The NLDS Roster

The Giants’ NLDS roster has been announced, and it’s devoid of any surprises. In fact, it’s identical to the playoff roster predictions I posted a week and a half ago. The Giants will go with 12 pitchers, which is a good thing: two of Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, and Barry Zito — presumably the former two, but we still don’t know for sure — will be starting games in this series. Given the uncertainty in the back of the Giants’ rotation right now, and Bruce Bochy’s tendency to deploy relievers for short appearances, the Giants are wise to go with some extra bullpen depth. The downside is that they are now without a good designated pinch-running option for Aubrey Huff, but that shouldn’t be a big deal. As Alex Pavlovic notes, Ryan Theriot could assume that role.

Anyway, here’s the list:

Pitchers (12)
41 Jeremy Affeldt LHP
40 Madison Bumgarner LHP
18 Matt Cain RHP
46 Santiago Casilla RHP
70 George Kontos RHP
55 Tim Lincecum RHP
49 Javier Lopez LHP
50 Jose Mijares LHP
59 Guillermo Mota RHP
54 Sergio Romo RHP
32 Ryan Vogelsong RHP
75 Barry Zito LHP

Catchers (2)
28 Buster Posey C
29 Hector Sanchez C

Infielders (7)
13 Joaquin Arias IF
9 Brandon Belt IF
35 Brandon Crawford IF
17 Aubrey Huff IF
48 Pablo Sandoval IF
19 Marco Scutaro IF
5 Ryan Theriot IF

Outfielders (4)
7 Gregor Blanco OF
12 Xavier Nady OF
16 Angel Pagan OF
8 Hunter Pence OF

Melky Cabrera Receives 50-Game Suspension for PEDs

Melky Cabrera has been suspended for 50 games without pay, effective immediately, for testing positive for Testosterone. Here’s the Giants’ statement on the suspension.

I’m shocked. I’ve just been sitting here, staring at a blank computer screen for the last five minutes. Just as the Giants’ offense was starting to look really good, there’s no more Melky for the rest of the regular season. Wow.

Not even a week ago, I wrote about Melky Cabrera’s historic hit pace. Not only did he look like a lock for 200 hits, but he also appeared to have a solid shot at breaking the San Francisco Giants’ single-season hit record.

All of that is gone. Melky is gone, at least for the remainder of the regular season. Instead, we’re talking about PEDs. I hate talking about PEDs. Instead of appreciating Melky’s contributions, we’re now speculating on how much they were impacted by his use of testosterone. I don’t want to speculate on that.

The Giants are tied for first place in the NL West. With fewer than 50 games remaining, they have just lost a major piece of the puzzle, and will now have even less room for error in what will likely prove to be a tight race.

It’s all too easy to react as though the Giants are doomed; that’s not the case. For one, the Giants likely lost 2011 Melky, not 2012 Melky — which is to say, he probably wouldn’t have kept playing at this level down the stretch. Secondly, the Giants aren’t exactly replacing him with garbage. I guess the assumption is that Gregor Blanco will take over most of Melky’s playing time; that’s certainly discouraging — it’s hard to feel confident in any corner outfielder that can’t muster a .350 slugging percentage, but realistically, the difference between Blanco and Melky over what amounts to roughly 40 games is, what, half a win?

The Giants took a major hit, no doubt. But they’re still in this.

On another note, I can’t help but wonder what the future now holds for Melky. I’d have to imagine he just saw tens of millions of dollars flushed down the drain. What a mess all of this is.

Giants Claim Jose Mijares Off Waivers

Earlier today, the Giants acquired left-handed reliever Jose Mijares from the Kansas City Royals via waivers. The Giants simply claimed him off waivers and didn’t have to give up anything in return, so they basically got him for free. Mijares, 27, doesn’t hit free agency until 2015, and he’s actually having a very good season: he’s tossed 38.2 innings across 51 appearances, posting a 163 ERA+ with fairly strong peripherals (8.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9). His FIP currently sits at a solid 3.50. And he is, of course, especially tough on left-handed hitters. For his career, he’s held lefties to a .606 OPS, which is right in line with what he’s done this season (.601 OPS).

He’s a flyball-heavy pitcher, having induced one groundball for every two flyballs over his career. But he’s consistently managed to keep his home run rate in check, which — at least in part — appears to be a sustainable skill. It’s worth noting that 20% of his career flyballs have been infield flies, which is very good relative to the league average rate over that span (13%).

For reasons beyond my knowledge, more than 20 teams passed on the opportunity to grab Mijares. It’s peculiar, and I’m not the only one that thinks so. In any event, it worked out perfectly for the Giants, and you have to hand it to them for this acquisition. They just bolstered their bullpen at zero cost, and they’ll now have a cheap lefty specialist for the foreseeable future. Mijares is essentially insurance against future overspending on LOOGYs.

Now comes a pretty important question: who goes? The Giants will have to make room for Mijares in the bullpen, and there’s some sentiment that George Kontos (given his minor-league options) could be sent back down to Fresno. Kontos (2.42 ERA/2.99 FIP/3.28 xFIP) has been outstanding thus far, so needless to say, that would be foolish. Alex Pavlovic writes that Brad Penny and Shane Loux, not Kontos, are the most likely candidates to go — and hopefully that’s the case.

Giants Acquire Hunter Pence

After days of rumors and speculation, the Giants have finally acquired outfielder Hunter Pence. Heading to Philadelphia are Nate Schierholtz and a pair of prospects — Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin. Hunter Pence, 29, is under team control through the end of 2013, but is set to make nearly $15M next season.

The Giants certainly improved today, but Pence isn’t some kind of big upgrade. He’s having somewhat of a down season, hitting .271/.336/.447 (111 wRC+), and yet that’s not much worse than what he’s done over his career: .290/.342/.481, 118 wRC+. The safe bet is that he’ll continue to perform as he has so far this season, providing good — not great — production at the plate. And that’s ignoring his defensive skills, which have rapidly faded. All of the defensive metrics (UZR, DRS, FRAA) seem to agree that he’s a mediocre fielder at this point (and with Angel Pagan patrolling center field, that’s cause for concern).

Even in spite of his recent struggles, Gregor Blanco has been average with the bat (101 wRC+) and spectacular with the glove this season. So it’s not as though Pence is filling a major void here. He’s an upgrade — make no mistake — but not a significant one.

Yesterday, I tweeted the following:

And that’s where the impact of this sort of deal can be felt. The one thing I was hoping the Giants would accomplish in trading for an outfielder: push Justin Christian off the roster. Even if Pence wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over Blanco, the Giants would have a markedly better bench with Blanco taking over Justin Christian’s spot. With Nate Schierholtz gone though, that unfortunately won’t be the case. Nate probably isn’t an everyday caliber player, but he’s a very good fourth outfielder: he’s held his own against righties and lefties throughout his career (94 wRC+ and 95 wRC+, respectively), he can handle right field at AT&T Park like so few others, and he’s a good late-inning pinch running option. So it’s easy to downplay what the Giants gave up in Schierholtz, especially considering that he’s still under team control for another couple years after this.

As for Tommy Joseph, the centerpiece of this trade, I’ve always been relatively low on him as a prospect; one of the main reasons I wasn’t too optimistic about Joseph was his defense, something that is of paramount importance when it comes to catchers. But he’s reportedly shown dramatic improvement in that regard. And, of course, that power-heavy bat is what makes him special: he’s put up league-average numbers in Double-A Richmond as a 21-year-old catcher — quite the promising sign. From the Giants’ standpoint, they can afford to give up catching depth with Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, and Andrew Susac already in the organization, but as an advanced hitter at the most demanding position in baseball, Joseph is a pretty valuable piece. As John Sickels put it: “Joseph isn’t a sure thing by any means and catchers often have unusual development curves, but there aren’t that many potential regular catchers in the minors.”

The final piece headed to Philadelphia, Seth Rosin, could pan out as a solid middle reliever. The 23-year-old pitcher has put up strong peripherals in High-A this season, although he’s a little old for his level.

Ultimately, at the risk of this seeming like a cop-out, I’m neutral on the deal. The Giants acquired an above-average outfielder, and he’s not just a rental. But their starting lineup only got slightly better, and the deal comes at a considerable expense: the three players headed east, as well as the money owed to Pence throughout the next season and a half.

Giants Acquire Marco Scutaro

Tonight the Giants finalized a deal to bolster their middle infield, acquiring veteran infielder Marco Scutaro in exchange for Charlie Culberson, first reported by Troy Renck of the Denver Post. Both teams announced the deal on their twitter account.

Scutaro is in the final year of his contract, and has hit .271/.324/.359 with a 27:35 BB:K. For his career he has hit .270/.337/.386 while spending time at 2B, SS, and 3B.

Culberson came into the year ranked as the Giants #11 prospect by Baseball America. He got his first cup of coffee in the majors this year, and went for 3/22. He was initially drafted in 2007, the final year before John Barr took over. He is the third member of that draft class to be traded, as Tim Alderson and Daniel Turpen were traded in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Like Culberson, Alderson was traded for a middle infielder in the final year of his contract (though Freddy Sanchez had a clup option), while Turpen was traded for Ramon Ramirez.

After being drafted, Culberson hit .286/.374/.416 in the AZL. He then spent the next two years in the SAL struggling both offensively and defensively. Then in 2010 as a 21 year old, he broke out in the California League, hitting .290/.340/.457 while settling in at 2B. Last year he moved up to the more difficult offensive environment in Richmond and hit .259/.293/.382. After being added to the 40 man roster this offseason, he has hit .236/.281/.396 this year in Fresno.

All in all this deal helps the Giants who needed help on the infield, while giving up an interesting, but not elite prospect.

Hector Sanchez to the DL, Eli Whiteside Called Up

Earlier today, the San Francisco Giants placed Hector Sanchez on the 15-day DL with a left knee strain, with Eli Whiteside coming up from Triple-A Fresno to replace him. Sanchez’s injury isn’t supposed to be all that serious — it won’t require surgery, and he should be fine within a week, but according to Baggs, with Sanchez likely out for a week, the Giants felt it made more sense to just DL him and go with Whiteside as the backup for the time being.

Most are likely bemoaning the return of Whiteside, and understandably so. He’s spent the entirety of 2012 in the minors, in a hitter-friendly environment, and all he has is a .292 wOBA to show for it. That said, the dropoff in backup catcher production from Whiteside to Sanchez won’t be all that significant over the course of a couple weeks. And for what it’s worth, Whiteside is easily the more advanced defender — and that difference is perhaps understated. Earlier this year, Max Marchi published an article at Baseball Prospectus quantifying the cumulative effect of catchers’ defensive skills, and he found that Eli Whiteside had saved +35 runs from 2008 to 2011 (5146 PAs) — largely because of his game-calling. By this measure, he’s one of the better defensive catchers in baseball.

Not that any of this really matters — again, the difference between Whiteside and Sanchez over a few games is minimal at best. The bigger implication of this injury is how it affects Brandon Belt. Just yesterday, Bruce Bochy was asked if he believed Sanchez’s bat is preferable to Belt’s. His answer?

“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. Wouldn’t you?”

It’s difficult to infer exactly what Bochy means by that statement, but it is quite telling. Hector has been receiving steady playing time at the expense of Belt, and frankly, at the expense of the team. When Hector catches and Posey plays first, the Giants are worse off both defensively and offensively. Belt (110 wRC+), by all accounts, is a better hitter than Sanchez (78 wRC+). Posey needs his rest obviously, but it’s gotten to the point where Hector is starting nearly as many games as Belt. In July, Hector has started five games; Belt has started six. If it’s merely for the sake of giving Posey rest, why not give him actual rest by letting him sit on the bench? And if it’s not merely that — if it’s to get Sanchez’s bat in the lineup more often — then why?

So the silver lining here is that Hector’s injury opens the door for Belt to get consistent playing time at first base the next couple weeks. He’s been scuffling lately, but this might give him ample opportunity to seize back an everyday role — a role which he really shouldn’t have to fight for. The good news is that there’s just no way Whiteside will get the kind of playing time Hector has been getting. These next couple weeks could prove to be very important, though. There’s already talk of the Giants trading for a first baseman, or Belt himself being traded with the deadline approaching.

Giants’ 1st Round Selection in the 2012 MLB Draft: Chris Stratton

Today was one of my favorite days of the year — the first day of the MLB Draft. In my Draft Preview, I suggested that the Giants were likely to select either a high school pitcher or a college hitter. They did not, despite the 2nd and 3rd best college hitters (in my view) being available. There were also a lot of high school arms available. Yet for the first time under John Barr, and the first time since 2006, the Giants selected Chris Stratton from Mississippi State University. While I favored Duke RHP Marcus Stroman, I certainly have no qualms with the selection.

Stratton is a 21 year old RHP (he’ll be 22 in August) who should remain as a starter. This year, Stratton made 17 appearances and 12 starts, posting a 2.38 ERA, 127 strikeouts and 25 walks in 109 and 2/3 innings. Stratton has a good fastball, a slider, a change-up, and a curveball. While he doesn’t have top-of-the-rotation upside, he looks like he should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

The biggest knock on Stratton is his age, as he is already 22. Still, he has solid polish and should move quickly. And with the signing deadline being moved up a month, Stratton could start his career earlier.

All in all, while this wasn’t the sexiest of picks, Stratton was good value and he provides starting pitching depth that could help the Giants fairly quickly. And given that his age likely takes away some of his leverage, the Giants could target a high-upside player like a Duane Underwood or Tanner Rahier tomorrow.

Lastly, if I were to re-do a Giants top 10 prospects list now, I’d probably slot Stratton in at #3 behind Gary Brown and Tommy Joseph.

Guillermo Mota Suspended 100 Games for PED Use

Guillermo Mota will face a 100-game suspension after testing positive for Clenbuterol, a drug that apparently has aerobic benefitsreports Jon Morosi. This is the second time Mota has been suspended for PEDs, as he served 50 games back in 2006 when he was with the New York Mets. Mota is appealing his suspension, according to Andrew Baggarly, but because he’s a second-time offender, he must start serving it immediately. This means the Giants will go through the next three to four months without Mota.

In the past couple seasons, Mota has emerged as a useful innings-eater in the Giants’ bullpen. In fact, last season he had a couple outings of 4+ innings — something he had never done before. Ultimately, his tenure with the Giants has been nothing short of mediocre (90 ERA+ across 145 innings), but there’s still value in that. That said, it’s not as though this will be much of a roadblock for the Giants this season.

UPDATE: According to ESPN, Mota’s agent said that the Clenbuterol was in children’s cough medicine that Mota had taken.

Giants Place Aubrey Huff on 15-Day DL, Call Up Joaquin Arias

According to Hank Schulman, Aubrey Huff has been placed on the 15-day DL with anxiety disorder, for which he is currently getting treatment. He’s already missed the past few games, and it’s looking like this will open the door for both Nate Schierholtz and Brandon Belt to be in the starting lineup on a regular basis. As for Huff, this kind of problem is no fun, and one can only hope he works through this issue.

In a corresponding move, the Giants called up infielder Joaquin Arias. Arias was a premier prospect many moons ago, but more recently, he posted a .625 OPS in 69 games with Triple-A Omaha. He put up some decent numbers in Spring Training and also managed to get off to a hot start (.400/.432/.557) in Fresno, but realistically speaking, he’s probably not going to do much. In any event, he’s penciled in to start at shortstop for the Giants tomorrow.