Letting Uribe walk was right call

April 16, 2014

The Giants, by far, got the better deal with Juan Uribe departing for Los Angeles via free agency after the 2010 season.

At the time, the Giants had to face one point-blank decision — was Pablo Sandoval the third baseman of the future?

Sandoval answered with a resounding yes that echoed through the next two seasons to the tune of back-to-back All-Star appearances which culminated in a 2012 World Series Most Valuable Player award.

With Uribe’s impending departure after the Giants’ first World Series crown though, this wasn’t the perceived scenario. Despite Uribe’s brilliant defensive performance in the 2010 postseason, not to mention the decisive eighth-inning home run in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in Philadelphia, he was still widely regarded as a utility man.

The Dodgers changed that perception in a hurry when they signed Uribe to a three-year, $21 million deal prior to the 2011 season. Some rumblings questioned the Dodgers’ exorbitant spending for a utility man. But history has shown it wasn’t a utility man in which they were investing, but an everyday third baseman.

Despite a dreadful showing through his first two years in Los Angeles, Uribe salvaged his stay with a solid 2013 campaign and, as a result, ended up landing a new two-year deal. All told, the Dodgers have invested $36 million in the now 35-year-old.

Sure, Uribe is a smooth defender with a game-changing presence at the hot corner. But only two words are needed to sum up why the Giants got a better deal with Uribe’s departure. Those two words — Joaquin Arias.

After scuffling through the 2011 season spent rifling through a series of patchwork utility men in Emmanuel Burriss, Mike Fontenot and Mark DeRosa, the Giants signed Arias to a minor-league deal heading into 2012. He immediately revitalized the Giants infield, bringing a right-handed hitting compliment to the young Brandon Crawford at shortstop while providing a natural feel at every infield assignment with which he was tasked.

Remember, Arias had played just 10 innings as a major league third baseman before landing in San Francisco. But he handled the hot corner like a natural, his crowning achievement coming on June 13, 2012 in recording the final out of Matt Cain’s perfect game with a difficult flat-footed throw that many a major league third baseman probably couldn’t have executed in a typical situation, let alone that one.

And in contrast to the two-year, $15 million deal Uribe signed with the Dodgers prior to this season, Arias signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal with the Giants. And while Uribe is relegated to playing only third base at this stage of his career after some years as a surefire over-the-middle presence, Arias, 29, is in his prime as a versatile and invaluable utility man.

“We have a lot of respect for [Uribe], but he chose to exit … and we won in 2012,” Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt said. “So, I’m not sure who made the better decision.”

The answer is clear. The Giants did.


Bumgarner’s greatest at bat

April 13, 2014

No one likes falling behind 1-0 early, but it was kind of worth it Sunday to see Tim Hudson’s epic f-bomb while Wilin Rosario’s second-inning home run was still going up.

It was a weekend for epic bombs though. Pablo Sandoval came within a flagpole’s width of hammering splash-hit No. 64. There’s nothing like a Sunday walk-off homer that does tally the splash-hit meter — thank you very much, Brandon Crawford. But the bomb that stole the show was Madison Bumgarner’s fourth-inning grand slam Friday night.

It’s no secret Bumgarner can hit. Forget the .145 career batting average. Forget that he’s consistently been one of the least effective bunters on the Giants’ staff. Forget that he went 0-for-the-playoffs in both 2010 and ’12. When a guy hits an Andres Galarraga-esque grand slam in a crucial situation to give his team the lead, all the by-the-numbers jargon goes out the window.

Not to mention, Bumgarner is one of the most gifted young left-handed pitchers in the game. And the statistical category that matters most is his innings pitched column, which has registered 200-plus innings in each of the last three seasons. FYI, in 2010 he pitched 214 1/3 innings between Triple-A Fresno, the MLB regular season and the playoffs.

Probably the most important at bat of Bumgarner’s career came in 2010 though. It was a June 27 pinch-hit appearance against the Boston Red Sox at AT&T Park. It was just the fourth at bat of Bumgarner’s career. Insofar as five-pitch at bats that end in strikeouts go, none could be more valuable to a young player than the one Bumgarner had that day.

The game within the game of the situation was the Red Sox had one of the premier left-handers on the mound that afternoon in the person of Jon Lester. Lester was absolutely dealing that day. He would go on to tab a complete-game victory in allowing one run on five hits while striking out nine in a 5-1 Red Sox victory. But in that gem was an object lesson on how seamlessly an electric southpaw can dominate when he’s throwing darts.

That’s precisely what Bumgarner has been ever since he debuted as a professional pitcher with Low-A Augusta in 2008. He threw 141 2/3 innings for the Greenjackets that season, striking out 164 against just 21 walks en route to winning South Atlantic League Most Outstanding Pitcher honors.

Just two years later he was settling into the Giants’ major league rotation as, in the American League, Lester was etching his first of two consecutive All-Star seasons. And history now shows the similarities are many between the two lefties.

Lester has also been an innings eater throughout his career, surpassing the 200-inning mark in five of the last six seasons. The year he fell short in 2011, he only missed the mark by 8 1/3 innings. More importantly as it’s applicable to Bumgarner is Lester’s ability to dominate the inside half of the plate to right-handers.

And while the excitement surrounding Bumgarner’s 2010 call-up had many anticipating his plate appearances because he was being billed as the second coming of Don Robinson with a bat in his hands, the brilliance of manager Bruce Bochy was evident with that decision to pinch-hit Bumgarner so he could see first hand, as a right-handed batter himself, the way a southpaw dominates at the major league level.

Not that Bumgarner’s pinch-hit appearance against the Red Sox was a giveaway. As he showed Friday, he is capable of lighting up a baseball diamond like a pinball machine with one swing of the bat. But his swift emergence as one of the most uniquely dominant pitchers in the game has much to do with the rapid education he underwent since the day he started playing pro ball as an 18-year-old less than a year removed from high school.

And that 2010 pinch-hit appearance against Lester just may be synonymous with Bumgarner’s graduation day.


Hudson a perfect choice

April 8, 2014

It turns out Tim Hudson was the perfect choice to start opening day.

The reason isn’t that he’s now the ranking veteran on the Giants’ staff or that he’s pitching as well as anyone in baseball through the first week of the season. It isn’t because it’s his Bay Area homecoming. All these certainly only add to the right-hander being the obvious choice. But the reason it had to be Hudson is even closer to the heart.

Entering into his 15th full year in the big leagues, Hudson’s first opening day on a major league roster was in 2000 — the same year AT&T Park (then called Pac Bell Park) opened.

It was one of the monumental events in the history of the city of San Francisco. It inaugurated the beginning of the 21st century in grand style. It signaled the gentrification of the Embarcadero. With the grand opening of the Giants’ new yard, after playing in Candlestick Park for four decades, it unveiled what would soon be renowned as the premier venue in all of professional sports.

The 2000 season was also the most prolific in the career of Hudson, at least in the sense that he won a career-high 20 games. After spending a portion of the 1999 season in Oakland as a midseason call-up, Hudson accumulated a career record of 31-8 through 2000. He was also named to his first of three career All-Star games and would rank second in the American League Cy Young voting, finishing behind only Pedro Martinez who won the award for the third time in four years.

Hudson wasn’t the opening-day starter for the 2000 A’s. That honor fell to one of a trio of veterans in the Oakland rotation, Kevin Appier, who took the loss at then Network Associates Coliseum. However, Hudson took the ball in Game 2 of the season and absolutely dealt, firing seven innings of one-hit shutout baseball to lead Oakland past Detroit 3-1 in the A’s first victory of the year.

The dominant debut was the signpost of an epic era of A’s baseball, as the 2000 season would see the dawn of the Oakland Big Three. Two weeks after Hudson’s season debut, left-hander Mark Mulder made his major league debut, earning the win in a 6-3 victory in Cleveland. Just over three months after that, Barry Zito was called up to make the first start of his career, earning the win in a 10-3 victory over the Angels.

While the Billy Beane era was getting underway in Oakland — Hudson was actually the A’s first-round draft pick in the same year, though previous to, the hiring of Beane as general manager, with Mulder and Zito being the initial first-rounders, respectively in 1998 and ’99, under the now legendary front-office chief — across the Bay the Giants were off and running in beginning a fantastic era of their own in the House that Barry Built.

And as the Barry Bonds era ended with the addition of Barry Zito, now too the new World Championship era of Tim Lincecum and the pitching staff that has changed the way major league baseball teams build pitching staffs, there is no more perfect addition to the 2014 San Francisco Giants than Tim Hudson.

As for Hudson landing the start in the home opener, even with four other brilliant choices manager Bruce Bochy could have lined up for Tuesday’s start, it couldn’t really have been anyone else.


Angel in the center field

April 4, 2014

Angel Pagan is batting .421 to start the season. He hit safely in each of the Giants’ first four games in Arizona.

The most pivotal contribution Pagan has made so far? His splendid outfield defense in support of Tim Hudson’s Giants debut Wednesday.

Coming off Tuesday’s loss, and two unimpressive starting pitching outings to start the year by aces Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, the Giants looked to Hudson to perform like he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.

He did.

Not only did the three-time All-Star impress. He dazzled en route to career-win No. 206 with the same under-the-radar dominance with which he has always persevered.

But Hudson’s 7 2/3 innings of three-hit shutout ball would not have been if not for the exceptional center field defense of Pagan.

The highlight-reel play came in the fourth inning amid a scoreless tie when Pagan robbed Martin Prado of an RBI single, and denying the Diamondbacks the lead. With Gerardo Parra on second base and two outs, Prado flared an 0-1 offering from Hudson into shallow center. Pagan was shading towards right in the spacious outfield of Chase Field but got a tremendous first step off the crack of the bat. Racing in and to his left, Pagan sprinted into a tumbling catch — losing his hat and showing off the rock-star quaff in the process — to keep Hudson’s gem in tact.

In the eighth, Pagan again preserved the gem by making a less spectacular but equally important running catch. With one out and the speedy Cliff Pennington at first base, A.J. Pollock drove a shot into right-center. Once again, Pagan was shading toward the opposite side of the field but the center fielder got on his horse to make smooth on-the-run grab for the second out of the inning, while keeping Pennington from advancing, at least, into scoring position.

The second of the two catches prompted a reciprocal gem from Giants’ television color commentator Mike Krukow.

“I know one thing,” Krukow said as the replay cued up. “Tim Hudson is in love with Angel Pagan tonight.”

We all are, Kruk. We all are.

What’s not to love? Pagan also had what proved to be the game-winning hitting with an RBI single in the fifth to drive home Ehire Adrianza, giving the Giants a 1-0 lead. Thursday, of course, Pagan was 3 for 5 with a dramatic three-run blast in the eighth to give the Giants the lead for the second straight game. The switch-hitting leadoff man is currently 8 for 19 on the season while leading the Giants with six RBIs, despite Brandon Belt’s three home runs over the course of the four-game series.

Thus far, the Giants’ outfield defense has been a game-changer though. Hunter Pence has shown that a player need not necessarily be hot at the plate to impact a game. Despite a 1-for-16 start for Pence at the plate, the right fielder kept the Giants’ opening-day win in check with his arm by gunning down Mark Trumbo at third base in the second inning.

And following Pagan’s defensive heroics Thursday, Giants fans should be reminded that in playing beside one another, Pagan and Pence stand to be one of the best defensive shows in baseball this season.


Posey flexes MVP talent

April 1, 2014

Remember in the old days when people used to talk about baseball during baseball postgame shows? Those were good times.

In lieu of the April Fool’s joke that is instant replay currently sweeping Giants’ nation, let’s rewind 24 hours to a postgame conversation that was worth having — Buster Posey’s majestic two-run blast Monday to cap an epic opening-day comeback.

Sure, the distance of Posey’s home run that drilled the facing of the second deck at Arizona’s Chase Field was awe-inspiring. But even more impressive was how he hit it. There’s a reason guys win MVP awards in the big leagues. And during that fateful ninth-inning at bat Monday night, Posey showed the combination of pure baseball ability and sensibility that were the foundation of his MVP performance in 2012.

Posey had never before faced Arizona’s new closer Addison Reed. But with the fireballing right-hander just into the game to start the ninth, Posey seized the full benefit of seeing Reed work to Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval before him. During those three at bats, Reed threw six fastballs, each of them of the four-seem variety, each of them with the same lazy right-to-left cut.

With one on and two outs Posey spit on a slider to open his pivotal at bat. Then when Reed tried to ice down base-runner Brandon Belt by holding too long in the set position, Posey called time out. And with Reed noticeably rattled, Posey checked back into the batter’s box and overtly crowded the plate.

Reed took the bait and attempted to pound the inside corner with 92 mph heat. But Posey was looking for it and went with the natural front-door cut to do what great players do — smelling victory and taking over to seal a win — straight from Pg. 28 of the MVP handbook.

Seeing Posey fresh, raring and ready to go to start the 2014 season is an inspiring sight. As many Giants fans know, when all is right with Posey, he is one of the best — perhaps ever. He may just be the closest thing we’ll ever see to rekindling the talents of Willie Mays in the modern baseball era. So enjoy it, because with Posey being a catcher, the boyish vigor of the fully healthy legend in the making could be altered at any time by any one of a number of future foul tips that will inevitably take their toll on his arms, legs and head over the course of the season.

But while Giants fans scratch their heads in wondering what the heck has happened to the team’s starting pitching dominance over the first two games of the season, consider this: Sure, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain each lived high in the strike zone against a dangerous Diamondbacks lineup. In challenging hitters to put the ball in play, however, the Giants may just be winning the battle in that they are preserving the incomparable play of their invaluable catcher.


For the love of Bob Brenly

March 31, 2014

Mark Trumbo is wearing Bob Brenly’s number. I don’t know how I feel about that.

Not that No. 15 — the number worn by the only manager ever to win a World Series in Arizona — was ever beheld with reverence by the Diamondbacks. They gave it to backup catcher Koyie Hill less than a month after Brenly was fired midseason in 2004 for crying out loud.

In fact, 2013 was the first season in which someone hadn’t worn Brenly’s uniform number in Arizona. After Hill, it was dawned by Shawn Green (2005-06), Jeff Salazar (’07), Dan Haren (2008-10), Micah Owings (’11), Josh Bell (’12) and now Trumbo.

Don’t these guys know that if you’re going to take someone’s number you take it from the bench coach?

That’s what Tim Hudson did in joining the Giants this season. For most of his 15 years in the big leagues, Hudson wore No. 15. But instead of committing the same tactless blunder that Carlos Beltran once did by taking the number off of Bruce Bochy’s back, Hudson tapped the No. 17 of longtime San Francisco bench coach Ron Wotus.

Before Wotey’s fan club gets up in arms, it wasn’t exactly a storied number for the tenured coach. Wotus had already surrendered it for a three-year stint from 2010-12 when Aubrey Huff was with the Giants.

Beginning his 17th season on the Giants’ coaching staff, Wotus now has a more storied No. 23. Not only has it been worn by great Giants such as Tito Fuentes, Jose Uribe and Felipe Alou. It was the number worn by Bobby Thompson when he hit one of the most iconic home runs in baseball history with the Shot Heard ‘Round the World to send the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series.

As for the D-Backs’ digit situation, have at your No. 15 Mark Trumbo. It was worth the admission price of your historical faux pas to see you welcomed to the National League with a freakin’ laser beam of a throw by Hunter Pence to cut you down at third base.

And welcome to baseball season everybody. In the words of Bob Brenly’s era of Giants baseball — Humm Baby! It’s gonna be fun!


Replay is all about ad money

September 8, 2013

Welcome to the future, folks.

We got a glimpse of the imminent replay era in Major League Baseball in the 10th inning of Sunday’s eventual extra-inning Giants win over the Diamondbacks.

On a missed call that almost cost the Giants dearly, pitcher George Kontos was covering the bag on a grounder to first baseman Buster Posey, when umpire Tom Hallion called the base runner Aaron Hill safe, saying Kontos missed the base with his foot. However, Kontos so obviously tagged the base that the umpires soon conferred to overturn the call, not only ending the inning, but costing Arizona a bases-loaded shot at breaking a 2-2 tie, which instead culminated in Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson getting kicked out of the game for the second time in a four-game series.     

Baseball fans best get used to the sight on calls getting overturned, because next year when full-blown replay kicks in, it’s going to be a daily spectacle. Thanks to the National Football League for the instant-replay revolution. Yes, that is epic sarcasm.

From what I can tell, the NFL has become the most glorified dance-off on the planet. Granted, I was busy watching baseball on the opening Sunday of football season. But during intermittent channel changes between innings, it quickly became obvious that celebratory posturing and posing continues to turn the professional gridiron into a theater of the absurd.

But baseball isn’t far behind. Posing and posturing has been festering in MLB for a generation, from Barry Bonds’ iconic pointing to the sky, to Brian Wilson’s similar gesture, to the Angel Pagan salute and the Pablo Sandoval bow-and-arrow mimicry. Notice when Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez does his Batman shtick, Sergio Romo – owner of one of the most animated celebrations in baseball, no less – loses his shit to insight an on-field confrontation.

Posturing and posing has nothing to do with gamesmanship, mind you. Neither does instant replay. They are both born and bred from the same marketing strategy to keep you, the consumer, watching. Why? Because a vast majority of people in the modern age watch baseball on television. And the more television broadcasts can keep audiences’ eyes trained to the screen during the game, the easier it is for advertisers to do so during commercial breaks.

This is why television commentators are all on the same page in advocating for instant replay. Notice when MLB announced in mid-August plans to expand instant replay in 2014, how the entire broadcasting family banded together in regurgitating what sounded like the same script? Now that’s some serious Big Brother shit.

Football has long since opened Pandora’s box of integrating replay technology with advertising. And boy has the NFL got its act down. During the second quarter of the 49ers’ opening-day win over Green Bay, there was a replay that intervened on Eric Reid’s first career interception.

Fox Sports replayed the interception in question three times – the final time, just before cutting to commercial, drew the focus to the bottom third of the TV screen. Standard operating procedure is to draw focus to the middle of the screen. However, for instant replay, commercials seem to be calibrated to take advantage of drawing the audience’s attention to different quadrants of the screen. And sure enough, the Google ad that followed launched a flurry of movement towards the bottom of the screen; making for a seamless line-of-sight transition from instant replay to commercial advertisement.

This style of subliminal advertisement is rampant in football. Now baseball is following suit. All-Stars like Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson – whose combined baseball salaries are $25-million this season – are endorsing an alcohol-ridden shampoo that damages hair follicles and exacerbates baldness. But if they told people that, millions of consumers would stop using their product every day. So, they aren’t going to tell you that. 

Whether they know it or not, every pose, posture, and dance in which players engage is implicit in the practice of dirty advertising, just as every stride taken in the direction of integrating instant replay into sports. I’m not trying to be judgmental. Just like everyone in the business, I’ve often evoked the spirit of Jerry Maguire by shouting: Show me the money!

But to people on TV, lobbying for TV technology to be integrated into the game, under the guise of doing it for the integrity of the sport….

Bullshit. That’s just propaganda. Plain and simple. And dystopia isn’t too far off, if it isn’t upon us already.