Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2010 Team Analysis: San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants:

2009 Record: 88-74

General Manager: Brian Sabean

Manager: Bruce Bochy

Organizational Philosophy: After hearing for the past twelve seasons that he may be one of the worst GM's in baseball, Brian Sabean has finally learned to embrace the youth movement (to some extent in terms of pitching although his offloading of Tim Alderson and 21 year old LHP Scott Barmes did have that same futile stench to it) but his need to overpay key positional veterans does leer its ugly head every so often.

2010 Committments:

Starting Rotation:

Tim Lincecum ($650K; arb eligible)
Barry Zito ($18.5M)
Matt Cain ($4.5M)
Jonathan Sanchez ($455K; arb eligible)
Joe Martinez ($400K)

Tim Lincecum, after winning his second Cy Young award, is due for a major pay increase. Signing him to some longterm contract (6 or 7 years) would be wise and expensive but rumors are abound that Sabean will wait until Lincecum's arbitration hearing to see where each side stands. Barry Zito's massive contract was always warned by some as being a mistake before it happened (especially if you were a reader of Baseball Prospectus and Nate Silver during the 2006 offseason) but the Giants have no choice but to live with it and hope something can be salvaged... his K/9 did make a little jump this year (7.22) and his B/9 did drop to his usual levels (3.50) so maybe there is a little hope.

Sabean did state that he will have no problem trading a pitcher for a bat this offseason. No specific name was brought up (but Sabean did bemoan the fact that trading a pitcher for a positional player rarely evens out) but could Sabean be hinting that the 25 year old Matt Cain may be on the trading block? Some analyts have debated Cain's up and down statistical season; however his overall numbers in 2009 seemed impressive:

14 wins, 8 losses, 217 IP, 184 H, 73 BB, 171 K, 2.89 ERA

Matt Cain has long been expected for a major breakout since posting a K/9 of 8.35 as a 21 year old in 190 MLB innings pitched (IP). Last season Cain made some strides in reducing his walk totals (3.02 BB/9) but many critics point to the fact that Cain's K/9 has dramatically fallen this season to a new low of 7.07 after languishing in the 6's for most of the season. Another alarming trend that Cain's season may be headed to a regression is his 2009 strand rate. In short, a strand rate is measured by the numbers of runners left on base after the end of an inning. Cain's strand rate this season was 81.6%. The average rate among all MLB starters was 71.9% and since this number isn't entirely dependent on the quality of the pitcher since a lot of factors beyond the pitcher's control can affect a strand rate either positively or negatively.

If Sabean does choose to trade Matt Cain for a positional player what kind of package could the Giants expect? Teams in the market for a top of the rotation starter will find their options to be severly limited via free agency since John Lackey and Randy Wolf seem to be the only upper-tier starters worth pursuing.  I would expect the Mets, Brewers, Angels, Cubs, Astros, Blue Jays, Dodgers, D-Backs, Twins, and the Reds to be serious buyers in the starting pitching market.

The Cubs and Astros are in the same predictament: both need pitching but only have aging bats to spare, although a package consisting of OF Hunter Pence and a low level pitching prospect may not be out of line. I do have problems with Pence's peripheral stats (in terms of a high GB% and low LD% consistently displayed; more on Pence when we get to the NL Central) but since he isn't eligible for free agency until 2014 this does make him valuable especially since Cain's contract will expire after 2011.

The Reds could put together a decent package. 1B Joey Votto has been mentioned as a potential trading piece since they drafted Yonder Alonso in 2008. I've always liked Votto's true power and on-base skills and he would be a good fit in the Giants lineup and isn't eligible for free agency until he turns 30 in 2013.

Finally, the option seems most practical (in my mind) would be a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. It's been speculated throughout the media that the Brewers will look to shop 1B Prince Fielder. Fielder is set to become a free agent after the 2011 season and his price range will be expected to be beyond the Brewers budget. Offering an SP like Matt Cain for Fielder's services could be enticing to a team long in need of pitching and would serve to free up $11M in the Brewers 2010 budget.

If Cain is traded, the Giants would inevitably find themselves in the market for another pitcher since free agents Brad Penny and Randy Johnson aren't expected to be back.  Jonathan Sanchez has long been considered another breakout candidate with his high K% but his inability to lower his BB% has kept him in the backend and in the shadow of other young Giant pitchers.  Sanchez did finish the season strong posting 109 K's in 88 IP (including 11 K's during his CG no-hitter at San Diego).  In terms of value Sanchez is a solid #4 pitcher who could become even better once he has better command of his secondary pitches.  He will be 27 at the start of next season so time is still on his side.

 The Giants could be tempted to shore up the backend of their rotation by looking at a few pitchers who could throw some quality innings for a reasonable price.  I like the idea of signing RHP Justin Duchscherer to a one year contract.  His price should be low due to missing the entire '09 season after surgeries on his elbow and hip.  In August he did throw 11 scoreless innings in the minors and he should be cleared to play; the only sticking point will be his recovery from clinical depression which Duchscherer has faced and seems intent on overcoming. has reported that the Red Sox are interested in his services but I think it would be best for Duchscherer to sign a one or two year deal somewhere away from the spotlight of New York or Boston and focus on his transistion as a quality starting pitcher.  In 2008 he did post an excellent K/BB ratio of 2.79 and if he pitches anywhere close to what he did then he could parlay that into a more lucrative deal next offseason.

RHP Joel Pineiro will also be intriging.  He's a free agent after posting a career year in St. Louis as a extreme contact GB pitcher who posted an elite 1.14 BB/9 in 214 IP.  He will be 31 at the start of next season and may be looking for a multi-year deal at 3 years $30M.  A large part of Pineiro's value will depend on his control and pitchers who pitch to consistent contact do open themselves to lot of variance and the years committed could be too much of a gamble especially for a team still saddled with Zito's bloated contract.

If no cheap starters are pursued then the role of #5 could fall on RHP Joe Martinez, a soft tossing contact pitcher that was once praised for having excellent command but he did see his BB/9 bump up a bit in the pros (3.60), if he can get it back down to the 2's the Giants may find him serviceable.

LHP prospect Madison Bumgardner has incredible stuff but his decline in velocity (from mid to upper 90's to 88-91 mph) is troubling.  It's expected that the Giants will test the 20 year old in AAA next season.

A quick glance at the bullpen:

Brian Wilson ($480K; arb eligible)
Jeremy Affeldt ($4.5M)
Justin Miller ($750K)
Brandon Medders ($475K)
Sergio Romo ($400K)
Waldis Joaquin ($400K)
Dan Runzler ($400K)

Brian Wilson, who is set to get a major pay raise this winter, anchors a very strong bullpen led by a number of pitchers who were strong in avoiding the long ball.  no one else in this bullpen really stands out. Over the last three season, Wilson has reduced his slider usage and found new confidence in his cutter while still displaying an excellent 96 mph fastball.  His K rate has risen from 6.85 in 2007 to 10.33 last season.  His HR/9 last season was an incredible 0.37 last season after being bitten by the HR bug a year ago (1.01 in '08).  Wilson has put together a career of inducing a lot of GB's so I would see his high HR numbers from a year ago as an aberration.

Jeremy Affeldt is living up to his contract after displaying unbelieable GB totals which served to keep the ball in the park, as well.   Affeldt combines his mid-90's fastball with a slow and effective curveball.  Looking a bit closer at his numbers, he did benefit from an incredibly low BABIP (.244) along with a very high strand rate (86.4%) which could tarnish his numbers a bit next season but his consistency in generating GB's should keep him from getting too roughed up next season.

Sergio Romo was successful in both keeping the ball in the park despite a high FB% and posting an excellent K/BB rate of 3.73 in 34 IP. Waldis Joaquin has a lot of promise and displayed his 97 mph fastball and above average slider to major league hitters last month. He'll be someone to watch this spring. 

Brandon Medders found new life in '09 by throwing the cutter almost 50% of the time out of the bullpen.  Medders does walk a lot of batters depite posting a K/9 of 7.90.  I would expect a slight regression next season as his less than stellar strand rate and high frequency of LD% allowed (26%) comes back to even itself out.

LHP Dan Runzler will be 25 at the start of next season and seemed to blow past the upper minor league tiers after showing excellent capabilty in getting opposing left-handed hitters out.  The Giants see him as a future closer but unless he addresses his high BB% he may have trouble getting past his current job title of lefty-specialist.

On the field:

C: Buster Posey ($400K)
1B: Travis Ishikawa ($400K)
1B: Ryan Garko ($446K)
2B: Freddy Sanchez ($6M)
2B: Eugenio Velez ($400K)
SS: Edgar Renteria ($10M)
3B: Pablo Sandoval ($400K)
LF: John Bowker ($400K)
LF: Fred Lewis ($440K)
CF: Aaron Rowand ($13.6M)
RF: Nate Schierholtz ($400K)

On the catching front the Giants seem poised to begin the Buster Posey era. This will probably mean that Bengie Molina's days as a Giant are done (since he has stated he is looking for a 2-3 year contract) but it is usual to expect rookie catchers to typically struggle in their first full season. I would expect the Giants to possibly sign one of the many decent backup catchers available this off season for a year and hope Posey's development isn't a painful one.

First base should be interesting.  I'm not a fan of Travis Ishikawa being an everyday player, despite an adequate glove, he strikes out way too much (27.3%) and doesn't walk enough (8.4%).  Ishikawa also struggles vs. LHP (.776 career OPS in the minors which has translated into an atrocious .602 OPS in the pros), making him a platoon player at best.  Ryan Garko has had a lot more success vs. LHP (.887 career OPS) but his other deficiencies (lack of glove, awful plate discipline) doesn't make him much of an upgrade and is a favorite to be non-tendered before December 12th. 

The Giants have been rumored to be looking into the services of free agent Miguel Tejada as well as inquiring about the availability of Dan Uggla from the Marlins.  Both would be candidates to play 3B if acquired thus moving Pablo Sandoval over to 1B.  With no other MLB ready player expected to man the infield corners from the minors, I would still advise against signing Tejada especially with rumors circulating that he will be expecting a minimum 3 year $30+ M deal which is a bit pricy for a player entering his age 36 season.  If the Marlins ask for too much for Uggla (Matt Cain wouldn't seem acceptable given he files for free agency after 2011) they may inquire about Jorge Cantu but his despicable glove and Garko-ish offense isn't worth any of the mid-tier prospects I'm sure the Marlins will ask about.

If no other suitable option can be found to address acquiring a corner INFer it may beneficial that the Giants inquire about Hank Blalock.  A few teams have shown some curiosity and the 29 year old has stated that he would be willing to sign for a year if the team offers him a starting job in order to revive his career.  Blalock would provide enough power to hit fifth thereby protecting the switch-hitting Sandoval in the lineup.  Last season Blalock was bogged down by a diminishing BB rate (5.3%) and low batting average (.234) but simple pressing and a low BABIP (.252) are probably the culprits.  Blalock would probably move to 1B but a lot has been said about his inflated power numbers and moving to the NL West may not be the best option for a power hitter criticized for being a mere mortal on the road.  Just another factor the Giants would have to take into account.

The recent two year extension signed by Freddy Sanchez should spell the end of Juan Uribe's brief career as a Giant (unless he is re-signed and agrees to move over to 3B).

As I've outlined, the need to add a bat to this lineup is a major necessity. I've already spelled out a number of scenarios involving a Matt Cain trade above but the Giants would also do well in looking into signing an Xavier Nady or Coco Crisp in order to shore up the OF. Both are attempting to come back from a major injuries that deleted their '09 season. I would expect either one to be willing to sign a short term deal in the hopes of landing a better contract later on, either one could easily plug into LF if healthy and be everyday players.

Next Season's Forecast: Despite having a good showing in 2009, the Giants do have a lot of holes to fill. I would advise against trading Matt Cain unless a major bat is offered since it's probable that Madison Bumgarner isn't ready to be a full time MLB pitcher.  After arbitration is heard on Lincecum and Wilson I would expect the payroll to be somewhere close to what it was last year ($82M). The team has stated they don't want to push the payroll too far in 2010 which probably takes them out of the running for a Matt Holiday or Jason Bay acquisition.

In that light I would expect the Giants to go bargain hunting this offseason and look to sign an innings-eater for a year or two; Carl Pavano, Justin Duchscherer, Brett Tomko. But getting a legitimate bat into the middle of this order is vital and if LF could be filled with some cheaper options like a Nady or Crisp along with something being done about the 1B situation then I could see the Giants being legitimate contenders in this division next season.

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