When will the Snowfall come?

J.T. Snow spent the last two years batting a ridiculously low .246 in each of those years, hitting with very little power. Many fans and professionals feel that Snow's expensive contract should be bought out this offseason. But is this really the best move for the Giants?

J.T. Snow has long been one of the most popular Giants, and has been a part of this team longer than everyone except for Rich Aurilia, Kirk Rueter, and Barry Bonds. Unfortunately, his dropping offensive performance has soured more and more fans on him, and as his contract comes up, the clamoring is loud for the Giants to buy out his contract and find someone else to play first. In the short view, this sounds like a good idea, but that view may change if you take a step back.

Snow's contract calls for him to make $6.5 million next year, which few people disagree is overpaying Snow with his performance, especially during 2001 and 2002, where he batted .246 each year and didn't reach double digits in home runs. This year, his average is back to a respectable .272, but he still lacks the power people want from him. That hasn't saved him from the calls for his contractual head. Many fans only want first baseman who are pure power sluggers, as is the stereotype.

Let me say this: I find these positional stereotyping of players ridiculously outdated and harmful to player development and team construction. 10 years ago, shortstops were dismissed as purely defensive players, and shortstops who hit 20 homers a year were considered some of the best ever, and most teams though one who hit with little power in the high .200's were excellent. Nowadays, some of the greatest players in the league offensively are shortstops, including one (A-Rod) who just became the second player in history with 6 straight 40+ HR seasons. Similarly, the first base positional expectations should change. Snow has never been the greatest power hitter, at best hitting 20+ HR in the mid to late nineties. But he's balanced it off with a great batting eye and a high on base percentage, and also incredible gold glove defense. The key to building a team is finding a group of players who fit well together, not who fit a statistical expectation for their position. If you got power from elsewhere, you didn't need it from first.

That, however, has become part of this year's outcry. For the first time in Snow's stint in San Francisco, power hitting second baseman Jeff Kent has not been in the lineup. This year, 17 home runs is enough to be second on the team, and that isn't enough power for most people. Now, Snow in particular has come under fire for not fulfilling his position's contribution to the offense.

Never mind that Snow remains one of the top regulars in hitting in clutch situations with runners in scoring position, is one of the few key left-handed bats in the lineup (something Alou has openly stated he's looking forward to getting back), and still plays extraordinary defense.

Still, that said, paying $6.5M for a platooning first baseman who doesn't face left-handed starting pitchers is a lot. A lot of people want that contract bought out for $750,000, as it can be at the end of the season, to either explore other options at first or resign Snow at a lesser deal. Both of these keeping in mind trying to make a long term for someone like Vlad in the offseason.

I, however, think that letting Snow out of his contract, even to renegotiate, is a mistake.

Let me state this outright: Paying Snow $6.5M is overpaying him. But sometimes, you have to. This is one of those times.

My first reason for thinking this is the market for first baseman in this offseason. The scheduled available first basemen on the market are: Terrible fielding DH Brad Fullmer (out for this season with injury), Light hitting, bad fielding Travis Lee, fading 39 year olds Rafael Palmeiro and Mark Grace, part-time near retiree Andres Galaragga, and Jay Bell, who hasn't hit over .200 in two years. And Snow, if he's on the market. We also could start Pedro Feliz out of position at first, but he also hits only .226.

Every one of these guys, including Snow, has flaws. But Snow, quite probably, is the class of this field. Fullmer and Lee are the only possibilities to play everyday, and they are risks to say the least, and defensive liabilities.

The idea of resigning Snow at a lower price is also a flawed one. As I said, he's the best of a bad first base market, and that will keep his price high. Worse, he'll have a number of suitors. If we take the risk of letting him out of the contract to renegotiate, we run a very real risk of losing him. If that happens, there is no one available that will be an upgrade at first base over J.T. And even if we do resign Snow for a smaller contract, it's very unlikely he'll sign a one-year deal, especially after having just had his best year out of the last three. Why do the Giants only want a one-year contract?

Well, the second reason for my thinking is the '05 first baseman market. Though resignings may take some of these names off the market, these are the scheduled first basemen to be on the market before the '05 season: Carlos Delgado, Derek Lee, Richie Sexson, Kevin Millar, David Segui, Greg Colbrunn, John Olerud,, Mo Vaughn, Dave Hansen, and J.T. if he's not bought out.

In particular, look at those first four names. All four of those guys are very good first basemen in the primes of their careers, all on the market at the same time. Now, I think Sexson is the top name, but the fact all four are on the market means that chances are they can be had for far under market value. That's a market a shrewd negotiator like Brian Sabean should take advantage of.

It's because of that market in the '05 offseason that I think Snow should not be released. Though we would be overpaying him, he's still a very valuable piece of our puzzle, and keeping him for just one more year rather than resigning him (or signing anyone else) for more than a year means that we get a great shot at signing a very good or great first baseman in their prime at under market value. That's smart budgeting, in my opinion.

Of course, the monkey wrench in this scene is the San Diego Padres. They recently traded for OF Brian Giles, who is now playing right field for the Padres. That leaves them in the cold with two longtime OF/1B, Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko. Both are in their early thirties, and both prefer playing first. Nevin is a right-hander who has the ability to hit 30+ HR a year who has been hampered by shoulder injuries the past two years (hence his preference to playing first). He's signed through '06 at about $8.5M a year. Klesko is a left-hander who hits 20+ HR a year, and is having an off-year. Earlier this year, he signed a two-year extension at just over $8M a year. Klesko is also one of only four non-Giants to hit a Cove Shot.

With the Padres getting a large revenue stream by moving into their new park, and a push for competitiveness with the trade for Giles, they cannot keep both these guys on their roster, and may be willing to pay part of one of their salaries to get rid of one. Such a deal may be the kind of deal the Giants will be willing to swing for prospects, something the Padres lost some of thanks to the Giles deal. If the Giants can get a discounted Klesko, then there's no need to keep Snow.

Whatever the outcome, this offseason will be an interesting one. Though people will get most excited in filling a possible hole in right field with a guy like Vlad, a more telling offseason drama will be finding out fills our first base spot the next two years.



Love me, hate me, idolize me, or laugh at me, just don't ignore me. Let me know what you think: write me at kevin@ugcfilms.com .

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