Among Giants Targets: Morris and Sweeney

According to a SF Chron article, the Giants are pursuing Matt Morris and Mark Sweeney to fill, respectively, their starting rotation and 1B/OF LHH requirements. The article basically states that the Giants will not be pursuing any Boras clients, so that would mean that they would have no interest in A.J. Burnett, Jeff Weaver, Kevin Millwood, and Kenny Rogers.

Matt Morris is a RHP who has a career 3.61 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and .261 BAA. I was told he has an injury problem but that appears to be early in his career as he missed half of the 1998 season, all of the 1999 season, then only pitched in relief in 2000. But from 2001-2005, he has started, respectively, 34, 32, 27, 32, 31 games, and pitched 216.1, 210.1, 172.1, 202.0, 192.2 innings, which seems pretty sturdy to me.

My big worry right now is that he is coming off the three worse seasons of his career, his 28, 29 and 30 years seasons, so that doesn't bode well. At least 2005 was a better year than 2004, but it was still the second worse season, easily, in terms of ERA, BAA and HR. In addition, he has been giving up more hits (though concurrently less walks, so it evened out) while also striking out less.

Here are the stats. His h9 went from around 9 to 9.8, still good, and he has been around 9 all his career so maybe 2005 was just a fluke bad year. His BAA has risen steadily over his career, going from under .260, then jumped up the past two seasons to .266 and .276, respectively, reflecting his jump in h9. His hr9 was around .6 early in his career, but has been over the 1.00 acceptable level the past three seasons, with a horrible 1.6 in 2004. However, his walks have gone down, from around just under 3.0 to around the 2.0 level the past three seasons, so while he has given up more homers, he has given up less walks. However, his strikeouts have been going down as well, showing a definite curve up then down, going from around 6.0 k9 in his early career, jumping to around 7.5 k9 in the middle of his career, dropping back down to 6.0 k9 the next two years, then below acceptable level (which is 6.0 k9) to 5.5 in 2005. However, his walks have been dropping faster than his strikeouts, so his k/w ratio has risen from around 2.0 early in his career, then bounced around the 3.0 level the past four years. His WHIP has been steadily good his whole career as his walks dropped as his hits went up, so it has been around the high 1.2's during his career.

So Morris' hr9 and k9 are not acceptable but h9 is OK and w9 and k/w are very good and his WHIP has stayed OK. However, SBC should help dampen his hr9 and while his k9 is low, it was his first season and not terribly low. But that is a risk point to worry about, is 2005 an aberration or is it the start of the end?


Ned Colletti interviewing for Dodger GM job

The Giants website announced that the Dodgers asked for permission to speak with Ned Colletti for their open GM position. Besides it being the Dodger's job, losing Colletti would break up the group that has put together this team over the past 9 seasons and would disrupt the job he is doing for us right now, which is negotiating with all the agents and coming to terms with the players on the team, all the young players.

However, out of the trio of Sabean, Colletti, and Tidrow, I would want him the least if push came to shove. Tidrow heads up our player development and stuff and of course Sabean is our GM. Maybe we can trade them Colletti for Hee-Seop Choi. I could go for that, as Choi is a left-handed power-hitting 1B. He could platoon with Niekro.

So I'm hoping the Dodgers pick Colletti if it allows us to get a player in return from them. We could grab Choi then.


More Sabean quotes on offseason acquisitions plus good news

The Giants official website has an article where Sabean was quoted on a variety of topics regarding the Giants' offseason acquisition plans and strategies. Here are some choice passages I thought were interesting (my comments in italics):
  • "No matter how you slot it [in the rotation], it's going to have to be somebody who can give you innings, make 32-plus starts at least, 200-plus innings, somebody with experience and hopefully somebody with a winning track record. That's a lot of boxes to check off." Yikes, they sound like they are describing Tomko, all except the winning part.
  • With the free-agent market relatively thin for starting pitchers, the Giants know the prices for those players could inflate considerably, and Sabean isn't prepared to get into a bidding war. That sounds like good news, but according to my calculations, they don't have any money either so the only people they will be getting into a bidding war for is a utility player (catcher? :^).
  • "You don't want to run the risk of a bad contract per se because of your need. Our dilemma is we're not going to overpay for the sake of need, and the last thing you need is to enter into a multiyear contract for too much money or too many years. You're going to have to be prepared to say no. So you're going to have to have some fallback positions." Hopefully, finally the lessons of Benard, Snow, and Nen are paying off.
  • Those fallbacks include trading for an arbitration-eligible player that the current team can't afford or waiting for the new group of free agents that will emerge Dec. 20 when clubs must tender contracts to their existing players or have them become available to all teams. Sabean likes to tuck little bits of info like this, seemingly like an alternative option, "by the way" type of reference, when really, they are probably pretty much resigned to getting a player in this fashion - no free agent player out there really fit their needs perfectly, in terms of fit and salary, so they will have to beat the bushes in this way.
  • Also high on Sabean's to-do list is re-signing lefty reliever Scott Eyre, who had a career year in 2005 and became one of the most reliable arms in the San Francisco bullpen. The Giants have offered Eyre a two-year deal with an option for a third year, but reports say Eyre's agent wants to test the market, which opens fully to all teams on Friday. If Eyre chooses to sign elsewhere, Sabean plans to obtain another reliever, "probably from the market," he said. Eyre is gone, in a recent interview, he says he wants three years, thinks he might get more, wants to play for a team near his home in Florida, but, by the way, the Giants are still his #1 priority. Huh?!? Hopefully the Giants can get two draft picks for him, but we'll see. I wonder who they will chase as a replacement.
  • The Giants won't concern themselves with their other two free agents, first baseman J.T. Snow and right-hander Brett Tomko, until they've sorted out what other alternatives they might have to re-signing one or both of them. No way Snow comes back, he didn't hit well enough to warrant that, given the Giants emphasis on power. They would be better off giving Niekro a try and, if he fails, Snow should still be around in May, when the Giants could resign him again; I don't see anyone picking him up, his road numbers stunk this season after being tolerable the past few seasons. I thought Tomko was gone because he thinks he can get something similar to kris Benson money ($7M per season), but I think he'll be an afterthought signing late in the off-season, like other players expecting a lot (Aurilia comes to mind) so the Giants might end up back with him if he's still around then and we don't have a player signed yet.
  • Ideally, the Giants would like to be methodical in their dealings this offseason, carefully weighing the free agents vs. the trade market and the possible non-tendered group of players, but Sabean knows he may not have that luxury. "There are so few names that I think we would be interested [in] or a lot of other clubs could be interested [as well] that you may have to act as things develop," he said. "I would like to be more diligent, to hold out for the right situation, but you're going to have to be prepared to step up and make a decision, and we'll do that, too." This comment scares me that they might make a bold move because of the circumstances. Hopefully they don't rush into anything, there doesn't seem to be any player who warrants a leap of faith this year, not like Vlad or Tejada a couple of years ago or Carlos Beltran last year.

Good, no Great, News

Read it and rejoice, let there be dancing in the streets: Neifi signs with the Cubs! I was worried that the Giants, looking for middle infield utility player might sniff around him again and have a redux (hey, they went after Shawon Dunston again, so you never know). Luckily he's apparently found a home in Chicago (with $5M over two years, he can afford to get a nice one there). He could also have been signed for ulterior purposes: he's good friends with Rafael Furcal and share the same agent and the Cubs apparently are interested.

I got a chuckle out of this quote from him: "It was tough to play in San Francisco. If you go 1-for-4, you have to go 2-for-2 every day to play in San Francisco." It would have been nice if he went 1-for-4 on average, then the Giants would not have had to dump him and his salary for nothing and play Cody Ransom at SS. We just needed him to hit a little bit to justify him playing SS and batting 8th, but he couldn't even do that for us. Good riddance, we never should have signed him in the first place, it was a big mistake, hopefully one that Colletti and Sabean learned from.

Interesting concept for a team living on the cheap

There was an interesting article on USA Today about cheap try-outs being run by the Padres. They hold invitation-only tryout camps twice a year in Arizona. They invite independent leaguers and free agents whom their scouts have recommended. Anybody they sign, they give them $1 and if they make one of their farm clubs out of spring training, they get $1,500.

One such find, semi-profiled in the article, is Craig Breslow, 25 year old LH reliever. Signed out of one of there try-out camps in September 2004, he made AA in spring training and then good fortune intervened again: the Padres called him up because they needed a LH reliever for a day and the AAA team would not be able to supply one quick enough. He did well, then bounced up and down once more for two weeks, before getting the September call-up. Over 16.1 IP, he had a 2.20 ERA.

This is no panacea obviously. Their most recent camp had 68 invitees with 6 getting their $1. I would assume that Craig is their poster child for this whole effort. They also profiled RHP Evan Meek. Both were former minor leaguers and apparently both just needed a second chance, Craig just the opportunity, Evan some patient instruction (though I suspect that the shock of getting released helped remove his mental block that was screwing up his mechanics before). That's two in what I suppose was their first year of doing this, in 2004 (no mention of how long this program was in place; both signed in August 2004 and there was a note that it is done twice a year).

I'm surprised the Giants don't do this. They obviously are cruising the independent leagues. That is how they picked up and signed Chad Zerbe, Brian Mazone and Ben Weber, for examples. Sabean has always been picking up the stray cats and finding gems, from Embree to F-Rod, from Zerbe to Eyre, from Weber to Walker, even Accardo was a free agent. I guess they figure that they have a better chance following the players in the independent leagues than to beat the bushes for that stray player who just needs a chance, but really, how much does it cost to do this?

The Padres obviously followed all these players, so they were pre-qualified by a scout anyway. It just takes a few hours for the tryout; just do it at SBC after the season ends, the field is free then. Even at $100 bonus per player signed, it should not cost that much.

One reason I can see the Giants not doing this is because they seem to have a different mindset about how they evaluate players. They seem to pull the rabbit out of the hat a lot in their drafts, picking players before expected or seemingly out of the blue, like Schierholtz, going to an obscure CC, Chabot College (only reason I knew about it was because I took a summer baseball course there; I thought I would get to play games but it worked out better: the two of us just fed the pitching machine to each other over and over and over again, it was a great experience).

So they know what they want and who they want, it is just a matter of getting the opportunity to sign them. Thus if they are free agents, they go and get him, no tryout formality or token $1 signing bonus (speaking of which, I wonder what type of bonus, if any, players in the later rounds get). They have no need for a tryout, they know whether they like him or not and if he is free, they sign him, no waiting, no tryout.

I can see them doing that because of this maverick mentality that they seem to have with their scouting. But with their penny-pinching ways - where they drop draft picks, partly to save money, partly because they probably think that they can draft later and still get the same mix of players - they need to pursue alternative avenues to save money by finding prospects on the cheap.

One was establishing a presence in the Carribean to find players. After the scandal with the last director, their presence seemed to disappear and there were not many, if any, good prospects signed from there. But they must have started up again recently, they found some good players like Sharlon Shoop, Shairon Martis, and Waldis Joaquin, who were on the Arizona Rookie League roster this season and did well there.

Another should be to set up these tryouts. If they know who they want and why, maybe go outside their comfort zone and round up all the names of players in each scout's region who were recently let go by another team but whom they either never got a feel for or liked before but regressed somehow or were on the cusp but the Giants had decided to pass on them. Or just compile the list and see if any of them ever exhibited enough for the Giants to look at - not sign, but to look at. Bring them in, do it for each scout once or twice a year, check them out up close, spend some time with them, to get to know them. The Padres found 6 players doing this last time.

Of course, probably most of them don't make it. But I don't think player evaluation is a science yet, players do fall through the cracks. There are players like Cecil Fielder who somehow get overlooked and passed over. Or like any of the players the Giants "found" that I noted above. Why not open up another avenue, it is of minimal cost for a $100-200M operations, the scouts get to meet additional players in their scouting territory up close who they may not have gotten a chance to before, they get to network, maybe get turned on to another player who might be more to their liking. It is not quite the needle in the haystack but for an organization that appears to think differently about how they scout (they don't use the MLB's scouting service if I recall correctly), this seems like a no-brainer thing to do in order to go the extra mile to find players that other teams have overlooked.


Picking a Nit

I get really aggravated whether people just simplistically take one player's stat and compare it with another and decree one thing or the other WHEN the player did not play, come rain, come shine, come left-hander, come right-hander. Surprisingly, I found this type of argument at a site that I like, Baseball Prospectus. In this Prospectus Notebook, written about one and a half months ago, the writer compares Snow's and Niekro's BP stats and says that the Giants may as well play Niekro since they are similar and save the money on Snow and use it elsewhere.

Well, here's the problem: Niekro's balance of ABs was skewed by him playing more against LHP than RHP. When you adjust his ABs to the true ratio of LHP to RHP, then you get a different picture. Using Feliz's ABs as a guide to the balance of ABs vs LHP and vs RHP, I recalculated all of Niekro's rate stats against the amount of PAs he would have faced in a normal season (like what Feliz faced), instead of being skewed towards LHP because he was semi-platooned with Snow during the season. Instead of the nice .755 OPS that he generated in 2005, he would have had a composite .691 OPS, if you applied his hit rates for each in a regular PA split season. That's like going from a Tucker (.763 career OPS) to a Neifi (.681 career OPS).

So while I agree with the writer that the Giants should not re-sign Snow, neither should they just hand the reins to Niekro either. They should get the lefty 1B that any Giants fan, even at the time of that article (back on Sept 22, slightly before the season ended and Sabean gave his post-season comment that he'll target a lefty power 1B), knew the Giants needed. Left-handed hitting (or rather, hitting against RHP) has been the Giants problem for the past three seasons, even with Bonds in the lineup, because players like Grissom, Santiago, Cruz Jr., hit LHP well but not RHP, and players like Neifi and Deivi, didn't hit either very well at all.

That's why we needed even a seemingly run of the mill player like Tucker. Fans are still upset over losing a draft pick over Tucker. However, he hit RHP at a .263/.339/.431/.770 rate in the three years prior to signing with the Giants and that was close to his rate over his career at that point in time. His career vs. RHP currently is .264/.346/.434/.781. That is not great hitting but that's pretty good for $1.5M and his expected platoon situation with Hammonds at that time. The two of them together would have had an OPS of around .800 as Hammonds hit LHP at a .800+ OPS pace, if I remember correctly.

That's not bad for $2.5M, especially when the Giants had no better alternatives for that price on the market. And it boosted the team's hitting vs. RHP, as they replaced Cruz Jr. meager .233/.353/.379/.732 hitting vs. RHP with Tucker's. It also helped run production because Tucker hit over his career average when men were on base while Cruz hit even worse. Thus, improved hitting and run production for less money (when counting the money saved on the draft pick lost). Plus now they picked up a promising prospect for Tucker in the trade, so they have gotten a good prospect and Tucker for the same money.


Time for the Giants to use their "Maddux" money

As I had noted in my long ago article on sfdugout.com, the Giants had around $6-7M extra that they were willing to spend on Maddux for the 2004 season (I have to assume they were planning on covering the salary with the loss of free agents in the 2004 off-season going forward). It is time now to take the little hammer on the box and break the glass and pull out the $6-7M and spend it on this emergency.

At this point, I don't freaking care what they get, the starting pitcher they want, the lefty power-hitting 1B, just as long as they get good value for the money, like a Kevin Millwood or even a Paul Konerko. It's time. This could be Bonds last great season.

Well, maybe, maybe not, but to think he's going to put together two great seasons at his age is ludicrous (he may do it, yes, but to think that he will is another matter). However, even with small samples, he comes in on one and a half legs, out of baseball shape, hasn't played a regular game in almost a year, hasn't seen real game conditions pitching in almost a year, and he comes in and smacks 5 homers in 14 games; unreal! So it looks good for 2006 for Bonds, if he is healthy.

It's like poker. You got your first few cards, your hand looks promising, so you push more money into the pot. Bonds has always been in good shape and healthy for most of his career. It took a killer bacteria that almost took his leg off to make him sit down for most of the season. He is presumably healthy now and back on his exercise routine. And he whacked the hell out of the ball when he came in with all the reasons in the world not to do anything and he played very good, despite his bum leg. You have to play the hand like he's going to be there 120-140 games and will whack the ball senseless again.

And try to raise a little more money. Sell off another 5% of the team and that will net you $20M or so. That will buy a lot of pitching and hitting. Do like the D-backs. They almost went bankrupt but then a new team of investors came in, infused it with cash and suddenly they are paying $10M/year to free agents left and right.

2003 and 2004 are gone; with an extra $6-7M spent either season, perhaps the Giants would have made it back to the World Series, took advantage of the Bonds hitting presence and cashed it in, instead of hoarding that money and blowing another two great seasons of Barry Bonds.

Don't risk wasting another great season by Barry Bonds. You owners owe it to him, you owe it to the fans, you owe it to yourself, you wouldn't have bought the Giants if you weren't a huge fan, aren't you tired of wasting great seasons by Bonds? Don't you want to see him lead the charge again and win the World Series? Don't you want a ticker tape parade down Market Street welcoming home the world champs?

D-O I-T N-O-W!!! Time is running out.