Giants Must Get Vlad, A Biased Giants Fan's View

My series of articles on Vladimir Guerrero has generated a backlash on whether getting Vlad is the answer for the Giants. I will try to fully answer the valid points made and I will try to answer them here in the traditional Dan Ackroyd-Jane Curtin fashion: Jane, you ignorant slut! Plus you can tell where I stand by the title.

The general points that I have seen are these:

  • That he may not want to risk reduced stats at Pac Bell Park
  • That he is injured
  • That a superstar is not needed
  • That getting him will would make the Giants a losing team

    Just the Facts, Not the Stats, Jack!

    About Vlad's motivation to go to Pac Bell Park, anyone making that statement clearly did not read my series of articles on Vlad (for penance, e-mail the links to my articles to 217, and counting, of your closest friends, one for each of Vlad's lifetime homers). Vlad does not care for fame or notoriety. People interested in fame and notoriety would worry about their stats. He is probably the closest to St. Francis of Assisi that there is in baseball (extra credit to those who got this reference).

    He is not the least concerned with what he does other than helping his team win. Period. He grew up drinking water from muddy puddles on the ground and he made the decision to still live in that neighborhood, partly to remind him and partly to help those in need there. Unlike most athletes, he appreciates the fact that he can make a great living playing baseball. He plays not to gain fame but, refreshingly, because he wants to earn the money he is being paid and repay the team for its faith in him. It is specious and speculative to say that he could care about his stats, especially when it is clear to anyone willing to make the effort to check that he would not care.

    "The Herniated Disc is Falling" - Chicken Little

    About his injury, it's easy to point at Vlad being on the DL right now and say that he's damaged goods. However, the point is whether this is a long-term condition or a short term one and that has not been determined yet. If past serious injuries was something the Giants avoid, many Giants would have not been acquired, like Ellis Burks, Jason Schmidt, and Tim Worrell. A lot of great baseball players would be off limits and we wouldn't have resigned Barry Bonds because of his elbow and hamstring problems.

    Is it serious? It may be. But, for now, the odds are that he'll be OK. On June 7th, the back specialist working with the Expos declared that back surgery was not necessary and on June 22nd, the Expos reported that his back is improving and that if the progress continues, he should begin baseball practice that week. My Mayo Clinic Family Health book (3rd Edition) says that many herniated discs heal with rest. But if there should be surgery, especially involving bone fusion, it would be a whole new ballgame, requiring reassessment of the situation because it could be career ending.

    Overall, this is on the level of worrying about a ballplayer hurting himself, say, by carrying luggage up the stairs: it happens, it could be serious, but it is nothing you should worry over obsessively. Or, for a more closer to home example, worrying that cancer may recur, like for Galarraga. There is a danger there and you account for that risk but you don't let it stop you from moving forward. The book is still out on Vlad's injury, though it looks to be marvelously positive, and any reaction right now on the long-term effects would be a knee jerk reaction and rank speculation.

    I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (or a World Series)

    Sure, getting a superstar does not guarantee anyone the title. But having one is much better for getting to the World Series than not having one. What does one remember over the years of teams going to and winning the World Series? All the superstars delivering the big hits during the season which helps gets the teams to the playoffs and, hopefully, the World Series. But in a short series, anything can happen.

    Of course, there are always the Joe Schmoes who rise to the occasion, like Gene Tenace did for the A's long ago or Bucky Dent for the Yankees. But it is the superstars who normally lead the way to get to the World Series. It is because the superstars did the heavy lifting to get the team there which allows the small guy to shock and awe the world and be world-beating, if only for a week.

    Plus I don't exactly see how teams are winning without superstars. While it's true that Anaheim didn't have any established superstars but they did have a lineup that was rock solid up and down the order with near superstars like Troy Glaus, Garret Andersen, and Tim Salmon. The year before, the D-Backs had Randy Johnson. Obviously, the Yankees had all their superstars. Even Florida had Bobby Bonilla, who was a superstar before.

    Someone also noted a number of teams acquiring superstars who did not win the World Series. I like the selective memory and definition of some people. A-Rod was a superstar before he signed with Texas and Seattle was a pretty good team with him on it. Sosa, well, he's on the Cub's, enough said. McGuire won with the Cardinal's and with the A's; he was a superstar on those A's World Series teams. (And FYI, McGuire hit 49 homers in his rookie season so he was Big Mac and superstar way before putting on a Cardinal's uniform on.) Griffey has been horribly injured while with the Reds so that's not a fair comparison; when he was on Seattle's team, they were winning as well.

    And there's the crux of the matter here: success is being defined by some as only a World Series ring. Success defined as a World Series ring would damn many of the great players in history. How's this for an Superstar no World Series ring lineup: Juan Maricial, Ivan Rodriguez, Willie McCovey, Rod Carew, Ernie Banks, Ron Santos, Ted Williams, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn. Success to me means that the team is competitive else there's only one team successful each year. The World Series is the whip cream, nuts and chocolate syrup on top (though I'm still hungering for it).

    True, having a superstar doesn't mean you will win or be competitive. There are teams like the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs who lose even though they have a couple of the greatest players ever to play in the major leagues. But there are 30 teams out there, many have a superstar on the team, so obviously if only one team can win the World Series, a superstar is not the only determining factor. But it was usually a superstar player or two who led most of the great teams of the past who won the World Series: Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Ozzie Smith, Gary Carter, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGuire, Ricky Henderson, Kirby Puckett, Greg Maddux, Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson.

    Can Ve Vin Vithout Vlad?

    Any way you look at it, the Giants will be impacted in who they can acquire as a free agent over the next three seasons. Please refer to my article in the premium section of sfdugout.com for my assessment of the Giant's budget situation over the near future and to my latest article on Vlad where I explain what the Giant's can get instead of him. It is not as dire as some has made it but it is not good either.

    Odds are, even without Vlad, the Giants will be scraping by to sign anyone of significance over the next few years to fill out the roster. For better or worse, we are tied to the youth of our farm system (barring any trades of our high priced veterans for prospects) for filling out our roster, unless there are many veterans willing to sign for $500K or play for food. If you read my last in a series article on Vlad, IMO I think I made a persuasive argument that if you don't get Vlad, you will just get a couple of journeyman players at best. I severely doubt that the Giants would be better off with a couple of journeyman players than with Vlad and I think there's a greater chance of winning with Vlad than with two mid-level (if the Giants expand budget) players.

    How Much for That Vlad in the Window?

    I've seen speculation as to how much Vlad would want or deserve. I've seen figures ranging from $15M to $20M. I noted in my latest article on Vlad that Vlad would go for a contract in the $12M average per year range because it is fair for a superstar at his age and development. For example, Scott Rolen signed last year for $11M average per year. He will get the big money at the end of his contract, like most young stars do; that's when he'll be making his $15-20M. Most stars similar to Vlad will be making about $10.5M next year. And his injury, if anything, would reduce his (or rather his agent's) salary expectations.

    As I covered in my last article in my series on Vlad, the Giants can work out a deal with Vlad without going way over budget, maybe $5M max. Given the increase in value of the Giants ballclub and low interest rates, they can borrow each year to cover the losses, as far as cash flow goes, or perhaps find additional investors, so that their owners don't have to dip into their pockets for more investment. The thing is, the Giants don't have many options right now, given their budget and given the contracts already signed.

    In addition, there appears to be a misunderstanding among readers over what a backloaded contract means. A backloaded contract means that salary is moved to the back of the contract. Hence, say, a $15M per year average contract would start out at a lower figure initially, say, $10M, then go higher each year so that the average is $15M. So acquiring Vlad would not add $15M to next year's budget. I believe $8M to start is doable for both the Giants and Vlad, as Vlad wouldn't quibble over a few million less to start since he is passing up about that much each year in endorsements.

    Your 2004 San Franciso Giants!

    I've seen different ways of approaching this matter. The biggest problem I've seen is one scenario had Moss tossed aside without getting any player of value. I think Sabean will not release Moss from arbitration and I don't think Moss will ask for the moon, such that Sabean would want to trade him. I think Moss realizes that the Giants are one of the few teams that appreciate a pitcher who don't fit one of the classic starting pitcher profiles and would want to stay. I think the Giants are keeping Moss and will use Williams in long relief in 2004 - if he isn't traded to obtain a good mid-reliever first. But you can't drop Moss off the roster without getting someone good for him. A lefty with his potential is worth something, at least a strong prospect or two, if not a good reliever.

    Here is how I think some of our roster situations will fall out. I now think JT Snow will re-sign for $500K along with Galarraga. No one is going to offer Snow more or for him to start, I think he feels an affinity for the Giants, and, lastly, I think his sense of honor and professionalism tells him that he didn't earn his keep the last two years and so he feels a debt to the Giants and owes it to them to sign cheap. And he still kills righties. Galarraga will split time again with Snow and maybe Feliz will be in the mix to rest Galarraga. It is probably El Gato's last season as he is striving to reach 400 homers and doesn't look to reach it this year. Eyre's gone if Christiansen is back full strength as Zerbe is cheaper. Jensen will probably be traded to obtain a mid-relief help so the relief corp composition may change. Or, if it is Williams who is traded, then Jensen or Brower would take the long relief spot.

    Here's the way I see the Giant's in 2004:

    Starting Lineup
    2B Ray Durham
    3B Edgardo Alfonzo
    LF Barry Bonds
    RF Vladimir Guerrero
    1B Snow/Galarraga
    CF Marquis Grissom
    SS Neifi Perez
    C Yorvit Torrealba
    Rotation: Schmidt, Rueter, Moss, Ainsworth, Foppert
    Bullpen: Nen, Christiansen, Rodriguez, Nathan, Zerbe, Williams
    Bench: Trey Lundsford (C), Cody Ransom (2B-SS-3B), Troy Linden (corner OF), Jason Ellison (all OF), Pedro Feliz (1B-3B-OF-C; looks like he may be our starting 1B in 2005, perhaps taking Galarraga's place in platoon with Snow or even starting)

    How 2004 compares with 2002

    Now some may mock this roster. Let's examine them piece-by-piece, like an optometrist: is this better or is this?

    For the lineup, which is better:
    2002 - Shinjo/Lofton, Aurilia, Bonds, Kent, Santiago, Sanders, Snow, Bell; OR
    2004 - Durham, Alfonzo, Bonds, Guerrero, Snow/Galarraga, Grissom, Perez, Torrealba.

    Remember, in 2002, we had a hurt Aurilia most of the season, Shinjo/Lofton in CF, and Sanders in RF. Plus no true legit leadoff most of the year. And we still was third in runs scored (and was only five runs away from second).

    Durham is tremendously better than Shinjo/Lofton. Alfonzo is having a bad year in 2003 after 8 strong seasons. He will bounce back next year or, at worse, will still get on base just as much as Aurilia did in 2001, which is what we want a #2 to do (getting on base that is), so it should be a push. Barry can't be as good but he still looks like he will be close since he's still doing it this year even with his personal distractions. At worse, he will be a notch worse. The net is the top third of the lineup should be about the same and maybe better overall in 2004 than in 2002.

    Vlad would be better than Kent as he hits more homers, get on base more, and can steal bases. (I know, Bonds and Kent actually switched by May, but this eases the comparison) Snow/Galarraga are a great platoon 1B and will do much better than Snow alone in 2002 and as well as Santiago did behind Bonds in 2002, hitting fifth. Grissom should be no worse than Sanders was in 2002 hitting 6th, even with an age decline, plus he seems to have been rejuvenated under Alou. The net is the middle third of the lineup should also be better in 2004.

    Neifi at 7th would be taking Snow's place. Sure, Neifi's a lousy hitter. That's why he should bat 7th. Plus Snow didn't do much either from that position until the playoffs so this is probably a push, as bad as Neifi is and as good as he has done this year. And Torrealba has done pretty well in spot duty so while he won't hit homers like Santiago does, he probably can match the number 8 hitter's stats in 2002. That lineup spot was filled mainly with Santiago, Torrealba, Shinjo and Bell, who collectively hit .264/.339/.424 in 425 ABs (474 PAs) with 53 RBIs, which is not far from Torrealba's lifetime stats, .286/.348/.427with 30 RBIs in 210 ABs (230 PAs). If he can continue to hit like he has been as a part-timer while in a full-time position, this change should be no problem. The pitching spot has definitely gotten worse as Hernandez and Ortiz were two of the better hitting pitchers in the NL. The net for the bottom third is a slight drop but, as the old song goes, "nothing from nothing leaves nothing"...

    Any way you look at it, the 2004 team with Vlad looks to be a high scoring team as there are improvements and declines which counteract each other up and down the lineup; there are actually more improvements so dare we hope to improve? Plus we have a legitimate leadoff hitter in Durham, which I think is a major improvement for the offense. The bench will be a question mark but will do no worse than the crappy bench we had in 2002 (remember? Goodwin, Dunston, Shinjo/Benard, Minor, Feliz, Martinez, Torrealba). Pinchhitters hit under .200, about .195, with 1 homer and 17 RBIs, which was pretty sad; the 2004 bench, even with all the rookies, couldn't do any worse than that plus they should be much more enthused about being on the major league level.

    For the rotation, which is better:
    2002 - Schmidt, Rueter, Ortiz, Hernandez, Jensen; OR
    2004 - Schmidt, Rueter, Moss, Ainsworth, Foppert.

    I think that there is a push overall at worse in the rotation and perhaps an improvement if all goes well. Schmidt is getting better each year and is pitching like an ace this year. He should be greatly improved in 2004 over his injury marred performance in 2002. Rueter is Rueter. People have been predicting his demise for years now and denigrate his performance. Rueter as a Giants has been 91-58, a .611 winning percentage, with a 4.06 ERA and has been no worse than 2 games over .500 (11-9 and 14-12) in a full season as a Giants starter. He was 10th in active winning percentage starting the season (.616), 5th in winning percentage for lefthanders since 1980 (.616), and 2nd in active road winning percentages (.671), according to the Giants media guide.

    I think, as a combined group, Moss/Ainsworth/Foppert is only slightly worse than Ortiz/Hernandez/Jensen. Ortiz is clearly better than Moss, especially so far, but he's only a fifth of the rotation. I think Ainsworth is an improvement over Hernandez just due to overall effort. Hernandez had a 4.38 ERA in 2002 and a 12-16 record and opponents hitting .283 off of him. Ainsworth was doing much better than that before he was place on the DL; while that is worrisome, Williams has been doing well as a starter and the two in some combination should still be better than Livan alone. Lastly, Foppert clearly will be better than Jensen by 2004, if not already.

    Consequently, overall, I think 2004 should be no worse than in 2002. Schmidt appears to have moved to another level, which should counteract the drop from Ortiz to Moss. Rueter should be about the same. Lastly, at worse, Ainsworth/Foppert should be no worse than Hernandez/Jensen and should be better, leading to my prediction that this should be no worse a rotation and perhaps better.

    For the relievers, which is better:
    2002 - Nen, Worrell, Rodriguez, Eyre, Zerbe, Witasick OR
    2004 - Nen, Nathan, Rodriguez, Christiansen, Zerbe, Williams

    We did lose a lot here. It would be a downgrade to go from Worrell to Nathan at the moment. Plus Nen is a big question mark, as still is Christiansen. And Rodriguez appears to have declined as well. Zerbe appeared to decline also but he has been fine since being sent down to get re-tuned. Lastly, Williams can't hope to match Witasick's stats but Witasick's stats are sort of hollow as Baker did not trust him and placed him only in situations where he couldn't blow it for the team.

    So, overall, compared to 2002, 2004 with Vlad looks to score about the same, maybe a little less than 2002, the starting rotation is arguably stronger (making the dependence on the bullpen less), but the bullpen is definitely weaker. If we are that close to where we were in 2002, that to me means that we are not just winners, but contenders once again in 2004.

    To Vlad or Not to Vlad, That is the Question

    To me, those questioning whether to get Vlad or not are not looking at the problem correctly. True, many teams bust their budget to get a superstar, only to languish and not win enough to make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series. But that, I think, is a testament to how stupid most GMs are in putting together a roster, especially in acquiring the supporting players that the superstar needs, than to how useless it is to get a superstar.

    The problem is that the Giants are in no position to sign many free agents over the next three years, even their own. If they stick to their budget for 2002/2003, meaning about $80M, there is about $4M left in the 2004 budget to get replacements for our right fielder (Cruz), set-up reliever (Worrell), and maybe a starting first baseman (if Snow is not re-signed at $500K). Obviously, not all can be replaced talent-wise for $4M.

    VLAD!

    To be the best team that it can be, the Giants need to get Vlad because he can be inexpensively signed, in my opinion, relative to all the other superstars that are out there. The budget situation in 2004 is too tight to allow the GIants to maneuver much unless somehow we can find someone to take one of our large salaries, and in that case, we are losing someone of value (Bonds, Schmidt, Rueter, Durham) or just trading salaries (Alfonzo, Rodriguez, Perez), and would create another hole or acquire a different one.

    I can see the Giant's ownership allowing Sabean to stretch the budget (they can either borrow money or find new investors in order to make the move cash flow neutral) slightly to sign Vlad to the team. However, I cannot see how Sabean can convince the owners to stretch the budget to resign one of our free agents AND another mid-level free agent in the $2-3M range. There is not much positive publicity or touchy-feelies from signing, say, a Mike Remlinger or Mike Stanton to bolster the bullpen or a Reggie Sanders or Todd Hollandsworth to fill the right field spot. Signing a Vlad, however...

    So the choice for Los Gigantes basically boils down to either getting Vladimir Guerrero or resigning one of our own free agents (Worrell, Aurilia, Cruz) plus perhaps another mid-level ($2-3M) free agent (which requires the ownership to feel a little generous) in 2004. Which do you think would best help the Giants to win?



    Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fan's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He has been a Giants fanatic since 1971 when he got his first glove from his dad (a catchers mitt that his dad immediately had to return for an outfielders mitt). He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player. He is GoGiants on the Giants discussion board. His e-mail is GoGiants_25@yahoo.com if you would like to reach him.

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