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.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”