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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Giants Sign Japan's Mariano Rivera, Lose America's Chris Ray

When the Japanese League version of Mariano Rivera becomes available, you sign him. I’d imagine that’d be true for any nationality’s version of Mariano Rivera; like, if the Swedish League version of Mariano Rivera became available, you should probably sign him. It just makes sense.

Anyway, the Giants have signed pitcher Marc Kroon, an American who’s averaged nearly 30 saves per season over 6 years in Japan while piling up a whopping 12.3 Ks per 9 innings. The 37-year-old holds the record for the fastest recorded pitch in Japanese baseball history (101 mph) and his fastball reportedly still touches the high 90s on occasion.

Here’s a video of Kroon pitching for the Yokohama BayStars:

I don’t know if he still uses that funky delivery, but it kind of puts Robb Nen’s toe tap to shame, doesn’t it?

If the Giants decide to go with a 12-man staff, there’s likely only one spot left for a pitcher to claim out of Spring Training. Croon figures to be up against both Jeff Suppan and Guillermo Mota for that spot, and Suppan has the edge because of the role the Giants want him to fill. Still, if Croon has a strong spring, he might find a way to force himself onto the roster. He throws hard, and you can’t ever have enough hard throwers in the bullpen. 

Whatever happens, it’s nice to see the Giants looking outside the box for roster depth. And I hope they really do have someone scouting Swedish Rivera.

- Chris Ray, the main piece the Giants received in the Bengie Molina trade, has signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners. 

I’ve always liked Ray’s arm, and it’s a shame he never got much of a chance to help the Giants last season. Injuries made him mostly irrelevant down the stretch, but here’s hoping he finds success in the Mariners’ bullpen. 

And, all is not lost from the Molina trade: the Giants also received Michael Main in the deal, who posted a 13.83 ERA in Double-A Richmond last season. On second thought, yeah, all is lost.

- If you haven’t already, check out the piece I did for Yahoo Sports Big League Stew recapping the Tim Lincecum TV special here.

Until next time.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wellemeyer Re-Signs w/Giants, Changes Name to "Jeff Suppan"

Okay, that headline may be a little unfair. Jeff Suppan has much more impressive facial hair than Todd Wellemeyer.

The Giants completed their search for a 6th starter/long reliever yesterday, signing the veteran Suppan to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. I mentioned Suppan as a possibility for that role in my article the other day, but didn’t think he’d be the best option for the role because a) his age, and b) he’s been really, really awful over the last few years. Yet, here we are.

It’s not that the Suppan signing is a terrible one, per se. The Giants needed rotation insurance somewhere in their system, and weren’t comfortable with the options they had in the organization. Suppan has been around for a while, knows how to pitch, and has had success in the big leagues… granted, that success has only seemed to come when he’s pitching in St. Louis as of late, but that’s neither here nor there. Suppan is fully capable of making a spot start or two when needed.

Here’s the scary part: what if the Giants need Suppan to make more than a spot start or two? Right now, his role would be to hold down the long relief role and make a start when the Giants decided one of their pitchers needed an extended rest; but, if one of the starters gets injured, then what? We’re looking at an extended run of Jeff Suppan in the starting rotation. Hell, we could be looking at an extended run of Suppan and Barry Zito in the starting rotation. I know it's scary... I'll give you a minute to stop crying.

For now, though, I’m fine with the Suppan signing. Sure, he’s basically an older Todd Wellemeyer with a better track record, but the Giants needed someone like Todd Wellemeyer in the system this year, so long as it wasn’t the actual Todd Wellemeyer. If Suppan can be the long reliever the team currently lacks while also making 5-6 starts over the course of the season to rest the starters, it’s a successful signing. If he has to make any more starts than that? Then…uh…

Well…I’ve been told he has a fantastic beard. Let’s just focus on that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Sixth Starter: "I See Below-Average People"

How does a team convince a starting pitcher to sign with them even though their rotation is set? It’s almost an unanswerable question, like what is the sound of one hand clapping, or if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it does it make a sound, or how did Fred Lewis always manage to take the absolute worst routes to fly balls. Unanswerable. 

The Giants find themselves asking that question this off season. They have one of the best rotations in baseball, yet would like to add an insurance starter or two to keep as either a long reliever on the big league roster or as a starter in Triple-A Fresno. It’s easy to see why the Giants would target another pitcher: they lack Major League-ready starters in their system, and if one of their five were to go down with an injury for any length of time it could be disastrous. Plus given all the extra innings logged in the playoffs, the Giants may want their pitchers to skip a few starts over the course of the season to preserve their arm strength. Having a spot starter with Major League experience on the roster would come in handy for those games.

One problem, though: every free agent starter knows the Giants have a set rotation, and they're looking elsewhere to find a clearer path to a starting job. So while pitchers like Andrew Miller, Chris Young, or Chris Capuano might’ve filled the Giants’ need, they each found jobs with teams they thought provided them with a better opportunity to pitch in the Majors. 

The Giants aren’t totally left out in the cold, though. There are still a few options out there, including:

Armando Galarraga: The Tigers recently agreed to a contract with Galarraga, then turned around and designated him for assignment less than a day later to make room for former Giant Brad Penny. Since he was DFA’d the Tigers can trade Galarraga, and they’ll likely have a number of suitors. He’s a below average starter who can fill out the back end of a rotation, and teams like the Yankees, Padres, and Cardinals (to name a few) are sure to have interest in trading for him. It would appear that Galarraga would be cost-prohibitive to the Giants, given that he’d cost a prospect in a trade as well as over $2 million in salary. Still, if the Giants conclude that no free agent pitcher will want to sign with them because of their situation, a trade could be their only option and Galarraga is as good a pitcher they’ll find on the market right now.

Jeff Suppan: He was downright awful for Milwaukee over the past few years, but Suppan showed some signs of life over 15 games (13 starts) with the Cardinals in the latter part of ’10, posting a 3.84 ERA over 70.1 IP. He never was more than an average starter, and now he’s in his late 30’s, but he could still have some value pitching in a pitchers’ park. He’d be a decent fit for the role of long reliever/spot starter the Giants are trying to fill, and at his age it’s unlikely he’ll find a guaranteed rotation spot anywhere in the Majors. A minor league deal and a chance to play for a World Series contender may be enough to get Suppan, but would the Giants even want him? 

Jeremy Bonderman: One of the more intriguing names left on the free agent list. Bonderman is relatively young (28) and has had success at the big league level before shoulder ailments derailed his career. He’d likely prefer a better chance at a rotation spot, but teams aren’t lining up to hand one to him because of his injury history. If he’s willing to settle for a minor league deal, the Giants should be interested.

Todd Wellemeyer: Wellemeyer had some decent starts for the Giants last year, and it’s not inconceivable to think that the Giants could hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Sorry, I thought I could hold out. Moving on.

J.D. Martin: Recently released by Washington, the California native managed a respectable 4.32 ERA over 24 career starts with some awful Nationals teams. Unlike the other names on this list, Martin may be more willing to be kept in reserve at Fresno rather than start the year as a long reliever on the big league roster. He has Major League starting experience and will likely come cheap, both of which should pique the Giants’ interest.

Doug Davis: Another California native who’d likely come relatively cheap. Like Suppan, Davis is a veteran who could fill a variety of roles on a big league staff. His stuff was never very impressive and he’s coming off of a season marred by elbow injuries, but he’s always been able to compete even with his limited repertoire of pitches. He could be worth a look in the spring, but at this point Davis is a very poor man’s Barry Zito, and take a minute to wrap your head around that.

In-House Option: Casey Daigle? Ryan Volgelsong? Shane Loux? None of those names are all that exciting, and they’re likely to fill out Fresno’s pitching staff if they aren’t cut in the spring. Vogelsong would be a nice story, coming back to the team that traded him in the Jason Schmidt deal, but he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2006. The Giants’ best pitching prospects like Zach Wheeler and (to a lesser extent) Henry Sosa need more minor league seasoning, so they aren’t realistic options, either.

It’s not exactly a murderer’s row of starting pitching, but there are some guys still on the market who could help the Giants in their quest to find rotation depth. Will the chance to pitch for the defending champs be enough to sway a pitcher from signing with another team with a lesser rotation? Probably so; the only question is, who will it be?

Just don’t let it be Wellemeyer…please, God, anyone but Wellemeyer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Giants' Winter Has Been "Quiet" For A Reason

It just wouldn’t be the winter without people worrying that the Giants haven’t made enough moves to contend, would it?

Last month, Big League Stew on Yahoo ran an article questioning whether or not the Giants could afford to be so “quiet” during the offseason, considering the moves made by teams like the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, and Rockies. Some Giants fans might feel the same way, since at first glance it doesn’t appear the Giants have done much to keep up with the improvements made by other contenders.

The Giants, though, could afford to be somewhat quiet this offseason. They only needed to make one lateral move (replacing Juan Uribe with Miguel Tejada) because most of their major needs were filled with moves they made last year (and by players already in their system). Before you come to the conclusion that the Giants have had a disappointing winter, consider what the 2011 season will bring:

Full Season of Cody Ross: Right field was a revolving door for the Giants last year. John Bowker flamed out yet again and was traded, Nate Schierholtz was solid defensively but couldn’t hit, and Jose Guillen’s biggest contribution was stopping himself from going crazy and strangling Eli Whiteside. Not exactly an all-star cast.

Ross didn’t play much down the stretch after being acquired last August, as the Giants seemed more concerned with placating Guillen and his notorious temper than putting their best lineup out every game. No such concerns exist this year, though, as Ross’s strong postseason play cemented his spot as the Giants’ everyday right fielder for ’11. 

Having Ross in the lineup this year is akin to signing a free agent outfielder who’ll put up a .270/20/80 line, have an OPS somewhere close to .800, and play above average to excellent defense. After suffering through the Bowker/Schierholtz/Guillen monster last season (with a brief appearance by Aubrey Huff), the Giants now have a legitimate starting right fielder to pencil into the lineup on a daily basis. That’s a big upgrade from where they stood at the beginning of ’10.

Andres Torres and Buster Posey Starting From the Get-Go: It took Bruce Bochy seemingly forever last year to realize Aaron Rowand maybe, probably wasn’t the team’s best leadoff option. Torres didn’t earn a starting spot until mid-May and then promptly took off, becoming the Giants’ best leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton in ’02. He was slowed by recovery from an appendectomy late in the season, but rebounded to hit .350 in the NLCS and .318 in the World Series. Torres is the engine that drives the entire lineup, so having him there from the start instead of waiting a month and a half is a major plus.

Everybody knows what Posey can do, so there’s no sense going over his game. Instead, I’ll ask this: would the Giants have won more games last year in April and May with Posey batting cleanup instead of Bengie Molina grounding into rally-killing double play after rally-killing double play? Short answer: yes. Long answer: yesssss. Even if Posey would’ve been good for, say, 3 more wins last May, the Giants would’ve clinched the division long before the last game of the season and saved us all a whole lot of heartburn.

None of those worries this year, though: Torres and Posey will be there from the start, and the lineup will be better for it.

More Madison Bumgarner, Less Todd Wellemeyer: Do I really have to explain this one? No? Good, moving on.

Brandon Belt: The Giants are saying all the right things when it comes to Belt. They’re not saying he’s earned a spot on the big league roster, they’re not over-hyping him, and they’re not publicly counting on a big contribution from him this year. By all accounts, they’re predicting he’ll start the year out in Fresno before an eventual call up.

That’s all well and good, but I have a few predictions of my own: Brandon Belt will be the Giants’ opening day first baseman. And he’s going to be a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year.

Belt tore through the minors in ‘09 and there’s nothing left for him to prove in the lower levels. Much like Posey last year, Belt’s bat is big league ready; unlike Posey, Belt plays a less challenging position and doesn’t need more time in the minors to hone his defensive skills. Belt would move Huff to left field, and both of their bats in the lineup at the same time would improve the offense dramatically. 

Deeper Bench: Pat Burrell. Mark DeRosa. Mike Fontenot. Nate Schierholtz. All of those guys could likely find starting jobs somewhere in the big leagues, and all of them will likely be on the Giants’ bench this season. That’s a nice situation for any team to find itself in, plus it gives the Giants options should one of their starters struggle. A healthy DeRosa will be especially valuable, since he can play almost anywhere on the diamond. It also says a lot about the team’s depth when last year’s best pinch hitter, Travis Ishikawa, will likely struggle to find a place on the roster.

Deeper Bullpen: The Giants will get full seasons from Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, three guys who helped make the Giants’ bullpen lights-out down the stretch. That means we won’t be seeing the likes of Waldis Joaquin or Denny Bautista, which are victories in and of themselves.

The Giants’ offseason may not have been a flashy one, but it didn’t need to be. The moves they made last year, from waiver claims to trades to trusting their own prospects, set them up nicely for this season without having to do a lot of heavy lifting over the winter months. It’s not a bad thing that their offseason has been a quiet one. The Giants made most of their roster noise last year, and that noise will continue to reverberate in 2011.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Welcome (Back) to GoldenGateGiants.com

I stop writing, and the Giants win the World Series... I hope that's not a sign.

Welcome (back) to Golden Gate Giants. For those of you wondering why I stopped writing (all five of you), here's the nutshell story: I used to write for Fanball.com, they pulled the plug on their blog network, and I got to keep the domain name. I wasn't able to get everything set up and running until recently, which means I missed all kinds of big stories like the Miguel Tejada signing, the Edgar Renteria drama, bringing back Guillermo Mota, and that whole World Series thing. I have a lot of lost time to make up.

It's good to be back, though. Pitchers and catchers report in a matter of weeks, which means there'll be plenty to write about soon. In the meantime, you can check out the Giants "love letter" I wrote for Yahoo Sports here, follow me on Twitter here, or look at pictures of adorable puppies here...your choice. I'll be updating this site a whole lot more, too, so be sure to keep an eye out for new posts.

As always, thanks for reading...and thanks for coming back. Go Giants.

- Dave Tobener

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Sky Isn't Falling Just Yet

Sooo….did I miss anything while I was gone?

I’m sorry I haven’t been around the past few days- there was a problem with Fanball’s servers and I couldn’t get anything new up on the site. Everything’s fixed now, though, so let’s get back to business.

Judging by a lot of different things I’ve been reading lately- tweets, blogs, message board comments- Giants fans are pretty depressed that their team is up 3-2 in the NLCS. Okay: maybe depressed isn’t the right word, but there sure seems to be a lot of worry out there. Game 5 was rough, but it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture.

I was listening to the postgame show on the way home from the game last night, and Duane Kuiper brought up a good point. When the NLCS started, everyone would’ve been happy if you told them the Giants would split the first 2 games in Philadelphia, then take 2 out of 3 from the Phillies at home to set up another scenario where all they had to do was get a split. The Giants did exactly that; so, why do so many Giants fans on Twitter and message boards seem so depressed about the situation? Like Kuiper said, it’s because of how the Giants ended up in this position. They won the first game of the series and everyone decided to get greedy; when they lost Game 2, it felt like they’d blown a chance to take control of the series rather than achieving what many hoped they’d be able to achieve (the split). The same thing happened yesterday: because the Giants won the first 2 games at home, everyone started expecting a 3-game sweep. When they lost Game 5 it felt like they had lost the entire series, when in reality the Giants are set up exactly the way they’d hoped.

If there’s one thing to be upset about, it’s the way the Giants lost Game 5. The Phillies only needed 3 runs to win the game, and the Giants did their best to hand them those runs on a silver platter. Tim Lincecum hit a batter with 2 strikes, which led to Pablo Sandoval not covering 3rd on what would’ve been an easy double play, which led to Aubrey Huff making a rare error, which led to the Phillies scoring all of their runs. Lincecum pitched through the mistakes and was brilliant the rest of the night, but the damage had been done.
The Giants have proven one thing during the regular season and through the playoffs: when they play their best game, they can beat any team that’s put in front of them. When they make glaring mistakes and shoot themselves in the foot, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing: they’re going to lose. Those mistakes become amplified when facing a team like the Phillies, and the Giants can’t afford to hand a team like that extra opportunities to score. Philadelphia has represented the National League in the World Series the past two seasons for a reason. They know how to win, and the Giants don’t need to help them do it by making mistakes.

There’s no need for doom and gloom, though. The Giants are set up nicely for Games 6 and 7, and have proven that not only can they hang with the “invincible” (to most national media, anyway) Phillies, they’re just as good of a team as the defending NL Champs. Jonathan Sanchez, who pitched very well in Game 2 after a rough 1st inning, goes against Roy Oswalt tomorrow. Oswalt shut the Giants down in that game, but the Giants hit him hard when he came in to pitch the 9th inning of Game 4. It remains to be seen how the extra work will affect his performance, but the Giants should go in with the confidence of knowing he’s not unhittable. If the worst case scenario happens and the Phillies force Game 7 the Giants will trot out Matt Cain, who was dominant in Game 3, against Cole Hamels, a pitcher the Giants have knocked around three separate times this season. San Francisco is in good shape.

So take a deep breath, relax, and remember that the Giants are actually winning this series. They’ve done what they set out to do so far, and now they get to show exactly what they’re made of. Losing Game 5 hurt, but this Giants team has proven time and time again that they can forget about a tough loss and bounce back immediately. They’ll get another chance to do just that tomorrow.

The sky isn't falling just yet.

Giants Make Statement, Win Game 1

National media, take note: the Giants are not, surprisingly, a team of little leaguers who somehow backed into the NLCS.

The Giants made a statement tonight, winning the first game of the NLCS on the road against the “unhittable” Roy Halladay. With everyone expecting their bats to go silent against the likely Cy Young winner, the Giants instead became the first team to get four runs off Halladay since early September. Tim Lincecum wasn’t as dominant as he was against Atlanta, but he battled hard and managed to post 7 solid innings. Cody Ross continued his unlikely ascent to Giants postseason legend, Pat Burrell burned his old team with a huge RBI, and Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson shut the door to preserve the win. It was a total team effort from start to finish.

It was immensely satisfying to see the Giants hit Halladay, and hit him hard. For the past week, it seemed like you couldn’t get away from hearing almost God-like descriptions of Halladay wherever you turned. The Giants’ lineup supposedly wouldn’t stand a chance against him, he was going to threaten Johnny Vander Meer, etc, etc. The Giants, though, took the same approach to the plate that they did when they beat Halladay in April- look for a pitch early in the count and attack- and managed to make him look mortal. The Giants weren’t going to go down like the Cincinnati Reds. They had a plan, they stuck to it, they knocked Halladay around, and probably shocked everyone watching outside of San Francisco.

In the process, they also managed to put all the pressure in the world on Philadelphia’s shoulders. Almost every analyst and writer expected the Phillies to roll in this series, and even those who gave the Giants a fighting chance didn’t think there was any way they’d be able to win Game 1. They did, and now the Phillies are the team facing a must-win situation in Game 2 in order to avoid going to San Francisco down 2-0 with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner staring them down. The Giants are playing with house money; they’ve already assured themselves of what many thought was their best-case scenario (a split), and can now approach Game 2 without facing the stress of being down 2-0.

Don’t expect this team to let up, though. The Phillies were the best team in the National League for a reason, and have a dangerous lineup that can explode at any time. The Giants know they have an opportunity to really put their collective foot on Philadelphia’s throat tomorrow, and will go all out to do just that. Jonathan Sanchez gets another chance to pitch the game of his life (like he did against San Diego and Atlanta) and continue his run of dominance against the Phillies this year (2-0, 1.38 ERA, 13 Ks in 13 IP). Roy Oswalt, who the Giants beat three different times this year, takes the mound for Philadelphia.

The Giants did what they set out to do: take the first game, guarantee the split, and go into tomorrow’s game feeling loose and easy. They also managed to remind the national media and everyone else questioning how they got here that they are, in fact, a dangerous team. They didn’t win 92 games by accident; rather, their great pitching, timely hitting, and shutdown bullpen have carried them this far, and they were all on display tonight. The Giants made a statement in Game 1: they’re no joke. And they have a legitimate shot to win this series.

Something tells me everyone who picked Philadelphia to roll might not be buying it just yet, but that’s okay. Game 2 is only a few hours away, and the Giants will have a chance to prove it all over again.
VN:D [1.4.6_730]

Phillies Already NL Champs, According to Everyone

The Giants have no chance of beating the Phillies in the NLCS.

That’s the impression I’m getting from most of the national media, anyway. On Yahoo Sports, there’s a story with the headline, “Phillies ready to humiliate all NL opponents” that says they’re certain to “shame” the Giants when they play. A poll over on CBS Sports shows 75% of those responding think the Phillies will win the series. On ESPN, former Phillie John Kruk said that he doesn’t see how the Giants will manage to score runs off of the Phillies pitchers, but that he “knew” the Philadelphia lineup would score against the Giants starters. Giants’ washout Chris Singleton, also on ESPN, basically said he’d be shocked if the Giants continue to pitch well or manage to get a hit the entire series.

Wow…after listening to all that, maybe they should just cancel the whole thing and advance the Phillies straight to the World Series. There’s no reason to even play the games, right?

Well, except for the fact that there are, y’know, lots of reasons.

The national media seems to have settled on a storyline for the Giants: a ragtag bunch of guys who squeaked into the playoffs despite little talent and no discernable hitting ability. They didn’t so much win the NLDS as much as the Braves lost it. They’re a good story, but their fun is over once they run into a real team like the Phillies.

Man, is that going to get old quickly. And it’s even more aggravating when you realize that no one seems to be citing any numbers that would suggest the Giants don’t have a chance in the NLCS.

The Phillies team batting average this year was .260; the Giants’ was .257. Philadelphia hit only 4 more home runs than the Giants did, and had a slugging percentage that was just 5 points higher. The Phillies RBI and Runs totals are much higher, but a lot of that can be attributed to their bandbox ballpark and weaker division (sorry Mets, Marlins and Nationals fans). When it comes to pitching, the Giants are better than the Phillies in everything except walks and WHIP (by a slim margin in the latter category). The stats are relatively even, and nothing implies that the Phillies are going to walk all over the Giants on their way to the World Series.
In reality, it’s a much more even matchup than most would have you believe. The teams split the season series 3-3, and the Giants were a Jayson Werth bloop double away from winning the series 4-2. Philadelphia’s pitching staff gets all the press, but the Giants’ staff is statistically better from top to bottom, including the bullpen. Their top 3 of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels gets the adoration and the nickname (H2O…get it?), but the Giants’ top 3 of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have been just as dominant, if not more so. The Phillies’ lineup can be relentless, but stats show that the Giants are a better hitting club than many would think. Plus, the Giants have the pitching to neutralize even the best lineup in baseball. So maybe, just maybe, this will actually be a competitive series. Shocking, I know.

I’m not saying that the Giants are going to win this series; the Phillies are a dangerous team with the ability to beat anyone in their path. What irks me, though, are the baseball writers and analysts who aren’t giving the Giants any chance at all. It’s bad enough that the stories about the NLDS mostly centered on the errors made by Brooks Conrad and the rest of the Braves’ defense or Bobby Cox’s retirement rather than the Giants’ performance; now, the stories are focusing on how dominant the Phillies are and what an easy road they have to another Series appearance. No one seems to be talking about the Giants.

There’s one way to fix that, though. And the Giants will get their chance starting this Saturday.