Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Opening Dismay

Barry's outdueled by Peavy
SAN FRANCISCO - On a day when even a Royals fan believes that anything is possible, the Giants managed to fall into almost every low expectation given to them this off-season. Zito pitched like a number two, Bonds showed warning track power, the bullpen got lit up for four runs and Feliz, with his new short stride, still struck out. But hey, this was just one game...right?

Barry Zito had a welcome to the National League moment in the 6th inning of last night's game, getting pulled to allow Lance Niekro to hit down 3 runs with a man on. While his line stats do not reflect that bad of an outing, 5 innings, 4 hits, 2 ER, it certainly was not a great one, which is precisely what the ballclub will need from their starting pitching this season.

Is it unfair to place the future of this ballclub on their starting five? Absolutely. But with a weaker offense and a hittable bullpen, you better believe this club will only go as far as Zito and Co. take them.

Behind the mound, the other Barry actually showed good range for an outfielder. Even on a bum leg last year, his gold glove instincts could get him to the ball quickly. Feeling healthier (and happier according to Mike Krukow), it will be interesting to see how quickly he attacks the record.

The supporting cast looked average as usual. Durham struggled to get comfortable in the box along with Winn and Roberts. In the meantime, armed with his "strideless" swing, Feliz continued to swing at balls in the dirt. After committing what would be a run allowing error in the 4th, you can see why the media has gotten used to saying religiously, "excluding Vizquel, the Giants defense is mediocre at best". And yes, Durham made two great plays, but let's not confuse him with Ryne Sandberg out there.

This year is simply all about starting pitching. The young man pitching tonight is quite simply the most exciting player on this ballclub for the potential of what he could be. With the right approach, this is one Giants fan who believes Matt Cain can be one of the top five pitchers in baseball.

So all-in-all Opening Day, even if it went badly, signaled the beginning of a new season and a new chance. The beauty of baseball is that it's a long season, so anything can happen. So the offense was shutdown, the defense had holes and the starting pitching only decent. You can always say, it was just one game...


Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Anti-Barry

Zito brings more than wins to Giants organization

SAN FRANCISCO - It seems only appropriate that baseball's highest paid pitcher has the highest uniform number ever worn in Giants history. Yesterday while Barry Zito was introduced in a press conference, you could see precisely why Magowan believes the 28 year old lefty was worth a seven year committment. He's young, marketable and all in all is everything Barry Bonds is not; He's the anti-Barry and San Francisco should love him for it.

Ask anyone around the league what comes to mind when they think of Barry Zito. It likely involves a yoga mat, surf board and a pookah shells necklace. The guy is as California as they get. In the press conference, after mentioning the charity he created that benefits hospitals for soldiers wounded in military operations, he explained how one of his first acts after signing his 126 million dollar contract was to contact the rest of the Giants rotation to introduce himself.

Hear that Giants fans? It's the sound of something we haven't heard in a long time. Class.

Let's be honest. We all know Bonds' entourage, lounge chair and half hearted late season play were all suspect before, but it was alright because he was the dominant figure that he was. Now, with age catching up to him, Bonds' usual antics just look even more ridiculous when compared to Zito.

Maybe, just maybe, that is why the Giants overpaid.

Peter Magowan and Larry Baer are not stupid. Notice I don't say Brian Sabean due to my personal belief that he has less say in the big contract decisions. After Bonds was re-signed, he seemed more out to defend his own name than the decision itself.

Regardless, Giants management deserves more credit than they have been given so far. The Barry Zito signing brings them three priceless rewards that are included in the young lefty's large price tag.

One, they had to make a splash this offseason to replace Schmidt and Zito gave it to them. They inched closer to their original gameplan of getting younger and averted the non-stop negative publicity from the Bonds agreement the month earlier.

Two, Zito will sell tickets not only to Giants fans, but from Oakland as well. I promise you that Zito's quote on A's fans "coming accross the bridge" when the A's are out of town was something that was fed to him. It is no secret Oakland plans on building a stadium further south which will open a completely new fanbase to China Basin. Who better to usher them in than the former member of their big three.

Most importantly though, the Zito signing made a statement to future free agents that the San Francisco Giants organization is willing to spend dollars to win. Beyond the cash that teams like New York, Boston and Texas spend to cement premier players to longterm contracts, players are just as attracted to a winning organization when pursuing their options. Certainly a Zito-Cain one-two punch is something to build on.

So what are we supposed to see in Barry Zito? A kid who works hard, has class and who wants to win. Whether that is worth 126 million dollars has yet to be seen. Either way, it's nice to know the Giants signed a ball player that values not just winning, but how its done.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Separating "What is" from "What was"

3 years ago, Bonds was worth $20 mil. Now? Another story.

SAN FRANCISCO - It seems that I pissed a number of people off by asserting that signing Bonds to a 20 million dollar contract was the worst move that Sabean could have made this off season. For some reason, there are still fans out there that believe that the aging outfielder could lead us to a post season. Hell, I was one of them for a long time. There comes a time however when you have to see the writing on the wall, and separate what is from what was.

It was only a four years ago that Bonds was the most feared player in baseball. There was no right way to pitch to him. When pitchers tried to paint the corners, he had the eye to take it. When they tried to blow it past him, he had the bat speed and when they made a mistake, he never missed. His 2002 campaign was simply the best baseball I have ever seen anyone play.

While he was a little off color, none of us cared. We were too busy being mystified at the offensive threat he was with Jeff Kent behind him. He may not have been perfect but Giants fans understood that we had one of the best players to ever play the game in our corner and he was all ours.

It was in these years, that fans created this immediate defense when confronted on Bonds. People would complain about his attitude, or the lounge chair, or whatever recent anti-Bonds tirade was in the news. Giant faithful could simply reply, "Yea, but he's also the best offensive player you'll ever see in your lifetime". Barry Bonds was one of the best that had ever played the game and we revered him for it.

With the Giants announcement last week of their intentions to sign Bonds to a 1 year, 20 million dollar contract, Magowan much like many fans still, continues to hold on to what Bonds used to be. It is the automatic defense that all of Giants nation was used to yelling back when those who just didn't understand his greatness would attack Bonds as a player. In his eyes, he still can see the 46 homerun, 106 RBI slugger that took the club to the Series in 2002.

What Magowan did not see is that for many of us, the smoke has cleared. What Bonds is is now is unavoidable.

The once great slugger has a bad knee which has cost him his bat speed and coverage in the outfield. He no longer can play a day game after a night game and brings the most damaging PR story of the season before pitchers and catchers have even reported to spring training.

For those of you who still are coping with this realization, that is completely fine. Just do those who see reality a favor and refrain from arguing that the Giants can make the playoffs with an injured and aged Barry Bonds. There is no need to try and sugar coat the motivations of Giants management. This season is about the record, it’s about money and Peter Magowan's inability to let go of the player he both hated and admired for his extraordinary talent.

So now that it looks that Barry is coming home to play one last season by the bay, I will say this. I will be there with my fellow Giants faithful for the final time Barry Bonds plays in a San Francisco Giants uniform to pay tribute to what he was, what he is and most importantly, wonder what he could have been.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Giant Disaster

Fans forced to endure 1 more dark year of Giants baseball

Schmidt is gone, Bonds is back, and as much as he tries to spin it, there is no doubt that Magowan, Sabean and Co. are to blame.

They have undoubtedly now thrown in the white flag with this signing. Magowan simply could not allow Bonds to take less money and break the record elsewhere (if there even was another interested party).

With Bonds around, baseball remains in the steroid era and in this regard, the Giants are now its mascot. Magowan is turning his head the other way to turn a buck and what's worse, everyone knows it.

So with that said, I want to extend an invitation to our ill fated owner to sit next to me in the stands at Fenway Park during Father's Day Weekend next season. Before last week, I actually would have gotten a chance to enjoy the game. Now? I'm forced to go incognito.

What's sad is that it's not that I can't take crap. It's that for the first time in my life, I'm actually ashamed to be a Giants fan. I'm ashamed to show public support for a team that is looking to shake every dollar out of a player with absolutely no sense of morals or loyalty. Bonds is loyal to Bonds, so what do I owe him?

Thanks to Magowan, every Giants fan outside of the Bay Area is the elephant in the room? Don't believe me? Go to a road game this coming season and then tell me you actually enjoyed the game.

So here's to the last year of a dark era in Giants baseball and the wish that one day, the Giants will get "younger and healthier".

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bonds asking price outrageous

Bonds' asking price a reported 1 year, 18 million with a one year option

I can't tell what's more insane.

Jeff Borris' outrageously overpriced offer or Brian Sabean's refusal to call it so.

Either way, someone needs to tell me how a 42 year old player who can't play a day game after a night game, has virtually no range in the outfield and brings one of the most negatively publicized story in the history of baseball into the locker room can demand a 1 year, 18 million dollar salary with an option for a second year.

Even more so, why is no one writing about this?!

For the sake of my own sanity, I am going to put aside the somewhat old school notion that a player has a responsibility to his team to do whatever it takes to help the team win, on and off the field. God only knows the kind of free agents the Giants might have been able to pull in if they signed Bonds early to a 10 million dollar contract. I've written about this earlier; in the free agent market, the image of a winning ballclub is worth just as much as the offer. Need proof? Take a look at what Walk Jocketty who just signed an extension for one of the best pitchers in the league for yesterday.

So we've established Bonds is selfish. Obviously not a big surprise. What we didn't know is how selfish.

Bonds' agent Jeff Borris is reportedly asking for an 18 million dollar contract with a second year option that could be worth another 18 mil. To put this in perspective, two MVP caliber candidates year in and year out Albert Pujols and David Ortiz are making 14 million and 6.5 million respectively next season. Barry Bonds, who had as much fantasy value as Brad Hawpe of Colorado last year, is asking to be paid more than both. Right now you are probably wondering who Brad Hawpe is. THAT'S the problem.

After striking out with Soriano and Lee, agent Jeff Borris is eyeing his opportunity to advance negotiations in that for the time being, his client is the best power hitting outfielder option for the Giants. Why else do you think he has been active in spewing out the discontent he had for the Giants negotiations and continually repeating the fact that there is "interest from multiple clubs", none of which he wishes to disclose.

If Sabean's smart, he will realize three things this winter.

One, the only team that showed any real interest publicly was the Baltimore Orioles. The Chronicle recently reported that two high placed officials of the club said the team was not interested. What does this mean? Borris' interest from other teams is purely fictional. Any team that might seriously want to pursue the slugger at this point would have to think they could handle the press that comes with him. No other club has already come forward, making Borris' market even less believable. Just look at the source.

Two, taking into account Bonds' numbers last season, an 18 million dollar asking price is ludicrous. Enough said.

And finally, there are other options. In the game of baseball, there is more than one way to score runs. Preventing runs and solid hitting creates runs on both fronts. Hell, read Moneyball if you need proof. Sabean may not be seen in the best light in the book, but he needs to revisit its theories. There are a number of players he could get for a third of Bonds' asking price who could be just as valuable in doing what wins games: increasing opportunities to score runs. With Bonds on the team last season, they still ranked third to last in onbase percentage.

Earlier today, I read that GM Walt Jocketty always tells his wife before going to the mall that even though they have money, it doesn't mean they should spend it. For all our sakes, lets hope the Cardinals GM has Sabean's number on speed dial and owes him a favor.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Time to Rebuild

The Worst Part of a Downslope? Everyone knows it.

As winter meetings approach, it has become evident that Bonds left the Giants with more than an empty number 3 spot in the lineup. His departure has unveiled an average ballclub with worse problems than lack of a power hitter; free agents simply do not want to play for San Francisco.

And why should they? While their minor league system has developed a knack for producing great arms with Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, they have had just as many problems keeping them consistent. Munter, Taschner and most notably Noah Lowry have all struggled to find the success they had towards the early part of their careers.

On the offensive side of the ball, the star threat is Kevin Frandsen. That's a problem. Not to knock the kid, but I don't see the next Jeff Kent in the young second baseman.

Looking back two seasons ago, before Bonds' decline, we were lucky enough to sign a hall of famer in Omar Vizquel to a three year contract. Here was a player in his late thirties who had more gold gloves than you could count with one hand who was just looking for one thing: a ring. When asked why he decided to come to San Francisco, he replied, "I wanted to play with Barry Bonds and win a ring". Great players go to teams that they feel can win. It's that simple.

This offseason, Brian Sabean is paying the price for taking the team downhill for the past three seasons. No amount of money can attract winners. Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and who knows how many others can see the writing on the wall. That's why we haven't signed a big name and is precisely why the pursuit for Manny Ramirez at this stage is irrelevant.

You invest in a player of his caliber to attract more players to signing with your ballclub. Sabean's window of time has closed without getting any real results.

So as not to critique without offering a viable solution, I will say this. It is obvious that the Giants have neither the free agent market or the minor league talent to make a big money run at the pennant this coming season. Sabean's best option is to go with the original game plan.

Develop young talent. Hold off the temptation to sign Bonds, Feliz and Durham. It's time to give Freddy Lewis, Kevin Frandsen and co. an opportunity for some major league experience. Taking the opportunity to save money for a chance, let's see how a younger team does in the weak National League West.

The dollars that come in from the All Star game coupled with the money saved could be more than enough to land a variety of free agents early next offseason in a market that shows much more promise. If the Mets turnaround after signing Carlos Beltran two years ago says anything, it's that it only takes one big splash. Pedro, Delgado were sure to follow. That, coupled with the emergence of their minor league stars Reyes and Wright, brought a new life to the ballclub.

With a salary cap in the 90 million dollar range, there is no reason a revolution can't happen in San Francisco. It's not only time for fans to regain that sense that the Giants are a winning organization, but for free agents as well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Changing Faces

One good contract season used to mean a contract for a few good years for an MLB pitcher. With the abundance of cash baseball has brought in the post-steroids era coupled with the revenue sharing plans, teams have had deeper pockets and an even stronger drive to edge the competition.

Following the 2005 campaign, Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt expressed regret when the San Francisco elected to pick up his 10.5 million dollar option for 2006. Back in 2001, he had signed a 4 year 31 million dollar contract with the 2006 option. Given his age, the same deal would have been closer to 50 million today.

It is most appropriately called the Steinbrenner effect. It's an acknowledgement that losing dollars is part of the process of winning. With a huge influx of dollars each season, the team can afford to take on long contracts and still guess wrong on a few. What does this type of competition breed? The over-appreciation of players.

A.J. Burnett, Kevin Millwood, and Jarrod Washburn were players with good years, but never dominant in their own right. Collectively they signed contracts last offseason for 140 million dollars over 13 years. Spending Cy Young candidate dollars, each player came up well short:

2006 Season
A.J. Burnett 21 GS, 10-8, 3.98 ERA
Jarrod Washburn 31 GS, 8-14, 4.67 ERA
Kevin Millwood 34 GS, 16-12, 4.52 ERA

With Toronto, Boston, Angels and more recently the NY Mets spending more dollars to keep up, the competition alone will continue to raise the value of pitching this offseason. What most don't realize however is that this is just the beginning.

Signing a new collective bargaining agreement just last month, both the owners and players association have agreed that the profit sharing system is working. It is allowing lower market teams to retain bigger market dollars. Certainly the Kansas City Royals will never be able to bid like New York, but they at the very least have the opportunity to sign a few long term deals. The affect is likely to be seen most amongst mid-market teams. Seven years with seven different World Series champions is unseen in any other market.

With any trend in spending, newer practices are being seen in retaining their younger players. Mets GM Omar Minaya was quick to act this season, signing both David Wright and Jose Reyes to multi-year deals to keep from losing them to free agency. Minaya knew first hand how prices could sore in the free agent market, signing both Carlos and Pedro Martinez to long term deals in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Contracts are getting longer, less players are filing for free agency and all the while, one has to wonder how Billy Beane gets his team to the playoffs every year with a 62 million dollar payroll.

Perhaps the answer is in the draft, which is precisely where Giants GM Brian Sabean needs to start in his rebuilding process. Their farm system is known for producing great pitching but poor offensive players. They made a splash however signing 16 year old prospect Angel Villalona out of the Dominican Republic with a $2.1 million signing bonus.

The idea? Develop young talent and utilize their production in the years before the qualify for free agency. Billy Beane has been using this theory for years. Every free agent player is assigned a class, A, B or C. If a team signs a Class A player, his former team receives a compensation first round pick from the players new team in the upcoming draft.

Beane may have lost great players, however he was able to replace them better than any GM in the league. Losing up to 4 class A free agents this offseason, the next draft will pivotal in determining Sabean's future in San Francisco.

Bidding wars are going to continue and the free agent market is going to get worse. If the Giants are planning to get young, they need to start now. The question is whether the fans can be patient enough to see that it will take a few years. Going for quick gold the past two seasons, Sabean is already a few too many behind.

I think I speak for every Giants fan in saying, now it's time to catch up.
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