Splash Hits & Tidbits

An overview of their likely goals, beginning with the fates of their own free agents and moving on to possible outside help.

After a relatively quiet start, somebody definitely flipped the ignition switch on the Hot Stove action in the past few days. And, aside from the early trade for young All Star catcher AJ Pierzynski, which we'll discuss shortly, for the most part the Giants have been pretty quiet, rarely even mentioned in the rumors circulating on the potential new homes for marquee players. But, of course, Giants GM Brian Sabean taught everyone long ago not to underestimate his creativity, and there is little reason to expect that this offseason will be an exception. Below is an overview of their likely goals, beginning with the fates of their own free agents and moving on to possible outside help.

The Giants Free Agents As has been widely reported, last season's radical roster makeover is likely to be matched, if not exceeded, this winter. Recent stalwarts like JT Snow and Rich Aurilia head a significant list of potential ex-Giants. Here's a fairly complete list along with thoughts on their chances of coming back:

  • JT Snow, 1st base. Unlikely to return, though slightly more possible after the most attractive replacement, Richie Sexson, was shipped off to Arizona. But several factors still must fall into place. Snow will almost certainly only be retained for a significant pay cut from the $6+ million he made in 2003. The Giants love his defense, respect what a positive veteran presence he has become and admire the way his bat seems to come to life in the postseason. But the harsh reality is that, over the course of a full season, his pop-gun power production is tough to carry at a power position like 1st base. So, the factors contributing to his return are the market and whether any team will keep him in the $5+ million category. If yes, then the Giants will let him go and not look back. But this must all happen quickly, because, as with all free agents, if the Giants don't offer arbitration by Sunday, and they almost certainly won't to Snow, then they can't negotiate with him again until May 1st, meaning he's gone. So unless he resigns on the cheap over the next few days, someone else will be manning 1st next season. Which brings us to the second main factor: the Giants probably would need to acquire a big power bat at one of the other open positions, right field or shortstop. If somehow Sabean pulls off a stunner and brings in a Vlad Guerrero for RF or a Miguel Tejada for SS to protect Bonds, then suddenly getting only 8 home runs from 1st base isn't so big a problem and Snow's Gold Glove would more than make up for it. But if Sabean is forced to settle for a Cruz Jr. clone in right and Neifi Perez at SS, then Snow's glove is a luxury they can no longer afford. And shouldn't afford, especially when you realize that even the far-cheaper in-house candidate, backup 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz, had twice the HRs in almost 100 fewer ABs and had a slugging percentage almost 100 points higher than Snow's. Bottom line: he was a class act and will be missed but he's almost certainly gone.
  • Rich Aurilia, Shortstop. Another tough call, with almost the same issues as Snow. Apparently has generated some interest on the open market, with some teams apparently discussing a position switch to 3rd base. Probably even less likely to return than Snow simply because the Giants have a more capable in house alternative in the defensively-superior Neifi Perez. If they could convince him to come back at a bargain rate, the Giants would definitely consider it and hope that he could at least get closer to his monster 2001 season than his mediocre, injury-plagued campaigns the following two seasons. But, again, the clock is ticking and arbitration is highly unlikely, which makes his return just as unlikely.
  • Sidney Ponson, starting pitcher. Also unlikely. Teases with occasional ace-caliber stuff, but has the make-up of either a decent 3rd or 4th starter on a contender or an ace for a bad team. Some bad team will likely pay him like an ace while the Giants will remember how un-ace-like he was in the Division Series and that will be the end of that.
  • Tim Worrell, relief pitcher. Again, probably not. His generally impressive year as the closer replacement for Robb Nen almost certainly prices him out of the Giants budget range. Yet another player the Giants would like to have return but big dollar set up men are luxuries teams not owned by someone named George are rarely able to justify.
  • Jose Cruz, Jr., right field. Forget it. Cruz and his Gold Glove are heading back on the road, which, after his implosion in the Division Series (when his gold glove turned to granite at the absolute worst time) is probably best for everyone involved.

    Other: Benito Santiago. The Pierzynski trade took what little drama remained out of this equation. Pick up your plaque for honorable service and best of luck down the road. Andres Galarraga. Good bet for a bench role. Very popular, and wants to return for his milestone 400th HR. Marvin Benard. Do I really need to come out and say it? His bloated extension is the main, if not the only, black mark on Sabean's stellar resume with the Giants, and it's a foregone conclusion he'll be wearing a different uniform next season. And with his recent production, he'll be very lucky if it's a major league uniform. Eric Young. Gone. Nice idea as a stretch run rental, didn't work out, nice parting gifts all around and thanks for stopping by.

    The Trade:

  • A.J. Pierzynski, catcher. An apparent coup, though one gets the sense that this has not fully played out yet. Specifically, it was a slightly odd move in that the Giants used up several valuable trade chips to fill the one position, out of the four open positions, where they seemed to have the most capable player ready to take over in Yorvit Torrealba. It's never a bad thing to have two very good catchers, but Torrealba clearly seems ready to start for someone and the Giants also resigned backup Alberto Castillo just days before the trade, so don't be surprised if Torrealba is moved later this winter, either for pitching or someone to fill one of the remaining open positions. Either way, though, this has all the makings of a can't-lose trade. As strong as Joe Nathan was for most of last season, he is a risk coming off a major injury that took him years to bounce back from, rightie relievers are the easiest commodity to come by and he faltered badly in the playoffs. Pierzynski is already an All Star, he bats leftie with good pop and it'll be 3 more years before he becomes a free agent.

    External Free Agents:

  • Vlad Guerrero, right field. Very unlikely but not impossible. The first thing that needed to happen has already happened: the Yankees will not be players for Guerrero at all. The Orioles appear to be the odds-on favorites, but all has been eerily quiet. That's often when Sabean pounces. For this to happen, the Giants would need to convince Guerrero to accept a heavily backloaded deal, so that Vlad would essentially get the current Bonds money, plus some extra, once Bonds retires in a few years. Makes a ton of sense, because there is no reason to think that a player of this caliber will be available to slip in there at the exact moment Barry rides off into history, and if they can pull this off, they'd give themselves the best chance at a ring over the next few years and a successor to keep Pac Bell, er, SBC full for years to come. However, owner Peter Magowan continues to pour cold water on the notion, and just this week was quoted questioning the idea of giving well over $10 million per year to someone with a bad back. True, Guerrero did miss significant time last year, but he came back with a vengence over the final several months of the season, seemingly putting fears of a lingering affect from the back injury to rest. But by even mentioning concerns about the back, Magowan at the very least put himself in a position of needing to backpeddle if the Giants do end up with the slugging right fielder.
  • Miguel Tejada, shortstop. Also unlikely, also not impossible. Vlad dreaming has been the Hot Stove fantasy of choice for Giants fans and Tejada has barely registered a ripple on the sports radio speculation circuit, but don't bet the mortgage against it. Tejada knows and reportedly likes the Bay Area, the heavy Latin flavor of the Giants clubhouse would be appealing, he plays a position of need, he would give the Giants the 1-2 punch with Bonds they clearly need and he's young enough to remain a superstar for years after Bonds has packed up the Barcalounger from the clubhouse and moved on.
  • Kazuo Matsui, shortstop. A decent chance. There are lots of teams rumored to be interested in the latest Japanese superstar to come to the majors and the Giants don't seem to be in the mix. But it would be very surprising if they weren't at least kicking the tires behind the scenes. Matsui is an excellent shortstop who wants to stay at that position, but several potential suitors, notably both NY teams, are trying to get him to consider switching to 2nd base. He's not ruling anything out, but teams interested in him at SS have a big edge. He also has been clear about wanting a city with a thriving Japanese population. A speed demon (Ichiro referred to him as the one player faster than he is) with surprising pop and a good glove, Matsui would team with Ray Durham as a formidable DP combination and ideal tablesetters for Mr. Bonds. And the Giants aren't idiots—they sold a ton of Shinjo souvenirs during his year with the team and he couldn't play. By all accounts Matsui is a star, so not only would he help the team win, he'd also help fill the park for a mid-April Tuesday night game against Pittsburgh.
  • Greg Maddux, starting pitcher. Extremely possible. Almost makes too much sense not to happen. Despite rumors that Maddux' agent, the notorious Scott Boras, hopes to keep Maddux at the same $14 million level from this past season, that will never, ever happen and that reality will hit home very soon, beginning next week when the Braves do not bail him out again with an arbitration offer. A one year deal at $5-$6 million, with performance incentives, is far more like it, and at that price he'd look awfully nice going for his 300th win (he's 11 wins away) in a Giants uniform. Never a strikeout pitcher to begin with, he's made for Pac Bell (I'm going down kicking and screaming on this SBC thing…) and would be a perfect second pitching coach for youngsters like Jerome Williams and 5th starter candidate Kevin Correia. Has also already gone on record that his choice would be a NL West team (other than Colorado) if he doesn't return to Hot-lanta. Would almost certainly be cheaper, and would definitely command a far shorter commitment, than Ponson. Even with Maddux' stuff slipping noticeably over the past year or two, if the Division Series is tied 1-1 next year, wouldn't you still want Maddux on the mound for Game 3 as opposed to Ponson? Yeah, me too.

    Giants Hot Stove Summary
    As quiet as its been, this landscape suits Sabean's skills perfectly and it's almost a certainty that he will pull off a coup, or two, and will fill other holes capably.

    The general sense is that they are going to look into one big move and then take advantage of the best buyer's market in recent memory to add depth and whatever remaining starting positions are still open. And the way this sets up, with a record 200+ free agents and as many as 100 more likely to hit the market after the tender deadline, still plays perfectly, as I mentioned, for a big splash. Two years ago it seemed you couldn't sign a starting position player free agent for less than $5 million, but now it will be possible to get some very solid players, some name players, to fill holes at, say, $1 million a year. They already filled one of the four holes, catcher, with a younger, cheaper and infinitely better replacement in the All Star Pierzynski. Snow and Aurilia both made $6 million last season, while Cruz made about $2 million. Incredibly, dead wood Marvin Benard made $4.2 million. So, pencil in a $1-$2 million replacement at two of the three remaining positions and a little quick math tells you that $12-$15 million for a Tejada or a Guerrero suddenly isn't that ludicrous.

    Tidbits From Around the NL West

    The window for the Giants to dominate this division remains wide open. An early guess would be that the Dodgers are the only real competition in 2004. The D Backs are aging, cutting payroll and despite the Sexson acquisition, the loss of Schilling and the new vulnerability for the now-well-past-his-prime Randy Johnson should doom them. The Rockies are a complete mess and will be officially eliminated from contention the day they arrive at spring training. The Padres will be improved, and they will tell you they expect to contend for a division crown, but they were simply too bad in 2003 and still have too many holes to be that improved. That leaves the Dodgers, and the dominance of their pitching should make them formidable again. Some will say that their offense can't be that inept again, and even an improvement from historically bad to merely mediocre run-production should give them a big bump in wins. But it's just as easy to expect their pitching will come back to earth. Kevin Brown is seemingly always one pitch away from a total arm blowout (if he isn't traded to the Yankees, the latest rumor du jour), Darren Dreifort is arguably the biggest free agent bust ever, and guys like Hideo Nomo and Odalis Perez can certainly not be counted on to dominate. Even Eric Gagne, the Cy Young winning closer, has no where to go but down, since he was literally perfect in 2003 in save chances.

    Hot Stove Tidbits From Around MLB

  • For those of you who rarely pay attention outside of the National League, you might want to consider the DirecTV baseball package next season just to keep track of the race in the AL East between hated rivals the Yankees and Red Sox. This is already getting good and they've barely had the first frost in New England. Schilling to the Sox for a couple of never-have-beens and a pair of probably-never-will-be's is downright, well, Sabean-esque. The Sox are also closing in on A's closer Keith Foulke. Never likely to sit back and accept getting trumped, the Yanks have virtually locked up Gary Sheffield and just signed closer Tom Gordon to solidify the "bridge" to Mariano Rivera. It's close to a draw right now, perhaps with the slight edge to the Sox for Schilling, but expect that to shift back to the Yankees with the resigning of their own 21-game winner Andy Pettitte and the signing of Bartolo Colon or the trade for budding Expos star hurler Javier Vazquez. Either way, the spectacular 7-game ALCS classic is shaping up as merely the first battle in a reinvigorated long term war and if this year's drama was any indication, baseball fans will end up the real winners.
  • It seems like each year for the past four or five years there has been speculation about the end of the Braves reign atop the NL East. But this season they truly do seem to be in deep trouble. Sheffield now appears to be gone to the Yanks. Maddux will also likely leave, possibly with MVP-candidate Javy Lopez joining him. The Billy Wagner move makes the Phillies a very strong bet to end the Atlanta division stranglehold, and that's not factoring in young Mr. Beckett and the likely-still-very-formidable world champion Marlins.

    Well, that's about it for this debut session of Splash Hits and Tidbits. Check back in a few weeks for more musings from McCovey Cove. If the current Hot Stove momentum keeps up, there may well be some new Giants to discuss!

    John Yearout is a Giants' season ticket holder and is currently working on a crime novel centered around a fictional Giants star pitcher. His two year old son already has a mean curve ball and is scheduled to make his Giants debut in the 2022 season.

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