonrod/Chase Johnson comp to be fascinating.  They are quite similar pitchers in that they throw their FB's in the mid-high 90's, both have has bouts of command issues and both pitched very well last year.  The big difference in my mind is that Chase Johnson pitched successfully in AA while Coonrod spent all season in Low A ball with 1 successful appearance for San Jose in the Cal League playoffs.  In running through a mental Giants top 50 prospect list after the minor league seasons were finished, I always had Chase Johnson ahead of Coonrod for that very reason, level of play.

The interesting thing is, Coonrod has been ranked higher on several Giants prospect rankings this year, generally polling in the #5,6 slots while Chase Johnson seems to be well below the top 10.  Yet, in our community poll, Johnson only got one less vote than Coonrod.  I guess my vote makes it even-Steven.   Several of the people who voted for Coonrod stated that they did so, at least in part, on the basis of the already published rankings.

So, why does Coonrod get ranked so highly by several national prospect evaluators, our community tends to rank them at least equally with about half ranking Johnson higher?  I honestly do not know the answer, but will put forward a few theories:

1.  The national rankers may have access to better, more in depth information from scouts and coaches who see something we do not see that separates Coonrod from Chase Johnson and the other 3 pitchers we ranked.

2.  Coonrod was much better known nationally prior to his draft than Johnson was before his, so even though Johnson was picked in a higher round, Coonrod may be better known to national writers.

3.  We, here in the When the Giants Come to Town community may actually know the Giants farm system and prospects better than the national writer.  That is because we follow the progress of Giants prospects on a game-by-game basis.  Some of us have seen some of these guys play in person, which definitely gives you a different perspective.  We also read everything we can get or hands and eyes on about Giants prospects.

4.  Maybe there are two separate groupthinks going on?  I believe there is a lot of copycatting that goes on between national prospect watchers, either because they have the same sources or they read each other and are influenced as such.  On the other hand, people like me, Covechatter, Shankbone and ogc tend to have a similar outlook and also read each other's stuff.  Maybe we tend to have the same circle of readers and generate our own groupthink?

I am not sure how my final rankings will shake out.  As I have said many times, don't get too hung up on exact rankings.  The important thing here is the Giants have at least 5 very impressive second tier SP prospects each one of whom has a reasonable case to be the highest ranked of the group.  As I said earlier, I definitely lean toward Chase Johnson here as a guy with essentially equivalent stuff who has succeeded at a higher level while the other guy still has to reach that level.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Down on the Farm: Community Ranking

Hey team!  Help me out with some relative rankings here.  Please tell me how you would rank the following pitching prospects:

Chris Stratton
Chase Johnson
Jordan Johnson
Sam Coonrod
Andrew Suarez

Please add any comments or rationale for your rankings.

Hot Stove Update: Todd Frazier Traded to ChiSox, Dodgers Get In On Action

There was nothing terribly unusual about the Reds trading Todd Frazier for 3 prospects.  You pretty much knew they were going to do that this winter.  The odd part of this trade is the Dodgers trading 3 prospects for 3 prospects to make it a 3-way….well….apparently just for the sake of getting in on the action!  Here's a breakdown of who gets what:

White Sox get 3B Todd Frazier:  This moves Brett Lawrie to 2B and give the 'Sox another big bat.  It's not clear this moves the needle much in terms of contention for them, but it does appear to upgrade 2 positions.

Reds get 2B Jose Peraza, 3B/OF Brandon Dixon, OF Scott Schebler:  These players come from the Dodgers.  It's not clear why the Reds liked this group better than the 3 prospects who went to the Dodgers, but it's interesting they did, yet the Dodgers apparently liked the 3 ChiSox prospects better than this group.  Peraza is a speedy 2B with no power who came to the Dodgers in one of the trades with the Braves.  Dixon has shown some promise with the bat but has had trouble getting over the hump in AA.  Schebler has power and hit fairly well in a September callup with the Dodgers.

Dodgers get 2B Micah Johnson, OF Trayce Thompson, RHP Frankie Montas:  This ends up being essentially 3 separate straight up prospect-for-prospect trades for the Dodgers with 2B Peraza for 2B Johnson, OF Schebler for OF Thompson and RHP Montas for 3B/OF Dixon.  The first two appear to be washes.  I don't know much about Dixon but Montas is a hard thrower with some command issues who appears to be close to ready to pitch in a MLB bullpen.  The Montas for Dixon leg of the trade probably makes it a marginal win for LA.  Again, why on Earth did the Reds not just take the 3 kids from the White Sox and call it a trade?  And what on Earth are the Dodgers doing noodling around with marginal prospect trades like this when they still haven't come close to replacing Zack Greinke?

We'll give the White Sox a B on this one, the Dodgers a C+ and the Reds a C-.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Is Cueto + Samardzija a Better Deal Than Price or Greinke?

Since the Giants were believed to be in the market for David Price and Zack Greinke, it is reasonable to ask the question, would they be better off with either of those two contracts than with the two players they ended up with, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija?  Of course, it may not be strictly either/or.  The Giants might have signed a second pitcher after a Price or Greinke signing, or they may have gone after the trade market, but given the likely limits of their internal budget, it's a good bet that either Price or Greinke would have ended up as their only major additions.  So let's break it down:

WAR seems to be the closest approximation to player value we have right now.  It's not perfect, but it works close enough that it is reasonable currency for comparisons of deals like this.  So let's look at the contracts:  The contracts are not strictly comparable, because they are for different lengths with different details such as opt outs.  We'll just use Total Cost and AAV as shorthand for the size of investment and assume parallel aging curves for all 4 pitchers.  We will compare the value of each pitcher by last year's fWAR, last 3 year's average fWAR's and next year's Steamer projected fWAR's:

David Price:

Total Contract:  $217 M
AAV:                $31 M
2015 fWAR:     6.4
3 Yr Avg fWAR:  5.6
2016 Steamer:  5.0
Projected Cost/fWAR:  $6 M

Zack Greinke:

Total Contract:  $206 M
AAV:  $34.3 M
2015 fWAR:  5.9
3 Yr Avg fWAR:  4.6
2016 Steamer:  4.2
Projected Cost/fWAR:  $8.2 M

Cueto + Samardzija:

Total Contract:  $220 M
AAV:  $39.6 M
2015 fWAR:  6.8
3 Yr Avg fWAR:  6.2
2016 Steamer:  5.9
Projected Cost/fWAR:  $6.7 M

There are other caveats to be aware of such as the replacement production and cost of 2 pitchers for the Giants vs the BoSox and D'Backs, but really, that all approximately balances out, at least in my mind.  The current approximate average market cost/fWAR is around $8 M.  It appears the D'Backs paid full cost for Greinke's projected production while the BoSox and Giants got slightly below market rates.  The Giants end up with the best absolute production regardless of cost.

How about risk?  The Giants spread their risk over two pitchers.  While it is more likely for 1 pitcher to get injured than 2 pitchers, it is more likely for 1 of 2 pitchers to get injured than 1 pitcher by himself.  The Giants have less risk of a total loss and a greater risk of a partial loss on the contracts.

The other factor is had the Giants ended up with just one top tier pitcher rather than 2 second tier pitchers, they still would have had 3 big question marks making up 3/5's of their rotation.  They really needed that second pitcher to push one of those questions marks into the bullpen.

In summary:  The Giants appear to have maximized their projected absolute production for a reasonable cost(in today's market) while decreasing their risk of a total loss at the cost of increasing their risk of a partial loss.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Johnny Cueto Agrees to Contract With the Giant

Bobby Evans threw down a challenge for himself at the postseason press conference this year when he responded to a question about the Giants keeping up with the Dodgers, particularly their pitching rotation.  He responded by saying the Giants goal was to have a better rotation than the Dodgers!  Well, Bobby Evans may have just made good on that promise today with the signing of Johnny Cueto to a 6 year/$130 M contract.  BTW, the deal is slightly front loaded and has an opt out clause after 2 years.  More on that later.

Up until a midseason trade to the KC Royals, Johnny Cueto was every bit the ace that David Price and Zack Greinke were, maybe more so.  If I am not mistaken, his ERA+ for the preceding 4 seasons was better than Greinke's.  He was the runner up for the Cy Young award in 2014.  Then, Cueto missed a couple of games with a hiccup in his arm and he struggled after his trade to KC.  Thing is, he was throwing just as hard as he always has with a FB that has averaged right around 92 MPH for the past 5 seasons.  I've forgotten where I read it, but there is an account of a meeting that took place in the KC clubhouse between Cueto, Ned Yost, the KC Pitching Coach and GM Dayton Moore.  Management wanted to know what was wrong.  What happened to the ace pitcher they thought they traded for?  Was he hurt and not reporting it?  Was there a personal issue?  Cueto is apparently a shy guy despite his apparent bravado on the mound.  At first he was not forthcoming about what was bugging him, but as the meeting went on, it came out that he was not digging the way catcher Salvador Perez was holding his glove.  Once they figured that out, they set about fixing that for him and his pitching improved.  Not sure I'm completely buying that story since Cueto struggle in a couple of postseason games, but whatever the problem, fears were quieted in a big way with his CG 2-hit job in Game 2 of the World Series.

Cueto has had several oblique strains along the way including the first inning of a playoff game between his Reds and the Giants in 2012.  Another note I read today said his injury in 2015 was a lat strain rather than a joint issue in either his elbow or shoulder.  In a way, that is encouraging, but lat and oblique strains have a tendency to recur and can be excruciatingly slow to heal.  So, there is risk in this contract too, which is probably why Cueto did not command anything close to the gigantic deals signed by Price and Greinke.

With this deal, you have to think the Giants rotation is set for 2016.  They have a nice 1,2,3,4,5 in Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Peavy and Matt Cain.  They have Chris Heston penciled into the long relief/swingman/6'th starter role.  They have Clayton Blackburn appearing to be ready in AAA.  You have to think this closes to door for Mike Leake to come back and probably closes the door on the pitching portion of the Hot Stove League for the Giants.  They had to add two reliable starters, and while no pitcher is 100% reliable, these two guys are as close as they come.

This signing probably also closes the door on a major OF deal involving Cespedes, Upton or Gordon,  which is fine with me. I have always believed the Giants most urgent need was to stabilize and upgrade the starting rotation.  They may add a minor piece in the OF or they may try to swing a trade of minor league arms for an OF, but they also may just figure the pitching is now good enough that they can roll with what they have in the OF and take a chance on Kyle Blanks, or Jarrett Parker and/or Mac Williamson to stand in the gap if someone gets hurt again.

Back to the opt out clause.  At first glance, the Giants take on the full risk of the opt out.  If Cueto pitches well, he opts out and either costs a whole lot more, or he leaves.  If he pitches poorly, the Giants are stuck for 4 additional years.  There is another way to look at it, though.  If Cueto pitches up to his 4 year average, he will earn surplus return on the contract over the next two years, opt out and someone else will be on the hook for the back end of the contract.  On the other hand, ask the Dodgers how they are feeling about that way of looking at it right now!

Speaking of the Dodgers, where does this leave them?  Is is just me or do they seem shellshocked after losing Greinke then having the Chapman trade blow up in their faces?  Maybe they are just playing possum and have a ace in the hole up their sleeve?  Maybe they are working on trading their farm system for Chris Sale or Jose Fernandez?  Doesn't seem all that likely.  Even if they do, does it leave them any better off than they were last year? And even if they did, it would be at the cost of stripping their vaunted farm system.

In addition to making good on his promise at the postseason presser, Bobby Evans may have just driven a stake in the heart of the Dodgers.  For that, I'm calling him the Executive of Year in the 2015/2016 Hot Stove League! Of course, that could change by March, but it's looking mighty good right now!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Shhh….Kyle Blanks Is Not As Sound Asleep As You Think

I guess I could have entitled this post Don't Sleep On Kyle Blanks!  You see, Kyle Blanks is what some folks might call a deep sleeper…..OK, you get the idea.  The Giants signed Kyle Blanks to a minor league contract practically the same day the Hot Stove got lit, early this offseason.  You may remember Blanks from his days as a SD Padre.  Yeah, that guy!  Here's the vitals on Kyle Blanks:  29 yo, B-R, T-R, 6'6", 265 lbs.  Yes, you read that right, 265 lbs.!

I'm not going to bore you with a recitation of his minor league career.  Instead, I'll just post his career minor league numbers:  .303/.392/.518, 102 HR, 2202 AB.  Yep, those are mighty good offensive numbers there.  What about his MLB record?  To get a full appreciation of who Kyle Blanks is and where he stands in his career, I think you need to see the progression of his numbers over the years since he made his MLB debut in 2009.  Keep in mind that he has suffered multiple injuries over the years which have contributed to his relative lack of playing time:

2009(Padres):  .250/.355/.514, 10 HR, 10.5 BB%, 32.0 K%, 172 PA.

2010(Padres):  .157/.283/.324, 3 HR, 12.5 BB%, 38.3 K%, 120 PA.

2011(Padres):  .229/.300/.406, 7 HR, 8.4 BB%, 26.8 K%, 190 PA.

2012(Padres):  6 PA.

2013(Padres):  .243/.305/.379, 8 HR, 6.8 BB%, 27.6 K%, 308 PA.

2014(2 Teams):  .309/.409/.436, 2 HR, 12.1 BB%, 24.2 K%, 66 PA.

2015(Rangers):  .313/.352/.522, 3 HR, 5.6 BB%, 28.2 K%, 71 PA.

MLB(Total):  .241/.322/.416, 33 HR, 933 PA.

2016(Steamer):  .255/.320/.432.

I've seen some comments that Blanks is this year's Justin Maxwell.  That is definitely a comp you might think of at first glance.  For comparison's sake, here are Justin Maxwell's MLB totals and his 2016 Steamer projection:

MLB(Total):  .220/.303/.399.

2016(Steamer):  .229/.291/.383.

Pretty big difference there.  Of course, Maxwell had the added advantage of being able to play a passable CF while Blanks is pretty much tied to 1B and LF.  Blanks is, however, an average to slightly above average fielder at those 2 positions by UZR metrics.  One other comp you may be wondering about is K rates.  Although career wise, there is not much difference with Maxwell at 31.1% vs 29.5 % for Blanks, you can see that Blanks has not had a K rate above 30% since 2010, while Maxwell's 27.7% last year was his lowest in several years.  In fact, since 2010, the difference is 30.9% for Maxwell and 27.1% for Blanks.  Overall, I think you have to say Blanks is the better hitter of the two by a significant margin.

One Fangraphs writer likes Blanks as a RH platoon bat.  He threw out this comp vs LHP's 2013-2105:

Kyle Blanks:  .294/.370/.519, OPS= .889 in 160 AB.

Matt Holliday:  .289/.419/.467, OPS= .886 in 315 AB's.

BTW, Blanks has hit .300 or better against both RHP's and LHP's the past 2 seasons albeit in a SSS.

So, what's the take home message of all this?  The Giants may have their LF masher with average defense sitting right under their noses for the price of a minor league contract.  Add in that they also have Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson who also deserve shots at the role, they may not need a LF as badly as some analysts are thinking.  Of course, Blanks needs to stay healthy to fill that role, which has been a challenge for him.

The keys for Blanks are 1.  Staying healthy  2.  Getting a chance to play.

With Buster Posey needing to play 1B in about 20-30 games to save his legs, barring injury to Brandon Belt, Kyle Blanks needs to pray the Giants don't bring in a high priced LF.

Fantasy Focus: 2016 Impact Rookies- Tyler Glasnow

Tyler Glasnow, RHP.  6'7", 200 lbs.  DOB:  8/23/1993.

Tyler Glasnow was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in round 5 of the 2011 draft out of HS.  He did not play pro ball that year and started out in rookie ball in 2012 with a line of 0-3, 2.10, 34.1 IP, 10.49 K/9, 4.19 BB/9.  He was able to overcome a high walk rate with double digit K/9 and a low BABIP of .203.

He moved up to low A ball for 2013 and increased both his K and BB rates:  9-3, 2.18, 111.1 IP, 13.25  K/9, 4.93 BB/9.

He regressed both his K and BB's to near his rookie ball numbers in High A in 2014 while putting up a sub 2.00 ERA:  12-5, 1.74, 124.1 IP, 11.36 K/9, 4.13 BB/9.  He was starting to get noticed big time in the national prospect-watching press.

His rather spectacular success continued at AA with a lower walk rate in 2015:  5-3, 2.43, 63 IP, 11.71 K/9, 2.71 BB/9.  He got a midseason callup to AAA where his walk rate regressed to baseline but the rest of his numbers looked good:  2-1, 2.20, 41 IP, 10.54 K/9, 4.83 BB/9.

He'll probably start out 2016 back in AAA working on his command.  A midseason callup is likely.  He'll be worth rostering immediately in all fantasy leagues.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Do the Giants Need to Make More Moves?

When the Giants lost out in the bidding for Zack Greinke and signed Jeff Samardzija for less than half the total cost, many people assumed they would re-allocate the savings, add in the extra $10 M or so needed to reach the Luxury Tax threshold, and go get themselves another SP and/or OF at the Winter Meetings.  The Giants themselves seemed to be saying it was their intention to do just that.  Then as the Winter Meetings moved along and the Giants delegation came home to introduce Samardzija to the fans, their tone seemed to drift, first to a lack of urgency, of letting the market come to them, then to a sense that while more additions would be nice, they are not necessary because after all, the Giants do have themselves a roster right now.

Maybe the Giants are just trying to cool the market off a bit before making their move, or maybe they have done some internal re-evaluations on the fly and decided their internal options are better than they thought going into the offseason.  Or maybe it's some old fashioned lowering of expectations.  It does raise an interesting question:  Do the Giants need to make more moves?  Putting it another way, what would the team look like if the season started today?

For this exercise, we will stipulate that Catcher, the Infield and the Bullpen are all set for the season right now.  That leaves SP and OF as the two continuing question marks.  Let's start with the starting rotation:

As it currently stands, the rotation consists of Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Chris Heston.  The depth chart on the farm would most likely be Clayton Blackburn, Adalberto Mejia then either Ty Blach or Chris Stratton.  Tyler Beede and Chase Johnson, who both have AA experience could be within striking distance by midseason.  Let's break it down a bit further:

1.  Madison Bumgarner is the ace.  Barring unforeseen injury, he will continue to be one of the top pitchers in MLB giving his team a great chance to win every time he pitches while going deep in games sparing the bullpen.

2.  Jeff Samardzija has the potential to be a great #2 or even an ace.  There are a whole host of reasons for his poor performance last season with the ChiSox, not the least of which he was pitching for the ChiSox.  He's not a lock to bounce back in 2016, but it's a pretty good bet.

3.  Jake Peavy probably comes down to health.  If he's the guy who finished the season in 2015, he's a solid #3.  If the injuries crop up again, not so much.

4.  Matt Cain gave a ray of hope in his final game of 2015 that he can bounce back in 2016 after essentially 2 lost seasons.  At the very least, he gets an earlier start on throwing and building up his arm this offseason.  Big question mark, though.

5.  Did Chris Heston wear down at the end of last season or did the league figure him out?  It might be safer to get the answer while using him in long relief and spot starting than in the rotation, but if he is the guy who we saw in the first half last year, he is better than a #5 starter.

That is a rotation right there.  Does it compete in the NL West?  Well, the Dodgers don't have their two-headed monster in their rotation anymore.  They have Clayton Kershaw and a bunch of bigger question marks than the Giants.  The D'Backs have Grienke heading up their rotation with Patrick Corbin and Shelby Miller #2 and 3.  Are Corbin and Miller better than Samardzija and Peavy?  After those 3, the D'Backs rotation is iffy.  Colorado and San Diego won't be factors, at least in 2016.  Of course, the Dodgers and D'Backs can still add and probably will.  The Giants probably still do not want to go into the season with 3/5's of their rotation made up of Peavy, Cain and Heston no matter how much they believe in the arms on the farm.

How about the OF?  The Giants current OF roster consists of Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson.  Kyle Blanks will probably be invited to spring training on a minor league deal.  There is really no depth beyond those names in the upper minors, especially with Devin Harris being taken in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.  Let's take a closer look:

Hunter Pence will almost certainly bounce back.  His wrist injury was flukey and one which he should fully recover from.  The oblique strain was most likely a result of all the missed time from the fracture.  When he did play, Pence was his usually dynamo self in the middle of the lineup.

Angel Pagan is coming off a horrible season, but is under contract for one more season at $10 M.  Bruce Bochy is saying he liked what he saw in September when Pagan seemed to be finally fully healthy.  Maybe Boch is talking about his hitting because there were several plays in the OF where Pagan was either dogging it or being tentative out of fear of re-injuring himself.  Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean were both quite upfront in saying they think the final year of his contract will be a positive factor in his performance in 2016.  The unspoken corollary is they think him not being in a walk year may have adversely affected his performance in 2014 and 2015.

Gregor Blanco is Gregor Blanco.  People keep relegating him to being the the 4'th OF and he keeps winning a starting job as the season progresses.  He is coming off his best season as a Giant and has averaged 3 fWAR per 600 PA's over the past 4 seasons.  Ideally, you probably still want him as your 4'th OF.

Jarrett Parker probably earned the right to see if his September 2015 performance was for real.  He could be another Giants rookie who came out of nowhere.  On the other hand, he has always had very high K rates in the minors and that could well catch up to him with extended looks in the majors.

It's not like the Giants would be leaning on Parker with no back up in sight. You don't have to squint very hard to see Mac Williamson becoming a monster in LF by midseason.  So much so, in fact, that I would kind of hate to see him get blocked by a big multi-year contract to an expensive FA OF.  With Jason Heyward off the table, I might actually be happier with a De Aza or Byrd on a 1 year deal as placeholders for Big Mac.  Blanks has been plagued by injuries but when he has played, he's hit over .300 for the last 2 seasons.  He may well be 500 PA's away from a breakout season.

In summary, I think the Giants really do need to sign another #3 or better SP if they really want to make a serious run for another even-year championship.   Cespedes or Upton would probably not make me angry about blocking Big Mac, but anything less and I would prefer 1 year deals for De Aza or Byrd.

What do you think?  Are the Giants obligated to spend their unspent money up to the Luxury Tax threshold, or would you be OK with trusting the kids and rolling with what they have now?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Cubs Sign Jason Heyward

The Cubs continued their rampaging quest to break their 106 year old absence from a World Series Championship by agreeing to sign Jason Heyward to an 8 year/$184 M contract or $23 M AAV.  The agreement apparently calls for vesting opt outs at 3 years and 4 years.  I'll take the over on the probability that he opts out so this may be, for all practical purposes, a 3 year deal.  As things currently stand, Heyward projects to play CF for the Cubs with Jorge Soler in RF and Kyle Schwarber in LF.  That could change with a trade or two.

I love this deal from the Cubs perspective.  Heyward is the rare premium FA who has yet to enter what should be his prime years.  If you only look at his slash line, you may not be that impressed and think the Cubs grossly overpaid.  What makes Heyward great is how he does everything, not just well, but very well.  Yes, he may be a bit short on dingers, but look at the XBH's, 30 2B and 15 3B per season.  He runs well, 15 3B and 20 SB's per season.  He grades out extremely well on defensive metrics.  He can take a walk, averaging a 10% walk rate, while limiting his K's to 15% over the past 3 seasons.  This all adds up to a 5 fWAR/season over the past 4 seasons with the lowest at 3.7 coming in a year when he got hit in the face with a pitch and missed quite a bit of time.

With the current market rate per WAR point pegged at around $8 M, Heyward should return a value of about $40 M/yr if he continues his average over the past 4 seasons.  Taking the injury season out as an outlier, a typical Jason Heyward season should return closer to $48 M/yr in value.  Now, here's the best part:  There is at least a 50% chance that Heyward has yet to reach his peak season!  2016 will be his age 26 season which is right about the time most ballplayers enter their peak years.  The Cubs got a great deal here with the only downside for them being the probability that they only get him at this price for 3 seasons.  I have to say, the Cubs are looking like they mean business this year.  They could well be what everybody thought the Dodgers were going to be by now.  The only consolation for the Giants being that the Giants really don't have to worry about anything but a 5 or 7 game series against them.

Heyward certainly fits the description of the type of player the Giants say they are looking for. I don't know why the Giants dropped out of the running to sign him.  Maybe he told them up front that he was not interested in playing in AT&T Park.  He would not be the first position player FA to tell them that.  Maybe the Giants are looking for more power from a big contract?  I would point to the XBH's and say that AT&T is tailor-made for doubles and triples.  Heck, Heyward might hit 25 triples playing half his game in AT&T!  Maybe the Giants balked at the length of contract they were looking at?  I can definitely buy into the notion that no pitcher should be given a contract longer than 5 years, and position players can get injured too, but IMO, a 10 year contract for Jason Heyward is less risky than a 6 year contract for David Price or Zack Greinke.  Given his age, I would much rather give Heyward a 10 year deal than give Alex Gordon a 5 year deal, just to name another position player with a similar skill set.  Most of these mega-contracts are foolhardy overpayments, but IMO, Jason Heyward is, and always was, the exception.  10/$250 would not have been an outlandish contract for him Maybe even 10/$300!  He'll be worth every penny of this contract and much more.  Again, the only downside for the Cubs is that darn opt out.

Thoughts on Yusmeiro Petit

The Yusmeiro Petit era came to an end for the Giants 2 days ago with the announcement of his signing with the Washington Nationals.  Petit, who was arbitration eligible for the first time this year had not been tendered a contract by the Giants.  His estimated arbitration value was $2.5 M.  He signed a 1 year contract with the Nationals for $2.5 M with a $3 M team option for 2017 with a $500 K buyout, making the total deal worth a minimum of $3 M.  The $3 M option vests if he pitches 80 innings or more in 2016.

I did not realize that Yusmeiro Petit's first taste of the spotlight as a baseball player came as a 10 year old in 1994 when he was a member of the Little League World Series championship team from Venezuela.  He signed a professional contract with the New York Mets in 2001.  As he worked his way up the minor league ladder with the Mets, he came to the attention of the Sabermetric Community for his double digit K/9's coupled with sub-2.00 BB/9's.  His scouting reports were not as enthusiastic.

He was traded to the Marlins in November 2005 in the trade for Carlos Delgado(man, is 2005 THAT long ago?).  He was traded to the D'Backs in 2007.  He was given multiple chances to pitch at the MLB level and never quite broke through, although he did take a no-hitter into the 8'th inning against the Pirates in 2009.  He continued to mostly struggle and by 2011 was pitching in the Mexican League.    The Giants signed him to a minor league contract for the 2012 season.

Petit pitched well for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies in 2012 and was called up for a single spot start in September after the Giants had clinched the NL West title.  He allowed 2 runs in 4.2 IP.  He continued to pitch well for the Grizzlies in 2013 and was called up in August when the Giants needed an additional arm in the rotation.  Then, on September 6, 2013, Petit memorably came within 1 out of pitching a perfect game against his former team, the Arizona D'Backs.  In the process, he became the 12'th pitcher in MLB history to come within 1 out of a perfect game.

Petit became an important cog in the Giants 2014 championship run pitching long relief and making spot starts.  At one point, he set a MLB record by retiring 46 consecutive batters over several relief appearances.  His greatest moment as a Giant came in the 2014 NLDS against the Washington Nationals.  Playing Game 2 in Washington, the Giants had tied the score 1-1 in the top of the 9'th inning and the game went into extra innings.  As the home team in an extra-inning game, the Nationals still seemed to have the upper hand, but the Giants had an ace in the hole in Petit that the Nationals did not have.  Petit entered the game in the 12'th inning.  For 6 innings, facing a lineup that included a red hot Bryce Harper and knowing the game could be lost with any single pitch, he proceeded to hold the Nationals scoreless.  Brandon Belt hit a HR off Tanner Roark in the top of the 18'th inning and well, you know the rest!  Upon the completion of the Giants championship run, Yusmeiro Petit became the first player to win both a Little League World Series and a MLB World Series.

Despite his heroics in 2014, Bruce Bochy seemed reluctant to use Petit in anything but long relief roles in games the Giants were losing in 2015.  Despite a dip in his strikeout numbers, Petit ended the season with an ERA of 3.67, .02 better than 2014.  Despite that, the Giants chose not to pay his rising salary dictated by the arbitration process.  The memory of those 6 innings in the 2014 NLDS is apparently still fresh enough in the minds of the Nationals, they were willing to spend the money on him.  I am happy for Yusmeiro Petit.  It may not seem like much by today's MLB standards, but he is finally getting the chance to earn some well deserved financial security for himself and his family after all these years in professional baseball.  Yusmeiro Petit was a very good Giant who will and should be long remembered!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Winter Meetings Day 3

Brian Sabean got into the interview act today with Bobby Evans also making another appearance on MLB Network.  I don't know how many of you saw those interviews or what you thought of them if you did, but I got the distinct sense of a lack of urgency from both.  I get the feeling that with Samardzija safely tucked away, they are content to let the market come to them, which may turn out to be a good strategy.  They both seemed to indicate that getting another dependable SP was the priority, although I thought Sabes was more forceful in saying it.  Bobby was more about keeping all options on the table and seemed more open to flipping the priorities for the right deal, but he also said that pitching would most likely be the bigger deal.

Meanwhile, there were several lower level, but interesting deals that went down:

The Pirates traded Neil Walker to the Mets for LHP Jonathan Niese.  This looks like a win-win trade filling complementary needs.  Walker is a solid, though unspectacular 2B while Niese is an underrated SP who can also come out of the bullpen if need be.

The Mets also signed Asdrubal Cabrera to a 2 year contract.  He'll be their starting SS with Walker starting at 2B.  You have to think Murph's ship out of NY has sailed.

The Phillies traded Ken Giles to the Astros for LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Vincent Velasquez and OF Derek Fisher.  Probably a good trade for both.  The Phillies do not need a closer right now so much as they need talent.  They get a hard thrower in Velasquez and a big, athletic OF in Fisher.

The Mariners acquired Adam Lind from the Brewers for a couple of low level minor leaguers.  Lind is a platoon lefty bat who is better suited to the AL where he can DH.

Lastly, Billy Beane ran up the white flag on the Josh Donaldson trade sending Brett Lawrie to the ChiSox for a couple of minor league pitchers of some promise, but oh my!  That's what he ends up with  for Josh Donaldson?  I guess they still have Barreto in the minors but still……

Early in the day, it looked like Mike Leake might be on the verge of signing with the Nationals, but he apparently rejected a formal offer and the Nats were reportedly backing off by the end of the day.  They do seem close to signing Yusmeiro Petit.  I guess they haven't forgotten what he did to them in the 2014 postseason?

The big guns usually catch an early flight before the Rule 5 Draft starts, so don't hold your breath on any deals getting done tomorrow.  2 years ago, the Giants hung around to sign Michael Morse.  It does not sound like things are that urgent this year, but we'll see.

Hot Stove Update: Winter Meetings Day 2

Bobby Evans spent Day 2 of the Winter Meetings looking and sounding terrific in interviews while a couple of other teams made some significant moves(just kidding there, Bobby).  First off the Cubs made a pair of moves which clarified their middle IF situation, signing 2B/OF Ben Zobrist to a 4 year/$56 M contract, then shipping SS Starlin Castro to the Yankees for RHP Adam Warren and great field/no-hit IF Brendan Ryan.  Zobrist is not the 5-WAR stud he was in his Tampa Bay heyday, but he's still a solid veteran ballplayer.  He will likely help the Cubs for at least the first 2 years of the deal, although it covers his ages 35-38 seasons.  The deal also clears the way for Addison Russell to be the undisputed starter at SS.  As for Castro, his career has kind of plateaued at a much lower level than was projected a few years ago.  He may have balked at moving to 2B with the Cubs.  Now he'll do that with the Yankees and like it.

The Giants were rumored to be a possible destination for Zobrist, although that outcome seemed unlikely after it came out that he preferred to play 2B than OF.  I like Zobrist as a player, but he's not getting any younger.  I kind of feel like the Giants are better off not signing him.  I don't know what they will do with LF, but I feel like they still have an opportunity to do better than Zobrist.

The other big deal that went down on Day 2 was the D'Backs trade for RHP Shelby Miller from the Braves.  Now, Miller is a good pitcher and he will make the D'Backs rotation better, but they paid a frightfully high price to get him giving up OF Ender Inciarte, RHP prospect Aaron Blair and their 2015 #1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson.  Miller was a lot better than his 6-15 W-L record last year would indicate, but he may also not have been as good as his 3.02 ERA would indicate either.  His K/9 and BB/9 were good but not great while his ERA was helped by a ridiculously low HR/FB ratio pitching in a very pitcher friendly ballpark.  His adjusted ERA's were not nearly as good as the 3.02 he put up.  He earned a respectable 3.4 fWAR on the season.  His contract is controlled for 3 more years before he hits free agency.

Here's the thing.  Ender Inciarte put up 3.3 fWAR last year in his first full season in there majors and his contract is controlled for 5 more years.  You could make a case that a straight up trade of Inciarte for Miller would have been a fair deal for the Braves!  Instead, they also got a potential mid-rotation SP who has pitched at the AAA level and put up respectable numbers in the extremely hitter-friendly PCL.  But, that wasn't enough either.  They also got the #1 overall draft pick from 2015, Dansby Swanson!  I mean, not only does Swanson have the potential to become a 5-6 WAR stud in his own right, he will probably move through the system very fast.  2017 is a good bet for his ETA, but don't be shocked if you see his name in a MLB lineup in 2016.

The D'Backs may be thinking they can mitigate the loss of Inciarte with Socrates Brito and/or Yasmany Tomas, or they may be thinking they will pick up another OF this offseason.  If that is the case, then Miller is a pure addition and makes the D'Backs better this year.  In the long run, the Snakes paid a frightfully high price and the Braves turned around their struggling rebuild in one trade.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Winter Meetings Day 1

It was a strange day at MLB's Winter Meetings as the Giants did not make any headlines, but continued to appear to want to make deals.  The day started fast with the announcement of Aroldis Chapman going to the Dodgers for a couple of second tier prospects.  This move continued and accelerated the trend of rich teams stockpiling closers to try to get depth in their bullpens as the Dodgers already had one of the better closers in the game in Kenley Jansen.  What's more, both Chapman and Jansen are on schedule to be free agents at the end of the 2016 season.

As the day wore on and no official announcement was forthcoming, the deal seemed to fall apart in slow motion.  Hastily written analysis articles were left twisting in the wind.  First, there were accusations that the Dodgers had jumped the gun on the announcement to try to trigger another trade.  Then we heard that other teams were jumping in and trying to top the Dodgers offer.  Then, the blockbuster story was broken by none other than Yahoo Sports:  There is a police report from October 30 of a domestic violence report in which Chapman was alleged to choke his girlfriend, then went out to his garage and discharged a firearm 8 times, 8 times!  Chapman was not arrested and no charges have been filed.  MLB has the duty, under changes to the CBA, to do their own investigation and has the authority to meet out it's own punishment.  Then, Walt Jocketty made the formal announcement that the deal is on indefinite hold as is likely any other potential deal.  Wow!  A very bold, but strange move by the Dodgers blew up in their face!

One deal the Dodgers apparently did complete was the signing of RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, formerly of the Seattle Mariners, to a 3 year/$45 M contract.  Iwakuma has been a good pitcher for the Mariners when healthy, but has missed chunks of time with injuries.  Moreover, he is 35 years old, as old as Jeff Samardzija will be at the end of his contract with the Giants.  Needless to say, Dodgers fans are starting to rumble about Andrew Friedman and Dodgers management, who seem to be struggling with the translation of "Moneyball" tactics into a big spending environment.

Overshadowed by the Dodgers machinations, was a pretty significant trade that sent LHP Wade Miley and a pitching prospect from the BoSox to the Mariners for LHP Roenis Elias and RHP Carson Smith. I am not sure what to make of this trade.  I really like Wade Miley and thought he might be a nice trade target for the Giants on a buy low deal.  This really isn't buying low, though.  Elias is a comparable pitcher and Smith was the Mariners closer in the second half of 2015 putting up tremendous numbers.  I  like Miley a little better than Elias, but Smith would seem to be way more valuable than the difference.  I'm going to call this one a clear win for Boston.

Today is shaping up to be decision day for Ben Zobrist.  He likes SF and likes the Giants but prefers to play 2B, so he's probably going to either Washington or the Mets.  A Zobrist decision could create a domino effect with other FA OF's, or it might not as most teams are still focused on pitching.

The wildest scariest speculation I heard on the MLB channel last night was the idea of the ChiSox trading Chris Sale to the Dodgers for a shipload of prospects.  Do Not Want That To Happen!

Oh, and Jon Heyman predicted Cespedes ends up with the Giants.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hot Stove Update: What are the Giants Looking for at the Winter Meetings?

The Giants have to be feeling pretty good about their position going into MLB's Winter Meetings.  They already took care of the one piece of business they absolutely had to take care of, signing a strong SP.  No, it wasn't Zack Greinke, and it would have been great if he had gone somewhere out of the NL West, but the most important part of that deal is not that he went to the D'Backs, but the Dodgers lost him.  The Giants immediately went to their back up plan and signed Jeff Samardzija for a very reasonable contract.  The Dodgers?  They are in the process of signing a pitcher to a 3 year deal who is as old now as Samardzija will be in the final year of his contract with the Giants!  Bwahahahahaha!!!

So, with the most important business completed, the Giants head into the Winter Meetings still carrying a huge wad of caishish, and with the freedom and flexibility to go in almost any direction.  Here are some of the options:

1.  Spend approximately equal money on another second tier SP.  Johnny Cueto's cost might be a bit rich, but a Mike Leake would work just fine for me, so would Wei-Yin Chen.  This would still leave a few shekels left over to sign a reliever like Joakim Soria or better yet, a nice lefty like Tony Sipp.  Not sure about CF, but they need someone who can D it up out there.

2.  Sign a power hitting OF.  Bobby Evans reportedly said the Giants are looking for a power hitter who can play LF and maybe CF.  Let's see, he could be talking about one, Jason Heyward, but he isn't really a big HR hitter.  There is another guy who fits that description a lot better and that would be…..Yoenis Cespedes!  Cespedes is a bit of a hot dog and he's streaky has heck.  On the other hand, he's athletic as hell and his numbers are generally right there at the end of the season.  Who does THAT remind me of?  A guy the Giants acquired to play RF a few seasons ago, that's who!  I suppose if they went for a Cespedes, the Giants would go for a lesser SP than one of the second tier dudes.  Maybe a Doug Fister or an Ian Kennedy?  Maybe a trade?

3.  How about splitting the difference and going for a couple of third tier guys like Scott Kazmir as the second SP and Ben Zobrist as the OF with the added bonus of Zobrist's tremendous versatility?  Zobrist was in SF this weekend talking with the Giants, so stay tuned on that front.

We've been disappointed before, but gotta think the Giants won't leave the Winter Meetings without at least one big deal done.

OK, this will never happen, but here is DrB's new dream scenario:

1.  Sign Cespedes to play LF.

2.  Trade whatever it takes from the farm system to pry Billy Hamilton from the Reds to play CF.  He's got game changing speed with on-base upside and can D it up like crazy in CF.

3.  Sign Ian Kennedy or some equivalent pitcher.  He is kind of a Jeff Samardzija lite.  Coming off a down season but maintained a strong K rate.  He seems like a guy who is likely to bounce back and would probably benefit from being coached by the Giants pitcher whisperers.

Hey, I just made that up!

What is YOUR dream scenario for the Giants at the Winter Meetings?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Giants Sign Jeff Samardzija

The Giants moved quickly to stop the bleeding after losing out in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes.  The next tier consisted of Johhny Cueto, Samardzija, Mike Leake and possibly Wei-Yin Chen.  With Grienke signed with a division rival, but not the Dodgers, and the Dodgers likely even more desperate to cover the loss of one of their prized aces, it was imperative the Giants get the drop on the Bad Guys and get one of those second tier guys signed.  Don't forget, the D'Backs are still making noise about Leake, the Yankees are thought to be nearly desperate for pitching as are the Cardinals and Cubs.  Once the first second tier guy went off the board, the others could fall fast.

The Giants jumped on Samardzija AKA Shark for 5 years/$90 M.  The first season is for $9 M with 4 subsequent seasons at 18 M apiece.  There is a $3 M upfront bonus and another $6 M bonus spread out equally over the final 4 seasons.  There are no deferred payments.  There is a partial no trade clause with 8 teams allowed on the list.  I am a bit confused as to what the benefit of the low first year salary is.  The Giants seem to have plenty of cashish, but are reluctant to cross the Luxury Tax Threshold, but the Luxury Tax is calculated by the AAV of the contract which is not helped by the backloading.  Anyway, I'll let someone else worry about that.  Bottom line is they get a pitcher they have been interested in for years at a total price of less than half of what the D'Backs are paying Greinke.  The Giants clearly have the financial wherewithal, Luxury Tax cap or no cap, to sign another second tier guy or else a lower tier pitcher plus a top tier OF.

I've always like Jeff Samardzija.  I remember watching him pitch against the Giants on TV when he was with the Cubs and thinking how great a fit he would be in the Giants rotation.  He is coming off a down season with the White Sox.  I am not going to list his stats here.  You can look them up on Fangraphs or  I will just mention a few things which may help calm your fears that last season may be the beginning of a slide into oblivion:

1.  Last year, Samardzija pitched half his games in a bandbox ballpark and he pitched all of his games in front of a horrific defensive team.  Thanks to Shankbone for linking to a Fangraphs article by Tony Blengino showing statistical evidence that those two factors cost him a full run in ERA.

2.  It was rather striking that Samardzija's use of his two seam FB declined precipitously with a corresponding rise in the use of his cutter.  Not sure what that is all about, but the Giants generally encourage their pitchers to command both sides of the plate with the FB, and Rags is knows as something of a cutter guru.  I think there is a good chance they will be able to "fix" whatever went wrong there last year.

3.  Samardzia's FB velocity remained very stable at just over 94 MPH last year so there is no indication of any drop off in FB velocity.

In addition to the above 3 points, despite entering his age 31 season, Samardzija has relatively little mileage on his arm having pitched slightly fewer innings than Mike Leake who is 2 years younger, and less than half of Greinke's innings who is just one year older.

I like the signing.  There are risks to any FA contract, especially for pitchers, but there is every indication that this is actually a buy-low opportunity that the Giants jumped on, finally beating out their competitors and getting what could be a bargain in the process.

The one big downside is losing the 2016 first round draft pick, but it was probably unrealistic to think they were going to hang onto that give the situation this offseason.

Down on the Farm:'s Giants Top 30 Prospects

Yesterday, we reported on BA's Giants top 10 prospect list. released their top prospect lists at the same time.  Interestingly, their top 10 is quite different than BA's and they put out a top 30 list.  Here  it is:

1.  Tyler Beede
2.  Christian Arroyo
3.  Phil Bickford
4.  Lucious Fox
5.  Sam Coonrod
6.  Kyle Crick
7.  Jalen Miller
8.  Chris Shaw
9.  Steven Okert
10.  Josh Osich(ineligible according to BA)
11. Aramis Garcia
12. Adalberto Mejia
13. Mac Williamson
14. Chris Stratton
15. Andrew Suarez
16. Mac Marshall
17. Hunter Cole
18. Austin Slater
19. Ray Black
20. Ty Blach
21. Clayton Blackburn
22. Cody Hall
23. Michael Santos
24. Ryder Jones
25. Joan Gregorio
26. Derek Law
27.  Joe Biagini
28.  Chase Johnson
29.  Dylan Davis
30.  Steven Duggar

Jarrett Parker, who was #8 on BA's list is left off entirely.  BA said Osich is not eligible.  Other names I would question being on the list at all include Okert, Marshall, Hall, Biagini, Davis and Duggar.   Crick and Miller are both quite a bit higher than I would list them.  Coonrod is again higher than I would list them, although it is intriguing that he is so high on both lists.  Some additional names I would strongly consider for the Top 30 include Jordan Johnson, Johneshwy Fargas, Mikey Edie, Deiyerbert Bolivar, and Rodolfo Martinez.  I might also consider Ronnie Jebavy over Steven Duggar, but that's a close call.  I just know that if Jordan Johnson, Fargas and Rodolfo Martinez can't crack the Top 30, then that's a very deep system!