Sunday, February 25, 2024

Youth Movement?

The Giants opened their Spring Exhibition season with a uninspiring loss to the Cubs. Speaking of the Cubs, Cody Bellinger returns to Chicago on a three-year, $80M deal. Lest you think only the Giants have a thing for opt-outs, Belli's deal includes opt-outs after the first two years. The Giants were linked to J.D. Martinez but opted for Jorge Soler instead. Martinez is still unsigned but will catch on somewhere. Boras Boys Matt Chapman, Blake Snell, and Jordan Montgomery are still "in the wings."

Farhan Zaidi has hinted that the Giants are going with the gang they have. We shouldn't expect any more additions to the roster. So, rather than think the club has a glaring hole at shortstop, I've decided FZ & Co. are all-in on the youth movement! Marco Luciano is not yet 23 and has a mere 14 games on his ML-résumé. He signed with the Giants as an international free agent (from the Dominican Republic) in 2018. Young catcher Patrick Bailey has a veteran backup—Tom Murphy—but there isn't a veteran shortstop behind Luciano. The main backup at this point seems to be 25-year old utilityman Otto López who was picked up for cash from the Blue Jays. Or 25-year old 2020 2nd-rounder Casey Schmitt. Not a grizzled mug in the bunch.

Speaking of grizzled, two veteran hurlers are on the shelf until after the All-Star Break. Both FNG Robbie Ray and returning stalwart Alex Cobb are recovering from off-season surgeries. Rather than view this as a glaring hole in the starting rotation, I'm joining the Front Office in their enthusiastic embrace of the youth movement. I like the signing of flamethrowing Jordan Hicks and think his transition from the 'pen could really work. I suspect they'll run him out there until the Break as a stopgap. Hicks will pitch like hell then blow out his arm but the return of the aforementioned Big Two will pick up the slack. He's the rabbit in the race.

After that it is lefty phenom Kyle Harrison, who is also not yet 23, and has 34-2/3 IP in the bigs under his belt. From there it is take-your-pick of Keaton Winn (26, already injured), Tristan Beck (27), Erik Miller (26), Sean Hjelle (26), Kai-Wei Teng (25) and a plethora of up-and-comers like Carson Wisenhunt (23), Landen Roupp (25), Mason Black (24), and Hayden Birdsong (22). Logan Webb is certainly an ace but right now it is a one-man rotation. I really thought they'd sign another veteran arm but it seems clear they will go with the kids. (And the Hicks Experiment.)

This is either folly or supreme self-confidence, I can't tell. I actually love youth movements in general. It is fun to watch young players develop their game. The Giants have been an old, slow bunch lately and that needs to change. But it seems unnecessarily risky to have key spots (SS, SP) manned by inexperienced players. It could all go south in a hurry. I'm okay with that, actually, but on one very important condition. I think the Giants should tell us so. That FZ should say "yes we are entrusting these big responsibilities to rookies." Use the words "youth movement" and "rebuild" in public. He can add "we really like our rookies and expect them to get the job done." That would help!

But teams can't do that. They have to pretend they have a playoff-caliber squad even if they don't. Right now I am excited by Jung-Hoo Lee and Patrick Bailey. I'm intensely interested in Marco Luciano. And of course there is Logan Webb, one of the best in the business. Camilo Doval is among the game's top closers. Thairo Estrada has established himself as the everyday second baseman. There's a lot to like and to be interested in. The rest of the roster is familiar: Slater, Yaz, Wade, Davis, Flores, and Conforto. If healthy, it's a solid mix, and Soler's right-handed pop is a good addition. But after last season's stumbling finish I have to wonder if they did enough despite having an active off-season.

The 1986 team had an advertising slogan: "You Gotta Like These Kids." They ought to think about bringing it back for 2024.

What say you?

--M.C.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Bopper

The Giants sign Jorge Soler for three years and $42 million. The righty slugger will slot in as the primary DH and will give the lefty-leaning lineup a real power threat. He hit homers in Miami which is a hard place for right-handed power hitters so I expect the adjustment to Oracle Park will not be a problem. He's a limited player defensively but if he can hit the ball hard regularly he will help the team.

--M.C.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Cool Giants

The Giants signed flame-throwing Jordan Hicks on the 12th of January. It looked like things were heating up. Alas, it has since been quiet on the player acquisition front. There have been a few smaller moves, at least one that's intriguing, but nothing addressing the team's weak spots. The Giants picked up a 26-year old righty named Tommy Romero who was once a notable prospect in the Rays system. His MLB time is scant (8-1/3 IP, 44 TBF) but scary (9 BB, 7 HR). Like I said, intriguing. They added Cooper Hummel, a switch-hitting left-fielder who also catches. He's the backup for Blake Sabol, I suppose. Does this put Joey Bart on the trade block? MLBTR thinks so. (They also think teams are "showing interest" in Brandon Crawford.)

While Zaidian tinkering around the edges of the roster is necessary, it doesn't fill the fans with enthusiasm. They need another starter. They need another infielder—a shortstop, actually. Don't you think? And it wouldn't hurt to add a bat, just to give the fans something to get excited about. J.D. Davis is the only arb-eligible player who is unsigned. I wonder if that's just a small sticking point in negotiations as the Giants usually wrap all that stuff up early. If they are really interested in Matt Chapman, as has been reported all off-season, that would make Davis redundant. Are they positioning themselves for a trade? Davis led the team in games (144), plate appearances (546), strikeouts (152), and grounding into double plays (16). His .248/.325/.413 is solidly league average (104 wRC+). FanGraphs credited him with good defense and 2.2 fWAR while Baseball-Reference knocked his glove and pegged him at 0.9 bWAR. Chapman is a slight hitting upgrade but is usually rated very high for his fielding. Both men turn 31 in April.

I suppose I'll leave the strategic thinking to the team brass, after all they get paid to do it. This blogging stuff is strictly amateur. I've been away from my desk and unable to write but there's been nothing noteworthy so I didn't miss anything. We all saw the Dusty Baker news. The Giants have this unfortunate image of the team nobody wants to play for. It's bullshit of course, just media jive, but you have to deal with it. Dusty is well-loved all over the game and he puts a welcoming face on the Giants brand. That'll help.

The calendar says February 15th for the first Pitchers & Catchers workout and February 20th for the first Full Squad workout. The first Spring Game is on the 24th. I'm ready for some baseball, how about you?

--M.C.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Big Heat

Jordan Hicks throws as hard as anyone in baseball. He averages just over 100 mph on both his four-seam fastball (which has hit 105!) and his bread-and-butter, a sinking two-seamer. He also has an 86-mph slider. His career 60% ground ball rate is Webb-like. It's easy to see why the Giants are interested, and in fact they signed him to a four-year, $44M deal.

Hicks has logged only 243 innings in 212 games over five seasons with the Cardinals and Blue Jays. He made eight starts in 2022 but has otherwise been a reliever. He turned 27 in September. Like a lot of flamethrowers he walks a lot of guys and is an injury risk. He had TJS in 2019.

Oh, but that talent! I think that's what this deal is all about. Reaching free agency at a relatively young age makes Hicks a better-than-average risk. The peak years for most ballplayers are ages 26-29 or thereabouts. The Giants see starter potential and want to put him in the rotation.

I was reading something on Tom Tango's blog about predictive wOBA (I know, pretty nerdy stuff), and he introduced the column with this tidbit:

Hitting a 450 foot HR is very indicative of a batter's talent. It shows that he has raw power and it shows that he can really put the barrel on the ball. Hitting a 110 mph high popup to an outfielder for an easy out is also a good indication of a batter's talent. It shows that he has raw power and that a small mistiming is what kept him from hitting a 450 foot HR.

A bloop hit is a better outcome for the team than a pop-out, but a lucky Texas-leaguer doesn't tell you anything about the batter's talent. The major-league pop-up does.

I think the same logic applies to this deal. Hicks has some serious pitching talent. Maybe the outcomes haven't been there, but all the indicators are certainly there. A relatively modest deal for a young major-league arm with lots of upside is OK by me. The rotation is still full of question marks after Logan Webb, but at least the pool of possible answers is getting bigger. I would still like to see them go after Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, and I keep wondering about shortstop, but at least the Hicks signing is something to talk about.

--M.C.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Hey, Robbie Ray

The Giants make their first move of the new year by trading for Seattle lefty Robbie Ray. Mitch Haniger and Anthony DeSclafani go to the Mariners.

It's no secret that the Giants need starting pitching. Ray was the AL Cy Young awardee in 2021 and has delivered a mostly strong body of work over his ten seasons. He's thrown 1228 innings in 226 games (222 starts) with excellent strikeout numbers (1505 total, 11 K/9, 28.9%). Lifetime he sports a 3.96 ERA and 4.07 FIP. He made one start last year before a flexor strain (followed by Tommy John surgery) ended his season.

It's an interesting risk for the Giants. Ray is 32 and missed a lot of playing time in 2020 as well. He's signed (@$25M/yr.) through 2026. They relieved themselves of some salary by sending away Haniger ($20M) and DeSclafani ($12M). The Giants are sending cash ($3M) to the Mariners as well. If Ray is healthy he will be a solid addition. Unfortunately I'm not clear on when Ray will be available to pitch--recovery from TJS takes a long time. Alex Cobb will open the season on the IL and the other arms after ace Logan Webb are unproven rookies (Kyle Harrison, Keaton Winn, Tristan Beck).

I'm glad to see the transaction wire heating up in San Francisco. I hope they will continue to pursue another starter, and they'll have to do something about shortstop, don't you think?

Meanwhile, welcome to the Giants, Robbie Ray!

--M.C.

Friday, December 22, 2023

One Billion Dollars

With the signing of NPB super-ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto (12 yrs, $325M) the LA Dodgers have purchased the services of the two best Japanese ballplayers on the planet. One of them is arguably already the best player in MLB. Shohei Ohtani's $700M takes the total outlay to over one billion dollars. If you laid one billion dollar bills end-to-end (a bill is about six inches in length) they would stretch 500,000,000 feet or about 95,000 miles or nearly four trips around the earth.

That's a lot of scratch!

MLB annual revenue is about $10B, and the total value of all 30 franchises is about $70B. TV rights for MLB games come in at a little under $2B annually. According to Forbes the Giants are in the top tier of wealthy clubs, rating fifth with a $3.7B valuation. The Yankees top the list ($7.1B), followed by the Dodgers( $4.8B), Red Sox ($4.5B), and Cubs ($4.1B). The hapless and unfortunate A's rate 29th ($1.1B) and the Marlins get the honor of the bottom spot ($1B).

The Giants have a lot of payroll flexibility if you assume that ownership is indeed willing to spend money. Only Logan Webb and Jung Hoo Lee have long-term deals. Mitch Haniger, Wilmer Flores, and Taylor Rogers are signed through 2025 and are free agents after that. FNG catcher Tom Murphy is signed through 2025 with a club option for 2026. The Giants have a club option on reliever Luke Jackson for 2025. That's it. Everyone else is either a free agent after the 2024 season or is still under team control (or in their arb-years).

This year's payroll is about $160M meaning they have about $47M to spend without topping the luxury tax threshold ($237M).

The Giants need a starter. I'm hoping they will still pursue Shoto Imagana. Also both Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery are available. The Giants will need a shortstop. They'll have to work the trade market to upgrade at that position. I think they will have to trade some of their young pitching talent to make a meaningful improvement.

I really like the Lee signing but it won't be enough to compete for the Western Division title. They've still got some work to do if they want to win 90+ games.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Thanks for reading. I hope we'll have some fun news to talk about before January rolls around.

--M.C.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Backstops

The Giants signed a veteran free-agent catcher to a two-year deal with an option for a third. His name is Tom Murphy and he has just over a thousand plate appearances in the bigs (eight seasons) and over two thousand innings (261 games) behind the plate. Most recently he slashed .290/.335/.538 in 47 games (159 PA) with the Seattle Mariners. He's got some pop and is clearly going to back up youngster Patrick Bailey, the putative starter.

Blake Sabol, after surviving his rookie season and Rule 5 status, seems like the obvious backup to that tandem. Where does that leave Joey Bart? He can't stay in AAA forever. He has no options remaining either, while Sabol's three are still intact.

There's a rumor that the Giants are willing to deal some of their young arms. Will they include Joey Bart in such a deal? I'd rather they sign Shoto Imanaga or Yoshinobu Yamamoto but if they can pull off a trade for someone like Framber Valdez I won't complain. There's also talk of a reunion with Sean Manaea.

Regardless, the catcher position seems to be in good shape. The Giants have a trio of young players and added a seasoned, part-time slugger to the mix. We all know FZ likes to make lots of moves around the margins that aren't exciting but are necessary. They also added a minor-league righty named Devin Sweet to the 40-man roster.

--M.C.