Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Should the Giants pick up Ryan Garko?

Today something unexpected occurred: the Seattle Mariners, who picked up Ryan Garko after he was non-tendered by the San Francisco Giants, have elected to put Garko on waivers after giving the first baseman a one-year contract worth $550,000.  This is truly bizarre.  It seems that Garko is a guy who just cannot find a home and continues to be mismanaged by clubs throughout the league.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am a fan of Garko and I think he should play on the team.  I wrote fairly extensively about how I believe the Giants should not have non-tendered Garko.  Now the question is: should the Giants pick up Garko now that his name is attached to a cheap price tag?

Let's first go back and, briefly, look at what happened with Garko.  The Giants acquired Garko through a trade with the Cleveland Indians.  The Indians received Giants' prospect Scott Barnes and the Giants received Garko.  The Giants, in the middle of trying to capitalize on a unexpectedly competitive season, needed bats to get into the playoffs.  Garko, they hoped, would be the key to that.  Garko showed up.  The Giants gave him 100 at-bats.  Garko did not perform as they had hoped in the very few opportunities, and Garko as relegated to the bench.  Apparently, Garko and Bruce Bochey had some sort of falling out.  One can only guess what that means.  Additionally, Brian Sabean noted that he could not imagine paying Garko $2-3 million, which Garko could have gotten through arbitration.  So, the Giants let Garko go.  The Giants wanted to get Nick Johnson to play 1B, but he went to the Yankees.  Then they went after Adam LaRoche.  But he went to the Diamondbacks.  Then they went after Aubrey Huff.

The Mariners signed Garko on the cheap, and today they have released him.  I must say I did not see this one coming.  But now that Garko is on the market again, should the Giants take a look at resigning him?

Let us look at what Garko has to offer.  Garko is a first baseman who offers an above-average bat, which is stellar on this Giants team.  Garko has a career .347 wOBA, .792 OPS, and has decent plate discipline with a .58 BB/K in 2009.  He is projected to offer about 1.0 WAR in 2010 (which, coincidentally is also what Aubrey Huff is projected to offer, yet we are paying him millions.  Good job Sabean.).  

Moreover, Garko is dirt cheap.  We would be picking up a player who has a proven bat, is young, and will not cost the Giants much at all.

So what is stopping the Giants from picking him up?  I see a couple reasons why the Giants will not go after Garko, even though I think it is in the team's best interests.  First, I am concerned about this falling out that allegedly occurred between Garko and Bochey.  What exactly happened?  Does Bochey refuse to work with Garko?  Does Garko refuse to work with Bochey?  Did Garko call Bochey's mother a dog?  What happened?  I do not have an answer to this, but apparently it was significant enough to be reported and was significant enough to keep Garko sitting on the bench for most of the 2009 season while with the Giants.

Second, I am concerned about roster-space.  The 25-man roster is looking pretty full right now for the Giants.  Here is what I envision the roster looking like come opening day:

Starting Pitchers: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, Todd Wellemeyer
Relief Pitchers: Brian Wilson, Dan Runzler, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Guillermo Mota, Brandon Medders, Kevan Pucetas
Infielders: Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa
Outfielders: Aaron Rowand, John Bowker, Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez
Catchers: Benjie Molina, Eli Whiteside

Freddy Sanchez will be on the DL for most of April.  Buster Posey, I hope, will be sent down to the minors until we are ready to give him a starting position.  You will notice that I dropped Andres Torres.  Torres is a scrub and I really think given the emergance of Nate Schierholtz and John Bowker he really has no place on the team.  Another questionmark is Fred Lewis.  Despite Lewis's strong performance the Giants seem hell-bent on misusing him.  Thus, we might see Lewis go also.

To make room for Ryan Garko someone will need to go.  It might Travis Ishikawa, but I believe he is out of minor-league options and the Giants would need to sneak him through waivers.  It has been reported that the Giants are trying to trade Fred Lewis.  I doubt they would get anyone solid enough to be on the 25-man roster, if they are not willing to play someone with Lewis's talents as is.  Thus, it seems that Ishikawa or Lewis would have to go and then Garko would have space on the roster.  Once Freddy Sanchez returns, both Ishikawa and either Lewis or Velez will need to go in order to make room on the roster.  Would the Giants do that?

Probably not.  The Giants love Eugenio Velez, probably for his versatility more than his offensive prowess.  While Ishikawa may not be as good as Garko, he also isn't Ryan Garko, which, again for some reason that escapes me, seems to matter to the Giants. 

To close, I would like to note that I think signing Ryan Garko would be a very good move for the Giants.  That said, I doubt it will happen.  Here's to hoping.

Monday, March 29, 2010

For Opening Day . . .

I thought I would share this video with Giants fans.  It was made with the 2009 season in mind, however I think it is still a great opening day video.

Baseball the Giants Way

Before the Giants moved to San Francisco, they were one of the premier teams of professional baseball.  When looking at the accomplishments of the Giants, which includes 5 World Series titles, 20 National League Pennants, and 6 West Division Titles, it becomes clear the Giants were a much more powerful team during their days in New York.  5 of their World Series titles came in New York, while 17 of their National League Pennants also came from back east.  Since moving to San Francisco, the Giants have managed to make it to the World Series three times, yet each time they fell (they lost to the Yankees in game 7 in 1962, were swept by the Oakland A's in 1989, and lost in Game 7 to the Anaheim Angels, following a heartbreaking Game 6 loss in Southern California).  For those of you who are interested in myth, there is a legend that the Giants will never win a World Series in San Francisco due to the Curse of Coogan's Bluff.  The legend goes that once the Giants were packing up to leave the Polo Grounds (which lay on Coogan's Bluff), fans noted that they would never win a World Series away from New York.  Thus far, their predictions have remained true.  For those of us, however, who do not believe in baseball specters, there must be another reason for the Giants' failure over the past 50 years.

Before attempting to answer that question, I believe it would be wise to take a look at a similarly situation team: the ever hated Dodgers.  Before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, they played in a place called Brooklyn, while the Giants played up-town.  This is where the seeds of rivalry were sown.  During the New York era the Dodgers were the Giants' whipping boys.  The Giants were vastly more successful than the Dodgers: whereas the Giants won the World Series five times, the Dodgers won it once.  The Giants won the pennant 17 times, while the Dodgers won it 12.  However, the teams fortunes changed after the moved to California.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have generally enjoyed a success that the San Francisco Giants have not.  They have won 9 pennants since coming to LA, and they have won 5 World Series in Chavez Ravine.  Why were the Dodgers more successful?

One thing might have been payroll.  I do not have any statistics on hand, but at least in the past 20 years the Dodgers have generally had a higher payroll than the Giants.  Another part of higher payroll is fan revenue.  With Chavez Ravine being easily accessible to Los Angelinos, and with there being a vast amount of people available to attend games, Los Angeles has generally been a very profitable ball club.

After the 1970s, the Giants fortunes were not so good.  Candlestick Park, where the Giants played since they moved to San Francisco up until AT&T Park was built in 2000, was known as being cold, wet, and depressing.  Furthermore, being a Bay Area native myself, I personally knew how difficult it was to get to the park.  Most Giants fans do not live in San Francisco, rather they live in the East and South Bay.  Growing up in the East Bay myself, it was quite a drive, through San Francisco, which is always a nightmare, to get to an evening baseball game.  My mother, an avid Giants fan throughout my youth, was loathe to go to a game during the week after working.  I think many fans felt the same way.  In fact, after negotiations to create a new stadium failed throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Giants threatened to move to Florida.  The move, thankfully, was stopped.  Private funding was made for the new stadium, the Giants signed Barry Bonds, and San Francisco baseball continued.

Thankfully, the trends of poor attendance and revnue has reserved.  The Giants are now considered one of the most profitable clubs, with Forbes reporting that the Giants are the ninth most valuable baseball club (the Dodgers are the fourth).  Moreover, per fan, the Giants are the most valuable team.  So, for now, it seems economics should no longer player much of a role in the achievement gap.

What else then?  Strategy.  Strategy probably is what has led to the significant achievement gap between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  When you think of your favorite Giants players, aside from those still playing on the team, few are pitchers.  Most fans will mention Mays, Bonds, Jack Clark, Will "the Thrill" Clark, and McCovey.  In fact, the San Francisco Giants defined their team through the strength of its hitting through almost all of the time in San Francisco.  The Giants were known as sluggers; there's a reason for "Bye, Bye, Baby."

When thinking of the great Dodgers of the Los Angeles era, however, not many hitters come to mind.  Most think of Koufax, Drysdale, Hershiser, and Ramon Martinez, players who defined Los Angeles as a pitcher's club.

Today, however, the roles have seemed to reversed.  Will we see something different in the coming years?  The Giants have one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball, while the Dodgers have some of the best hitters in baseball.  Thus far, it has been the Dodgers who have been the more successful club, as they are coming off back-to-back NL West titles.

So what does the future hold for the San Francisco Giants?  Will a change in strategy help this club become more successful?  What strategy changes are taking place?

William "Bill" Neukom became Managing General Partern of the San Francisco Giants in 2008.  When Neukom rolled into town he announced that the Giants would change course.  They would start following a plan that Neukom called "baseball the Giants' way."  What exactly is baseball "the Giants' way?"  Neukom's new strategy revolves around internal development of players.  The Giants, instead of looking outside for talent on the market, will focus much of their resources into building better facilities and hiring better trainers and coaches for the players being brought up in our farm.  Neukom described the plan as being something that would be "medium-term to long-term."

So, where will such a plan land the Giants?  It's hard to tell.  The benefits are clear: building an organization from within certainly is cheaper.  If the Giants have a lot of young, exciting baseball players making relatively little they will be able to focus more money on getting the right free agents for that particular season.  That might be exactly what the Giants need in order to make a World Series run.  Thus far, the system has seemed to work out well: The Giants have the best pitcher on baseball on their team, Tim Lincecum, and up until last year he was making less than half a million.  Matt Cain, also brought up through the Giants' system, is considered on of the National League's elite.  Brian Wilson, yet another veteran of the Giants minor league system, is considered among the league's best closers.  Finally, Pablo Sandoval, the best position player in his division with the exception of perhaps Andrian Gonzalez, was also brought up through the system.  Thus far, the Giants' youth movement appears to be working.

What's the downside?  It will be interesting to see where the team is in 2012.  Payroll restrictions are going to hurt the Giants.  In 2010, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, and Brian Wilson will make $42.5 million.  How much will Lincecum make that year?  $20 million?  So now we have four pitchers taking up $62.5 million?  Then add in Aaron Rowand's final year ($12 million) so now we have $74.5 million.  Unless the plan works out, and we can fill the rest of the 40 man roster with the money available, the Giants are not going to have enough money to go out and get big name free agents.  Essentially, the San Francisco Giants, in the short term, will live and die with Neukom's plan.  Hopefully it works.

A new era of Giants baseball is certainly on the rise.  Fans have called out dearly for a youth movement to save them from having to see, year in and year out, one of the oldest teams in baseball.  For this team to really capitalize on the plan, however, I think some organization changes must be made.  First, Bruce Bochey either needs to get specific instructions to start playing younger players or he needs to go.  The fact that Bochey played Randy Winn throughout the 2009 season, despite Winn's pitiful performance is shocking.  Winn was clearly outplayed by Schierholtz, yet the younger player sat most of the season on the bench.  Bochey also was quick to give up on former Giant Ryan Garko.  Garko was brought into the organization through a trade, by which the Giants sent Cleveland Scott Barnes, a top pitching prospect, in exchange for Garko.  Garko received 100 at-bats and was quickly benched.  Bochey needs to learn how to work with young players or this system will never come to fruition.

Second, the Giants need to learn how to evaluate hitting talent.  In the past several years, the Giants have shown that they have no clue how to organize a team around hitting.  Take Fred Lewis.  Lewis is a fine baseball player and one that can consistently get on base.  Yes, he has struggled as of late, however that is no reason to abandon him and assume he will never get back to form.  Rumor has it, however, that there is no longer any place on this team for Lewis and the Giants are actively seeking to trade him.  Look at the free agent acquisitions the Giants made this season.  Why on Earth was Ryan Garko non-tendered after we made a trade for him, and then the Giants go out and sign Aubrey Huff?  I understand the Giants wanted Adam LaRoche, and LaRoche turned them down.  However, quick knee-jerk reactions to deals falling through should not result in signings of mediocre veterans like Aubrey Huff.

The Giants currently have some of the best prospects in baseball in their system.  Buster Posey is on the brink of breaking through.  Right now, the Giants are considering bringing up the young catcher and splitting him at 1B.  This would be the most asinine move the Giants could possibly make.  If the Giants do not want Posey catching in the bigs today, they should keep him in the minors, where he can start every single day.  The Giants should certainly not let their future star rot on the bench in 2010.

To close, the Giants' future will be interesting to watch.  The Giants will rise or fall depending on the success of players whose names almost no one today knows.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Let Bowker Bat

It has been quite some time since I posted, and I apologize to anyone who happens to read my blog for the delay.  Seeing as Spring Training is wrapping up and the regular season is set to begin I thought I would offer some thoughts on what the opening day roster should look like. 

The first thing that Giants fans should be aware of is that Freddy Sanchez is injured.  The ever brittle Sanchez was originally set to return to the team for opening-day.  Then, we were told, Sanchez would not make opening day.  Now, it is up in the air.  When will Sanchez return?  Who knows.  The second thing is that, despite the fact that he is one of the few players on the team who has a decent OBP, Fred Lewis seems to have no future with the club.  The Giants are reported to have been trying to trade Lewis for a back up middle-infielder.  While I think this move is absurd, and yet another sign that the Giants have absolutely no idea how to organize a club offensively, it is what it is.  The only positive from the supposed Lewis trade and Sanchez's injury is there might be more room to let some of the youth get a chance to make the opening day roster. 

One man that deserves such a position on the team is John Bowker.  Aside from Buster Posey, John Bowker is probably the best major league-ready player in the Giants' farm system.  At the AAA level Bowker owned a .447 wOBA, a 1.047 OPS (!), and .451 OBP in 2009.  That is absolutely amazing.  Clearly, Bowker has nothing more to prove at that level.  Bowker was briefly called up during the 2009 campaign, but the Giants sent him packing citing a "lack of offensive production."  Bowker hit wiht a .271 wOBA at the major league level, however that was in a paltry 67 at-bats.  Someone needs explain to the Giants front office what statistical significance is. 

Entering the 2010 Spring Training, most of those who follow the Giants knew that, with the departure of Randy Winn, the RF position was wide open, and ready for one of the youngster to snatch it up.  Nate Schierholtz seemed like the most likely choice, as Schierholtz is a superb defender and showed much promise during the 2009 campaign.  The only other person waiting in line for the position seems to have been Bowker.  Luckily for those of us who would prefer to see Bowker in RF, which includes yours truly, the Spring Training campaign has showed a Bowker who has excelled behind the dish, while Schierholtz has continued to struggle. 

Bowker has proven throughout Spring Training that he is in fact ready to bat at the major league level.  While I do not find much significance in RBI as a stat, Bowker does lead all of Spring Training players in RBI.  Bowker has homered numerous times, and has played very well offensively, which is what this team needs if they are to be considered true contenders in 2010. 

Naturally, Bruce Bochey, when asked abotu Bowker, continues to pull his normal nonesense, wherein he shows his utter disdain for young players:

"We know Johnny can hit . . . . That's a great bat there.  It's a matter of what is best for the ballclub.  The ball is jumping off his bat, but there are other things you consider."

If I know Bochey, this means he will probably not start Bowker.  Why?  Would it not make sense to play an offensively productive player on a team that has absolutely no thunder in the lumber?  It is completely absurd how Bochey seems to completely ignore those players available who are offensively productive.  Bochey has relegated Lewis to the bench, depsite being a fairly quality players, and the second most offensively productive Giants in 2009.

Luckily, however, Freddy Sanchez's injury might give Bowker the opportunity to play on opening day.  If Bochey decides to give Schierholtz the starting position, he will still have a hole in 2B, with Sanchez out.  The Giants do have Juan Uribe, however Uribe's offense is nothing special.  A wise decision would be to move Mark DeRosa over to 2B, where is capable of playing, and start Bowker in LF.  Such a lineup could produce something like this:

(1) Aaron Rowand CF
(2) John Bowker LF
(3) Mark DeRosa 2B
(4) Pablo Sandoval 3B
(5) Aubrey Huff 1B
(6) Edgar Renteria SS
(7) Nate Schierholtz RF
(8) Benjie Molina C

Not a terrible line-up in my opinion.  Bochey seems intent on putting Rowand in the leadoff spot, where he did excel last year, albeit briefly, and he has done well during Sprin Training.  Putting Sandoval in the four spot allows him to be surrounded by DeRosa and Huff.  If Bowker continues his offensive production, the first five of our lineup could provide some decent offense. 

Afterall, if the pitching remains in top form in 2010, the Giants only need an average offense to make a deep run for the playoffs.  Make it happen Giants!