Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Age Before Duty?

One thing we hear a lot lately, and especially with the Giants off to a stumbling 5-9 start, is that it's about time the team started jettisoning veterans and letting "the kids" play:

"The problem is the Giants idea of building a winner is to pursue older "proven" players while sacrificing younger players. Most teams see the handwriting on the wall and trade good players to build up their minor league systems."

That this has been any sort of "problem" for the Giants of late is just not consistent with the facts. With the sole exception of the 2010 starting rotation (Jonathan Sanchez, 27, Tim Lincecum, 26, Matt Cain 25, and Madison Bumgarner, 21) all the Giants World Series champions have been built predominantly around veterans, and in no case did one of those champion teams get younger than the year before.

The 2010 team replaced 6 starters during the season and only one, Buster Posey, replaced an older player. He was the only regular in the postseason under 30. Juan Uribe, 31, got more ABs than Pablo Sandoval, 24. Andres Torres (32), Pat Burrell (34), and Cody Ross (30) replaced younger or same-age players; Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff, and Freddy Sanchez were 34, 34, and 33 respectively.

The team got younger in 2012 at first (Brandon Belt) and short (Brandon Crawford)-- and older at 2B (Ryan Theriot, 33, and Marco Scutaro, 35), RF (Nate Schierholtz, 28, replaced by Hunter Pence, 29), and LF (Gregor Blanco 29, for Melky Cabrera, 28). The rotation got a whole lot older with Barry Zito, 34, and Ryan Vogelsong, 33, replacing Sanchez and Lincecum. The "Core Four" in the bullpen were two years older, plus Santiago Casilla, 32, replaced Brian Wilson (28 in 2010).

In 2014 they added Mike Morse, 32, Tim Hudson, 39, and Jake Peavy, 33, as well as one youngster-- Joe Panik, 23-- to a veteran team. The Core Four were 37, 35, 34, and 31.

Now, it may be that the Giants have played out this string as  far as they can. That's certainly possible. But while other teams may build, and may have built, championship teams with primarily young players, the San Francisco Giants, to date, have not.

Much of this talk was occasioned by a Giants website interview with GM Bobby Evans, Brian Sabean's star pupil who took over the reins after the 2014 championship. Apparently the original headline, "Evans talks about building a SF winner," was quickly amended to the less hyperbolic "Evans talks about building SF squad," which awakened the throw-in-the-towel contingent to full agitation.

Certainly the spring-training invites to the likes of Jimmy Rollins and Justin Ruggiano, the recent signings of Drew Stubbs and Melvin Upton  to minor-league deals, and the decision to keep Aaron Hill, 35, instead of Kelby Tomlinson on the 25-man has inflamed this discussion about aging veterans "blocking" youngsters. But we'd rather see Tomlinson playing every day in Sacramento than sitting on the bench as Hill does. 

A legitimate criticism of Evans is his decision to play the hand he was dealt in left field, which meant Chris Marrero and Jarrett Parker, both 28-year-old minor-league veterans, in a platoon. With Parker, who wasn't hitting anyway, now out 8-10 weeks after colliding with the outfield fence, evidently Marrero, who isn't hitting at all either, has the job full-time since a 13th pitcher, Steven Okert, was called up to replace Parker and the only other outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez, has been dreadful so far at bat and in the field. We doubt if the youth-movement crusaders would howl too loudly if 35-year-old Mike Morse, now on the DL, made a miraculous recovery and took the job-- or, for that matter, if the club could convince Angel Pagan, also 35, to take a big pay cut and come out of semi-retirement. 

Evans has been adamant that his single offseason priority was to sign the best "closer" available, that being Mark Melancon. He did that. Whether he believes he'll have any stock to trade for a top outfielder at the deadline is difficult to fathom. 

His recent minor-league trade-- Frandy De La Rosa from the Texas Rangers for Clayton Blackburn-- has generated a fair amount of heat, even ridicule, from some parts. Evidently these critics have not been introduced to the youth-movement folks. Yes, De La Rosa is a middle infielder and yes, we already have a lot of those. He's also just 21 and has been in pro ball since age 17. Blackburn was 24 and stuck on repeat for the past 3 years. It may not work out, but it was not a stupid move, especially if the kid can bring value in trade later.

By trading for Eduardo Nunez and then trading away Matt Duffy last year, Evans "aged" the third-base position by four years, but it's hard to fault him for this one. Duffy, after off-season surgery, is just now starting to run again; the most optimistic forecasts have him back on Tampa's roster a month from now. Meanwhile Nunez is batting .313 with a .346 OBP, which means he's the best option for a leadoff man in a lineup that really doesn't have one.

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