Giants GM Sabean has busy winter ahead

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Brian Sabean will have a shiny new contract extension thanks to the Giants’ turnaround this season, but as discussed Thursday, he’s going to have to rework his team’s offense if he expects to take it to the next level.
The opportunity will certainly be there. The Giants would seem to have just two locks for the 2010 lineup in corner infielder Pablo Sandoval and outfielder Aaron Rowand. The payroll, which came in at just under $90 million this year, should expand, probably to $100 million or so.
That would leave the Giants with about $35 million to spend. They’re currently at $52 million for 2010, but Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez are due large raises as first-time arbitration-eligible players. The latter two figure to come in at $5.5 million-$6 million combined. Lincecum could aim for the $10 million that Ryan Howard received a super-two player in 2008, but the Giants would save additional money there by signing him to a long-term deal.
So, let’s examine the Giants’ options position by position and figure out how that money would best be spent.
Catcher
In-house options: Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside, Steve Holm
If the Giants are ready to trust Posey after he hit .325/.416/.531 between high-A San Jose and Triple-A Fresno in his first full pro season, they’ll have more money to spend elsewhere. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to give him another two or three months in the minors, but they’re probably not going to be able to get free agent Bengie Molina to go for the idea of sticking around on a one-year contract and then fading into a reserve role as the year goes on.
So Molina is likely a goner. Inking Yorvit Torrealba, Brian Schneider or Jason Kendall to a one-year deal and then having Posey compete against the veteran in spring training seems like the best strategy.
First base-third base
In-house options: Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa, Ryan Garko, John Bowker, Jesus Guzman, Ryan Rohlinger
We’ll combine these two positions, since we know Sandoval will be starting at one of them. The 23-year-old is committed to getting into better shape this winter, and if he does, he might last at the hot corner for a couple of more years. Still, he’s been below average there this season and it’s hard to imagine him staying at the position for the long haul. He might become a Gold Glove first baseman someday if he makes the switch, so I still think third base is a viable place for the Giants to upgrade this winter.
If Sandoval stays at third, then first base becomes a prime spot for an upgrade. As is, it’s shaping up as a platoon situation, with Ishikawa and Bowker battling for the job against right-handers and either Garko or an outside acquisition getting the nod against lefties. Garko is eligible for arbitration for the first time and is probably due $1.5 million or so. He’d likely be non-tendered if the Giants acquire another corner infield option.
Second base
In-house options: Freddy Sanchez, Eugenio Velez, Kevin Frandsen, Emmanuel Burriss, Matt Downs
Sanchez’s $8.1 million option would have vested had he stayed healthy after joining the Giants. As is, the team will buy it out for $600,000. Still, the Giants could re-sign him at a lesser salary. The internal alternatives are unattractive. Velez offers some intriguing potential at the top of the lineup, but his footwork at second is terrible and he makes far more sense in the outfield. Frandsen has fallen out of favor and likely will be traded or non-tendered.
Shortstop
In-house options: Edgar Renteria, Emmanuel Burriss
Sabean made a huge mistake with Renteria, but that the deal was just two years means he doesn’t have to be guaranteed anything entering 2010. He can be a $9 million backup or he could potentially be traded for another bad contract (Milton Bradley’s?). The Giants could re-sign free agent Juan Uribe to battle for the job at shortstop. There aren’t going to be any star shortstops available this winter, but Marco Scutaro could be a significant upgrade.
Center field
In-house options: Aaron Rowand, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres
Rowand is owed another $36 million over the next three years and has never been worse than adequate, so he can remain a starter. Perhaps the Giants will look for ways to move him, but they’d likely only be able to exchange him for another bad contract at a position that’s easier to fill. Given that the best free agents this winter play the corner positions, it makes sense to live with Rowand in center.
Left field-right field
In-house options: Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, Fred Lewis, John Bowker, Andres Torres
Obviously, the Giants are going to do something here. They could let the players above battle for one starting job if they sign one outfielder and a corner infielder or they might fill both outfield openings with veterans. Ideally, neither scenario would involve re-signing Randy Winn.
Here’s my lineup idea:
SS Marco Scutaro
2B Akinori Iwamura
1B Pablo Sandoval
LF Vladimir Guerrero
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Buster Posey
CF Aaron Rowand
Bench: Eugenio Velez, John Bowker, Edgar Renteria, Brian Schneider, Andres Torres
If the Giants eschew going after Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, they could potentially land four above average regulars for their $35 million. Guerrero and Beltre don’t seem likely to get much more than $10 million per year — and Guerrero might have to settle for a one-year contract — and Scutaro is probably due around $7.5 million per year for two years. The Giants could vastly upgrade their infield defense and break in a couple of younger players. Schierholtz probably won’t be much of an asset offensively in right field, but he is a very good defender, which is very important in AT&T’s big right field.
Now, I don’t really expect it to work out that way. The Giants figure to go hard after both Holliday and Bay, and I think they have to be considered one of the favorites to land one of the two. Chone Figgins is another possible target with the team in need of a leadoff man. If they fail in their bids, then they could aim to trade for Carl Crawford or Prince Fielder. Dan Uggla is a lesser name that makes sense for the team, though I’d prefer him at third base.
If, on the other hand, the Giants opt to overspend on Orlando Hudson and aim for past-their-prime players like Jermaine Dye and Carlos Delgado, it could be a disappointing 2010. Sabean has always thought older means better, at least when it comes to position players, and he clearly values predictability over upside. Consider it a very bad sign if he kicks off the offseason by talking with Winn about a new deal.

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Cubs 4, Blue Jays 3: The Blue Jays didn’t look any more comfortable at Wrigley Field on Saturday than they had during Friday’s series opener, dropping their second straight game after Anthony Rizzo sealed the go-ahead run on an RBI single in the seventh inning. The Cubs, meanwhile, reveled in Jose Quintana’s second quality start of the month and delighted the crowd with a two-RBI effort from Ian Happ and footage of David Ross jumping out of a plane — a stunt that would have doubled in entertainment value had Ross successfully convinced manager Joe Maddon to join in the fun.

Pirates 6, Cardinals 4: Neither the Pirates nor the Cardinals had relievers to spare when a one-hour, 56-minute rain delay disrupted their contest in the second inning. Chad Kuhl and Michael Wacha were forced to return to the mound after the downpour subsided, both to very different results. Wacha struggled to regain command of the strike zone, slipping on two home runs and a productive double play as the Pirates built a five-run lead in the second. Kuhl, on the other hand, limited the Cardinals to one run over five innings, setting down six strikeouts and clubbing a second-inning double en route to his sixth win of the season.

Dodgers 3, Tigers 0: Curtis Granderson made his Dodgers debut on Saturday, scoring on Adrian Gonzalez’s RBI single in the seventh inning to put the club on the board. The win, capped by a smart Yasmani Grandal home run in the ninth, marked the Dodgers’ sixth straight victory and placed them in the history books alongside the 2004 Rays and 2006 Red Sox with 13 consecutive Interleague wins in a single season.

Mariners 7, Rays 6: Mitch Haniger is back from the disabled list, a point he emphasized in the third inning of Seattle’s win with his first career grand slam:

The Rays returned with three solo shots in the last third of the game, but fell just short of the tying run after Edwin Diaz shut down the top of the order in the ninth. With the win, the Mariners positioned themselves half a game back of a wild card spot, though they’ll need to edge the Angels and Twins to avoid any potential tie-breakers.

Angels 5, Orioles 1: Albert Pujols didn’t get any closer to tying Jim Thome’s home run record on Saturday, but that didn’t stop teammate Mike Trout from entering the history books. Trout clubbed two home runs in the Angels’ first win of the weekend, becoming the third Major League player with six consecutive 25+ homer campaigns before his age-26 season. Luis Valbuena, while a good 511 home runs shy of Pujols’ career record and 94 home runs and six years too late to match Trout’s milestone, also collected two home runs to back a solid effort from JC Ramirez.

Twins 5, Diamondbacks 0: The Diamondbacks were toppled in a rare shutout on Saturday, taking their second consecutive loss after an even rarer implosion from ace right-hander Zack Greinke. Greinke expended 96 pitches and a season-high four walks in four innings, while Minnesota trounced the D-backs with a five-run spread in the fourth. The righty’s early exit will put a strain on Arizona’s bullpen during their series finale as the club tries to stop their skid and retake their one-game lead over the Rockies in the NL wild card race.

Reds 11, Braves 8: It looked like Robert Stephenson‘s luck may have finally taken a turn for the better. The rookie right-hander grabbed hold of his first win of the year on Saturday, backing the team’s 11-run outburst with five innings of two-run, three-strikeout ball. Cincinnati’s bullpen was far from flawless, especially after Blake Wood surrendered four runs in the ninth, but Scooter Gennett‘s go-ahead grand slam in the top of the inning gave the Reds enough of a cushion to pull off the series win.

Mets 8, Marlins 1: Marcell Ozuna wore several hats during Saturday’s loss to the Mets, from sole run producer to professional outfield field balloon patrol.

Despite his best efforts, the Marlins couldn’t rally against Rafael Montero, who helped snap a five-game losing streak after scattering one run and five strikeouts over six innings.

Yankees 4, Red Sox 3: Newly-returned from the disabled list, CC Sabathia stifled the rival Red Sox through six innings while Todd Frazier belted the winning run with a 363-footer in the sixth. The Sox still sit four games up in the NL East, however, and commemorated the loss with a solo shot by 20-year-old Rafael Devers, who bounced a home run off the Green Monster for the third homer he’s collected in as many games against the Yankees. For the record, no Major League player under the age of 21 has managed the feat since Babe Ruth in 1915.

Astros 3, Athletics 0: Astros’ third baseman Alex Bregman learned an invaluable lesson during the club’s 3-0 shutout on Saturday: If you’re thinking of running on Boog Powell, don’t.

Indians 5, Royals 0: Trevor Bauer may not understand why he dominated during the Indians’ shutout on Saturday, but that didn’t make him any less grateful for the win. “It’s backward,” Bauer was quoted by MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “I wasn’t sharp. I didn’t punch people out. I had a lot of balls hit hard. And no runs. So I don’t know. I’ll take it.” Bauer flummoxed the Royals through 6 1/3 innings, granting seven hits and two free passes while the Indians put up a modest five-run backing against Jason Vargas.

Rangers 17, White Sox 7: The Rangers hit season highs in almost every category on Saturday, dismantling Derek Holland and the rest of the White Sox with a whopping 17 runs, 20 hits and 36 bases. Home runs from Rougned Odor, Mike Napoli and Shin-Soo Choo crowned their efforts as the White Sox took their sixth loss in seven games and dropped to a disappointing 21.5 games back of the division lead.

Brewers 6, Rockies 3: Jesus Aguilar hasn’t been pencilled into the starting lineup since August 16, but that didn’t stop the rookie pinch-hitter from making his presence felt. He cranked a two-RBI home run off of Greg Holland in the ninth, giving the Brewers an edge as they tried to stay ahead of the Diamondbacks for the first wild card spot in the National League. Key defensive moves also played a role in the win, not the least of which was a rare 2-6-2 double play to nab Neil Walker at the plate and close out the first inning:

Padres 3, Nationals 1: Yangervis Solarte played spoiler to Stephen Strasburg on Saturday, taking the right-hander deep on a 1-2 pitch in the first inning for his 13th home run of the season. It was the fatal flaw in an otherwise pristine outing, during which Strasburg distributed four hits, two runs and eight strikeouts in six innings. That’s not too shabby for a pitcher coming off the disabled list with elbow issues, and certainly enough to put the Nats’ minds at ease as they push into the postseason. The Padres still have a 12-game gap to close if they want to contend this October, which will require them to scoot past the Pirates, Marlins, Cardinals, Brewers and Diamondbacks for a wild card spot.

Phillies 12, Giants 9: Denard Span didn’t come to mess around. The Giants’ centerfielder squared up the first pitch he saw from the Phillies’ Jared Eickhoff, postmarking it to the right field corner in the first inning. He needed just 15.79 seconds to touch home plate again, logging his first inside-the-park home run since he legged one out in Little League.

The Giants’ offense mustered up an additional eight runs behind Span’s initial effort, but had no way of preventing Ty Blach and Josh Osich from returning all nine runs and then some. The Phillies’ win, powered by a seven-run explosion in the sixth inning and Ty Kelly‘s go-ahead grand slam, was their second in 10 games and snapped a six-game skid.

Watch: Mike Trout ties MLB record with his 25th home run

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It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:

In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.

Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.

Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.