Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Late Season Preview

*I had to post this under my name, but it was written by guest contributor Michael Smith. Follow him on twitter: @brocean.

Truth be told, this post was supposed to go up last week, day before the Giants played their first game. However, responsibilities and the like got in the way (financing a car #nct.) and I just never got around to it during my "free time". Don't treat this as a season preview but more of a talking points collection to be able to look back with high hopes at either the All-Star break or with sorrow and acceptance as the September stretch nears and the Giants are hanging on by a thread.

2011 offseason in review:

- Pitching depth! Pitching depth? Jonathan Sanchez is gone. Thank GOD! That idiot asshole was one of the worst pitchers in the league, etc etc etc. Selling low, injury, walks like 5 per 9 innings. Well, maybe not. It's not crazy to see him post a league average ERA with 160-180 IP. Sure, you'll pull your hair out, but I'd also sleep slightly easier at night with him in the rotation than three question marks: Vogelsong, Zito and Surkamp. (more on this matter later on in the post, where I’m actually optimistic on Melky Cabrera)

With new regime leader Larry Baer and the introduction of a self-imposed budget restraint (even though the team is still rolling in cash), I was already bracing for a frugal approach to the offseason. Which I wouldn't necessarily mind. You never want to lock up your wrists in the later years, just to WIN NOW at the expense of possibly being unable to buy out your young arbitration-eligible players' looming raises.

When Carlos Beltran's deal with the St. Louis Cardinals details surfaced to be a $12.5M average annual value over two years, I was sure that would be the one and only real mistake the Giants made. The trade was already hard to swallow in losing Zack Wheeler, now made impossible to contain when you see that you don't even get another year or two of Carlos Beltran. To make matters worse, the price tag was near nothing for a hitter of his caliber. What could have been: Pagan-Posey-Pablo-Beltran-Belt. A potent 1-5.

I even let them have "let's keep two of the same player" mistake when Affeldt and Javier Lopez were retained. You get one mulligan, Giants! Just this one. But in late January, the Giants outdid themselves by watching the Rockies (Hi, division rivals) acquire Marco Scutaro via trade for a replaceable arm in Clayton Mortensen. Colorado acquired him to be a second baseman, but truthfully, he can still take it at shortstop. And with his hitting ability and the scarcity of the middle infield positions, he even becomes a plus-player there.

Coco Crisp walked back to Oakland with a 2 year deal for $14M, something I was okay with considering the Giants acquired Angel Pagan and center fielder by default Melky Cabrera. That and I would not have been thrilled with that acquisition.

Mike Fontenot was cut because of his handed-ness. Let's be honest with ourselves on the matter. Just another instance of left-handers being exonerated from baseball. But really, he was the more useful "2B"/utility infielder of the choices between him, Emmanuel Burriss, and Ryan Theriot. However, the team is already too left-handed (in their own estimation) to carry another left-handed player. What their thought process lacks though, is that some of those LHB position players include: Brandon Crawford and Aubrey Huff. Some reaction I’ve seen is “If that’s a big problem for the team, then they were already shit out of luck”. Let’s be honest: the middle of the field positions are as vital as having your “mashers” in the corners or your 1-2 punch in the rotation. A revolving door of Crawford/Theriot/Burriss doesn’t give me much to look forward to. To make matters worse (fine, more alarming): eventually one will even play 3rd when Sandoval sits. Theriot’s lollypop arm or Burriss’ mental mistakes. Pick your poison.

At least the Giants did well in extending Matt Cain at what is a fair deal when you realize they are paying for his age 27 to age 32 seasons. The money isn't as great a deal when you stop to think about just how much more he could have gotten in a starving free-agent market. That's a more certain deal than paying for Tim Lincecum's age 29 to (possibly) age 34/5/6? seasons at a higher annual average value when that time comes.

I would be okay with the Giants putting their hands up and slowly walking away from signing that big Lincecum deal two years from now. As long as part of that money goes to locking up Madison Bumgarner's arbitration-years from being raised. And of course, development.

Things I'm rooting for this season:

- Melky Cabrera to make me eat crow, all of it. (Hi, Troy)
I didn't like the deal at all when it occurred. Trading away a still 4th-starter-caliber pitcher for a "center fielder" whose season seemed inflated was risky. I want Melky to be a more-than-league-average CF, and not turn back into a pumpkin whose ceiling is that of a 4th outfielder. Please let this be the start of your prime. Because up until his questionable season last year, he had an 85 OPS+ (say, is that like a post-Philadelphia Aaron Rowand line?)

- Angel Pagan to do well.
If only to shush Spring Training statistics thumpers. That, and he's interesting. I too, caught on to his act in 2009/2010 as he "broke out" by being given a chance on a Mets team that needed warm bodies in the outfield. As I recognize his year-to-year decline, I'd also like to take a chance on him still posting around a 95 OPS+ while holding down center field with decent enough defense to be a difference maker. The decline I speak of (in OPS+, from 2009-2011) is 122 to 108 to 93. Also, bon voyage, Andres Torres.

- Emmanuel Burriss to ... not succeed (please don't hate me?)
(See above re: Spring Training statistics)

- Aubrey Huff to also not do well, or at least "not well" enough for the front office to really hand the job to Brandon Belt (Some of you might really hate me for this one)
Last year, the day before he hit 3 home runs in a game, I publicly went against Aubrey Huff. I even got kudos from some people who condemned me for saying something I had bottled up, then. I have never been a fan of the player, and when he did well in 2010, I had to accept it and root for him because hey flags fly forever. But now, if he performs even materialistically "decent", Brandon Belt will be blocked even further from being a starter provided he doesn't get off to the hottest of starts. Difference in 2010: no young player being blocked. I mean, as much as Bowkermania ran wild back then (RIP), he was still a 26-year-old player. Belt is 23 and more promise than John Bowker had shown at that point, or ever. I don't think Huff is as bad an outfielder as 2011 showed in those two weeks. However, there's something to be said about the ~adequate corner outfield adventures in 2010 and that he's two years older since he was that grade of an outfielder.

- Barry Zito to do well, or at least well enough for his repertoire (170 IP, 105 ERA+)
The timing of this post seems a bit opportunistic what with his unicorn ascension (fuck a phoenix) in Denver. But ultimately, this is to stop the dog-piling on a player who hasn't put up a fuss about his situation. And someone I've rooted for at least 10 years now. Those, and if he doesn't succeed, you would really be trimming your candle wicks and biting your lower lip after every Eric Surkamp outing in the minors. Do you have faith in Surkamp working good off-speed pitches with a below-average fastball in the Majors? I don’t, not really. Do you feel confident in Zito being a league-average pitcher, still? I do, but I’m also his biggest apologist. Also, if you didn’t trust Surkamp, how would you trust Zito…? Not only that, but Vogelsong is very much no sure thing. I've even trimmed a blurb on him because this post has already gone on long enough.

Thing I've come to terms with, begrudgingly:
Freddy Sanchez and his availability this season. Can he put together even 100 games for 2012 at this rate? I hope. But his projected batting lines don't really have that great a difference from him and Ryan Theriot. And another year older, whose defense prowess depends so much on lateral movement to balls in play.

No prediction for how they'll do this year. Just hope that everything really does break right for this team.