Instant Classic

Gary Sheffield vs. Curt Schilling, career:

1 HR, 3 2Bs, 11 Ks, 9 BBs in 53 ABs

Sheffield vs. Pedro Martinez, career:

2 HR, 2 2Bs, 5 Ks, 5 BBs in 21 ABs



Faux Blogs

Elbo passes along a link to a John C. Dvorak column -- he's an old techie journalist who looks like Brian Dennehy and bloviates like Chris Matthews -- in which he claims the blog world is full of dilettantes and corporate phonies who will either abandon their whimsy out of boredom or sour the grassroots revolution with their stealth corporate agendas.

He also cites a study that most blogs have all of 12 readers or so.

Being a newbie blogger but also a professional writer, I seem to be assigned to the lowest rung of Dvorak's Inferno. Watch out -- I'm actually injecting subliminal AOL Time Warner worldview into my posts. And Elbo...I'm not sure about that guy...when he writes "Travis Lee," what he really means is "General Electric war machine."

Now if we can only get our readership into double digits, we'll really be on to something. Mom, can you forward this to all the ladies in your cross-country ski group?



Hee's On First?

Or, if you prefer, No Choi in Mudville.

Ah, the pleasures of rank amateurism.

The Giants' first base situation grows more intriguing. The Cubs just traded for Derrek Lee, giving up Hee Seop Choi and a PTBNL in what seems like a good trade for both sides. (And, according to MLB.com: "In a strange coincidence, the scout who signed Choi was former Cubs Pacific Rim coordinator Leon Lee, who is Derrek Lee's father.")

Choi gets another year to mature in AAA or on the bench then takes over at 1B for the Flahs when Conine (or as Al Leiter called him during the playoffs, "Niner") leaves at the end of 2004. (He has a $4.75M team option for 2005.) The Cubs who have plenty of dough have a young guy in his prime who could easily hit 40 ring-a-dings next year. No doubt they'll try to sign him long-term.

If Curt Schilling agrees to the D-Backs/Red Sox trade, there's a chance the D-Backs will turn right around and trade Casey Fossum and/or others to the Brewers for Richie Sexson.

That means no Lee, no Sexson and, unless the Marlins have another trade up their sleeveless jerseys, no Choi for the Giants. Free agents remaining: Speizio, Snow, T. Lee, Palmeiro, Karros, Cordero, Galarraga. Scanning the list of other first basemen, let me throw out a few names that haven't been mentioned in trade rumors but who might be on Sabean's radar: Phil Nevin (if the Pads would eat some of his contract)...Kevin Millar...Lyle Overbay (especially if Az. trades for Sexson; he had a .365 OBP as a rookie, but needs to work on that .400 SLG)...Jayson Phillips of the Mets, who quietly had a solid year.

Small Ball Fights Back

The sabermetric revolution in baseball has heaped a lot of scorn on "small ball," the subtle, often elegant facets of the game that emphasize speed, defense and bat control. Bunting, stealing, hitting-and-running, good defense over offense, moving runners over with "productive outs": all these skills are small-ball skills. The opposite of small ball is home runs, extra-base hits, and lots of people on base when those home runs sail out of the park.

Sabermetricians have come up with a host of stats that show why walking, slugging and not hitting into double plays are better than stealing, bunting and Neifi Perez. And much of it makes a lot of sense.

But I've often wondered where the small-ball stat-heads were. Surely small-ballers are sabermetrically inclined. Surely small-ball devotees can twist statistics and invent new formulas to fit their world view. I guess I could try, but...um...I have to wash my hair. And clean my toenails. Mop the kitchen, probably. In fact, I think I'd rather explore a light socket with a paper clip than spend sleepless nights coming up with new baseball stats. I just like reading and writing about them. Well, some of them.

But here's one I like, because it 1) gets at the heart of what kind of baseball you like to watch and play; and 2) it makes a strong case that post-season strategy should be different than regular-season strategy.

Buster Olney's ESPN column today strikes back for the small ballers. He discusses the importance of productive outs -- sacrifice bunting, moving runners over with grounders and fly balls, etc -- especially in the post-season. It's excellent fodder to rethink the conventional wisdom that walks and three-run homers are The Way.



I'm Schill Lovin' You

Or so Theo Epstein is apparently singing this evening as he waits for Curt Schilling to approve a deal between the D-Backs and Red Sox. It's contingent upon the Sox and Schilling working out a contract extension. The Sox would get Schilling and trade Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, lefty hurler Jorge de la Rosa (who just got a nice write-up from ESPN.com's John Sickels under the headline "Red Sox Have a Keeper") and outfield prospect Michael Goss.

My first reaction: Woo-hoo! Casey Fossum, meet Barry Bonds. According to my Sox fan friends, Fossum lost his curve and became a one-pitch pitcher in 2003.

My second reaction: The Giants didn't do so well against The Big Schill (the last three years: 3.16 ERA, 94 IP, 109 Ks, 69 hits, 20 BBs), so I'm thrilled he's out of our division. There's always the chance one of the pitching prospects will turn into the D-Backs next ace, but it's not a good chance. At least not right away. Just for comparison: The D-Backs traded Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa and Vincente Padilla for Schilling. Only Padilla performed well. (For a mini-time warp, check out this column by Tom Verducci about the July 2000 Phils/D-Backs deal.)

My third reaction: Pedro and Schilling and D-Lowe...not bad at all.

Reaction #4: George isn't going to be happy.

Fifth and final reaction: Do the Red Sox have anyone at all left in their minor leagues?

RIP Warren Spahn

Among the very Malo-est of Lefties Malo.



Travis, Not Feliz

My co-conspirator Elbo elaborates on his Travis Lee post of a few days back. He's almost got me, good God, hoping the Giants sign Lee. He writes:

I think Pedro Feliz is good for .240/.285/.450 at best, as an everyday
player. I see his career ending in about three years, unless he catches on
as a Lenny Harris type.


Similar Batters through Age 28
1. Mike Blowers (971)
2. Todd Greene (952)
3. Al Ferrara (952)
4. Chris Truby (951)
5. Mike Kelly (948)
6. Archi Cianfrocco (947)
7. Ed Spiezio (947)
8. Sean Berry (945)
9. Bob Bowman (944)
10. Mike Diaz (943)

Not a worthy everyday first baseman among them. Pedro is most useful as a
pinch-hitter and bench player; he is somewhat useful in the field at 3B, but
we have one of those.

Now, as for Travis Lee;


Similar Batters through Age 28
1. Ken Henderson (944)
2. John Milner (943)
3. Vic Saier (943)
4. Don Baylor (937)
5. Willie Upshaw (935)
6. Earl Torgeson (933)
7. Phil Todt (931)
8. Ruppert Jones (929)
9. Johnny Briggs (928)
10. Wally Joyner (924)

Doesn't that inspire a little more hope than Pedro's list? Lots of scrubs
there, but also a few lifers.

Also, this:

P-Hap 26 131 .20
T-Lee 379 562 .67

That's downright embarrassing for Pedro. In 2003, his ratio actually
DROPPED. I just can't imagine him learning to hit anytime soon. (As I posted
one time, there is no everyday player over 29 with a worse BB/K ratio than
.26, and it's Jose Hernandez.)

I suppose T-Lee would demand a multiyear deal, or at least some multiyear
options, but look, he just got bounced by the Devil Rays. He can't ask much.

I'm not thrilled at the prospect of having Travis Lee as the 1B -- far from
it. But I think he might be the best inexpensive option, and I'd rather root
for T-Lee than P-Happy, that's for sure.

Having both for $1m apiece... well, all right, as long as Pedro is confined
to PH and bench roles. Maybe start against some lefties. Um, do we get
Galarraga too?



Alas, Poor Boof! I Knew Him, Merkin

The agony of wading through Jayson Stark's column produced this Giants' news nugget:

Boof Bonser was once one of the Giants' most highly regarded pitching prospects. But after they included him in the deal with Minnesota that brought them A.J. Pierzynski, scouts we surveyed didn't rate him as a guy with much chance to come back and haunt the Giants.

"I liked his stuff better in high school, to be honest," one scout said. "I still think there's something good in there. But the guy has a long way to go to get polished enough to pitch in the big leagues. He's just a mediocre Triple-A pitcher right now. I don't think he has any feel for what he wants to do out there."

On the other hand, scouts who worked the Arizona Fall League were gushing about Melvin Valdez, the 21-year-old righthander the Giants got from Atlanta last winter in the Russ Ortiz trade.

"This guy's so long-armed, he could scratch his ankles when he walked," said one scout. "But he hit 98 on the gun and lit it up. This kid has a big arm."

Elbo: The Travis Lee Watch is on

Item! The Cardinals traded Tino Martinez to the Devil Rays for minor-league reliever Evan Rust today. This means that the Rays are highly unlikely to re-sign The Other J.T. Snow, who is probably the most attractive option among first basemen who will make less than $2 million next year. He can now be ours.

I can't believe I just wrote that Travis Lee was an attractive option, but that's what cutting payroll is all about.

(More on this in the Archives, 11/3/03.)

Rule 5 Explained

Tim of Chicago and Doug of Westwood Blues have written this morning to clarify my Rule 5 misunderstandings.

As I suspected but was too lazy to search out, there are age and service time restrictions on Rule 5 draftees. It turns out ESPN.com's Rob Neyer wrote an entire column on baseball's transaction arcana. Here's what Rob says about the Rule 5 draft:

Eligibility: A player not on a team's Major League 40-man roster is eligible for the Rule 5 draft if: the player was 18 or younger when he first signed a pro contract and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft since he signed, OR if he was 19 or older when he first signed a pro contract and this is the third Rule 5 draft since he signed.

A player drafted onto a Major League roster in the Rule 5 draft must remain in the majors (on the 25-man active roster or the DL) for all of the subsequent season, or the drafting club must attempt to return him to his original club. However, since a returned Rule 5 player must first be placed on outright waivers, a third club could claim the player off waivers. But of course, that club would then also have to keep him in the majors all season, or offer him back to his original club.

So, David Aardsma and Matthew Cain are not eligible. Who might get snapped up? The fact that the Giants only placed four minor leaguers on the 40-man with plenty of room left over means they don't have an abundance of quality minor-leaguers with at least 3 or 4 years of pro experience who would be worth stashing at the end of the bench on a big-league roster for an entire year.

Steve Shelby, who knows a frightening amount of personal information about Giants' farmhands, lists in an e-mail these prospects as unprotected, potential draftees: LHP Erick Threets, RHP Jeff Clark, LHP John Thomas, RHP Luke Anderson, RHP Brad Hennessey, RHP Luke Anderson. Anderson is most likely to be drafted, says Shelby.



Six Men Missing

The Giants added four minor leaguers to their 40-man roster today: pitcher Merkin Valdez, infielder Jamie Athas, infielder Angel Chavez and catcher Justin Knoedler. Of the four, only Valdez has drawn any significant attention -- he was the throw-in in the Ortiz-for-Moss trade and has become the Giants best minor league pitching prospect, now that Jerome Williams and Jesse Foppert are on the big league roster.

The addition of the four brings the Giants' 40-man roster to 34 players. Six spots are still open. Of course a few of those spots will be filled via free agent signings or trades, but six? (It should be pointed out that all the free agents -- Snow, Aurilia, Worrell, etc., are not on the 40-man roster.)

Do they really need to keep that many spots open? It seems to me they could have filled at least a couple more spots with promising minor leaguers to prevent them from being swiped in next month's Rule 5 draft. David Aardsma, for example. He's their shiny new #1 draft pick who had a solid debut in single-A...might not someone nab him in the Rule 5 draft? How about Matthew Cain, who struck out 90 and only walked 24 in 74 IP at Hagerstown in 2003? Or Eric Threets, a lefty who supposedly throws in the high 90s? Sure, they'd have to remain on the selecting team's 2004 big-league roster all year, but for a non-contender like Tampa Bay or Baltimore or the Mets who can afford a raw rook at the back end of the bullpen, it's not such a big risk to take.

Why did the Giants only add four players? The Braves added ten and now have 37. The Red Sox added six, including Youkilis, the Greek God of walks, and now have 35.

If someone has an explanation of some of the underlying strategy of 40-man roster construction, I'm happy to post it.

French, Part Trois

It hadn't occurred to me until now that "gagné" in French means "won." As in, "he won the Cy Young Award." I guess it was only a matter of time. And perhaps it will lead to a French version of "Who's on First?"

- Qui a gagné le Cy Young?
- Gagné.
- Oui, c'est ce que je demande. Qui?

Next week's seminar: Eric Gagné, but Will Perdu(e).



Elbo: Je parle seulement un peu

Just in case you had trouble understanding those Quebecois, I thought I'd help out by running one of the articles through the Babelfish translator. Among the observations therein:

"The fame of Gained could increase more as of Tuesday since it is also one of the principal candidates under the player most useful to his team in the Main road. The artillerist of Dodgers acknowledges however that it does not count there really."

That Babelfish translator just never gets old.

Grand Fromage

Kinda old news, but here are a couple stories en Français about Eric Gagné's return to Québec as a conquering hero, complete with the play-by-play as his family, including his "better half" Valerie, greets him at the aeroport. Merci à la Merveilleuse Mme. M. de Montréal pour les liens et ce p'tit reportage:

"I don't know if the newspapers and tv stations here have ever talked about
baseball as much as they have in the last week!"

Malo Mystery #9 Solved

The United States will have to wait another day for Shinjomania to blossom. Pack away your foot-long orange wristbands; Shinjo's going back to the Land of the Rising Sun to be a Fighting Jamón.



Elbo: The shifting marketplace for catchers

Evidently the Man Who Made The Giants won't be catching for the Padres after all, despite my repeated suggestions that he was headed to Petco. Los Friars de San Diego have reportedly shunned Benito Santiago in favor of obtaining Ramon Hernandez from the Oakland Athletics, along with overpaid designated lummox Terrence Long, in exchange for outfielder Mark Kotsay.

The Athletics may likely be kicking Yorvit Torrealba's tires right now. The only catcher currently on their roster is notorious NLDS strikeout victim Adam Melhuse, who had never hit above the Mendoza Line prior to 2003 but delivered modest offense in 77 at-bats as a backup this year. I have to think Billy Beane has something up his sleeve, including a healthy interest in Yorvit, because it seems a little bizarre to let a 27-year-old All-Star catcher go in exchange for an outfielder with a 756 career OPS who will make $5.5 million in 2004. (Even if it means that T-Long goes too.) Although Yorvit isn't exactly a sabermetrician's wet dream, he is inexpensive, which is why the A's might be especially interested in making a deal.

Who could the Giants get for Yorvit? Eric Byrnes? Justin Duchscherer? Chad Bradford? (I don't suspect it's the last, as I believe he'll do nicely in the closer role previously occupied by free agent Keith Foulke.) I even wonder if the A's would consider moving Erubiel Durazo, the once-coveted 1B/DH who turned out to be a bit of a letdown last year.

At any rate, Benito Santiago will have to Make a new team -- perhaps Dusty Baker's Cubs -- next year.

What's He Building In There?

The Pierzynski trade had me muttering to myself all day yesterday. If there was one sure line item in all of our mock roster construction for 2004, it was

8) Torrealba C

...but now Sabean has me all flummoxed. I like the trade a lot, but when I figure A.J. will rake at least couple mil in arbitration, I make like the cartoon...wolf, was it?... who dons a green eyeshade and punches buttons on an old-fangled analog countin' machine only to wail, "It just don't add up!"

It reminds me of the Tom Waits song from Mule Variations about the creepy guy in the basement...

Now what's that sound from under the door?
He's pounding nails into a hardwood floor
And I swear to god I heard someone moaning low
And I keep seeing the blue light of a T.V. show
He has a router and a table saw...
What's he building in there?

Something weird is going to happen. Barry Bonds will be traded. Edgardo Alfonzo will be sent to Hagerstown. Robb Nen will be the opening day shortstop.

Perhaps less likely, but not entirely out of the question, the Giants' front office will ease off on the promise to reduce salary by $10 million, freeing up some extra bucks to go after another big bat. Remember how Sabean was characterized in Moneyball? "The master of the dry hump." He's also the master of the non-quote; he fills up a lot of newsprint with words, but when you squint they don't really mean that much. I wouldn't be surprised if (a.k.a., I want to believe, oh golly yes, Auntie Em, I really do!) the "we have to cut $10 mil" line is a Ben Franklin strategy: Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised.


Speaking of Pierzynski, my mom once told a family friend she was part Polish, and the friend said, "Roz, I know it's not nice to make jokes about Polish people's intelligence, but have you ever noticed the way they spell?"

So it's OK if I tell this joke:

Two guys are sitting at a bar. One guys says, "Hey, did you hear about the Polack who..."

"Wait a second, buddy," the other guy interrupts. "I'm Polish!"

"Oh, sorry," says the first guy. "DID...YOU...HEAR...ABOUT...THE..."


"Lefty Malo" was originally "Głeftwy Maloszievicz" when my ancestors came through Ellis Island.



Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Benito

As Benito Santiago likes to say, Let me tell you something. Elbo found the following quote at the bottom of a Contra Costa Times story on the Pierzynski trade:

"The Giants are done with me," said Santiago by phone from his Miami home, adding that the Padres and Cubs have shown the most interest in him. "They had their chances. They called once and didn't make an offer. When they didn't play me the final game (NLDS), that was it for me. That was a stupid thing they did. I don't know whose idea that was.

"I made that team and I made those guys. They know. I made some money from the San Francisco Giants, but they were never fair with me (he signed a two-year, $3.75 million deal before the 2002 season). They were cheap. I did everything for them. I should be making more decent money. They'll probably end up paying that guy (Pierzynski) $6 (million) or $7 million. That's the way it goes. There were some very good people and good fans in San Francisco. That's what I'm going to miss. I can't beg people to take me back.

"They forgot what I did for them so fast and so quick. That's it. Not even a phone call. Nothing. I wish them a lot of luck. I want to go back there and beat them."

Luv ya, Benny, but sorry. You didn't make this team or these guys. This is bush league. You and Joe Angel can put that one in the loss column.

Speaking of Angel, I'm thrilled he won't be bringing me the lovely totals anymore. As I've written before, there were times when I could barely bring myself to listen to games last year. His replacement Greg Papa is a real slickster, but I've listened to him for many years on various Bay Area team broadcasts, and he's damn good. He won't give you the graceful turns of phrase and mischievous wit of Jon Miller, but he can broadcast with him, or with Kruk and Kuip, without coming off like a dullard.

I interviewed and met him this summer while writing a piece for the Oakland A's in-house mag (the one they sell at the ballpark for $5 or whatever). He was decent enough, talking to me from his cell phone on his way to the ballpark, then meeting me on the field during BP before an A's-Giants interleague game. (During which, I should report, I saw with my own eyes Barry Bonds fielding grounders at first base.) He had perfect broadcaster hair and tasseled loafers and was a bit distracted, looking for players and coaches from whom he gleans info before the game (he also spent a while talking to Krukow, trading dish on who's been hot/not/hurt/etc). But overall, Angel-for-Papa is about as good a trade the Giants have made in years.

The throw-in, Dave Fleming, was one of the young guys who made a few spot starts in 2003. He did an excellent job -- I think his first game was the Kevin Millwood no-hitter. He'll be fine.

The A's mag assignment, by the way, was to show how an A's TV broadcast works behind the scenes, from the morning preparation to the play-by-play to the post-game highlights. The story never saw the light of day because they found out I was a Giants fan.



A.J. Polish Last Name

¡Dios mio! El Lefty goes to parts of Mexico where the only daily report is what the fishermen have brought in for the filet of the day, and all hell breaks loose! Well, OK, a little bit of heck swirls around.

Once again, blogfan prognostications prove worth a hill of frijoles. We all had Yorvit tabbed as Giants catcher of the future, given his rising star, his solid work in 2003, and his low, low paycheck in coming years.

But Mr. Executive of the Year gets an All-Star caliber catcher who'll probably make several million through arbitration in the next few years in exchange for a potential closer and two warm-to-hot prospects.

I'll write more this week about what this might mean for future moves, but first, some notes on Mexico. The G-F and I were in Southern Baja, first La Paz, then Todos Santos, then, avoiding Los Cabos like Montezuma's Revenge, we hit the dirt roads for three days in a little place called Cabo Pulmo where the only electricity came from portable generators and the only phone was the sat hookup at Tito's Restaurant...but only if Tito had enough juice in his generator to power it.

Unfortunately, storms farther north were kicking wind down the Sea of Cortez, which made snorkeling impossible at Cabo Pulmo's coral reef. But no big deal. Thanks to our generator-powered fridge, the Pacifico remained cold, and even with the brisk wind, the air was warm all night.

The best snorkel of the trip instead was a couple hours by boat from La Paz, at a sea lion rookery where the pups roam and play in bunches, showing no fear of all the gringos in the water. They swim and swoop and get right in your face and even take little puppy-like nibbles at your arms and legs. Amazing, although I have a feeling sea lion conservationists wouldn't approve.

A baseball note: I visited two "stadiums," one in La Paz, one in Todos Santos, both with all-dirt fields and cement stands. Unfortunately (or, as the G-F saw it, fortunately) our travel schedule didn't coincide with game times, so the most action I saw was a night practice in Todos Santos with a gaggle of local kids whacking the ball into the outfield as giant bugs attacked the light standards by the tens of thousands.

Other trip highlights: fish tacos, tidepools, sunsets like they got down in L.A. but without the smog, beef tacos, elote (corn kernels served warm with a creamy mayo, melted cheese and hot pepper flakes), big juicy grilled steaks served with three kinds of hot peppers...

I should break and say that I eat ulcer-inducing amounts of hot peppers, which amuses the Mexicans to no end. Until I say, "¿Chistoso? Pero no. Soy Lefty Malo." When the waiter at the outdoor wood-fired grill in La Paz listened to me rave about the chiles toreadores -- serranos marinated in onion and soy sauce, then grilled until a purplish black -- he ran inside and brought out an unlabeled jar of what looked like capers. He encouraged me to try some, and the chef and another waiter watched over his shoulder. (The G-F rolled her eyes and said there was "a lot of machismo in the air.")

They were "chiltepin," peppers that grow naturally in the mountains outside La Paz, and they were home-cured and hot. They were also hot coming out the other end, if you know what I mean. But they weren't that hot, and I bought the whole damn jar.



Elbo: Ainge, Lemieux, Pierzynski

At least A.J. Pierzynski has one rabid fan in the Bay Area.

But it's not one of the Oakland A's.



Elbo: So long, Boof

Item! Apparently the Giants have heeded my warnings regarding their impending weakness at the catcher position, and acquired A.J. Pierzynski from the Twins. Gone to Minneapolis are Joe Nathan, minor league lefty Francisco Liriano and 2000 first-round draft pick Boof Bonser.

We know this: Pierzynski can hit. I'm happy to see that he'll be our new catcher, although I think he has a reputation for being kind of a smack-talker. (The Oakland A's think so, as I recall.) And although I like(d) Joe Nathan just fine, it's a lot harder to find a catcher who can hit than it is to find a middle reliever with a 4.12 lifetime ERA.

What remains to be seen is whether the prospects pan out. I can't find anything about Liriano anywhere on ESPN's minor-league stats page, but I know that Bonser is a well-regarded righthander who posted a 4.00 ERA this year at Norwich (AA), with 67 walks and 103 strikeouts in 135 innings. (He also had a losing record.) While I am saddened at the notion that I won't get to root for the guy named Boof, maybe he won't be such a big deal. Hope he likes indoor baseball.

The deal seems reasonable enough right now. I suspect this means Yorvit will be on the move soon, maybe as part of a package to fill one of the big holes in the lineup. Pierzynski can play almost every day -- he made it into 137 games this year, compared with Benito's 108 (he spent 20 days on the DL), so having Alberto Castillo as the backup won't hurt our lineup that badly. Yes, I approve. El Lefty Malo Original will be back in a few days, and he will surely weigh in soon after.



Elbo: Rooting for a runner-up

I don't expect that Jason Schmidt will win the Cy Young award, although you could make a case that he's been the best starter in the league this year.

While these guys aren't necessarily a representative sample of the voters, at least some of them do vote, and it appears that nearly everyone is going to vote for Eric Gagne for having the best relief season in memory. I suspect that anyone voting for Schmidt is really trying to send a message that a reliever shouldn't win the award for throwing just 82.1 innings, no matter how good or how important those innings were. It's not too unlike the Matsui flap, really, although the two sportswriters involved in that sordid affair were essentially making up their own rules, not merely expressing an opinion about what constitues a valuable pitcher.

That said, was Schmidt the best starter in the league? He only won 17 games, but of course, Felix blew at least a couple more for him, didn't he? Schmidt led the league in ERA, WHIP, and BAA. Only Livan Hernandez (!) threw more complete games. Schmidt had four times as many strikeouts as walks. Mark Prior had a slightly better ratio, and was a hair behind Schmidt in almost everything else. (To revisit an earlier remark, I believe the plaque itself says "Most Valuable Pitcher," although nobody votes based on who made the playoffs. If it were a factor, the edge would have to go to Prior here, although I doubt the Giants would have gotten to the postseason without Schmidt.) I'd have to rate this one a toss-up.

Gagne's numbers, of course, are astounding. He won't be the first closer to win the Cy Young -- hell, they've given MVP awards to closers before -- but he'll be the first in a long time, and he just finished the best season by a relief pitcher we've ever seen. Hope it looks good on his mantel.



Elbo: Behind the Plate-Ball, or The Tools Of Ignorance, Part One

In the interest of keeping this space relatively timely in El Lefty's absence, I'll remark on some news from last week.

Does the signing of Alberto Castillo to a one-year contract mean that he will be the backup catcher to Yorvit Torrealba all season long? I assume here that we are going to bid Benito goodbye, and that he will be wearing the navy, sky blue and light tan before you know it.

It's hard to find a good catcher. It's even harder to find two. There are probably less than a dozen catchers out there who play a complete game: good defense, hit for a decent average, some power. I'm talking about Posada, Rodriguez, Varitek, Lieberthal -- solid ballplayers all. Piazza doesn't play good defense, but he makes up for that with his bat. And although we've seen him suffer through some weak weeks, Benito is one of these desirable catchers.

The rest of the catchers in the big leagues are either born catchers who struggle with the bat (reliable Brad Ausmus/Brent Mayne types who are liable to hit .230 for you), guys who can actually hit but really shouldn't be catching (Jason Phillips, Matthew LeCroy), or absolutely terrible hitters who can play every third day and give you solid defense (John Flaherty, I guess). Like I said, it's a tough position to fill, and every team needs two.

Will Yorvit Torrealba be the kind of catcher we want? I like him a lot, but I have to admit that his 340 major-league at-bats haven't shown me enough to form a real opinion. His plate judgment has been fine enough, his defense has been excellent, and he's shown an ability to drive the ball on occasion. But will we get Lopez, Lo Duca, LeCroy, or LaRue out of him? Really, it's still too soon to know. Fortunately, he's still only 25, on the way up, and he could give us lots of bang for very few bucks.

As for Alberto Castillo, I was surprised to learn that he'll be 34 next year. He's basically a terrible hitter (.574 OPS in 805 major-league at-bats) whose defense has made him a worthwhile commodity in the big leagues for nine years. Oh, by the way, 2000 third-round draft pick Trey Lunsford hit .287 in 108 at-bats in Fresno this year, while Guillermo Rodriguez hit .277 (with only 17 extra-base hits) in 238 ABs. (No idea about their defensive skills.)

This is a huge question-mark for the Giants next year. Whatever Benito's flaws were, he was a reliable player who provided substantial power in the 5th or 6th spot in the batting order. The team of Torrealba and Castillo will almost certainly be a significant step down from the team of Benito and Yorvit. What's the absolute best we can expect out of Yorvit? Maybe .280 and 15 homers? That'd be fantastic. More realistically, we can hope that he hits somewhere above the seventh spot in the order, sometime this year. And we can't expect much more than .210 with nothing extra out of his backup.



Malo en Mexico

El Lefty will be on vacation in La Paz, Mexico (and thereabouts) for the next week. I'll be off the blog completely unless I stumble across, in the following order, a minor league Mexican ball game and a cheap Internet cafe.

Otherwise, my sidekick Elbo will be El Jefe de la F while I'm gone, reporting on any moves teams might make and on anything else that moves him.

With luck I'll return home a week from Sunday to see the headline "Vlad Glad to Play by Bay."

Hold down la fortaleza, Elbo, and I'll bring you back something with a worm in it.




Wow, cool! The Padres just announced a new uniform look for their first year in Petco Park.

The Outside Scoop

Whenever I read Joe Morgan's columns on ESPN.com, I can't help but think of The Onion columnist Jackie Harvey.

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the two. To wit:

Columnist A: "Item! Mandy Moore is the name on everyone's lips. I'll do a little sleuthing to find out why and report back to you."

Columnist B: "DH/first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is also a free agent, but the Yankees have Nick Johnson and Jason Giambi at those positions. Depending on how his injured knee recovers, Giambi might DH more next season."

Or how about:

Columnist A: "If pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre doesn't return, that could influence Pettitte's decision. I've been told that Pettitte and Stottlemyre have a close relationship."

Columnist B:

"Is Robert De Niro a busy guy or what? He's been in two movies this year, and Analyze The Other Thing is coming up in a few weeks, which I can't wait for, because I always wondered what happened to those characters after the first movie, and I can't ever get enough of Billy Crystal."

I'll bet Joe is a big Jackie Harvey fan. Here are a few more of his insightless nuggets:

"I believe Florida will be a serious playoff threat for the foreseeable future because of its young starters. Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and Carl Pavano all will be better next year because of the confidence boost following their successful postseason."

Just like that great confidence boost Jarrod Washburn, Francisco Rodriguez and John Lackey got from their 2002 World Series appearances, right, Joe?

And here are two, count 'em, two so-dumb-it-hurts sentences in one paragraph:

"Remember, it isn't always the best team that wins the World Series, but the team that plays the best in the postseason. Give the Marlins credit, though, because they never played afraid -- even when they faced a 3-1 series deficit vs. the Cubs. They weren't afraid to lose but played to win."

With Morgan and Jayson Stark, ESPN.com has cornered the market on Useless Information. The difference is, Stark, like a mischievous Dada artist, gleefully pounds us with jaw-dropping, brain-freezing inanity, while Morgan has absolutely no clue he's putting everyone to sleep.


Item! Now that Todd Helton's in play, one starts to wonder who could afford to take on his $80 bazillion dollar contract. Not the Yankees, because they've got Nick Johnson and Jason Giambi, and if Giambi's knee hurts next year... oh never mind. The Braves could use a first baseman, and they'll free up salary if/when Maddux and Lopez leave. (Perhaps not enough.) The Dodgers, although there's talk of moving Shawn Green to first with his bum shoulder. The Orioles perhaps. The Rangers, although I think they're looking to reduce, not add payroll. Both Soxes are set, as are the Phils. Mets? No. Marlins? No. D-Backs? Nah.

That leaves...hmm...the Cubs, which makes me think, hmm, maybe Hee Seop Choi will become available. Here's a pretty convincing argument that Choi was much better in 2003 than his numbers appear. At least until the concussion. But he was just crappy enough last year post-concussion that the Cubs might be convinced to part with him cheaply. Just a thought. Plus a big strapping Korean lad starting every day at first base would be a hit in S.F. with its big Asian population. Too bad he doesn't wear orange wristbands up to his elbows.

Shinjomania! It's not too late.



The Case for Snow

Instead of looking at the Giants' off-season needs by defensive position, let's look at the holes in the batting lineup.

As I've mentioned before, there are two glaring holes right now: a high-on-base guy to hit behind Durham, and a power bat to protect Bonds. I'd say the former is more glaring. If they can't get a Guerrero or Sheffield or Sexson, the Giants could do worse than Alfonzo hitting fifth. He showed glimmers of being pretty good protection for Bonds down the stretch and in the playoffs last year. Obviously I'd prefer Vlad or Sheff, but I don't think Derrek Lee or Carlos Beltran would be any better behind Bonds than Fonzie.

So let's turn our attention to the 2-slot. Here are the high-OBP guys who are free agents or being mentioned as trade bait/non-tenders. This doesn't include the marquee sluggers like Sheffield, Sexson and Ramirez who would never hit in the 2-slot, no matter how sabermetrically inclined their GMs were; nor does it include guys like Bill Mueller or Luis Castillo who play a position that the Giants have filled:

Trot Nixon (.396 OBP in 2003), D. Mientkiewicz (.393), C. Beltran (.389), J. Edmonds (.385), R. Hidalgo (same), D. Lee (.379), Dmitri Young (.372), C. Everett (.366), S. Stewart (.364), J. Guillen (.359) and so forth. (I freely acknowledge that career OBP is a better indicator.)

J.T. Snow isn't on that list because he didn't have enough qualifying at-bats. But if he did, his .387 OBP would slot right between Beltran and Edmonds. Also, no one on that list will come as cheaply as Snow. Remember, we're looking to fill the #2 slot in the lineup and hopefully have enough cash left over to spend on a slugger to protect Bonds.

The more I think about the two glaring lineup holes and the Giants' glaring lack of spending cash, the more I think re-signing Snow for a year or two is a good idea. That is, if he settles for a million or two per year; if that isn't possible, then this whole argument is pointless.

There's no guarantee he'd get on base at a near-.400 clip next year, or the year after that. But his career numbers suggest that, barring significant decline or injury, he could come close, especially knowing he'd be penciled in behind Durham almost every day and not being counted on as a big run-producer.

I guess Alfonzo could slide up to #2, but I like him in the 3-spot. He'd get great pitches to hit in front of Bonds and even when not hitting for power would still get on base (if you believe his career numbers instead of his 2003 experience). It's also better to have a left-hander hitting #2 to take advantage of the big infield hole whenever the leadoff guy gets on. It's a good spot for Snow, which Felipe realized about mid-season last year.

I admit that this scenario is contingent upon J.T. accepting a modest contract. If I were Sabean, I'd approach him with a low base pay and escalator bonuses contingent upon high OBP (what they want from him most of all) and games played, given his injury problems of the past few years. Sweeten the pot further with Gold-Glove incentives, and post-season bonus money above and beyond what players normally get.



A-Rod by the Bay-Rod

The drumbeat is getting louder. Every star columnist has to weigh in. The number-crunchers are busting out their calculators. It's supposedly no longer a rumor: The Rangers are trying to trade Alex Rodriguez.

The usual suspects are painted into the usual scenarios: A-Rod goes to the Yanks and moves to third. (Or moves his buddy Derek Jeter to third.) A-Rod goes to Boston, precipitating a trade of Nomar to a West Coast team. A-Rod goes to the Cubbies and moves in with Steve Bartman.

But sometimes the unexpected comes out of nowhere. The biggest, weirdest trade of last winter involved three teams not known for extravagance or as glitzy marquee destinations: the Rockies, Marlins and Braves all figured out a way to get Mike Hampton back down closer to sea level. And when everyone expected A-Rod to sign with a high-glam team in 2000, he shocked us by going to Texas. (Not so shocking once we found out how much more money Tom Hicks was offering over the next team.)

So why not speculate about A-Rod in Pac Bell Park? It's less possible than Dennis Kucinich, President of the United States, but what the hey. He could be the anchor star to take over for Barry. What would have to happen for the Giants to even be remotely interested?

First and foremost, a lot less money. It would come down to the Rangers swallowing some cash and A-Rod deferring some more. What if all parties came together, reworked the contract, deferred, swallowed, etc, so that the Giants would be on the hook for, say, $18 M a year instead of $25 M? That might be at the upper end of what the Giants would be willing to pay once Bonds' contract is off the books.

Sure, it sounds like a pipe dream. But $18 M a year is likely what Vlad Guerrero will command. Is it officially a pipe dream to speculate about him in Pac Bell's right field next year? Sheffield will probably get a three-year contract somewhere near $15 M per. If we can keep our fingers crossed over those two guys, why not over A-Rod? With some creative accounting and contract rewriting on all sides, A-Rod by the Bay-Rod is just as ripe a possibility for speculation.

Just for fun, what would it mean to the lineup?

1) Durham
2) a cheap first baseman or RF with very good OBP
3) A-Rod
4) Bonds
5) Alfonzo
6) Grissom
7) Torrealba
8) a cheap first baseman or RF who plays excellent D

To be honest, if you're going to spend $150 M or whatever on a long-term superstar contract, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to go after Guerrero and not trade valuable prospects.

But it was a fun exercise.



Elbo: Fearful of inexpensive first base options

Guess what? Last week, the Devil Rays declined their $2.5 million option on a 28-year-old first baseman who made only $500,000 this year. His .275 batting average was rather J.T. Snow-like (at least it wasn't .246), but he swatted 19 home runs, which was relatively consistent with what he's done for the past three years. He also managed 37 doubles, generating a passable .459 slugging percentage, his best ever. His not-atrocious OBP of .348 was also his best, though it's only seven points higher than his career OBP. The scouts say he plays good-to-excellent defense, although the numbers support that contention only in some respects. Bats left, throws left, California native who'd love to play here, seven years younger than J.T. Snow but quite a bit like him in many respects.

I'm talking about Travis Lee, the former Diamondbacks and Phillies first baseman who was drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in 1996. And I suspect Mr. Sabean is considering signing him for a little less than $2 million a year. D-Rays general manager Chuck LaMar says he still wants him back at the Trop next year for less money, but I suspect Lee would seize an opportunity to get away from the Gulf Coast and head back to the West Coast. The Rays could always use Aubrey Huff at first base -- he's not exactly a star in the outfield -- and I wonder how closely the laid-back Lee fits in with Lou Piniella's fiery approach to the game.

Now, I'm not enthused about the idea of signing Lee to play first base for the Giants. I just wonder whether they'd like to have someone just like J.T. Snow, but who makes a little less money, hits a few more homers, and is seven years younger. Management has essentially told the fans that no, we're not going to make any big signings this winter, so you might have to get used to rooting for someone like Travis Lee.

I guess you could do worse, although don't forget, this is the guy who hit .236 with 18 home runs in 1999 and 2000 combined. He's considered a chronic underachiever, and was hated in Philadelphia. (Of course, they hate the batboy in Philadelphia.) Lots of people around Lee have questioned his heart. And we're talking about someone who's in his prime years, but hits like J.T. Snow a few years into his mid-30s decline.

Is he in our future? Don't rule it out. And be afraid.

Malo Mysteries Update

Last week I posted my top-10 under-the-radar free agent mysteries. One was immediately solved when the White Sox picked up Esteban Loiaza's $4 million option for next year. Nothing else has yet been resolved, but there are some intriguing updates:

Mystery #5 -- The Shooter: After baffling me with an incoherent ramble about the Manny Ramirez waiver situation, Peter Gammons hints that Rod Beck is not only coveted by the Padres but also the Rockies. No, Shooter, don't do it! Don't take your love to Mile High Town, where your curveball will be as flat and soft as an Otis Spunkmeyer oatmeal cookie.

Mystery #6 -- Whither Jose Cruz?: Exchanging some e-mail with Steve Shelby, he of the daily Giants news roundup, made me think more upon Sir Junior the Lesser. If, say, somehow Brian Sabean got hold of a magic crystal ball, and in said ball he saw a picture of Sir Lesser the Junior in mid-2004, a Reformed Batsman who, in the offseason dedicated himself to fewer Ks, more line drives, and a .400 OBP, then Sabean should sign him on the cheap, bat him second behind Li'l Ray Ray, put him back in RF with a protective coating to deflect the garlic fries raining down upon his noggin from the arcade, and be prepared to say, "Isn't that nice, Jose? They're shouting 'Cruuuuuuuuuuuuz!' every time you step to the plate."

Where Sabean will find such a magic crystal ball, I do not know. But it would help him save some cash, as the humiliated Cruz will be thankful for a second chance at a mere $1 million a year. The savings can then go toward the procurement of a slugging first-baseman.

Here's a thought: Mike Piazza. He's got two more years at $15 M per. He can't be THAT bad a first baseman.... can he? Don't you think the Mets would be happy to unload that contract for a Boof hoagie, or a Correia melt, with a side helping of Feliz?

Mystery #10 -- The Cat Comes Back: The Giants Web site, fine source of objective journalism, reported last week that El Gato Grande says he's ready to play another year. This is just a few days after the same reporter told us that "there a good chance of Snow in S.F. next year" without any mention that there's a good chance Snow's agent has instructed him not to rule out any options publicly so that he doesn't get squeezed on the open market.


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