Giants

Free agency didn't play out the way Lopez envisioned

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Free agency didn't play out the way Lopez envisioned

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Javier Lopez waited a long time for free agency. He was 33 years old. Hed missed qualifying the previouswinter by just five days of service time. He knew left-handed specialists always were prized by deep-pocket teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox.When you buy a Rolls-Royce, you dont skimp on the options. So it caught everyone off-guard when the Giants signed Lopezto a two-year, 8.5 million contract one day after the World Series ended. I know it surprised me, said fellow left-hander JeremyAffeldt.

Affeldt prepared for his 5 million option to be turned down. Theywerent going to spend close to 10 million on two left-handed relievers, were they? But a few hours later, Affeldt received word. He was coming back,too. Its the ideal scenario, Lopez said. We were bothexpecting itd be one or the other. Its a lot of money to commit to two guysand we understand that. We were keeping in contact and seeing how thenegotiations were going. Once the Giants stepped up with a multiyear deal in linewith his market value, Lopez lost all interest in playing the market. He hasbeen a part of six major league organizations. He didnt want to join a seventhjust for the thrill of chasing a few more dollars behind Door No. 2 assuming they were out there. You know what it was? The high of 2010 lingered for me,said Lopez, who gave up one hit and one walk in nine appearances that magicalpostseason. This was a special group of guys and I knew so many of them wereunder team control. Playing here is something I really enjoy. Its really toughto keep a bullpen together and the Giants have done a great job with that. Tobe able to show up and fall into the same rhythm was a major factor in wantingto come back. Giants GM Brian Sabean said the impetus to throw cash atboth lefty relievers was simple: The bullpen is a deciding factor with all the tight,one-run games within the NL West. Closer Brian Wilsons uncertain elbowplayed into the decision, too. Willy at the end of the year crashed and burned, Sabeansaid earlier this month. We went conservative with his rehab, and the bullpenwas one of our strengths the last three years. Not knowing if Willy would be atfull strength at the beginning of the year, how could we weaken that bullpen? Affeldt and Lopez pitched in a lot of high leveragesituations. We didnt want to break that up, and we didnt think (Dan) Runzlerwas ready to take over for one of them. As its been pointed out, the Giants could have let bothrelievers walk and used that money to sign Carlos Beltran. But they had noassurance that Beltran would want to return. At minimum, Sabean knew the All-Staroutfielder would want to wait until deeper into the offseason to flesh out allmarket possibilities. Thats a timeline that didnt fit the Giants, who couldnteternally hold up trades for Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. And Lopez was ready to do business. Obviously, you want to set yourself up for the best dealout there, Lopez said. But a lot of it is being comfortable, too, and Ive beenthe new kid in school. Its the way of life as a reliever, and its not alwaysthe best feeling. It doesnt hurt to play in front of a packed house, either. Youll often hear players say they work their whole careersto get to free agency. But there are no guaranteed roses at your feet. Take Cody Ross, the 2010 NLCS MVP. After a stressful winterof negotiations, he ended up signing a one-year, 3 million deal with theBoston Red Sox. Hell go to Fenway Park, hoping to put up numbers and puthimself in a better position for next winter. Ross could have returned to the Giants, where he'll always be cheered. The club had reached out to him on a one-year dealearlier in the offseason, but he wanted three. Thats a mistake a lot of players make, said Bochy, answering a general question about free agency without mentioning Ross. They want to play itout. I dont want to mention names, but it ends up being detrimental to theirsituations. Its all about being where you want to be. Javy wanted tobe here, Brian was very fair and we got it done. I think thats the way itshould be more often. The Giants bullpen was second in the majors with a 3.04 ERA, and it wasn't just a pretty number. Lopezand Sergio Romo allowed Bochy to get favorable matchups in the late innings. Affeldtshard stuff played against either lefties or right-handers, making him aversatile piece. Theyre vital to our success, Bochy said. Javycomplements Sergio so well and Jeremy I can use in the seventh, eighth orninth. Having two left-handers, you arent worried about when to fire your onebullet. They have great stuff and theyve had tremendous success.Whether managing a bullpen or entering free agency, the key is knowing when to pull the trigger.

Three teams chasing Giants in tight race for first overall pick

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USATI

Three teams chasing Giants in tight race for first overall pick

LOS ANGELES — The Giants have a pretty strong track record when picking in the top five of the MLB Draft. In 1985, they took Will Clark with the second overall selection, and Clark remains the highest-drafted player in franchise history. A year later, Matt Williams was taken third overall. Jason Grilli at No. 4 in 1997 is rather forgettable, but taking Buster Posey with the fifth pick in 2008 led to three titles. 

With a week of baseball remaining, the Giants are a lock to pick in the top four of next year’s draft. A few days ago, they looked like a pretty strong bet to pick first overall, but the standings — the bottom of them, at least — have tightened in recent days. Here’s a look at the contenders, so to speak … 

White Sox (63-92): No team went into tank mode this year quite like Chicago, with trades of just about every big piece on the roster. But a funny thing has happened … they’ve actually played decent baseball down the stretch. The White Sox are 11-12 in September after a blowout of the Royals on Sunday. They finish up with four against the Angels and three against the Indians, so they should get pretty close to 100 losses. 

Phillies (62-94): They have looked all along like the team to beat, but they hurt their top-pick chances by taking three of four from the Dodgers last week. They host the Nationals and Mets this week. 

Tigers (62-94): All of a sudden, they’re the biggest road block for the Giants. The Tigers have lost seven straight and they’re 4-20 in September. They finish up with three against the Royals and three against the Twins, and all six games are on the road. 

Giants (61-95): Can we stop for a moment and appreciate this. We’ve been talking about it for five months, but still, it’s pretty amazing that a $200 million team is headed into the final week with a very good shot at having the worst record in Major League Baseball. What an awful season this has been. Having said that, the Giants have not shown any signs of actually tanking, and manager Bruce Bochy said this weekend that he won’t shut any players down. So, it’s on to Phoenix, where the Giants have lost six of seven this season but the Diamondbacks might chill out a bit after clinching a postseason spot. They’ll face Zack Godley, Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke. The season ends with three at home against the Padres. The Giants have struggled against the Padres for the last year and a half, but they’ll have Matt Cain going in an emotional start and Madison Bumgarner will also get a game. 

Given another look at fastball, Williamson gets revenge against Kershaw

Given another look at fastball, Williamson gets revenge against Kershaw

LOS ANGELES — Mac Williamson was sent up to pinch-hit when the Giants faced Clayton Kershaw earlier this month, and on a two-strike count, he watched as Kershaw shook off five different signs as he stood on the mound. Kershaw then froze Williamson with a fastball. It was a good lesson for Williamson, a player still trying to find his footing at the big league level.

“He’s a guy you can’t really guess with,” Williamson said. 

The outfielder admits he tends to overthink things. “I’m a perfectionist,” he said Sunday. But given a start against Kershaw, Williamson let his talent — and a little luck — take over. Williamson’s first hit off Kershaw was a bleeder that resulted in an infield hit. His second bounced through the middle of the infield for a single. The third one was the highlight of the day for the Giants. 

Kershaw had a shutout going when he tried to sneak a first-pitch fastball past Williamson in the eighth. He blasted it to dead center. It was the only run for the Giants in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers. 

“It’s good to see him get those swings off,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That homer was to the big part of the park. It shows how strong he is.”

The Giants have always known Williamson has the strength and raw talent. He hasn’t stuck for a number of reasons, including injuries and that aforementioned tendency sometimes to overthink at the plate. It probably hasn’t helped, either, that the Giants tend to sit him for days at a time and then play him against the Kershaws and Zack Greinkes and Rich Hills of the world. 

Williamson took advantage of the tough assignment on Sunday, joining a small group of Giants who have three hits in a game off Kershaw. 

“Hunter was ahead of me,” he said, smiling. “He beat me to it.”

Pence also had three hits, giving the Giants six from the corners against the best pitcher in the game. It wasn’t enough, but for Williamson, it was something to build off as the offseason approaches. He said it’s a winter he doesn’t plan to take lightly. Williamson’s agents are working to line up a Winter Ball job in the Dominican Republic.