This chat reinforced the theme of the Giants management set by Sabean in his post-season chat with the media a few days before this chat. The main theme is "No Big Free Agent." This method of management stems from the days when they had Barry Bonds and Matt Williams at big bucks on the budget and was unable to field competitive teams in 1995 and 1996 because of that, or so the theory goes. So they do not see how they can sign a $10M+ salary free agent to the Giants while they have Barry on the payroll. While it was not specifically mentioned in the chat, the absence of any questions related to free agents – other than the lame hope on the part of one fan that Moises Alou might give a family discount and sign with the Giants - made it clear that Giants fans got the message.
The other main theme is a familar refrain to Sabean followers: "Vets are better bets." Sabean could not commit to any of the rookies and prospects other than that they will have a chance to make the team. In theory, while that is true, the fact is that it is the rare rookie who has broken camp with the Giants, without injury being a factor. In particular, to a direct question about Jason Ellison, he said that it would take a "huge leap of faith" trying to predict what Ellison could do offensively versus what a vet could. That could also describe Sabean's philosophy on rookies in general.
Objectives and Decisions for Off-season
First off, Sabean and the Giants will figure out what to do with their own free agents and option players. Once that is decided, then the Giants will have a clearer idea how much budget is left for signing, external, other free agents or trading for other players. And just because Robb Nen's salary is coming off the books does not mean that there will be money for free agents because everyone else returning to the team will be due some sort of raise, some of them substantially. However, as we all know, the more the rookies are able to compete for meaningful spots on the roster, the more flexibility it gives the Giants with the roster and the payroll. But as noted above, rookies and unproven players rarely compete for meaningful spots on the roster. For example, see Rich Aurilia apprenticeship with the Giants.
The free agent players are Dave Burba, Dustin Hermanson, Deivi Cruz, Ricky Ledee, and Robb Nen. The players that the Giants have an option on are Marquis Grissom, Brett Tomko, J.T. Snow, and Jason Christiansen. Arbitration-eligible players are Pedro Feliz, Dustan Mohr, Yorvit Torrealba, and A.J. Pierzynski. A decision on the option players will be made on or before the fifth day after the World Series ends. Arbitration players' fates will be decided by December 7th, which is the last day to offer these players arbitration, else they become free agents.
Needs The Giants currently sees as their greatest needs to be pitching and improving their defense. In fact, one of the Giants' key areas of concentration in the offseason will be what they do with the bullpen, including the closer role. The Giants hope to have more overall strength in the bullpen. That said, the Giants young pitchers' success and consistency in 2004 was the biggest surprise.
They do not anticipate having one guy tasked as the setup guy. It is always easier, in the Giants opinion, to have relievers pitch certain innings and then juggle that or their roles as their performances run hot or cold. The only lament for the 2004 season was not turning to Dustin Hermanson sooner.
In addition, starters might fill out the bullpen. If Tomko returns, the Giants would have as potential starters: Schmidt, Tomko, Rueter, Lowry, Williams, Foppert, and Hennessey. Obviously, with seven starters and a five man rotation, two will not make it. At some point during Spring Training, Sabean says it's possible that the two who did not make the starting five could make the team as relievers instead of going back to Triple-A as starters. The Giants, in any case, will pick the strongest 11 or 12 man staff to start the season.
The Giants will be looking into improving their defense as well. They will be looking at team defense as a whole because management does not feel that the team was particularly consistent in the infield or the outfield. They would also like to add some speed to the team as well.
There are a number of other positions to be worked out other than closer and bullpen. Sabean noted that both centerfield and rightfield are in flux because Dustan is arbitration eligible, Ledee is a free agent, and the Giants have an option on Marquis Grissom. In addition, the Giants are looking to get Feliz another 100-150 at-bats to reach 600 at-bats and mentioned that he will get some start in the outfield as well as 1B and 3B. This is the most probable area of increased at-bats for Feliz because one cannot necessarily rely on Snow to be on the DL for a significant amount of time, like he has the past two seasons, and Alfonzo has probably shared about as much time at 3B as is possible in 2004.
Specific Players Sabean Chatted About
Sabean discussed a number of players specifically in the chat. He may say that a prospect has a chance to make the roster but given his preference for veterans with a track record, the prospect would have to surprise the team management greatly, and even then he might not make the team, like Ainsworth in 2002.
Brad Hennessey: He has a chance to make the roster in 2005. The Giants staff expressed favorable things on him during meetings that week.
Jason Ellison: He has a chance to make the roster in 2005. He is going to play winter ball in Mexico. The Giants staff expressed favorable things on him during meetings that week. While the staff has noted his running and defensive abilities, the Giants believe it would be a huge leap of faith to predict how well he would do offensively at the major league level, especially versus what a veteran could do.
Jesse Foppert: The Giants see starting as his best role right now. He will pitch in Puerto Rico this winter as a starter.
Kirk Rueter: At this time, he will be a starter for the Giants. He's still a big-game pitcher and as a left-hander, balances out the rotation, given their division and their ballpark.
Matt Cain: He is seen as a starter at this time, probably at Triple-A. More seasoning wouldn't hurt their development, but the Giants are keeping an open mind should they force the issue and surprise the team with their performance in spring.
Merkin Valdez: He is seen as a starter at this time, probably at Triple-A. More seasoning wouldn't hurt their development, but the Giants are keeping an open mind should they force the issue and surprise the team with their performance in spring.
Pedro Feliz: Felipe's committed to giving him 600 at-bats at 3B, 1B, or even the outfield. The at-bats are more important than what position he plays on a full-time basis because at that number, you are considered a full-time player. However, despite a few games at the position this season, as of right now, shortstop will probably not be in the Giants' plans for him. Thus, as noted just above, he will probably get a significant amount of time in the outfield.
Todd Linden: He has a chance to make the roster in 2005. He is going to play winter ball in Venezuela to get some additional at-bats. The Giants Major League staff is high on his abilities.
Tony Torcato: He has a chance to make the roster in 2005. He is going to play winter ball in Venezuela. The Giants staff expressed favorable things on him during meetings that week. Torcato has shown that he can come off the bench as a pinch-hitter and may challenge for a spot on the roster as an extra player.
The Giants Top Prospects
Pitching: David Aardsma, Brad Hennessey, Merkin Valdez, and Matt Cain are the next wave of pitching talent after Jesse Foppert, Noah Lowry, Jerome Williams, and Kevin Correia.
Many of the Giants top prospects and players on the verge of starting full-time will be playing this off-season. David Aardsma, Chris Beggs, Scott Munter, Mike Cervenak, Fred Lewis, and Lance Niekro will be playing for the Grand Canyon Rafters in the Arizona Fall League this year. Yorvit Torrealba, Carlos Valderrama, Todd Linden, and Tony Torcato will be playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. Merkin Valdez, Pedro Feliz, and Alfredo Simon (acquired in the Feliz Rodriguez trade with Philadephia) will be in the Dominican Republic Winter League. Jason Ellison will be playing in the Mexico Winter League. Jesse Foppert will be playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Giants Management Status
Brian Sabean has no plans to leave and certainly Bonds' departure would not change his mind on that either. He does not believe that there will be any need for a rebuilding era after Bonds retires. He states that the Giants have rebuilt and retooled every year since 1997 and, while you don't ever expect to replace a Barry Bonds, the Giants management is committed to having the best team on the field each year and fight for the postseason. Barry's departure will not change their goal of having the best, competitive product on the field.
The manager's job is not up in the air either. There was a question on who manages after 2005 because Felipe Alou's contract only goes to 2005. Brian said that they will leave that decision up to Felipe, so for now the job is his as long as Alou wants it.
Implications of Chat: Reading the Tea Leaves
The obviously biggest implication is that Giants fans cannot look forward to the Giants signing any of the big free agents like Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Richie Sexson, Magglio Ordonez, and Nomar Garciappara. However, that does not preclude the Giants from signing, if the budget allowed, mid-priced veterans in the $3-9M range. It will all depend on who the Giants will keep of the current players who they have a decision to make on regarding their contract for 2005 (or not as the case may be).
One of the biggest areas to be evaluated is the outfield. In addition, while not covered specifically in the chat, Sabean had noted in his media chat that decisions will be at 1B, catcher, and shortstop.
Outfield: Specifically mentioned as decision areas in the chat are center field and right field. In any scenario I can think of, Ricky Ledee is gone. That's the only sure thing in the outfield other than Barry will be in LF. Grissom has a team option and Mohr is arbitration eligible. They both could be retained, they both could be released, it depends on what the Giants think they can do with the outfield.
Given Sabean's praise for vet continuity and clubhouse stature, Grissom looks like he will get his option picked up. I recall it being only an extra $2M or so (over the buyout price for the option) to keep Grissom. And where can you pick up 20+ homers and 80-90 RBIs for that price?
However, given the high offensive performance of Mohr part-time in 2004 - .274/.394/.437/.831, which would rank 6th in the MLB among qualified centerfielders in OPS - and the stated goal of using the outfield to get Feliz 600 AB, Grissom might be let go and the Giants might field Mohr in CF with Tucker/Feliz platooning in RF in 2005. In addition, despite being a righthanded hitter, Mohr has had a reversed split, hitting better against RHP than LHP and hits better at SBC than on the road. Going this route, then Tony Torcato, Lance Niekro, or Damon Minor could be strictly the left-handed bat off the bench, with Mohr, Tucker, and Feliz soaking up most of the outfield at-bats in CF and RF (plus the occassional LF when Bonds is rested).
This latter choice makes sense. Since Sabean did not outright say that Feliz will play at one position, he will only pull part-time duty again at 1B and 3B. Thus the only way Feliz can get 600 AB is to play extensively in the outfield, 100-200 AB total, depending on how many games Snow actually plays. This either means, given the current outfield alignment, that Grissom will see less AB against RHP that Feliz will take, which is plausible given how Grissom disappeared down the stretch, or Mohr would take less AB, but that would not make sense given Mohr's success in 2004, it would seem that they would give him more AB instead.
Given Mohr's strong defensive abilities, and Feliz's most probably poor to average outfield defensive abilities and Sabean's stated goal of improving outfield defense on an overall basis, the only way Feliz could get more AB in the outfield is if the Giants improve their defense at the same time, which they would do by playing Mohr on a full-time basis in CF, as he is strong defensively whereas Grissom has been spotty defensively, particularly in key situations the past two seasons. Giving Grissom's ABs to Feliz would not improve outfield defense while replacing Grissom with Mohr would. That would mean bye-bye Grissom. The caveat there is that Grissom appears to have bonded with Bonds so Giants management might not want to mess with that.
There was talk before of moving Durham to center field which would allow the Giants to play Alfonzo at 2B and Feliz at 3B. Given his inexperience in a crucial position like CF and his original reluctance to move to CF, it would seem that such a move would not be done because then the Giants would be exposed defensively at LF and CF even if they get a Gold Glover to play RF. However, Alfonzo should be much better than Durham at 2B (once he readjusts) and Feliz is just a little behind Alfonzo defensively at 3B, so the infield defense probably would be improved with such a move. My bet would be that the Giants will think about it but ultimately decide against it because of their desire to improve the team's overall defense, which look to go down with Durham in CF.
Another way this could play out is if Durham gets traded as one rumor suggests, so that Feliz takes 3B and Alfonzo takes 2B, as above, and improve the infield defense. However, this would not make sense unless the Giants obtain another leadoff hitter to replace Durham. The Giants have been searching for a good leadoff hitter since Brett Butler left for La-la Land and America's Home Video's highlight reel, and Durham, when he hasn't been injured, has set the table very well for the Giants at leadoff. The key thing there is WHEN he hasn't been injured.
1B: The Giants have an option on J.T. Snow and, while his performance in 2004 suggests that the Giants would pick up his option, they might decide to give 1B to Feliz in order to get his his 600 AB. However, 3B and the outfield was mentioned as areas for him plus the media chat noted a need for the Giants to have a consistent veteran presence and strengthened infield defense, so it seems more likely that Snow will have his option picked up.
If Feliz is the full-time 1B, where he is average at best, they would need to acquire a gold glove at shortstop in order to counterbalance the dropdown in defense from Snow to Feliz. By keeping Snow, the Giants could focus on getting a shortstop with a good mixture of both offense and defense in the shortstop position. Plus, connecting the dots, Alou says that Feliz deserves to play full-time but Sabean says that Feliz will be splitting time at three positions, so they most probably will re-sign Snow and do what they did in the 2004 season except play Feliz in the outfield a lot more, perhaps making him Bonds replacement when he takes a rest.
Catcher: There was no mention on what happens at catcher in the fan chat, though Sabean mentioned in the media chat that Yorvit is probably ready to start for most teams. Both A.J. and Yorvit are arbitration eligible, so the Giants could decide to go with one or the other as the starting catcher for 2005 or perhaps go another route with a reasonably priced veteran instead and release the two players.
As much as I like A.J. and would like him to be our long-term catcher, I think the Giants will go with a cheaper alternative at catcher, either Yorvit or a moderately priced vet, or both. The money they save there would then be used to pursue a big improvement at one of four positions: 1B, SS, CF, or RF. This is because the Giants payroll looks like it will be tight again with a number of positions to fill. Even if Grissom's option is not picked up, there will be less than $10M available, assuming A.J. is retained. By freeing up salary at catcher, the Giants probably can definitely look at one upgrade priced at $7-9M per year instead of probably $4-6M per year, as there are still a few other positions to fill out beyond this one premium player acquisition.
However, I don't think that this is the path the Giants should take. A.J. balances out the lineup being a left-handed hitter whereas Yorvit is a right-hander. While not as strong as Yorvit defensively, which most reports I've read says, A.J. is still above average by many measures - though obviously measuring defensive prowess is still an art. He has historically hit well in RISP situations and is an above average catcher offensively, even this down year, whereas Yorvit's record has been spotty. In fact, if pro-rated to account for the predominantly righthanded pitching in the league, Yorvit's average will be average at best, and most probably below average, if he played regularly.
Also, while some think that A.J. will net around $5M in arbitration, above the $3.5M he got this year, I think that statistically he did poorer, mainly because of his horrid month and a half at the end of the season, and the Giants could sign him to a 2 year contract for $6-7M. I think this mainly because I think he wants to stay here and if he became a free agent, he probably won't get much more than that on the open market.
I think he wants to stay here because he needs to disprove the "cancer" label thrown at him at the beginning of the season and prove that he is an elite catcher by hitting well over a whole season, unhindered by whatever personal problems he was going through at the end of the 2004 season. His poor hitting in the first and last month killed his stats, as well as the Giants' playoff chances. Plus becoming a free agent, he might have to settle for a lousy club in order to get a similar salary instead of playing for a contender and the aforementioned labels will act to surpress interest in terms of additional contract dollars. The Giants should take the $6M that they were earmarking for Greg Maddux and use some of it to retain A.J. in the lineup and the rest to sign a good defense and good offense shortstop.
Shortstop: At shortstop, Deivi Cruz is a free agent and Cody Ransom is still tied to the team, but given Cruz's lack of range and Ransom's sudden lack of defense, his one major strength, at crucial moments, the Giants probably will be looking to acquire a shortstop. What type of player they get here will depend greatly on what they do at the other infield positions.
This is probably the position the Giants will most look at to upgrade their infield defense. Orlando Cabrera would be the obvious choice because he is good defensively, he is up and down offensively but good overall, he feels he owes his success to Felipe Alou, and he would not get or need a superstar mega-contract. Plus he's only 29 years old. However, if Boston wins it all, he might want to stay there and they might fight to keep him. They might still try anyway.
Edgar Renteria is another shortstop who would be a good choice. Same age, better offensive stats, about the same on defense. Probably would cost more than Cabrera but would bring more offensively. However, one would think that St. Louis would fight to keep him, especially if they win the World Series.
Starting pitching: Assuming Tomko's option is picked up - given how well he did in the second half, I don't see why the Giants don't pick up his option - looks to be a strong point for the Giants. With him, they have many strong candidates for the five starting spots: Schmidt, Tomko, Rueter, Williams, Lowry, Hennessey, and Foppert. Hennessey and Foppert look to be the losers in the battle but you never know, someone could falter in spring and be pushed out for one of these two. While Sabean notes that they are starters, he also noted that the best 11-12 pitchers will make the team, so if they excel in spring training, they could make the team as relievers. Especially Foppert since he is still not that far removed from his arm surgery plus there was some talk about making him a reliever even before his arm problems.
Bullpen: The core looks pretty set with Brower, Eyre, and Herges all signed to a contract already. I would expect extensions for Brower and Eyre, if the Giants were proactive. And if Herges just reverts back to what he was before closing made him lousy as a pitcher, he, Brower, and Eyre makes a strong three-some. Plus Tyler Walker was good and inexpensive this season and I would bet that he be retained.
Hermanson looks to be a cheap and reliable, for the most part, choice for closer plus the Giants are probably are looking at a big upgrade somewhere in the lineup, which would probably preclude spending big bucks on a closer. It depends most probably on how much he wants in a contract, but since his only successes in the majors has been with Alou, he hopefully will be reasonable in his demands, with huge incentives based on number of saves achieved, for example. Plus the odds of him getting a closer job anywhere else with a playoff competitor is probably slim because of his lack of a track record as a closer and his poor record as a starter or reliever otherwise.
That would leave two spots open if the Giants go with 12 pitchers, as they have while Alou has been manager. Assuming one of the youngster pitch well in spring training, one of the young starters will be rewarded with a spot in the bullpen while the other will start in Triple-A and be ready to come up. That leaves one other spot, which Sabean will probably fill by acquiring a veteran who could be a strong set-up man and strengthen the bullpen with a veteran reliever presence.
The Future Looks Bright - For Pitching
The most exciting area - no surprise for those following Sabean's tenure as GM - is pitching. Already Jerome Williams and Noah Lowry have forced their way into the rotation. Within a season or two, Matt Cain and possibly Merkin Valdez will likewise come knocking on the door. By 2007, either Bonds' last season or the Giants first without Bonds, our rotation could be Jason Schmidt, Jerome Williams, Matt Cain, Merkin Valdez, and Noah Lowry.
And that does not include Brad Hennessey, who did well in his short stint in the 2004 season and Jesse Foppert, who by some experts was considered to be the best pitching prospect for 2003. Plus there's David Aardsma and Scott Munter to bolster the bullpen, both of whom the Giants believe are MLB-worthy and therefore were selected to play in the AFL this off-season, plus Joe Bateman, who did very well in relieving at both San Jose and Norwich this season. Plus Chris Beggs, a starter, was also selected for the AFL this season as well.
Position players is decidedly not so likely to contribute significantly at the major league level. Todd Linden and Dan Ortmeier are the players most named as potential corner outfielders capable of 15-20 homers and 15-20 SB, but both fell back this season with poorer performances than expected and are still at least a year away. Fred Lewis, Lance Niekro, and Mike Cervenak made great progress this yea, to be on the verge as well but are still at least a year away, if not more, from the big leagues. Nate Schierholtz, Eddy Martinez-Esteve, and Travis Ishikawa makes up the next wave of players who has drawn the notice of coaches and rotisserie league prospect evaluators, but they are probably at least two years away from contributing. Only Tony Torcato and Brian Dallimore look like they might have a chance of making the team as bench players in 2005.
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.
The views expressed in the columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the site's publisher, writers, or other staff members. The content on this site may not be redistributed without the expressed consent of SFDugout.com.