July 2011

Giants get middle infield help with Orlando Cabrera

The well-travelled Orlando Cabrera wil join his ninth major league team when he joins the Giants on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The deals just keep on coming for Brian Sabean and the San Francisco Giants.

On Saturday — after the Giants lost to the Cincinnati Reds 7-2 — San Francisco acquired veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera in a trade with the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league outfielder Thomas Neal.

The good news for the Giants is Cabrera is a winner — at least he’s played for winners. Cabrera has gone to the playoffs with a different team each of the past four seasons — Angels (2007), White Sox (2008), Twins (2009) and Reds (2010). That’s the good news. The bad news is none of those teams advanced past the divisional round in the playoffs.

The other bad news is Cabrera’s numbers have been steadily declining over the years. This season he has hit .244 with 4 home runs and 38 RBI. But his six stolen bases is more than all but two of the Giants currently on the 25-man roster.

But even numbers of a .244 average, .277 OBP and .321 slugging is better than what the current Giants shortstops have done.

Manager Bruce Bochy quickly said that Cabrera will be the Giants’ everyday shortstop. That has a couple of repercussions. First, it means Brandon Crawford will be heading to Fresno, likely on Sunday.

Crawford has given the Giants a good glove at shortstop, but he still hasn’t figured out major league pitching. After Saturday’s game, he’s hitting .193. Since going 2 for 6 against the Padres on July 6, he’s 4 for 37 (.108).

Even Mike Fontenot hasn’t done much with numbers of .206/.292/.348. Fontenot has really struggled of late, hitless in last 21 at-bats.

The cost of Cabrera was relatively cheap. Neal, 23, was hitting .295 with two HRs and 25 RBI in 60 games at Fresno this season. He went on the DL with a bruised hand on July 17.

Neal is a good player, but the Giants have other fleet-footed outfielders in their system like Darren Ford and Gary Brown.

It will be curious to see what the Giants do when Miguel Tejada returns from the disabled list. Tejada is hoping to return Aug. 4, when he is eligible to come off the DL.

Tejada has numbers of .242/.274/.334 for the season, but he had started to swing a hotter bat before going on the DL. In his last 12 games before going on the DL, he had numbers of .324/.375/.459.

Judging by how little they’ve been using him since his most recent call-up (his third of the year), we’d expect Brandon Belt to return to Fresno when Tejada is ready to come off the DL.

Yet Belt has looked better at the plate. He 4 for 10 in his three starts since his recall in mid-July, with a home run, three RBI and only two strikeouts.

Might the Giants decide to something more daring with the roster? Not likely, but it’s still possible.

What Carlos Beltran means to Giants: Statistical analysis

Carlos Beltan is now a San Francisco Giant. And that’s good news.

Carlos Beltran looks good in the black and orange. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Beltan makes the Giants’ lineup better. And don’t think there’s any question about that.

Here’s how Beltran’s number compare with the Giants’ best of 2011 (among players not on the DL)

Beltran — .289
Sandoval — .298

Beltran — .391
Sandoval — .344

Beltran — .513
Sandoval — .485

Beltran — 15
Huff/Sandoval — 9

Beltran — 66
Huff — 47

Beltran — 30
Torres — 22

Beltran — 60
Ross — 34

Beltran — 61 (in 419 PAs)
Ross 68 (296), Torres 67 (286), Rowand 67 (290), Huff 65 (412) Burrell 61 (202)

I think that’s all you need to know about whether Beltran will help the Giants

Wheelin’ and dealin’: Analyzing the price to get Carlos Beltran

Zach Wheleer

So, after nearly four weeks of hearing about it, the deal is finally done.

Carlos Beltran is a San Francisco Giant. But at what price?

The Giants sent pitching prospect Zach Wheeler to the Mets. In exchange, they got Beltran and $4 million to cover the remaining $6 million of Beltran’s expiring contract.

Normally, in a trade for a player of Beltran’s caliber, a team will request a couple of prospects. The Giants got Beltran for just one, but that may just speak to what the Mets think about Wheeler. Another clue is the $4 million the Mets were willing to give the Giants in the deal.

Giants GM Brian Sabean said it hurt to give up a player of Wheeler’s ability.

So why then would the Giants trade away their best pitching prospect when they’ve cherished pitching so much over the years, especially when it was for a player who contract will expire in a couple of months?

Well, for one, perhaps the Giants saw something in Wheeler that indicated that his ceiling was not as high as originally thought. Giants GM Brian Sabean did say the Giants didn’t feel that Wheeler would be able to contribute on the major league level for a couple of seasons.

When I first heard this deal, my mind quickly turned back to July of 2009 when the Giants sent pitching prospect Tim Alderson to the Pirates for 2B Freddy Sanchez. I had a friend who was really excited about getting Sanchez. I wasn’t sure he was worth the price. But let’s look at Alderson’s career path.

Alderson was the 22nd overall pick out of high school in the 2007 draft. He was Baseball America’s No. 84 prospect in 2008 and No. 45 in 2009

He was 13-4 with 2.79 ERA and 1.094 WHIP in 145 IP in Class A San Jose in 2008. In 2009, He 10-3 with 3.93 ERA and 1.282 WHIP in 137 IP between Class A and AA. That included seven starts after being traded to Pittsburgh.

But in 2010, he was 11-9 with 6.03 ERA and 1.551 WHIP in 128 IP between AA and Class A. This season, he was moved to the bullpen and is 0-2 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.152 WHIP in AA.

Meanwhile, Sanchez was a pivotal part of last season’s World Series team.

Now for Wheeler.

He was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft. He was Baseball America’s No. 49 prospect in 2010 and the No. 55 prospect this season.

Wheeler was 3-3 with 3.99 ERA and 1.449 WHIP in low Class A August in 2010. This season, with high-Class A San Jose, he was 7-5 with 3.99 ERA and 1.375 WHIP.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story. But Wheeler’s numbers are not staggering, and it’s clear that he was not on the same fast track to the majors that Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner were on.

By moving Wheeler, the Giants clearly feel they have other arms down in their system. Position players were a bit thinner in the system. That’s why players like OF Gary Brown or OF Francisco Peguero and IF Charlie Culberson were not part of this deal.

“We didn’t think Wheeler was going to impact our situation in the immeidate future,” Sabaen said. “Quite frankly, it’s our job to find another Wheeler or develop another Wheeler. Once we decided we weren’t going to part with position players, we decided to go down this path.”

It is very important that the Giants continue to develop pitchers. Matt Cain is due to make $15 million in 2012 before being eligible for free agency. Lincecum has two more arbitration years and will make at least $15 million a year. The Giants are on the hook for $19 million for Zito in 2012 and $20 million in 2013, plus a $7 million buyout. Jonathan Sanchez has one more arbitration year. And Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner will be relatively cheap for a couple of years, although Bumgarner is arbitration eligible in 2013.

Five All-Star Giants?!?!? Sure, why not!

From left, San Francisco Giants pitchers Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain, and Brian Wilson look over their National League All-Star jerseys after being presented them during a ceremony before their baseball game against the New York Mets in San Francisco, Saturday, July 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The five San Francisco Giants selected to Tuesday’s All-Star Game were the most the Giants have had in the midsummer’s classic since 1963 — the last time the Giants had five All-Stars.

Back then, there were only 10 National League teams from which to choose players from, compared to 16 today.

But the 1963 All-Star Game did not feature 84 All-Star players, including players selected who could not play and those players chosen to replace them. And that didn’t even include Aramis Ramirez, who was asked to be a replacement but declined the invitation.

When selecting an All-Star team, there are three basic philosophies as to the merit of a player.

A. What a player has accomplished over the course of his career. In this criteria, players like Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki would qualify as snubs.

B. What a player has accomplished since the previous All-Star Game. Often, what a player does in the second-half of the season doesn’t get recognized as it should.

C. What the player has done in the first three months of the season. This often is the most widely accepted criteria to judge an All-Star, whether it’s the best or not.

So let’s see where the five Giants All-Stars fit.

BRIAN WILSON. Wilson was the lone Giants chosen by player voting. The others were managerial choices. And Wilson seems to fit all three criteria (A, B and C). This season, Wilson is 6-2 with a 3.14 ERA and 26 saves. His saves ties him for second in the NL and his six wins lead NL relievers. The ERA is a bit high for him, but if you throw out his first two appearances when he was coming off the DL with an oblique strain, Wilson’s ERA shrinks to 2.16.

TIM LINCECUM. This is fourth consecutive All-Star appearance for Lincecum, including a start in 2009. Lincecum probably earns this selection based on criteria A, but B and C could be argued. For a career, he’s won two Cy Young Awards. From last All-Star Game, Lincecum had an ugly August, but then regrouped from there, including being the postseason MVP. As for this season, The Freak is 7-7 with a 3.04 ERA, numbers that might turn many heads. But last season, Lincecum earned an All-Star spot with a 9-4 mark and a 3.16 ERA. So you could say he’s been better this year, if you took time to look at the numbers.

MATT CAIN. When Cain made his first All-Star spot in 2009, he was 10-2 with a 2.42 ERA. This year, he’s 8-5 with 3.06 ERA — numbers that probably wouldn’t have garnered an All-Star spot if the team were not being selected by Bruce Bochy. But Bochy’s criteria for Cain is probably B. Cain went 7-3 with an ERA under 3.00 in the second half last season, then went unscored upon in 21+ innings in the postseason. Cain won’t pitch in Phoenix because he pitched on Sunday.

RYAN VOGELSONG. Clearly A and B don’t fit for a guy who hadn’t pitching the majors since 2006 before returning this season. But this season, he’s been dazzling, with a 6-1 record and  a 2.17 ERA, which put him among the league leaders for a couple of days until he just missed qualifying heading into the break. The numbers were too good to pass up for Bochy.

PABLO SANDOVAL: Sandoval becomes the first non-pitcher from the Giants to make the All-Star Game since Barry Bonds was voted to start the 2007 Classic in San Francisco. Despite their offensive struggles this year, the Giants would have two had legitimate All-Star candidate hitters if not for injuries. One was Buster Posey, who was leading the All-Star voting at catcher before his season-ending injury. The second was Sandoval, who has been hitting at or above .300 most this season, but missed almost two months with a broken bone in his hand. But third base this season has been a wasteland of injury. All-Star starter Placido Polanco couldn’t play because he’s injured. Others, like David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman, also have been hurt. When Chipper Jones went on the DL and Aramis Ramirez passed on a bid, that  opened the door for Scott Rolen,  he of the .241 average. When Bochy needed another infielder when Jose Reyes pulled out with a injury, he added the Panda, who has 8 home runs, 29 RBI and a .303 average. Oh, and a 21-game hitting streak.

Giants fans shouldn’t feel bad about all of these G-men at the All-Star Game. It’s a perk for winning it all!  Heck, if given another week, Bochy might have added Nate Schierholtz, too!

Oh, and by the way, the five Giants would made the 1963 All-Star Game? Catcher Ed Bailey, first baseman Orlando Cepeda, pitcher Juan Marichal and outfielders Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Four of five were Hall of Famers, not bad.

Nate the Great joins list of Splash Hits

After failing to deliver a Splash Hit in the first three months of the season, the Giants added their second Splash Hit in a week on Friday, when Nate Schierholtz blasted an R.A. Dickey pitch into the Bay on Friday.

It was the 57th Splash Hit at AT&T Park, and Schierholtz become the 14th Giants to record a Splash Hit.

1, Barry Bonds 35

2, Pablo Sandoval 5

3, Aubrey Huff 2

3, Andres Torres 2

3, Ryan Klesko 2

3, Michael Tucker 2

3, Felipe Crespo 2

8, A.J. Pierzynski 1

8, J.T. Snow 1

8, John Bowker 1

8, Randy Winn 1

8, Jose Cruz Jr. 1

8, Fred Lewis 1

8, Nate Schierholtz 1

Actually, it should have been Schierholtz’s second Splash Hit of the week. One of Schierholtz’s two home runs on Wednesday against the Padres hit halfway up the right-field foul pole. If it had not hit the foul pole, the ball would have landed in the bay.

All hail Nate the Great.

Here’s the link to the video of Nate’s Splash Hit.

MoreSplashHits pays homage to Sandoval’s recent Splash Hit

Here we are called “MoreSplashHits” and then there’s a Splash Hit, and we don’t say a thing for four days.

Our bad.

But Pablo Sandoval hit the first Splash Hit since The Panda hit one into the bay way back on Sept. 30 of last season when he belted a two-run home run off the Padres’ Ernesto Fieri on Monday.

It was Sandoval’s fifth Splash Hit. He is second on the Splash Hit list behind Barry Bonds’ 35.

If you missed it, here it is.


Reason for Optimism No. 1: Three words … World … Series … Champions

The Giants' World Series banner

Really, is there any other reason for optimism that you need other than the words: World Series Champion Giants.

Reminders of last season’s glory are everywhere: Banners around the stadium, T-shirts worn by fans, commercials on TV. Heck, even when the Giants are in the slump, I often will break out the DVD of last year’s World Series.

After last season, diehard Giants fans have to think that anything positive that happens this season is icing on the cake.

But there are more tangible reasons — more tangible than good feelings — to be optimistic because of last year’s championship.

For one, the excitement created from last year’s title run has carried over to this season. The proof is in the 48 consecutive home sellouts. Having more than 41,000 fans every night cheering you on has to have a positive effect on the Giants.

But even more to the point, having more than 41,000 paying customer in the ballpark every night means money is coming into the Giants’ coffers. And that will help the Giants come trade deadline time when non-contending teams are looking to unload salary. The Giants will have the money to pay those players, even with a payroll approaching $120 million.

It also doesn’t hurt the Giants’ revenue base to have the team on national TV almost every week, whether it’s on MLB Network, ESPN Sunday’s Night Baseball or Fox’s Game of the Week.

And we’ve seen Giants fans coming out of the woodwork on the road, where sometines even road games have home-game feel. That was especially true in the early-season trip to San Diego where Giants fans seemed to outnumber Padres fans.

Reason for Optimism No. 2: Giants are in first place

San Francisco Giants' Nate Schierholtz, bottom center, is congratulated after singling to score Andres Torres in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in San Francisco, Friday, June 10, 2011. The Giants won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

There are a lot of reasons for Giants fans to be down this season.

Buster Posey is done for the year.

Freddy Sanchez might be done for the year.

Mark DeRosa’s future is in doubt.

Brandon Belt is on the DL.

The Giants aren’t hitting.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But despite all these things, there’s one thing that’s true: The Giants are in first place. Even in the midst of a three-game skid, the Giants are still in first place, still 10 games over .500.

Last week, the Giants reached the halfway mark of the season at 46-35. Double that, and they’re 92-70 — the same record they had when they won the World Series last season.

And in this division, 92 wins likely will be enough to win the West again. Given all that the Giants have endure this year, what more can you ask for?

As for all those downers we mentioned at the top of the post, well, things have to get better, don’t they? It’s hard to imagine things getting worse.

Reason for Optimism No. 3: The Giants play in the NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks' J.J. Putz, right, paces on the mound after getting a visit from catcher Miguel Montero, as he wipes his forehead after giving up two runs during the ninth inning to the San Francisco Giants in a baseball game Wednesday, June 15, 2011, in Phoenix. The Giants defeated the Diamondbacks 5-2. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Giants don’t hit much. But playing in the National League West, they may not have to.

The NL West may be the most winnable division in baseball. And even with all of their offensive deficiencies, the Giants are still the team to beat in the NL West.

And think about it. The Giants don’t have to contend with the Phillies or Braves. They don’t have to deal with Brewers, Cardinals or Reds. Compared to those teams, the likes of Diamondbacks and the Rockies don’t seem so imposing.

That’s because all of the other teams in the NL West also have their deficiencies.

The San Diego Padres had a less-than-potent offense last season when they contended for the NL West title. Then they traded away their best offensive weapon — BY FAR. So you knew they weren’t going to be any better offensively. And early in the season, their pitching wasn’t as good as last year. And that’s why they’re eight games under .500, even after winning four in a row.

The Dodgers have Matt Kemp, but not a whole lot else on offense. The Dodgers’ lineup has lacked consistency, and so has their rotation. Clayton Kershaw in an all-star, but Chad Billingsley has been hit-and-miss. So has Hiroki Kuroda, and Ted Lilly has not pitched like the Dodgers hoped when they signed him to a contract extension late last season. Then, the back end of their bullpen has spent more time on the DL and on the field.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are this year’s San Diego Padres — the surprise team. And like the Padres last year, you have wonder “How long can they keep this up?” Well, last year, the Padres did it with pitching and stayed in it right to the end, aided by some midseason deals to bring in more offense.

The Diamondbacks have the offense. Their lineup is loaded with talented, young hitters. But the tendency to strike out — Arizona ranks third in the NL in whiffs — can lead to prolonged slumps. The top of their rotation is very good (Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson), but also young. The rest of the rotation is suspect.

But the team to really be concerned about is the Rockies. Six games out of first place and one game under .500, Colorado is capable of going on long stretches of success. We’ve seen it before. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are just starting to get heated up. And if enough of the supporting players do their part, the Rockies can be dangerous. Although the hitting has struggled, warmer weather and playing in Denver can cure that. The real concern for Colorado is the health of their pitching staff. Jorge De La Rosa is done for the year. Jhoulys Chacin is nursing a sore forearm. Ubaldo Jimenez is trying to find his form from the first half of 2010. The rest of the rotation does not excite. But if things start to click, watch out for the Rox.