Michael Morse Should Help the Giants

MLB: Spring Training-St Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals

The Giants finally ended their long quest for a left fielder when they agreed to terms with Michael Morse, A.K.A. The Beast, on a 1-year, $5 million dollar deal plus incentives.  The addition of Morse immediately upgrades the Giants left field that hit a grand total of 5 home runs in 2013 (Morse hit 4 HRs in a 3-game series vs Oakland last April!).  Morse is a big guy (6’5”, 245 pounds) with enormous power, which was best displayed in 2011 when he hit 31 home runs with the Washington Nationals.  2011 was also the only year in Morse’s 9-year career where Morse has played more than 102 games, so the Giants are banking on Morse defying odds and staying on the field.

While Michael Morse has some of the best power in baseball, hand and wrist injuries have sapped some of it in recent years.  Here are his home run totals over the past couple of years:

2011:  31 HR in 522 AB (1 HR every 16.84 AB)

2012:  18 HR in 406 AB (1; 22.56)

2013:  13 HR in 312 AB (1; 24.0)

Most wrist and hand injuries take a year or two for power to fully return, so Morse should be closer to full strength in 2014 with the Giants.  Injuries likely played a large role in Morse’s poor batting average in 2013 as well, as he hit only .215 for Seattle and Baltimore despite being a career .281 hitter.  Morse does not walk much (just 121 career walks in over 2,000 plate appearances) so he will need his batting average to significantly increase from 2013 levels to prevent him from being an “all-or-nothing” type hitter.  AT&T park should not be much of a factor for the right-handed hitting Morse, as he has played most of his career in tough hitter’s parks like Seattle and Washington and is known for hitting tape measure home runs, even to the opposite field.  Adding Morse will stretch the Giants lineup and even make it almost appear formidable on paper.  Here is what the 2014 Opening Day lineup could look like:

1) Angel Pagan CF

2) Marco Scutaro 2B

3) Brandon Belt LF

4) Buster Posey C

5) Hunter Pence RF

6) Pablo Sandoval 3B

7) Michael Morse LF

8) Brandon Crawford SS

While many people believe Morse will be a one-man circus in left field, the numbers suggest he should be ok.  In Morse’s 153 career games in left field, he has an Rtot (Total Zone Fielding Above Average) of zero, which means he is essentially  average out there.  Also, with Blanco now moving to his more natural role as the team’s 4th outfielder, he would be available as Morse’s late inning defensive replacement if needed.  Morse also gives the Giants some flexibility as he can also play 1B and could spell Belt there every once in a while against tough left handed pitchers.  Another plus is that Morse is a great clubhouse guy and is very much cut from the same cloth as his new teammate, Hunter Pence.  You can see for yourself here:

Overall I feel like this was a good signing for the Giants.  If Morse stays on the field, he could be one of the best free agent bargains of this free agent crop.  If he gets hurt like in years past, he is on a team-friendly 1-year deal and the Giants should have flexibility to make a mid-season trade for a replacement.  Morse brings much-needed power to the Giants outfield and the Giants now have a great change of pace guy with Blanco moving to the bench.  Best of all, adding Morse didn’t cost the Giants any prospects or draft picks which is HUGE considering the skyrocketing price of free agents.

The Blueprint for the 2014 San Francisco Giants

After a disappointing season filled with injuries and poor performances, the Giants face the difficult task to prove that the 2013 season was a fluke.  Here is what I would do, in a realistic world, if I were given the keys to the San Francisco Giants this off-season:

STARTING PITCHING:

KEY LOSSES:  Ryan Vogelsong (Option Declined), Barry Zito (Option Declined), Yusmeiro Petit (Trade) 

World Series Tigers Giants Baseball

Declining Ryan Vogelsong’s $6.5 million option is a tough decision due to the fact that he performed very well in both 2011 and 2012, and there is a chance that his poor 2013 season was due to a heavy workload during the prior year, paired with his participation in the 2013 WBC.  The Giants have fallen into the bad habit of over-paying older players for their past glory (see Huff, Pagan, and Scutaro, among others), and I would change that trend by declining the Vogelsong’s option.  At the age of 36, I think there is a good chance that the poor command of Vogelsong’s 87 MPH fastball is here to stay.  As the great Bill Walsh used to say, it’s better to get rid of someone a year too early than a year too late.

Zito will always be known for signing an enormous contract and coming up big in the 2012 playoffs, but parting ways with Zito is addition by subtraction.  Overall Zito has been terrible as a Giant, posting a total WAR of 3.0 in his 7 years with the club.  He also posted a poor 4.62 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in that span, which is pretty much on par with the career numbers of former Giant, William Vanlandingham (4.54 ERA, 1.44 WHIP).

KEY ADDITIONS:  Dan Haren (Free Agent – WASH), Ricky Nolasco (Free Agent – LAD)

the Washington Nationals play the Chicago White Sox

I would look to bolster the starting rotation by signing Dan Haren to a 1-year, 8 million dollar deal with a club option for 2015.  While Dan Haren has had a rough last couple of seasons, he flashed his old dominant self the second half 2013, posting a 3.52 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, while striking out 70 and walking only 14 in 76.2 IP.  Pitching at AT&T Park should also help Haren, as the sinker-baller has been uncharacteristically hurt by the long ball in recent years.  If Haren can pitch close to how he performed during the second half of 2013, he would be one of the best 5th starters in baseball, and could be a bargain much like Francisco Liriano in 2013.

My “big splash” of the off-season would be signing former Dodgers RHP, Ricky Nolasco (30), to a 4-year, $50 Million dollar deal.  While Nolasco posted a solid ERA of 3.70 in 2013, he pitched extremely well after his mid-season trade to the Dodgers (2.07 ERA).  Nolasco is also a guy who always eats up around 200 innings a year, which would work wonders for a good Giants bullpen that became vulnerable last year due to overuse.  By locking in Nolasco, the Giants would have Cain, Bumgarner and Nolasco locked up long-term, with a good crop of Minor League arms like Crick, Blackburn, Stratton and Escobar ready to fill Haren and Lincecum’s possible vacancies as early as 2015.

BULLPEN:

KEY LOSSES:  Jose Mijares (Non-tender), Guillermo Moscoso (Free Agent)

Jose Mijares

While Mijares is a decent lefty out of the bullpen, there are already enough lefties on the roster, making him the odd man out.  Guillermo Moscoso provided negative value last year for the Giants (-0.2 WAR, 5.10 ERA, 1.37 WHIP), so unless he wanted to become the team’s right handed batting practice pitcher, his time with the club is over.

KEY ADDITIONS:  Javier Lopez (Resign), Chad Gaudin (Resign)

lopez

The Giants once again had a solid bullpen in 2013 (3.30 ERA – 8th in MLB), but injuries and a heavy workload led to inconsistent results.  I feel that it is very necessary to resign Javier Lopez, as he is one of the most effective left handed specialists in the game.  Despite being 36 years old, I would be comfortable giving Lopez a 2-year deal worth $8 million, as he is the type of pitcher (deceptive lefty) that typically ages well.  I would also resign Chad Gaudin to a 1-year, $4 million dollar deal to work out of the pen in long relief.  Gaudin is very valuable due to his durability and ability to effectively spot start or fill in the rotation, as he proved in 2013.  I would fill out the bullpen with cheap in-house arms, Heath Hembre (0.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP in 7.2 IP) and Jean Machi (2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 53 IP), who performed very well in 2013.

POSITION PLAYERS:

KEY LOSSES:  Andres Torres (Free Agent), Gregor Blanco (Non-Tender), Tony Abreu (Free Agent)

blanco

The Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres platoon in left field was a disaster for the 2013 Giants to say the least.  The duo hit a combined 5 home runs in 811 plate appearances while playing mostly at a power position for an already power starved team.  While Blanco could still be a valuable 4th/5th outfielder, I’d rather just let him go and use the cost savings to boost the team’s overall depth.  I would also let Tony Abreu go, as he is pretty much a waste of a roster spot as a utility guy who can’t play a decent SS.

KEY ADDITIONS:  Alex Gordon (Trade- KC), Corey Hart (Free Agent – MIL), Kelly Johnson (Free Agent – TB), Gary Brown (Call-up)

gordon

To fill the Giants’ MASSIVE left field void, I would deal RP Derek Law (A+), 2B/SS Joe Panik (AA) and SP Yusmeiro Petit (ML) to the Kansas City Royals for Alex Gordon.  Gordon, while not a massive power hitter, has good power (Hit 57 HRs over the last 3 year, including 20 in 2013), a good batter’s eye, and is a well above average defensive left fielder (16 runs saved above average in 2013).  He has 2-years, $22 million left on his contract, so he would be a major bargain over the upper-tier free agents on the market.  By trading for a left fielder instead of signing one of the big ones on the market, the Giants would also hang onto their unprotected first round draft pick (#14 overall).

One of the biggest weaknesses the Giants  had in 2013 was their bench.  I would sign OF/1B Corey Hart and 2B/LF Kelly Johnson to 1-year, $3 million deals.  Hart, who missed all of 2013 with injuries, would add big power off the bench and could start for the left-handed Belt or Gordon against tough left-handed pitchers.  Kelly Johnson would provide solid insurance should the 37-year old Marco Scutaro get hurt or need increased rest.  Johnson would also be a valuable left handed power bat off the bench, as he hit 16 home runs last year for the Rays.  I would fill the final bench spot by calling up center fielder, Gary Brown, to provide the team with much needed speed as well as a great OF glove.  While Brown has struggled offensively the past couple years in the minors, his defense and speed make him valuable and anything he provides with the bat is a bonus.

2014 OPENING DAY ROSTER:

STARTING PITCHERS:

1) Matt Cain

2) Madison Bumgarner

3) Ricky Nolasco

4) Tim Lincecum

5) Dan Haren

BULLPEN:

Chad Gaudin

Jean Machi

Jeremy Affeldt

Heath Hembre

Javier Lopez

Santiago Casilla

Sergio Romo

STARTING LINEUP:

1) Angel Pagan CF

2) Marco Scutaro 2B

3) Brandon Belt 1B

4) Buster Posey C

5) Hunter Pence RF

6) Alex Gordon LF

7) Pablo Sandoval 3B

8) Brandon Crawford SS

BENCH:

Hector Sanchez C

Kelly Johnson 2B/3B/LF

Corey Hart 1B/OF

Gary Brown OF

Joaquin Arias SS/3B/2B

Please feel free to include your thoughts in the comment section

A Giant Off-Season Looms

After a second lackluster attempt to try to repeat as World Champions in the last three seasons, the San Francisco Giants face a number of tough decisions as they try to prove to the world that the 2013 season was a fluke.  The two decisions that will be most under the microscope as this season comes to an end will be what should the Giants do with a couple of fan favorites; SP Tim Lincecum and RF Hunter Pence.

Hunter+Pence+World+Series+Detroit+Tigers+v+zJltYxGMVZPl

When the Giants obtained Hunter Pence at the 2012 trade deadline, he struggled mightily, posting a .219/.287/.384 (in 248 AB) slash line as the Giants battled down the stretch, eventually making the playoffs.  He didn’t provide much offensively in the playoffs either, but became a major spark for the Giants with his pre-game pep talks  and stellar defense in RF.  Pence flipped the script in 2013, posting an impressive stat line of .289/.340/.474 (through 9/11/13) while again providing great defense in a tough RF at AT&T Park.  Pence possesses a rare combination of power and speed that the Giants have been searching for, as he posted their first 20/20 season since Barry Bonds in 1998.  At 30 years old, Pence should still have some prime years remaining, and has the skill set that typically ages well.  Pence has made it known that he wants to stay in San Francisco, but at the same time he would be stupid not to at least test the market in what could be his final multi-year payday.  The Giants should definitely offer him the MLB qualifying offer of 1-year, $14.1 million dollars to ensure they receive draft pick compensation should he decide to go elsewhere.  I believe the Giants should sign him to a contract in the area of 4-years, $60 Million dollars, which will take him through his age-34 season when power-hitting, corner players usually begin to fade.  Remember, Pence is a guy who literally plays everyday, and that is extremely valuable when constructing a roster.  I could see him getting offers on the open market as high as 5-years, $90 million, so he will have a tough choice to make.

4bb963a7e0ncecum

Tim Lincecum, 29, is a totally different animal in the fact that it appears that his best baseball is behind him.  Here is how his ERA and WHIP have fared over the past 3-seasons:

2011:  2.74 ERA  1.20 WHIP

2012:  5.18 ERA  1.46 WHIP

2013:  4.40 ERA  1.32 WHIP

In recent years, Tim has seen his 95-MPH fastball turn into a 90-MPH fastball with below average command.  The drop in velocity suggests that either Timmy is wearing down after logging over 1,400 MLB innings on his 5’10”, 165 pound frame, or he could possibly be pitching around an arm injury which would explain the recent spotty command.  While his off-speed pitches have remained above average, his hits per 9 innings has jumped from 7.3 in 2011, to 8.4 in 2013.  Hitters are simply sitting on his fastball and waiting for a mistake.  According to Fangraphs, hitters are hitting an astounding .303 off Lincecum’s fastballs in 2013, compared to just .226 in 2011.  Since Timmy still misses enough bats (8.8 K/9), I would offer him the $14.1 million qualifying offer.  At this point I would only feel comfortable with a 1-year deal.  If he walks at least the Giants will obtain a draft pick and free up $20+ million dollars of cap room.  I could see Lincecum getting an offer in the area of 3-years, $36 million to be a starting pitcher in his hometown of Seattle.  I also imagine teams will pursue him to be a 100+ inning super-reliever after seeing the success he had in that role during the 2012 playoffs.

USATSI_7270471_114803983_lowres

Should the Giants obtain both Lincecum and Pence, their job is still far from complete.  They have a crater-sized hole in LF (formerly known as the Blanco-Torres platoon) where Nelson Cruz (.269/.330/.511 in 2013), or even better, Shin-Soo Choo (.291/.425/.471) would be awesome fits.  The Giants could also choose to move Belt to LF and pursue a power-hitting 1B.  Hector Sanchez looks like he will be a solid back-up catcher next year, and will be a major upgrade over the automatic out that was Guillermo Quiroz.  Despite pitching poorly for most of the season, I expect Sabean to pick up the 2014 team option on SP Ryan Vogelsong, hoping that a full off-season of rest will lead to a return in his velocity.  I believe there is a good chance Petit becomes the 5th starter next year, so resigning Gaudin becomes a priority as a long-man in the pen and safety net for the rotation should Petit fail.  The Giants could also sign a veteran SP to a short-term deal to add much needed depth to the rotation and serve as a place holder until prospect starters Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar, Clayton Blackburn, and Chris Stratton are ready.  Getting a healthy Affeldt back, along with the emergence of flame-thrower, Heath Hembre, should be enough to get the pen back to where it needs to be.