October 2009

Lowry to test free agency

As expected, Noah Lowry is becoming a free agent.

The Giants declined to exercise the $6.25 million option on Lowry’s 2010 contract — a predictable move, given the left-hander’s two-year inactivity due to injury. The club then reinstated Lowry and right-handers Justin Miller and Kelvin Pichardo from the 60-day disabled list and outrighted them to Triple-A Fresno.

Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, explained that Lowry and Miller can become free agents since they have more than five years of Major League service time. Damon Lapa, Lowry’s agent, confirmed in an e-mail response that his client will opt for free agency rather than accept the Giants’ assignment.

If you’re reading this, you might be among the throng of fans to ask me recently how Lowry’s doing and what might his immediate future hold. You’ll be glad to know that Lapa also reported that Lowry is throwing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays “without any limitations or restrictions.” Lapa added, “I’ve personally played catch with him and he is back to his pre-injury form.”

Lowry should be able to find a job easily. He’s only 29. He owns a 40-31 Major League record, having led the Giants in victories in 2005-07. He displays immeasurable confidence when he strides to the mound as if it were his personal throne and stubbornly challenges hitters with his changeup. His intangibles alone make him worth signing.

Whether the Giants will bring back Lowry is debatable. Earlier this year Lapa claimed that the club “misdiagnosed” Lowry’s forearm injury, which couldn’t have helped the relationship between the sides. Then again, worse rifts have been mended.

Miller, 32, contributed to the success of the Giants’ bullpen by posting a 3-3 record with a 3.18 ERA in 44 appearances. Inflammation in his throwing elbow ended his season in September. Pichardo, 24, was sidelined for much of the season but is on the roster of Toros del Este in the Dominican Winter League.

– Chris Haft 

No shame for Giants against Phils

SAN FRANCISCO — Truly rabid Giants fans still pondering What Might Have Been in 2009 can torture themselves further as the World Series begins Wednesday by recalling San Francisco’s efforts against the Philadelphia Phillies, who hope to capture their second consecutive Fall Classic.

The Giants were 4-3 against Philadelphia and easily could have fared better. They lost twice by one run in a Sept. 1-3 series at Citizens Bank Park. San Francisco took three of four from the Phils July 30-Aug. 2 at AT&T Park, emboldening those who suggested that the Giants would be tough to face in a short postseason series.

A game-by-game look at the season series showed that the Giants were alternately at their most impressive and most vulnerable against the National League champions:

July 30: Pablo Sandoval said he wasn’t acting out of revenge toward Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who left him off the NL All-Star team. But it sure looked like it as Sandoval homered, doubled and drove in four runs in a 7-2 Giants victory. Jonathan Sanchez turned in a typical performance, lasting only 5 2/3 innings but allowing just three hits while striking out seven.

July 31: The punchless Giants showed up, mustering four hits in a 5-1 loss. Then again, they faced the formidable Cliff Lee, who allowed two runners to reach scoring position while throwing a complete game. San Francisco trailed 1-0 when Brandon Medders and Jeremy Affeldt endured rare struggles as they combined to issue three walks and hit a batter in Philadelphia’s three-run seventh.

Aug. 1: Tim Lincecum was nothing short of magnificent, striking out eight and retiring the final 10 batters he faced in an eight-inning effort. Juan Uribe drove in the game’s only runs with a pair of sacrifice flies off Joe Blanton in a 2-0 Giants victory. Lincecum improved to 12-3 and Brian Wilson pitched a perfect ninth for his 27th save.

Aug. 2: Trailing 3-1 against Cole Hamels, the undaunted Giants scored three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to pull away and win, 7-3. Eugenio Velez contributed to both uprisings, blooping a two-out single and scoring on Freddy Sanchez’s two-run double in the fifth before stroking a two-run single in the sixth.

Sept. 1: The Giants arrived in Philadelphia tied with Colorado for the Wild Card lead, but Hamels precipitated their September slide by allowing two hits in a 1-0 decision. Sanchez struck out eight in six innings, lapsing only when Shane Victorino singled leading off the fourth inning and scored on Ryan Howard’s one-out double. Rich Aurilia opened the ninth with a pinch-hit single but pinch-runner Andres Torres was thrown out trying to steal second base, ending the rally before it began.

Sept. 2: Brad Penny dominated in his Giants debut, surrendering five hits in eight shutout innings. The resurgent Torres hit a fifth-inning single to open the scoring before Uribe and Aaron Rowand delivered back-to-back homers in a three-run sixth to hasten San Francisco’s 4-0 win.

Sept. 3: An instant classic ended in frustration for the Giants. Lincecum struck out 11 in seven innings while allowing two runs and four hits. But Pedro Martinez was slightly better, blanking San Francisco for seven innings after Velez homered to open the game. After the Cy Young Award winners left the stage, the Giants put runners on the corners with two outs in the ninth against Brad Lidge before pinch-hitter Fred Lewis grounded into a force play to end Philadelphia’s 2-1 triumph.

– Chris Haft

Jaramillo’s available to help hitters

SAN FRANCISCO — Rarely would I advocate removing somebody from his or her job, particularly in the current economic climate. And maybe I’m too much of a softie, but I’m not going to make Carney Lansford an exception. I have trouble blaming Lansford for the Giants’ subpar offense during the 2009 season. From what I could detect, he taught the right principles. Problem was, too many guys didn’t pay enough attention.

That said, if the Giants decline to retain Lansford, as has been rumored, an excellent replacement is available: Rudy Jaramillo. The Texas Rangers asked Jaramillo to return for the 2010 season, but he declined their offer.

Jaramillo has drawn increasing praise since he became Texas’ hitting coach in 1995. Results indicate that the praise isn’t empty. Entering this season, Rangers hitters have accumulated 17 Silver Slugger Awards, four Most Valuable Player Awards, three home run titles and three RBI crowns during his tenure.

Sure, the Rangers’ ballpark is a hitters’ haven, and, yes, Jaramillo has had plenty of talent to work with. But Texas’ consistently potent offense suggests that he’s doing something right.

If the Giants decide to pursue Jaramillo, they’ll have plenty of competition. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, with whom Jaramillo served his first hitting-coach stint, are said to be interested in him.

*****

I don’t usually call attention to my own stories, but if you read the Larry Jansen obituary the other day, were you able to keep a straight face when Gaylord Perry mentioned his “hard slider”?

– Chris Haft

Sabean/Bochy outtakes, and a bit more

SAN FRANCISCO — General manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy had much more to say than what appeared in the story on sfgiants.com. Here are the answers to some of the other questions asked by various reporters:

What will you do at second base if you don’t re-sign Freddy Sanchez?
SABEAN: “I’m not sure because we still have to lay eyes on [Emmanuel] Burriss, who’s about to play in the instructional league and then go off to winter ball. That was really unfortunate, the way he got hurt in the minor leagues, and we didn’t get a chance to see him get back up here. So it’ll be something we’ll have to contemplate. Our aim is to try to get something done with Freddy and I expect that probably will happen.”
 
What about the payroll?
SABEAN: “The payroll, I think, I can characterize two ways. It’s not going to change all that much per se. Some of the models we’ve done obviously reflect what’s going to happen in arbitration with [Tim] Lincecum and [Brian] Wilson, and even [Jonathan] Sanchez. With Freddy’s situation, being the second base spot, the number’s been folded in there. What I’m confident is the dealings we’ve had with Bill [Neukom] the last two years is, no matter what number gets set, if we have something compelling baseball-wise to bring to him, he certainly will consider it and take it through the proper channels. I think we’ll have the latitude to see what we can recommend. Now how it presents itself or how involved we can or will be to follow through with that, there’s no telling. It’s not a very attractive free-agent market in my mind. You guys have got a list yourselves.”

Would you be willing to pursue a hitter who’s defensively challenged, or do you plan to uphold the team’s defensive standards, no ifs, ands or buts?
SABEAN: “I think there are exceptions to the rule, and we’re willing to visit that. … Really, to speak to some of the questions about our style of play or how we were going to go about it offensively, the one thing that didn’t happen was, collectively as a group, we just couldn’t get marginally better. … In some ways, we might have gotten caught in between. We were waiting for guys to hit three-run homers. We were waiting for guys to hit a double with the bases loaded. The more we found out we couldn’t do that, later in the year, we decided that we were going to have to do some other things — bunting guys over or running a little bit more. … I’ll say this: between Boch and the coaching staff, everybody got their chance. Everybody got their chance to play, stay in the lineup or, more so, get rotated back in when it didn’t work out for somebody else.”

Brian, you mentioned you’d like to get a contract done with Freddy Sanchez. How do you see second baseman-outfielder Eugenio Velez fitting in?
SABEAN: “I think it’ll take some discussion. If you’re asking me personally, he probably is a little bit more comfortable as an outfielder. He probably plays a little bit more relaxed. Having said that, he really has come a long ways as a defensive player, both as a second baseman and as an outfielder. It kind of goes to what can make it easier on the manager. Let’s say if Velez and [Andres] Torres are the leadoff component, it’s probably better-suited [for him] to be in the outfield. That’s not to say that he would never play second base. But I think we would look at it that way.”

Q: This team reminds me of the ’86 Giants — young nucleus, playing with passion, finishing a strong third, and the next year Al Rosen and Roger Craig engineered a division winner. Is that the stated aim going into spring training next year?
BOCHY: “Sure it is. It’s getting back to what I talked about. The team has gotten into a win mode now. We reached up and grabbed a pretty good bar this year. Now we want to reach up and grab the next bar. Sure, more will be expected out of us. I’d rather have it that way. I expect more out of us and I know these players feel the same. As we go into Spring Training, we’re going to go in with a lot of confidence and try to finish the job.”

Brian, what does it mean to you to be the longest-tenured general manager?
SABEAN: “Pretty amazing. I don’t feel particularly good about a colleague of mine like Kevin Towers being let go the way he was, but that’s the business. There are only 30 of these jobs. I’ve always tried to treat the position with the utmost respect and be humble going about it. To think that we’ve been here this long as a group is pretty amazing and I’m thankful. I don’t ever think about how long I want to do this or how long I have done it, but it’s been a good run. We’ve had ups and downs, buts an organization, I think that the Giants have a lot to be pleased with, not only from our past but especially as we’re talking about going into the future.”

What about your reputation for having an attachment to bringing in older players?
SABEAN: “We don’t sit here as general managers making unilateral decisions. At the end of the day, do you have to make the final final? Yes. But the manager and those involved, including ownership, pretty much know what you’re trying to do and who you’re trying to bring in. I’m not going to speak to track record. You guys keep score; we keep score; what I can say is that a lot of times it doesn’t come down to just dollars and cents as to how you got somebody or brought somebody in or more so what they do for the club.

“And I’ll mention this, not in any way of being defensive, but the [Edgar] Renteria situation: We made a management decision on all levels that we needed a veteran shortstop. Looking back, the choice internally would have been somebody like [Emmanuel] Burriss, which as we all know sitting here today, wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. Secondarily, no matter what the contract threshold ended up being, if you talk to Tony LaRussa, if you talk to Bobby Cox, if you talk to anybody around baseball who’s had this type of player and you listen to how Boch witnessed what he was able to do on and off the field, including or especially just with somebody like Pablo, who he took under his wing in Spring Training and carried that out through the season and let alone how he went out there most days not at 100 percent, probably 75 percent. What we’ve tried to do is bring guys in here, no matter what the contract was like, or really, how it turned out against the contract, that could make a difference. Have we made mistakes? Yes. But in our keeping score, we’ve made a lot of good decisions, too.”

BOCHY: “I think a lot of us …get labeled that you like or prefer veteran players. There’s no getting around it. Sure, there’s a little sense of security or confidence with a veteran player. But … I like young players. I love the energy from Pablo Sandoval, what he brings. Velez. You need those kind of players. But you also need guys like a Renteria or Uribe and what they do. And again, not just on the field but in the clubhouse. It’s great to have a nice blend of these guys and I thought we had that this year.”

Have you had talks about a contract extension with Tim Lincecum?
SABEAN: “No … And it’s really not appropriate yet. The first thing we’re doing is deciding, because of the number of [salary arbitration] cases we have, how we’re going to prioritize getting ready for them, who’s actually going to handle them. And really, to tell you the truth, there’s leverage involved … [Lincecum's contract] is a complicated one. It’s one I have not been through. Nor will many people in baseball go through. You’re going to have the union, on their side, very much interested to see how this turns out, and Major League Baseball is going to have an eye and ear [on] this as to where it could go on a one-year deal. And maybe, until you establish what that threshold is, how do you get to the next level, which is a multiyear contract? The other thing that’s very confusing is, it’s almost impossible now to insure contracts. Or insure a contract like Timmy’s. Timmy has nothing wrong with him.”

What are you expecting from now until next season with Pablo Sandoval to see him improve more?
SABEAN: [Mentioning plans to meet with Sandoval later Monday or Tuesday] “He’s been asked to make a trip with some kind of All-Star team from Major League Baseball to Korea. I think that’s a two-week trip. I don’t know whether he’s going to accept that.”Secondarily, he has somewhat of a commitment — a countryman’s commitment, let’s say — with winter ball [for Magallanes in Venezuela]. I’ve heard somewhere in the range of wanting to play for three weeks.

“But lastly, he understands that we have to do some more things to get him in better shape not only coming into Spring Training, but as the season goes along [Sandoval will spend most of November at the Giants' training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., to work on conditioning and proper nutrition]. And as we know, that’s only going to prolong his career, and he understands that. We just have to figure out the place, the time frame and the cooperation. Because some of it is a change in lifestyle. But he’s saying the right things and he does believe that he needs to make some changes. He’s not the only guy on the ballclub who will go to [a conditioning program].”

What about Tim Lincecum’s strengthening program?
SABEAN: “It’s a slippery slope with him because this guy’s an amazing athlete as is. Last year because of the Cy Young, he was on the circuit pretty good and probably started a little too late calendar-wise and that’s one of the reasons he was taxed in Spring Training and not in an optimal space to start the season. He understands that. As far as I know, he’s staying in the Bay Area this offseason, which will help us with him.”

Are you OK with Sandoval playing winter ball?
SABEAN: “If it’s for a short period of time. [He's] very popular. He’s still a young player. He has a chance to earn some money in doing so. I don’t say there’s a lot of pressure on him, but we have to pay respect to that. That’s what he grew up around. He was very popular there last year. And it’s good for Major League Baseball. But the time lost down there, if he does go, and I don’t know what that time frame’s going to be, might cut into the calendar that we want for him. That’s why we have to sit down and go through each week, each month.”

Do you anticipate not tendering contracts to Justin Miller, Brandon Medders or Ryan Garko, all of whom are arbitration-eligible?
SABEAN: “For the first time, we have more eligible players than I can remember. Secondarily, it comes down to roster manipulation or machinations where we’re going to need spots to add folks from our minor leagues. And we’re also going to want to have spots available in case of signing a free agent or making a trade. so each one of them is going to have to be visited to see what … the value of that spot is. Not only the 40-man roster, but how we predict the 25-man roster could be crafted.”

[Sabean concluded by saluting the pitching staff]
“We’ve got some guys who are tough SOBs. And I think that [Randy] Johnson really helped with that mindset. [Brad] Penny coming in with his bravado. And in some ways, I’m not so sure our whole team didn’t take on that type of personality. These guys wanted to win every inning and every game … and in some ways, took the pressure off what we couldn’t do offensively. There weren’t many position players that would dare half-step that type of group. It’s tough to find a pitching staff not only that good, but that competitive — that competitive among themselves and more so as you went into the game. That’s one of the reasons I think we won as many games as we did. The opposition knew that [he pounded the table for emphasis], our team knew that and they all deserve so much credit. Because they all talk different, they all have different styles, they all act different, but individually and collectively, this was a tough-minded group of people.”

*****

Three Giants underwent minor surgery Monday. Right-hander Justin Miller had arthroscopic surgery to have loose bodies removed from his throwing elbow; infielder Rich Aurilia experienced a similar procedure; and right-hander Brandon Medders had a torn meniscus in his left knee repaired.

– Chris Haft

Aurilia’s in the lineup for home finale

SAN FRANCISCO — Receiving a proper sendoff, Rich Aurilia, who’s likely in his last days as an active player with the Giants, was in the lineup for Thursday’s home finale against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Aurilia was slated to bat seventh and play first base in his first start since July 17.

Aurilia, 38, has spent 11 of his 14 Major League seasons with the Giants. He’ll likely receive a warm reception at AT&T Park from Giants fans, who consider him the last link to the club’s sustained excellence between 1997 and 2004. Aurilia spent most of that time as San Francisco’s starting shortstop, helping the team average 92 wins a year and reach the postseason or Wild Card playoff five times.<p/>

– Chris Haft

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