EXTRA BAGGS: Belt rings into spring with a new attitude

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EXTRA BAGGS: Belt rings into spring with a new attitude

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Belt didnt receive a World Series ring last season when his Giants teammates were awarded their baby blue boxes from Tiffany. But hes assembling quite a jewelry collection. And now its going international.Belt played six weeks for Escogido in the Dominican Republic earlier this winter. The club went on to win the Caribbean Series on Feb. 6. And Belt will get his piece of the prize.Its nothing new. Belt has more rings than Sonic the Hedgehog.He picked up an Arizona Fall League ring and a Cape Cod League ring. Even his wooden-bat showcase club in the Texas-Oklahoma collegiate league won its circuit. And lets not forget his ring from the 2010 San Jose Giants, who won the Cal League title.(Belt jokes that he never gets to wear any of them because his father ends up taking them and showing them off.)

Belt believes he picked up much more than a trinket in the Dominican. The Giants hoped playing in that frenzied environment would help their sometimes awkward Baby Giraffe play with a little more poise. Although Belt resisted the teams request at first, he came to realize it was a good opportunity and he ended up throwing himself into it.He said he felt more confident about his approach after competing well against some quality pitching. He stopped being pull conscious and let the ball travel a little deeper, where hes able to square it up and split the outfielders in either gap. He believes he is ready to carry that approach over into this season, too.As the Giants begin the spring, Buster Posey is the most important player in the clubhouse. He will be the most scrutinized of anyone in camp.But Belt is a key figure, too. No player could change his fortunes or impact how the roster is constituted more than he can. If he convinces the Giants that he is ready to be an impact performer, they could be forced to shuffle a lot of pieces (Aubrey Huff in left field? Melky Cabrera from left to right? Nate Schierholtz on the bench?) to carve out a regular spot for Belt at first base.Manager Bruce Bochy is certainly leaving the door open, mentioning that Belt, Huff and Brett Pill will see time at first base and left field."It's going to be competitive -- moreso than in earlier years," he said.To a large extent, the situation is out of Belts control. For example, suppose Poseys ankle doesnt respond well and he has to play more first base as a result. Not only would that take away opportunities for Belt at first base, but it also might necessitate a third catcher and the need for an additional roster spot.Ive covered enough spring training baseball to know: teams almost always act to protect their inventory when they decide who stays and who goes to Triple-A Fresno. So even a terrific spring might not win Belt a job if Huff has an equally impressive camp. If the choice for a roster spot comes down to Belt and Emmanuel Burriss, only Belt has minor league options remaining.But heres the key: Belt understands all this now. He doesnt plan to let his self esteem ebb and flow with every clue or every roster decision, as it did last year. He mentioned a conversation in the Dominincan with scouting director John Barr, who gave him a simple message: We believe in you. We know the kind of player you are and who you will be. He said those words made an impact.And listening to him speak in casual conversation, Belt did strike me as having a different edge in his voice and look in his eye. He spoke of feeling a sense of belonging, and if he starts to go into a tailspin at the plate, he knows its a matter of mechanics and not mentality.Like everything in life, its easier said than done. Those little blue boxes from Tiffany dont come easy, either.--Yes, Angel Villalona has a locker in the major league clubhouse. The former top prospect, who hasnt played in two years while facing a murder charge in the Dominican Republic, is due to report with position players. Major League Baseball removed Villalona from its restricted list after charges were dropped late last year.--In other locker news, Tim Lincecum took over the corner space that Barry Zito had inhabited since 2008. Zito held that spot ever since Barry Bonds left the scene, but said he felt too trapped in there.--The Bod Pod is no more.The training room device, which measures body fat percentage, made for some classic moments last spring. Jeremy Affeldt, who had bragged he could beat Brian Wilson in a race up Camelback Mountain, was forced to backtrack twice as fast. When he donned his shower cap and skivvies and jumped in the bubble-like contraption, his body fat percentage ended up higher than manager Bruce Bochys measurement.Yeah, I beat out a few guys, said a grinning Bochy, remembering he did better than Mark DeRosa, too.But the Bod Pod did not make a return this spring. Maybe Affeldt paid to make it disappear."--It was a pretty typical reporting day for pitchers and catchers, who simply have to check in with staff and schedule a physical. There were a fair amount of position players here, too. Belt, Brandon Crawford and Nate Schierholtz were hitting in the cage before 8 a.m. Emmanuel Burriss is here, too. He spent all offseason working out in San Francisco -- hopefully on his flexibility, as hell probably be asked to play five or six positions this spring.

Pros and cons: Should Giants seriously pursue Andrew McCutchen?

Pros and cons: Should Giants seriously pursue Andrew McCutchen?

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants and Pirates nearly pulled off a trade in July when Bobby Evans sought a closer and zeroed in on Mark Melancon. Ultimately, Pirates GM Neil Huntington shipped Melancon to Washington D.C., but the two teams could be connected again as the winter meetings approach. 

Pittsburgh’s star outfielder, Andrew McCutchen, is reportedly available — very available. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Huntington and the Pirates are calling potential suitors, with the Nationals, Rangers and Mariners listed as teams that have discussed a McCutchen deal. 

At first glance, it’s remarkable that this point has even been reached. This is nearly the equivalent of the Giants putting Buster Posey on the market. McCutchen, drafted 11th overall in 2005, has spent the better part of a decade as the face of a franchise that has gone from the cellar to perennial contention. He’s a a five-time All-Star and won the National League’s MVP award in 2014.  

McCutchen has helped revitalize the Pirates, but they’re still the Pirates, and they’re still constrained by a strict budget. Pittsburgh has two outfield building blocks in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, with prospect Austin Meadows on the way. They reportedly are set on moving McCutchen.

It’s not a question of if Evans will end up on the other end of one of those phone calls. The Giants always do their due diligence, and they could use help in the outfield. The question is should the Giants seriously pursue McCutchen, and if they do, can they actually get him? Here are the pros and cons … 

Pro: I mean, he’s Andrew McCutchen. Even with a “down year” in 2016, he leads all NL players in WAR (28.6 per FanGraphs) over the past five seasons. He’s a .292 career hitter with a .381 on-base percentage and six consecutive 20-homer seasons. McCutchen’s OPS dropped more than 100 points last season, but he still hit 24 homers, seven more than any Giant. In theory, McCutchen would add a very dangerous right-handed bat to a team that’s ready to win now. 

Con: Is he still THAT version of Andrew McCutchen? The drop off in 2016 was steep in certain respects. McCutchen’s .336 OBP was a career-low by nearly 30 points. His slugging percentage has dipped more than 100 points over the past two seasons. He stole just six bases in 13 attempts. Most concerning: McCutchen’s fielding metrics fell off a cliff. The former Gold Glove winner was worth negative 28 defensive runs saved per FanGraphs. By comparison, Angel Pagan posted a negative 20 in 2015 and got moved to left. The Giants could acquire McCutchen to play left, but it’s unclear how he would react to switching positions given that every defensive inning of his career has been spent in center. Was 2016 a fluke or the beginning of a slide? 

Pro: Let’s say he is amendable to moving … McCutchen would balance a lineup that leans to the left, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be an above average defender in left field. He has one guaranteed year left on his deal at a very affordable $14 million, with a $14.5 million club option for 2018. The front office could basically sit back for two years, as every starting position player but Eduardo Nunez would be under team control through the 2018 season. 

Con: The fit is an imperfect one in a number of ways. Let’s start with what it would take to actually get McCutchen. The Giants didn't offer enough to get Melancon, and a McCutchen deal would surely center around top prospects Christian Arroyo or Tyler Beede, plus other players. Joe Panik’s name might come up, too. The Pirates are reportedly asking the Nationals for minor league outfielder Victor Robles, who is a better prospect than any player the Giants have. So any potential deal would clean out a system that’s thin after trades for Nunez, Will Smith and Matt Moore. 

The financial cost is not insignificant. The Giants don’t have that much wiggle room in their budget, and a new closer will be expensive. Add a $14 million hitter and you’re looking at about $45 million for an outfield made up of three players on the wrong side of 30. For months, the Giants have signaled that they’re more comfortable giving the open playing time to young players like Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker, who would be hopelessly blocked by a trade for McCutchen. 

Conclusion: If a trade does happen, it will be a crushing blow to Pirates fans. To save some face, the organization will need to get an elite player or two in return, and as always in these situations, other teams have much more to offer than the Giants. Robles, for instance, was the No. 33 prospect in the minors last season, per Baseball America. 

Even if the Giants are interested, they won’t win a bidding war. But they don’t have to. The focus has been on fixing the ninth inning, not left field, and the guess here is that it remains that way. 
 

MLB, union beat deadline, agree to tentative new CBA

MLB, union beat deadline, agree to tentative new CBA

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball said it will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

A player can receive a free-agent qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who failed to accept a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who declined a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after the competitive balance B round if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that starts next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all players who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start time of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phases out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before expiration, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance of expiration in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Tony Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.