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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Why We Coffee Drinkers Should Thank Starbucks

I'm sensing that it's becoming increasingly fashionable to "dis" Starbucks. Starbucks coffee is bland, it has no bite, it's become a corporate behemoth, so we should support the local coffee house instead. All that may be true, but for those of us old enough to remember, before Starbucks (and Peet's), it was hard to find a good latte. Local coffee roasters routinely burned the milk when steaming, and the beans they ground were often little better than Folgers.

But the advent of Starbucks brought consistency to the making of lattes, cappuccinos, and so on. This forced local roasters to improve what they served, or they'd go out of business (and many did). That's why most of the baristas working in coffee shops today know how to brew an excellent cup of coffee. And that is why all of us coffee drinkers should thank Starbucks (and Peet's).

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Should the Giants Panic?

Four years ago, almost to the day, the Giants were struggling, and I wrote that they Giants shouldn't panic ("Why the Giants Shouldn't Panic"). Most of their struggles could be explained by injuries (primarily to Angel Pagan) and a bit of bad luck. In retrospect, I look like a genius since the next year the Giants went on to win their third World Series in five years.

So, what about this season? Should they panic? I don't think so. This season has been characterized by injuries to key players (Posey, Bumgarner, Crawford, Pence, Cueto, Melancon) and sub-par years from Crawford, Belt, and Pence. Pence's off year could reflect that he's getting older ("Aging Curves and Big Contract"), but there's a good chance that Belt and Crawford will bounce back next year. In fact, I'm convinced that Crawford is playing with an undisclosed injury -- he hasn't been the same since he returned from the DL. Belt's more of a mystery. His defense is as good as anyone's in the league and a key reason why Crawford and Panik won Gold Gloves last year, but he never seems to hit as well as expected, which is why the Giants might be tempted to shop him in the off season. Indeed, doing so may help them shore up the few holes that they have. Here's my mild prescription for the Giants woes:
  1. First, they need to acquire a position player who can hit with genuine power (Yoenis Céspedes would've been an ideal pickup last year, but he's no longer available). Jarret Parker has a lot of power, and I'd love it if he blossoms into an everyday player, but I don't think the Giants should take a chance that he won't. Instead, let him compete with Pence for one of the outfield positions, and use free agency to acquire a true power hitter.
  2. The Giatns also have to bolster their bullpen. With Hunter Strickland, Kyle Crick, Corey Gearin, and Sam Dyson, they have the makings of a good one, but they need a left-hander, like Javy López, who can enter a game and shut things down. They also need to find someone who can pitch the 9th inning without having a meltdown, something that has happened far too often the last couple of seasons.
  3. Finally, they need to find a fifth starer. As much of a fan as I am of Matt Cain, I think his days as a starter are over. Perhaps he can turn into a mid-inning reliever, but that's a debate for another day. Instead, the Giants need to resign Johnny Cueto, which should give them a solid starting four (Bumgarner, Cueto, Blach, Samardzija), while at the same time jettisoning Matt Moore. Perhaps, next year Moore can compete for the fifth position, but hopefully they'll find another starter or top prospect (and Vanderbilt grad) Tyler Beede will be ready by next year's All Star break.
Then, of course, there's the issue with Pablo. Three years ago I expressed skepticism about his long-term worth ("Aging Curves and Big Contract"). He was past the age that most major league baseball players begin to decline (which were reflected in his own output), and he seems to have difficulty keeping himself in shape, which only will accelerate his decline. That said, the Giants are basically getting him for free right now, so why not give him a tryout over the next couple of months. He has an incredible amount of raw talent ("Pablo, You Could've Been One of the Best"), so it may be worth seeing if he can turn it around.

I think that's about it. The Giants shouldn't panic. They have the best catcher and perhaps the best big-game pitcher in baseball. They just need a couple of players to bounce back from off years, pick up a power hitter, and find someone to replace Matt Moore. Piece of cake. And let's not forget. Next year is an even year.