This is something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. Round up some of my favorite Giants bloggers and discuss a few questions that I think will be important to the team this season. The Giants are still in a period of transition and this season should be exciting on a few different levels. Each blogger on this panel graciously accepted my request to answer the questions put forth. Joining me is Grant Brisbee from McCovey Chronicles, Lefty from El Lefty Malo, and Paul Rice from Give ‘em Some Stankeye. If you haven’t checked out any of these three Giants blogs, they come highly recommended.
Now, let’s move on with the questions.
1. 2009 will be (potentially) Brian Sabean’s last year as Giants GM. Would you welcome an extension beyond this upcoming season or is it time for new blood in the front office?
Grant Brisbee (McCovey Chronicles): Ah. The devil you know vs. the devil you don’t. Ever since Jose Castillo was released, Brian Sabean has seemed like a competent GM. I’m not sure if I buy it, but there hasn’t been much to complain about lately. But I can’t answer the question because I have no idea who the Giants would hire. Would they go for one of them there smart dudes from the Indians organization, or would they dredge up some retread? If it’s the latter, I’d just as soon keep Sabean. He probably knows the names of all the people in the office, so why rock the boat?
Lefty (El Lefty Malo): I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’m torn. Part of me really wants to see if Sabean can pull off a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. It’s easy to forget he was one of the best GMs on the planet from 1996 to 2003. Did the game pass him by? Did he lose his secret mojo? Or can he take the skills he used in the Good Years, add them to the hard lessons learned from the Dark Years, and become successful again?
The past year or two, he’s earned back some confidence that he can turn the team around, especially as he’s revamped the scouting operations and replenished the front office. Canning his ass after this year would leave the story incomplete, and what fun is that? If all goes well this year, the team is fun to watch and somewhat competitive, and he doesn’t make any bonehead trades, I would be open to a one or two year extension when the season ends.
Paul Rice (Give ‘em Some Stankeye): One year ago, if you had asked me if Sabean should be extended, I would have answered with an emphatic “No!” and followed with the requisite temper tantrum. Now though, I’m not so sure. There is some evidence that the veteran fetish and the awful Zito contract were both ownership-influenced and for the most part it seems as though the team is on the right track.
For one thing, they’re finally giving their young players a legitimate shot (or at least appear to be). I’m not much of a fan of Travis Ishikawa, but at least he gets to prove whether he can hang in the big leagues or not. You couldn’t say that three years ago when the Giants were dabbling with the Mark Sweeneys and Shea Hillenbrands of the world. Same for Sandoval. Would he have been given a shot in favor of a Mike Matheny signing? I doubt it.
In the past this team would have signed Orlando Hudson to a ridiculous deal instead of going with Frandsen for pocket change. That they didn’t go after Hudson this season is an encouraging sign. Also, even Sabean’s most vicious critics have to admit that he and his front office team have done a terrific job drafting in the last few years.
There is obviously an appeal to go out and find somebody younger, to get some “new blood” in the front office, as the kids say. The question is who is out there? Competent general managers don’t exactly grow on trees, and you’re running the risk of bringing in somebody worse. Take the Royals. Dayton Moore had an impeccable resume when he took over, but in the last two years that franchise has made some of the stupidest decisions you’ll ever see.
I used to be in the front row of picketers demanding Sabean’s ouster, so I feel weird sitting here actually defending the man. Basically, I’d say retain him unless there is a short list of legitimate, available candidates in mind to replace him. And before you throw Paul DePodesta’s name out there (come on, we were all thinking it), I think he’s stated that he doesn’t want a GM job anytime soon.
Chris Quick (Bay City Ball): Like the others, I’m not sure how I feel about this question. For a time, Sabean was a fantastic GM but he definitely hit a funk. His career with the Giants plays into two parts. The Good (1997-2004) and The Bad (bits a pieces since 2004). But, for better or worse, the Giants have stuck by Sabean for the last two years and the results have been promising — if a little mixed at times. His attempts to land Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews Jr. in the same offseason still makes me feel sick (we eventually ended up with Dave Roberts). And his trading record hasn’t been as hot as it once was, but you can’t argue that since 2006 the team’s farm system has made steady improvements. The Zito deal is absolutely crushing but on a few other fronts, Sabes has made some prudent moves. Getting a prospecty arm for Jack Taschner is a minor miracle and he hasn’t sold low on some of our young talent.
All that being said, I wouldn’t mind another 1-2 years for Sabes to see if he’s still got it but I definitely wouldn’t cry if this was his last year as GM. There’s a lot of qualified candidates out there and Nuekom strikes me as a guy that might be a little more forward thinking than Sabean, time will tell but for now, I’ll take a couple of more years of tire-kicking.
2. What’s your biggest concern with the team heading into the season?
GB: The starting pitching. Will they be able to restrain themselves from garroting the starting lineup with piano wire? I wouldn’t be able to.
L: Hitting, hitting, hitting. Even if a couple guys step up, teams will pitch around them. Imagine: Pablo Sandoval goes batshit red-hot crazy and can’t be pitched to. Behind him, it’s….Travis Ishikawa! Rich Aurilia! Aaron Rowand! Not a difficult choice if you’re the opposing manager.
I’m also a bit worried about starting pitching depth. This of course completely contradicts my previous comments about Matt Cain, but if a couple pitchers go down for extended periods, it’s probably up to Joe Martinez and Kevin Pucetas to hold down the fort. Still, the Giants are in better shape rotation-wise than any of their division rivals and probably any other team in the league.
PR: Offense. Oh, that offense. There is still no power and there are only two guys who take walks with a modicum of regularity. BP projected like a 60-run jump for the team’s offense this year. What? Excuse me if I don’t quite see where those extra runs are going to come from. Edgar Renteria is an obvious upgrade from the unmentionable shortstop situation last year, but not 60 runs worth. Full seasons of Ishikawa and Sandoval still probably won’t get this team to 700 runs scored. I like how the team didn’t succumb to the temptation to lavish an albatross contract on a guy like Manny Ramirez, but finding some people who can produce runs is still a pressing issue. When Fred Lewis and Randy Winn are your best hitters, you’re in trouble.
CQ: Since I developed this question, I’ll cheat a little and say offense and defense. The offense is a no-brainer. This team isn’t going to score a lot of runs and I think everyone has prepared themselves for that reality. But parts of our defense has the potential to be cover-your-eyes bad. I love Sandoval’s bat but I don’t know how he’s going to handle third base full-time. It’s a position he hadn’t played since 2006 and even then it wasn’t his primary position. I still like the Renteria signing but he’s not a defensive whiz by any stretch of the imagination. The OF — pending Rowand playing at least average defense in CF — should be very solid and I like the right-side of the infield. But, man, does the left-side of the infield have the potential to be scary.
3. Poor Matt Cain is always involved in trade rumors, but with only 3 more seasons left on his deal — he’s got a club option for 2011 that will almost certainly be picked up — when does it become interesting to make a trade?
GB: If his K/9 drops at the same time his ERA is superficially low, trade him. Until then, there’s no way the Giants will get value. If the Reds had Matt Wieters and Buster Posey to go with Joey Votto and Yonder Alonso, and they said, “pick two for Cain,” then it would make sense. But that’s pretty danged far-fetched. A one-for-one, Cain-for-Position-Player trade is treading water.
If Bumgarner and Alderson are ready by next spring, maybe I’ll change my mind.
L: I think half way through this year, with several caveats. IF Bumgarner and Alderson are kicking butt in High A and Double A respectively, IF Jonathan Sanchez is realizing his potential and IF Tim Lincecum is showing no signs of slowing down, the Giants should seriously think about it. With so many teams hurting for young starting pitching, the bounty they could fetch for Cain would be incredibly tempting; they might be able to immediately add two good young hitters, plus grab a prospect or two. I think the type of haul Oakland got for Dan Haren is a good goal to shoot for.
PR: It depends a lot on the development of Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner. If they continue to pitch like they have as they ascend through the minor league levels, they should be here before 2011, and Cain becomes more expendable. However, we all know about TINSTAPP and all that jazz.
I personally am very anti-trading Cain. The thing about him is that he’s now proven he can go out and give you 200 innings a year with a top 20 ERA, and how many guys can you say that about? Not too many. The guy is also only, what, 25? This could hardly be his ceiling, especially if he cuts his walks down. I think a lot of people fail to understand exactly how much of an asset Cain really is.
CQ: There’s a lot of good answers for this question but Paul makes a great point — Cain has been darned valuable since he became a full-time starter for the Giants. I think because of his ‘W’ total, he often gets devalued. Fact is that Cain was just as valuable as Roy Oswalt last year — they both added +3.7 wins to their teams — and that statement would probably shock the “Matt Cain just can’t get WINZ” segment of the Giants population. Cain is a legitimate 3-4 win pitcher and that’s nothing to sneeze at. That’s very, very good.
So, before you trade away Cain — and his annual 3-4 wins — you’ve got to make sure you’re getting something close to that in return. It’s definitely going to depend on how prospects like Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson develop this year in the minors. And to a lesser extenet, guys like Henry Sosa and Scott Barnes. If one of these prospects starts making large strides, then you should consider it a little but Cain is just a great value that you better be sure that if you’re trading him, you’re getting quality in return.
4. 2009 will be Bruce Bochy’s last contract year with the Giants. How would you rate the Bochy-era? Happy, dissatisfied, or indifferent?
GB: I’ll never agree with any manager 100% of the time. No one will. So I lean toward indifferent…but, man, the guy’s moves bug me.
L: Strictly by won-loss record, dissatisfied. But I don’t blame Bochy anymore than I would credit him for an above-.500 team. I just don’t think a field manager does that much to affect on-field performance unless it’s something egregious, like ordering hundreds of sac bunts and hit and runs, or burning out pitchers’ arms.
PR: Totally indifferent. I’m firmly of the belief that a manager only has a marginal impact on a team at most, and that a bad manager can hurt a good team more than a good manager can help a mediocre one.
That said, Bochy hasn’t had anything to work with. A John McGraw/Casey Stengel super-duo wouldn’t win a darn thing with the 2007 or 2008 teams, so it’s completely unfair to judge Bochy on a won-loss basis. My major criticism would be that over the past two years, the Giants have been right at the top in hit-and-run attempts. T he hit-and-run play is one of the silliest and most self-immolating strategies in baseball, and obviously Bochy is the guy calling all of them.
In contrast to my thoughts on replacing Sabean, I very much believe that the Giants should bring in a younger, more innovative manager in the Joe Maddon/Manny Acta mold. Somebody who won’t give too much playing time to veterans or adhere so strictly to conventional patterns of bullpen usage that make my head hurt so.
CQ: I’m probably going to come off sounding like a grump on this one, but mark me down as dissatisfied. I agree that mangers don’t have a ton of impact on the outcomes of games and that Bochy hasn’t had squat to work with since he joined the Giants, but my disappointment stems from the one label that Bochy was given before coming to San Francisco — pitcher’s manager. Of all the things I heard about Bochy, one of the things I heard the most was that he protects young arms. After watching him for a couple of seasons, I’m wondering if this Bochy is the same Bochy that managed in San Diego. He’s ridden Cain very hard since he became manager and I thought he was borderline reckless with Tim Lincecum last season. His bullpen management is also pretty frustrating. I’ll be glad to see Bochy go. I think he’s probably a really, really nice guy, but more often than not he drives me crazy.
5. Fantasy time: You’re given GM privileges for one day and you’re allowed to make one team move (trade, contract extension, etc.) what do you do?
GB: I’d bend Alex Hinshaw’s cap. Like, put a real nice crease in it.
Other than that, I’d try and get Nate Schierholtz a starting gig in right field. Whether that comes by trading Rowand for another bad contract, or trading Winn, it’s time to find out if Schierholtz can live up to the Garret Anderson ceiling I’ve assigned to him in my mind.
L: If I had to make the move right now, I’d push hard for an extension for Tim Lincecum. I would not try to make a big trade right now. As many people have noted, this summer will bring serious fire sales as the economy crushes certain teams (the Tigers are one oft-cited example). Come June there should be some fine talent available for very little.
PR: Trade Bengie Molina. Yes, I know this sounds heartless because everybody loves Bengie, and rightly so. But he’s a 34-year-old catcher who played almost every day last season, and with his free-swinging ways, he’s a BABIP casualty waiting to happen. Frankly it makes no sense to keep him around anymore with Sandoval capable of stepping in and Buster Posey right on his heels. That is, unless you really think the team can contend this season, which I don’t.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that other GMs out there can’t see all of Molina’s flaws, but there’s definitely a market for a power-hitting catcher. There may be a contender looking to add a catcher who can hit (the Mets?), who will also offer something of value.
What isn’t clear is what the Giants will get if they ride Molina out through the rest of his contract. No one can figure out what those wacky Elias people are doing when they assign letters to free agents, but I’d guess Molina will be a Type B. Basically, I would exhaust every resource trying to trade Molina for equal or better value than that.
CQ: Try to buy out as many of Lincecum’s FA seasons that I can. He’s the most valuable player on the team going forward and if you can get a few of his FA years at a reduced price, you should go for it.
Again, thanks to Grant, Lefty, and Paul for taking the time to answer some of these questions. Go Giants!