Watching the Rangers during the postseason has been fun. They have been hardened by the whooping we gave them last year and are obviously hungry. They have the same core group of players as last year, with some tweaks, and are definitely playing good ball. Watching Mike Napoli rock that joint last night jolted something. We should have been there. The Giants PR machine will go full throttle playing up the injuries (after Larry Baer stops handing out WS rings to corporate sponsors, the list is long and distinguished) so here's a shot at how the Giants managed to avoid the postseason rematch.The Rangers had their share of drama this offseason, with the Cliff Lee brewhaha. Turns out they didn't need the BEST POSTSEASON PITCHER EVER after all, good for them. They also had the Michael Young dust up, and to their credit they didn't sell off an expensive yet still good hitter for 40 cents on the dollar. Instead they stayed in the hunt, and came away with Adrian Beltre for less than Cliff Lee money, who completely changes their infield, and then Mike Napoli fell in their lap. With Young being a good soldier, now being moved off of 3 positions during his (highly paid) career, suddenly they have one of the best defensive teams in baseball with Kinsler/Andrus/Beltre. It paid huge dividends in the Rays series - Young boots the ball that Beltre turns into a double play and instead of it being tied up to a rocking home crowd the game and the series are over. Napoli turns into a rock star, jay-sus, everybody stop with all the Alex A love, he punted away a ginormous piece to save a buck or bow down to the defense first crowd. Why can't the Giants be in on these types of trades?
So lets contrast that real quick with Los Gigantes. Now this is hard, I admit, because the glow of a world series victory is dazzling. Ned Coletti tries to poach Aubrey Huff, who gives the Giants a chance to match. Sweet, we have a new $22MM man. I wasn't upset by that, it was an overpay, but he earned it last year. 99 of 100 Giant fans felt that way, at least until mid-May. Undaunted, Ned comes back at Juan Uribe, who has been lowballed once by Sabean, so he goes with the instant $1MM deferred push and pow, Jazz Hands is gone. Sabean decides because Pat the Bat accepted a 1MM offer and Uribe got taken by the same he has to offer Renteria $1MM, which is an insult apparently. And that's our dramatic offseason, one million bucks at a time.
There is something admirable about staying put. Loyalty to your guys, trying to repeat with the same crew. But once Uribe became a Doyer, Sabean started to panic. So he made his big move. Immediately. It was a nice safe comfortable move for Brian. Signed Miggy Tejada. This was greeted by a yawning wtf by fans, not really caring a lot, because most figured MFT would go for 2/3 of Uribe's HRs, hit 260, not drop the ball when it was hit straight at him, and hey, he's sort of like Uribe, they're both Dominican. My first thought was all about replacing Uribe. My second was remembering Tejada's spazzy baserunning in the AL division series and his bizarre meltdown over Derrick Lowe grabbing his crotch. Hmmm... Contrast that with Uribe's jazz hands super cool late inning heroics, and I got a little shiver...
So think about this, would you rather have Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre and lose Cliff Lee, or would you like Miggy Tejada and lose Rentowreck and Uribe. That happened. During the season Jon Daniels took a page out of Sabean's book, solidifying the bullpen while Savvy Sabes dicked around with his shortstop situation some more. That happened as well.
The Giants got rocked when Scott Cousins took out Buster Posey. No doubt that was 40% of the season right there. Posey is truly special, and is hugely important to every aspect of this team. Losing our best player hurt like hell. Freddy Sanchez going down tacked on, as did the other nagging crazy long list of injuries during the season.
But the rest came down to two players who were toast, Misters Tejada and Rowand, two guys who rose to great heights and recessed big time, MIsters Torres and Huff, and a minor league phenom who got caught up in it all, Mister Belt.
The historic offensive futility that was the Giants 2011 can get explained in part by Tejada's 343 and Rowand's 351 plate apperances. Tejada managed 230/270/596, Rowand 233/274/621. Both had 4 HRs, most in garbage time against tier 2 pitchers. Tejada managed 12 walks, Rowand 10. Good thing Warrior Spirit was LEADING OFF (46 times for those counting) and Tejada had some good ol' 2 hole time (20 times) to "get him started". They finally got dfa'd as scalps were demanded by August 30th, but imagine if this happening in a timely manner, say June 1st?
The Giants are hampered by a PR first philosophy. They are on the wrong side of the cut bait coin, the side that makes them want to "get their moneys worth". Rowand and Tejada's problem was simple: they can't catch up to a fastball so they have to start swinging early and often. No B12 shots anymore, them's the breaks. The sweet PR tagline of cutting them so they can catch on with another squad in time for the playoffs went unheeded by the other 29 teams. Imagine that.
Enough rant on two terrible Giants, lets move onto two very good Giants. Torres with 6.0 WAR, Huff with 5.7 WAR, for the minimum and $3MM during the 2010 run buys a whole lot of rope, so they used it up this year. Torres struggled at the plate, and perhaps with his ADHD medication as well, reports floated out about him not sleeping for extended periods of time. He ended with 221/312/643. Huff threw down 246/306/676 while grounding the ball to the right side about 200 times during the season. These were both massive regressions, and seriously crimped the G's chances. So now Torres is on the unmentionable list (while Billie Beane and Ned Coletti lick their lips) and Huff has been told to lay off the smokes and booze. Torres has responded by vowing to work even harder this offseason, and Huff to his credit owned up that if he hit even a little more the Giants make the postseason.
Which brings us to the Brandon Belt fiasco. Shooting out of nowhere, hitting 352/455/1075 and high up onto top 100 lists all over baseball, something no other Giant hitter has done (sans Buster Blue Chip Posey) since Will Clark and Matt Williams.
From Baggs, March 27:
“I liked what I’ve seen from him on both sides of the ball,” Bochy said of Belt. “Quality at-bats, good balance, good discipline at the plate — you see why he had the year he had last year.”
My sense is that Bochy is more open to the idea of handing first base to Belt than GM Brian Sabean. A manager’s impulse is always to take the best 25 guys, but as we know, there are other considerations. Every time we’ve talked to Sabean about Belt, he seems much more wary about giving a job to a hitter with just 13 games of Triple-A experience.
From Baggs, April 18: (This sums up Bochy's feelings on Belt for the year pretty well)
“I think there is a fine line there, especially if you’re a little late. He had some pretty good pitches to hit and he’s been a little late. That tells you he hasn’t been quite aggressive enough.”
“It’s fair to say Brandon is struggling at the plate. He’s searching.”
Back to me:
Belt gets 52 ABs, 10 hits and 8 walks before getting shipped down. His 8 walks leads the Giants for a few more weeks until Pat the Bat and Buster finally take over in that category.
And the postmortum:
"We're all learning that we're probably moving players too fast now, even the ones like Brandon Belt that fly through the minor leagues," Sabean said. "In our division, there's some pretty rugged pitching you face every night. It's very difficult to protect a young player that doesn't have a lot of minor league experience."
Belt finishes with 225/306/718 in 63 games and 209 ABs, with 9 long balls (same as Huff minus that St. Louis BP game). Bochy removes him for pinch runners, refuses to play him against left handers despite a 348/412/934 line (yes in a scant 51 plate appearances), and sings Brett Pill's praises while subtly digging Belt's lack of aggressiveness. It appears that Sabean was trying to draw the brakes and Bochy was driving the bus on this one, which makes Bochy's treatment even more maddening.
This is a piss poor way to treat your best hitting prospect. A big part of his game is his strike zone discipline. Major league umps aren't going to give a rook the benefit of close calls, so yes he needs to be more aggressive on close pitches. There is only one way to get him exposure to those pitches. The constant jimmy-jack threw his confidence, and you have a gun shy rookie underperforming yet he still outperforms Huff handily. This goes back to the Veteran/Money Down don't cut your losses strategy yet again.
So it goes, the postseason is an honor, not a right. Teams have to fight for it, and the Giants definitely gave that up, squandering another year of incredible pitching along the way. They made the correct calls too late, getting rid of deadweight Rowand and Tejada. They never corrected their shortstop situation, and waited until the end of the season to call out Huff. For all of Bochy's great moves in 2010, he pissed on fans legs pretty good this year.
Its easy to criticize, so lets give some credit where its due: Bochy handles the pitching staff very well overall. Much better than Alou or Baker ever did. I can only think of a handful of managers I'd rather have despite all the mishaps with lousy vets. Sabean has drafted well in the past few years after finally stopping with the punting of draft picks. Sabes is also pretty good at scrap heap and cheap vet signings, to a point. He absolutely sucks at building an offense, and overpaying for middle market talent. He is very good at trading with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not so much with the Cleveland Indians in recent years.
Sabean needs to work outside his comfort zone this offseason, and make one or two meaningful trades, as the free agent market is terrible, and will only get worse as teams lock up their best talent long term. Sabean would do well to secure a better backup to Buster Posey, and have a real plan for injuries unlike this year where he threw various minor leaguers into the fray to see what stuck (not much) or stuck with above mentioned veteran awfulness. Due to that, most of all, he needs to keep Bochy's options to play veterans at a minimum. Next spring training, like the last, will revolve around Brandon Belt and if/when he's going to make the squad. Defining that realistically and consistently would be the best move they can make. If he needs to start in AAA as the Brain Trust is implying, until somebody gets injured or sucks, then make that the plan.
So I wish the Rangers luck in the next 2-3 games, as I generally like those guys now that Cliff Lee isn't on the squad. I do wish they'd stop that silly Antler Spotlight thing, but whats another reminder of the creator of said Antler sign, one Miggy Tejada, as we get ready for offseason rosterbation.
Texas will most likely have another interesting offseason, with CJ Wilson replacing Lee as the dramatic pitcher the Yankees might sign. I am sure they will make a couple of moves, and I trust it won't be for some teams cast off 32-36 year old vet either. We are conditioned at this point to expect Coco Crisp and perhaps another Oakland outfielder to be the big move. That is a failed strategy that needs to stop. Larry Baer and his stupid budget and silly Rainy Day Fund need to stop. Do we expect it to stop? Damn, I was trying to end this with some optimism.
Sandoval - one of the absolute best 3B in the game - back, and most likely healthy and fit. Check.
Posey - one the absolute best young players in the game, whether at C or 1B - back, and hopefully recovered. Fingers crossed.
Huff - working out with his old trainers - back, and likely to not be very good, but on notice that if he sucks he gets the Rowhada Treatment. Check.
And... Nate Schierholtz? Freddy Sanchez? BCraw at short? Holy crap do the Giants need an impact bat in addition to figuring out Belt.
Here's some optimism, the Giants have the best pitching staff in baseball, even with some of the bullpen most likely replaced. They will play PR games with Zito but I have full confidence in him not seeing the field because he's done. It'll be 5th start competition, then bullpen long arm, then down to Fresno to work with avocados and knuckleballs. No way Bochy or Raggs lets him anywhere near with that 85MPH slop. I trust the Giants to try and pick up another 5th starter on the cheap for spring training, and I trust Sabean to rebuild the bullpen on the fly if necessary. Once Matt Cain is secured to a long term deal, then I'll be really optimistic.
On the other hand, the pitching staff has basically been sorted for the past three seasons. Time to tap that rainy day fund, Don Carlos needs to be paid.
Now hurry up with distributing those rings Baer, don't keep Larry Ellison waiting whatever you do. The Rangers outmaneuvered your guys completely, but you can still call yourself a champion for another day or two.