I phoned Giants player personnel
director Bobby Evans this week – he’s back east with his family
for the holidays — to talk about the fall league and winter ball. I
wanted to know what he learns about his players when he looks at
their stats from these brief seasons in far-flung places.
“For most of the players, it’s a
development opportunity,” Evans said. “These are not rec
leagues. They’re competitive, spirited, driven programs. You
succeed or you come home. The pressure is high and the stakes are
“As hard as it is for young Latin
players to come to the U.S. and succeed, that’s what it’s like
for American players to go into competitive winter ball leagues.”
Nate Schierholtz, for example, hit .324
in Puerto Rico after a frustrating regular season that saw him
sidelined for a stretch with a strained hip. Winter ball “was a
strong development opportunity for Nate and shows how tough he is,”
Kevin Frandsen also did well in the
Puerto Rican league, hitting .337. “He’ll compete to be one of
the utility guys on the big league club,” Evans said. “He was
healthy all year and showed what kind of player he’s capable of
being. Just like Nate, by doing well in Puerto Rico, it turns heads.
Helps people see, ‘Hey, I’m not slowing down. I’m going to do
everything I can to compete.’ ”
For Brett Pill, the young first-baseman
who had a breakout 2009 season in the minors, the winter league in
Venezuela was a confidence boost. He batted .329 with a .411 on-base
“When you’re playing alongside
major-league players you’ve only seen on SportsCenter, and you’re
doing well, it’s an eye-opener. You’re thinking, ‘I can compete
with these guys.’ It’s going to help him approach the next level
– his first major-league spring training — with a lot more
Evans puts less stock in the
performances in the Arizona fall league, where Brandon Crawford and
Buster Posey played.
“You can’t read too much into
whether you were successful or unsuccessful because you get such
limited at-bats,” Evans said.
Crawford hit .312 and Posey .225.
“As much as he might have struggled
offensively,” Evans said of Posey, “he showed a respectable
on-base percentage (.324). It was a long year for him between
big-league camp, five months in the minor leagues in two different
places followed by a September call-up and fall league. Not question
there was strain on him.’
Evans said Crawford, whose impressive
performance in Single A early on in 2009 seemed almost effortless, is
expected to start the season in Double A “and see where the season
takes him. What we’ve seen in him is a sense of passion. He’s
No word yet on whether Pablo Sandoval
has been successful in maintaining his weight-loss from his Operation
Panda conditioning camp. He hit .395 in Venezuela, his home country.
The Giants expect to see Sandoval back in San Francisco in a couple
John Bowker’s winter-league season
was cut short by a quadriceps strain. (He played in just three
games.) He’s been receiving treatment in San Francisco and is
expected to be ready for spring training.
Have a great New Year. See you in 2010.
It sure looks weird to see the clubhouse in the off-season. Even filled as it was last night with fans in folding chairs, it was like walking into an abandoned building. There’s a kind of ghostly loneliness about it without players slapping domino tiles on table tops and answering fan mail in front of their lockers and yanking down the bills of their caps as they rush out to take early BP. Is April really still three-and-a-half months away?
The next best thing to the actual baseball season, though, is talking about it.
Up on a temporary stage, erected on the far right of the room near the starting pitchers’ lockers, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was sitting next to general manager Brian Sabean and taking questions from moderator Greg Papa.
“He’s the best all-around player that I’ve ever seen because he can play everywhere,” Bochy was saying. “He has a very similar body type to Tony Gwynn.”
He was talking about Pablo Sandoval, who embarked on a rigorous conditioning and weight-loss program during the off-season, a one-man camp the Giants dubbed “Operation Panda.”
“Obviously,” Sabean cracked, nodding at Bochy and himself, “we haven’t been in the same camp.”
Packed into the room, in rows of chairs bordered by four walls of lockers, were season-ticket holders who had been invited to talk baseball with Bochy, Sabean, managing general partner Bill Neukom and relief pitcher Sergio Romo.
Asked by Papa if two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum’s stuff matches up with the all-time greats, Bochy didn’t hesitate.
“Sure it does. He’s by far the best pitcher I’ve ever seen. When you have four pitches, especially the best or close to the best changeup in baseball right now, he’s up there among the greats. He’s a thinker out there and knows what the opposing team is doing and that’s why he’s won two Cy Young Awards.”
“What’s interesting about him,” Sabean said, “is in college he would throw 140 pitches on a Friday night and then be the closer for his team on Sunday. He’s proved to have a rubber arm and has an inner strength that other people don’t have. He’s fearless and he thinks that on any given day that he’s better than anyone else.”
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was Sergio Romo. He’s a player that fans don’t know very well yet, and last night they got a glimpse of his sense of humor and his boyish excitement for the game – starting with the fact he was texting his mother as he climbed onto the stage to tell he was going to be on television.
“You’re from Brawley, California, near Los Angeles,” Papa said, “so who was your favorite team growing up?”
“No comment,” Romo said, smiling. “Let’s just say I started hating the Dodgers the second I put on a Giants uniform.”
After struggling with injuries last season, he said he’s “very excited for the season to start . . . I miss my number 54 on my back.”
When Papa opened the discussion to questions, one of the first was an update on the Giants’ up and coming players.
“Peguero is a young outfielder that we just placed on our 40-man roster,” Sabean said. “He’s a lot like Sandoval in that he has a lot of energy. Thomas Neal came into his own last year and developed an all-around game. Brandon Crawford is going to be our shortstop of the future. We have a flow of talent that people will be proud of.”
As for the readiness of pitcher Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey, Bochy said, “I really think that they can start for us next year. Posey is gonna be a front line catcher and he’s on the fast track. Bumgarner did a heck of a job last year when Timmy went down. Here are two tremendous kids that stood out and both held their own. I’m curious to see how Buster looks this spring.”
One fan wanted to know about keeping Lincecum and fellow pitcher Matt Cain as Giants for the long haul.
“Cain has two more years before free agency,” Sabean said, “and Lincecum has four more and is going through arbitration right now. We are in a good situation because they both want to be Giants for a long time.”
Sabean also addressed the decision not to resign veteran pitcher Brad Penny.
“We had a short window and in our estimation we thought we had home court in our situation. We couldn’t bring ourselves to overpay when we have Madison Bumgarner in the wings.”
Still want more? Tune in to a full broadcast of the event on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area on January 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Some shots from the taping:
Giants general manager Brian Sabean is honing a skill not innate to a baseball man who cut his teeth at the New York Yankees.
“The market right now is as slow or slower than last year in developing,” he said during a break today from internal strategy meetings in preparation for next week’s winter meetings in Indianapolis.
“Whether teams are still getting their budgets together or what, the free agent market has yet to develop. Players and agents are slow to do anything. It’s a sign of the times.”
Sabean said the Giants last week offered a one-year deal to pitcher Brad Penny, and yesterday offered one year and an option to infielder Juan Uribe. Both offers were declined. “At this time I’m not sure there will be further discussion,” Sabean said. (He said veteran catcher Bengie Molina probably has been offered a multi-year deal by another team, essentially guaranteeing he would not return to the Giants.)
Sabean’s strategy in building the 2010 team boils down to three basic – but difficult — questions:
∑ How can the Giants maximize the talent they already have?
∑ What can be accomplished on the free-agent market?
∑ Are there smart trades to be made – and what homegrown talent is the team willing to give up in order to secure valuable immediate help (such as a bigger bat in the lineup)?
“What we’re doing right now – to get a bat, to figure out the catching situation, everything – is due diligence,” Sabean said.
In other words, there is no magic formula. No shortcuts. No blockbuster, bold-headline quick fixes. Just hours and days and weeks of poring over scouting reports and statistics, working the phones and updating the huge erasable boards with lists of free agents and players likely the trading block, plus evaluating in every possible way the Giants’ own prospects. (Who among them will blossom into big-impact major-leaguers, and when?)
“In a perfect world, you’d love to have (Madison) Bumgarner and (Buster) Posey burst on the scene,” Sabean said. “But you don’t want to rush them. So you keep at it, at the grindstone, and be ready when the best opportunities pop.”
There might be interesting “secondary free agents,” Sabean said, “but maybe that doesn’t make as much sense as giving our own kids a chance. We have to continue to identify what we really have internally and not count on the outside world.”
Sabean mentioned two “burning questions” for the Giants:
∑ If the Giants don’t get Penny and instead bring up Bumgarner, their top pitching prospect, they will have a particularly young starting rotation. So what do you do about the bullpen? Do you counterbalance that with a more veteran bullpen and, say, bring Bob Howry back?
∑ What position does Pablo Sandoval play? If he stays at third, what options are available to upgrade the situation at first base outside the organization?
“In the past, we’ve been more aggressive,” Sabean said. “But we’re willing to go at the pace of the marketplace and show more patience. Trades don’t have to be made at the winter meetings. So people shouldn’t read anything into it if nothing happens in Indianapolis. It’s just not a very sexy market at this time.
“But we’ll come home with more information. It’s a fact-finding mission to figure out who matches up with us in terms of free-agent interest. We’ll have a clearer picture of trade scenarios. We’ll find who our partners might be and how we can do business.”
Chat with Giants’ GM Sabean:
Brian Sabean will participate in a live Web chat from the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Indianapolis on Wednesday, December 9 at 1 p.m. PT. Fans are invited to chat with the GM about his goals for the club during the week’s Winter Meetings. To participate in the chat, please register at: