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March 14, 2013

On the Beat

One Giant Leap for the Roster

by John Perrotto

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If one thing can be said about the Giants—other than they have won two of the last three World Series, which is saying a lot—it is they are big believers in stability. General manager Brian Sabean is in his 17th season, giving him the longest tenure of any current GM. Bruce Bochy is in his ninth season as manager. Even the clubhouse manager, Mike Murphy, has been with the team since the Giants moved west to San Francisco from New York prior to the 1958 season.

Thus, it is not a surprise that of the 25 players projected to be on the Opening Day roster by Jason Martinez at MLBDepthCharts.com, 22 were in the organization last season when the Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series. The three “outsiders” are utility infielder Tony Abreu, reserve outfielder Andres Torres, and right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez. However, Torres was the center fielder and leadoff hitter and Ramirez was part of the bullpen on the Giants’ 2010 World Series champion squad before they were traded to the Mets for center fielder Angel Pagan during the 2011-12 offseason.

Sabean made sure he retained the Giants’ top two free agents during the offseason, signing Pagan to a four-year, $40-million contract and giving second baseman Marco Scutaro a three-year, $20-million deal. Pagan and Scutaro sparked the Giants’ offense from the top two spots of the batting order after Scutaro was acquired from the Rockies in a late-July trade.

However, many analysts believe Sabean overpaid both players. The 31-year-old Pagan has a .275 career True Average, while Scutaro is 37 and has a .263 lifetime TAv.

“Brian’s greatest strength is his loyalty to the people who work for him and his players,” one National League front-office type said. “Everyone loves working for him, and the players love playing for the Giants. However, his loyalty can also be a weakness. He tends to overpay, and I think just about everyone would agree that Pagan and Scutaro were both overpays, like Aubrey Huff.”

Sabean re-signed Huff for two years and $22 million after the first baseman/outfielder posted career highs with 5.8 WARP and a .312 TAv in 2010. However, Huff was below replacement level, at -0.2 WARP, in 579 plate appearances in 2011, then was limited to 95 PA last season.

It might hard to argue for the Pagan and Scutaro contracts, but Giants catcher and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey will gladly debate it.

“The way our offense is set up, we’re so dependent on everyone in our lineup to do their job,” Posey said. “AT&T is a pitcher’s park, and we’re not going to outslug teams. We don’t hit a lot of home runs. What we do well is hit the ball in the gaps, get guys on base, move them over, and drive them in. Angel and Marco made our offense go last season. I don’t think our offense would have been the same without them.”

Indeed, the Giants needed to manufacture runs last season as they hit 103 home runs, the fewest of any major-league club. Yet they won 94 games in the regular season despite being sixth in the NL and 12th in the major leagues in runs scored, with an average of 4.43. Though not as dominant as in recent seasons, the pitching was still good, as the Giants allowed 4.01 runs a game, which ranked sixth in the league and eighth in the majors.

Just as Posey realizes there is a delicate balance to the Giants’ batting order, two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Linceucm understands the pitching staff has been a major reason for his team’s success. That is why he is happy that Sabean opted to pay premium dollars to Pagan and Scutaro rather than possibly trading a member of San Francisco’s outstanding rotation for a top-of-the-order hitter.

“You look at our club, and we may not be as talented man-for-man as some other teams, but all the pieces fit together in just the right way,” Lincecum said. “All 25 guys on our team know their roles and what it takes to win. That’s why we’ve won two of the last three World Series. We’ve been the best team. We’ve got a group of guys who have bought into what we’re trying to do here, and we’ve developed a great chemistry and a great sense of trust among our guys because of that. It doesn’t happen everywhere, and that’s why I’m glad they’ve kept the team together. I think we’re capable of winning some more World Series with the team we have.”

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When Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay was having a problem getting his fastball to crack 90 mph last year in spring training, the two-time Cy Young Award winner insisted there was no reason to worry. He then went on to post a 4.49 ERA – the second-highest mark of his career—while being limited to 155 innings because of injuries. He also had a 3.73 FIP and a 4.33 Fair Run Average.

This spring, Halladay is again struggling with his velocity, and again, he claims there is nothing wrong. However, scouts who have watched Halladay believe that last year not only signaled the beginning of the decline phase of his career, but that he will have an even tougher time in 2013.

“He’s been a great pitcher, but age and wear and tear eventually catches up to everyone,” said one scout. “He’s pitched for a long time. He’s been a true horse. But as hard as he works to stay in great shape, the fact of the matter is that he’s 35 years old. He might have to make the transition from power pitcher to more of a finesse guy.”

One front-office type who knows Halladay believes he can make that transition if necessary.

“Roy is a really smart guy,” the FOT said. “He knows how to pitch. He just doesn’t step up on the mound and fling the ball. If he loses velocity, he’ll still find a way to get people out, and I don’t think there will be a huge learning curve.”

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You had the feeling Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was only scratching the surface last season when he won the National League Rookie of the Year award and hit .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 597 plate appearances while contributing 4.5 WARP. He did all that as a 19-year-old.

This spring, scouts are raving about how much he has improved. Harper is hitting .444/.459/.806 with three home runs in 37 plate appearances this spring.

“He’s looked great all spring,” said a scout who regularly covers the Nationals. “He’ll definitely be a 30-30 guy this year, and he might even push 40-40. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is the best player in the National League by the end of the season. He’s going to take off this season the way Mike Trout did with the Angels last year.”

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It seemed like the Indians were really reaching when they signed lefthander Scott Kazmir as a minor-league free agent over the winter. Kazmir has not pitched in the major leagues since the first week of the 2011 season, and he posted a 5.34 ERA in 64 innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters in the independent Atlantic League last season. To put that into perspective, the Skeeters are the franchise that brought back the bullpen cart and Roger Clemens to pitch at age 50.

However, Kazmir has yet to allow a run in eight Cactus League innings this spring and also pitched three scoreless innings in a B game. In his eight official innings, he has given up just five hits and one walk while striking out eight. Kazmir has pulled ahead of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Carlos Carrasco in the competition for the Indians’ fifth starter’s job.

“He’s not as good as he was when was making All-Star teams with Tampa Bay, but he’s pitching pretty darn well,” said a scout who has watched Kazmir this spring. “He’s got most of his velocity back, and his changeup has been outstanding. I think he’s ready to get big-league hitters out again. I’d take him as a No. 5 starter.”

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Outfielder Carlos Gomez’s name came up in conversation last season with Ron Gardenhire, and the Twins manager smiled and said “we don’t mention Carlos’ name around here anymore.” It is no secret that the multi-talented Gomez drove Gardenhire crazy with his mental lapses and inability to master some of the game’s basic fundamentals.

However, Gomez finally found success with the Brewers last season in his third year since being acquired in a trade from the Twins, hitting .260/.305/.463 with 19 home runs and 37 bases in 452 plate appearances. One scout who watches Gomez regularly believes the Brewers were smart to sign the 27-year-old to a three-year, $24-million contract extension Wednesday before he could reach free agency at the end of the season.

“He’s always going to have those moments where he drives you crazy, where he swings at two-strike pitch a foot outside the strike zone and tries to steal a base when there’s no reason,” the scout said. “But that doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to. He’s toned down his game now to the point where the good things he does outweigh the bad. It took a long time for him to start figuring things out. but he has, and I think he’s going to keep putting up some numbers like last year.”

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Marlins outfield prospect Christian Yelich is making a huge impact in the Grapefruit League this spring, hitting .361/.465/.750 with three home runs in 43 plate appearances. The 21-year-old has yet to play above High-A, but one scout who has watched him this spring believes Yelich should be the Marlins’ Opening Day center fielder instead of Justin Ruggiano.

“This kid is ready,” the scout said. “I don’t say that very often about a kid out of Class A, but he’s ready to play in the big leagues right now. Of course, there’s no way the Marlins letting the kid open the season in the majors because they won’t start his service time clock. If they truly wanted to put their best team on the field, though, they’d play Yelich in center.”

Yelich hit .330/.404/.519 with 12 home runs and 20 RBI in 447 plate appearances last season for Jupiter in the Florida State League. He is ranked as the No. 23 prospect in baseball by BP’s Jason Parks.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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