Friday, January 10, 2014

Giants Get Off Thumbs ... Sign Big Bench Bat!

The Giants, who apparently have been asleep for the last month, finally showed signs of life this morning.  They announced a big 'minor league w/ invitation to Spring Training' move for that big bench bat we've been looking for for a few seasons.  Now, we know why they let Brett Pill go all Gangnam Style on us.  Dontrelle Willis is going to be our go-to PH now, so Pill was expendable.  That's right ... Dontrelle Willis, who has a higher career SLG than many hitters on our roster.

Seriously, though (well, actually, using Dontrelle as a PH isn't a totally bizarre idea), I suppose that this is a no-risk move to throw someone into the Spring Training competition for a starting spot.  I was not a big fan of just handing the #5 spot to Vogelsong, who is coming off a bad & injured season.  Especially not when, despite all of our collective faith & prayers, Lincecum is by no means a sure-thing.  Especially not when Tim Hudson, although not having a 'pitching' injury last year, is still a year older.  Especially not when Matt Cain, who we all know will be awesome again, could still struggle once-in-awhile.  Sure, we have Petit as back-up, but we needed some others to at least press the established 5.

I had held out hope for Bronson Arroyo (ain't going to happen).  Then, I thought about ex-Giant Jerome Williams, who actually has returned to MLB semi-effectiveness (he's now off-the-market again).  Then, I thought ... well, who knows, maybe Chad Gaudin should get another chance.  Didn't see this Dontrelle Willis thing coming, though.

I still have those fleeting moments every single day, when I ask "Why wouldn't a team as loaded as the Giants, whose main competitior is signing every frickin' top-level Pitcher available, be unwilling to think about Masahiro Tanaka?"  Signing Tanaka would still leave us tens of millions of dollars behind LA, NYY, LAA, Texas, Seattle, the Cubs, & a few others in the combo stat of salary/off-season aspirations.  So, remind me ... why wouldn't we at least give it a try?

I suppose that, when Dontrelle Willis pitches a 4-0 complete game shutout, having belted a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the 9th, I'll have my answer!


Ron said...

Correction: Jerome Williams is apparently still a Free Agent, so let's sign him up, too. And, now Vernon Wells has been DFA's - an interesting bench thumper to complement Willis?

M.C. O'Connor said...

I'm not worried about the bench. I don't see the need for the "thumper". I'd rather have a good defender who was versatile and could play multiple spots (e.g. Blanco, Perez). And if you have two utility guys (Arias, Abreu/Noonan), and Hanchez at catcher that's 13 and there's no spot for Vernon Wells. The Giants have Mike Morse already, they can't afford another lummox is all-bat-no-glove. Done right, with Hanchez getting starts, or Posey at 1B, or Panda getting rested, or Blanco spelling Morse, you could have a starter bat ready late in games for a key pinch-hit. Boch is good at that stuff.

The Giants would be better off stocking up on arms, hence the Willis move, which is low-cost no-risk. I'd like to see another lefty in the bullpen.

Ron said...

I wasn't really advocating bringing in Vernon Wells, although having a power threat off of the bench is a nice thing. And, it isn't Brett Pill anymore.

I am nervous about Morse. A guy recovering from a wrist or hand injury who is notorious for swinging extra hard & is going to feel like he is being relied upon to provide power is something that makes me nervous. I hope that he is truly fully recovered. The Giants had no way to reliably evaluate him in game situations prior to signing him.

If Morse craps out, we need a back-up plan. Ichiro has been mentioned, but he's more of an older Blanco/Perez.

Ron said...

Giants roster-building in full gear now: they sign 3 reclamation-type Relief Pitchers, including our old buddy, Sandy Rosario. This was bound to happen - hopefully, one of these guys can contribute. If we're in-the-mix around the Trade Deadline, then I'm sure that we'll sign someone a bit more substantial.

ogc obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

The Giants FO has been pretty straight about what they say they are going to do, so if they have told Vogelsong that there is no competition for the #5 starting spot, I doubt very much that Willis is competing.

Even if they were saying that out of one side of the mouth while doing the other and letting Willis compete, Willis' recent performance history would suggest strongly that Vogelsong has nothing to worry about. If you are worried about Vogelsong's abilities to come through, I don't see why you would then be happy about Willis being signed.

Willis' signing is another of the Giants fliers on guys who showed a lot of talent before and maybe they can catch that lightening again. If they are successful in getting him anywhere close to where he was before, there are basically three open spots in the bullpen after Romo, Affeldt, Casilla, and Lopez, and maybe he wins one.

Right now, Petit looks like the long reliever and I cannot imagine that anything Willis does in spring would push him out of that position, particularly since Petit has no more options and we would lose him. Plus, why you would be so excited over Willis given what Petit did at the end of last season is a huge head scratcher to me. Petit was like the second coming of Vogelsong.

So that leaves two spots in the bullpen if Petit wins that role.

Also, after Hembree's sterling debut in his call-up, I see him being in Wilson's position back a few years in his first big spring training: basically has a position in the bullpen, only has to show off what he can do in spring training, but can lose the position with a horrible showing (which is what happened to Bri-bri). Assuming he amazes, that leaves one spot in the bullpen to battle for.

For that last spot, you got Machi who had a great 2013 and Kontos who had a great 2012 battling for that spot, plus Dunning, Law, Rosario, among others, fighting for that spot, plus Willis. I really only see Machi and Kontos as the main competitors for that spot, though, unless Willis can go through all of spring with no hits and no walks given up, which I doubt.

Willis is here to see what he can do. If he can perform, he'll be saved in AAA like other minor leaguers before him that the Giants stashed in AAA, just in case they need him in 2014 during the season. Meanwhile, he can work on some things that the Giants undoubtedly thinks he needs to do to return to major league goodness.

ogc obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

I'm not too worried about the bench either. We might not have a thumper, but I think we have a guy with a good bat when there are runners on in Hanchez, and he's our back-up catcher.

Blanco is great at getting on base if we need that, plus steal a base too. Arias is good defensively at many spots and hits OK as well.

I expect another MI, between Abreu, Noonan, and Adrianza, and my bet is on Adrianza because he has no more options left but has a major league glove at SS for years already while finally showing the batting prowess that he showed in the early stages of his career when he was playing among similar age players, whereas in recent years, he's been among the youngest in every league. He shows a good bat, much like Arias, he could get on base, much like Blanco, he even shows some power, like Hanchez, so I think he has a good enough overall package to excel on our bench.

For the last spot on the bench, it looks like Perez right now, but I think it is open to whoever can show that they can contribute, whether Kieschnick, Brown, or others. I also don't think it is limited to OF, Abreu, Noonan, and others should also be competing, including Villalona (odds are very low for him, but I think the Giants will be open to seeing what some of their 40-man roster guys can do before they lose them and Angel's last option should be gone in 2014, unless they get that loophole where they get an extra one for him; not sure of the rules).

nomisnala said...

Willis is essentially Jonathan Sanchez with the ability to hit. Willis a much better all around athlete than Sanchez, could have a tryout as a hitter. I think he could actually be a solid major leage hitter, ala Rick Ankiel. Of course Willis is much older, and it would be a late start, but he has always been a good hitter.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Can you imagine having a hitter on your bench who was also your 12th pitcher? How cool would that be?

ogc obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

And it's been done before. Kieschnick's uncle (I think his name was Brooks) was a 5th starter/reliever/pinch-hitter for the Cubs for 2-3 years a few years back, in the late 2000's.

I've been waiting for the Giants to have someone like that, given how much Sabean loves flexibility in his bench, and how limited our bench has been relative to other teams since we regularly carry 7 pitchers. A hitter/pitcher would be the ultimate in utility, I agree. I've been wondering if maybe Bumgarner might be utilized more often as a PH, since he supposedly is proud of his hitting.

Heck, I've been wondering if the Giants might emphasize having their pitchers hit better. Livan used to bet his fellow starters for bragging rights regarding hitting. Due to that, later on, I researched what would happen if a pitcher could hit as poorly as Vizquel did for us in one of his last seasons for us, and determined that a pitcher who could hit in the low .600 OPS could add a couple of wins (basically turn one loss into a win) each season. So a .500 pitcher average hitting pitcher, 15-15 for 10 years could turn himself into a 16-14 pitcher for 10 years, or .533 pitcher. A staff of such pitchers would change a 81-81 team to a 86-76 team, just by greatly improving their hitting.

Of course, not all and probably hardly any pitchers can reach .600 OPS, but as we see every season, adding 1 or 2 wins each season could make the difference between the playoffs and waiting for next year. Seems worth it to encourage the pitchers who can hit to work on and develop further their hitting ability.

I mean, many pitchers were often their team's best hitters as they grew up in Little or Pony League, just seems like there should be a lot of natural ability that could be encouraged and developed still.

Heck, it could be like how Charlie O. used to offer a bonus for anyone who would grow and wear a mustache (or how he offered Vida a big sum of money to change his middle name to "True"), the Giants could make it an internal game of some sort, give some honorary trophy to the best hitting pitcher at the end of the year. I never really liked Livan, thought he was soft and a loose cannon, but really loved that he tried to get his fellow starters to hit better. Couldn't hurt.

Ron said...

First point:-

Why on earth would we be telling Vogelsong that he is the #5 Starter w/ no competition? There is no point - there is no physical evidence to suggest that he is for sure going to be effective, & it is stupid to send a message to Petit (& anyone else) that they have no chance to make the rotation.

Second point:-

There are so many wonderful reasons to have a great-hitting Pitcher on the Staff (& Willis is truly a great-hitting Pitcher:

- In the unlikely event that he becomes a Starter, he is available to PH on his days off. And, he's not a Superstar commodity like Bumgarner who also happens to expose his pitching arm, because he bats right-handed.

- If Willis is in the game for long relief, we don't have to worry about double-switches or burning up additional PH's or P's, just because his spot is going to come around in the batting order.

- If he has pitched a few days recently & isn't available to pitch, he's still always available to hit.

- He can be the double switch himself, if necessary, to preserve lefty-righty matchups.

- Willis happens to hit lefty, & we need a lefty hitter off the bench.

- He can DH in Interleague games, allowing us to keep our normal bench intact.

ogc obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

"we" didn't. Sabean did, stating that if Vogelsong was signed, he was the 5th starter. I agree with you about the uncertainty about Vogelsong given his performance. The Giants apparently do not agree.

Of course, this could just be a way to give face to Vogelsong in his signing, but if he falls flat on his face, then they move on to another pitcher.

However, then, it don't make any sense to give $5-6M to a pitcher who you are not sure will produce or not. You only give that much if you think that there is a pretty good chance that he'll produce.

Plus, Sabean has basically said that Petit is our long-reliever, I forgot the exact quote, but that is my impression from one of his interview/statements.

Still, stating that Willis is a competitor for the 5th starting spot makes even less sense to me than stating Vogelsong is the 5th starter without competition. Vogelsong isn't that far from dominating major league hitters like they were silly, in 2011-2012. There are reasons that makes sense why 2013 fell flat, short off-season, pitching in the WBC, getting injured in his hand, and I would bet that he tried to return too early as well.

I can't even remember the last time Willis was even relevant and productive. I don't see why he's that special right now, he's a flier, pure and simple.

Meanwhile, Petit was dominating hitters last season, he should be the one people are clamoring to compete for the 5th spot with Vogelsong, not Willis.

I may not see Vogelsong as productive, I'll put my faith in the Giants brain trust that has led us this far, that they have made the assessment and measured the risk, and think that Vogelsong has a pretty good chance of returning to some level of goodness.

And even if he should falter, I feel good with Petit and Kickham as the first line of replacement in the first half of the season, then Escobar and maybe someone among Crick, Blackburn, Mejia, Blach might be ready to get a try as well, plus maybe Stratton or Agosta as well. It's not perfect, but most things aren't, and I think there is enough risk mitigation with this roster structure and planning.

Ron said...

So much for Chad Gaudin ... now a Phillie. Bring back Jerome Williams!