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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Beltran Arrives to Save Us All

Carlos Beltran is coming to the Giants. Rejoice.

Though it hasn’t been made official-official yet, the Giants have agreed to send minor league pitcher Zach Wheeler to the Mets for Beltran and cash, giving the Giants the best hitter available on the market and significantly upgrading their anemic offense. Beltran becomes arguably the best overall hitter on the team, solidifies the middle of the lineup, and helps offset the loss of Buster Posey’s bat.  He’s exactly the kind of hitter the Giants need if they’re serious about repeating as World Series champions.

Did the Giants give up too much, though? Wheeler was considered by many to be the Giants’ top pitching prospect and is generally assumed to be a future front-of-the-rotation starter. It’s never easy to give up a prospect of his caliber, especially when it’s for a rental player like Beltran.

One thing to consider: Sabean and his top lieutenants have a tremendous track record when it comes to recognizing which young pitchers to keep, and which to trade. Take a look at some of the minor league pitchers Sabean has dealt during his tenure with the Giants: Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry, Jim Stoops, Ken Vining, Jason Brester, Darin Blood, Mike Villano, Mike Pageler, Joe Fontenot, Nate Bump, Jason Grilli, Todd Ozias, Francisco Liriano, Tim Alderson… the list goes on and on. Of that list, Liriano was the biggest loss but the Giants were concerned about his arm durability (and he blew out his elbow a few years after the trade). Foulke and Howry had nice careers. Grilli, a former 4th overall draft pick, is a journeyman. The jury is still out on Alderson, but he’s stuck in Double A. The rest of the names, along with a few others I’m just too lazy to type out, are completely forgettable.

So if Sabean and his crew are comfortable trading Wheeler, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. As desperate as the Giants are for offense, I still have a hard time believing they’d give up a guy they thought would turn into a number one starter for a 2-month rental. It’s highly possible that the internal opinion of Wheeler was much, much different than everyone else’s opinion. Wheeler may still go on to have a nice career, but the Giants obviously thought he was expendable.

What Wheeler does in his career is no longer a concern of the Giants, though. Carlos Beltran is here, the Giants’ lineup is suddenly a lot more imposing, and they’ve positioned themselves for another deep October run. Today, that’s all that matters.

Now if only they’d go get a catcher.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Carlos Beltran and the Cost of Doing Business

The Mets want who?

There’s a scene in The Dark Knight where Batman, who has somehow rigged every single cell phone in Gotham to form one giant sonar device, shows his creation to Morgan Freeman on a super-sized video screen. Morgan Freeman is worried about the ramifications- privacy issues, big brother, etc. – and Batman tells him he has to do it in order to catch The Joker. That’s when Morgan Freeman turns to him and says, in a very Morgan Freeman-like way, “At what cost?”

That’s exactly how I imagine the trade discussions taking place in the Giants’ front office. In my mind, Brian Sabean has a gigantic video screen with video of Carlos Beltran on a continuous loop while he tells Bill Neukom that Beltran is the key to another World Series title. And Neukom turns to Sabean and says, “At what cost?” Also, Sabean is dressed as Batman. Don’t ask why, it just makes sense.

The Giants once again find themselves in the thick of contention, in control of the NL West and riding their all-world pitching staff to the 4th-best record in baseball. They’ve managed to do all that while missing two of their top three hitters and trotting out a suspect offense at best. Actually, calling the Giants’ offense “suspect” is an insult to all suspect offenses. They’ve been, for the most part, awful.

Enter Carlos Beltran. He’s the name everyone’s talking about as the trade deadline nears, the name Giants fans have latched onto as the key to repeating as World Series champions. The lineup would look much, much better with Beltran in it, as he’s the only bat known to be available who’d come close to replacing the production lost when Buster Posey went down for the year. He’s a legitimate middle of the order hitter who’d take some of the pressure off of Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz, who’ve become the de facto run producers amongst a cavalcade of underperformers.

The problem is, the Mets are holding out for a top prospect. And according to reports, the Giants’ list of untouchable prospects includes Zach Wheeler, Gary Brown, Heath Hembree and Brandon Belt- all names that interest the Mets. So the Giants are faced with a dilemma: do they mortgage the future for three months of Beltran, who could mean the difference between an early October exit and another World Series appearance? Or do they stay the course, keep their top prospects in house, and roll the dice with what they have?

From the so-called “untouchables” list, one can make a few assumptions: Belt isn’t going anywhere. He’s in the Majors to stay, and the Giants are counting on him to provide an offensive spark down the stretch. Wheeler is the guy most baseball people rave about in the Giants’ system, but Sabean and his crew have been known to have differing opinions on pitching prospects than the rest of the world (see Alderson, Tim). Hembree is a hard-throwing reliever with excellent stuff, but I find it hard to believe the Giants would pass on a deal for Carlos Beltran because they didn’t want to give up a relief pitcher. Depending on what you read, Brown is either going to be Brett Butler or Scott Podsednik once he reaches the Majors.

From that list, I don’t know how the Giants can pass on a deal for Beltran that isn’t centered on Belt or (probably) Wheeler. Hembree may turn out to be a great closer one day, but a minor league relief pitcher shouldn’t ever hold up a deal for an impact bat like Beltran. There are so many differing opinions about Brown that it’s hard to pinpoint what kind of player he’s going to be, but getting a player like Beltran in return would make moving Brown worth the risk. Wheeler is by all accounts a stud, but Sabean may feel differently. And just by track record alone, I trust Sabean's opinions on young pitchers.

But it's never easy to deal prospects, right? In this case, it shouldn't be that hard.

The team’s pitching staff is so good, so dominating, and so young, it seems almost criminal to not provide them with the support they need to win. Moreover, it feels like the Giants would be wasting a prime opportunity to repeat. There’s no guarantee this staff will be together after 2012 (Matt Cain hits free agency then, Tim Lincecum the year after), and you can never be sure of health when it comes to pitchers. So why not strike now?

Again, it all comes down to cost. At what cost, in my best Morgan Freeman voice. The Giants have a legitimate chance to get back to the World Series, but at what cost to their future are they willing to go get players that will help them get there?

Teams have windows in which they can win a championship, and the Giants’ window is open right now. Those windows can also be shut quickly and unexpectedly for a number of reasons, and a team should do whatever it takes within reason to take advantage of those opportunities. The Giants have a chance to strengthen their team in a big way without mortgaging their entire future in the process. It seems like an easy choice to me: if getting Carlos Beltran means giving up an “untouchable” prospect, so be it. The risk is worth the cost. The potential reward is astronomical.

This isn’t a team that’s been bad for a while and is surprising people by being in contention. The Giants aren’t the Pirates. They’re not a team that’s in the final stages of rebuilding and is just now seeing the rewards, and therefore not a team that should worry about setting themselves back by trading prospects for a short term rental. They’re the defending champs, legitimate contenders with a powerhouse pitching staff backed by an anemic offense. They have the means in their minor league system to improve that offense significantly via trade, and they shouldn’t be afraid to do so.

At what cost, Morgan Freeman? Damn the cost, says Batman Sabean. Win.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Giants at the Deadline

The Giants head into the All Star break sporting their best record since 2003, sitting at 52-40 with a 3 game lead over Arizona. They’ve managed to overcome catastrophic injuries to two of their top hitters and horrible slumps from key contributors, once again confounding experts who can’t understand how the team manages to score any runs at all.

In spite of their strong start, the Giants still have major holes in their lineup that could hurt the team if they don’t take steps to fill them. The trade deadline isn’t that far off, and the Giants don’t figure to stand pat in the meantime. They have a legitimate chance to once again make the playoffs, and chances are they’ll take the steps necessary to strengthen their weak spots.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the names that might interest the Giants in the coming weeks:

Carlos Beltran: Of all the players known to be on the market, Beltran would make the most immediate impact on the middle of the Giants’ lineup. Healthy for the first time since ’08, Beltran has put up a .285/.377/.503 line with 13 HRs and 58 RBIs while being named to the NL All-Star team. He’s expressed a willingness to accept a trade to a contender, and spoke glowingly of the Giants during the Mets’ recent series in San Francisco. Makes perfect sense to trade for him, right?

Well, maybe. Beltran had the same glowing things to say about Boston recently, and would likely say good things about any contending team that might be interested in him (like, “I love the weather in Cleveland”). He’s the best hitter available at the moment, but the Giants’ biggest holes aren’t in the outfield and they may be inclined to trade for help in areas with more pressing needs. Plus the Giants won’t be the only team interested in his services, and that may drive the Mets’ asking price for an outfielder on the wrong side of 30 to levels the Giants aren’t comfortable with.

Actually...yeah, an outfielder on the wrong side of 30? He’s definitely coming to the Giants.

Yorvit Torrealba: The Giants have been linked to Torrealba over the past month, with the suggested asking price being a middle reliever. If that deal can still be had, the Giants would be wise to jump all over it. Torrealba has put up a .286/.375/.476 line this month after going .338/.370/.426 in June and is still a good defender behind the plate.

Torrealba may not be the big bat people want, but compared to the catchers currently on the Giants’ roster he’s Johnny Bench. He’d immediately upgrade the bottom of the order and should be able to fit in seamlessly behind the plate. The Giants may be worried about the $3.25 million he’s owed next year, but that shouldn’t prevent them from pulling the trigger if the deal is there.

Jeff Keppinger: Not exactly a household name, Keppinger is having a nice year for an abysmal Houston team. He can play all over the infield and would arguably give the Giants a better middle infield option than anything they have now. The Astros are on pace to lose over 100 games and likely wouldn’t mind parting ways with a 31-year-old utility infielder. My guess is Keppinger could be had at a reasonable price.

Michael Cuddyer: The Twins are only 6.5 out in the AL Central and may not be keen on trading their best offensive player this year, but Cuddyer is 32, headed into free agency, and his asking price may be too much for the Twins to match. Cuddyer would be an impact hitter in the middle of the Giants’ lineup and could play a variety of positions, including 2B if needed. He’s also the kind of player the Giants may be interested in over the winter (outfielder, wrong side of 30… you remember) so the Giants might be inclined to get him before he hits the open market. If the Twins fall out of contention and make Cuddyer available, it could be another Beltran situation: the asking price may be driven sky high. Still, Cuddyer’s flexibility and bat would make him an ideal fit in San Francisco and the Giants may be willing to pay that price.

Jamey Carroll: It may feel dirty to some fans to consider a trade with the Dodgers, but they’re a team with no hope of contention this year, financial issues, and players that can help a contender. Carroll is one of those players. He’s a perfect 2-hole hitter and would be a better middle infield option than Emmanuel Burriss or Miguel Tejada. The Dodgers likely won’t want much for him, and the relationship between Brian Sabean and Ned Colletti may help facilitate a deal between the two teams.

JJ Hardy: Hardy is having a big year for Baltimore (.278/.338/.498) and would immediately fix the Giants’ gaping hole in the lineup known as “shortstop.” There are a few problems, though: for one thing, Hardy is hoping to work out an extension to stay with Baltimore. And if no extension can be reached and the Orioles put Hardy on the market, he’ll immediately be the best SS available not named Jose Reyes and the Orioles could ask for the moon. There are a lot of contenders besides the Giants who could use a bat of Hardy’s caliber.

Full disclosure: when Hardy’s name came up on Twitter a month or so ago, I argued against trading for him because I wanted to see Burriss get a shot. Well, Burriss has played quite a bit lately, and… yeah, Hardy would be good.

Ronny Paulino/Rod Barajas: I put these two together because they’re basically the same player: catchers with a modicum of hitting ability, a little pop, who won’t embarrass themselves behind the plate and are better hitters than what the Giants have currently. Barajas falls into Carroll’s category, being a Dodger and likely being affordable, and has the most power between the two. Paulino is a better overall hitter (somewhat surprisingly, his career line is .277/.331/.384) and has shown the ability to be a productive platoon player. If the Giants can’t land Torrealba, either of these two guys could fit the bill.

Wilson Betemit: Though he’s been a third baseman for most of this year, Betemit has played 2B and SS in his career and could help the Giants at either of those positions. The Royals are stacked with prospects and have no real use for Betemit, and likely wouldn’t need much prodding to move him. He’s another name that doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, but he’s a solid bat and the Giants need as many of those as they can find.

Omar Infante: He’d be a nice fit, but he’s a Marlin and the chances of the Giants and Marlins making a deal this year are probably less than zero.

Adam Kennedy: He’s been replaced in Seattle and doesn’t really fit with a rebuilding team, and Kennedy can still help a contending team as evidenced by his .259/.301/.395 line. And…well, he’s better than Burriss. That’s really my only criteria right now.