Hot Stove Honeymoon

November 12

The parade is over, but make no mistake, the honeymoon is not for Giants fans. Some have waited as long as the Giants have been in San Francisco. They’re gonna milk this for all it’s worth.

The A’s won their last championship 21 years ago, against the Giants in the Earthquake Series. That seems so very, very long ago. With a disaffected fan base and uncertain future, the remaining faithful are looking for anything to keep their cockles warm this winter.

It might be the offseason for fans, but not for baseball’s front office people. There’s no room for down time, because baseball has moved up some key dates as a way to make sure fewer players are un-signed come spring training. For example, December 2nd is the deadline to tender contracts for players not eligible for arbitration.

Hot Stove Season is here. I don’t imagine there are many people left who keep themselves warm via the stove — that’s kind of dangerous — but it’s a phrase from baseball’s anachronistic past that has hung on. Me, I have the space heater and a Sharks game on TV as I write.

We are an equal opportunity blog: let’s look at the Giants and the A’s.

***

The Giants are World Series champions, but still have weaknesses and major questions. They had their share of good fortune. Don’t forget Brooks ( E4) Conrad. Or Ian Kinsler barely missing a home run. To their credit, the Giants took advantage of the breaks they received and got better and better as the postseason progressed.

The Giants made a lot of money in the postseason, and will make even more with a jump in season ticket sales for next season. They are in a new world now: with a lot of great young arms under their control for a few more years, there will be renewed expectations once the happy glow of the parade fades. Or, at least when the clothes get back from the cleaners minus the smell of pot.

Those expectations aren’t crazy: the Giants have a golden opportunity to be one of baseball’s elite for several years to come.

But their offseason is complicated, with some major questions looming:

1) Will Pablo Sandoval get in better shape so he can stay in the field, and will he return to something like his 2009 form ?

2) Will Mark DeRosa be able to make a contribution next year, at third base or in left field ?

3) Is Brandon Belt the Real Deal, and if so, when and where do the Giants make room for him ?

4) What do they do about shortstop, with the free agent market very thin at that position ?

5) How much more are the Giants willing to spend ?

They can’t wait around for some of those answers, so the best bet is to go with known quantities, at least for now. That makes the signings of Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe the top priorities, even if those players are not in a big hurry because they want to test the market. No question, both are in line for sizeable raises but the Giants are in a position to offer both players reasonable contracts, maybe 6-8 million per year.

Uribe is especially valuable because of his power and his ability to play several positions. If Edgar Renteria comes back, it will be at a greatly reduced price, but if he retires Uribe can play short and do a decent job. Brandon Crawford is at least a couple of years away and Manny Burriss looks more like a second baseman or utility man, so Uribe becomes a very high priority.

Uribe gives the Giants a terrific safety net. If Sandoval can’t progress and DeRosa can’t recover from wrist surgery, Uribe can slide over to third, and the Giants can look at making a deal for a shortstop such as Jason Bartlett of Tampa at relatively low cost. Nate Schierholtz and/or Travis Ishikawa, and/or another young pitcher should lure Bartlett from the Rays, who have a surplus at shortstop.

Outside of 2009 Bartlett is nothing spectacular, but is serviceable. He doesn’t have great range but is fairly steady. He’s a NorCal guy who gave America free Taco Bell tacos by stealing a base in the 2008 World Series. He would be a decent stopgap if nothing else.

If Renteria doesn’t come back and Sandoval continues to be a well-rounded individual, another low-cost option would be to sign Renteria’s countryman from Colombia, Orlando Cabrera. He is 36, but was only a $2 million ballplayer last year. His season was cut short by an abdominal strain but he’s been pretty durable over the last decade. Again, a stopgap measure.

Huff sounds like he would very much like to stay in San Francisco, and I think he has at least one more good year left. The Giants gave him a shot when nobody wanted him, and he reciprocated with a strong season. Strong as in thong. You’d think he wants to repeat the good feelings of 2010.

Signing Huff would give the Giants a couple of options: if DeRosa isn’t ready to go in left and Burrell is gone, the Giants could put Huff out there and Brandon Belt at first. Or vice-versa.

Belt is already being called a possible Buster Posey for 2011. He’s an excellent line-drive gap hitter who would do well at AT and T Park, is a pretty good fielding first baseman, and a good enough athlete to be a passable outfielder. At 22 he’s shown the ability to make adjustments, changing his batting stance to reduce a hitch in his swing — with spectacular results.

Belt hit .352 with 23 home runs and 112 RBI’s at three different levels in 2010, and he isn’t stopping in the Arizona Fall League. He’s batting .366 for the Scottsdale Scorpions as of this writing. The Giants believe he’ll be a major league hitter very soon, perhaps getting a call-up earlier than Posey did in 2010.

Belt would also give the Giants another left-handed bat. Outside of Huff, all of their other free-agent position players are right-handed hitters. Now, a bit about those other free-agents :

Jose Guillen … gone. Too much baggage, not good enough to play RF at AT and T, and now a reported HGH-related arrest. This is one franchise that wants nothing to do with that.

Cody Ross … priority #3 in the off-season. He’s expected to get a substantial raise through aribtration, but both sides should be motivated to get a longer-term deal done — after what Ross did for the team, and what the team did for him. The Giants can probably pay for part of his salary with sales of the “Ross is Boss” t-shirts.

Pat Burrell … he can come back IF the price is right, but he’s well down the list. It’s expecting a lot to think he’ll repeat what he did in 2010. The Giants will thank him profusely for his service, and then part ways … or if they re-sign Huff, they can bring back his buddy for clubhouse presence and the occasional home run. In any event, no longer an everyday player but still has some value.

Now, let’s go to the open market.

Will the Giants take a dip in the free agent pool ? Is there a naked Christie Brinkley to entice them, a la Chevy Chase in “Vacation?” Or, failing that, a Beverly De Angelo circa 1985 ?

The problem with this free agent market is that the pool is occupied by only a handful of hot chicks and a lot of slump-busters. On top of that, they are already saddled with the big contracts of Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand and are loathe to add another huge financial obligation. Plus, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres and Cody Ross are due big raises through aribtration — assuming Ross returns.

There is a flip side — yes, they just finished winning a trophy by cobbling together a lineup, but it would be a stretch to expect them to win it all by going that route again. General Manager Brian Sabean acknowledged that the magical postseason ride, and tremendous fan support, makes San Francisco a more attractive destination for free agents. The Giants payroll is expected to go north of $100 million.

With all that in mind, allow me a moment to dream …

Carl Crawford would be worth every penny the Giants would spend on him. He’s a National League-type ballplayer who is just reaching his peak, and he would be a perfect fit in the Giants’ lineup, and in left field. He would solve so many problems that it’s enough to make Bill Neukom’s bowtie spin. If Crawford was signed, I believe the Giants would win another World Series within the next three years.

I love what Jayson Werth brings to the table as well, and he would be a great fit in right field. However, I’m a little scared by his streakiness and by the pricetag he’ll command in a fairly weak free agent market. Peter Gammons told Murph and Mac on KNBR that Werth could command 15 to 20 million dollars a year, which made me blanch. And I don’t blanch that often.

I think those numbers are a bit high. Werth will be 32 next year but probably wants a long-term deal. Anywhere near that kind of money, and that length of contract, is better used on a player like Crawford. Of course, the Angels and several other clubs are thinking the same thing, and you know the Angels are capable of going over the top of everyone, so Crawford is probably still a pipe dream for the Giants.

OK, dream’s over. Time to wake up.

So what does that leave the Giants? There will be the occasional Prince Fielder trade rumor ( with Jonathan Sanchez a key piece ), but the Giants are likely to stick with what worked in 2010, and I’m pretty confident they can bring back Huff and Ross. I’m a little less confident about Uribe, but wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back, too.

Also, don’t rule out a mid-season acquisition. The name Dan Uggla has been floated before, it’ll be floated again. As Chris Haft of mlb.com points out, Uggla is a good friend of Cody Ross. If Ross is still here and the Marlins fall out of contention, the Giants might be able to swing a deal to bring in Uggla to play third base and add even more power to the lineup.

The Giants Opening Day lineup in 2011 should already be stronger than it was at the start of 2010, even if they go the conservative route. And if Sandoval and DeRosa come through it could be a pretty tough lineup. The Giants have the starting rotation most other teams die for, and a bullpen for the ages. That bullpen should be mostly intact for 2011.

Then, toss in a Belt and a possible mid-season acquisition, and 2011 looks like a lot of fun. Maybe not as fun as a skinny-dip with a 20-something Christie Brinkley … but better than an evening with The Machine.

***

The A’s have already made an offseason move, getting David DeJesus from the Royals for pitchers Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks. Because of their unstable situation and a drafty 40-year-old ballpark that doubles as a football stadium, it is very difficult for the A’s to attract major free agents, so they have to make trades to bring in talent. That’s in Billy Beane’s wheelhouse, for better or worse.

Despite the “genius” label, Beane has a checkered track record in recent years. One only has to look south to Los Angeles, where Andre Ethier patrols right field, or Colorado, where Carlos Gonzalez has turned into an MVP candidate and one of the best center fielders in the game. That won’t stop Beane from trying, if not on a smaller scale.

The DeJesus deal has the smell of Matt Holliday Lite. He’s another player coming into a contract year, and he’s coming off thumb surgery, so he’s a big question mark to boot. DeJesus would be a nice fit for a contending club, and that’s just where he may end up after July if the A’s aren’t contending themselves. One the other hand if he plays well and the A’s stay in contention, his pricetag on a new deal would not be out of the A’s reach.

The A’s would have a very athletic outfield with DeJesus, Coco Crisp and Ryan Sweeney with potential backups Rajai Davis, Conor Jackson and Travis Buck. But there’s something they lack: power.

Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff led them last year with 16 home runs. Rookie Chris Carter could provide some pop, probably as a designated hitter, although that would mean waving goodbye to Jack Cust, who had their highest OPS in a bit more than half a season.

Otherwise, there are currently few other power options for a club that’s beginning to resemble the 1960’s Dodgers or 1980’s Cardinals. That is, on the upside. The downside is a Dead-Ball Era club. But that doesn’t mean they won’t make more moves.

Trading away Mazzaro might come back to haunt them someday. Some observers believe Mazzaro had the best stuff of all the formidable young pitchers the A’s possess, but he stumbled badly down the stretch in 2010 and couldn’t avoid the big inning. He could eventually blossom in Kansas City if he doesn’t get frustrated by continually-lousy teams.

However, the DeJesus deal was a sign the A’s are very confident about signing Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. If Iwakuma is as good as advertised, they would have a very strong back-of-rotation starter to go along with Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez. Not to mention Bobby Cramer, Josh Outman, and Clayton Mortensen in the mix, too.

The A’s have some things in common with the Giants: terrific young starting pitching, and a consistently good bullpen, but problems on offense. They don’t have the Giants’ power but they have more team speed and athleticism. They have few defensive weaknesses. I love Mark Ellis at second base and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate along with that outfield.

The A’s have a surplus of outfielders and arms, so another offseason deal is certainly possible. Would they look for a big stick in the corner outfield or corner infield ? Could they send the Dodgers the arms they crave for a player such as Matt Kemp ? Or would they hope Chris Carter becomes the right-handed power threat they need ?

I’d rate a trade for someone of Kemp’s caliber a 4 on a scale of 10 … not likely but not totally out of the realm of possibility. So failing that, if the A’s are serious about adding to their offense, there is another possibility — and he’s a free agent. I know you’re thinking Adam Dunn, but while he would be a good fit he’s probably not coming to Oakland. Think “Land Of The Rising Sun.”

At 36, Hideki Matsui is not the hitter he used to be, but the A’s would not kick his .820 OPS out of bed for eating crackers. In addition, Matsui would probably be within the A’s price range. He’s a more complete hitter than Jack Cust or Chris Carter, and he might be attracted if the A’s sign Iwakuma.

This morning the A’s tried to address their power outage with an under-the-radar move, claiming third baseman Edwin Encarnacion off waivers from the Blue Jays. Despite two trips to the disabled list and a stint in the minors, Encarnacion hit more homers than any Oakland player in 2010 — 21 in 96 games. He also had 18 errors.

There is a beacon of hope for the A’s, and it can be seen from across the Bay. The Giants entered 2010 with a team similar to the A’s, added key pieces — including a highly-touted young hitter — and the rest is history. The A’s managed to stay in mathematical contention until mid-September and flirted with the .500 mark despite having little offense, so with a few more improvements they can make big strides.

The Rangers will still be good, but not invincible, especially if they lose Cliff Lee. The A’s can be taken seriously with a little more offense. It’ll be interesting to see how serious the front office is about turning the team into a winner again, and put more butts in the seats — or are they going the “Major League” route, simply going on the cheap and setting themselves up for relocation ?

A’s fans deserve a little hope, even if the team is packing the moving van, presumably for San Jose.

Advertisements

4 Responses to “Hot Stove Honeymoon”

  1. Jim from Napa Says:

    Ray you are right on about the A’s. In Billy Beanes entire career with the A’s, he has not made many good trades at all. Even his signings like Euribiel Durazo, and many others have come back to haunt them.

    Billy Beane has made terrible trades in his career. His genius? Drafting. The A’s drafts are near the best in the majors and Beane can’t spot a good arm a mile away. The A’s scouting is among the best in baseball.

    The A’s have no power and unless you have a bunch of fast .300 hitters, you are toast. The A’s have mostly .250 hitters with a little pop in their bats and that doesnt’ win.

  2. Jim from Napa Says:

    p.s.; beane CAN spot a great arm a mile away; just a type O

  3. ForGoneConclusion Says:

    Ray, can you author a blog without bringing all of Gary/PConn/Dibley’s and your double entendres and sexual references into the body of the article?

    Thought you were “better than that”…

    • raywood Says:

      Yes, I can, and have dozens of times. But because I used a little colorful imagery in a couple of blogs, I apparently didn’t meet your high standards. Sorry I wasn’t “better than that.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: