McCovey Cove Musings

Following an eerily quiet weekend in the Big Easy at the Winter Meetings, Giants fans are growing distinctly uneasy. But with another round of free agents hitting the market this weekend with the non-tender deadline, it's once again time to utter the recurring mantra of the Giants' recent run: In Sabean We Trust.

Who's In:

  • J.T. Snow, 1st base. In something of a surprise, the slick-fielding first baseman re-upped with the Giants just hours before the arbitration deadline several weeks ago. The Giants certainly had no plans to offer arbitration, so Snow was that close to joining the fairly-lengthy list of ex-Giants. As predicted in my last report, Snow had to take a huge pay cut (from $6.5 to $1.5 million) and on those terms his solid veteran presence, flawless glove and fairly timely (albeit often anemic) bat is a good fit. He also was reportedly given fair warning from the Giants that they plan to give back-up infielder Pedro Feliz increased playing time at first base, something Snow claimed not to have a problem with. If that holds true, and Snow is enough of a class act to assume it will, then Snow's tutelage may help groom Feliz and his potent bat to assume the starting job a year or two down the road, a smooth transition that would make this an excellent, underrated move.
  • A.J. Pierzynski, catcher. I'll make this brief since we covered the Pierzynski acquisition in the last installment, but clearly this is a positive move. Young, three years away from free agency and already an All Star. Apparently has an abrasive edge that often irks opponents, but he's been able to back it up with strong play. The only downside is the seeming lack of home run power. He left the yard only 11 times in the homer-friendly Metrodome, so it may be a stretch for him to even get to double-digits at Pac Bell (still haven't changed my stance on calling it SBC, sorry…). But he does have gap power which should translate well and there is little doubt he is an upgrade over the aging Santiago.
  • Michael Tucker and Dustan Mohr, outfield. Hmmm, just doesn't do much to instill fear and awe, does it? Doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Vlad or even Sheff. But, referring back to our motto, In Sabean We Trust, we'll assume that these guys will be valuable reserves, and they would be strong in that role. Both can play any of the three outfield positions and have decent pop with the bat. But if they platoon as the regular right fielders, with Snow at first and Neifi Perez at SS, wow, scary for Giants fans, and conspicuously un-scary for opposing pitchers.
  • Dustin Hermanson, starting pitcher. Did well with the Giants last season, resigned to a modest deal and will compete for a back-of-the-rotation spot.
  • Matt Herges, relief pitcher. An important part of the bullpen after his acquisition last season, and his role will likely be even more important in 2004 with the losses of Tim Worrell and Joe Nathan and the questionable health of closer Robb Nen.
  • Jeffrey Hammonds, outfielder. Pretty similar to Michael Tucker and Dustan Mohr. Versatile, a nice bench bat, but a bad sign if he is handed a starting job.
  • Alberto Castillo. Resigned just days before the Pierzynski trade, adding some intrigue since it was assumed Castillo would be the back-up and Yorvit Torrealba would get promoted to the starting job. Castillo's signing gives some insurance, but also seems to increase the likelihood that Torrealba is moved in a trade.

    Who's Out:

  • Rich Aurilia, shortstop. A popular Giant who'll be missed, but his departure was widely expected. Unfortunately, the divorce was a little messy, with Aurilia taking some shots at how silent the Giants were in terms of wanting him back and Asst. GM Ned Colleti pointing out that the communication was a two-way street and that Aurilia's earlier deal parameters were so high there was little left to discuss. Regardless, he's gone, leaving behind a legacy of grit and hustle, with one amazing All Star season and several frustrating, injury-plagued campaigns that showed once again how difficult it is to maintain elite performance. Aurilia has not yet signed with a new team but has drawn rumored interest from Toronto and possibly Texas, as a replacement for A Rod if the rumored trade to Boston ever happens.
  • Benito Santiago, catcher. Had a good run in SF, came a long way from being out of a job in spring training 2001 to being a postseason hero in 2002 and was a solid starter throughout his 3 year stint in SF. But age and diminishing production put the writing on the wall and made the move to younger, longer-term options like Pierzynski and Torrealba inevitable. Has since signed a surprisingly lucrative two-year deal with the Royals.
  • Jose Cruz, Jr., right field. A foregone conclusion. Despite a well-deserved Gold Glove award for his seemingly nightly highlight film catches, Cruz will always be remembered for "the drop" in the Division Series. His offense was also unacceptable—though his .250 average and 20 HRs were not awful, when you consider that he sported a gaudy .319 average and accounted for 7 of those 20 HRs in the month of April, clearly he gave the Giants almost nothing offensively for the other 5 months of the season. Like the Royals with Santiago, Tampa Bay seemed to overpay Cruz with a 2 year deal.
  • Tim Worrell, relief pitcher. He'll be missed. An invaluable set up man for closer Robb Nen in 2002, Worrell was even more crucial stepping into the closer role himself in 2003. Unfortunately, those performances were so strong that he priced himself right out of San Francisco, especially with Nen and his escalating $9 million salary returning. Will now set up for new closer Billy Wagner in Philly.
  • Sidney Ponson, pitcher. File under "seemed like a good idea at the time". Actually, there's already another item in that same file: Damian Moss for Russ Ortiz, and one move led to the other, with neither really working out (though the Giants insist that phenom prospect Merkin Valdez, who came over with Moss in the Ortiz deal, will eventually vindicate that move). Both of those trades were made for financial reasons, something that does not bode well for the Giants this offseason since clearly they are operating under tighter budget constraints than at any point in recent memory.
  • Marvin Benard, outfielder. Performed like an underdog star for several of the final Candlestick years, then was paid like a star and promptly turned into a pumpkin.

    How the Giants Stack Up Now

    Not great. In fact, if we were to paraphrase a seasonal ditty to incorporate how things have gone in China Basin so far this holiday season, it might go something like "Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the Giants moves have been… even more frightful!" But, for the third time, let's say it all together now: In Sabean We Trust.

    And this offseason more than most, patience will not only be a virtue, it'll be crucial for Giants fans to avoid going completely crazy. There are more options out there than ever before, and even though most of the ones you've heard of have already signed on with other teams, there remain good players out there at positions of need, with more about to hit the market this weekend.

    But, to take off the rose-colored glasses for just a moment, there is also real reason for concern. OK, fair enough, dreaming of Vlad or Sheffield or Tejada may have been unrealistic. But wouldn't Jose Guillen (.311 avg, 31 HRs, 86 RBIs), who just signed with Anaheim for a very modest $6 million over two years, look at lot better in right field, and in the lineup somewhere behind Senor Bonds, than Michael Tucker (.262 avg, 13 HRs, 55 RBIs), who isn't making that much less?

    Speaking of the Tucker deal, perhaps the biggest red flag of all came in the way Tucker was signed. The Giants completed the Tucker signing less than 6 hours before the arbitration deadline, which meant that the Giants forfeited their 1st round draft pick to Tucker's previous team, which they would have avoided had they simply waited until after that deadline had passed. A clerical blunder? Hardly, it was completely intentional, a way for the Giants to save the estimated $1.5 million bonus a late first round pick normally commands. That, my friends, is truly scary. On the one hand, Giants management made it clear that they were out of the running for expensive free agents due to a shrinking payroll. But, as teams like the A's, Twins and Marlins have shown, for organizations with a shoestring budget in particular, drafting well is crucial to remaining competitive. For the Giants to sit on the sidelines during the main free agent frenzy and simultaneously forfeit a key building block for the future, all to save about one-third of what they paid Marvin Benard last year, calls into serious question where they are heading.

    In the shorter term, the Giants claim that their main focus the rest of this winter is on the pitching staff, adding at least one starter and likely some bullpen help as well. That certainly makes sense. But the lineup moves they've made so far, except for the improvement with Pierzynski, should make all Giants fans very nervous. It's still early and Sabean has been masterful in pulling in valuable pieces very late in the offseason, so patience is the main word. But if this is the roster that takes the field on Opening Day, get ready to see the Chicken Dance play on the Pac Bell video board about 3 times a game, because nothing about the prospects of facing Snow, Tucker, Perez or Mohr further down the lineup is going to encourage opposing pitchers to give Bonds anything to hit.

    Splash Hits & Tidbits

    Tidbits From Around the NL West

    The Dodgers, still likely the main competition standing between the Giants and a successful defense of their division crown, have, like the Giants, so far rated an "incomplete" for their offseason maneuverings. Their main move, the trade that sent Kevin Brown to the Yankees for underachieving hurler Jeff Weaver, certainly does nothing to improve them, at least on paper. But it does save them lots of cash, and it's how they reallocate that cash that may well determine who has the upper hand in the race for the division title next summer.

    The main rumor, as anyone with access to a newspaper sports page or internet connection knows, has been that incumbent Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra would end up in Dodger blue once the trade sending Alex Rodriquez to Boston is finalized. But as of this moment (and that could admittedly change by the time you read this) not only is the A Rod to Boston deal reportedly all but dead, but even if it happens, the Dodgers may not be a part of the secondary Garciaparra trade (a Nomar trade to the ChiSox for Magglio Ordonez has taken over as the main rumor on that front).

    The bottom line is pretty simple. The Dodgers need bats and need them badly. Their pitching was the best in the league, their offense was the worst in the league and the result was predictable—a barely-better-than-.500 record. Their pitching is likely to take a step back with the loss of Brown (whose ERA was second only to the Giants' Schmidt) and superb set up man Paul Quantrill, but they could be improved anyway if they can add some thunder to their lineup and players like Shawn Green rebound from subpar years.

    As for the rest of the division, it would truly be a shock if any of the other three West division teams contend, with the possible exception of Arizona if the Big Unit has one more monster year in him, rookie Brandon Webb can somehow replace Schilling and new power bat Richie Sexson gives a charge to a mediocre offense.

    Tidbits From Around MLB

    One thing Giants fans can take real comfort in is the fact they are not in the AL East. All 5 teams appear to be improved, some dramatically. Recent MVP Miguel Tejada is a coup for Baltimore, and they may well score other big additions with catcher Ivan Rodriquez and stud right fielder Vlad Guerrero. And that might even be good enough to earn them a 3rd place finish. Boston and the Yankees appear certain to again do battle for the division crown and both are reloaded. Stalwarts Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens threatened to leave a huge void in the Yankee rotation, but new additions Kevin Brown and Javier Vasquez, at least on paper, are actually significant improvements. Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill fortify an already fairly good bullpen while Gary Sheffield is a huge upgrade in the lone weak spot from last year, right field. And despite all of that, some observers feel like the Yankees have been leap-frogged by the Red Sox, who picked up ace Curt Schilling earlier in the offseason and have since pilfered stud closer Keith Foulke from the A's, fortifying their main achilles heel from 2003. Two 100 win teams in the same division? Could easily happen in the AL East in 2004.

    They've done it fairly quietly, but the Phillies are getting lots of votes as the most improved team this offseason. The trade for stud closer Billy Wagner earlier this offseason grabbed the most headlines, but more recent additions, like Giants set up man extraordinaire Tim Worrell and lefty starter Eric Milton from the Twins, have them looking extremely solid. And starter Kevin Millwood just accepted arbitration and returns, so take it to the bank, the Atlanta run at the top of the NL East is over.

    Like the NL West, the AL West is a mess. The A's have lost Tejada, Foulke, Guillen, Lilly and excellent catcher Ramon Hernandez and certainly do not seem to have adequately replaced those losses. The Mariners also don't seem improved. The Angels, who followed up their surprise title run of 2002 by finishing a country mile out of first place last season, are easily the most improved with the signings of Guillen and top free agent pitcher Bartolo Colon and may be back in business.

    That's about it for this installment of McCovey Cove Musings, Giants fans. I'm sure we all look forward to some baseball news that doesn't center on the A Rod trade rumors, and hopefully some of that action will even involve the hometown team!

    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 features a mean curve ball and is slated to make his Giants debut during the 2022 season.

    John welcomes your feedback on the Giants, baseball or the best tasting beer sold at the ballpark and already looks forward to doing research on all three topics in April. He can be reached at:

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