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.
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.
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.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.