One Trade Down, More to Come

The Giants offseason began early and with quite a bang as they acquired all star catcher A.J. Pierzynski from the Minnesota Twins. It was also a bit of a surprise to some observers, considering many people had penciled in Yorvit Torrealba as the Giants starter. But underneath the surface, this move may give the Giants flexibility in making more, and even bigger moves later this winter.

After two years playing solid baseball as Benito Santiago's back-up, Yorvit Torrealba seemed to be on track for the starting catching job for San Francisco this year. With an above average offensive ability mixed with a startling defensive ability where he could pick off runners at any base, and the advantage of being a near minimum wage player on a team that needed to cut payroll, even with recent talk of the Giants looking at upgrades at catching were brushed off in the glare of bigger holes at first base, shortstop and right field.

But lo and behold, the Giants pulled off the trade for the much talked about Pierzynski, a player who'd been the target of trade negotiations from many teams around the majors in desperate need of a catcher. A.J. is a definite upgrade offensively, though his defensive ability is slightly lower than Torrealba's. What was perplexing about the move at first was that Pierzynski was filling a hole that the Giants didn't have. Pierzynski could get as much as $3-$5 million in arbitration (though he could sign a long term deal before that), and with the Giants budgetary restraints, the upgrade didn't seem like a priority. It had me wondering what Sabean was thinking for some time after hearing of the deal. But after a little while, I realized something.

Everyone wants a catcher. More than that, several playoff hopefuls need a catcher. But in the end, there just aren't that many major league ready catchers to go around. And now the Giants have two of them. Very inexpensive ones, too.

The Giants catching situation is surprisingly strong in the wake of this transaction. Beyond Torrealba and Pierzynski, the Giants also resigned veteran back up Alberto Castillo, have prospect Trey Lunsford in Fresno, and 2003 draftee Todd Jennings having played well in his debut at single-A. With such depth now and in the future at the position, either Torrealba or A.J. could be trade bait to fill one of our other, more pressing holes with a legitimate slugger.

Two such players are very publicly available through trade for a starting catcher. The Milwaukee Brewers are in need of shedding payroll, most notably HR king Richie Sexson's $8.5 million contract, and they want a major league starting catcher. The Padres would also like to find a catcher, and are interested in getting Klesko out of right field. He would be able to play his natural position, first base, with the Giants.

Sexson would be an incredible fit for the Giants. Offensively, he's a slugger in the truest sense, toiling away in relative obscurity in Milwaukee for the last few years. When he came to San Francisco on a road trip last year, he commented how great it would be to play in San Francisco, with the winning tradition and batting in front of Barry Bonds.

Most fans would probably have him bat after Barry, but close enough.

Klesko is one of the few lefthanded sluggers who has done well, hitting .277/.329/.429 at Pac Bell Park since it's opening in 2000, and he's had plenty of opportunities playing in the Giants division all these years. He's also one of the few non-Giants to hit a splash hit. While the conventional wisdom is that left handed sluggers do poorly in the Bell, Klesko is one of the ones who has done well at the Bell, and could do even better on the road.

Either Torrealba or A.J. could be the trade bait on these deals, as well as another prospect or two. A.J. would probably save a higher level prospect from being part of the trade, but Torrealba would be cheaper for a team cutting payroll like Milwaukee. But either of these deals could go through. The scary thing is, these two possible deals are the tip of the iceberg.

The catcher market is thin this year. In the free agent market, there's Marlins' MVP Pudge Rodriguez, and Benito Santiago, who is perhaps undervalued but may not be a full time contributor at his age. Atlanta's Javy Lopez has said he doesn't want to play catcher anymore. So the number of teams looking for a catcher may grow, once the decision of Pudge comes through. And that opens up more deals.

The Marlins, even after winning the Series, will also probably be looking to cut costs. If Pudge doesn't resign, then they'll also need a young catcher. They also are looking to avoid arbitration with young first baseman Derrick Lee, and may be open to trade offers.

Then there's the Kansas City Royals, who have said they need a catcher and a third baseman. Center field phenom Carlos Beltran could very well be available for a package featuring one of the catchers and Pedro Feliz.

And even if we trade either A.J. or Torrealba, we'll still be set for enough years that we might be able to pull off a trade involving AAA prospect Lunsford, whose progress would likely be blocked by whomever we keep, and the market for a guy like him is unlimited.

This offseason is promising a lot of moves by the Giants, and the flexibility provided by this trade will only lead to an even more exciting and unpredictable offseason. Giants fans should be very excited in the coming months.

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