Transaction Analysis: Steve Kline

In 2005, the Giants finished with a setup group whose core was Scott Eyre and LaTroy Hawkins. In 2006, it appears the core will be Tim Worrell and Steve Kline. The acquisition of Kline for Hawkins is examined within.

WHAT THE GIANTS GOT:

Steve Kline, LHP, 33
2005 Stats: 4.28 ERA, 2-4, 67 G, 61.0 IP, 59 H, 34 R, 29 ER, 11 HR, 30 BB, 36 SO, .257 BAA

Scott Eyre was one of the Giants most valuable players in 2005. The lefty reliever, rare in itself, was durable and effective against both right handers and left handers. The loss of him via free agency represented a loss that may not have been able to be filled by elder statesman Jeff Fassero and 2nd year pitcher Jack Taschner. Now it won’t have to be, as the Giants found the guy who was Scott Eyre in 2004.

Kline’s 2005 was marred by recovery from a torn tendon in his finger suffered at the end of 2004, something that bothered him most of the first half. He lost his effectiveness against LHP, and was pounded often in his first year in the American League, posting an eye-popping .317 BA against left handed batters.

That’s not what the Giants saw when they traded for him. In 2004, Kline was everything Scott Eyre was. He posted a 1.79 ERA, holding left handed batters to a .143 BAA and a .209 BAA overall. He appeared in 67 games for the NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals bullpen. With his mix of a sinking fastball and a hard slider, he was consistently very good with flashes of brilliance over 4 years in St. Louis.

One man who should know the similarities is the one man who caught them both, Mike Matheny. San Francisco General Manager Brian Sabean said Matheny told the Giants about the similarities between Kline and Eyre. He’s durable and he wants to pitch every time.

That fiery nature has gotten him a reputation of being testy, but he’ll be working with people he is familiar with. Matheny caught him for 4 years in St. Louis from 2001 until 2004. Before that, Kline was in Montreal, playing for current Giants manager Felipe Alou, who helped him make the transition from a borderline major league starter with Cleveland to a reliable reliever.

Of course, all that history won’t matter if Kline can’t turn back into the pitcher he was in 2004 and beyond. Can he? At 33, he’s not too old, particularly for a reliever, and his problems were related to an injury that clearly affected his most important pitches. His ERA was over 4.00 for the first time since his rookie year in 1997. But perhaps most importantly to the Giants, Kline flashed his old form in the 2nd half of the 2005 season. After the All-Star Break, he had a 2.83 ERA, and his control improved significantly, allowing only 9 walks in his final 28.2 IP compared to 21 walks in his first 32.1 innings.

WHAT THE GIANTS GAVE UP:

LaTroy Hawkins, RHP, 32
2005 Stats: 3.83 ERA, 2-8, 66 G, 56.1 IP, 58 H, 27 R, 24 ER, 7 HR, 24 BB, 43 SO, .265 BAA

LaTroy Hawkins came to the Giants with the warning ‘Not a closer.’ The Cubs had signed the Minnesota setup man with the intention for him to be a back up option at the closer spot, but he proved himself to be inconsistent at best in that role and taking the blame for the Cubs falling out of the 2004 wild card race. Picking him up in 2005, the Giants had no intention of using him in that role regularly, but he still had some problems (much of which came when he faced his former team).

Hawkins’ best tool remains his fastball, which he can deliver in the mid 90’s. He can rely on it too much, as his slider and changeup are used almost exclusively to simply give hitters a different look.

Hawkins actually fared better in 2005 with the Cubs, where he had a 3.32 ERA before coming to San Francisco and missing a month almost immediately with an elbow problem. He came back and performed well for the most part, but suffered enough occasional bad outings for his San Francisco ERA to be 4.10 ERA.

Hawkins’ best years are now further in the past, most notably his 2002-2003 run as Minnesota’s setup man when he had ERA’s around 2. His 2004 ERA was even an impressive 2.63, despite the 9 blown saves and animosity of a moody Chicago crowd. A change of scenery, and a relocation to the American League, where he spent all his career before signing with the Cubs in 2004, might be what he needs.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS:

Essentially, it means the Giants will rely on the proven but aging Worrell and hope for Kline to return to form with a full year of health, rather than hope for Hawkins to not look so overmatched at times and see if either 16 year veteran Jeff Fassero or 2nd year Jack Taschner could fill Eyre’s role adequately.

Both acquisitions hold the same hope: that the 2nd half runs put on Worrell in Arizona and Kline in Baltimore can translate into full years of dominance once again.

The Giants also will go into 2006 with an experienced backup option at closer after going through 3 years of watching their closer miss most, if not all, of the the season with injuries. Hawkins had experience at closer as well, but Worrell actually did a very good job of it for the 2003 Giants filling in for Robb Nen.

On the other hand, the switch of relievers brings back memories of what the Giants gave up for Hawkins in May 2005: disgruntled young starter Jerome Williams, and promising young reliever David Aardsma. The squandering of young, inexpensive starting pitching is made more relevant as other teams pull off big trades around pitchers. Meanwhile, the Giants have few trading chips and have to compete in a highly priced free agent market, where the A’s of all teams have already outbid the Giants on one starter, and prices for the remaining options are rising.

Although Kline makes only $3 million in 2006, compared to Hawkins, who could make close to $4.5 million with various incentives, the Giants included cash in the deal to pay the difference of Hawkins’ salary. Therefore, there is virtually no effect on the payroll and no cash saved. Both contracts expire after the 2006 season.

The end result may seem like a simple shuffling of pitchers, but the Giants have a method to their madness. In a bullpen where Felipe Alou’s handling is a running joke, the Giants have added two veterans who know Alou already, and have added a veteran presence that should make the bullpen deeper should the Giants lose their closer for an unprecedented 4th year. They are also taking advantage of players with proven track records who are coming off bad years and are hoping for the bounce back. These moves are meant as much as a message to fans, who lamented the loss of Worrell two years ago, as to the team.

However, those messages may fall on deaf ears if they are not followed up by moves addressing the important needs in the rotation and batting lineup.



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