Rockies Season Preview Q&A: 2012

Last year, it looked like the Colorado Rockies would be strong contenders for the division title. Instead, they finished in fourth (73-89), 21 games out of first place. Fun fact: the team used thirteen different starters last season, and seven guys made 10+ starts for the them. (For comparison’s sake, the Giants used eight starters, only five of whom made 10+ starts). Anyway, as Spring Training nears, I thought it would be interesting to check in on the other NL West teams, beginning with the Rockies. Andrew Fisher (@PoseidonsFist) of Purple Row was kind of enough to answer several questions about their offseason, outlook, Nolan Arenado, and Michael Cuddyer, among other things. Enjoy!

 

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Prospect Question: Does Profile Matter?

So I have started working on my Giants top prospect list, and while doing so I have had a hard time ranking two third base prospects, Conor Gillaspie and Chris Dominguez. On my rough list I have Gillaspie at 13 and Dominguez at 15, but I am wondering if I have one or both too high, and which one should be ranked as the better prospect.

Some background on these prospects: Conor Gillaspie was a supplemental 1st round draft pick out of Wichita State and he was seen as a guy with a polished hit tool, a good plate approach and more gap power than HR power. He earned comps to ex-Giant Bill Mueller, but with likely worse defense.

Dominguez, on the other hand was a 3rd round pick in 2009 out of Louisville. He has massive raw power and a cannon for an arm at 3B, but was so raw that he spent the 2010 year at Low A Augusta despite being 23 years old and coming out of college as a redshirt junior.

Gillaspie has methodically played a full year at A+, AA, and AAA, save for a few cups of coffee in the majors, while Dominguez spent all of 2010 at Augusta and split last year between A+ and AA.

Their batting lines to date in the minors are:

Gillaspie: .288/.361/.414

Dominguez: .268/.314/.446

Now honestly, I don’t see either as a full time regular in the major leagues, which is why I am asking the question in the title. Because, while I do think that Gillaspie would be the better player if they were both given a 600 PA’s, Dominguez’s tools profile better in a potential bench role. Gillaspie has a solid well rounded game-and he has improved every year, so perhaps I am underselling him.

But I could see Dominguez being a guy who comes off the bench and sells out for the power. Kind of like a Juan Uribe without the positional adjustment or jazz hands. With Gillaspie I don’t see teams looking for a bench guy who is more of a singles hitter with gap power and lacking great speed/defense.

But maybe I am over-thinking it and since I think Gillaspie would be the better player that should be enough. I don’t know-as of right now I’ll probably leave them where they are but I could be swayed to change my opinion on one or both of them.

Reopening Will Clark’s Hall of Fame Case

It’s Hall of Fame debate season, so now seems like as good a time as any to reopen Will Clark’s Hall of Fame case for discussion. Clark was on the ballot back in 2006 when he received 23 votes (4.4% total), falling just short of the threshold necessary to remain on the ballot for the following year. His case isn’t rock-solid, but from a pure numbers standpoint, he’s worthy.

Right off the bat, Clark’s case is hurt because he doesn’t hit the typical arbitrary “Hall of Fame milestones.” At 2176 career hits, he’s far from 3000, and the 284 home run total doesn’t come close to what’s generally considered to be Hall of Fame worthy. Clark only played 15 seasons, so he didn’t stick around long enough to compile great counting stats. Additionally, he’s hurt without attention to context. His peak years occurred from 1987 to 1992, during which time he hit .303/.378/.515 with 151 homers. That’s quite good, but it’s even better when you consider how weak offense was during that period. In four of those six years, the National League OPS was below .690, and in two of them, it was below .680. In particular, 1988 and 1989 were historically bad years for offense. It’s thus no surprise that Clark rates very well by the park/league-adjusted numbers. In that six-year period, his 147 wRC+ was the fifth-best mark in baseball, behind the likes of Barry Bonds, Fred McGriff, Rickey Henderson, and Frank Thomas.

In terms of peak value, Clark isn’t particularly special. If we say 5 WAR is elite, Clark only had three “elite” seasons — and it’s two if you go by Baseball-Reference’s implementation of WAR. Clark wasn’t consistently elite, but he did post above-average numbers with great consistency. He exceeded 3 WAR in ten different seasons, and by wRC+, not once was he below average with the bat.

Fangraphs has Clark at 54.4 career WAR; Baseball Prospectus has him at 50.09; and Baseball-Reference has him at 57.6. Those aren’t eye-popping totals, but that’s right in line with current Hall of Famers. As Sean Forman wrote back in 2010, 55 WAR is the midpoint level for all Hall of Famers:

A high career WAR marks a Hall of Fame career better than any other statistic. Among the top 100 players in career WAR not under current or future Hall of Fame consideration, only five have not made the Hall of Fame: Bill Dahlen, Tony Mullane, Bob Caruthers, Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich. In general, 55 WAR has been the midpoint level for all Hall of Famers as three-fourths of the eligible players with 55 or more WAR are in the Hall of Fame. Whitey Ford, Andre Dawson and Jim Bunning are good examples of median Hall of Famers.

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at another Giants 1B, one that was inducted into the Hall of Fame: Orlando Cepeda. Clark and Cepeda, interestingly enough, finished with rather similar PA totals — Clark at 8283, and Cepeda at 8695. Cepeda has the advantage in terms of career hit totals (2351), and he blows Clark out of the water in terms of home runs (379). Throughout his career, however, Clark proved better than Cepeda in two areas: drawing walks, and avoiding double plays. Despite otherwise fantastic numbers, Cepeda’s career OBP sits right at .350. It’s a solid mark, but for a first baseman in the Hall of Fame, it’s relatively low. Over his career, Cepeda walked in just 6.8% of his plate appearances, and never once posted a walk rate above 10%. In fact, he was consistently below average in that regard. Clark, on the other hand, was very skilled at drawing walks (11.3% clip), and nearly totaled 1000 for his career. Clark wasn’t speedy, and he actually finished with half as many (67) career stolen bases as Cepeda (142), but he grounded into far fewer double plays, which — over the course of an entire career — makes a rather significant difference. Clark grounded into 100 double plays, whereas Cepeda grounded into 218. In the end, the two have pretty similar qualifications. They played the same position (mostly), and were both similarly great hitters (Clark – 135 wRC+, Cepeda – 131 wRC+) over similar career lengths. It’s hard to say that Clark is any less deserving than Cepeda; in fact, by Adam Darowski’s wWAR, Clark is in and Cepeda is out.

I guess I’m more of a big-hall kind of guy, but I’d say both are worthy. In any event, none is much more so than the other.

Extending Madison Bumgarner, Part II

Three months ago, Zack explored the possibility of a Madison Bumgarner extension. It’s something that’s been discussed a lot lately though; with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum set to earn monster deals, why not lock up Bumgarner as soon as possible for the purposes of cost certainty? As Zack noted, a pitcher of Bumgarner’s caliber — assuming he continues to pitch as well as he has — will inevitably cost a lot of money going year to year in arbitration. Even a deal that just buys out his arbitration years could save the Giants a good chunk of money in the long run. And a deal that buys out his arb years and – say — his first couple years of free agency? Well, that’s obviously more risky, but accordingly, leaves more potential for reward.

Anyway, over at MLB Trade Rumors, Tim Dierkes looks at Madison Bumgarner as an extension candidate. Given a) how talented Bumgarner is, b) how little the Giants would be risking in the grand scheme of things, and c) the modest potential for reward, I say go for it:

A Madison Bumgarner extension is risky, as is the case w/ any SP. But the potential rewards/savings make it worth pursuing.

History Repeating?

As most of you probably know by now, the Cardinals yesterday signed Carlos Beltran to a 2 year $26 Million contract. That contract is very reasonable and one that the Giants could have fit into their payroll, had they made re-signing him the top priority. They did not though, and that has angered a lot of Giants fans, myself included. Why didn’t the Giants make Beltran the top priority though? Hank Schulman of the SF Chronicle has some answers

Sabean always has believed that it makes little sense to have one or two big players if the supporting cast is weak. He would rather own a room full of toys than one Xbox 360. He was ripped for that philosophy in 1996, ripped for it again after the 2003 season when he didn’t make a move for Vlad Guerrero and is being ripped for it today. But he is not budging

The 2003 example is interesting compared to the current situation. Barry Bonds was the greatest player in baseball, but was aging and transitioning from a guy with an OPS in the mid 1000′s to a guy with an OPS in the low 1000′s. He was starting to go into the twilight of his career which, while still incredibly good did make him look closer to mortal. The Giants had also lost the Robin to Bonds’ superman after 2002 when Jeff Kent went to Houston. So the Giants had a fantastic slugger but their core was aging and could use an infusion of talent. Which brought up RF Vladimir Guerrero who was a 28 year old free agent coming off a huge year, hitting .330/.426/.586 with more walks than strikeouts. So did the Giants make an effort to sign him?

Q: Did you ever make an offer for Vladimir Guerrero?

Sabean: In a word: No. If we had signed Guerrero or [Gary] Sheffield, we would have been without [Jim] Brower, [Scott] Eyre, [Matt] Herges, [Dustin] Hermanson, [Brett] Tomko, [A.J.] Pierzynski, [Pedro] Feliz, [J.T.] Snow, [Jeffrey] Hammonds, [Dustan] Mohr and [Michael] Tucker–obviously not being able to field a competitive team, especially from an experience standpoint, given our level of spending.

 

Now this may come across as overly cynical-and I truly don’t mean it to be. But I just see some similarities to the 2003 team and this team. I think given the rising salaries of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and even Madison Bumgarner combined with the rate of attrition for pitchers the Giants window of opportunity could be shorter than most think. I do think that the Giants are in better shape for the future than they were in 2003. But I do think that given Arizona and San Diego’s strong farm systems, Los Angeles’ forthcoming ownership improvement, and Colorado’s solid balance, the time for the Giants to strike was now, but instead Sabean is again seeing a window close and not changing his methods to help extend the Giants window of opportunity.

Devil’s Advocate

The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran today to a two-year $25MM deal. It’s an extremely reasonable contract, and one that has the potential to be a bargain if Beltran manages to stay healthy. But even if he doesn’t (which is obviously the more likely scenario), even if he misses 100+ games over the next two years, it’s a pretty solid contract. The Giants had talks with Beltran but they didn’t pursue him very hard, which is naturally frustrating — considering that the Giants had a historically weak offense in 2011, and that they have the resources to facilitate such a signing: It’s Aubrey Huff money, not Prince Fielder money. The organization gave up its top pitching prospect for Beltran, still fell eight games short of winning the division, then made no kind of serious effort to re-sign him.

As it stands now, this offseason looks like somewhat of a mess; Wendy Thurm discussed this at length in a recent Fangraphs article. The Giants entered the offseason with one major need: hitting, hitting, hitting. And while the Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera acquisitions do a little bit to address this, they’re hardly solutions. The team has spent little this winter, and what little they’ve spent has mostly gone to the pair of Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. The vast majority of their free agent spending has gone to a pair of relievers.

But let’s focus on what this is all about: Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. As of this moment in time, it’s hard to conceive why Cain wouldn’t want to test the free agent market. Worse pitchers have been cashing in on lucrative long-term contracts of late, and Cain is a special case in that he becomes a free agent at a relatively young age. Why wouldn’t he want to maximize his potential earnings (and sign with a team that would provide better run support, for that matter)? The same goes for Lincecum, who is set to hit the free agent market a year after Cain. However, this is an area where the Giants know better than anyone else what their odds are of retaining the two. They are, after all, basing their future plans on securing the rotation.

The storyline today is something like this:

The Giants, who sold out every single home game this season, weren’t willing to shell out an extra $10MM for 2012 in order to retain a hitter that would have substantially improved their offense — a hitter for whom they gave up their top pitching prospect. Instead, they chose to allocate most of their funds toward retaining a pair of LOOGYs. 

This is a gross oversimplification, but that’s largely how it’s been perceived. Maybe that’ll be the case once Opening Day comes around. Maybe it won’t. If the Giants extend both Lincecum and Cain, they effectively extend their window of opportunity. Huff and Aaron Rowand come off the books in 2013, and the Giants will conceivably have a solid hitting core formed by that point in Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Gary Brown. Again, it’s hard to see both Lincecum and Cain settling on extensions before hitting free agency, but the team seems to have structured their plans on retaining the two, so they must feel confident in their abilities to do so. For the time being, I’m willing to give the organization the benefit of the doubt.

The Non-Tender Deadline

So this is the Giants’ offseason. The biggest remaining decision, Mike Fontenot or Jeff Keppinger, will be made today. And after today, the roster — give or take a spring training invitee — will just about be set.

No Jimmy Rollins. No Jose Reyes. No Carlos Beltran. Not even a Rafael Furcal.

In an effort to keep payroll down, the Giants are going the “Law of Averages” route; they’re depending on fewer injuries, better offensive performance, and more situational luck. To an extent, this makes a lot of sense. There’s really no telling what Buster Posey will look like next season, or how many games Freddy Sanchez will play, or if one of the Giants’ frontline starters will finally go down. But I suppose it’s fair to assume the Giants will be healthier in 2012, if only because the injury toll seemed so abnormally high in 2011.

And the hitting, well, it can’t get any worse. …wait, it can? Oh god.

In any event, the team posted a .561 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position. That’s 30% worse than those hitters did overall (70 tOPS+), and it’s thus a figure that’s bound to go up. As bad as the hitting was, they’re certainly due for a healthier dose of situational luck.

So a little luck in those departments, and maybe the Giants are in business. Maybe.

They missed out on Willie Bloomquist (hooray!), but in Emmanuel Burriss, they’ve got someone equally terrible. Buster Posey, coming off that season-ending injury, will be (presumably) backed up by Chris Stewart. And Brett Pill will probably be getting at-bats at the major-league level in April. That’s a thin bench. Scary thin.

The fact that it’s gotten to this point — where Jeff Keppinger v. Mike Fontenot is such an important decision for the organization, speaks volumes about the Giants’ offseason. The team scored 570 runs in 2011, but they have done little to improve upon that. It’s neither an expensive strategy nor a sound one. And it guarantees that 2012 is going to be a loooong season.

As for today, hopefully the Giants make the right decision. Keppinger is a singles hitter, and that’s about all he does. No walks, no strikeouts, no homers. He’s basically bizarro Pat Burrell. He’s not useless with the bat, and he can hit southpaws pretty well…but he only profiles as a second baseman, and it’s not a position he plays very well. Give me Fontenot.

Now, how many days until pitchers and catchers report?

Thank you, Andres Torres

Let me preface this by saying that if you have not yet read Grant’s love letter to Andres Torres over at McCovey Chronicles, go ahead and do so. And while you’re at it, watch these Torres videos.

Anyway, I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay my own tribute to Torres, as he’s a personal favorite of mine. So here goes…

Torres, at his best, could do just about everything. He could hit the ball with astounding authority; he could cover exceptional range in the outfield; he could put up patient, quality at-bats; and he was a force on the basepaths. He was not only capable of impacting the game in many different ways, but he was great at it.

In 2010, he was one of the best players in the National League. Out of nowhere. He had overcome a hell of a lot to get to where he was (surely you’ve heard his story by now), and somehow managed to realize his potential. He was, in essence, the manifestation of that beautiful aspect of unpredictability in baseball.

Without Torres, the Giants don’t win the World Series in 2010. They don’t make the playoffs, either. And they don’t even come close. In addition, without Torres, we’re all subjected to much more of Aaron Rowand’s insufferable bat-wagging than we can take.

Incredible story, incredible perseverance, and incredible talent. He was Ryan Vogelsong before Ryan Vogelsong, but times 100. He’ll always have a special place in my heart, and in the history of this great franchise.

Giants Should Have Been More Aggressive In Pursuit of Jose Reyes

As you likely know by now the Miami Marlins signed Jose Reyes to be their shortstop. Reyes, was never seriously thought to be on the Giants radar, despite the fact that he is a fantastic shortstop, a position that was a black hole last year, and has game changing speed, something else that the Giants lacked.

The main reason, the Giants were never linked to Reyes was because the Giants likely weren’t going to raise payroll enough to make him fit. However, I suggested that if the Giants backload the contract like the Nationals did with Jayson Werth, then he could have fit into the payroll. What happened? Well the Marlins really backloaded the contract as Reyes will be making slightly more than Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt next year. While a long term contract and Reyes’ injury history may prove to be risky, the Giants window of opportunity is fairly limited given that Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are near the end of their contracts and are getting expensive. Combine that with a weak farm system and it’s tough to see where the future offensive upside will come from as well as the volatility of all pitchers. The Giants should have been aggressive and attempted to add one of the most exciting players and best fits for the team to help them get closer to making another playoff appearance. Instead they basically were just treading water.

While I am not surprised, but I am disappointed. And with the Angel Pagan trade, making the outfield “set” there is basically no chance that Carlos Beltran returns, despite his market being slow to develop. Really the Giants have had opportunities to improve the offense this offseason, but the combination of their payroll limitations and trade targets have led them to acquire guys with modest upsides who aren’t clear upgrades over the in house options. Combine that with the way they handled their top offensive prospect last year and this offseason looks very underwhelming.

A Question

Why did the Giants trade for Melky Cabrera?

Originally, the trade made sense. The organization wasn’t content with the in-house options, and I can definitely understand that. I wasn’t personally a fan of the trade, mostly because the plan was supposedly to install Melky in centerfield — where his defense negates a lot of his value. I argued, in fact, that Andres Torres wasn’t a much worse option (if at all) for that role than Cabrera. In the context of when it was made, it wasn’t a bad trade — just uninspired.

But with San Francisco acquiring Angel Pagan, the Giants’ offseason plans become somewhat of a mess. Pagan slides into center, presumably moving Melky over to left. Aubrey Huff, who will inevitably assume a starting role, would then presumably become the first baseman. I like the Pagan trade. But it took me a while to realize — or for it to really sink in — that the Giants don’t plan on putting Brandon Belt in their starting lineup.

So it begs the question: Why did the Giants feel the need to acquire Cabrera? What was the rush? It seems pretty clear to me that the Giants are better off just starting Belt.