MLB Players and Owners Could Soon Reach Agreement on New Labor Deal

Players and owners are close to finalizing a new labor deal that would bring significant changes to MLB, particularly when it comes to the draft. The deal is expected to have “significant restraints” on draft spending, as well as significant changes to the current system of draft pick compensation. The general reaction is not positive, and for good reason.

In other news…

The Yankees were never in on Jonathan Sanchez

Yesterday, Jon Heyman tweeted that the Yankees were disappointed that Jonathan Sanchez went to the Royals.

Apparently (with a tip of the cap to Giants Win), that’s not the case:

The Yankees’ prime directive this winter is adding pitching, but they were never in on trade talks for lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who the Giants traded to the Kansas City earlier this week for Melky Cabrera, Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman said.

Melky Cabrera/Jonathan Sanchez Trade Reaction

What follows is a series of facts — in no particular order — that as a whole illustrate how I feel about this trade:

I. Jonathan Sanchez is a good pitcher. A frustrating pitcher, sure. He’s certainly more Oliver Perez than Randy Johnson, but he’s quite a nice guy to have at the back of a rotation. Over the last four years, he’s averaged roughly 2 WAR/season. Not bad for a guy that would have been the Giants’ fifth starter. 

II. Jonathan Sanchez is expensive, but not that expensive. Through arbitration, he projects to make a little more money than Melky Cabrera. The difference is negligible though. 

III. Melky Cabrera is a below-average defensive centerfielder. There, he’s posted a -7.3 UZR/150 and -16 DRS in ~4500 innings.

IV. Andres Torres, on the other hand, is an above-average defensive centerfielder. There, he’s posted a 12.8 UZR/150 and +5 DRS in ~2000 innings.

V. Melky Cabrera has hit .282/.332/.420 (101 OPS+) over the past three seasons.

VI. Andres Torres has hit .252/.332/.436 (109 OPS+) over the past three seasons.

VII. Torres will be less expensive than Cabrera this offseason.

VIII. Barry Zito is not as good a starter as Jonathan Sanchez.

IX. Neither is Eric Surkamp, particularly if his first six major-league starts are any indication.

So in sum, the Giants just:

  • Downgraded their rotation, maybe by as much as one or two wins.
  • Barely — if at all — improved their outlook in centerfield.
  • Saved about a million dollars.  
I just can’t get behind this deal, especially if this means Cabrera is the starting centerfielder (which I presume is the case?). I don’t really mind losing Verdugo, but that’s not really important anyway. 
Bleh. 

Giants Acquire Melky Cabrera in Exchange for Jonathan Sanchez, Ryan Verdugo

More info to come…

Update: Sanchez, 28, is up for his third year of arbitration elibility (and final year of team control), and would have made something like $5-6MM through the process. Cabrera, 27, is up for his fourth year of arbitration elibility (he’s a Super Two), and could earn as much as $4MM this offseason.

Ryan Verdugo, who just barely missed the cut in my Giants prospect rankings, was converted to a starter this year — and had moderate success in the role (4.35 ERA, 4.31 FIP), but frankly, his control is not very good (he walks a hitter every other inning).

Initial reaction: not a fantastic return, but this is honestly more than I’d expected to get in exchange for Sanchez. Cabrera isn’t a very good player (and most certainly won’t repeat what he did this year), but he’s something; on a similar note though, he’s not really a capable defensive centerfielder.

Anyway, this is pretty interesting. Brian Sabean had never made a trade in November, prior to this.

The Giants are willing to trade Jonathan Sanchez

According to Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com, the Giants are willing to trade Jonathan Sanchez “in an effort to free up money so they can pursue offensive upgrade.” Sanchez, 28, projects to make around $6MM in arbitration; with Barry Zito under contract through 2013 and Eric Surkamp under team control, Sanchez is somewhat expendable — that is, if the Giants are content with putting Zito or Surkamp at the back end of the rotation.

2011 was a down year for Sanchez, and he only managed to make 19 starts (due to injuries); In 101.1 innings, he posted a 4.26 ERA/4.30 FIP/4.36 xFIP. Few starters in baseball can strike out hitters at the rate that Sanchez has maintained over his career — his 9.36 K/9 is tied with Clayton Kershaw for second-highest among active starters (min. 500 IP). Though he incurred a couple injuries and lost complete control of the strikezone this season (14.9% BB%), his trade value is helped by the fact that this year’s free agent market for starting pitchers is pretty thin.

Back in September, it seemed as though the Giants were all but prepared to slide Sanchez into the fifth slot of the rotation:

Zito will be in camp this spring to compete for the No.5 starter job. It’s looking like Sanchez will be the guy, though.

Zito, then, would presumably become the fifth starter. In his nine starts this year, the results were not pretty: 5.87 ERA/5.60 FIP/4.65 xFIP. He lost a couple MPH off of his fastball, and his strikeout rate dipped accordingly (5.37 per nine innings, the lowest of his career). He’s more-or-less been a league-average pitcher during his time in San Francisco, but it’s hard to believe he’ll continue to pitch like that in 2012 and beyond, as he continues to age.

Eric Surkamp, too, had an underwhelming 2011 (in the majors, that is), and is an even more unattractive option than Zito at the back of the rotation.

Anyway, for the right return, this could be a good move for the Giants. But only if they trust that they won’t trouble finding a replacement for Sanchez in the rotation.

End-of-season prospect roundup

It’s been a while since I took a look at the Giants’ farm system, so I figured I’d do an end-of-season roundup. These aren’t rankings per se, but rather, a rundown of a few of the Giants’ top prospects, with notes on other guys to watch for.

Back in late July, I posted a midseason top 25 list; since then, the system’s undergone quite a few changes. Zack Wheeler and Thomas Neal departed in trades soon after, the signing deadline for 2011 MLB draft picks has passed, and — of course — minor-league seasons (including the postseason) have been completed.

Pitching

Eric Surkamp: I had him at #4 on the midseason list, and he’s since made his major-league debut (six starts in total). He’s been quite underwhelming, to say the least. Though his performance is certainly a very small sample we’re talking about — roughly 27 innings in total, he has failed to a) induce whiffs, and b) throw with the command he consistently displayed at various levels in the minors. His future remains to be seen, although he’s most likely not going to begin 2012 in the Giants’ rotation:

Sabean all but said Jonathan Sanchez will be tendered a contract. Eric Surkamp clearly isn’t ready and Barry Zito has had his “trials and tribulations.” Zito will be in camp this spring to compete for the No.5 starter job. It’s looking like Sanchez will be the guy, though.

I have not been the least impressed with what he’s done in the majors thus far, but I’m still holding out hope that he can stick at the back-end of the rotation as a useful starter.

Heath Hembree: While the Giants’ organizational depth is fairly thin in terms of starting pitching, they have a few intriguing relief arms. Hembree is the cream of the crop. He spent half of his first full season in the minors down in San Jose, where he posted a 0.73 ERA over 24.2 innings pitched, and struck out nearly half the hitters he faced (43.6% K/PA). After receiving the call-up to Double-A Richmond, he continued to dominate: 2.83 ERA/2.86 FIP spanning 28 appearances. The average pitcher in the Eastern League this year was 24 and a half years old, so Hembree’s fairly advanced for his age (22). As of now, he’s looking like the future closer for the San Francisco Giants.

Kyle Crick: The Giants’ 2011 supplemental-round pick — a right-hander out of high school, he’s probably got the highest ceiling of the Giants’ starting pitching prospects (now that Wheeler is out of the picture). Keith Law actually liked Crick better than the Giants’ first-round pick, Joe Panik. He made seven appearances this year with the AZL Giants, but hasn’t done anything to really affect his prospect status.

Others: There are quite a few other interesting arms in the Giants’ system…Ryan Verdugo made the switch to starter this year, and while he had a solid season, nothing about his performance really stood out — especially considering that he was in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League (pitching in pitcher-friendly Richmond). Mike Kickham and Seth Rosin, a pair of Augusta arms, each did well this year (Kickham starting, and Rosin pitching out of the bullpen for the majority of the season). Lastly, Adalberto Mejia had a hell of a season in the Dominican Summer League, and the Giants selected some quality pitching in this year’s draft — Joshua Osich, Chris Marlowe, and Bryce Bandilla, in addition to the aforementioned Crick.

Hitting

Gary Brown: He’s the best prospect the Giants have, and after an excellent season in San Jose, he’s one of the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. One of the major concerns about Brown entering this season was walks: he didn’t draw very many walks in college, which is (for obvious reasons) alarming for a prospect whose game is speed. No longer much of an issue though: he posted a 7.2% walk rate this season, which is perfectly acceptable for a hitter with above-average contact skills. And considering that he has a penchant for getting hit by pitches (which, I’d assume is a somewhat repeatable skill), all the better.

There was a story on Brown in the Mercury News the other day, and one quote stood out to me:

“People keep saying I’m a singles hitter,” said Brown, who is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. “Maybe they think that because I’m a leadoff man, but that’s not me. I’ve been a gap hitter my whole life. So that gets me a little riled up.”

He’s got a point, really. His numbers: 33 doubles, 13 triples, 14 home runs (.181 ISO). Juan Pierre comps (I’ve heard him compared to Pierre on several occasions) don’t do him justice — his power’s a lot better.

Joe Panik: There were a lot of people that weren’t happy with the Panik pick — having hoped that the Giants would go for a player with a higher ceiling. I was pretty content with the pick though, and I feel somewhat validated by Panik’s performance in Salem-Keizer. .341/.401/.467 in 304 plate appearances with 13 SB/5 CS, and a BB/K ratio of 28/25. Even if he doesn’t stick at short, he projects as an above-average defender at second-base. I expect that he’ll continue to move up through the system quickly.

Tommy Joseph: The biggest snub on my midseason rankings, Joseph was all the way down at #16. The reasoning behind this was: 1) defensive limitations at catcher, which is of paramount importance. 2) poor plate discipline.

Joseph got off to a cold start this year, but really started to pick things up as the season progressed. Here’s his wOBA by month (note: September includes only ~20 plate appearances) –

Tommy Joseph wOBA by month

Joseph finished the year with a line of .270/.317/.471, nearly a +.100 improvement in OPS from 2010. In mid-August, he was ranked the best defensive catcher in the Cal League, and Joe Ritzo, San Jose Giants director of broadcasting, raved about Joseph’s progress:

I’ve noticed a tremendous improvement with Tommy Joseph behind the plate this year, just going from April to August he really has become one of the better defensive catchers in the league. His receiving skills I think have improved the most, and his ability to block pitches in the dirt. He definitely has made tremendous improvement in that regard. I asked Andy Skeels recently which player has improved the most and Tommy Joseph was at the top of that list for what he’s done defensively and offensively.

Joseph’s still only 20 years old, and a catcher that can excel at both defense and offense is inherently valuable. He’s rocketed this year to become — in my mind — one of the Giants’ top five prospects, and maybe even one of the top 100 prospects in baseball (he was listed on THT’s top 100).

Others: Ehire Adrianza hit well in San Jose this time around (.845 OPS in 56 games), which is an encouraging sign. Not a big fan of Francisco Peguero, who’s widely considered to be one of the Giants’ top prospects, and here’s why: .309/.318/.446 at Double-A Richmond. He only drew five walks in 71 games, and posted a miserable BB/K of 5/45. Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac round out the Giants’ organizational depth at catcher. Lastly, there are others to look out for: Jarrett Parker, Chris Dominguez, Charlie Culberson, and Ricky Oropeza to name a few. As a whole, I think the Giants’ organizational depth in terms of hitting — particularly at the catching position — is markedly better than the pitching.

Splash Hits: Brandon Belt, Jonathan Sanchez, Sergio Romo

After yesterday’s 8-K performance, Madison Bumgarner has raised his K% to 23.1% on the season, which is the eight-best mark in the National League. On a similar note, did you know that Bumgarner has one of the top bat-missing fastballs in the major-leagues? Anyway, some Monday morning links…

Joe Blogs: Wins and WAR and MVPs
More fantastic statistical ramblings from Joe Posnanski.

Breaking Bad: Brandon Belt and curveballs, sliders, and more « Bay City Ball | Giants Baseball with a Side of STATS!
A look at Belt’s struggles with breaking pitches.

The Jonathan Sanchez Decision » Bay Area Sports Guy
Should the Giants tender Jonathan Sanchez a contract this offseason?

Player Profile: Sergio Romo, RHP, San Francisco Giants – Minor League Ball
Player Profile: Sergio Romo, RHP, San Francisco Giants

NL West:  The snakebit Giants
Did you just see that? Did you see that rattler strike that bumbling oaf?