November 2011

Belt, Crawford get attention

Tuesday, Nov. 29

SAN FRANCISCO — Contradicting their reputation for favoring veteran players, general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy sounded upbeat about first baseman-outfielder Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford, who will enter Spring Training as candidates for the Opening Day lineup if they’re not shoved aside by free-agent or trade acquisitions.

Belt hit .300 in 28 games for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. The Giants wanted the 23-year-old to accumulate more at-bats after an injury-marred season in which he hit .225 in 63 games for the Giants when he wasn’t making one of his three round-trips back to the Minors.

Sabean was impressed with what he saw of Belt on telecasts and videos.<p/>

“I think he made a concerted effort to make some adjustments,” Sabean said during Tuesday’s conference call. “It’s not Major League pitching, but you still have to have an approach. All the reports that we got from Moises Alou, who’s the general manager there, were favorable. He was playable in the outfield. We know his best position is probably first base, but this was a nice step for him. I’m really happy and pleased that he accepted this challenge.”

Crawford, 24, hit .276 in 21 games for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. His stint included a 16-game hitting streak during which he hit .338 (24-for-71). That helped Crawford make the AFL’s Top Prospects squad.

“We know what his glove brings, and he tried like hell to make [hitting] adjustments,” Sabean said. “He put the ball in play extremely well. He tried his damndest to stay off the high fastball, which was kind of his Kryptonite.”

Said Bochy of Crawford, “I think he’s a guy who can do some things to make a difference.”

*****

Bochy also praised catcher Hector Sanchez, who owned a .393 batting average in 32 games with La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League. All year, Bochy has monitored Sanchez’s improvement, which could result in a long look for the switch-hitting 22-year-old in Spring Training. Sanchez won’t unseat a healthy Buster Posey, but he could compete for a backup spot unless the Giants want him to gain more seasoning at Triple-A Fresno.

“I’m not going to be surprised to see him make a lot of noise this spring,” Bochy said.

*****

The hunch here is that the Giants will re-sign either Cody Ross or Andres Torres, but not both. Ross is a free agent; Torres is eligible for salary arbitration but probably will not be tendered a contract. That would save the Giants a million bucks or so if Torres, who would become a free agent after being non-tendered, opts to stay with the Giants.

Sabean lumped Torres along with other arbitration-eligibles, such as Jeff Keppinger and Mike Fontenot. “He’s certainly part of our discussions about what we’re going to try to do internally to go forward,” Sabean said. “He’s in a group of players who we still have time to make decisions on.”

Asked whether he thought Ross might return, Sabean said only, “Not sure.”

*****

Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, said that third baseman Pablo Sandoval hasn’t decided whether to alter his plans for returning to Venezuela, where he had originally intended to participate in the winter league’s home run derby and play for a week to 10 days with Magallanes. Evans indicated that the kidnapping incident involving Washington catcher Wilson Ramos in Venezuela apparently isn’t a deterrent for Sandoval. But being in shape could be. He underwent laser eye surgery on Nov. 18, interrupting his training in Arizona.

Chris Haft

Why isn’t phone ringing for Wotus?

Nov. 4

SAN FRANCISCO — The people who run the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are smart individuals.

So it’s difficult to fathom why none of them has seen fit to offer Giants bench coach Ron Wotus an interview for their managerial vacancies.

Wotus has managed successfully in the Minor Leagues, reaching the playoffs with all but one of the seven teams he piloted. He has gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the National League while becoming the longest-tenured coach in Giants history (OK, maybe his NL-centric background excuses the Red Sox a little bit). At 50, he’s still relatively young.

Some might suggest that Wotus’ managerial aspirations have been hampered by staying with the Giants through his entire managerial and coaching career, as if being with only one organization for so long limits his breadth of experience. On the contrary, the fact that Wotus has worked with three different Giants managers — Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou and Bruce Bochy — reflects his value to the ballclub. Alou and Bochy, in particular, easily could have replaced Wotus with one of their own cronies upon becoming manager. Yet they recognized Wotus’ assets and kept him aboard.

It’s also worth mentioning that Wotus reached the World Series with Baker (2002) and Bochy (2010) and coached on a team that won 100 games under Alou (2003). He has done more than just go along for the ride all these years.

When you figure out why Wotus continues to be overlooked, please give the Giants’ front office a call. Because the Cardinals, Cubs and Red Sox haven’t.

*****

Open bidding for free agents began Thursday with apparently limited activity by the Giants. “Apparently” is the key term, because many agents avoided speaking specifically about their interactions with teams. Nor did the Giants themselves advertise their strategy — which only made sense, since that keeps opponents guessing.

Wise folks believe that little or nothing will happen in free agency until a new Basic Agreement is reached between management and players. This could happen as early as next week. Once that’s finalized, club owners will know what their revenue sources are for the next few years. At that point, they’ll feel more comfortable turning their baseball operations people loose in the open market.

*****

The career of the late Matty Alou served as a reminder of how challenging it was to hit at Candlestick Park. Alou batted .248 there, compared to .315 everywhere else — including .332 at Forbes Field, which became his home ballpark when San Francisco traded him to Pittsburgh before the 1966 season.

Joe Amalfitano, the Giants special assistant and former infielder who played with and against Alou, described the 1966 NL batting champion’s approach at Forbes Field, where the outfield was spacious: “He’d hit balls in the gap and run for two days.”

Should Alou have tried to score on Willie Mays’ two-out, ninth-inning double in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series with the Giants trailing, 1-0? Though that remains a subject of some debate, it’s instructive to listen to the national radio broadcast of that game, which was anchored by George Kell. “[Alou] would have been out at the plate,” Kell said matter of factly and without hesitation as he recapped the play. As a Hall of Fame  third baseman, Kell spoke with an accomplished ballplayer’s perspective. Sending Alou would have been foolish.

*****

I’ll confess to being a little bit of a homer. That said, it’s ridiculous that Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong didn’t win one of the three Comeback Player of the Year Award votes in which he was a candidate. I guess escaping oblivion to make the NL All-Star team and finish fourth in the league in ERA doesn’t count for much anymore.

Chris Haft

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