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