Offseason preview (cont.)
The Giants' improbable World Series victory is one of the better championship stories over the past several decades, rivaling that of the 1988 Dodgers and the 1969 Mets, which is still the best story of all.
The keys to this Giants team, of course, were their four excellent starting pitchers, deep staff and excellent closer. But they received one of the most improbable performances ever from Cody Ross and especially Edgar Renteria, who barely made the Giants' original postseason roster and had only two at-bats (both hits) in the NLDS.
Here's a rundown of Giants heroes.
1. Dick Tidrow. Their scouting guru has "a special brand of genius,'' said one admiring competitor. No one knows pitching like this former Yankees and Indians hurler, and he plucked starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez and closer Brian Wilson with draft choices. The first three were first-rounders, with both Lincecum (in 2006) and Bumgarner (in 2007) going No. 10 overall. Matt Cain was the 25th pick in 2002 and both Sanchez (27th round in 2004) and Wilson (23rd round in 2003) were picked after round 20.
2. Brian Sabean, GM. He hired excellent scouts, relied on pitching and had the guts to hire a veteran manager with a mind of his own in Bruce Bochy. Sabean has taken a lot of hits in recent years, but ultimately, it was the right call to stick with all their talented young pitchers. He also landed Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, who fortified their bullpen after he rejected requests of Bumgarner or Sanchez for Milwaukee's Corey Hart or Toronto's Jose Bautista.
3. Larry Baer. The club president who came with owner Peter Magowan and still operates well under new owner Bill Neukom has helped the Giants stay in excellent financial condition with their excellent stadium deal in perhaps baseball's most picturesque setting.
4. Bruce Bochy. He's one of baseball's best managers. It's interesting that he was eased out when Sandy Alderson was in charge in San Diego (though Bud Black made an excellent replacement), but Bochy's handling of the 'pen, both in San Diego and in San Francisco, is legendary and goes counter to the trend to seek a compliant manager who does whatever the GM tells him to do.
5. Renteria. The Rangers' scouts weren't alone in thinking he was done, or close to done. Told that the Rangers never believed he had this in him, the Series MVP who delivered the game-winning hit in the clinching Game 5 responded, "Me, either." Should he keep to his stated intention to retire (though he may be rethinking that now), it would be a fabulous bookend to a career that started with a nice rookie year in 1996 and World Series-deciding hit in 1997. The only previous players to have two Series-deciding hits in their careers were Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. Nice company.
6. The Freak. Tim Lincecum was painted as the lesser pitcher in his last four pitching matchups, but he went 3-1 vs. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The two-time Cy Young winner has a lot of arm for such a little guy.
7. Matt Cain. He didn't allow an earned run all postseason in 21 1/3 innings of work, showed his true bulldog side and didn't utter a peep when Giants people made their one tiny mistake, which was to move Sanchez ahead of him in the NLCS rotation.
8. Bumgarner. It's hard to believe he's only 21. Pitchers who come up big like that (2-0, 2.18 ERA) in the postseason, at that age, are a rare breed indeed. Johnny Podres, who won World Series MVP honors for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, comes to mind. Steve Avery, the NLCS MVP for the Braves at 21 in 1991, is another one. But there aren't many.
9. Buster Posey. The Giants' rookie catcher is 23, looks 16 and plays like a veteran pro. "He's the guy I'd pick to start my team,''' one competing executive said. Can't blame him for that. Posey is terrific. It'll be close between him and Jason Heyward for NL Rookie of the Year, but sportswriters will look a bit better if it goes to Posey, the cleanup man and sterling catcher for the world champions. Voting is done right after the regular season, so if Heyward gets it, that is the reason.
10. Dave Righetti. The former Yankees great and longtime Giants pitching coach did a superb job with all the young pitching talent in San Francisco. Not many players who made as much money as Righetti did while playing go into coaching. The man obviously loves to work.
11. Juan Uribe. He got some big hits for the Giants in the postseason, including the home run that beat the Phillies in the clinching Game 6 of the NLCS, and that coincides nicely with his upcoming free agency. Aubrey Huff is also a free agent, and the Giants are said to want both back.
12. Giants scouts. They seemed to do a terrific job advancing the series. The Giants defense is just OK, but it seemed to be very well-placed. They also had a terrific game plan to combat the Rangers' offensive attack. At least one Giants person, assistant GM Tony Siegle, hinted at a disdain for the Moneyball philosophy when he said, "So much for Moneyball,'' following the Series.
Moneyball obviously is a brilliant book about a brilliant guy in A's GM Billy Beane and an inarguable concept that it's nice to look for market inequities and have very good players who are paid very little. The book also espouses the use of stats. Siegle said they use stats, too, but the Giants are clearly viewed on the scout side in the scout-vs.-stats controversy that still eats at some baseball people who believe Beane and the Moneyball concept were given too much credit.
The Brewers surprised a few folks (including this one) by naming Angels coach Ron Roenicke as their new manager over the more accomplished favorite Bobby Valentine. An associate of owner Mark Attanasio said late last week he believed Valentine would be Attanasio's choice. However, over the weekend Attanasio said in a phone interview that there had been no decision and that calls were still being made to check up on the candidates. Roenicke is well-regarded and is the safe, cheaper choice. Valentine has a few detractors, and perhaps either Attanasio or GM Doug Melvin found them on the phone.
This is to be Melvin's last chance after Ned Yost and Ken Macha. (Yost was fired and replaced by interim Dale Sveum in a move made by Attanasio; and Macha supposedly didn't hit it off with most of Milwaukee's young nucleus in two losing seasons). Attanasio is said to have been pleased by Melvin's list and thought to have considered six of Melvin's eight top choices as workable. Melvin apparently didn't have bench coach Willie Randolph on his list because he wanted a clean break from the Macha regime (though he did bring back Sveum to be the hitting coach on a two-year deal).
Roenicke is a very highly regarded coach who worked under Mike Scioscia (as did Padres manager Bud Black and Rays manager Joe Maddon before him) and is said to have given a stirring, emotional speech after the tragic death of young Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart at the hands of a drunken driver in April 2009.
Valentine is said to have had a bad parting with Mets owner Fred Wilpon, and one Mets executive said months ago that he believed Valentine would have a hurdle to clear to have a chance to get the Mets job. Now with Sandy Alderson in as the Mets' new GM, it appears Valentine's chances would be next to nil.
Alderson is the mentor to Moneyball, and while associates expect him to seek some managerial experience, being that it's New York, they don't think he'll go for someone as strong-willed as Valentine (one of Moneyball's tenets is that the manager is seen as middle management, which might be part of the reason Bochy didn't last in San Diego too long after Anderson got there).
It seems to be apparent that one of the drawbacks to being Mets manager is that more negative things come out than if you work in another city with a less aggressive media contingent and less vocal fan base. One remarkable thing about this offseason is that three ex-Mets managers with winning records -- Valentine plus Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel -- are less sought-after than one might imagine. Valentine, the most accomplished ex-manager actively seeking employment (Joe Torre, another ex-Mets manager, isn't as actively shopping and Lou Piniella doesn't appear to be shopping at all), only received one offer, from the Marlins, and was passed over by the Mariners and Brewers. And Randolph and Manuel don't appear to be getting sniffs when far less accomplished guys are.
The Mets apparently won't spend big on their player payroll this winter (Alderson all but admitted as much at his press conference), but after bringing in longtime associate J.P. Ricciardi to be a top lieutenant, it's clear few, if any, teams will spend more on their front office. They are already indebted to ex-GM Omar Minaya for more than $2 million through 2012, Alderson's salary is estimated to be $2-to-3 million and Ricciardi, who's the former GM of the Blue Jays and was reportedly being wooed by the Red Sox, undoubtedly makes good money too.
The Rangers have a tough call on Vladimir Guerrero's mutual option for $9 million, and the Red Sox do, too, on David Ortiz's $12.5-million option. Boston wants Ortiz back, so it's likely to bite the bullet and pick it up if a two-year deal and less guaranteed money per year can't be arranged.
While the Phillies are trying to bring back Werth, they may also look at Magglio Ordoņez or ex-Phillie Aaron Rowand as a way to balance out their lefty-heavy lineup. They probably don't want to trade Raul Ibaņez and be forced to eat $7-to-8 million on his contract. And they're thinking about breaking in top outfield prospect Domonic Brown slowly after he struggled in a late-season cameo.