Dusty Baker, the playoffs and dealing with the Washington Nutjobs


Dusty Baker, the playoffs and dealing with the Washington Nutjobs

Dusty Baker should win a World Series as a manager before he retires. The Washington Nationals probably shouldn’t be the instrument for that.
But in letting the decision on today’s starting pitcher – now it is apparently going to be Stephen Strasburg after all – turn to dirt, the Nationals once again have made an unholy mess of what should have been a fairly simple matter: Pitch the best guy in a game you need.
Now it may be that Baker was backing Strasburg’s alleged reluctance to go Wednesday. Or maybe he was baiting him to want the start by slyly dropping hints that Strasburg was resisting a change in his schedule. Or maybe he really wanted Tanner Roark but was overruled by general managers Mike Rizzo, Scott Boras and/or Ted Lerner.
But no, nothing is ever quite clean with this franchise, and it isn’t correct to put this at Baker’s doorstep. The culture as spelled out by those who see the team every day has been out of whack for years, and there’s no compelling reason why that should be. It has talent, it has facilities, it has everything it needs to thrive. And to a large extent it has.
That is, until October, when every moment is an epoch and every decision a monument. In other words, the Nats get to play a series-deciding game Wednesday with half a case of anal-cranial inversion because merely applying one’s thoughts to winning is simply too tough a task.
All that said, the right thing to happen is that the Nats win today and then let Game 5 take care of itself. In that way, Tuesday’s rainout was a metaphor for the entire franchise – one extra day to vomit all over themselves.
And Baker? Like I said, there should be a ring in his future based on his general character and decency, though neither of these things actually factor into winning and losing as we well know. And like I said, it probably shouldn’t be with these nutjobs.  But you dance with who brung you, and you damned well enjoy it because the do-over league hasn’t been formed yet.

Could another Marlins outfielder be a better fit for Giants?


Could another Marlins outfielder be a better fit for Giants?

ORLANDO — The Giants had a trade in place for Giancarlo Stanton a couple weeks ago, so clearly the Marlins have found players in their system that they would like to deal for. But that doesn’t seem to be helping the front office now that Marcell Ozuna seems readily available. 

Ozuna is one of several outfielders the Giants have checked on in recent weeks in a bid to add athleticism and power to their lineup, but they don’t have high hopes. General manager Bobby Evans said the bigger field for Ozuna’s services “really negates anything” the Giants agreed to during the Stanton talks, and added that proposals went back to “square one.”

Per sources familiar with the earlier discussions, the Marlins — looking to offload about $250 million of Stanton’s deal — agreed to take back two prospects and a big league player with a salary the Giants needed to move to stay under or near the luxury tax line. It’s believed that big leaguer was Denard Span, and the prospects were not in the top five on the Giants’ list. 

But Ozuna would cost the Giants prospects that are much higher on their list, and if this deal comes down to prospects, the Giants will be outgunned. For that reason, the St. Louis Cardinals were the lobby favorites to land Ozuna at the winter meetings. 

Ozuna hit 37 homers and won a Gold Glove last season, so he fills every outfield need the Giants have. Christian Yelich would fill those needs too, but he’s not known to be available. It’s also unclear if Billy Hamilton truly is. The Giants checked in on Hamilton this week but there’s little traction in talks with the Reds, who would have to be overwhelmed to trade a popular player. The Giants have also spoken to the Brewers about their young outfielders, and there might be a better chance with that NL Central club, but nothing was imminent as of Tuesday. 

As for players who are already on the roster, Evans said the staff is confident that Austin Slater’s 2017 debut was no fluke. Slater will enter camp with a shot to win a fourth/fifth outfielder job, and perhaps more. The Giants believe he can handle all three outfield spots, but he seems ticketed for mostly right field work. 

In search of defensive help, Giants check in on Reds center fielder


In search of defensive help, Giants check in on Reds center fielder

ORLANDO — The Giants have never had an answer for Billy Hamilton when facing the Reds, but it’s possible Hamilton could emerge as the answer to their biggest offseason need. 

The front office has checked on Hamilton’s availability multiple times, per sources, and some in the organization believe he would be the perfect fit in center field, despite some holes in his game. There has been no indication, though, that a deal is anywhere close to being completed. As of Tuesday afternoon, sources said no moves of significance were close. 

According to Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer, talks have gotten deep enough that it’s possible a trade is completed before the teams leave Orlando on Thursday. The Rangers and several other teams have also pursued Hamilton, per Buchanan. 

Hamilton, 27, is among the fastest players in recent MLB history, and he’s an elite defender in center field, having been nominate for the Gold Glove in each of the past four seasons. His speed would be a godsend for a Giants team that had the worst outfield defense in the majors in 2017 and is looking for a defense-first center fielder. Hamilton also could allow the Giants to take risks defensively in the other corner outfield spots, such as bringing Chris Shaw — a converted first baseman — up earlier than expected, or adding a power-hitting right fielder. 

There are issues with Hamilton, though. He has virtually no power and a career on-base percentage of just .298. The Giants believe Hamilton’s offensive numbers would actually increase in their pitcher-friendly park because his game is well suited for their alleys, but he still would not address any of the team’s power concerns. Hamilton’s greatest strength offensively is his work on the bases. He stole 59 bases last season and has 243 stolen bases in 537 games. 

“There are few players in the game like Billy Hamilton,” manager Bruce Bochy said during his winter meetings press availability. “It’s disruptive speed. That’s how fast he is. He’s one of those guys that you know he’s going to go and he still has a good chance of stealing the base.”

Hamilton is projected to earn about $5 million next season in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He has two years of team control remaining, so he fits the timetable the Giants are looking at with their current core. 

The Giants have also been rumored to like Andrew McCutchen, but he's an unlikely addition, sources said. McCutchen is due more than $14 million next season and the Giants hope to stay under the luxury tax line. They are about $10 million away at the moment.