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.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.