Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hot Stove Update: Giants Re-Sign Sergio Romo; Wild Three-Way Trade and More

The Giants finally made their first significant move of the offseason and, wait for it, they re-signed Sergio Romo to a 2 year/$15 M contract.  It might be a slight overpay, but considering MLBTR had him pegged for 3 years/$21 M, it's probably a pretty good one in the current FA environment.  Romo had some struggles mid-season as he started hanging his slider a bit too often and lost his closer role, but finished strong and was again a solid contributor in the postseason.  This signing gives the Giants a solid 5 in the bullpen with Casilla, Affeldt, Machi and Lopez.  Yusmeiro Petit will presumably move back to his long-man/6'th starter role after the Giants acquire another starter.  That would leave 1 spot open to competition among Hunter Strickland, Eric Cordier, George Kontos and others.

Whether this impacts the Giants search for another high profile starter remains to be seen.  If the Giants have a self-imposed salary cap equal to the luxury tax threshold, then it would seem to put a cramp in efforts to land a James Shields, Max Scherzer or Cole Hamels.  With a large chunk of payroll coming off the books after 2015, the Giants may decide they can go above the threshold for 1 season then go back down below it next year.

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The Padres, Rays and Nationals completed a wild 3-team trade that just may have been won by the Nationals even though they were apparently latecomers to the deal.

The Padres get OF Wil Myers, RHP's Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo and veteran C Ryan Hanigan.  This is kind of an all or nothing trade for the Padres as they role the dice on Myers, who has a huge upside, but is coming off an injury and slump plagued season with the Rays.  As for the Rays, they were willing to sell low on the guy who cost them 2 good years of James Shields, so that may tell you something right there.  The deal is contingent on Myers passing his physical with the Padres.  Hanigan is being brought in to mentor and take pressure off Austin Hedges who will likely move up to the MLB club in the wake of Rene Rivera leaving in this trade after Yasmani Grandal got moved to the Dodgers in the Matt Kemp trade.

The Rays get C Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith and 1B/DH Jake Bauers from the Padres, and OF Steven Souza and LHP Travis Ott from he Nationals.  Rivera had a breakout season last year at the age of 31.  He recently had an article written about him in The Hardball Times featuring his pitch framing technique which resulted in a lot of extra strikes for the Padres last year if you believe in those measurements.  I am not impressed with Burch Smith.  Bauers looks like a good hitter, but he is still in the lower minors.  Souza is an interesting case.  He's bit long in the tooth for a prospect at age 25, but he has put up the kinds of numbers in the minors that make sabermetric enthusiasts drool with power, speed, great walk rates and manageable K rates under 20%.  I would not be shocked if Souza turns into a better hitter than Wil Myers!  Ott is a big LHP in the lower minors.  This may not be as bad a haul for the Rays as it looks at first glance as Souza and Rivera will help right away and there is younger talent to boot.

The Nationals get RHP Joe Ross and SS Trea Turner from the Padres.  This is a huge win for the Nationals as they trade a blocked OF, albeit a good one, for a first round draft pick and obvious replacement for Ian Desmond who they are rumored to be trying to trade.  Since Turner was drafted just last year, he will have to be a PTBNL and will not come to the Nationals until after the 2015 draft in June.  The Nationals also get a high ceiling pitcher who is much closer to the majors than the guy they gave up, Ott.

On a side note, the Matt Kemp trade to the Padres appears to have hit a snag, possibly having to do with Kemp's physical.  It is unclear if this trade has anything to do with the Kemp situation.  Obviously, the Padres are denying that it does.

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The KC Royals agreed to terms with RHP Edinson Volquez for 2 years/$20 M.  Interesting since he will be replacing James Shields who the Giants are rumored to be trying to sign since the Giants could have signed Volquez as a FA.  I like this deal for the Royals, although Volquez has admittedly  had his ups and downs and his success last year appears to be largely BABIP driven.

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The Mariners traded for another player who I think could have helped the Giants, Justin Ruggiano.  Ruggiano is an OF with enough defensive chops to play CF and has some pop and speed from the right side of the plate.  He would make a nice platoon partner for the LH hitting Gregor Blanco at the least. All the Mariners gave to the Cubs in the deal is a relatively low level pitching prospect.

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Last but not least, Michael Morse signed a 2 year/$16 M deal with the Marlins.  He will likely play mostly 1B for the Marlins.  Sounds like a good deal for him.  Wish him the best.  He was a good Giant.  He didn't really have a place to play with the Giants as they had given up on him as an OF and there is no room at 1B.

What do you think of these moves?

Scouting the 2015 Draft: Ashe Russell

Ashe Russell is a HS RHP from Indiana.  He has a prototypical pitching prospect's body at 6'4", 195 lbs with oodles of room to fill out.  He's got a long, loose arm.  He throws both a 4 seam and 2 seam FB in the 91-94 MPH range topping out at 96.  He adds a plus slider which he uses as a put away pitch and a changeup that is also a plus pitch at times.  He maintains velocity deep into games.

On video, he looks like he puts a considerable load into the elbow with a hint of the dreaded inverted W which may be a concern in terms of future injury.  The delivery is 3/4 to low 3/4.

BA and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs both have him ranked as the #14 draft prospect going into 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hot Stove Update: Giants Remain Quiet As Options Dwindle

We have not heard a peep out of the Giants camp since the Lester deal went south, or north depending on your point of view.  Meanwhile several players who have been mentioned as free agent options went off the board yesterday in a new flurry of activity around the Hot Stove.

Melky Cabrera signed a 3 year/$42 M deal with the White Sox.  Cabrera was looking for a 5 year deal so apparently settled.  At one point the Giants were thought to be interested in bringing Melky back to play LF.  Melky is 30 years old which makes this a nice deal for the White Sox.  On the other hand, he is a negative defender and has to pretty much hit .300 to contribute on offense.  He also would have cost the Giants a first round draft pick to sign him.  No great loss here.

Chase Headley agreed to a 4 year/$52 M deal with the Yankees with a chance to earn an extra $1 M each year if he makes 550 PA's.  Headley was the last viable replacement for Pablo Sandoval left on the market.  This is one I personally wanted for the Giants.  He has out-produced Pablo by fWAR every year for the last 3 years and just signed for barely over half Pablo's cost.  He does have his warts. He has had back issues and went through a prolonged slump at the plate which he seemed to come out of in the second half last year.  Maybe the Giants really weren't that into him or maybe he just wanted to remain a Yankee.  IMO, it's a good deal for the Yanks and one the Giants may come to wish they had topped.

Jed Lowrie agreed to a 3 year/$23 M deal with the Houston Astros.  Again, there was talk of the Giants signing Lowrie and moving him to 3B.  Lowrie's camp went so far as to signal his willingness to move.    I believe Houston is his hometown and he will get to play SS there.  His downside is his lengthy injury history.

Alex Rios agreed to a 1 year/$11 M deal with the KC Royals.  Rios had a down year in 2014 largely due to a thumb injury and is looking to rebuild his value on a 1 year deal.  This is a couple of $M more than I thought he might get, but still a nice risk/reward for KC.  On the downside, Rios' D has been slipping which might be less likely to come back than the bat.

Michael Morse is rumored to be close to a 2 year deal with the Marlins.  A bit of a surprise he would not go to an AL team where he could DH.  The Marlins have an opening for at least a platoon at 1B where his D is not nearly the liability that it is in LF.  The bat is good enough for 1B.  Happy for Morse if this is true.  Wish him the best.  He was a good Giant!

Where this all leaves the Giants is unclear, but they are looking more and more like they are up a creek without a paddle.  They are presumably in negotiations with James Shields who will likely overpriced, at least in number of years and will cost the first round draft pick.  At this point, I don't think Shields alone is enough of a difference maker to be worth losing the draft pick.  Shields just seems like the pitching version of Aaron Rowand to me.  I would rather go after Edinson Volquez who looks like he would cost about a 2 year/$18-20 M.  He's had his ups and downs but is still relatively young and still has good stuff.

As I mentioned, there are no obvious 3B options left on the market.  They might consider signing Gordon Beckham on the cheap and letting him compete for the 3B job, although he is not a clear upgrade on internal options.  They might be able to swing a deal with Boston for  Brock Holt or for my White Whale, Garin Cecchini.  Chris Johnson in Atlanta is probably available by trade, but it's pretty tough to get too excited about him.

As for LF, they might try to revive the Justin Upton talks but he would be costly and they would be only getting him for 1 year.  Besides, Upton is on record as hating AT&T Park.  They might be better off just going with Blanco as a stopgap until one of Carbonell, Williamson or Horan are ready.  Again, it seems  like Gary Brown should get a decent look somewhere in all this, not that he deserves it.

Man!  It may all still work out in the end, but so far, this offseason is looking like a disaster!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Community Question: Is Gary Brown Still a Top 50 Giants Prospect?

Hey team!  I'm hard at work on the annual Top 50 Giants Prospects for 2015 and the usual thorny questions come up.  It's always hard to compare pitchers with hitters, power guys vs speed guys, AAA prospects with low ceilings vs rookie ball prospects with high ceilings.  One this year that has me a bit flummoxed is what to do with Gary Brown.  He seems so close, but at the same time, so far away.  He seems to have no support from the organization and no clear path to the majors.  Where would you rank Gary Brown?  Is he even a Top 50 prospect anymore?  Yes or No and please defend your answer.

Bonus Question:  Same question for slightly different reasons for Adam Duvall.

Scouting the 2015 Draft: Carson Fulmer

Carson Fulmer is a hard throwing RHP for Vanderbilt who split time between closing and starting last year. He will probably start for Vandy in 2015.  He could project as either a starter or reliever in the pros.  He is compact, but solidly built at 5'11", 195 lbs.  He generates tremendous arm speed with a quick, jerky windup with rather abrupt acceleration and deceleration with quite a bit of effort.  The arm speed produces a FB that goes 92-96 and has touched 97 MPH.  He also has above average CB and CH to go with it.  Here is his stat line from 2014:

7-1, 1.98, 91 IP, 41 BB, 95 K, 10 Saves.

His windup and delivery looks more like a reliever's to me, and I wonder about his injury risk with the abruptness of the arm speed, but his pitch mix would work as a starter.  The comp that comes to me is Roy Oswalt.  He is the exact same size as another Vandy alum, Sonny Gray.  Fulmer has much more jerky and abrupt mechanics than Gray.  BA has him ranked as the #13 draft prospect for 2015 while Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has him at #17.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Down on the Farm: 2014 Draft Prospect Debuts

Our review of the 2014 Top 50 Prospects list did not include the 2014 draftees for obvious reasons.  Let's catch up with how the newest Giants fared in their professional debuts.  We will only include the draftees who signed contracts.  We will list them by draft round and overall draft position:

1-14:  Tyler Beede, RHP.  Rookie AZL- 0-1, 3.12, 8.2 IP, 4 BB, 11 K.  Short Season:  0-0, 2.70, 6.2 IP, 3 BB, 7 K's.  Young Beedah signed late due to pitching in the College WS.  Giants gave him a few brief looks probably mostly for evaluation purposes going into instructionals. I would project him to start next season in the San Jose rotation.  Bad sign if he starts the season in Augusta.

2-52:  Aramis Garcia, C.  Rookie AZL- .219/.324/.313, 13.2 BB%, 15.8 K%, 38 PA.  Short Season- .229/.289/.357, 2 HR, 6.6 BB%, 25 K%, 76 PA.  The transition from college catcher to pro catcher is rough because they have to learn to call pitches on their own rather than relay signs from the dugout.  That sometimes impacts offense.  I would project Garcia to start next season in Augusta, although SJ is a possibility.  I would project Ty Ross to move up to SJ.

3-87:  Dylan Davis, OF.  Rookie AZL- .297/.341/.486, 7 2B, 7.3 BB%, 29.3 K%, 41 PA.  Short Season- .200/.269/.341, 4 HR, 7.5 BB%, 24.7 K%, 93 PA.  The power is there, but can he make enough contact?  Threw out several runners with his cannon arm.  Could move to the mound if the contact does not improve.  2015 projection:  Augusta vs San Jose.

4-118:  Logan Webb, RHP.  Rookie AZL-  0-0, 2.25, 4 IP, 3 BB, 5 K's.  Pop-up HS prospect.  successful cameo appearance at end of season.  2015 projection:  Maybe Augusta?

5-148:  Sam Coonrod, RHP.  Rookie AZL- 1-0, 3.90, 27.2 IP, 6 BB, 25 K.  Low walk rate is a pleasant surprise, even at a low level for this hard throwing RHP who may profile more as a reliever.  2015 projection:  Augusta?

6-178:  Skyler Ewing, 1B.  Rookie AZL- .237/.318/.421, 4 2B, 1 HR, 9.1 BB%, 20.5 K%, 44 PA.  Short Season- .291/.417/.473, 9 2B, 8 HR, 15.8 BB%, 12.3 K%, 228 PA.  Those are fantastic numbers combining power and plate discipline, even for Salem-Keizer.  2015 Projection:  All the Way to San Jose!

7-208:  Seth Harrison, OF.  Rookie AZL- .067/.227/.200, 16.7 BB%, 33.3 K%, 18 PA.  Short Season- .266/.298/.354, 10 2B, 2 3B, 11 SB, 4.6 BB%, 24.3 K%, 173 PA.  Harrison showed some speed with doubles power, but atrocious K/BB.  2015 Projection:  Augusta?

8-238:  Austin Slater, OF.  Rookie AZL- .333/.333/.556, 3B, 0.0 BB%, 22.2 K%, 9 PA.  Short Season- .347/.417/.449, 2 HR, 7 SB, 7.6 BB%, 12.9 K%, 132 PA.  A lot to like here, high average, low K's, a bit of pop, speed.  I think there is some power projection here.  Major college program.  2015 projection:  San Jose, baby!

9- 268:  Stetson Woods, RHP.  Rookie AZL- 5-1, 2.25, 16 IP, 4 BB, 20 K.  Very nice debut for the big kid from the Central Valley.  2015 projection:  Augusta.

10-298:  Matthew Gage, LHP.  Rookie AZL- 2-0, 1.89, 33.8 IP, 8 BB, 32 K.  These numbers would be great if they were at Salem-Keizer.  2015 projection:  Augusta?

11-328:  Greg Brody, RHP.  Rookie AZL- 1-1, 0.63, 14.1 IP, 3 BB, 27 K, 2 Saves.  College reliever.  Needs to do this at higher levels.  2015 projection:  Augusta?

12- 358:  Jameson Henning, SS.  Signed.  DNP.  Interesting size for a SS at 6'4".

13- 388:  Luis Lacen, OF.  Rookie AZL- .250/.321/.271, 3 SB, 9.4 BB%, 37.7 K%, 53 PA.  Raw kid with tools.  Mixed success in pro debut.  2015 projection:  Back in Arizona vs Salem-Keizer.

14-418:  Kevin Rivera, 2B.  Rookie AZL- .228/.281/.296, 6.7 BB%, 21.1 K%, 180 PA.  Maybe a bit more advanced than Lacen, but a lower ceiling.  2015 projection:  Hard to see him succeeding at Augusta already.  Maybe Salem-Keizer?

17- 508:  Caleb Smith, LHP.  Rookie AZL- 1-0, 4.35, 10.1 IP, 13 BB, 12 K.  Not particularly impressive.  2015 projection:  Salem-Keizer.

19- 568:  Richard Amion, OF.  Rookie AZL- .267/.379/.385, 2 HR, 8 SB, 13.5 BB%, 22.1 K%, 163 PA.  Some speed and ability to take a walk.  2015 projection:  Augusta.

22-658:  Mark Reyes, LHP.  Rookie AZL- 1-1, 3.00, 12 IP, 3 BB, 14 K.  JC draftee.  2015 projection: Probably Salem-Keizer vs Augusta.

23-688:  Jordan Johnson, RHP.  Rookie AZL- 0-0, 0.00, 2.2 IP, 2 BB, 3 K's.  Tiny sample size.  2015 projection:  S-K vs Augusta.

25- 748: Byron Murray, OF.  Rookie AZL- .279/347/.412, 8 BB%, 20.0 K%, 75 PA.  Encouraging numbers for HS flyer who signed.  2015 projection:  Not sure.  Could be back in Arizona or up to S-K or even Augusta.

26-778:  Hunter Cole, 3B.  Rookie AZL- .444/.444/.556, 9 PA.  Short Season- .239/.311/.424, 4 HR, 7.7 BB%, 19.2 K%, 104 PA.  I'll take the power.  BA should be better with those K and BB numbers.

27-808:  Conner Kaden, RHP.  Rookie AZL- 1-0, 2.79, 9.2 IP, 4 BB, 16 K.  Low A- 0-1, 3.60, 10 IP, 3 BB, 7 K.  Highest level reached for pitching draftees.  2015 projection:  Augusta vs San Jose.

28- 838:  Nick Sabo, LHP.  Rookie AZL- 1-0, 6.75, 2.2 IP, 2 BB, 1 K.  Big dude at 6'8" out of Long Beach State.  Tiny pro debut didn't go so well.  2015 projection: Salem-Keizer vs Augusta.

33- 988:  Jared "Deac" Deacon, C.  Short Season- .219/.311/.234, 10.4 BB%, 11.7 K%, 77 PA.  High A- .217/.280/.304, 7.7 BB%, 19.2 K%, 26 PA.  Highest level reached for 2014 draftees.  May already be seen as an organizational player.  2015 projection:  San Jose?

As Young Beedah goes, so goes the draft.  He's the guy to watch.  Could be a fast mover if the Giants can help him with command.  He has elite stuff.  Ewing and Slater wowed in their pro debuts and could also move fast.  I'm excited by the HS kids, but they will require patience.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Armchair GM Part Deux: Where Do the Giants Go From Here?

Whether you are disappointed in the failure of the Giants to do anything at the just completed Winter Meetings or relieved that they did not, you have to be wondering where they go from here.  While the Giants were sitting around waiting for Jon Lester, other teams were busy making moves and setting others up.  The free agent market is noticeably smaller than it was 5 days ago.  The trade market probably is to, but the trade market is less transparent than the FA market.  The current conventional wisdom is that the Giants are now trying to sign James Shields.

I really like James Shields, but he is 33 years old and reportedly asking for a 5 year contract.  That would take him through his age 37 season.  He is also tied through a Qualifying Offer from the Royals to the loss of a first round draft pick.  Unless his asking price has dropped, and there is no reason to believe it has, the Giants need to just say no and look elsewhere.

So, where else should they be looking?  Let's pull up the old armchair and put ourselves in Brian Sabean's seat again.  What would we do in this situation.  Again, the rules ground rules:  1. Buster Posey is staying at catcher.  2.  Brandon Belt is staying at first base.  3.  Brandon Crawford is staying at SS.  4. Tim Lincecum is not going to be the closer.  5.  The Giants are not going to go past the Luxury Tax threshold for 2015 payroll.

The linchpin of my first Armchair GM plan, Chase Headley, is still out there.   Sabes may have burned his bridges with Headley by proclaiming that the Giants are not necessarily "head over heals" for him, and that there are other options available.  Well, there may be other options available out there, but you have to squint really hard to see them.  There certainly are no other viable FA options available unless you are planning to move somebody to a new position.  A new name popped up yesterday, Asdrubal Cabrera, but Bobby Evans quickly tamped that down saying that ACab prefers to play up the middle and there is not a fit right now.  Jed Lowrie has said he is willing to move off SS.  Gordon Beckham is available and could probably play the position.  There are still some fairly farfetched trade ideas floating around for David Freeze, one of about 3 guys Pablo Sandoval is now blocking in Boston, maybe a Cody Asche as part of a Cole Hamels trade?  There was mention of signing ACab to play 2B with Joe Panik moving to 3B, but hellzbellz, if Panik can play 3B, I would much rather give Matt Duffy! the 2B job and run with it!
 Unless the Giants are serious about really going large on Max Scherzer or think they are really close to a trade for Cole Hamels, they need to get past their ace pitcher obsession and recognize that anything less than Pablo money is a good deal for Headley.  5 years/$75 M?  Get it done, Sabes!  I mean, if you are going to spend $75 M over 5 years, who is a better bet?  A 34 year old pitcher or a 31 year old third baseman?  Yeah, Headley has his well documented warts, but Shields and Pablo don't?  Headley has put up a higher fWAR the last two seasons than Pablo and his peak fWAR was significantly higher too.

Pitching is the next priority.  My 3 mid-level targets, Jason Hammel, Justin Masterson and Brandon McCarthy are all off the board now.  Hammel's contract, in particular, looks like a nice one for the Cubs.  The Giants currently do have 5 starters penciled into the rotation:  Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Petit and Lincecum.  Adding another starter would probably push Petit back to long relief/6'th starter and given this bunch, there is a good chance he would be back in the rotation by season's end.  Are there any other cost effective deals to be had out there?

Edinson Volquez is still out there.  He's had his ups and downs but is still just 31 years old and still throws 93 MPH. He also is a strong GB pitcher who would fit nicely with the superior IF defense the Giants would have with Chase Headley at 3B.   MLBTR thinks his price is about 2 years/$18 M.  He would probably jump at a 3 year deal.  A contract in that range is not going to cripple the Giants even if it completely busts.  It's a risk worth taking.

Aaron Harang is another pitcher who has been up and down seemingly forever.  He's 37 years old but might be available on a 1 year deal, 2 at the most.  He's more of a flyball pitcher, but AT&T Park is also friendly to flyball pitchers and the Giants have good OF defense. Again, a decent risk.

I've always liked Kyle Kendrick.  Nothing fancy here but he is a reliable innings eater who has kept his head above water pitching in a bandbox.  I think he would do well pitching in a Giants uniform and he would not be expensive.

Moving on the the OF, I know it's not a popular idea, but what OF out there is going to outperform Gregor Blanco?  The Giants already have brought in Justin Maxwell to compete for a platoon/4th OF role and challenge for a starting job.  Ideally, you want a bigger RH bat, but the market is very thin.  Alex Rios is still out there and would probably take a 1 year contract to try to rebuild his value coming off a thumb injury that destroyed his second half last year.  On the other hand, Rios D is slipping badly so what does he really give you that Michael Morse does not.  My pick in the first Armchair GM post was Michael Morse on another 1 year deal and I'm still going with that until he gets a multi-year deal form some AL club.

This fills the Giants immediate needs and leaves some room to add at the trade deadline.  There may be some kids who could help out by midseason too.  The probability is that 2015 will be another down year in the odd-even cycle anyway.  Don't paint yourself into a future corner with something that is not going to change that this year anyway.

Where would you take the Giants now if you were the GM?  Remember, keep it real!