Maybe Jon Lester Will Cross the Bay to Join Giants’ Rotation

It would seem that the Giants’ management has decided their most pressing current need for roster completion is finding a left-handed starter. And Jon Lester, who helped the Oakland A’s down the stretch in 2014 and has solid numbers, is a prime candidate to fill that need.

Jon Lester - Lefty ace SF-bound?

Jon Lester – Lefty ace SF-bound?

Lester, 31, and the Giants are set to meet soon to discuss contract possibilities according to ESPN.com. If they add him to the roster, the starting rotation probably looks like this: Bumgarner, Lester, Lincecum and Hudson. That gives the G-Men two lefties and two right-handed starters, which would be a help to a rotation and pen that were heavily righty in 2014.

Interest in Lester is pretty high. The Red Sox, who traded him to Oakland mid-season last year, are hopeful they can lure him back and the Cubs are also reportedly greatly interested. According to NBC Sports, the Cubs have offered him a six-year deal at something north of $135 million. But of course the Cubs have a hard time recruiting top talent with their long history of missing the playoffs. Having shed Sandoval’s paycheck, the Giants could be in a position to give Lester a fairly lucrative deal and he’d be an ace with a perennial contender, so career-wise it would be a smart move. The question may come down to his motivation: money or prestige.

 

When Any Felony Can Become a Capital Crime, Something is Wrong

I don’t have any idea whom to believe or what actually went wrong in those fatal moments on August 9 in Ferguson, MO, when a police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old man who did not have a conventional weapon. Last night, a grand jury declined to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, for the death of Mike Brown. There was a lot about the case that was, shall we say, unusual.

But what I want to focus on is the law in Missouri that enabled those grand jurors to find no reason to take the charges to a trial, which was all they were asked to judge. Not whether Wilson acted unreasonably or illegally, just whether there was sufficient reason to think he might have to warrant having a full, public trial on the issue. An old legal saw holds that a DA can get an indictment against a ham sandwich. The fact that the county DA in this case couldn’t get an indictment says plainly that he didn’t want to get one. Instead of using the grand jury to determine whether there was probable cause that needed to be determined in a trial, the DA dumped all of his evidence on the grand jury and then asked them to determine what, if any, charge should be brought against the officer.

And reports that are now filtering out of those deliberations seem to focus on one thing. Prior to the fatal shooting, there were several witnesses who saw Wilson and Brown struggling while the officer was in the car and Brown was outside. They were apparently (or at least possibly) struggling over the officer’s weapon.

That tussle, in which the officer said he felt his life was in danger, gave the grand jury legal cover to decline to indict the policeman. Under MIssouri law, “officers can act with deadly force when they believe it is necessary to arrest a person who has committed a felony.” Read that sentence again. All that is required for a policeman in Missouri to become judge, jury and executioner — often (though not in this case) in a split second — is a “belief” that the person they are about to kill has committed any felony. Are you kidding me?

By all accounts, this is an unusual law. Most states require that the officer believe his life is in imminent danger. In this case, the officer said Brown matched the description of a shoplifter who had stolen a pack of cigarillos from a convenience store. I assume that’s not a felony.

But the bigger issue here is that this law has the potential to turn any felony — or suspected felonious conduct — into a capital crime. In effect, what it does is make it a capital offense to refuse to heed an order from a police officer. Legitimizing such behavior on the part of a police officer is a key ingredient in creating a police state. And we are certainly drawing ever closer to that reality.

There must be realistic limits on police conduct so that the potential consequences of committing a crime suit themselves to the seriousness and nature of the criminal act. Stealing a pack of cigarillos shouldn’t be a capital offense. Neither should hitting a police offer and then leaving. There is time and capability for retribution short of death after such an incident.

Who’s on Third for 2015?

With yesterday’s signing by the Red Sox of the Giants’ staple at third for the past few years, Pablo “Panda” Sandoval, a big hole opens up at the corner and, perhaps more importantly, in the lineup. Frankly, the options for filling his spot are pretty thin.

Despite the fact that there are 10 or so third basemen in the free agent pool, only two of them seem worth any serious attention by the Giants. And in their farm system’s top prospects, they have only one third sacker and he needs a bit more seasoning before he’s ready to step up. I suspect the G-Men will go with an existing player — Joaquin Arias — at third to start the 2015 season.

Arias isn’t a great choice but he does show some promise. He’s hitting .269 over seven seasons with the Rangers and the Giants. Last season he hit only .254 while striking out 23 times in 193 at bats. Defensively, he’s not brilliant but he is day-to-day solid, carrying a .980+ record at third.

Last season, he made appearances at all four infield positions and spent almost half his time somewhere other than third. But he’s a natural at that position and if given the chance to play there every day, he could develop into an above-average defensive player.

In the Giants’ farm system, only one third-baseman shows up among the top 20 prospects (14 of whom are pitchers) and that’s Ryder Jones. He has only two years of minor league experience and hasn’t played above Class A, so he’s far from ready. And he’s got to learn to hit; his stats so far are yawners.

Which leaves the free agent market where there are two decent prospects available if the Giants want to give Arias more seasoning time or just don’t have any confidence in him.

Casey McGehee of Miami may be a great acquisition for the long haul. He’s got a decent stick (.287 in 2014, .264 career, with 4HR and 76 RBI last season) and fields his position well. He’s coming off a season in which he earned only $1.1 million so he should be pretty affordable. At 32, he’s no spring chicken but he probably has a few good years left in him. He was the 2014 MLB Comeback Player of the Year, so he has drive and desire. He could be a real steal.

The other candidate is a more obvious choice: the Yankees’ Chase Headley. He’s been a day-to-day front-line player after starting the year at Class A and being traded mid-season by the Padres.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently wrote of Headley:

Sandoval’s deal means Headley gets at least three years, and no one should be surprised if he reaches four years in the $60 million range. Keep in mind: There are perhaps 15 to 18 decent third basemen to go around for 30 teams. Yes, Headley has fallen from his near-MVP 2012 to a combined .725 OPS for the last two seasons. But Sandoval had just a .748 in the same period. Headley is a good defender and switch-hitter, just like Sandoval. Both played mainly in oversized NL West parks. In his brief time with the Yankees – in a more favorable stadium and a better lineup than with the Padres – Headley had a .768 OPS, better than each of Sandoval’s last two seas

The problem the Giants will face in trying to sign Headley is that he probably is going to attract something in that $60 million range over four years, which would effectively marginalize Arias. Then there’s the problem that Headley’s output is down recently and toss in a questionable back problem and it would be hard to justify that money. However, and this is a big one, as Sherman accurately points out, third basemen are a rare commodity.

Arias is signed for one more year at just over $1.3 million. I think the smart move for the Giants is to sign McGehee for something similar, let the two fight it out, and keep an eye on the trade board as the season progresses if they find themselves in the thick of things. They can then use some of the remaining room on the salary scene to land a great left-handed reliever without breaking the bank.

I like Headley but I think he’s too risky at the price point he can command. If they had no other options, I’d swallow hard and suggest the Giants sign him. But with two other good alternatives for far less money, I’m going to go with the conservative approach here. We’re stocking up for 2016 anyway, right?

 

Please, President Obama, Don’t Do This!

It is bad enough that President Obama counteracts his signing of a major new deal on global warming with China by making approving noises about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Now he’s apparently about to bow from industry pressure applied through his own Environmental Protection Agency and significantly weaken our nation’s alternative fuels efforts.

According to reporting by Evan Halper of the LA Times, the President is giving some thought to a “rollback of the 7-year-old green energy mandate known as the renewable fuel standard.” Such a rollback would have a devastating effect on investment in and development of the alternative fuels that must remain central to our nation’s contributions to fighting global climate change.

The suggested rollback is being initiated by the EPA, under pressure from the petrochemical industry. Their reasoning is that the program has so far failed to produce alternative fuels in sufficient quantity and quality to be a viable alternative energy source. That is unarguably true for the most part. But the answer to the problem is not to abandon or de-emphasize the program. On the contrary, the failures should drive further investment and research designed to overcome the obstacles we are discovering and have discovered. Nobody said or thought this was going to be easy. But if the Federal Government doesn’t lead on this vital issue, who will? Surely not the petroleum industry with its vested interest in the status quo so deep that it cannot even see the human extinction looming just over the next horizon.

So, please, Mr. President. Don’t do this. Don’t sabotage this vital program. Redouble our efforts and expenditures on alternative fuels. Before it is too late.

 

Adios, Pablo

Pablo Sandoval is a Boston Red Sock. Or Sox. Or whatever the singular is.

Word came this morning that the ex-Giant third baseman has reached an agreement with the Bosox on a 5-year, $100 million deal.

Good for him.

And good for the Giants. They can now get on with the business of building a 2015 team that will carry them into their next World Series appearance. In 2016.

Ex-Giant Pablo Sandoval Signs With Bosox

Ex-Giant Pablo Sandoval Signs With Bosox

As I recently said, Sandoval’s departure makes the near-term future for the G-Men more exciting and filled with more possibilities than if they’d been saddled with his outsized salary (and I’m not going to make a cheap joke here about his outsized body).

One of the things that makes the Giants a successful team is that it is a team of multiple excellent players with no superstar. Pablo was on the verge of claiming superstar status. To do that, he needed a bigger-market team where he could get the national media attention he craves. His brother and co-agent recently said that Pablo was primarily interested in “respect” in his next contract and a lot of analysts said they thought that just meant “lots of money.” But it seems clear now that he also had in mind media respect, a commodity that’s in short supply for West Coast stars who play half their games after New York is asleep. Or partying.

I wish him well but I don’t see Sandoval having the tools it will take to play big on the huge Boston stage in the shadow of New York. If he starts 2015 with the same kind of horrendous slump with which he launched the 2014 season in SF, he’ll find the Boston fans are far less forgiving and welcoming than those in the SF Bay Area. Faced with booing, catcalls, media criticism and calls to bench his butt, it will be interesting to see now he reacts. My guess? It’s not going to be pretty.

In my next piece, I’ll take a new look at third base in the post-Pablo era and check in with how his disappearance might affect other places on the roster.

Isn’t this fun?

 

Run, Bernie, Run

Looking back over my nearly 70 years on the planet and my more than 50 years of active political engagement, I can see that one word that could neatly sum up my experiences might be “Quixotic.” I run around tilting and windmills and I have a few stashed in case I run out of obvious ones.

My wife agrees. And she’s known me longer than anyone else.

That label is true in most areas of my life, but nowhere is it more accurate than when it comes to politics. Just by way of example, I was a life-long Democrat until this year when I switched to being a Green, which is the most progressive party I can find. I’m still a progressive and I always have been.

Except in 1964. That year, I was living in Chicago where the Dick Daley Democratic Machine owned everything. I was in my element at last. So naturally I joined the Goldwater campaign. I said at the time that I did so because I admired that he was a man of principle even though I didn’t agree with a single principle he espoused.

This is all by way of explaining why, if as anticipated Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described Socialist independent from Vermont, tosses his hat into the Democratic Party run for the White House, I will be a solid supporter. Unless, that is, Elizabeth Warren changes her mind and decides to take a shot. In that case, I’m going to have a dilemma on my hands. But just because of his sheer courage in adopting the Socialist mantle, I might tip to Sanders until and unless he is forced by the Establishment to drop out.

The differences for me between the Green and Socialist parties are quite small but there were a couple of planks in the Socialist platform I felt uneasy about. Plus my belief that global climate change is the defining issue of our time internationally matches up more closely with the Greens in their passion. But it would be a close call if Sanders and Warren both offer themselves as candidates.

This article points out why a Sanders candidacy could ultimately be good for the Democratic Party but I don’t honestly care about that or its impact on the “presumptive” nominee, Hillary Clinton, for whom I have no love at all. For me, a leftist candidate might actually have a chance of winning this year if s/he can get the nomination because the GOP has nobody of any stature ready to run. (Seriously; the latest talk is about giving Romney another shot!)

I hope Sanders decides to run.

Jim Webb is a Non-Starter for Me

The first Democrat to officially enter the 2016 sweepstakes is former West Virginia Senator Jim Webb. He’s a right-of-center Reagan Democrat who served as the Gipper’s Secretary of the Navy, an angry ex-Marine who is absolutely bellicose on foreign relations and a complete non-starter for me.

While he voted with the party when he was in the Senate, his comments since then — and some of the material in his warlike novels — have turned me off completely.

The Democrats can’t affect the national policy agenda by trying to out-conservative the Republicans. The Democratic agenda needs to push farther left on the issues on which most Americans agree with that agenda, not dragged to the right. The GOP has been moving the national conversation to the right for decades. Time to push back.

 

Who Might Fill Giants’ Holes in Off-Season?

This is my second Hot Stove League post of the post-2014 season. Like my first one, it focuses on my team, the San Francisco Giants.

When I ended that post, I summarized the situation as follows:

Assume for the moment that the Giants re-sign Panda, replace Romo with Strickland, and lose Peavy. That means we’re still looking for a left fielder and a starting pitcher and probably a southpaw in the pen.

If they don’t re-sign Panda, replace Romo with Strickland, and keep Peavy, they still need a left fielder and a left-hander in the bullpen plus a third baseman.

So let’s look first at left field, then at left-handed relief, both of which will be needed regardless of whether the G-Men keep or lose Sandoval.

Left Field

Probably the top two free agent prospects for the Giants are Alex Rios of Texas and Baltimore’s Nick Markakis. But you’d also have to include Emllio Bonifacio and Naori Aioki on any short list. Free agency is full of decent-to-potentially-great outfielders this season. The question is going to be what the Giants can afford under the cap.

Alex Rios, Texas free agent outfielder

Alex Rios, Texas free agent outfielder

Rios was a relative standout for the Texas Rangers in 2014 until he bruised his thumb. But the club bought out his option and let him try free agency with a .280 average, which is just about exactly his career number. He was due to be paid $14 million, so the decision wasn’t unexpected, particularly for a club with an embarrassment of outfield riches, though much of it is untried.

Rios’ biggest downside is his age (34) but he was one of the fleetest baserunners in the AL in 2013 and it’s hard to see how a bum thumb can slow that down. On the other hand, the Giants seem to have an allergy to stealing, so maybe that’s not a consideration.

My guess is he’ll get a 2-3 year deal in the $8-10 million range, based principally on longevity concerns. At that price, he might be a good interim pickup.

Markakis is a little more interesting. He has just about the same amount of MLB experience as Rios (eight years) and his BA is almost identical. But he’s three years younger plus he’s a two-time Gold Glover.

The problem us that Markakis is going to be slightly more expensive than Rios. He probably commands something in the $45-50 million range over four seasons.

Bonifacio has a bit of a weak stick (career average .262, 2014 average .259), he’s 30 years old and he’s bounced around a bit. On the other hand, he earned under $1 million in 2014 and if Giants Manager Bruce Bochy sees him as a good chemical fit for the team, a friendly clubhouse and supportive coaching could bring this guy out of the shadows. If he can be had for under $2 million on a short-term deal, he may be worth the risk.

Aoki is a steady .287 career hitter with a reputation for putting the ball in play. He’s not a power hitter but he has great range and a decent arm. He was a defensive key to the Royals’ 2014 World Series run. Reports are that he’s interested in a three-year deal, which makes sense for a 32-year-old. He made $2 million in 2014 and is looking for $8 million per year in his next deal. That’s probably not outrageous but may be a bit steep for the Giants.

I like Gary Brown, a Giants farm system product, as well as any of these guys, frankly. He’s a bit of a light hitter (he hit .265 at Fresno last season) but he’s pretty solid defensively and the age of 26 has a long future. He’s a hot enough prospect that when the Giants were negotiating for Hunter Pence two years ago, the Phillies were keen to make him part of the package. For 2015, he wouldn’t be as much immediate help as either Rios or Markakis, but since the Giants will probably flounder a bit next season anyway before taking it all again in 2016, giving the youngster a year of seasoning might make some sense.

Left-Handed Reliever

Free agent pickings for southpaw bullpen guys are really slim. Particularly in the Giants’ price range. I’ve scoured the wire and the only possible candidate I can come up with is Andrew Miller. But before I could even get this column online, he had multiple three-year offers that would reportedly make him the highest-paid reliever in the game who is not a closer and doesn’t have closer experience. (That’s not too big a deal; that number currently stands at $6 million.) The Giants would be crazy to spend over $7 million on the guy and with 22 teams expressing interest, the bidding is likely to get silly before anyone acquires him.

Which leaves the farm system which, fortunately, has two good prospects at a minimum. Unfortuantely, one of those just shot himself in the foot with a PED (performance-enhancing drugs) suspension of 50 games.

Adalberto Mejia is the guy with the drug issue. The 21-year-old spent last season in AA ball where he compiled a career-high and disappointing 4.67 ERA. He features a low-90’s fastball and a quality circle change but he can also throw a devastating slider that’s his go-to strikeout pitch. He has excellent control (though apparently not self control) and is viewed as a top-5 Giants prospect. He probably did himself in for 2015 with his suspension, though.

Michael Kickham, Giants left-handed relief prospect

Michael Kickham, Giants left-handed relief prospect

The other minor league prospect for the Giants in the left-handed reliever category is Michael Kickham. At 25, his control needs work (he gave up 75 walks in 150 innings of work last year) but he has great quality stuff and he doesn’t have to be in the strike zone to get guys out. In 2014, he looked like this: 3.05 ERA, 1.29 WHIP with 137 strikeouts across those 150 innings. At one point last season in Fresno, he put up 4 consecutive quality starts in which he struck out 25 and walked only six, so he’s definitely capable. While he might benefit from another year in the minors, he could benefit greatly from some Righetti coaching and some Bochy nurturing.

Conclusions

It might not be the best they could do in a different scenario, but given the relative paucity of relievers this year and the overall team picture, I think the Giants should give Rios a shot if they can get him for two years at under $20 mill and start with the idea of promoting Kickham to the Big Show bullpen for a quick look-see.

I’m Going to do “Hour Of Code” This Year. How About You?

Hour of Code LogoLast year, some 15 million students around the world learned some basics of computer programming in a wildly successful “Hour of Code” experience. This is an amazing program assembled by an eclectic group of technology companies and philanthropists and educational institutions in which people are taught some basic ideas of programming in a single hour at no cost to anyone.

I checked out the program after the fact last  year and was fascinated. This year, I’ve  volunteered to coordinate the program at my granddaughter’s school in Monterey. So every day from Dec. 8-13, I’ll be spending my time in the computer lab at her school, helping students and a few teachers experience the joy of moving past passively using a computer to bossing it around.

This program is exciting, easy to implement, free to everyone, features a lot of celebrity names from technology and entertainment, and has the potential to spark serious interest in our profession. Plus last year, it resulted in more than 10 million girls being introduced to programming.

I hope you’ll consider volunteering to help out with your local school or district in 2014 as the sponsors hope to exceed last year’s enrollment and expose even more kids to the empowerment that is computer programming.

 

More Conservative Anti-Science Poppycock

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday passed a bill that would ban subject-matter experts from advising the EPA on regulations while opening the door to such advice from industry representatives with no specific expertise and a clear political, anti-regulatory agenda.

You can’t make up this kind of stuff.

As reported by Lindsay Abrams at Salon.com, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. She went on to explain:

In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest.

Or, as Union of Concerned Scientists Director Andrew A. Rosenberg said in an editorial for RollCall:

“In other words, academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, along with two others designed to interfere with the EPA’s work. One of those bills would ban what the GOP calls “secret science” by which it means science that hasn’t undergone testing beyond that required by accepted scientific practices. The other would put a rush on permit applications for permits by bypassing provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The trio, wrote Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, in an editorial for the Hill, represents “the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress.”