The D-word tempts gods to laugh

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The D-word tempts gods to laugh

I hear the D-word being bandied about again, so it is incumbent upon me to remind you of what happened the last time we heard it.Scott Cousins happened. Jonathan Sanchez happened. Cody Ross and Aaron Rowand and Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff happened. Showtime happened. And then nothing else happened.In other words, the D-word Dynasty is the best way to get the gods who handle baseball to laugh.Oh, the talk is louder this time, because Giants are the proud owners of two World Series in three years, and everyone connected with the operation today is being called a genius at worst, a galactic overlord at best.And as delightful as the sensation felt for Giant fans, it now seems closer to being prophetic. And trust us, it isnt.Not that the Giants cant be a dynasty, mind you. Anything is possible. But dynasties are rare, so the odds run against them. Plus, the last time they defended their title, they lost their way, their best players, their bat rack and their sense of joie de sport.In short, championships are fragile. Anything can turn them, especially the notion that one guarantees more.So heres your assignment until the parade forms: Look at 2011 in all its mutant horror (yes, 86 wins is horror now aint that a steel-capped boot in the temple?), and realize that the parade commemorates not only the deeds of October but the struggles of May and July as well.Note that youre a catchers injury away from not defending your title, and a center fielders contractual desires away from losing your exterior defense, and a third basemans attention span from losing the heart of your teams order.Look, lets just generalize. Things happen after a championship, and not all of them are good. Some players fall in love with the good life. Some players fall in love with the free market. Some players fall, period.RELATED: 2012 Giants World Series page
All three of those things happened in the winter of 2010 and the spring of 2011. The Giants of 2012 had none of those issues. Their biggest injury was to Brian Wilsons arm, and they managed to more than merely cope. Their second biggest injury was to Melky Cabreras brain, and they survived that.And that was it. Buster Posey played in 148 games, or 30 more than anyone including him figured. Their starting rotation made 160 of their scheduled 162 assignments, and the others were an emergency start in April for Eric Hacker a few days after a doubleheader and a post-clinching one-off for Yusmeiro Petit. Pablo Sandoval broke a hand and pulled a hamstring. Ryan Vogelsong strained his back in March. Jeremy Affeldt and Ryan Theriot did 15s. But this was largely a very healthy team.And the budget rose to 130 million cover the important contractual matters (Lincecum, Matt Cain), thus keeping what had been built intact.But there is no guarantee that the Giants will remain healthy in 2012. And the savings from expiring contracts and whatever Cabrera isnt going to get if he returns will be eaten by Buster Posey, Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan, assuming the latter two want to return. And in honesty, good fortune is not forever, and no team that wins a World Series for the foreseeable future wont have at least some of that. In a million simulations of the Giants postseason, Johnny Cueto doesnt get hurt in most of them, and Lance Lynn doesnt hit second base on the fly in most of them, and Justin Verlander doesnt lose his game in most of them. The Giants did very well to capitalize on all these events, but sometimes luck swings back the other way, with a bullet.The point here is, what has been built can be taken out with a stroke of the pen, a snap of a femur, a distracted mind, or just plain old baseball. You can talk the D-word all you want, but in this new world when MLB plays out a lot like NHL, the variables often have more power than the plan.So say it all you want if you must. Maybe silly and grandiose things will be said tomorrow on a dais in front of city hall, and shouted from convertibles. But some of it will be whistling in graveyard, or just be wishful thinking and fate-tempting. The Giants are good . . . very very good indeed. But the last time they were this good, their turn ended abruptly.What can be said is this: They are built to survive as much as building can cover. But building and maintenance are two very different things.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Christian Arroyo’s fingers flew across the face of his iPhone in a scene that would not be out of place in any dorm room across the country. For a moment, he was simply a young man facing an online opponent on an app, but Arroyo is far from your average 21-year-old.

Arroyo was sitting in front of a locker where a No. 22 Giants jersey hangs as a sign of what the organization thinks of the infielder. A former MVP, Jimmy Rollins, dressed a few feet away. On a flatscreen TV hanging from the ceiling, a feed showed Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford practice bunting. That group is one Arroyo hopes to soon join.

“When you get drafted by a team, your goal is to be a guy that stays around for a while,” he said. “I love it here, and to be one of those guys down the road would be awesome. There’s a lot of work to be done to get to that point, and I understand it is a business and some things work out and some things don’t, but I would definitely love to be one of those guys.”

The Giants believe strongly that he will be. It’s why they ultimately felt they had coverage when Matt Duffy — once the fourth member of that group — was traded away in the seconds before the 2016 deadline. It’s why Arroyo is wearing Will Clark’s old number. It’s why Bruce Bochy broke into a wide smile when asked about Arroyo’s month in camp last spring, when he had 10 hits — including two homers — in 18 at-bats.

“Wow — I mean, he had an impressive spring, to the point where guys are going, ‘Maybe he can help us (now),’” Bochy said. “But he needed to go to (Double-A) Richmond and play. He’s not on our radar to make the club (this spring), but what he did last spring opened a lot of eyes.”

The Giants would like Arroyo to get a full season at Triple-A and general manager Bobby Evans said they don’t feel pressure to have their top hitting prospect in the opening day lineup in 2018. Eduardo Nuñez is in the final year of his contract, but Conor Gillaspie is under team control through next season. Still, Arroyo could be a fit as soon as this summer. 

“We’ll let his development dictate the pace of his rise to the big league level,” Evans said. 

The front office will continue to move Arroyo around the diamond in Triple-A, but his future is at third base and that’s where he’ll get most of his time this season. To make the transition, Arroyo — who was drafted as a shortstop — has at times turned to a player who was once blocking him. When bench coach Ron Wotus started working him in at third last spring, Arroyo started following the lead of the incumbent. 

“I was with Duffy on the back field and we were doing our infield work,” he said. “I started turning double plays and he said, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to slow it down over here. When you’re here, you have time. If you get a double-play ball just deliver a good throw to Joe. It’s not really the speed, it’s the area that you throw it, and let Joe turn two.’

“He’s a Gold Glove second baseman,” Arroyo continued. “He’s going to turn it every time. Once I started to realize that and started to slow everything down over there, my feet were under me and my angles on the throws were right.”

Arroyo continued to work on slowing the game down during his season in Richmond, where he played 48 games at third base, 48 at shortstop, and 19 at second. He is learning the nuances of positioning, and another spring in big league camp — where Wotus regularly helps veterans grow by leaps and bounds — will only help.

At the plate, the focus is on consistently having the right approach. Arroyo showed it last spring, when he fell behind 0-2 during a televised night game and then calmly worked a full count. When he got a cutter he could handle, Arroyo pulled a two-run homer over the bullpen. Several Giants compared the approach that night to Buster Posey’s, and during the season it was continually reinforced.

“When (team executives) would come into (Richmond) and you talk to them, they tell you very specifically the exact plan for the big league level,” Arroyo said. “'Hey, get on base, keep it moving, and make stuff happen.' I understand that when I’m making stuff happen I’m not hitting home runs, I’m hitting doubles and taking walks and taking the extra base. 

“Eventually, hopefully, when I grow into my body and get a little bit stronger down the road, doubles turn into home runs and I can make things happen that way. But for now I understand what kind of player I am at this age and I’m just going to try to stay consistent at what I do and let the other things fall into place.” 

That's the attitude the Giants want Arroyo to continue to take. It’s easy for a young player to get caught up in prospect rankings or homers and RBI, but the numbers that mean the most to the Giants are the ones on Arroyo’s driver’s license. Arroyo hit .274 with a .316 on-base percentage and .373 slugging last season, but he did so in a league where the average player was more than three years older.

“When you’re playing Double-A at the age of 21 and you have 36 doubles and good defense, it stands out,” Evans said. “We challenged him by moving him around, that’s a lot to take, and he had a good year. He has a good head on his shoulders and a good approach at the plate, and he’s only going to get stronger as he grows into a man’s body. Now he’s looking at Triple-A at the age of 22 — and he’ll still be the youngest player.”

Arroyo won’t mind that. The jump to Double-A last season was a challenge, and he was happy the Giants gave it to him. He’s ready for another jump, another season of trying to stay consistent against older and more experienced players. As Arroyo sat in the clubhouse Tuesday waiting for the on-field workout to start, one veteran infielder after another walked through the door. Nuñez, Gillaspie, Rollins, Aaron Hill and others will get most of the time at third base this spring. There are limited at-bats for the prospects, but Bochy doesn’t need to see much more from Arroyo — who is 14-for-26 in two springs — to know what’s on the way. 

“He showed he can handle the bat, third base, or wherever we put him,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of time with him.”

Giants spring training Day 10: Bochy on board with new rules

Giants spring training Day 10: Bochy on board with new rules

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — During his season managing Barry Bonds, Bruce Bochy watched the slugger get intentionally walked 43 times. 

“There were (managers) who had the (signal) up before he even got to the batter’s box,” Bochy said Wednesday. 

That’s part of the reason Bochy is completely on board with a new rule stating that managers only have to signal for an intentional walk. The elimination of the four pitches has been approved by MLB and the MLBPA, with the caveat that a manager can change his mind in the middle of the plate appearance. 

“I’m fine with it,” Bochy said. “I know a few pitchers are happy because they kind of have a thing about throwing (those pitches), not on our team, but last year it happened to us and we didn’t go. I’m fine with it.”

It’s rare that an intentional ball would go to the backstop, but the Giants experienced it last year against the Yankees. Dellin Betances threw wide as he tried to put Brandon Crawford on and Angel Pagan didn’t react quickly enough to score from third. 

Bochy met with league officials last week to go over some of the new rules and ideas, and he said he wants MLB to keep pushing to cut the time of games. 

“We talk about it so much but we really haven’t done a lot,” Bochy said. “I’m all for (limiting mound visits). I’m all for it, I am. It’s gotten more and more popular in the game. It used to be the catcher, and now it’s the catcher and infielders, and they go to the mound and come back and then the pitching coach goes out there.”

EXHIBITION SCHEDULE: Bochy said Madison Bumgarner is currently slated to start Friday’s Cactus League opener, with Matt Cain also throwing an inning. Ty Blach will start Saturday, Matt Moore and Tyler Beede will pitch Sunday, and Jeff Samardzija will start Monday. It’s possible that 18 or 20 different pitchers will take the mound over the first two days since almost all of them will be scheduled for just three outs. With the exception of Will Smith, every projected Giant should see the field this weekend. Hunter Pence is the only guy who has been held back at all, but his intercostal issue has cleared up. Pence put several on the left-field berm during BP on Wednesday.

“Hunter wants to (play Friday). He's ready to go,” Bochy said. “I’ll make that call tomorrow once I talk to the staff, but Hunter assured me he’s a full go with no limitations, and he really wants to play.”

PROSPECT WATCH: Bochy took the van over to the minor league facility to watch some of the projected Triple-A players take part in live BP. Jae-gyun Hwang hit a homer off Jose Dominguez during his session. 

“He’s a guy that rotates (well) and he’s got good power,” Bochy said. “He can go the other way. He’s got some bat control. He’s got a nice swing.”

Over on the main field, Gorkys Hernandez hit an impressive homer to left-center. 

ICYMI: From this morning, Smith is being held out of workouts. Reporters spoke to him in the afternoon and he said there’s no concern. Also, here’s a podcast with Derek Law and Josh Osich. Subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t … there’s a very popular Giant coming soon.

QUOTABLE: Smith missed time last season because he tore a knee ligament while taking his shoe off, so this spring’s speed bump is somewhat easier to take. He had a message for the trainers: “I said I’m going to sit down every day this spring,” when I take my shoes off.