Archive for July 2011

Giants Get Orlando Cabrera, Lose Thomas Neal

July 31, 2011

I don’t like this trade nearly as much as I liked the Carlos Beltran deal, or for that matter, the Jeff Keppinger trade.  The Giants gave up too much for a player who doesn’t look like he has much left.

Giants’ GM Brian Sabean is thinking Orlando Cabrera is a proven winner (six previous trips to the post-season) and his crappy year in Cleveland is the result of playing in the superior American League.

I don’t agree.  Cabrera was awful with the bat (.657 OPS) in Cincinnati, a much better place to hit than San Francisco, in 2010; and his .598 OPS so far this year in Cleveland suggests he’s a 36 year old with nothing left.

It smacks of a desparation move, with Mike Fontenot struggling, Brandon Crawford clearly over-matched in his first season in the Show, and Emmanuel Burriss playing so poorly he’s deservedly back at AAA Fresno.  However, I just don’t see Cabrera giving them anything more than they’d get from Fontenot, on either side of the ball.

Part of my irritation is that I feel like the Giants are trading away Thomas Neal when his trade value is at a relative low.  After three fine minor league seasons in a row (at least, if you take park factors into consideration), they’re sending him away in a year in which he’s been battling injuries.

Despite the injuries this year, Neal is still hitting .295 at AAA, and he doesn’t turn 24 until mid-August.  He’s going to be a major league player, at least as good as Freddie Lewis and possibly better.

If Cabrera plays reasonably well for the Giants and helps them make the post-season and then some, the trade makes sense.  I have a feeling, though, the Giants will make the post-season in spite of Cabrera rather than because of anything he adds.

It’s 1968 in Japan

July 30, 2011

Those of you who follow baseball history know that 1968 was MLB’s Year of the Pitcher, at least since clean baseballs came into exclusive use in 1920.  Carl Yastrzemski led the AL with the lowest average to win a batting title (.301) and was the only regular AL batter to hit higher then .290.

Only five hitters in the NL hit .300 that year, with Pete Rose’s .335 average leading all hitters.  Seven qualifying pitchers had ERAs below 2.00, and the Washington Senators’ Frank Howard (44) was the only hitter in either circuit to hit more than 36 HRs.  It was a tough, tough year to be a hitter.

MLB’s 1968 has nothing on NPB’s 2011.  Pitching completely dominates the Japanese game.

As I write this, ten Japanese starters have ERA’s below 2.00.  There are only twelve major league teams in Japan, so that means almost every team has a starter with an ERA below 2.00.  Offense is so limited this year that Yu Darvish’s (Darvish is the world’s best pitcher not presently on an MLB roster) 1.44 ERA is only good enough for third best in Japan’s Pacific League.  Wow!

Only eight players have batting averages at .300 or better, with Matt Murton’s .319 currently leading the Central League and Yoshio Itoi’s .335 leading the Pacific.  Murton got off to a brutal start this year, but he’s been hot the last month or so.  Still, it’s unlikely he’ll finish anywhere close to the .349 batting average he posted in 2010.

Only nine hitters have slugging percentages of .450 or higher.  Former Reds/Mariners prospect Wladimir Balentien has gone very cold after a torrid start, but still leads the Central League with 19 HRs.  However, his batting average has fallen about 80 points in the last six to eight weeks, done to .258.

The Seibu Lions’ Takeya Nakamura leads all sluggers with 27 HRs, but except for Balentien and the Softbank Hawks’ Nobuhiro Matsuda (17), no other batter has as many as 15 HRs a little more than half way through NPB’s 140 or so game season (NPB played 144 games in 2010, but they may play fewer this year, what with the start of the season being delayed by the earthquake and tsunami).

You have to think that if the season ends up the way it’s gone so far, the NPB owners will do something this coming off-season to boost offense, such as reduce the size of the strike zone or lower pitchers’ mounds.  It’s pretty well been demonstrated that casual fans like offense, and it’s really the casual fans who drive overall attendance numbers, since the hard-core fans are likely to go games in roughly the same numbers however the game on the field is being played.

A final word on Takeya Nakamura.  He’s only 27 this year and already in his ninth season in NPB.  His power numbers this year are no aberation: he hit 46 HRs in 2008 and 48 HRs in 2009.

I don’t know that we’ll ever see Nakamura playing in MLB.  His power numbers won’t translate in U.S. ballparks against MLB pitching, and his other numbers don’t suggest he’s the kind of Japanese hitter who would be productive in the U.S.   His career NPB batting average is only .258, he doesn’t walk much, and he strikes out a whole lot.  That doesn’t sound like a player an MLB team would want to take a risk on, particularly the way Kosuke Fukudome’s and Akinori Iwamura’s power disappeared when they came stateside.

Panik Pounds Plebes

July 30, 2011

I resisted the urge to title this post “Panik Attack.”  If Giants’ 2011 1st Round pick Joe Panik ever amounts to anything, we will hear oh so many bad puns based on his name for a very long time.

At any rate, the Giants have to be pleased with Panik’s introduction to professional baseball.  He’s currently hitting .329, good for fifth in the Northwest League, which is considered a short-season A-league, but can also be considered a rookie league for players drafted out of college.

Panik is at least two years younger than any of the four hitters with higher batting averages except Cory Spangenberg, who was the tenth pick in this year’s draft.  BTW, the Padres may have promoted Spangenberg too soon.  After thumping Northwest League pitchers in 25 games, he’s struggled mightily in his first 15 games in the full-season, Class A Midwest League.

Back to Panik — he’s playing so well the Giants should consider promoting him after ten to twenty more games at Salem-Keizer.  On second thought, the Giants may decide it’s wiser to just leave well enough alone.

The next place to go for Panik is either full-season, Class A Augusta or Class A+ San Jose.  I expect he’d struggle this season at either destination.  Augusta is an extremely difficult place to hit, and the California League might be a little too fast for Joe at this point in his professional career.

If the Giants don’t promote him this season, I expect he’ll start at A+ San Jose next year, unless he really plays poorly in Spring Training.  A lot will depend on whether the Giants think their other top young shortstop prospect Ehire Adrianza is ready to move up to AA Richmond next season.

Actually, the San Jose Giants look pretty well stocked in their middle infield next year even if Adrianza is promoted.  22 year old SS Carter Jurica will have a roster spot if he’s healthy next year, and 22 year old 2B Carlos Willoughby certainly deserves a promotion after the fine year (.371 OBP and 30 steals in 39 attempts) he’s had at Augusta so far this year.

At age 20 and a first round pick, Panik will take precedence over either of Jurica and Willoughby.  However, they’re both young enough and good enough they need to be playing regularly somewhere.

Nothing Left to Prove

July 28, 2011

What exactly does Eric Surkamp have left to prove at the AA level?  The just turned 24 year old leads the Eastern League with an even 2.00 ERA, and the rest of his line is as follows:

108 IP, 87 hits, 4 HRs, 34 BBs and 128 Ks

However, when I looked at his numbers this evening, he’s still listed as a member of the Richmond Flying Squirrels.  Promote him to AAA Fresno for crying out loud!

Giants Pull Trigger and Bring Down Carlos Beltran

July 28, 2011

The Giants have reportedly traded their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler straight up for Carlos Beltran and $4M toward the remaining $6.5 of Beltran’s of 2011 salary.  Wheeler is a heavy price to pay, but not heavy enough for Beltran, who has generally been regarded as the best position player available in the NL as this year’s trade deadline approaches.

I’m still kind of expecting to hear that the Mets will also get a player to be named later, most likely a choice from among several of the Giants’ second-tier pitching prospects.  Pitching prospects have a bad habit of getting hurt and never amounting to anything.  You have to get at least a couple when you’re sending away a Carlos Beltran.

Wheeler is certainly a fine prospect — sixth pick of the 2009 draft, great arm and so forth.  The thing is he’s still in A+ ball, and based on his year and a half of minor league numbers, I don’t think he’s going to ready until 2014, unless his command gets a whole lot better really fast. That’s a lot of time for him to get hurt before he even reaches the majors.

Meanwhile, the Giants get as close to a sure thing as they’re reasonably likely to get, and they desperately need an outfielder, any outfielder, who can really hit.  No matter what happens, the Giants can offer Beltran arbitration after the season and get two top 50 draft picks when someone else signs him to his multi-year deal.

In fact, the worst thing that can happen in terms of the Giants’ long-term future is that Beltran plays great the last two months of the season, and the Giants give another big, multi-contract to a guy who’s almost certainly going into the decline phase of his career.

Of course, that would mean that the Giants got a great two months out of Beltran and went deep into the post-season.  Besides, Beltran is no Randy Wynn.  If Beltran has a great 2011, his track record suggests he’d be at least a reasonably good bet to have a fine 2012.

The speculation now is who gets cut to make room for Beltran on the Giants’ roster.  Pat Burrell was the first name thrown out that I saw, but the SF Chronicle’s Henry Schulman has already tweeted that it won’t be Burrell.

It makes more sense to me that the Giants would finally bite the bullet (another gun analogy) and dump Aaron Rowand and whatever remains on his big contract.  Pat the Bat still has more value as a right-handed bat off the bench, and the Giants have no need for a third centerfielder (fourth, if you count Cody Ross, who can play center in a pinch).

Unloading Rowand and swallowing the last year plus of his contract definitely makes the most sense for a team trying to win it all again this year.

Giants Sign Kyle Crick

July 17, 2011

The Giants signed their supplemental 1st round pick, high school right hander, two days ago for a $900,000 bonus.  That was considerably more than MLB’s recommended slot of the 49th pick ($717,300), but not as much as I expected, given that Crick had already committed to Texas Christian University.

I had thought it would take about an even $1M to get Crick to forgo his college experience.  Obviously, Crick wanted to play pro ball a lot more than anyone thought.

The Giants have now signed their top two picks well before the early August deadline, which means that both Panik and Crick will get significant professional experience this year.  Giants management has to feel pretty good about that.

Sometimes Scott Boras Does Add Value

July 16, 2011

I like to complain about how Scott Boras has conflicts of interest with many of the players he represents because he represents so many players.  Sometimes what is in Boras’ best interests isn’t in the best interests of the specific player he is representing.  Tagg Bozied is an example I wrote about relatively recently.

Even so, everyone knows, or should know, that no one has a better record than Boras at getting top dollars for top players.  Also, it isn’t Boras’ fault that a lot of the players who select Boras to represent them aren’t really as good as they imagine themselves to be.

The thing I have to give Boras credit for today is his creativity.  He is obviously an extremely bright guy who spends a lot of time thinking about new ways to get the best deals for his super stars.

Today, Boras and the Milwaukee Brewers negotiated a win-win for the Brewers and Francisco Rodriguez.  The Mets just traded K-Rod and the rest of his 2010 salary to the Brute Crew (glad to see that sobriquet applies again) for a box of cracker jack — the esteemed players to be named later — in order to get out from under the $17.5 million the Mets would have had to pay Rodriguez if he finished 21 more games this season.

The Brewers can’t afford to pay a closer that kind of money, even for only one year, so their plan was to make K-Rod a set-up man for John Axford, who in fairness deserved to continue as the Brewers’ closer.  However, under the new deal the Brewers can have K-Rod close as many games as they desire, and rather than having the 2012 option vest after however many games finished, the Brewers must pay Rodriguez $4M if they elect not to exercise the $17.5M 2012 option.

Under the prior terms of the contract, the Mets had to pay K-Rod $3.5M if he failed to meet the automatic vesting requirement and the team elected not to pick up K-Rod’s ridiculously expensive option.

The deal is obviously fantastic for the Brewers.  For only $500,000 more, they can now ride the hot hand or play match-ups with Rodriguez and Axford.  That’s a bargain luxury for a team half a game out of first place as I write this.

Why did Rodriguez (Boras) agree to give the Brewers such a sweetheart deal?  The answer is obvious and has already been reported.  While it’s hard to walk away from a guaranteed $17.5M, the Brewers were holding the cards, and more importantly, Boras is certain he can get K-Rod even more guaranteed money in a longer term deal this off-season while K-Rod is still young (he’ll be 30 in 2012) and effective.

If Rodriguez pitches well for the Brewers, and particularly if he pitches well and helps the team make the post-season, he (and Boras) will be amply rewarded in the off-season.