Hot Stove Rumors!

It's early November. The World Series is over and the fields are silent (except for the occasional ski jump competition). But it's time to start looking at what the Giants will do for 2007. With Free Agency almost here, who are the Giants rumored to be talking to? A roundup of the latest rumors, right here!

With Free Agency approaching, it’s time for the first round of the Hot Stove.  A roundup of rumors from across the country have been collected, and displayed for you for quick reading and reference.

• Third Base – To Feliz or Not to Feliz – A lot of the early discussions around the Giants have centered around one of the few free agents they could officially negotiate with, their own third baseman.  Several times at the end of the season, Pedro Feliz’s agent had indicated that Feliz would be open to new places and would not be offering a hometown discount.  But ever since the season ended, it seems like Feliz has been cozying up to the Giants.  Negotiations have definitely been taking place, but how advanced they are is anyone’s guess.  A revelation from Feliz’s agent that a deal was close last week sounds more like public posturing than anything, and the internet was briefly abuzz with a fake rumor of the Giants signing Feliz to a 4 year, $22.5 million contract.

The Giants, for their part, have been kicking the tires of other options.  The Giants have expressed an early interest in bringing back current Cincinnati Reds third baseman (and former Giant) Rich Aurilia to play third base.  Aurilia, 35, hit .300 with 23 home runs for the Reds this year, easily his best year since 2001 with the Giants.

The Giants also made a splash when they hired a far east scout, and have been openly scouting the Japanese Leagues for possible acquisitions.  One that makes the most sense is Akinori Iwamura, the third baseman for the Yakult Swallows.  He hit .311/.389/.544 in Japan this year with 32 home runs, and is a very good defender.  While he may not be expected to have the smoothest transition to the majors, his cost is not projected to be as high as some players who are posted.  Iwamura was posted on November 6th, which means that the bids for his post must be received by Friday, November 10th.  The Giants haven’t officially been named as interested, but the indications are they might be.

• Scouring the Rim – As mentioned above, the Giants have been scouting the far east with their new scout and new Manager, Bruce Bochy, traveling across Japan with a team of MLB All-Stars playing Japan’s All-Stars.  However, one player that the Giants are not interested in is ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.  His posting fee, expected to reach the $20M level, will be too much for a position the Giants have several young options at.

However, the Giants were connected to Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.  Kuroda was one of Japan’s other top pitchers, winning last year’s ERA title, and was an unrestricted free agent (no posting fee!).  But Kuroda signed with Japan’s Hanshin Tigers earlier this week.  That, however, may open up the market for the Tigers to post 27 year old lefthander Kei Igawa.  Igawa would go through posting if the Tigers do it, but he’s not represented by Scott Boras, and has expressed his interest in playing in America, specifically on the West Coast.

• Receiving a Pat on the Head – Perhaps the most intriguing rumor to make the rounds wasn’t a rumor at all, but a player noting interest in coming to the Giants.  Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell announced, through his agent, that he would waive his no-trade clause if the Phillies traded him to the Giants.  Burrell, who played for San Jose’s Bellarmine Prep, also said he’d move from the outfield, where a lingering foot injury has caused him problems, to first base to make a move work.

Burrell isn’t a stranger to the infield, as he was drafted as a third baseman.  The Phillies have been eager to get rid of the 30 year old’s contract, which is worth $13M in 2007 and $14M in 2008.  The problem has been Burrell’s no trade clause, and he’s previously said he’d only waive it for Boston and New York, neither of whom is interested in him.

Burrell is a career .258 hitter, but has improved his power and plate discipline throughout his career, and would provide the Giants with a needed power threat and fill a hole at first.  The Phillies have also been indicated to have interest in receiving back overpaid closer Armando Benitez to help shore up their bullpen, and lessen the financial cost to the Giants.  Immediately after this announcement, both sides went mum, which often happens when Sabean becomes involved in discussions with anyone.  He doesn’t like anyone talking.  That might be an inference, but it’s hard to ignore a player openly saying he’s interested in the team, and an opportunity to unload an unpopular player.

• Covering the Wide Open Ranges of Texas – Among actual free agents, the most often mentioned name was Texas center fielder Gary Matthews, Jr.  Matthews, 32, is coming off a career year where he batted .313/.371/.495 and is a San Francisco native.  But he’s a career .263 hitter and has been a journeyman around the majors.  Some are thinking he could be another Randy Winn, a light hitting outfielder signed to a big contract after a career year, and Matthews did have it at a hitter’s yard in Arlington.  Several papers have reported the Giants contacting Matthews, but on KNBR 680, Brian Sabean recently noted he’s contacted nearly everyone on the market to gauge interest.

• Everyone Loves Bruce – Former Los Angeles Dodger and likely to become a former San Diego Padre Dave Roberts has also indicated that the signing of Bruce Bochy makes San Francisco a very attractive place to play.  With the Padres likely to pursue a big bat in the outfield, Roberts is unlikely to return.  While Roberts doesn’t excite many people, he would not be paid highly, and might be relegated to a utility spot if a young player steps up, like Todd Linden, to take a starting job.

• Hot in the Desert – Meanwhile, in the Arizona Fall League, two possible major leaguers are putting their best stuff forward.

Popular young Kevin Frandsen has had an impressive fall.  Moving between second base, shortstop and third base defensively, Frandsen’s .429 batting average (through November 6th) leads the AFL.  He has also shown a marked improvement in his plate discipline (he has an AFL high .522 OBP with 9 walks in 15 games) and baserunning (his 7 stolen bases are tied for 4th in the AFL, despite lingering foot injuries).  He also has 4 home runs through November 7th, tying him for fourth in the fall season.  The Giants are no sure bets to start a rookie like Frandsen, but his ability to play either second or third makes him a tantalizing way to fill some holes.

Meanwhile, reliever Billy Sadler has been a revelation in the AFL.  Sadler, who has been plagued by control problems most of his career, has walked only 3 batters while striking out 17 in 10.1 innings.  More importantly, he hasn’t allowed an earned run in 9 games so far this fall.  Sadler could be in a mix for a bullpen spot along with a number of young pitchers, and if Benitez is bidden farewell, he may be a dark horse in the closer competition.

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