10.19.2005

Autopsy of the 2005 Season: Part VI - 2006 Season and Beyond

The Giants in 2006 looks to be pretty quiet in terms of roster change with a tweak here or there, nothing big changing, except perhaps in the starting rotation, because there is not a lot of money left in the budget unspent (somewhere between $5-10M depending on who is counting; I think $5M). According to most accounts of the chalk talk that Sabean gave at the end of the season, Sabean will be focusing on a starting pitching and a power hitting (more than Snow) LHH to play 1B and hopefully can play the OF as well. Plus a few bench players, depending on how things fall out.

Most of the free agents will not be resigned unless better alternatives are not found: Tomko, Snow, Fassero are probably gone. Only Eyre will be pursued by the team but, as I noted in another posting, they haven't even started negotiating with him and are waiting for them to contact the Giants; if they do sign him, I expect it to be in the $2M range, which would leave $3M to get their targeted players (not likely without additional funds)

Conflicting Report

There are conflicting reports on the Giants priority in the offseason. While they all agreed that a veteran starting pitcher and power-LH 1b (plus maybe play OF too) would be the main targets (with backup catcher and a middle utility infielder a secondary concern), there was two accounts (account one and account two; perhaps I missed others but these I recall) that specifically said that the #1 target is a starting pitcher for the top of the rotation (a #2 to Schmidt's #1) and #2 target is a power hitting LHH, preferably multiple positions, "a lefty Feliz?" said one, but most said 1B with the possibility of also playing the outfield.

Hopefully these accounts are correct. Given Schmidt's and Lowry's struggles in the 2005 season, and Cain's youth and inexperience, we could use an addition to the top of the rotation for 2006. Free agents (and potential free agents) along this line includes: RHP Matt Morris, AJ Burnett, Kevin Millwood, Jeff Suppan (Team Option), Steve Trachsel (TO), Esteban Loaiza (Mutual Option); LHP Al Leiter, Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers, Jarrod Washburn, Tom Glavine (MO).

It was also mentioned on Inside Bay Area that there are a number of arbitration-eligible pitchers who might be available in a trade. These include, Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers, Bronson Arroyo, Ted Lilly, Kyle Lohse, and Jason Marquis. I would like Myers because he did great outside of Philadelphia in 2005 and looks like he got over the hump in terms of performing but the Phillies probably feel the same and will want to keep him or at least ask a lot for him. Marquis had a pretty good 2004 and 2005 so the Cards will probably want to keep him as well.

Not to say that the Giants can afford all of these or that the Giants would want to sign all of them or have the players to trade for them, but these are the main guys I see as available who would be a nice addition to the top of the rotation. Glendon Rusch, while not a top of the line starter, pitched well as either a starter or reliever for the Cubs in 2005, so he would give the Giants the option of trying to go with their youngsters but having him as a fall back option in case any falters seriously. Burnett and any Scott Boras client (Millwood, Washburn, Weaver, but I don't want Weaver) is probably out of the Giants price range unless they dip into their "rainy day" Maddux Money, though perhaps Millwood would be doable as he "only" got $7M last season to play for Cleveland. But with my estimate of only $3-5M left to get free agents, unless the Giants can reduce budget via restructured contracts with a number of players, or accessing the Maddux Money, these pitchers are pipe dreams.

Free agents who can play 1B/OF who are LHH include: Daryle Ward (Pitts), John Mabry (St. Louis), John Olerud (Bos), Travis Lee (Tampa), Matt Lawton (Yankees), Erubiel Durazo (Oak), and Brian Giles (SD). However, because this will be considered a complementary role, with occassional play in the OF when Bonds or Alou is resting and play mainly at 1B, Giles will probably not be interested (though since he can play all 3 OF positions open up some ABs in CF when Winn is rested) and possibly any of the players listed might balk at it. Matt Stairs, a popular player among Giants fans the past few years when Snow could be dropped, would have been an OK addition for LH 1B/OF this year as well but he is signed to the Royals for 2006.

However, given Sabean's penchant for defense-minded players, I'm not sure if any of these players would fill that particular desire for defense. I think Lee is the only one I can recall being a good defensive 1B but unfortunately, looking at his career stats, he is like a younger JT Snow, with just about the same amount of power. So he probably won't be an option if the Giants want power hitting, though his price is right, he only made $1.3M last season (Snow got $2M).

His main advantage, if you want to call it that, is he hits LHP about as well as RHP, only he doesn't hit RHP that well, about as well as Tucker: .261/.350/.422/.773 with a homer every 31 AB vs. RHP; .253/.305/.385/.690 with a homer every 40 AB vs. LHP. Whereas Snow was always a platoon type of hitter, hitting RHP well but LHP not so well: .280/.369/.457/.826 (26 AB/HR) vs. RHP; .226/.319/.331/.650 (51 AB/HR) vs. LHP. Getting Travis could free the Giants from having to keep Niekro, if they want to get a more versatile utility player on the bench. But Niekro would be a great bat to have on the bench against LHP. Another negative for Lee is that his stats have gotten a boost from playing at the BOB (now Chase field) and Tropicana, where his BA and OPS are a bit higher than career averages.

For backup catcher, there are many available, but I think the Giants might give more consideration to these guys because they have played multiple positions including catcher: Matt LeCroy, Robert Fick. However, as with most catchers, both bat right-handed. Brent Mayne is reportedly retired but he's a lefty catcher and he has played for the Giants before, so the Giants may be of interest in him. Lots of SS who could play on the bench for us but no one I saw as special other than Aurilia for sentimental purposes, plus he could play 2B, SS, and 3B and hit for some power.

Returning Players

There are a number of players returning. Many players are tied to the Giants and pre-arbitration: Lowry, Cain, Hennessey, Correia, Munter, Taschner, Accardo, Walker, Ellison, Niekro, Linden plus any of the prospects who came up for a cup of MLB coffee. Some have contracts for 2006: Bonds, Vizquel, Feliz, Matheny, Benitez, Alfonzo. Some have options that either the team or the player has said that they will pick up: Schmidt, Durham, Alou, Winn.

In particular, there has been a number of accounts that said that the Giants will approach Winn concerning a multi-year contract. Given his great success hitting here (and in the NL) and the proximity of his family and his wife's family and that he grew up in the area, he should be amenable to such an extension. The team has an option for $5M and, if declined, a player option for $3.75M.

Hawkins has a player option at $3.5M that he said he will pick up. The Giants might try to talk him into an extension that would reduce his salary for 2006 in return for the security of the extension. Given the racist taunts he got at Chicago, perhaps he might prefer the diversity that exists here in the SF Bay Area and from accounts I read during the season, it sounds like he enjoyed playing for the Giants.

A long shot, but Schmidt's Team Option is for $10.5M ($3M buyout) so perhaps the Giants might try to negotiate an extension with him to reduce his salary in 2006 but give him the security of additional years. However, his relatively poor performance in 2005 probably will give the Giants management pause on giving Schmidt more years in the $10M range and Schmidt would probably not be happy with anything less.

As noted above, without restructured contracts to reduce budget in 2006, there is not enough money to obtain the veteran #2 pitcher that Sabean said that he is searching for. Hopefully there is a combination of budget reduction plus "rainy day" money that will allow Sabean to get a better veteran starter. Without those, the Giants probably would not be able to get even a veteran #4-5 pitcher, let alone a #2.

Probably on the trading block is Alfonzo and his $8M ($7M salary, $1M bonus) albatross of a contract. The Giants have essentially announced that he is their backup infielder because they said that Feliz will be the starting 3B next season and Durham has said that he is returning, so he will man 2B. That means the music has stopped and Alfonzo don't have a starting spot open for him, pushing him into a utility position, presumably playing 2B and 3B.

A potential trading partner, as I noted in another post, is the Mets, who has Kazuo Matsui's $8M albatross of a contract. He would fulfill the Giants need for a middle infielder on the bench plus he has some speed and power. Alfonzo could rebound and hit well enough to start at 2B for the Mets as they are looking for a starter there and his family still lives there year-round - no one played regularly there the entire season for the Mets in 2005 as Matsui and a number of other players got a lot of ABs there. Seems like a match made in heaven (or hell depending on your perspective on a wasted $8M on a player).

Giant Minor League Prospects

According to one account of the chalk talk, Sabean is trying to keep the group at San Jose in 2005 together, for the development of chemistry down the line in the majors. That sounds like a great idea; hopefully he can do that. He is envisioning that they will make the majors in the 2008-2009 timeframe, though Tidrow indicated in the chalk talk that they think that Frandsen is a major leaguer in the future and they will consider him to start at 2B in 2007.

Players in the San Jose group include the aforementioned Kevin Frandsen and key players, Eddy Martinez-Esteve, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa, and Clay Timpner. Other good players including John Bowker, Brian Buscher, Pat Dobson, Todd Jennings, Guillermo Rodriguez, Jake Wald, Joe Bateman, Garrett Broshuis, Jon Coutlangus, Eugene Espineli, Justin Hedrick, Brooks McNiven, Nathan Pendley, Ryan Sadowski, and Jason Waddell.

It was also noted that the Giants do not want to block the progess of any of these players, which means to me that the Giants will not sign anyone long-term into the 2008-2009 timeframe any free agent at the same position as their top prospects. I guess that holds for any player they currently have as well. The implication to me here is that the Giants will not pursue any star players playing LF, RF, 1B and 2B (EME, Schierholtz, Ishikawa, Frandsen) who are expecting multi-year contracts longer than two years (i.e. that extends into the 2008-2009 time frame. Hence probably why they are looking for a complementary LHH 1B/OF instead of pursuing a longer term solution, because such a player would block Ishikawa.

This can go the other way. As noted above, the chalk talk mentioned that the Giants are interested in a long term deal with Randy Winn. This means that Fred Lewis' star in CF is not considered as bright anymore by the Giants, as he is in AA and presumably would be ready in a couple of years if he was progressing nicely. At this moment, the only player "blocking" anyone in the 2008-2009 timeframe is Mike Matheny and it is a Team Option for 2008 for $4M, which they could decline via a $2M buyout; but this don't matter as there aren't any catchers looking that great right now.

One writer of a chalk talk said that he spoke with Tidrow afterward. Tidrow said that he thought the NL's power days were coming to an end and teams of the near future would have only one or two power hitters. Instead, teams would become more hit and run oriented and defense would become the norm. His drafts have reflected that, with several players oriented towards speed, including these who Giants fans are probably aware of already: Fred Lewis, Clay Timpner, Marcus Sanders, and Ben Copeland. Others who have shown speed in the farm system include Doug Clark (just designated for assignment), Dan Ortmeier, Kevin Frandsen, Alex Requena, Joe Dyche, Mike Mooney, Ariel Nunez, and Antoan Richardson.

Tentative 2006 Roster

As it stands, here is how the Giants roster is shaping up for 2006:

C: Matheny
1B: Niekro (platoon with LHH)
2B: Durham
3B: Feliz
SS: Vizquel
LF: Bonds
CF: Winn
RF: Moises Alou

Bench: utility power-LHH 1B/OF; Alfonzo; Linden; backup catcher; middle infielder

SP: Schmidt, Free Agent #2, Lowry, Cain, #5 among Hennessey, Correia, and perhaps FA
RP: Benitez, Hawkins, Eyre (hopefully), Walker, Munter, Taschner, Accardo

I think this would be a competitive (>85 wins) roster assuming Bonds is healthy and the general health and performance of all the other players is OK, though if they don't get Eyre, then I would knock them down a notch. I will go over everything in more detail come spring training when more of the pieces of the roster are filled and once all the teams in the NL West have made their personnel moves.

2008-2009 Roster Based on Best Prospects Now

Here are my thoughts on who in the farm system and on the current 25 man roster could fill out the team in the 2008-2009 timeframe:

C: Eliezer Alfonzo/Justin Knoedler: no "sure" thing catcher at the moment.

1B: Travis Ishikawa: probably our next big power hitter, though SBC will kill some power; he's LHH. However, based on the homer I saw in San Jose, he may have Bonds' type of raw, awe-inspiring power, so perhaps he can overcome SBC's hex on lefties.

2B: Kevin Frandsen: Stellar rise in 2005 but Marcus Sanders could possibly supercede.

3B: Brian Buscher: put in pencil, he regressed in 2005; Feliz maybe?

SS: Marcus Sanders: his injury could push to 2B or, worse, CF; however, his hitting is such a plus that Baseball America was drooling over his hitting: "most dynamic offensive player in the" South Atlantic League in 2005. Angel Chavez is the only other possibility right now, but not too exciting, seems like another Cody Ransom. It would take a miraculous 2006-2007 for bonus baby Jeremiah Luster to make it, he had about as poor a season as anyone could have, batting .056. Sharlon Schoop sounds like a dark horse, if he develops his hitting quickly, but most probably will still be in the minors in this timeframe.

LF: Todd Linden: another power hitter in lineup but can he ever hit RHP? Good defense though. Giants will probably give him a lot of chances, like Feliz, because of his power.

CF: Fred Lewis/Clay Timpner: Lewis has the higher ceiling but poor AA season in 2005; Giants officials had envisioned him as a power/speed #3 RBI hitter in the future. Timpner is suppose to be MLB defense level already but offense is not assured though he does have a lot of speed. Appears to be next in the long line of great defense/poor offense CF. Lets see how fast Ben Copeland develops...

RF: Nate Schierholtz: another power hitter in lineup potentially, but will power stay when he gets to the majors? Looked OK in 2005, but have to watch since he had slight hiccup in San Jose in 2004, which I've been told is a hard place to hit HR at. But EME and Ishikawa had no problems with their HR power moving to SJ so it something to monitor. Ortmeier, Bowker and Mooney could press him.

Other positions players who could make the roster, most are long shots as they are too old or too young but I put them in because they had a good 2005 so you never know: Dan Ortmeier (OF; only one I think will make the roster), Mike Cervenak (3B), Carlos Valderrama (OF), John Bowker (RF), Todd Jennings (3B), Jake Wald (SS), Alex Requena (OF), Ben Copeland (CF), Mike Mooney (RF), Will Thompson (1B), Joe Dyche (CF), Pablo Sandoval (3B), Sharlon Schoop (SS), Lisandro Disla (3B).

SP (top 5): Matt Cain, Nate Lowry, Brad Hennessey, Merkin Valdez, Brian Burres
Other SP: Chris Begg, Pat Misch, Kevin Correia, Seung Song, Jonathan Sanchez, Dan Griffin, Waldis Joaquin, Shairon Martis

RP (top 5): Scott Munter, Jeremy Accardo, Jack Taschner, Brian Wilson, Billy Sadler
Other RP: Alfredo Simon, Craig Whitaker, Joe Bateman, Jon Coutlangus, Justin Hedrick, Kelyn Acosta, plus any SP who fails

Eddy Martinez-Esteve is absent only because we have not seen whether he can play a position for us. He is arguably our best hitting prospect but LF appears to be his only position and his reputation for defensive ignorance/disdain precedes him. I wish I could pencil him in somewhere but until he proves that he can play a position, by actually playing a position for us (his surgery in the last off-season forced him to DH the entire 2005 season, if I recall right, and had another injury right at the end of the season), he is only trade bait to get us a prospect/vet from another team, probably an AL team (which reduces his value further).

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