Monday, Dec. 5
DALLAS — Add Ryan Ludwick to the list of free-agent outfielders who might intrigue the Giants.
The Giants were believed to have scheduled a meeting Monday with Ludwick’s agent, Dan Horwits. Ludwick earned $6.775 million last season but might be more affordable than that this winter, even on the open market.
A right-handed batter, Ludwick thrived in 2008-09, when he hit .283 with 59 home runs and 210 RBIs for St. Louis. When the Cardinals sent him to San Diego at the 2010 Trade Deadline, Ludwick remained productive, as he was batting .281 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs in 77 games at the time.
Since that deal, however, Ludwick has hit .229 with 19 homers and 101 RBIs in 198 games for San Diego and Pittsburgh. He batted .237 with 13 homers and 75 RBIs overall last season. The 33-year-old’s on-base percentage has dwindled each year since 2008, from .375 to .329 to .325 to .310. His slugging percentage also has declined annually, from .591 in 2008 to .447 to .418 to .363.
Ludwick has performed adequately at AT&T Park, where he owns a .265 batting average (22-for-83) in 23 games. His total of five home runs in 83 at-bats by the bay indicates that, unlike many hitters, the ballpark’s dimensions don’t intimidate him.
Other free-agent outfielders to whom the Giants have been linked include Coco Crisp and Josh Willingham. They also were thought to be interested in David DeJesus before the A’s traded him to the Cubs, and in Grady Sizemore before he re-signed with Cleveland.
– Chris Haft
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
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
Wednesday, October 19
ST. LOUIS — About 25 minutes remain before the first pitch of Wednesday night’s World Series opener between St. Louis and Texas, so I had better file this fast.
The smart money says that the Rangers will do what they couldn’t accomplish against the Giants last year and shall win the Series. Yes, they can hit. Yes, they can run. Yes, their bullpen is deep and overpowering.
Check ESPN.com. All but four of their 25 baseball “experts” picked the Rangers to capture the Series. Who am I to argue with those guys?
But I believe that home-field advantage and Tony LaRussa’s managerial acumen could help the Cardinals overcome at least part of whatever theoretical disadvantage they might face. St. Louis also has Albert Pujols, the National League’s top player and maybe the best in all of baseball. That counts for something.
So, here’s my prediction: St.Louis in six games.
– Chris Haft
Wednesday, Oct. 5
SAN FRANCISCO — Even if you think Brian Wilson became more of a celebrity and less of a ballplayer in 2011, his new commercial probably will still make you laugh.
Wilson is featured on Taco Bell’s latest advertisement, which will air Thursday during the Tigers-Yankees Division Series telecast. It will continue to air through the postseason on the networks airing League Championship and World Series games.
A publicity release said that Wilson’s spot is a follow-up to last year’s commercial with Yankees close Mariano Rivera and manager Joe Girardi, in which Girardi has to call in Rivera to finish a customer’s XXL Chalupa because it’s too big.
What’s unintentionally funny is that the health-conscious Wilson probably wouldn’t eat Taco Bell products if he had a choice. But one must cash in on one’s fame while it remains possible to do so.
– Chris Haft
SAN FRANCISCO — You knew that Madison Bumgarner has outstanding control of his pitches. You might not have known that his excellence this year reached historic proportions.
Bumgarner began the season at age 21. According to researcher Roger Schlueter of Major League Baseball Productions, Bumgarner’s 4.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio (191 Ks, 46 walks) was the second best since 1893 for any pitcher that young. The only pitcher in his age-21 season to eclipse Bumgarner in this category was Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen, who had a 4.16 ratio (158 Ks, 38 walks) in 1985. Bumgarner moved onto this list ahead of Don Sutton, who recorded a 4.02 ratio (209 Ks, 52 walks) as a Dodgers rookie in 1966. Bumgarner turned 22 on Aug. 1.
Of course, no discussion of strikeout-to-walk ratio is complete without mentioning Sergio Romo. The Giants right-hander posted a ridiculous ratio of 14 (70 Ks, five walks) in 48 innings. His figure led all Major Leaguers who pitched at least 35 innings.
Despite Bumgarner’s and Romo’s best efforts, Giants pitchers walked 559 batters, third-highest in the National League. Tim Lincecum issued a career-high 86 walks — a figure he vowed to trim. Aside from Romo, the relief corps of Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Ramon Ramirez, Dan Runzler and Brian Wilson walked 154 in 336 innings. Despite this, San Francisco’s bullpen ranked second in the league with a 3.04 ERA.
More stats and history: The Giants’ abysmal total of 570 runs was their lowest in a non-strike-shortened season since they accumulated 556 in 1985.
You’ll remember that the ’85 club remains the only outfit in Giants history to lose 100 games.
Pablo Sandoval scored a club-high 55 runs. That’s the Giants’ lowest team-leading total, including strike-shortened years, since Heinie Smith scored either 46 runs (source: Giants media guide) or 48 runs (source: baseball-reference.com). Even in 1981, when the Giants played only 111 games, Jack Clark scored 60 runs.
Mark DeRosa, who possesses the gift of gab in abundance, will provide commentary during the postseason for MLB Network.
“That’s something I’ve had my eye on for a little bit,” DeRosa said. “They offered me a chance to come up there and help them out. Just to see if I enjoy it.I love being around the game. I love talking baseball. I’m not a guy who goes home in the offseason and forgets about it. I religiously watch every playoff game and World Series. I’ve got a lot of friends who have been playing in the league a long time with a lot of different teams. I’ve gotten to know a lot of guys around the league. I feel like I have a feel for what makes them tick.”
Here’s a not-going-out-on-a-limb-at-all prediction: DeRosa will do a heck of a job and set up a promising future for himself in radio or TV … once he finishes playing.
– Chris Haft
Monday, Sept. 5
SAN DIEGO — Fully aware that this has nothing to do with the Giants’ present-day issues, I’m compelled by the calendar to share this reminiscence.
Baseball on Labor Day always shall mean one thing for me: Sept. 3, 1973. The Giants beat the Dodgers, 11-8, overcoming an 8-1 deficit. This game reinforced some basic baseball truths — how momentum can be so fickle and inexorable; why leaving a ballgame early is never a good idea; and how the improbable can become commonplace when the Giants and Dodgers meet.
Moreover, it was simply an unforgettable game.
The Dodgers, who led the National League West by one game over Cincinnati at the time, led 8-1 after five innings. This prompted an older couple to gather their blankets (I should have mentioned that the scene was Candlestick Park) and head for the parking lot. Asked by a neighbor (apparently I was sitting amid a flock of season-ticket holders) why they were leaving so soon, the departing gentleman simply shook his head in disgust.
I wonder how those two felt a few hours later.
The Giants had only three hits through six innings — OK, I looked it up on baseball-reference.com — but roused themselves to score six runs in the seventh inning. That, I recall without fact-checking. I don’t remember much about the particulars of the rally, which included two-run singles by Dave Rader and Tito Fuentes (thanks again, baseball-reference). I do remember that though the Giants still trailed, 8-7, I was absolutely convinced that they’d proceed to win.
The ninth inning validated my belief. After striking out Willie McCovey, Chris Speier and Dave Kingman in a perfect eighth, Dodgers reliever Pete Richert walked Gary Thomasson to open the ninth. Baseball-reference says that the next two hitters, Rader and Mike Sadek, recorded sacrifice bunts and reached base safely. My memory tells me that the Dodgers botched both plays, but detailing how this happened would require deeper research.
The Dodgers summoned their best reliever, left-hander Jim Brewer, to face Bobby Bonds, the Giants’ best player and quite possibly the finest in the entire NL at that juncture. Though the bases were loaded with nobody out, the Dodgers seemed to have a decent shot of escaping the threat. Brewer’s formidable screwball made him tough on right-handed batters as well as against lefties.
But when Bonds performed at the height of his skill, nothing else mattered.
He drove a pitch to left field but hit it so high that I figured it was just a fly ball. Watching Bill Buckner stand helplessly at the fence as the ball disappeared into the seats told me otherwise. Giants fans in the relatively sparse audience of 15,279 — those who remained present, that is — were euphoric. The Giants never seriously threatened the Dodgers or Reds in the division race through the rest of the season. But, for one night, their followers felt as if the team had reached the World Series.
Bonds and the Giants thus issued an essential reminder: Never, ever give up.
Maybe this recollection isn’t so irrelevant after all.
– Chris Haft
Friday, Aug. 19
HOUSTON — With Eli Whiteside still feeling the effects of his rough slide Wednesday, the Giants are expected to recall catcher Hector Sanchez from Triple-A Fresno before Friday night’s series opener against the Houston Astros.
The Giants have not yet officially announced the move, which was initially reported by a Venezuelan news source. But industry sources confirmed that was imminent — and necessary. It’s anticipated that Whiteside will go on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. Whiteside plowed hard into second base with a headfirst slide on an unsuccessful stolen-base attempt at Atlanta, with his head absorbing much of the impact.
Sanchez, 21, appeared in three games with the Giants in a brief Major League stint earlier this season and went 0-for-3. He was hitting .261 with one home run and 26 RBIs in 46 games for Fresno after batting .301 with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 42 games with high-Class A San Jose.
– Chris Haft
Sunday, Aug. 7
SAN FRANCISCO — Brian Wilson’s 34th save, which he recorded Sunday, took a while to develop. Nine days had passed since his last save opportunity, July 28 at Philadelphia. Since then, Wilson had appeared just twice, absorbing the decision in the 13-inning loss at Cincinnati on July 29 and receiving an inning of work Friday against the Phillies.
But the scarcity of save chances didn’t bother Wilson, who came up with the day’s best line when he was asked about it. “I’m not on commission,” he said.
You may remember that Tim Lincecum refrains from icing his right arm after he pitches. That’s one of the many aspects which makes him unique.
So it seemed a little strange on Sunday to see Lincecum with an icepack strapped to him. But it was applied to Lincecum’s right knee, where he was struck by Chase Utley’s thrown bat in the eighth inning.
To his credit, Utley apologized to Lincecum immediately (then singled to right field on the next pitch). Said Lincecum, “After I kind of gathered myself, I stood up and I could hear him say, ‘Man, I’m sorry. You gotta know I didn’t mean to do that.’ “
Something to keep in mind: Of the Giants’ 47 remaining games, 37 are against teams with below-.500 records.
Trouble is, they’re only 32-26 against clubs with losing marks.<p/>
The Giants’ only games left against teams that currently own winning records are at Atlanta (Aug. 15-18) and against Arizona (Sept. 2-4 in San Francisco and Sept. 23-25 on the road).<p/>
– Chris Haft
Saturday, July 30
CINCINNATI — Still intent on shoring up their infield, the Giants obtained 15-year veteran Orlando Cabrera from the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night for Minor League outfielder Thomas Neal.
Cabrera, 36, has played 83 games this season at second base for Cleveland, which has Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. But moving back to short, where he has played 1,807 games, shouldn’t be a problem for Cabrera, who’s hitting .244 with four home runs and 38 RBIs.
Neal, 23, had spent six years in the Giants organization. He was batting .295 with two home runs and 25 RBIs in 60 games for Triple-A Fresno.
– Chris Haft