December 2009

Wednesday’s Winter Meetings leftovers

INDIANAPOLIS — Could the New York Yankees’ acquisition of Curtis Granderson affect the Giants? Probably not. But if the Giants were so inclined, they might be able to coax an outfielder from the World Champions.

The Yankees probably wouldn’t want to trade Melky Cabrera, since he’s only 25 and relatively affordable, having earned a base salary of $1.4 million last season. But he could be deemed expendable if New York decided it had a glut of outfielders. Cabrera was linked to the Giants in trade rumors a couple of years ago, which of course means nothing.

The Yankees also have Nick Swisher, the former Oakland Athletic who probably wouldn’t mind returning to the Bay Area. Swisher propelled 29 home runs out of the Yankee Stadium launching pad and compiled a .371 on-base percentage despite hitting only .249 last season. But Swisher’s mildly pricey, as he’s owed $15.75 million over the next two seasons.

Though most speculation has linked the Giants to corner outfielders, general manager Brian Sabean said that one or two scenarios “possibly” exist in which the club could acquire a center fielder, who would prompt Aaron Rowand to move to left field. But, Sabean added, “We’re not asking Aaron to move and we don’t anticipate that he’ll move.”

*****

Nate Schierholtz has helped himself by playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. The 25-year-old candidate for the right field job entered Wednesday batting .339 in 15 games for the Gigantes de Carolina, helped partly by tutelage from San Francisco’s globe-trotting hitting coach, Hensley Meulens.

“I give Nate a lot of credit,” Sabean said. “We really appreciate what he’s doing to go to winter ball and he has made some changes with Hensley. Everybody’s pulling for Nate. He’s got too much passion for what he does and he works at it. He’s a good outfielder (with a) good arm, good baserunner. We just haven’t seen enough consistency with the bat, or more so the power that we thought we’d have at this time. But he certainly (has) a captive audience right now. He wants to be out there.”

– Chris Haft

Tuesday’s Winter Meetings leftovers

INDIANAPOLIS — Each manager attending the Winter Meetings participates in a half-hour question-and-answer session with reporters. Here are highlights from Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s stint Tuesday:

– On Eugenio Velez’s on-base percentage, which has been lower than desired for a leadoff man (the role he’s expected to play in 2010): “It’s something to work on. We know how important that leadoff guy is in getting on and on-base percentage. Your hope is the experience of getting playing time is going to help increase his on-base percentage and his discipline at the plate and his hitting ability. This kid just continues to get better and better. So that’s part of the growing process for young players, especially a leadoff hitter. I think the more Eugenio leads off, you hope that he does get better and finds more ways to get on base for you.”

– On Edgar Renteria’s position in the batting order if Freddy Sanchez bats second: “Where we are right now, Sánchez could hit second or third. You know, it’s not etched in stone that he will be our No. 2 hitter depending where we are at going into Spring Training. It’s nice to have that flexibility with him, because I think he would be a pretty good No. 3-hole hitter, and I think he does a pretty good job in the 2-hole. I think we could put Edgar in the 2-hole, who has a lot of experience in there, and drop Freddy to the 3-hole.”

– Where does Fred Lewis fit in? “Right now, Fred is one of our outfielders who will compete for a spot with John Bowker and Nate Schierholtz, Velez, (Andres) Torres. I know that’s a lot there, but where we’re at right now, he’s in the mix with the other guys.”

– Any chance you might consider Fred as the leadoff guy, since he had a decent on-base percentage? “I put him there last year. Fred actually came up to me. He wasn’t too comfortable leading off, and so I took him out of that spot. But that was my hope for him, to lead off, because he does see pitches.  He does get on base. You know, he has speed and he could be a good leadoff hitter, but the guy has to want to do it and be comfortable.  He admitted that he was not real comfortable with it.”

– How do you see right field playing out? “It’s going to be competitive. Nate obviously is going to be in the mix there. He’s playing winter ball and doing a nice job in Puerto Rico. My guess is it will be deep into spring before we know how we are going to have those guys placed in the outfield.”

– Is there any reason for optimism about Aaron Rowand putting up better numbers overall? “For me, Aaron had a good first half.  Second half, he did tail off a little bit. But really, going into probably mid-August, his numbers were pretty good. … To have a normal year for him, that might be hitting .270 (with)15 to 20 home runs and driving in 75, 80 runs. Sure, I expect Aaron to have those kind of numbers at the end of the year.”

– You mentioned last year around this time that he may play fewer games, and he did. Seeing that he did tail off again, might you have the same mindset? “Yeah, I have talked about this, too. I haven’t with Aaron, but I did try to call him the other day. With the tailoff the last couple of years, it’s something I’ll sit down with Aaron this spring and talk to him about, maybe try to give him a break now and then in that first half to see if that can help him in the second half.”

– Chris Haft

Thank you, Whitey

INDIANAPOLIS — This has nothing to do with the Giants and virtually zilch to do with the Winter Meetings, but I’m compelled to extend this tribute to Whitey Herzog, who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee and appeared here Tuesday.

I was a fledgling writer when my boss at The Cincinnati Post sent me to St. Louis to put together a featurish story on the Cardinals preceding the 1987 National League Championship Series against San Francisco (OK, there’s my Giants relevance). In terms of experience with Major Leaguers, I was as green as Busch Stadium’s artificial turf.

At least I knew enough to start gathering my quotes well before gametime, which is proper practice when writing a non-news story. As I recall, I might have interviewed a Cardinal or two before deciding to talk to Herzog, the exceedingly successful Cardinals manager.

I approached Herzog’s office as if it were a pit of snakes. There he sat behind his desk. Surely, I feared, this rough, tough man would bite my head off. Trying not to sound intimidated (and failing), I asked Whitey if he had a few minutes. He must have sized me up in 0.6 seconds — young, inexperienced, clueless, but earnest. Whitey invited me in and answered my first couple of questions, genially and expansively. He quickly put me at ease.

Suddenly a reporter from WFAN (the Cardinals were playing the Mets) burst into Herzog’s office, oblivious to my presence. “Hey, Whitey,” he boomed. “How about some time for …”

The reporter didn’t finish his sentence. Herzog pounced on the guy as if he were an umpire who had just blown a call. “What the (expletive) are you doing?!?” Herzog bellowed. “Can’t you see I’m talking to this gentleman?!? Get the (expletive) out of here!!!”

The WFAN man scurried away. I was at once stunned and honored. Herzog had treated me as if I were a 20-year veteran of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Whitey calmly and instantly refocused his attention to me. “Now, where were we?” he asked.

It should come as no surprise to you what angle I chose for my story: The true Most Valuable Player of the NL East champion Cardinals, I wrote, was Whitey Herzog. So much for objectivity (though numerous comments from players supported my case).

Congratulations on reaching the Hall of Fame, Whitey, but you made my Hall of Fame a long time ago.

– Chris Haft

First-day Winter Meetings leftovers

INDIANAPOLIS — To nobody’s great surprise, Giants general manager Brian Sabean said Monday in his daily Winter Meetings briefing that Eugenio Velez and Andres Torres will enter Spring Training as the leading candidates to bat leadoff.

As was the case with most spots in the batting order, leadoff presented problems for the Giants last season. Their No. 1 hitters scored 94 runs, 14th in the National League and eight fewer than the league average. They hit .258, 12th in the NL and 14 points below the league average. Their .312 on-base percentage, good for 14th, fell .028 short of the league average.

Many readers have pointed out that Velez, despite his brief second-half surge, would be a poor choice to hit leadoff, given his .308 on-base percentage last season. Torres accumulated only 152 at-bats in 75 games, but .343 his on-base percentage outshone Velez’s. Torres also struggled to stay healthy, going on the disabled list twice with left hamstring strains.

Sabean mentioned that none of this takes into account what position Velez or Torres would play. Bruce Bochy will have a chance to discuss this issue further when he holds a question-and-answer session (as all Major League managers do at the Winter Meetings) on Tuesday.

***

As managing general partner Bill Neukom concentrated on another activity but sat within earshot in the Giants’ suite, Sabean reiterated that the club’s payroll would remain “in the realm of last year,” probably in the low $90 million range. Due partly to the settlement the Giants will have to reach with Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who’s eligible for salary arbitration for the first time, they’ll need every penny (except Brad).

***

As the Giants continued searching for a catcher to play regularly while top prospect Buster Posey continues his apprenticeship, Sabean ruled out two possible fill-ins already on the roster: Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Garko.

The Giants have no desire to expose Sandoval to catching’s physical rigors, which could hamper their best offensive performer at the plate. “It’s too high a risk,” Sabean said. Sandoval started three games behind the plate last year, when he led San Francisco with a .330 average, 25 home runs and 90 RBIs. He caught 11 times in 41 games as a rookie in 2008.

Garko won the 2003 Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher while attending Stanford University. He has never caught an inning in his four-year Major League career, though he caught 141 games in the Minors.

***

Speculation that the Los Angeles Angels might be pursuing outfielder Jason Bay, regarded as one of the market’s few premier free agents, sparked spinoff gossip: Were the Angels to sign Bay, they could be compelled to trade outfielder Juan Rivera.

Rivera would nicely fit the Giants’ needs for a proven hitter. The 31-year-old hit .287 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs in 138 games last season. Moreover, he’ll earn only $4.25 million next year and $5.25 million in 2011. But the combination of Rivera’s skill and relatively modest salary might prompt the Angels to demand a package of players beyond the Giants’ capabilities.

– Chris Haft

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 100 other followers