Monday, July 26, 2010

What to Get for The Push?

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is less than a week away.  The Giants are projected to win the National League West, which would put the team into the post-season for the first time since 2003.  The drought has been so long that even a long-time fan such as myself is having a difficult time remembering the Giants in October.  If the Giants do make it will be the first time the Giants will be in the playoffs without Barry Bonds, something which the army of fans the Giants have amassed since moving to AT&T park have never seen.  So the question on every Giants fan right now is what to do about the trade deadline.  There are two things which the Giants need to shore up to have an elite team: hitting and bullpen depth.

The Offense Now
Thus far, the Giants offense has not been bad, especially if you have been watching the Giants Bonds left.  As it stands now, the Giants have the fourth highest batting avg in the national league and the eighth best SLG and OBP.  This can largely be attributed to unlikely resurgences in Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres, as well as the emergence of Buster Posey as the Giants best hitting positional prospect since Will Clark.  That said, if the Giants want to go deep into the playoffs they are going to need more than a slightly above-average offense.  They will need an offense that ranks among the top third of baseball, at least, in order to compete with the pitching staff in October.  Given that, which players should the Giants look to acquire before the week's end?

Jayson Werth
Werth would give the Giants an Edge.  
Of all the available players, Jayson Werth would probably be the most ideal for the Giants.  First, the Giants are looking to upgrade int he outfield.  This season right field has been manned primarily by Nate Schierholtz or platooned with Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres.  While Schierholtz provides superb defense, his hitting has been rather pedestrian this year.  Upgrading in right would allow the Giants to add a strong player without crowding out any of the other serviceable options.

After signing Ryan Howard to a ridiculous contract, it became clear in Philadelphia that they would not be able to financially hold onto Werth, who is set to hit free agency at the end of the season.  Thus, the Fightin' Phils have put Werth on the trading block.  Rumor has it that the Phillies, who are looking for starting pitching, and the Astros, who are looking to move Roy Oswalt for prospects, could be trying to figure out a three way deal which would land then the Astros' ace.  The Giants have been linked to Werth, and possibly could be involved in this three way deal.  The Giants certainly have a decent amount of prospects, including Tomas Neal and Nick Noonan, who may prove to be attractive enough to Houston to part ways with Oswalt.

So, it may be possible to get Werth, but why would be help the Giants out?  For the past several years, Werth has been around a 4.5 to 5.0 WAR player.  He is superb with the bat, plays defense well enough, and can run with speed.  Werth currently has been hitting with a .382 wOBA, which would bode well for a the Giants offense, and definitely hits for power (Werth hit 36 HRs in 2008).

As I noted above, however, Werth will hit free agency at the end of the year.  Thus, any trade for Werth would only guarantee his services through the end of the season.  His agent, Scott Boras, has made it clear that Werth will be the premiere free agent in the off-season, thus to retain him would require a lot of cash.  However, it Werth leaves via free agency it will give the Giants two draft picks, which will help replenish the farm system after trading some 'specs away for Werth in the first place.  Thus, while it may be frustrating to get a rental player, having someone like Werth who could help the Giants get a ring this play-off season would be well worth parting with a few prospects.  You have to spend money to make money.

Therefore, Werth should be on top of the Giants' list.  If it is possible to get him, they should.

Josh Willingham
Willingham is a 31-year old outfielder in the Washington Nationals organization.  Like Werth, Willingham could man down in right-field, and could provide some significant production there.  Throughout his career, Willingham has been a 2.5 WAR player.  Clearly, Willingham could not provide the same production that Werth could, nor would he impact the lineup nearly as much as would Werth, but Willingham could provide a more well-rounded lineup which offers more depth and fewer auto-outs.

Willingham's stats are impressive and would be a welcome addition.  He is on track to hit 30 HRs this season, and offensively this year has actually been better than Jayson Werth with a .391 wOBA.  Clearly, he is a good player.

And perhaps that is the reason why it would take a lot to get him from Washington.  After the emergence of Stephen Stausborg, Washington is working hard to build a formidable team.  While they have been wallowing in mediocrity, Willingham could be one of the pieces that they will need in the coming years to have a winning season.  In order to pry him away from Washington, the Giants would certainly have to wow him.  Apparently, Nationals GM Rizzo has mentioned that he is not shopping Willingham, but has received calls regarding them.  Thus, it seems that Willingham may not even be possible, but if he is an option, Brian Sabean should seriously consider it.

Cory Hart
Hart is currently an outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers.  I wanted to address Hart because the Giants were closely linked to a deal with the Brewers for Hart, which the Giants wisely turned down.  Apparently the Brewers wanted Jonathan Sanchez for Hart.  Thank goodness, Brian Sabean turned this deal down.

The Giants are known for being a pitching team.  However, despite having a good rotation, the Giants system lacks pitching depth.  If the Giants were to lose one of their starters either Todd Wellemeyer or Joe Martinez would have to fill in, which has never worked out well for the club when they were forced to use those options.  Cory Hart has had an up and down career.  While he has provided his team with a 4.1 WAR one year, the next he regressed down to 0.7.  This year looks to be another career year for Hart, and it seems that he won't be able to continue the production he has had in the past, as his career has been one that remains very unpredictable.

Unpredictability is an adjective that goes hand in hand with Sanchez as well.  However, Sanchez remains a serviceable fourth-starter that has proven to be a strong anchor for the Giants at the end of the rotation.  Giving up a good starter for a hitter whose production is unlikely to be sustainable is something that the Giants were wise to say away from.  Thus, my hat is off to the Giants front office for not folding to the Brewers' demands.

Adam Laroche
Many fans might have remembered how Adam Laroche snubbed the Giants during the offseason.  Laroche was one of Sabean's initial offerees while preparing for 2010.  Larache apparently turned the Giants down and later accepted a deal for half the money from the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Now, half way through the season, the Dbacks are one of the worst teams in baseball, and management is having a firesale.  One has to wonder if Laroche thinks he made the right decision.

Laroche, while not an outfielder, would still make a good addition to the Giants at first base.  As far as WAR is concerned, Laroche would probably offer the same that Willingham and Hart would: he would be an upgrade, he would be a good hitter, but he would not be the impact player that Jayson Werth would be.  Laroche's wOBA is currently lower than Hart's and Willingham's at .340, but hopefully hitting in a better lineup would see those numbers get higher, even if half his games are played at AT&T Park.

One thing that I like about Laroche is that he may be open to a deal that we could lock him into for a couple years.  Players like to be part of winning teams, and the Giants are going to be competitive for several years.  With a decent hitter like Laroche on the club it might just be the addition they need to be a contender.

The Giants need offense.  They will probably win their division with the players they currently have.  However, it is unlikely they will be able to go deep into the playoffs without a little more help.  Jayson Werth is the best option available, and Brian Sabean should do everything he can to make that happen.  Short of Werth, the second-tier hitters available should be closely examined.

The bottom line: something has to happen.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

One for The History Books

Anyone who reads this blog may have noticed that I have not updated in quit a long time.  The reason for that is because I have been studying for the California Bar Exam.  However, the test is next week, I feel as prepared as I possibly can be, and last week I had the opportunity to watch one of the greatest baseball games I have ever seen in my life.  Thus, my decision to update.

Baseball's Greatest Rivalry

There are many rivalries in sports.  When people think of baseball I am sure the majority of fans think about the Yankees and Red Sox and their rivalry.  That rivalry certainly gets the most attention in the press, and those two teams are the two most popular teams, so of course their rivalry is going to be romanticized.  However, it truly does not capture the intensity, the history, and the pedigree that the Dodgers-Giants rivalry has.

The Giants and Dodgers are two of baseball's oldest teams.  Their hatred for each other began while the two teams broke ground as two of the premiere teams in New York and Brooklyn, respectively.  The Giants represented the wealth and class of big city New York, while the Dodgers represented the knock-hard working class Brooklyn.  The cultural rivalry that was represented each time the two teams met on the diamond endured across an entire continent, when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants moved to San Francisco: two cities which have always fought and struggled with another to be the beacon of the American West.

Unlike the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which has been historically one-sided, the Dodgers-Giants rivalry is uncannily even insofar as the success of the two franchises is concerned.  The Giants have beaten the Dodgers 1164 times, while the Dodgers have won 1147 times.  Additionally, the Dodgers have 22 pennants while the Giants have 20; the Dodgers have 6 World Series titles, while the Giants have 5.  Indeed, the rivalry between these two teams has always been fresh and intense, due to the fact the two teams always have something to prove to another.

The rivalry, being the longest in sports' history, has may great moments.  The Shot Heard Round the World, is perhaps the greatest moment in the history of call sports.  Juan Marichal's viscous attack on Johnny Rosboro with a bat remains the most viscous episode of violence in the history of professional baseball.  Brian Johnson's 12th-inning homerun agains the Dodgers in 1997, which sent the Giants into the post-season, remains one of the greatest homeruns in Giants' history.

A New Chapter

And now, the Giants and Dodgers have yet another game to add to the long list of epic moments the often results when these two franchises meet.  On July 20, 2010 the Giants and Dodgers met at Chavez Ravine to play game 2 of their three-game series.  The Giants had not fared well against the Dodgers at all this year.  Going into the series the Dodgers had beaten the Giants 5 times, including a sweep at AT&T Park, while the Giants had beaten the Dodgers once.  The Giants were able to beat their rivals on July 19, 2010, and going into game 2 it seemed like the Giants would be able to win their first series against their rivals, as Tim Lincecum was taking the mound against Clayton Kershaw.

Also on the minds of many Giants fans was when the Giants were going to get revenge.  Earlier in the season, Dodger starting-pitcher Vicente Padilla threw a ball that hit Aaron Rowand in the face, fracturing the Giants' center fielder's cheek bone; an injury that would sideline him for several weeks.  Many of us anticipated the Giants would retaliate when the Dodgers came to San Francisco, but nothing happened and it seemed that Rowand's injury would be forgotten.

The game began immediately with the Dodgers drilling Giants' lead-off man, Andres Torres.  Again, Giants fans wondered when the retaliation would come.  It appeared that the Dodgers were going to continue to bully our players and no one on our staff would get revenge.  As a blood thirsty fan you want to see blood whenever a Dodger pitcher hits a Giants batter.  However, to make matters worse,  Lincecum did not have his stuff going for him.  He threw some pitches randomly into the air, he could barely hit the strike-zone, and before he was taken out in the fifth inning he had given up five runs.

In the fifth-inning however, with the Giants down 5 to 1, the tensions would escalate.  With Matt Kemp at the plate, on the 1-0 pitch, Lincecum threw a ball high and inside, which brushed Kemp back, knocking him to the ground.  Boos echoed throughout Dodger Stadium as Kemp stood up and resumed his stance in the box.  With the next pitch, Lincecum threw at Kemp again, hitting the Dodger-slugger in the back.  Kemp marched out in front of the plate and watching the game you wondered if he would charge the mound.  Lincecum, for his part, stepped off the mound and turned his back to Kemp as the Dodger fumed and marched to first base.  Pablo Sandoval rushed forward and stood between Kemp and Lincecum.  The tension subsided and the game went on.

The drama would return however.  Pablo Sandoval hit a three-run double in the 6th inning that brought the game to 5-4.  With Aaron Rowand at the plate in the 7th, Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw threw a ball right at Rowand, hitting him in the leg.  Due to the fact that Kershaw had been warned about retaliation, he was ejected along with manager Joe Torre.  The game went out without any more immediate drama.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants managed to get a man on second and third.  Jonathan Broxton, the elite closer for the Dodgers, came on to close out the game and to protect the slim 5-4 lead Los Angeles had.  After Broxton came on he walked the first batter he saw to load the bases.  After that perhaps one of the weirdest rules lawyering happened that I have ever seen in baseball would end up helping the Giants mount one of the most epic comebacks in recent history.

Mattingly, the Dodgers coach after Torre and their second in command had been ejected, came out to talk with the Dodgers and Broxton.  The men huddled on the field and discussed strategy for a moment.  After a short time they broke.  Mattingly stepped off the mound and onto the grass.  As he did so, James Loney, first baseman for the Dodgers, asked a question.  Mattingly spun around and stepped back onto the mound in order to answer.

Renteria scores the winning run.
Suddenly, with a fire in his step you rarely see, Bruce Bochy came thundering out of the Giants dugout.  Bochy bee-lined straight for the umpires and starting complaining about something.  No one watching the game knew what was going on.  The Dodgers didn't know what was going on.  The Giants didn't know what was going on.  The Dodger-fans never know what's going on.  Certainly none of the umpires knew what was going on.  However, an obscure rule would come into play, which would turn the Giants' fortunes for the better.

Rule 8.06 of Baseball limits the amount of mound visits a coach can make during the same batter.  Subsection (b) holds that "a second trip to the same pitcher in the same inning will cause [the] pitcher's removal."  Lastly, subsection (d) holds that "a manager or coach is considered to have concluded his visit to the mound when he leaves the 18-foot circles surrounding the pitcher's rubber."

After a short argument, Jonathan Broxton, the elite-closer for the Dodgers was taken out of the game.  In to replace him was George Sherrill, one of the biggest disappointments in major league baseball this year.  After just two pitches, Andres Torres hit a shot into left-center, which scored two runs and gave the Giants the lead, and after a shut down from Brian Wilson, the Giants were able to steal away a game from the Dodgers and stun them.  It was one of those moments that harken back to the glory days of baseball.  It was one of those moments that fired up an entire fanbase and let us all know that the 2010 Giants have a fire in their hearts and are going to try their hardest to go deep this year.

A Rivalry Renewed?

During the Bonds years there was a fervor in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.  Dodgers fans hated Barry Bonds.  He was the best player in the game and he played for their hated enemy.  Giants fans loved to see Barry beat LA.  Since Bonds left, however, the rivalry, at least from the perspective in San Francisco, lost a little of its pop.  The Giants were hardly competitive through 2007 and 2008, thus the rivalry lost a little of its fun.  Moreover, for all the hatred that existed between the fans of these two franchises, you always had to wonder where the hatred was between the players, if it existed at all.

Beat LA.
I always wanted the players on my team to hate the players on the Dodgers.   I never wanted to see them get chummy at first base.  I never wanted to see them laughing and making jokes with each other.  I never wanted to see them tell the media how good of a team the other was.  No.  I didn't want them to friend.  I wanted Juan Marichal beating the crap out of a blueberry with a baseball bat.  That's baseball.  That's Giants-Dodgers.

With modernity, a lot of these rivalries fizzled out on the field.  In the early days of baseball many of the players on major league teams were actually from the cities they played in.  They often grew up rooting for the teams they played for.  And many of them lived within blocks of the stadiums where they worked each day.  Thus, players of yesteryear understood how the fans felt.  They understood what it was like to hate the Dodgers or hate the Giants.  Because they grew up being in the same place as the fans had been.

Now, however, with baseball being an extremely professional and sophisticated business, most players do not play for the team they grew up rooting for.  In fact, several Giants players today, such as Sergio Romo and Barry Zito, actually grew up rooting for the Dodgers.  Thus, much of the hatred for the Dodgers, which is so personal for fans, is simply not there for the players.

Suck it Russel Martin.
I feel that has changed with this past series in Los Angeles.  Over the past two years several incidents have occurred which I believe has led to some serious bad blood that now has become personal between players on the Giants and Dodgers, which has seemingly recurred on the field several times.  One such incident was last year when Casey Blake mocked Brian Wilson from the dugout in Los Angeles by copying the gesture Wilson makes in remembrance of his father.  To Blake's credit, he didn't know what Wilson's gesture meant, but even after he found out what it meant he refused to apologize.

In 2009, the Giants and Dodgers cleared the benches at AT&T park after Pablo Sandoval and Russel Martin got into an argument at the plate.  No punches were thrown but it looked like something serious was brewing.  This year, Aaron Rowand has been thrown at twice.  Matt Kemp has been hit.  Andres Torres has been hit.  Russel Martin got a brush-back.  And after 20 July, the Dodgers suffered one of their most humiliating losses in years.

There is no telling if further retaliation will come.  However, coming this week the Dodgers will return to AT&T Park.  Let's hope another chapter in the rivalry will be written.