10 Things the Giants Need To Do

With 10 days until the July 31st, the (non-waiver) trading deadline, there's a lot for the Giants to think about, decide and do. And while they could do some things right, there's a lot that they could do wrong. They say they haven't given up on 2005, and won't give up on 2006. So they need to stay true to both causes, which isn't really all that hard. So, with that in mind, here's my list of 10 things the Giants need to do with 10 days left until the deadline.

1. Take Lessons From The Golden State Warriors

I know, I know, a while ago it would’ve been ridiculous to say this. But the Warriors this past spring did something unprecedented: they made a good trade. The trade for Baron Davis not only revitalized the club and got them playing better, but it also revitalized the fans and caught the attention of the media nationwide.

This is exactly what the Giants need. A trade that’ll not only help the team this year and next, but that will get an increasingly antagonistic fan base excited about the team again. Maybe the 2005 season is out of reach, maybe not. But a trade for a player that will help both this year and next, and that will excite his new team and the fans is exactly what the Giants need.

2. Make A Plan To Win In 2006, And Don’t Deviate From It Now

This is not to say to give up on 2005; but as most of this team will likely still be part of the team in 2006, the pieces needed to win then are the pieces needed to win now. As long as the Giants stick to that plan now, and don’t trade away anyone who should conceivably be a part of success in 2006, they won’t go wrong.

3. Decide Whether They’re Counting On Bonds To Return

The way Bonds’ ‘rehab’ has gone this season has brought up terrible memories of waiting for Nen to come back over two years, and the team counting on his return (and suffering without it). The Giants can’t let another one of these odysseys come to pass.

Replacing Bonds per se is impossible, obviously. But if the Giants can’t count on his return, they may want to look at their options for having another everyday outfielder on the roster, and not just another Pedro Feliz doing what Worrell and Herges did for 2 years with Nen missing. They also should look at having a left handed slugger in the lineup, wherever he plays, since that is a big part of what the Giants are missing without Bonds.

This isn’t easy. What big time outfielder is going to sign with the very real possibility that he could become a 4th guy in the outfield? Perhaps someone who can play center, but left handed slugging and competent defensive center fielders are pretty much extinct with Steve Finley’s production falling off.

Perhaps the most realistic option is to have AAA bashing outfielder Todd Linden as a backup option. Linden isn’t a sure thing in the majors, obviously, but he won’t complain if he becomes a 4th, and has a real chance to produce in the majors, and has power and speed. Plus, as a switch hitter, he bats from the left side against right handers, though it had been a weakness until this year.

Whatever happens, the Giants need to decide what they want to have as a backup option if Bonds doesn’t return, and either play the kid or pursue an option in the trade market.

4. Pedro Feliz & Edgardo Alfonzo: Pick One.

The Giants have been lucky to have such depth at 3rd base the last couple of years, so much that they keep trying to find places for Feliz to play other than 3rd. But the truth is, he’s a better defensive 3rd baseman than Alfonzo, and should be playing there.

The Giants need help in a big way in pitching, and therefore it’s time to use the depth. The Giants need to choose who will be a bigger help in 2006: the reliable but overpaid and powerless Alfonzo, or the younger, cheaper but less clutch Pedro Feliz. The other one should be traded. Feliz is probably easier to trade, but I’m sure that Brian Sabean could trade either if he put his mind to it. These are the two most valuable guys that could be traded for an established pitcher. Do it already.

5. Decide Who is Trade Bait and Who’s Not

An important and not an easy decision, but if the Giants are going to make a trade, someone has to go. The possibilities:

White Flag Trades (Only trade if 2005 is lost)

• J.T. Snow – Trade Bait. He’s a fan favorite and a player with 5-10 rights, so it’s a dangerous trade. But a few teams could use a reliable left handed firstbaseman, so he could net something of worth. Trading him would also affect Lance Niekro (keep reading).

Brett Tomko – Trade Bait. The Giants obviously need pitching, so giving up a pitcher isn’t a great thing for 2005, but he’s a free agent and likely gone at the end of the year, so losing him now probably won’t hurt the 2006 effort. He’s not a star, but if playoff teams don’t find the right big name pitchers at the deadline, and get enamored with his 2nd half track record, he could get something back.

Scott Eyre – Do Not Trade, Resign. It’s tempting to trade Eyre, as teams are looking for bullpen help, but it’d be smarter to try and resign him for 2006 (he’s a free agent at the end of the year).

Jason Schmidt/Omar Vizquel/Moises Alou – DO NOT TRADE. If the Giants are going to compete for 2006, they should not trade any key players and top performers who are signed for 2006.

Areas of depth

• Pedro Feliz/Edgardo Alfonzo – See Above.

Yorvit Torrealba – With Matheny the starter for years to come, Torrealba’s unlikely to get a chance here. Catchers remain in short supply in the bigs, and frankly, the Giants could replace Yorvit this year or next with Justin Knoedler or minor league veteran Yamid Haad.

Jason Christiansen – He’s got an option for 2006, but he’s not all that key, as he’s been hot and cold with the Giants. The Giants have almost too many lefties in their bullpen situation (Eyre, Kirk Rueter, Jeff Fassero, Jack Taschner), and Christiansen makes the most sense to trade, as teams can choose whether to keep him or not. A lot of teams are looking for bullpen help.

Prospects (If we’re going to find real help, some need to be traded)

• Matt Cain – Do Not Trade (under penalty of fan revolt). Enough said.

Merkin Valdez – Do Not Trade, Unless it’s for a [i]top flight[/i] guy. I’m thinking someone like Ryan Howard (Power hitting lefty first baseman from Philly) or Kip Wells (Essentially, Jason Schmidt, Jr.). Otherwise, he’s a keeper.

Eddy Martinez-Esteve – Trade Bait, although again, it should be for a big name. He’s an excellent hitter, but a bit of a defensive liability, so an AL team might be able to use him better than us.

• Todd Linden – I hate to say it, but he’s Trade Bait. I don’t want to see him go, but he’s one of the most valuable Giants prospects, considering the monster AAA season he’s having. He might be better used by us in 2006 though, especially if Bonds is a question mark.

• Kevin Correia – Trade Bait. He might be better suited as a reliever, but some team might like his chances as a starter. If someone’s interested, take advantage.

• Brad Hennessey – Trade Bait. He's pretty much a victim of the numbers game with the young pitchers on the Giants, and with the way the young pitchers performed this year, the Giants may be hesitant to go with too many in the rotation next year. Could be a valuable commodity for a team giving up some slightly older, more established pitchers to us.

Brian Burres/Brian Mazone/Chris Begg – Trade Bait. All top performing but relatively unknown older pitchers in AA. Some teams are going to find their numbers enticing.

Fred Lewis – Trade Bait. A top prospect after a breakout 2004, this young centerfielder is starting to come around in Norwich. However, he seems like a prime candidate to trade with Jason Ellison ahead of him and center fielders like Clay Timpner, Benjamin Copeland and Antoan Richardson behind him.

Nate Schierholtz – Do Not Trade. The Giants have a number of corner outfield prospects, but Schierholtz has the distinction of being a hometown product, which is a nice fan thing. It’s a silly reason not to trade him, but local prospects generate fan interest, something nice to have in the post-Bonds era, and he’s young enough to stick with him before giving him up.

6. Take a Shot at the Super 2 Sweepstakes and Bring Up Matt Cain

It’s not simple, but I’ll take a shot at simplifying it. The average young player becomes eligible for arbitration after 3 years of major league service time, and free agency after 6 years. Major league service time is measured by days on a major league roster, not the different years they accumulate them in. However, players that, at a start of a season, have more than 2 years but less than 3 of service are eligible for what is called the ‘Super 2’ exception. If, amongst all the players between 2 and 3 years of service time, they are in the top 18% of total time served, they are eligible for arbitration a year early, and then are also eligible for free agency a year early.

I hope you followed that. Bottom line, the higher fraction of a year Cain has of service time, the higher chance he has of being paid more sooner (in this case, 2007 instead of 2008), and becoming a free agent quicker (2010 instead of 2011). That’s killer for a team trying to ‘rebuild.’

Although there are many arguments for and against bringing up Matt Cain, the Super 2 exception is the main reason he hasn’t been brought up yet. The Giants are waiting until there’s a better chance he won’t qualify. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict 2 years in advance who will have the most service time, and difficult to even make an educated guess. But between 1 and 2 months of time should be a small enough fraction to avoid the top 18%.

Why is this important? For one thing, Cain will be the guy fans think of when they think of the Giants’ 'youth movement' in the Post-Bonds era. Sure, top prospects have come and gone in past years, but the Giants have never tried to actually rebuild around a rookie. They are likely to do it around Cain, even if the actual rebuilding doesn’t happen until 2007. Especially if 2005 is lost, Cain is a reason for fans to keep paying attention (and paying for tickets). Also, if the Giants are trying to decide who will help in 2006 and who won’t, seeing Cain at the Major League level for more than a couple of spot starts is similarly important in deciding how he factors into next year’s plans.

7. Make Some Big Decisions About The Young Players

The Giants need to decide who’s valuable and who’s not for next year. Giant fans have been excited about rookies like Jason Ellison and Lance Niekro, but both have some major holes in their games. The Giants need to decide how much they want to depend on these guys:

• Jason Ellison – He’s got range, he’s got speed, and he had a hot start. He’s also slumping big time. His errors shouldn’t continue, as most of his early season miscues have been chalked up to overhustling and excitement, things that taper off with more experience. Ellison has shown the ability to work on improving his game, as his bunting this year alone has been a huge improvement in just a short couple of months. However, the last couple of months, he’s had problems getting any sort of hit outside of bunts and infield singles. There are certainly better center fielders out there to be had. The bigger question is, are any of them going to be as cost effective as Ellison will be at the major league minimum?

• Lance Niekro – He’s got big time power, but he’s also got a big time platoon split and can not hit right handed pitching (approximately 2/3rd of the pitchers in the majors). He’s currently batting .391 against left handed pitching, and only .222 against right handers. The Giants said they were going to give him more playing time against right handed pitchers; that hasn’t happened. Is Niekro a full time first baseman, or is a platoon with a left handed first baseman who also takes advantage of being in a platoon (like J.T. Snow) a better idea? If Lance is going to be on the short end of that platoon, can he play third and help back up there (he did in the minors)

• Scott Munter – Simply put, he’s been spectacular as a rookie, and there’s little reason to think he won’t be that way for years to come, other than the general sophomore slump that many players face. The Giants need to decide what role they want him in next season, and how many high pressure situations they want to trust him in.

• Jack Taschner – He hasn’t gotten the face time of Munter in the bigs, but he’s hardly been bad and has dominated in AAA. He’s currently squeezed out of a suddenly reliable bullpen, but he could have a big role in 2006, helping keep the bullpen from needing to be rebuilt entirely from the outside.

• Todd Linden – He’s a switch hitter with power and speed. At the very least, what more do you want out of a 4th outfielder? But then there’s the bigger question: with the monster AAA year he’s having, is he someone you want to count on when Barry’s not there? Or is the poor performance in a short stint in the majors more what you can expect from the outfielder who’s been mired in AAA for 3 years? Or is he more valuable to the 2006 Giants as a piece of a trade to bring in a pitcher?

8. Stop The Jimmy-Jacking

Jimmy-Jacking is a term coined by some fans, defined as yanking players quickly from role to role without patience or sometimes even reason, often hurting both the team and players involved.

The Jimmy-Jack was present last season, with the way the team treated Merkin Valdez, changing him to a reliever and boosting him to the bigs far before he was ready. After only 2 outings, he was back in AA and starting, and struggled mightily after the roller coaster ride. This year, he’s one of the top starters in AA and should be in AAA any day now.

This year, though, it’s been worse. Jerome Williams is the poster child for it. After perhaps the best start through the first turn in the rotation, he was put in the bullpen to skip his next start. He didn’t react well, and before he could work himself out of it, after just 3 more starts, he was suddenly in the minors. Before April was even finished! Soon he was sent away in a trade to Chicago and complaining that the Giants hadn’t shown any faith in him, and is now doing well for the Cubs.

Brett Tomko and Kirk Rueter have been Jimmy Jacked out of the rotation. Jeff Fassero has gone back and forth. Brad Hennessey has gotten enough frequent flier miles just between Fresno and San Francisco to qualify for the first space plane trip. Taschner and Accardo have been up and down. Even Kevin Correia, who had been solid as closer in Fresno except for a couple of outings, was put back as a starter and after only 2 good starts (out of 3) was up in San Francisco. His win against San Diego was tenuous, and he took advantage of the big park at Petco. But no one should’ve been surprised at his getting knocked around by Atlanta.

The Giants need to pick roles for these guys and try to stick to them. Correia should be a reliever. Tomko should be a starter. Hennessey should be in the majors. The Giants will likely find happier, more effective players by having them just do one thing at a time.

9. Don’t Panic

This is almost the most important piece of all. This season has been filled with impatience (see the Jimmy Jack part), and the team was possibly hurt badly for now and in the future with the desperate trade of a promising young starter in Jerome Williams and an even more promising future closer in David Aardsma for an underperforming, overpaid, and unknowingly injured setup man in LaTroy Hawkins. And as much as the move has helped the bullpen in recent weeks, watching Jerome Williams throw so well as a starter for Chicago with the Giants’ recent rotation struggles is only that much more frustrating.

And in the past couple of days, Ken Rosenthal of the Sporting News reported that the Giants offered top starter prospect and well performing Merkin Valdez for Jason Jennings, a Colorado pitcher of a career 5.00 ERA. Somehow, and luckily for both the Giants and probably Valdez, Colorado rejected the deal. It’s unlikely that Jennings will be traded now, having sprained some fingers making a defensive play this week, but this is the sort of a deal that should be avoided. By all means, trade a top prospect like Valdez, but make it for someone worth trading for.

10. Win Some Games

When it comes to convincing fans you’re doing the right thing, this is what it all comes down to. No more potential, no more hoping for things to change. The only change that’s important is winning.

Even if this season does end up being lost, even if it’s before the deadline, at least show some pride. This isn’t basketball, or even football, where getting a #1 overall draft pick can mean so much for a team. Most fans wouldn’t know a #1 baseball overall draft pick if it bit them in the tail, as even those players can take a few years to develop, and aren’t sure things. There’s nothing to gain in losing. But by winning the last couple of months, and maybe putting some late pressure on the division leaders, perhaps even spoiling things for someone, can give the fans a modicum of hope for next season. Just enough.

There simply isn’t much difference between what’s missing in 2005 and what looks like it’ll be missing in 2006. There’s no reason to wait to try and build for it, but it needs to be done right.

Love me, hate me, idolize me, or laugh at me, just don't ignore me. Let me know what you think: write me at kevin@ugcfilms.com .

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