Results tagged ‘ Bengie Molina ’

Sabean’s Strategy

Giants general manager Brian Sabean is honing a skill not innate to a baseball man who cut his teeth at the New York Yankees.

Patience.

“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: 

http://mlb.mlb.com/fan_forum/chat.jsp

Vote for Bengie. Now. Go on. Ill Wait.

Let’s get Bengie on the All-Star Team. He is the heart and soul of this Giants team. Even when he’s struggling at the plate, Bengie contributes to every game – and every win — in ways that don’t show up in the box score. No one is more respected in the clubhouse than Bengie.

It’s time we do something for him – get out the vote. Tell all your friends. Vote as many times as you can.

Here’s a great column by Paul Gutierrez, a writer for the Sacramento Bee (and the great Amy Gutierrez’s husband). He captures perfectly why we should vote for Bengie.

 

SAN FRANCISCO – Walked into AT&T Park on Tuesday afternoon, was making my way to the press box through the bowels of the waterfront park when a stand filled with colorful paper caught my eye.

Major League Baseball’s 2009 official All-Star ballot.

So I opened it up, gave it a once, twice, three-times over and punched out one “chad,” the one pick I am most confident of seven weeks before the Midsummer Classic.

NATIONAL LEAGUE. CATCHER. B. MOLINA. GIANTS.

Say what? Atlanta’s Brian McCann has better statistics, and Bengie’s not even the best catcher in the N.L. West (paging the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Russell Martin), let alone in his own family (St. Louis’ Yadier Molina is all the rage)? Maybe. But while the All-Star Game’s starters are rightly in the fans’ voting hands, those same fans have the opportunity to do the right thing. That is, to vote Bengie in as the senior circuit’s starting catcher.

“It would mean the world to me, amazing, a dream come true, the best,” he said. “But the way I’m playing right now … ” Molina’s voice trailed off, and that was before the first update on All-Star balloting was released and he was not in the top five. Instead, Yadier led with 451,368 votes, followed by Milwaukee’s Jason Kendall (383,773), Houston’s Ivn Rodrguez (292,496), Martin (261,917) and McCann (227,564).

Molina has a vote in this corner, however, and more than a few in the Giants’ clubhouse. Brian Wilson, who last year said neither he nor Tim Lincecum would have been All-Stars without Molina, has some advice for Giants fans.

“They should talk to fans from other teams,” Wilson said. “They should get people from other states to start voting (for Bengie).

” ‘Deserving’ is a tough word. No one ever deserves to be an All-Star – you earn it … he’s done everything in his power to earn it.”

Sure, Molina’s in a bad stretch at the plate, 2 for his last 34. But he got off to such a hot start that the most unlikely of cleanup hitters is on pace to hit a career-high 29 home runs with 108 RBIs.

Plus, his 314 putouts lead all big-league catchers, and the 10 runners he has thrown out are tied for third-most in the game.

And he deftly handles and massages one of the most-feared rotations in the game, as well as the reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner in Lincecum.

But beyond Molina’s numbers, there are the intangibles the two-time Gold Glover who has never been an All-Star brings.

“I hate to think, not that we’re anywhere, but we would not be close to .500 without him,” admitted manager Bruce Bochy. “He was carrying us for a while. Everybody goes through (a slump), and he’s going through it now. Bengie’s not taking it behind the plate with him, though.

“You can have a good game behind the plate without getting a hit.”

Spoken like the catcher Bochy was.

“He has a different point of view on how to get guys out,” said Giants pitcher Matt Cain. “I’ve had catchers that maybe want to make (hitters) look bad or do different things, but he just wants to get guys out. He doesn’t care how – he’s just like, ‘Let’s just get them out.’ “

A decent assassin behind the plate who is also more than deserving of the nod? Get out the vote.

No rain delay!

Just a quick note about how the guys have been passing the time while they waited for the rain to stop – and see if they were going to get out on the field at all.

At one table, Brian Wilson (with a new hairdo that calls to mind Frisch’s Big Boy) and Matt Cain took on rookies Alex Hinshaw and Joe Martinez in a card game called Pluck. It’s similar to Spades, I’m told. Hinshaw was just learning the strategy, and Martinez surely didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot – so the youngsters lost.

“We got killed,” Martinez said.

Tim Lincecum fluttered around the table, eating a bagel, dancing a little bit, singing a little bit – then taking Cain’s spot in the game when Cain went off to eat. He and Wilson played a two-handed game called Montana that is based on poker hands. That’s all I understood.

Elsewhere, Travis Ishikawa was working a USA Today crossword puzzle. Bengie Molina was listening to music and trying to figure out how to send to his laptop a photo his daughter had just sent to his IPhone. Nate Schierholtz was comparing two different bats he had just received.

“They misspelled my name on this one,” he said, holding up the all-white ash bat, “so I I think I’ll go with this one.” He has a maple one that, by 2009 season regulations, has to be painted black on the barrel and have a black mark on the handle.

Eugenio Velez was bending and punching the pocket of his glove. Pablo Sandoval was, literally, skipping through the clubhouse and snapping his fingers to the blaring music.

“If there’s a rain delay, it’ll be a lot nicer in here than in the minor leagues,” Ishikawa said. “This is really comfortable and there’s a kitchen. In the minors, you’re just looking outside and talking on the phone.”

Ishikawa, who lives in Danville, had 13 people coming to the game to watch him in his first Opening Day.

More after the game . . .

All-Around Good Guy

I was happy to see the Giants choose Joe Martinez for 2009 Harry S. Jordan Award winner this morning. He’s one of those guys everyone immediately likes. He’s quiet but not guarded, and he’s smart enough not to draw attention to himself while he’s a rookie. The quickest way to get the veterans grumbling is to swagger around the clubhouse and act like you own the place.

The Harry S. Jordan Award goes to the player in his first big league camp whose performance and dedication best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit. The players, coaches and training staff vote.

“He’s a great kid,” catcher Bengie Molina told me by phone today from his new rental house in Lafayette. “That’s what I look at first. He’s very, very humble. He wants to learn. He loves pitching. He’s not afraid of throwing strikes – of throwing his sinker for strikes and making the batters hit the ball. I think he’s going to be great for us.”

Martinez is a right-handed pitcher who graduated from Boston College with a business degree four years ago. He is a candidate for the final slot in the bullpen for Opening Day.

I got a hold of one of his college teammates, Mike Wlodarczyk, who is a pitcher in Double A for the Tampa Bay Rays.

“The award doesn’t come as a surprise to me,” he said. “Beyond baseball, he was a great student, responsible, an all-around good guy. If baseball hadn’t worked out, he would have been successful in whatever he did.”

In the off-season last year, Martinez worked as a substitute teacher at Columbia High School in his hometown of South Orange, N.J. – the same school where his mother, Toni, works.

Martinez, who was the Giants’ 12th round selection in 2005, made six appearances this spring, going 0-2 with a 4.12 ERA (9er, 19.2ip) with 12 strikeouts and five walks. He has made starts in each of his last five outings and has pitched exceptionally well in his last three games, allowing just two earned runs in 12.0 innings (1.50 ERA). He had a great season last year in Double A, going 10-10 with a league-best 2.49 ERA (41er, 148.0ip) in 27 starts.

In other news:

In case you haven’t read about this, you’ll find some pretty cool improvements to the park when you return this season. The main one is no surprise to a city that led the country in recycling and banning plastic grocery bags: The ballpark is going green.

The Giants are saving energy in a lot of ways but the most interesting, I think, is the Gilroy Garlic Fries stand in Promenade Level, Section 119.

The stand was completely retrofitted during the off-season. It now uses special fryers that reduce gas consumption by 32 percent, cut utility cost by more than half and automatically reduce cooking oil consumption by 12 percent. There is the Coca-Cola “Energy Management System Cooler” that saves up to 35 percent more energy than traditional models. The new lights use 36.5 percent less electricity. The signs are made with 100 percent biodegradable and recyclable materials. The drink cups are recyclable, and the paper boats and carry trays can be composted. Even the green paint used to repaint the stand is environmentally friendly.

(By the way, here’s a scary statistic for someone like me on Weight Watchers: Approximately 800 pounds of garlic fries are prepared in this stand per game.)

Here’s another high-tech change that’s pretty amazing. To save water in maintaining the field, the Giants installed a new irrigation clock that receives weather conditions, including something called “evapotranspiration” information, from five different weather stations. This information helps establish “zone watering times” so the grass is watered only when necessary. The team figures it will use 33 to 50 percent less water during the season.

Another item I really like: The new “value meals.” You can get a hot dog, peanuts and a drink for $6.25 at the Doggie Diner stands, and a hamburger, fries and a drink for $8.75 at McGraw’s Grill. In these economic times, the responsible thing, I think, is to save money with the value meal instead of saving calories with the fancy salad and carrot sticks. But that’s the kind of person I am. Always sacrificing for the good of my family.

Joe Martinez at FanFest:

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Working Hard and Believing

Steve Holm is one heroic moment away from becoming a Hollywood movie. A simple game-saving tag at the plate or game-winning hit in the World Series is the only scene missing from turning Holm’s baseball career into the feel-good movie of the year.

He’s part, Rocky, part Rudy, part Crash Davis.

The script would begin when Holm was five years old and was asked for the first time what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“A baseball player,” he said without hesitation. As the years passed and other boys shifted to more pragmatic ambitions, Holm never changed his answer. He nagged his parents to make the drive from Sacramento to watch Giants and A’s games. He collected baseball cards. To this day, he keeps a Nolan Ryan rookie card in his gun safe.

He played shortstop through Little League, high school and college, choosing schools based solely on their baseball programs. He switched from Sacramento City College to Cosumnes River College to American River College in search of the best coaching and most playing time. When he received invitations from Oral Roberts, Western Kentucky, UNLV and Sacramento State, he chose Oral Roberts, which fielded the best team at the time.

When a pro scout told him he’d have a better shot at making the majors if he switched to catching, he didn’t hesitate. The Giants drafted him in the 17th round in 2001 and turned him over to Kirt Manwaring, the former Giant who is now a catching instructor.

“He taught me to get something out of every bullpen session,” Holm says.

And that’s what he did for most of the next two seasons at Salem-Keizer – catch the bullpen. “If there was a bullpen I caught it,” Holm says. He’d get into a game only if it was a blowout.

Accustomed, as most pro ballplayers are to being one of the best players on their teams, Holm had to swallow his frustration at being one of the worst as he was learning his new position.

“To be a good catcher, you have to do it enough to develop instincts,” Holm says. “You almost have to see it before it happens. And that comes only with repetition.”

Sometime in 2003, he says, after nearly three seasons of pro ball, he became comfortable enough to trust his instincts.

“That allowed me to hit better because I wasn’t so worried all the time about catching,” he says. In 2004, he hit nine home runs in Single A San Jose after hitting just one the previous three seasons.

He was still learning the strategy of calling a game and of adapting to the different personalities of the pitchers. And learn to get better at calling a game. “I didn’t understand early on how to get the most out of every pitcher,” he says.

Still, for as much as he was developing as a catcher, he was stuck at Single A.

Season after season after season.

For six years he played in Single A, with only an 11-game stint in 2005 marking a higher showing.

He didn’t make it to Double A for a full season until he was 27 years old.

“He never even hinted at giving up,” said a childhood friend who played baseball with Holm. “He figured as long as he kept fighting, he’d make it. He is an extremely hard worker. He perseveres. And he has very, very, very high baseball intelligence. He knows the game within the game, and he knew it at an early age. He loves the game. He won’t give it up until someone takes the glove off his hand.”

Holm believed that one day he would be the right place at the right time. That’s how it worked.

Last spring, he was in the right place at the right time.

At the age of 28, on the last day of training camp, only two catchers were left on the Giants roster: Bengie Molina and him.

“Even so, I didn’t count on making the team,” Holm says. “I knew things can happen on the waiver wire, a trade, something. It didn’t sink in until Opening Day against the Dodgers.”

After six years in Single A and one in Double A, suddenly Holm was playing at AT&T Park in front of a ton of friends and family who drove down from Sacramento for most home games.

He peppered Molina with questions, sitting with him between innings to talk strategy. He had one thing going for him from all those years in the minors: He had caught almost all of the homegrown Giants pitchers. He caught Brian Wilson in 2005 in Low A Augusta and in Double A; Tim Lincecum in 2006 in San Jose; Matt Cain in Low A and A; Merkin Valdez in Low A, High A and Double A in 2005; Jonathan Sanchez in Augusta in 2005; and Kevin Correia in Salem in 2002.

As valuable as he was behind the plate as Molina’s backup, he struggled at the plate and was sent back and forth to Triple A through July and August and became the third catcher behind Pablo Sandoval and Molina through September. By season’s end, he had raised his batting average to .262.

With Sandoval playing third, Holm is likely to make the opening day roster again – a long way from those six long years in Single A. But Holm kept working – putting in hours upon hours in the off-season improving his throw to second, for instance – and the most amazing thing happened.

He grew up to be exactly what he dreamed.

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A Little Friendly Chin Music

Pretty good
succession of pitchers for today’s first round of batters:

Johnson, Lincecum
and Zito.

Johnson
didn’t participate in live batting practice Friday, so this was the first time
his new teammates have faced him this spring. Among the batters Johnson faced:
Fred Lewis. As a rookie last season, Lewis became the first left-handed batter
ever to go four-for-four against the five-time Cy Young Award winner.

Johnson’s
first pitch to Lewis today had Lewis jerking back from the plate. A little
inside.

“He
let me know he ain’t forgotten,” Lewis said later, laughing about it.

When
Lincecum trotted in from the outfield to replace Johnson, Shawon Dunston – a
roving instructor for the Giants’ minor leagues now – was taking throws at
first. Rich Aurilia, Dunston’s former teammate, was about step to the plate.

“Richie!”
Dunston yelled. “Who’s the new guy? Looks like a little guy. You should tear
‘em up!”

“You
come try!” Aurilia shouted.

“I had my time.
I’ll take the next one!”

Bengie Molina, who
caught both Johnson and Lincecum today, said both pitchers accomplished what
they wanted. Johnson is building up stamina, not throwing all out yet, not
trying to get too cute. Lincecum, a generation younger, is already working on
hitting corners – and succeeding, Molina said.

“It’s very
difficult, though, for pitchers to throw against their own guys because you
don’t want to risk hurting anyone,” Molina said. “But you’ve got to get
ready.”

At third base,
Pablo Sandoval looked like he belonged at his new position. It’s not really a
new position. Third base was his home for most of his life before he became a
catcher in the pros. Today, among several highlights, he made a diving stop on
an Aurilia bullet to third – a play spectacular enough to earn the rare
“Ohhhhh!” from his teammates. When Sandoval leapt for a high line drive and
missed, however, Molina howled and held his fingers an inch a apart.

“That’s
how much you air you got!” he hollered out to Sandoval. “You didn’t even get
one inch!”

Sandoval
held his fingers two inches apart.

“I
think two.”

“Well,
don’t be getting any of mine,” Molina teased as he waited his turn at the
plate. “Let me be happy with my hits while I can.”

Molina
is crazy about Sandoval. He credits the rookie with lifting everyone’s spirits
when he joined the team late last summer.

“When
he came in, he changed the club big time,” Molina says. “He is so happy every
day. So excited to be here. He has this fearlessness, too. That’s what you need
on a team, guys like that.”

The Crud was still making its way
through the clubhouse. Six guys were out sick today, plus J.T. Snow. Now it has
attacked the press corps. Andy Baggarly from the Mercury News was stricken,
though he managed to stay upright long enough this afternoon to file his
stories. (I figure if players get credit for playing hurt, so should the press.
I’m biased, of course.)

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