Running down the rosters: San Francisco Giants

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Coming off a disappointing 86-76 finish in 2011, the Giants’ big moves this winter were a pair of underwhelming trades: Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera and Andres Torres plus Ramon Ramirez for Angel Pagan. To say the least, they didn’t make the kind of splash their fans were hoping for (but have come not to expect).

Rotation
Tim Lincecum – R
Matt Cain – R
Madison Bumgarner – L
Ryan Vogelsong – R
Barry Zito – L

Bullpen
Brian Wilson – R
Sergio Romo – R
Santiago Casilla – R
Jeremy Affeldt – L
Javier Lopez – L
Guillermo Mota – R
Clay Hensley – R

SP next in line:  Eric Surkamp (L), Dan Runzler (L), Brian Burres (L), Ramon Ortiz (R)
RP next in line: Runzler, Danny Otero (R), Steve Edlefsen (R), Jean Machi (R)

The staff remains one of the game’s very best, with three of the NL’s top 10 starting pitchers leading the way. I doubt Vogelsong will come close to matching his All-Star 2011 season, but as a fourth starter, he shouldn’t be a liability.

The bullpen is also exceptional, though Wilson is a bit of a question mark after last year’s elbow problems. Fortunately, the Giants can cover any absence from Wilson. Romo, Casilla, Affeldt and Lopez are probably the game’s best setup crew, and Hensley should do well in replacing Ramirez’s innings.

Rotation depth is a big issue here. Surkamp didn’t appear ready in his six starts last season, and while I like Runzler as a reliever, I’m not sure he has any future in the rotation. Any injury to one of the big three starters — or even to one of the lesser lights — is going to take a heavy toll.

Lineup
CF Angel Pagan – S
2B Freddy Sanchez – R
3B Pablo Sandoval – R
C Buster Posey – R
LF Melky Cabrera – S
1B Aubrey Huff – L
RF Nate Schierholtz – L
SS Brandon Crawford – L

Bench
C Eli Whiteside – R
1B-OF Brandon Belt – L
INF Mike Fontenot – L
INF Ryan Theriot – R
OF Justin Christian – R

Next in line: C Hector Sanchez (S), C Chris Stewart (R), 1B Brett Pill (R), INF Emmanuel Burriss (S), 3B Conor Gillaspie (L), INF Joaquin Arias (R), OF Gregor Blanco (L), OF Gary Brown (R), OF Roger Kieschnick (L), OF Tyler Graham (R)

The Giants needed a star — Jose Reyes, in particular, would have been an outstanding fit — but they settled for a pair of switch-hitting outfielders. For what it’s worth, Cabrera did play like a minor star last year, and he’s just 27 years old. If he can do it again, then the middle of the order has the potential to be very good.

I don’t see either Cabrera or Pagan lighting it up, though, and the Giants might be better off sacrificing some outfield defense in order to get Belt in the lineup regularly. That could mean playing the hot hand between Pagan and Schierholtz.

The bench appears set except for the last spot, which could go to Christian, Pill, Burriss or Blanco. I’m going with Christian, even though he was bumped from the 40-man roster last week. Pill would only make sense if the Giants decided to commit to Huff in the outfield and turn first base over to Belt.

As for the lineup itself, the Giants will likely experiment this spring so that they don’t end up with the three lefties in a row at the bottom of the order (making it a bigger problem is that their two best pinch-hitting options are also left-handers). I think they’d prefer having Melky bat fifth, but using him at the top of the order and sticking either Pagan or Sanchez in the seventh spot would solve the issue.

The Giants finished second in the NL in ERA last year, but dead last in runs scored. A healthy Posey can help there, but there is just so much ground to make up. The Phillies had the worst offense among last year’s NL playoff teams, scoring 713 runs. The Giants were all of the way down at 570. They’ll probably have to up that total to at least 630-640 to have a shot.

Pete Mackanin doesn’t know if he’ll be back as Phillies manager next year

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Back in May the Phillies gave Pete Mackanin a contract extension covering the remainder of 2017, all of 2018 and created a team option for 2019. Yesterday, however, Mackanin said he had no idea if the Phillies were going to bring him back as manager next season:

“I assume I’ll be here, but you never know. You never know what they’re going to do. So you just keep moving on. I just take it a day at a time and manage the way I think I should manage and handle players the way I think I should handle them. That’s all I can do. If it’s not good enough then … fine. I hope it’s good enough. I hope he thinks it’s good enough.”

Maybe that’s just cautious talk, though, as there doesn’t seem to be any signals coming from the Phillies front office that Mackanin is in trouble. If anything things have looked up in the second half of the season with the callups of Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams each of whom have shown that they belong in the bigs. The team is 33-37 since the All-Star break and is certainly a better team now than the one Mackanin started with in April. And it’s not his fault that they don’t have any pitching.

I suspect Mackanin will be back next year, but Mackanin has been around the block enough times to know that nothing is guaranteed for a big league manager. Even one under contract.

How not to enjoy what Aaron Judge is doing

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the biggest and best stories in all of baseball this year. While he held promise entering his rookie season, most experts figured he’d provide some low-average, low-OBP power. That he’d be a guy who, based on his size, could send a pitcher’s mistake 500 feet in the wrong direction, but who would probably be shown to have big holes in his swing once he’d been around the league a little bit.

Judge defied expectations, however, and has put together an amazing rookie season. He broke the rookie home run record yesterday with his 50th blast. He still strikes out a lot but so does everyone. He nonetheless has hit for a great average and has gotten on base at a fantastic clip. He has also showed some uncommon resilience, overcoming a lengthy slump in July and August and returning to the dominant form he showed in the first half while helping a Yankees team not many figured to be a strong contender into the playoffs. Such a great story!

Sadly, however, this sentiment, which appeared from a commenter on my Facebook page yesterday, has become increasingly common:

I’ve seen it in a lot of comments sections and message boards around the Internet too, including our own comment section. From yesterday:

This is not exactly the same thing we’ve seen in the past with other breakout home run hitters such as Jose Bautista a few years back. This is not an accusation that Judge is taking drugs or anything. It’s more of a preemptive and defensive diminishment of excitement. And I find it rather sad.

Yes, I understand that past PED users have made fans wonder whether the players they watch are using something to get an extra edge, but it really does not need to be this way. We’ve had drug testing in baseball for over a decade and, while no drug testing regime is perfect, it just seems bizarre, several years after Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did their thing — and a few years after Alex Rodriguez and others were caught and disciplined for trying to do more — to assume, out of hand, that great baseball performances are the product of undetected cheating. Yes, it’s possible, but such assumptions should not be the default stance, only to be disproved (somehow) at a later date.

The same goes for the juiced baseball, right? Yes, there is strong evidence that the baseball was changed a couple of years back leading to a home run spike, but aren’t all players using the same baseball? It’s also worth remembering that the season Mark McGwire hit 49 homers — 1987 — is strongly suspected of being a juiced ball year as well. It’s a concern that may be based in fact, but it’s a large concern over a fact thrown out with little regard for context to sketch out a threat that is either remote or without consequence.

The point here is not to argue that Aaron Judge is undeniably clean or that the baseball isn’t different. The former is unknown and the latter is likely false. The point is that it’s super sad and self-defeating to qualify every amazing feat you see with preemptive concern about such things. Years and years of sports writers writing McCarthy-esque “Yes, but is he clean?” articles does not require you, as a fan, to do the same. You can enjoy a cool thing in the moment. If it’s found out later to have been tainted, fine, we have a lot of practice in contextualizing such things and we’ll do so pretty quickly, but what’s the harm in going with it in real time?

I suspect the answer to that is rooted in some desire not to look like a sucker or something. Not to find oneself like many did, in the mid-2000s, being told by sportswriters and politicians that they were dupes for enjoying Sosa and McGwire in 1998. But that’s idiotic, in my view. I enjoyed 1998 and all of the baseball I saw on either side of it, as did most baseball fans. When the PEDs stuff exploded in the 2000s I reassessed it somewhat as far as the magnitude of the accomplishments compared to other eras in history, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed what I had seen any less.

Likewise, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of watching Aaron Judge this year. Why can’t everyone? Why is it so hard? Why have we been conditioned to be skeptical of something that is supposed to be entertaining? When your personal stakes are low like they are with respect to any sporting event or form of entertainment, it’s OK to enjoy things while they’re enjoyable and worry about them being problematic if and when they ever become so. And hey, they may not!

I promise you: if Aaron Judge walks into the postseason awards banquet this winter carrying a briefcase that unexpectedly opens and 200 syringes full of nandrolone fall out, no one is going to say you were dumb for cheering for him yesterday. It will really be OK.