San Francisco Giants: Sabean, Bochy 2011 Postmortem: 5 Big Takeaways (Updated)
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The Giants staged their annual end-of-season postmortem for the media Thursday. In about 40 minutes, G.M. Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy revealed...well, not much, really.
The 2012 payroll will slightly exceed this year's, rising to about $124 million (pretty much what had been anticipated).
Top priorities are negotiating extensions with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum before either is eligible for free agency (allowing either to escape might force Sabean into witness protection).
There are no viable options to play center field or bat leadoff. And they're unsure about shortstop. (uh...duh)
Oh, and there was this shocker: Aubrey Huff was out of shape this year!! (lucky I was sitting down, or I might have fainted)
The San Jose Mercury-News' Andy Baggarly blogged a succinct summary of the press conference; you can peruse it for details.
I took five insights from what was said, as well as what wasn't. Here they are.
The Good: An Extension for Matt Cain Is Priority No. 1
Cain has been a glue-guy; losing him would be devastating
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Sabean acknowledged that he'll focus on locking up Matt Cain beyond 2012 (when he becomes a free agent) and Tim Lincecum (under club control through 2013) before pursuing offense in the free agent market.
Lincecum's situation is less urgent—although the club would prefer to negotiate an extension and avoid the vagaries of arbitration, he's here for two additional years either way—than locking up Cain.
A determination to hang on to Cain, even if it consumes significant payroll, is good news on several fronts:
First, it plays to the club's unquestioned strength—pitching—and its foundation for a return to the playoffs.
Second, a new deal for Cain (and possibly Lincecum) will eat up a significant chunk of payroll. That might keep Sabean out of the upper tier of the free agent market, where his track record isn't stellar.
If he enters the free agent market after the 2012 season, Cain can expect a huge pay day and a new cell phone programmed for area code 617 (Boston), 212 (New York) or 312 (Chicago).
Sabean and the Giants seem determined to prevent this; that's great news entering an offseason of (otherwise) considerable doubt.
The Good (cont.): Nate Schierholtz Is Front-Runner for RF
Bochy said RF is "Schierholtz's job to lose"
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Bruce Bochy made one encouraging observation Thursday, declaring that right field is Nate Schierholtz's job to lose.
(I re-read a transcription of the press conference to be sure I hadn't been dreaming.)
Many of us anguished over Bochy's peculiar—or stubborn—misuse of Schierholtz for most of 2011. He split time with the (anemic) likes of Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross and Andres Torres, then was displaced by Carlos Beltran in right field.
It was the perfect miscalculation by Bochy: fewer plate appearances for a consistent run producer + weaker outfield defense = harm to his club's playoff chances.
Bochy's commitment to Schierholtz could be conditional (awaiting other possible options), although he wasn't at all equivocal at the press conference.
Still, after a season of continuous insanity, a ray of sanity was reassuring to hear.
The Bad: Lopez Might Go, Sanchez and Zito Will Return
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Sabean also said that left handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt will return in 2012.
Superficially that's good—albeit not earth-shattering—news. Affeldt has been a solid member of a superior bullpen since coming to San Francisco in 2009.
Under the surface, it's not such good news. Exercising Affeldt's 2012 option (at $5 million) might preclude them from making a serious bid for Javier Lopez, who will command high interest as a free agent.
And an even more troubling indicator: Sabean confirmed that left-handed prize pitching prospect Eric Surkamp is headed back to the minors (likely to Class-AAA Fresno) for more seasoning.
The organization remains high on Surkamp; his last few starts for the Giants simply demonstrated that he's not yet ready for prime time.
That leaves the club with two returning candidates for the fifth rotation spot: Jonathan Sanchez (oh, no) or Barry Zito (oh, no, no, no).
Zito's contractual status isn't up in the air (don't even start); Sanchez's 2012 price tag will be determined through arbitration.
Then the real fun—watching them compete for the spot—will start.
Wonder if Ryan Vogelsong has any brothers. Or cousins.
The Ugly: Dancing Around Huff's Miserable 2011
If Huff wasn't ready to play, why did he?
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You can read the entire transcript of comments from Sabean and Bochy in a blog entry from the San Jose Mercury-News' Tim Kawakami here.
I found these highlights especially intriguing:
Sabean: "A lot of what went on might have been the residual effect of maybe not doing enough in the offseason, and he knows that. But it was a touchy thing to deal with."
Bochy: "He was embarrassed. And he was humbled by what happened. So I think he’s determined to get back to where he was. The thing that’s important with Aubrey right now, he accepted full accountability for what happened to him this year and maybe not working as hard."
Sabean twice described Huff's situation as "touchy." Bochy sounded more apologetic than critical of Huff. And both equivocated on the first-baseman's lousy physical condition (two "maybes" and one "might have")
Don't know about you, but was there much question about his wheezing-ly awful condition when the Giants moved him to the outfield in April?
I have no idea what any of the above comments mean, just as I had no idea what prompted Bochy to run Huff out there day after day, or why Brett Pill wasn't given a trial run earlier in the year.
Touchy? Does Huff have compromising photos of Sabean or Bochy?
How much was the clubhouse negative influenced by Huff's seeming indifference?
We only can speculate.
We do know that the Arizona Diamondbacks replaced the swooning Juan Miranda in mid-August with untested rookie Paul Goldschmidt (whose minor league stats were eerily similar to Pill's).
Goldschmidt contributed eight HR and 26 RBI in 48 games. His team is headed to the NLDS.
I don't think Kirk Gibson characterized his decision to bench Miranda as "touchy.
The Unknown: Will Sabean or Bochy Think or Act Differently in 2012?
Is Bochy inclined to change his philosophy after 16 years as a big league skipper?
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As interesting as what Sabean and Bochy said Thursday is what they didn't say during the 37-minute discussion.
There was no mention of Sabean's possible interest in second-tier, past-their-prime free agents to fill the acknowledged gaps in center field or shortstop. (given his stated intent to address pitching first, it's legitimate to wonder)
There was nary a word about what lessons the G.M. or field manager might have learned from their reliance on old-unreliables like Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Rowand or Miguel Tejada. (not a proud moment, in my opinion, for the assembled media. Everyone acts like these guys never existed)
Perhaps everyone was simply worn out by those old story-lines and wanted to move on.
These, though, are the issues for me:
Can Sabean—judged by most as having had a generally-successful tenure in San Francisco—really become less dependent on cheap off-the-shelf free agents?
Can Bochy—one year removed from winning the World Series—really be tougher on veterans like Huff and more flexible about using younger players?
Answers to be determined.