Friday, January 9, 2009

SF Roundtable 1

Remember that the offseason is not yet over so each grade technically should be 'Incomplete.'


I'm handling these first since I think the severity of the need factors significantly into the grade of the acquisition (i.e. signing a good player at a critical need gets a better grade than signing a better player who is redundant). Therefore, the specific player grades will be easier understood if you know what vulnerability that player addresses:

1. Power-hitting corner infielder—Grade F

This was the Orange and Black's most glaring need heading into the offseason. The 2008 offense was putrid and the corner infielders, traditionally power bats, were especially popless. Pablo Sandoval figures to move into one of the spots (preferably first base) and he showed flashes of brilliance in his abbreviated trial run, but he is young and the sample size at the most elite level is small.

I expect him to deliver on the promise (as he's done at every junior level). Still, Little Money is naturally a catcher, secondarily a first baseman, and would probably take some time to adjust to third base (which could adversely impact his hitting). Suffice it to say, he makes the most sense at first.

That means third base—a more difficult hole to fill because it requires a good glove as well—is the most critical of the two.

And it sits empty.

2. Bridging the gap between the starting rotation and Brian Wilson—Grade A+

This is a no-brainer. The middle relief was abysmal last year while the starters and closer glittered. Many a win was lost in the morass of arms coming out of the pen in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Only the offense was a bigger problem.

And management, led by Brian Sabean, knocked this one out of the park.

Jeremy Affeldt was arguably the top left-handed middle reliever available. Bobby Howry had a down year, but he was one of the most dominant right-handed middle relievers before that.

Putting those guys alongside the several young arms that showed promise and should improve with another year under their belts (and no longer carrying the brunt of the load) means San Francisco's bullpen should be watertight in 2009.

3. Veteran, steadying presence up the middle who represents an offensive upgrade over Omar Vizquel—B

Considering the offense available at shortstop and second base in Major League Baseball, I never considered this a huge need. Sure, there are some blue-chippers (Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Dan Uggla, and Dustin Pedroia to name a few). But most of the thrashers in MLB come from the corners of the infield and outfield.

In my opinion, I'm just fine with weaker bats up the middle as long as they are stellar glovemen. Omar Vizquel was just that.

In addition, I really like Emanuel Burriss so I'm optimistic that he'll evolved into a legit threat. I'm less enthused about Eugenio Valez, but the potential is there as well.

So Edgar Renteria, who represents a modest upgrade over the younger guys and a substantial one over Vizquel, means the organization did a decent job improving a moderate need.


Jeremy Affeldt—A+

As I mentioned above, the middle relief was one of the Giants' greatest weakness—second only to the offense. Affeldt represented the cream of that crop with a career strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching 2:1. Even better, he's a southpaw who pitched to a sub-4.00 earned run average in Colorado.

The icing on the cake, however, is that Sabean and friends locked him up for two years, $8 million.

Middle relievers had been grabbing king's ransoms in recent years and, since Affeldt was the first free agent to sign, avoiding such a mistake was key.

Bobby Howry—A

Another great signing. Sure, Howry had a rough year last year. He got smacked around a bit and registered a 5.35 while pitching at home in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. But there are several reasons to really like this signing.

First, it was only for a one year and $2.75 million. That's not too bad considering the dude's got 11 years in the Show. If he doesn't bounce back or gets worse, he's gone after 2009.

Second, Wrigley is a much more difficult park in which to pitch than Pac Bell. Not only are the winds still there, it's smaller. Much smaller.

Third, take a look at Howry's peripherals. Despite the brutal ERA, he struck out 59, walked only 13, and his career K:BB ration is well over 2:1. I say he rebounds well in a park that's more conducive to pitching.

Edgar Renteria—C

Eh. Renteria is a substantial upgrade over Vizquel. However, he's also a substantial defensive downgrade. Additionally, the pricetag wasn't awful, but the skills may be in decline.

There is a lot of good—Renteria's a former All-Star, feels more comfortable in the National League, the career numbers support his feelings, he has postseason experience (including a World Series ring), he's a career .290 hitter, and even a repeat of his poor years would be an improvement. Plus, he'll take some pressure of the development of Burriss.

Unfortunately, there's also a lot of bad—he struggled in a much more potent lineup, his declining defense was never in Vizquel's league to begin with, he's never shown much power, and he might block the development of Burriss at a more valuable position. Plus, SF's got him for two years so, if he continues to decline, the Giants have wasted another $9+ million in 2010.

Finally, I ever considered this an extremely pressing need.

Randy Johnson—C

This is really the most befuddling of the technically incomplete grades.

I have no idea what to make of it. It didn't address a need; the San Francisco was already one of the best in baseball. Randy Johnson's a future Hall-of-Famer who's approaching his 300th win (a milestone that will probably be rarer than a 600th home run going forward), but he's 45 and that makes it look more like a public relations move for a team that isn't serious about contending.

Of course, it also makes a little sense from the immediate contention angle. It gives the Giants a super rotation (if the Big Unit stays healthy) and that means it gives them some flexibility to acquire a bigger bat than is available on the open market. It also weakens a division player and keeps him away from the Bums.

Then again, the immediate contention approach is what landed the Gents in the Land of the Rebuilders in the first place.

I could go as high as an A if everything works out, but the bottom could fall out and turn the signing into an F.


The signing of Randy Johnson could mean one of two things. Either the Giants are battening down the hatches for another year where contention relies on defense and stellar pitching or it's a prelude to another, bigger move.

If San Francisco plans on moving one of their young starters and/or glowing prospects, the franchise would have some serious options.

As Chris Haft pointed out in his excellent article about San Francisco's offseason, the team has been linked to Ty Wigginton, Joe Crede, Edwin Encarnacion, Jorge Cantu, Garrett Atkins, Manny Ramirez, Xavier Nady, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Swisher.

I've written about signing any player rep'd by Scott BorAss and Wigginton. That means no on Crede (although he makes a TON of sense so that's my gut's response, not my brain's), no on Manny (GOD no), and no on Nady.

I like Encarnacion and Cantu, but both are defensive liabilities and would require sacrificing Johnathan Sanchez. Although Encarnacion is young, neither player promises to hit enough to make up for that loss. I'm not feelin' either move.

Bobby Abreu is getting old, plays the outfield, and will probably cost a pretty penny. No thanks.

Garrett Atkins does play third base, but nobody seems to be sure whether his offense is a mirage of Coors Field thin air, or if it's the real deal. Regardless, I don't see a trade between Colorado and San Francisco happening. Not when both are allegedly serious about contending.

That brings me to Nick Swisher. He would also probably require the trade of Jonathan Sanchez. But maybe not, these are the New York Yankees after all. For all the bling they've amassed so far, I don't believe for a second that they're done. And they still have a bit of a question mark at the back of the rotation.

Furthermore, the Evil Empire got Swisher for almost nothing. Who says they wouldn't be content turning Wilson Betemit and some minor leaguers into, say, Noah Lowry and some of SF's lesser pitching prospects?

If Sabean could somehow manage that, I'd say go for it. I completely expect Swisher to snap back to his pre-2008 standards. First, Ozzie Guillen jumped on the grenade that was Nick's 2008 campaign and made some good points doing so. Second, Swisher is still young and his on-base percentage really didn't drop too much last year.

Of course, I love Jonathan Sanchez's sneaky fastball from the southside. If he's part of the price, forget it.

I'll take Richie Baseball's (Aurilia) modest production and minuscule cost. He's still available and check the numbers, they're not too bad considering Aurilia's in the bargain bin.

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