WHO THE GIANTS GOT: Latroy Hawkins, 32, Relief Pitcher
The way that most Giant fans may have heard Hawkins name in recent years is in connection with a Chicago Cubs bullpen that has had more than its fair share of troubles, injured closers, and players unable to fill the role in the meantime. Hawkins was one of those fillers. But thats not all there is to Latroy Hawkins.
Hawkins began his career as a starter for the Minnesota Twins, breaking into the majors in 1995. It wasnt pretty. In limited time in 1995 and 1996, Hawkins was unable to get his ERA under 8. The lowest it got as a starter was 5.25 in 33 games in 1998. In 2000, he was recast as a reliever, and something changed. He had a 3.39 ERA in 66 games, and picked up 14 saves and 7 holds.
Then the Twins made him closer. Whoops.
In the closer role, Hawkins struggled. His ERA went back up to 5.96 and he blew 9 saves while collecting only 28.
The next year, he was relieved of closing duty, and Hawkins became one of the games best setup men for the AL Central champs with a 2.13 ERA in 2002 and a 1.86 ERA in 2003. After 2003, he took that reputation on the road, and signed a 3 year deal with the Cubs to be their setup man.
Things didnt work out as planned. Cubs closer Joe Borowski suffered injuries and setbacks, and Hawkins was pressed into service closing games late in the season. Although he collected 25 saves, he also blew 9. One of those was giving up a 3 run homer to the Mets in the 2nd to last week of the season, the point at which the Cubs began to lose and eventually lose their wild card lead in the playoff picture. He became symbolic of all that was wrong with the Cubs bullpen, and earned the ire of the fans and tough Chicago media, despite posting a solid 2.63 ERA in 77 games. In 2005, he had 4 saves and 4 blown saves, and was struggling despite having a solid 3.32 ERA through 21 games.
Hawkins features a 95-98 MPH fastball, and mixes it with a still improving slider. He also will occasionally throw a splitfinger fastball or changeup, but doesnt seem comfortable using either as a strikeout pitch. He used to throw a curveball as a starter, but it has disappeared from his repertoire.
Hawkins is signed through the end of this year, and has a player option for 2006. Hawkins base salary is $3.5 million this year plus various incentives. For 2005, however, the Cubs will pay all but $900,000 of his base salary. His option is also for $3.5 million, which the Cubs will not help pay. For this year and next, he also has the following incentives: $50,000 for reaching the marks of 60 G, 65 G, and 70 G; $50,000 for reaching 20 and 25 Games Finished; $100,000 for 30 GF; $150,000 for 35, 40 and 45 GF; $200,000 for 50 and 55 GF; $250,000 for 60 GF.
WHO THE GIANTS LOST:
Jerome Williams, 23, Starting Pitcher
Once upon a time, Williams was one of the Giants Big Three pitching prospects along with Kurt Ainsworth and Jesse Foppert, all of whom debuted in 2003. Ainsworth, of course, was traded to Baltimore in the Sidney Ponson deal after he suffered a freak shoulder blade fracture; he has only briefly returned to the majors, has had continued problems, and is considering retiring. Foppert had TJ surgery in 2003, missed 2004, and is currently pitching in AAA to get his strength back, but has had blister problems.
Williams, often compared to Dwight Gooden, had a stellar rookie year, posting a 7-5 record with a 3.30 ERA, and was considered one of the top pitchers to arrive that year amongst a crop that included Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb. Williams did suffer somewhat of a sophomore slump, dropping to a 4.24 ERA and a 10-7 record, and having minor injury problems, though he did return late in the year. The Giants suggested that Williams was out of shape after not having any sort of an offseason training regimen.
2005 started with the Giants all sounding happy about how Jerome worked in the offseason and how he looked, but things began to fall apart as Jeromes father fell gravely ill during Spring Training and Jerome spent time with him. Upon his return, Williams struggled in Arizona, but the Giants and Jerome seemed optimistic. That seemed to bode well as Jerome allowed only 1 run on 5 hits and a walk in 7 innings in his first start of the year, arguably the best of any Giant in the first turn through the rotation.
But faced with an odd schedule in the 2nd week which had two offdays within 3 days of each other, Felipe Alou made a fateful decision to skip Williams turn in the rotation in Colorado. Williams was reportedly upset and mystified by the decision. He appeared in relief, and gave up a run in two thirds of an inning and walked 2. He was given a quick start 3 days later in San Diego, but again looked off, giving up 4 runs in 4 innings. His next turn he gave up 6 runs in 5 innings to Milwaukee, and was sent to Fresno.
In AAA, his problems only seemed to escalate. He never got in a groove, and quickly fell to 1-4 in 6 starts, throwing only 30.2 innings and suffering a 9.39 ERA.
There have been a few theories floated about whats happened. Jerome was noticeably upset by the decision to skip him in the rotation, a move that Felipe Alou seemed to regret when he announced hed never do that again later that week. Jerome also clearly has had issues outside of the diamond with his sick father after having lost his mother to cancer. More recently, reports have surfaced that the Giants considered Williams difficult to work with and resistant to adjustments, while Williams has said hes glad to be leaving the Giants and never got a fair shot.
Williams throws a fastball slider combo, with the fastball in the low nineties. He also has a serviceable changeup and curve. He enters arbitration in 2006, and is due to be eligible for free agency after 2008.
David Aardsma, 23, Relief Pitcher
There continues to be a lot of confusion concerning Aardsma and what type of a prospect he is. The truth is, despite the fact he has been starting in AA Norwich in 2005, he was still considered a closer prospect by the Giants.
Aardsma was the 1st round pick of the Giants in 2003, out of Rice where he was closer. After starting his career in 2003 in San Jose, he opened 2004 on the San Francisco roster, but he scuffled in the majors, relying heavily on his fastball, and bounced between San Francisco and Fresno several times. He lost a lot of luster as his struggles as a very young pitcher were lumped into a bullpen that had many problems.
For 2005, the Giants recognized that Aardsma needed to gain confidence in his changeup and knuckle-curveball. Seeing that, the Giants decided to make him a starter so he could log in significant innings using the pitches, rather than only get an inning or two every three days. He was placed in AA Norwich because of the large number of starting pitching prospects at AAA Fresno. The experiment has gone fairly well. Aardsma posted a good 2.93 in 9 games at Norwich, striking out 30 and walking only 13 in 46 innings pitched.
Aardsmas fastball is still in the mid to high nineties, and if he continues to throw his offspeed pitches with confidence and control, he has the tools to become a closer. He should make the majors again soon, perhaps as early as later this season.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS:
Obviously, if anyone thought the Giants werent trying to win now, this move should at least prove thats what they want to do.
This trade was a confusing, difficult thing for many Giants fans to understand. Williams had been touted as one of the pitchers of the future, and many fans connected his troubles on-field to understandable off-field issues. The puka shells he wore in memory of his mother were just one of many things fans connected with, and he was a fan favorite. While Aardsma had impressed few people in his time up, most people still recognized him as a top prospect. Over the offseason, it was reported that many teams contacted the Giants asking about Williams and Aardsma amongst others, and the Giants refused them out of hand.
At the end of May, they needed to be packaged together for a relative bust, an overpaid reliever whod struggled at closer. This would seem to be just the kind of guy the Giants didnt need.
But there was no denying the Giants need bullpen help. And Hawkins has pitched better than some of his peripherals indicated.
But did the Giants pay too much?
Jerome had long been considered one of the cornerstones of rebuilding in the future, by using him and other young, inexpensive pitchers to save money for use elsewhere. Williams was due for arbitration next season, so he wouldnt be getting paid the relatively cheap $300,000 league minimum anymore, but he was still going to be paid much less than the relatively overpaid veteran pitching these days. Jerome was also very experienced in the majors, making him a lesser risk while the Giants played other rookies in the future.
Aardsmas role was less bright. In 2004, he was seen as closer of the future, but his troubles led the Giants to sign closer Armando Benitez to a 3 year deal, apparently blocking Aardsma from the closing job for at least a while. However, most saw it as a necessary way to take the pressure off of Aardsma and let him develop, and perhaps let him spend a couple of years setting up a veteran before assuming the role himself. It was the proven way of letting future closers develop.
However, Sabean chose to trade these two players at the absolute lowest they could possibly seem. For those who only look at numbers and dont see real life situations, like the health of Williams father, those AAA numbers this year make Williams look like a terrible pitcher. Aardsma, meanwhile, is a pitcher of higher than AA quality, who is only there because of circumstance. Again, to the casual observer, it makes him look bad, considering he did pitch in the majors last year.
In March, its likely either one of these players wouldve required Hawkins to be packaged with someone else for a trade to be fair. Now, both these untouchable prospects seem very pedestrian, and have lost almost all their value in trade. And yet, now Sabean trades them.
Yes, it seems like Sabean needs someone to remind him to buy low and sell high, but Sabean is aware. "We were in desperate need to rearrange the bullpen, he admitted after the trade. Obviously, we were in a negative leverage situation Its one of those things were going to have to live with. At least its clear Sabeans not happy about trading away two guys for so relatively little. But there may be other reasons, and maybe Williams was traded now rather than waiting until he got his stuff back together and was ready to return to the majors was because it was difficult to live with him now.
After the trade, rumors popped up that the Giants were unhappy with Williams and the way he kept himself in shape, or didnt. This wasnt new, as that was clear during the 2004 season. It had been assumed that strides had been made in 2005, but now the Giants were concerned with his arm slot, and that it could lead to future injury. Williams, reportedly, was hesitant to change his motion. He was also depressed after his fathers illness and surgery, and had admitted to considering quitting baseball.
Then there was Jeromes comments after the trade. I was just glad I was out of the Giants organization because I felt I couldn't go anywhere with them, was just one of many comments Jerome said that relayed his unhappiness. "I'm just very excited I'm with a ball club that actually believes in me and I think I can do something for their organization."
What caused such animosity? Some think it might just have been a 23 year old reacting to being possibly nagged over his conditioning and motion. Others think it confirms that the Giants are unwilling to put any trust in their young players and rely on them for anything. A lot seems to point back to the series of events that started with Williams turn being skipped in the rotation the second week of the season. Before that, it appeared that he might be one of the rocks of the rotation despite being slotted fifth in the order, mostly because of Alou trying to stagger right handers and left handers, and other right handers Jason Schmidt and Brett Tomko were older and coming off of better years. After that, he never got back into a groove. His demotion came quickly and surprised many, and that might have further belied his confidence.
Whatever the cause, perhaps this animosity more than anything else led to a promising prospect being pushed out at a pretty sharp cost of another prospect, rather than perhaps a more valuable Foppert or Brad Hennessey, who seem to be closer to the peaks of their value, and might have gotten Hawkins by themselves.
At any rate, the Giants brought in Hawkins, a player who has been trashed by the Chicago media and seemed eager to get a new start. Sabean brought out the old Change of Scenery line as to how Hawkins would improve, and promised that Hawkins was only the setup man, and that Tyler Walker is still the closer. That as long as Hawkins stayed in his role, he would be a big help to the Giants.
The funny thing is that a lot of the same excuses and suggestions made for Hawkins could apply to the guy whose roster spot he took, Matt Herges. Herges was a de facto loss of this trade, as he was designated for assignment on Sunday, meaning the Giants have 10 days to trade him or release him. Herges, like Hawkins, was a spectacular setup man, particularly in 2003, but struggled with the mantle of closer. This year, he had been effective except for very isolated incidents at the start of the season and on Friday. Even with those spots on his record, hed only been scored on in 6 outings out of 21, and was steadily lowering his ERA from that season opening debacle. He was pitching like a new man with a new curveball, despite losing some strikeouts.
Still, Herges was the scapegoat in San Francisco. Most fans connected him with melting down as closer, not being a key setup man in 2003 and favoring other relievers this year who were performing worse, like Jim Brower.
Such is closing, and such is one of the pressures. You fail loudly in that role, and get remembered for it even when other people are failing more often, but in quieter, smaller roles.
In the end, this trade has placed a high premium on improving the team now at the cost of possible inexpensive future players. It means the Giants are confident young studs like Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez can be counted on younger as they move into the rotation the next few years, and that the Giants are confident that a plethora of minor league relievers like Scott Munter, Jack Taschner, Jeremy Accardo, Justin Hedrick, Kevin Correia and others will make the loss of Aardsma less of an issue, though few think any of them have the same talent or ability Aardsma had.
The question remains, will this help the team now? After all, the net effect in the majors is that the Giants have replaced one failed closer whos better at setting up with another.
The answer may lie with Felipe Alou. He insists that the Giants will only use Hawkins as a setup man, and that he will rely on Hawkins to pitch full innings like the 7th and 8th. The problem is that Alou is notorious for micromanaging his bullpen. Almost no one pitches more than a couple of batters, and Alou always seems to be hellbent on getting a lefty vs. lefty or righty vs. righty matchup. The result is a burned out bullpen. Alou made the most pitching changes in history in 2004, and is on pace to shatter that record in 2005. Alou and Sabean say that its because they dont feel that any Giant relievers are good enough to pitch full innings. Many observers see this lack of faith and say its a self-fulfilling prophecy as to why some of these guys struggle, not to mention overuse.
If Alou can stick to his word, and let Hawkins come in to pitch the 7th and/or 8th, no matter who hes facing, then this trade may indeed help. If not, and if Alou starts mixing things around again and pushing Hawkins to close, well, the track record speaks for itself.
It could help. It could hurt. It all depends on his role and if hes kept to it.
The bad news? After emphatically proclaiming Tyler Walker the closer, Alou brought Walker into the game Saturday in a very non-closer role on Saturday, with two runners on and just one out in the 8th inning in a tie game. This after doing a similar thing Thurdsay with the Closer against the Dodgers. On Sunday, Walker came in to start the 9th in a tie game as well. While closers arent exactly immune to pitching in tie games, theyre usually used in extra innings, and are almost always used to start innings, not come in with runners on base, as they are not usually focused on keeping runners on.
If Alou continues to ignore chosen roles like this, even when hes the one who says these are the roles these players have, Hawkins may never be given a real chance to help this club.
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