Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lunatic and Proud
By Blogger

Among the Lunatic Fringe, San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean's derisive nickname for hardcore Giants fans, it's almost common knowledge that this winter the Giants will sign Matt Morris to a contract one to two years too long. It is also a common fear that Daryle Ward is in our future as the lefty first baseman paired with Lance "No I'm Not A Knuckleball Pitcher" Niekro. It's enough to make one lapse into crazy, video game-esque, "if only this guy would play this position" talk -- and get a swarm of enthusiastic responses.

Thus far, the Giants' inaction has resulted in a mixed bag of reaction. First, many of us expected Sabean to have unleashed at least one of his patented pre-arbitration deadline free agent signings by now, but we've only been teased by Loaiza. It appears that half the reason Sabean would sign his Michael Tuckers before the deadline was to intentionally give up first round draft picks, but the Giants had a bad enough record that their first pick this year is protected and cannot be given away, so there might be less motivation for him to make an early deal. (Read here and here the reasoning behind such a strategy. Yes, the reasoning eventually breaks down, but it's not that insane.) Second, after examining the Giants' obvious needs, Lunatic Fringe conventional wisdom holds that the team must replace it's first base combo from last season and get a least one reliable starting pitcher to provide the missing link in Schmidt, Lowry, ________, Cain, and pray that Brad Hennessey has enough control to hit water from a boat. The thinking is if Schmidt is healthy and improves upon last year's struggles (for him), Lowry either maintains or improves as a third year player, the third pitcher is a slightly better than league average innings eater, Cain gives us somewhere in the vicinity of 170IP/4.00ERA in his first full season, and Brad Hennessey leads a motley crew of AAAA minimum salary types, they'll have the best staff in the NL West. Acquire today's Wally Joyner equivalent to hit sixth behind Moises Alou, and, suddenly, the Giants have a very dangerous, albeit suspiciously "veteran" team. And on budget, too!

The lineup would be a who's who of "nice player, but no way I count on him in my fantasy league" guys. Ray Durham at second, Omar Vizquel at short, Randy Winn in center, Bonds in left, Alou in right, Wally Joyner at first, Pedro Feliz at third, and Mike Matheny behind the plate. Unless they get a young first baseman or go with Niekro full time, not one of the starters will be under thirty. Of course, if the Fringe had their way, things would look a lot different. Most of the moves speculated upon above were conceived through the Sabean filter. Though we can play the What I Would've Done Game forever, we'll keep it to four simple points. With the help of my trusty History Revisionator 4000 (patent pending)...

1) No chance in hell the Giants sign Mike Matheny. In real life, the guy is signed to a contract that will pay him millions into his late thirties. Thanks to the HisRev4000, after the 2004 season, the team hands the catching job to Yorvit Torrealba the instant Pier*****i bounces. In his first full season of play, in his age 26 year, Yorvit gets paid $700,000, plays great defense, and hits to the tune of .240/.315/.385. Compare to Matheny's career year last season of .242/.295/.406 (My God! He broke .700 OPS!)

2) What? Sabean traded David Aardsma and Jerome Williams for a middle reliever?Six feet six inches of sinkerball Yes, LaTroy is good, but the Cubs were willing to trade him for five cents on the dollar to get him out of town. No way the Fringe lets that trade happen. We let Williams work out all his issues out of sight in the minor leagues, perhaps not even in games, so that he doesn't accumulate too much of a damning record. With Scott Eyre pitching so well, and the emergence of Scott Munter as a ground ball machine, there's no need for the likes of Hawkins.

3) Even though the guy turned into Joe Dimaggio during August and September, Randy Winn shouldn't be starting in center field in 2006. Looking at his career numbers, there's no way he's a legitimate number three hitter, and we already have a guy with his offensive profile in Ray Durham. He's a fine player, but we can't afford to keep him, Durham, and Vizquel around. Thanks to contract issues, Winn is the odd one out. Using the HisRev4000, we tell Winn as soon as the season is over that if he wants to exercise his option to stay with the Giants, he can, as is his right, but he could very well be the fourth outfielder because we plan to move on other opportunities. He doesn't exercise the option and becomes a free agent. (Note that even though we kept Yorvit as the starting catcher, in our alternate reality Winn still came to San Francisco in exchange for Jesse Foppert.)

4) Finally, fast forward to the present. We download the FutureScan plugin for HisRev4000 so we can mess around with future maneuvers. Ned Colletti becomes the Dodgers GM, and immediately, the Giants inquire about Milton Bradley. Yes, we can have him, but we'll have to give up Travis Ishikawa and Hennessey. Yes yes yes. No problem. We're willing to (*giggle*) take on such a volatile player (*giggle*). We know he's a (*giggle*) clubhouse cancer, but we can't (*giggle*) pass up that kind of hitter to be our everyday center fielder. The same day the Bradley deal is finalized, a blockbuster rocks the baseball world. The Giants trade Aardsma, Williams,My man crush on Dunn continues unabated Eddy Martinez-Estevez, Todd Linden, and Merkin Valdez to Cincinatti for Adam Dunn and most of Eric Milton's contract. Milton isn't expected to be more than the fourth starter for the team, and the Giants' ballpark suppresses home runs enough that his numbers should noticeably improve to "bearable". Meanwhile, Dunn will play first base for at least this season, then move into left field when Bonds retires. The team immediately begins discussions with Dunn's agent about a long term deal, eventually buying out the rest of his arbitration years and his first few years of free agency with a six year deal reportedly worth $75 million.

Back to reality, the point of this exercise is to illustrate how at least one hysterical fan thinks his team should operate, and how frustrating risk-aversion is for people who aren't in charge. With a payroll budget in the neighborhood of $90 million, the Giants are upper middle class in baseball terms and should act that way. They have enough money to pay superstars what they're worth, but not so much that they can do that and be profligate with their role players. I've mentioned before the Cardinals as a team they should emulate, because with the same payroll budget Walt Jocketty still somehow manages to pay three ultra-superstar players in Edmonds, Rolen, and Pujols, and builds a quality pitching staff every year. How does he do it? Simple: he scrounges and scrapes for his bench players (John Rodriguez, Abraham Nunez, et al) and doesn't throw money at reliable yet mediocre players (Mark Grudzielanek made $1 million dollars last year as the starting second baseman, one year after Tony Womack had his career year as the starter there for a measly $300,000). Until he breaks down, an eventuality that is all too near for Giants fans, Mike Matheny will have been one of the most reliable players in baseball. Was he a good hitter? Of course not. But he was sooooo reliable (accidents with hunting knives notwithstanding).


Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Sabean is probably one of the more overrated GMs in the game. However, when he makes bad trades, it rarely comes back to bite him since the prospects he deals don't pan out. (He traded a live body for Sidney Ponson. Doesn't that automatically get you fired?) That and Bonds is so damn good offensively it covers up for the fact he's put together awful lineups.

But again perception is a funny thing. The Giants are not built well, so that when Bonds went down, they were done. One injury completely derailed their season. Nobody gets on Sabean for that. Yet down in LA, when Paul DePodesta loses half his lineup and his closer to injury, he gets blamed and fired. I mean, do people around the country realize how stupid the Jerome Williams trade was? Seriously, I don't think LaTroy could walk down the streets of Chicago safely by the end of his tenure there. It was far dumber than trading a 30 something catcher for a front line starter.

Then again, I guess Jerome Williams wasn't the heart and soul of the Giants, even if he's infinitely more valuable to them than LaTroy Hawkins or Paul Loduca was to LA.

3:26 AM  

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