The moves after the NL West championship season of 2003 have been…not nearly as easy to figure out. 4 position starters left, and two starting pitcher slots remained open. And the moves that have come have been a little perplexing.
The first trade for All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski was a bit of a surprise to begin with. Of all the positions that had turnover, the catching job had been widely assumed to have been the least pressing, especially after having earlier signed AAA veteran and MLB backup Alberto Castillo to seeming sit behind young promising Yorvit Torrealba. However, it's hard to argue with adding a young all-star, and especially one who addressed the difficulty the Giants had hitting right handed pitchers last year.
The next couple of moves, resigning Jeffrey Hammonds and Dustin Hermansen, two major leaguers who had washed out that were given a second chance with the Giants last year, for inexpensive contracts. Hermansen showed a lot of talent as a part time, back of the rotation starter when the Giants needed it, and figured to fill a role in either the rotation or the bullpen. Hammonds, meanwhile, did well as a 4th outfielder for the Giants. While fans were underwhelmed, it was hard to argue with the moves.
But then the arbitration deadline came around, and the players the Giants said goodbye to, and the two the Giants said hello to, began to truly perplex many Giants fans. The Giants resigned J.T. Snow for a huge hometown discount after failing to trade for a big bat at first base. But then the Giants signed former K.C. outfielder Michael Tucker, and the minds of fans began to implode.
The first big question centered around the timing of the Tucker deal. If they had waited only four more hours, the signing of Tucker would not have cost the Giants a first round draft pick in the 2004 amateur draft. When Sabean indicated that that was precisely the reason why the deal was made, so the Giants would not have to pay the bonus a first round draft pick, a lot of fans wondered about Sabean's sanity. With the farm system thinned out from trades the past two years, Giants fans wondered how Sabean could give up a top draft pick.
The second question was raised about where Tucker would play. Tucker, like Hammonds, projected as a 4th OF. Tucker's versatility and ability to play all three OF positions well were his best attributes. At best, some thought that his excellent splits off of right handed pitching might make for a good platoon with Jeffrey Hammonds and his ability to hit left handers. But fans were still left underwhelmed with the lack of impact the signings had made.
Then came the news that the Giants had nontendered, and thus were losing, long time favorite Rich Aurilia and the fan favorite Andres Galaragga. The loss of Aurilia seemed to indicate that the shortstop job was being handed to the perennially underachieving Neifi Perez, and the loss of Galaragga hurt, as he would have provided inexpensive power from the bench, and a good platoon partner with 1B J.T. Snow.
And then, the Giants made the trade this past week for Minnesota OF Dustan Mohr, And Mohr, who has been streaky at best for the Twins, projects best as a, you guessed it, 4th OF.
And Giants fans have begun to question Sabean in ways that he hasn't been questioned since he made his debut with the Giants by trading away fan favorite Matt Williams for Jeff Kent.
I have no clue what Sabean is doing. He's always been unpredictable, but now more than ever he has no discernable plan. But I can say, after 6 years of the Giants being a competitive team and almost always in the playoff hunt, I trust that Sabean has a plan. But not many do.
It's about this time that Giants fans should remember just how wrong the 2003 season could have gone, and probably should have gone. Don't forget, last season:
And yet, even with all those problems, the Giants did something only eight other teams in history had, and led their division from opening day to the closing bell. And it wasn't just because of a weak division; The Giants finished just an canceled game behind the Braves for the top record in the National League. All this with a guy who most people thought was, at best, a 4th outfielder being one of the top, most consistent offensive producers on the team, that being Marquis Grissom.
So, while I confess more than a little worry about the '04 season, I remain more than faithful that this is all part of a plan. I have no clue what the plan is, and I certainly am not even going to try to guess anymore. But after the last six years, Sabean and the Giants have earned this writer's trust.
So maybe this year, for the fourth straight year, the Giants may very well be underrated going into the season. And maybe this year, we'll all be surprised once again. We've all been fooled by Sabean before, and I see no reason to believe it can't happen again. So don't press that panic button, yet. Things may very well turn out alright.
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