2004, Here We Come

Ain't it funny how time slips away? (A better man than me has asked the same question.) Wasn't it just the millennium, and before that Clinton's first inauguration, and just before that Reggie Jackson hitting all those bombs in the World Series? Enjoy every moment, folks, because it goes fast.

That said, here are my fearless baseball predictions for 2004:

- Hoping to convince Bud Selig to reinstate his eligibility for the Hall of Fame, Pete Rose admits to betting on baseball games. As soon as he does, Bud says "A-ha! I knew it!" and forever bans Pete not only from baseball but from buying a used car at Bud's dealership. Undaunted, Rose lobbies J. Paul Bremer to appoint him Iraq's first Commissioner of Nearly-Naked Wrestling. Bremer refuses, but millions of Iraqi boys honor Rose by getting ugly crewcuts.

- Barry Bonds passes Willie Mays to become the 3rd greatest home run hitter of all time. But the record is tainted when a jar of Viagra is found in Bonds' locker. Renouncing the drug, Bonds only hits 2 home runs the rest of the year but bats .457 and gets on base 84 percent of the time. Critics then complain that Bonds' vision is so good, he must be using an unauthorized type of saline solution.

- The Marlins do not win the World Series. Neither do the Pirates or the Dodgers.

- The Yankees and Red Sox install nuclear-tipped warheads in the home bullpens of their respective ballparks. Larry Lucchino threatens to put George Steinbrenner on the "60-year disabled list." Pedro Martinez demands to be traded for Alex Rodriguez. When the Yankees hold Kenny Lofton to his promise that he'd do anything, even park cars, to win a World Series, Lofton peels out in Brian Cashman's pinstriped Mini Cooper and leads the police on a seven-state car chase. When finally arrested, Lofton is babbling incoherently about being "the Godfather of Centerfield Soul."

- Sidney Ponson explodes.

- Unable to find a job out of spring training, Rickey Henderson forms a little league team called "The All-About-Rickeys" and leads them to the title game in the Little League World Series, which they lose 12-3 to a squad of 24-year-old Taiwanese.

- Vlad Guerrero signs with the Seibu Lions so he never again has to speak English.

- James Baker is called in to help reduce the debt load of the Arizona Diamondbacks and several other major league teams. Pervez Musharraf becomes the Yankees' new general manager. Osama Bin Laden is found in Manny Ramirez's hair. "Dude, whatever, I had no idea," Manny says.

- The Giants win the World Series in the 15th inning of the 7th game. Having run out of bench players, Alou sends up Robb Nen to hit for himself, and Nen drives in the winning run with a triple to the 421 marker. J.T. Snow barely scores from second base.

No-Team Team

Here's a fun roster: all free agents who haven't signed with a team yet. I'm excluding those who are supposed to retire.

C: Pudge-Rod
1B: Rafael Palmeiro
2B: Roberto Alomar
SS: Rich Aurilia
3B: Todd Zeile
OF: Juan Gonzalez
OF: Raul Mondesi
OF: Vlad Guerrero

UT: Orlando Merced
UT: Andres Galarraga
UT: Travis Lee
UT: Greg Norton
UT: Gregg Zaun
UT: Mark McLemore

SP: Greg Maddux
SP: Sidney Ponson
SP: Rick Reed
SP: David Wells
SP: Kenny Rogers

RP: Turk Wendell
RP: Terry Adams
RP: Ugueth Urbina
RP: Mark Guthrie
RP: Jeff Nelson
RP: Andy Ashby



Vlad and Money

The Baltimore Sun reports, as far I've seen, the first concrete contract figure that's been put in front of Vlad Guerrero: 5 years, $65 mil from the Orioles. No doubt other numbers have been bandied about without making it into the press, but the O's offer is an interesting one. Other than two extra years, the $13 mil per year is the same money that Gary Sheffield is getting from the Steinkee-Yanbrenners.

In other words, nothing to faint over.

If Vlad ends up getting less than $15 M a year, I'll be shocked. Collusion? Hmm. I know some people (agents and otherwise) are gathering evidence, but there are enough teams paying well (Orioles: Tejada, 6 yrs, 72 mil; Yanks, Red Sox, Mariners: $13 M for Raul Ibanez) that it doesn't seem like a huge, systematic conspiracy. Oh, and I forgot to mention the Detroit Tigers. They've just signed Jason Johnson to a 2-yr, $7 M contract. They're making good on their promise to overpay to bring some established players to town. Hell, bring back Damion Easley while you're at it, folks.

Note: Aaron Gleeman has a nice bit today about ex-Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve, and how he might have gone wrong. Gleeman peruses the deep numbers and notices that Grieve's power dropped off a cliff once he went to Tampa Bay. Did Grieve suddenly decide to become much less aggressive at the plate? His peripheral numbers seem to show this: more walks, more K's, lower SLG.

But why? One thing Gleeman notes then passes over in his analysis is how often Grieve was injured in Tampa. Now, when a strapping 24-year-old lad goes from established offensive force to has-been by the age of 27, at least three things could be happening: 1) He's bored, lazy, apathetic, etc. In other words, he's lost his fire for the game and isn't trying hard enough. 2) His Achilles heel has been discovered, and he can't for all his best efforts figure out how to fight back. (Marvin Benard knew full well that he had a weakness for the high fastball. But he couldn't lay off. In Greek tragedy, this is known as the fatal flaw. Hopefully Marvin, instead of gouging his eyes out, will retire and become a coach. He's a great guy and deserves to stay in the game somehow.)

And possibility #3: Injury. Ken Griffey, Jr. technically doesn't suck, although thousands of fans no doubt have said that the past few years. He's been injured, and rather badly. Over and over again. Ben Grieve has also had his share of injuries, including a serious blood clot last year that forced doctors to remove a rib. Not even Cher can hit a fastball while recovering from rib-removal surgery. I'm not saying all Grieve's hitting woes stem from injuries, but it's probably contributed. All players play with nagging injuries. Even the best players sometimes can't compensate for injuries that subtly affect their performance but aren't enough to hit the DL. Hence, numbers go down in one particular column or across the board. (Example par excellence: Jason Giambi had a bum knee at the end of the year and couldn't drive through his swing to generate his normal power, but he was good enough to play.)

Of course, reason 1) and reason 3) often go hand in hand. Player gets lazy, player doesn't keep in good shape, player pulls a lot of hammies.

I think the answer to "What the Hell Happened To [Insert Once-Famous Athlete]..." is often injury. Maybe we the sporting fan public know about it, maybe we don't. Unless it's a dramatic injury -- a broken bone, an elbow ligament that turns to hamburger -- we think, Rub some dirt on it and get back out there. In fact, that's what players often do. (See Giambi, above.) But it takes its toll.

I don't mean to play the "I play baseball" card, but having played in high school when I thought I was immortal; then taking my 20s off; then getting back to the game in my 30s, I sympathize a lot more with players who do it every single day. I'm in pretty damn good shape, and to play a doubleheader is a bitch. By the middle of the second game, the bat slows down, the knees ache in the outfield, the back really stiffens up.

It's often not the dramatic injury, the blown-out elbow that never recovers, but the little nagging ones that add up and make a guy look old and in the way. Makes you truly respect guys like Ellis Burks, who busted ass for years without any cartilage in his knees. Vat a mensch!

Whatever happened to Ben Grieve could be that Ben Grieve's body simply wasn't meant to play 15 years of professional baseball, day in, day out, at the highest performance level.



So Far Away

On a day like today, with a massive Pacific storm pounding us silly and bending the eucalyptus in Golden Gate Park like rubber doorstops, it's hard to imagine that day in early April when the sun warms the bleachers and the 2004 San Francisco Giants jog up the dugout steps onto the field.

O! Dark days of winter! Not even a hot stove to keep me warm, although I wish Cory Lidle well in Cincinnati.

Here's a semi-interesting piece on the retired Mark McGwire that twice makes mention of his much smaller body.



Private Stadium in St. Louis

The Cardinals just announced they've completed funding for a privately-financed downtown stadium in St. Louis that's scheduled to open in 2006.

Like the Giants, the Cards will own their stadium. No word yet on what this means for team payroll. Despite four years of record attendance, the Giants say they must reduce paroll this year because of the debt service on Pac Bell Park, reported to be around $20 million a year. St. Louis has a rabid fan base that no doubt will sell out the new park and buy expensive Cardinals merchandise, not to mention eat and drink record amounts of beer and hot dogs. Will the Cards, too, have to cry poor?

What's a fan to do? Cheer your team for building its own park without leeching public funds, and your team then cries poor because of the crushing debt. St. Louis will be a very interesting test case to see if a team can afford to build its own stadium and pay top dollar for talent.

After seeing the fiasco of publicly-funded stadiums having no effect on team quality in Milwaukee, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, I'm still grateful that Peter Magowan & Co. didn't put the S.F. taxpayers through that wringer. (If you haven't caught up on the latest news out of Milwaukee, you really should.)

Finally, a reality check for a bitter fan: it's not as if the Giants have been totally hamstrung by their debt. Since Pac Bell opened, they've won 381 games in 4 seasons -- only the Mariners (393), A's (392), Yankees (386), and Braves (385) have won more over the same span. They've made the playoffs three of four years and come within eight outs of winning the World Series.



All-Non-Tender Squad

From this list, one could assemble two-thirds of a team that might give the Devil Rays a run for their money. (I'll try not to include players who have signed or are about to sign with the clubs who non-tendered them, a la Michael Barrett and Mark Redman.) Pretty thin gruel, not much to put the fear of market saturation into the Greg Madduxes of the world:

C: S. Wooten
1B: R. Simon
2B: M. Anderson
SS: Lou Meloni
3B: R. Branyan
OF: J. Payton
OF: G. Kapler
OF: D. Dellucci
Bench: J. Tyner, D. Jackson., K. Garcia

SP: O. Hernandez
SP: J. Johnson
SP: D. Moss

RP: C. Politte
RP: B. Looper
RP: J. Fikac
RP: S. Sauerbeck



Some People Say Not to Worry About the Eyre

Scott Eyre is on board for two more years, for $1.025 million in 2004 and $1.425 mil in 2005. That's a quarter-mil less than I had estimated for 2004, so the payroll total now drops to $75 mil.

It might also hasten the departure of Jason Christiansen and his $2.4 million on the books for 2004. Two tough lefties malos out of the pen would be nice, but Eyre's contract may preclude it.

By the way, I mentioned a couple days ago that Eyre's 2003 peripheral numbers were not a good sign for a reliever who comes in with lots of men on base. Au contraire, according to the Giants' Web site:

Eyre was seventh best in the league at stranding inherited runners, leaving 78 percent on base. He also held left-handed batters to a .219 average.

Well, alrighty then.

Quote of the Day

Meanwhile, the decision could lead the rival Yankees to switch theme songs. Instead of playing "New York, New York" at the end of every game, the Bombers might now consider that traditional labor ballad, "Look for the Union Label."

- Chris Isidore, CNN/Money, on the MLB players' union decision to block the restructuring of A-Rod's contract, effectively killing his trade to Boston.



Ahead of the Curve

I just got mail from Walt, the man behind Ahead of the Curve, the site with the spanky cool salary info. Walt explains that his data's still a wee jumbled up between luxury-tax figures and actual-dollars-paid figures, and that he's working on separating the two. It's already a cool resource -- he has the 40-man rosters for each MLB team and the contract status of each player extended nearly until the end of the decade. A massive undertaking, and it'll be even better when the two different calculations are sorted out.

I can't wait, because I have a lot of work to do, and I'm in constant need of fresh sources of procrastination.

Walt explains the Bonds discrepancy: in actual dollars paid, Barry will receive $15.5 M (that's $20.5 with $5 deferred til 2009). For luxury tax computations, Barry is receiving $18 M (the total value of the contract divided by the total number of years).

For the purposes of the tote board to your right, I'll stick to actual dollars paid, since I assume when the Giants say payroll will be in the mid-70s, they mean actual dollars paid, not an assessment against a potential luxury tax. So Barry's back down to $15.5, and the Giants are still in the high 70s. (Adjustments to other figures may follow; that's why the running total is estimated.)



La La La La, Interesting Arb

By Sunday, teams must decide to offer or not offer arbitration to their less-experienced players. (As opposed to the Dec. 7 deadline to offer arbitration to veteran free agents.)

The Giants have four: Brower, Eyre, Feliz, and Pierzynski. Will they refuse arbitration to any one of them? If any, it would be Eyre, who made $750K last year. His ERA has been good-to-great since coming to SF in mid-2002, but his peripheral numbers have not been great. (Last year, he was 26/35 BBs/Ks in 57 innings, with a high WHIP--not good for a guy coming in with crucial runners on base.) He's much better against lefties. My guess is the Giants will make a calculation: can they get through arbitration (or sign him to a contract) and pay him less than they'll pay Christiansen? If the difference is enough to go out and get another tough lefty (or righty who's tough on lefties), they'll try like mad to trade Christiansen.

As for the others: Feliz is in their plans, unless they've been blowing smoke up our tushies the past two months; Brower better be in their plans, as he was quite valuable last year and won't command more than $1 mil in arb; and Pierzynski, of course.

Now, how about other teams? Here are some names that will make for interesting calls (salaries and arbitration status courtesy of Ahead of the Curve):

Adrian Beltre, LA: He made $3.7 mil last year and nearly wore out his welcome before a big second half surge in 2003. One more year before free agency. Is he on the verge of a breakthrough? Lock him long-term? Pay him $5 mil or so for another year to wait and see? Tough call for the Dodgiz.

Odalis Perez, LA: He made $3.4 mil last year. Similar situation to Beltre, except Perez has shown longer flashes of stardom.

Eric Gagne, LA: Made $550K last year. Three more years before FA. How much of a jump in salary can a player make in arbitration? Unless LA signs him long-term, we're about to find out.

Shea Hillenbrand, Ariz.: Made $400K last year. 3 more years til FA. If the arbitrator is hip to sabermetrics, Ariz. can lowball him. If not, Hillenbrand is due for a hefty raise and might not be worth it.

Kip Wells, Pit: Wow, he's been around since 2000? Am I getting old, or what? Anyway, he had a damn fine 2003, which improved upon a pretty good 2002. He's got three more years of arb. Can Pittsburgh afford him?

Kyle Farnsworth, ChC: One more arb year before FA. He made $600K last year, so he couldn't get too much of a raise. The light bulb could go on at any moment, and Farnsworth will be holy terror coming out of the pen. The Cubs have cash and should keep him.

El Duque, Mtl: How can a 43 year old man be eligible for arbitration? He made $4.1 mil last year, so I'll bet my lint collection he'll be non-tendered.

Orlando Cabrera, Mtl: One more year til FA, made $3.3 mil last year...hmm. Minaya would be run out of town if he non-tendered...check that. No one in Montreal would really care. But it would be sad. Once out on the market, how much would O-Cab command? Probably more than what Aurilia will get.

Most of the Florida Marlins' pitching staff: Beckett they'll keep. But of Redman, Pavano, Burnett, Penny, Looper, something's got to give. Every one of them is due a nice raise, and every one of them is already making north of a mil-five. Wouldn't Carl Pavano look swell in french vanilla with black and orange trim?

Damian Moss, Bal: No way in hell this guy makes more than $1.5 mil, his 2003 salary, on the open market. I'll bet the Orioles feel the same way and throw this shrimp on the barbie.

Byung-Hyun Kim, Boston: BK could fetch $5 mil in arb. Is he worth it?

Gabe Kapler, Trot Nixon, David Ortiz, Boston: Lots of bats in Boston due for big raises. Kapler ($3.4 M in 2003 -- who the hell gave him that contract??) is gone. Ortiz should stay. Nixon...anyone's call.

Carlos Lee, ChW: He'll command some bank in arb, probably $6 mil or so, and Williams doesn't seem able to unload Konerko or Thomas.

We interrupt this arbitration-related obsessive compulsive behavior to bring you a note: Bobby Higginson will earn more than $17 mil the next two years. Ouch.

Ichiro, Sea: I'll fall out of my chair if the M's let him walk. He's too damn popular. The real question is, do they go to arbitration for a year or sign him long-term? His defense is great, but his offense took a dip in 2003. Might be a risk to sign him long-term. Whatever the decision, I'm confident Bavasi will make the wrong one.

It Still Doesn't Add Up

According to my estimated running total along the right hand side of this blog, the Giants are on the hook for well over $80 million in 2004. I think $5 million of Bonds' salary this year is deferred, in which case I'll change the figures. But in a sense it doesn't matter. Sooner or later, the Giants have to spend that money.

The larger point is this: Deferred money or not, the Giants don't have much more to spend. In fact, it's glaringly obvious they're going to move some payroll before spring training starts. They have to. The holes they need to fill aren't much different than the day the season ended and we knew more or less who was coming back and who wasn't.

They still need a big bat.

They still need another good starter. (ie, Not Darren Oliver.) If Schmidt isn't ready out of the gate in April, they'll need another really good starter and a bag of John the Conqueror Root to mess up Randy Johnson's mullet mojo and turn Brian Giles into a shrunken-headed freak.

They need bullpen help. If Robb Nen isn't ready out of the gate, they might need two more arms. (I think Herges can close.)

Since it's inevitable, I say, that a multi-million dollar contract or two will be moved between now and April 1, here are the possibilities:

- Felix. To have trade value that makes his $3 M salary worthwhile, he may need to demonstrate in spring training that he knows what a breaking pitch is.

- Christiansen. Making $2.4 M this year. He'll be good, but no doubt teams will be wary with him less than a year after his return from Tommy John surgery.

- Alfonzo. I've seen the rumors. I can't imagine the Giants could trade him without eating some of his salary. Or taking back marginal prospects in return.

- Nen. Who would be crazy enough? A team desperate for a closer, that's who. Even though more and more teams are finding their inner closer (check out what Colorado's doing), there are plenty of teams that still believe in the big bad ninth inning guy who can't decide whether to stay clean shaven or Van Dyke'd. Ah, but this particular big bad etc etc had a bunch of nasty bits scraped out of his shoulder recently. And he's making $9 million a year. He'll probably have to prove his health in spring training, and even then the Giants will no doubt have to eat some salary to get rid of him.

Neifi. $2.75 million. Unmovable? Unlovable? Unforgivable?

Rueter. I may be mistaken, but I think he has a no-trade clause. And he'll soon be a 5-and-10 man.

Trading any of these guys makes no sense unless it's to free up money for this year. Please, the last thing I want to see is Felix going to Tampa Bay for two highly-touted A-ball prospects.

That's what the draft is for...Oops, I forgot.



Just When You Think It's Safeco...

Boy oh boy. If I start to get depressed about the Giants' off-season moves, all I have to do is jump over to the good ship USS Mariner, whose writers have just suffered a collective myocardial infarction over the ineptitude of new Mariner GM Bill Bavasi. Goodbye, Mike Cameron and (probably) Freddy Garcia. Hello, Quinton McCracken, Carlos Guillen, Scott Spiezio, Raul Ibanez, and some good but waaaay overpaid relief pitchers. As the USS Mariner pointed out yesterday, half the M's lineup is going to hit about .220/.320/.350 vs. left handed pitching next year.

Dustan in the Wind

Reports this morning out of the Big Sleazy say the Giants have traded a player to be named later for the Twins' Dustan Mohr. That makes for a Dustan and a Dustin on the roster. Or, if you will, one Mohr Dustan for the Giants.

I don't know much about Mohr, but I don't like what I see: a lifetime .319 OBP/.408 SLG for a guy who'll turn 28 in June. He also struck out in nearly a third of his 2003 at-bats. I know, strikeouts aren't necessarily bad (see Mike Cameron), but they are if you don't get on base very much in the first place. Mohr puts the ball in play very infrequently.

The good news: he's cheap. The bad news: he's not very good. The good news: he's right-handed and will be a much better option off the bench against lefties than Michael Tucker. The bad news: He's still only lifetime .716 OPS vs lefties. The good news: As of right now, the Giants haven't actually traded anyone for him. Maybe the Twins will forget they're supposed to get someone back. Or maybe the PTBNL is Michael Tucker!


Salary update: I'm waiting to hear if Mohr is arb-eligible or if the Giants can resign him at the league minimum, but for now I've put him on the Opening Day roster list at an estimated $500,000. I've also found a site called Ahead of the Curve (thanks to Waiting for Boof) that has different salary info than the MLB Contract site I've been using--even though Ahead credits the MLB Contract site. For example, MLB Contracts says Barry Bonds is due $16 M in 2004, plus a $4 M signing bonus, minus $5 M in deferred money. That would make $15 M in actual checks signed. Ahead says Barry gets $21.5 M in 2004.

Goins strictly by Ahead's calculations, the Giants potential opening-day roster will be paid an estimated $82.5 M. That doesn't seem right, although Sabean did say the other day that he's already gone overbudget. I'm going with that for now, but I'll keep my eyes peeled for more definitive data.



Malo Mysteries Revealed

At the end of October I posed my own top ten free agent questions. Several have been answered.

*Today, Jose Cruz Jr. came to terms with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- two years, $6 mil -- the equivalent of appearing on the Sally Jesse Raphael show to admit your past sins and start the long slow crawl back to acceptance in the American public eye.

*Rodney Beck re-signed with the Padres, where he'll be Trevor Hoffman's set up guy but also closer insurance in case Hoffman hits a bump in recovery.

*Who got more? Guardado or Hawkins? Eddie by a couple mil: $13 to $11. (Both got 3-year deals.)

*Will Li'l Kenny get respect? Looks like it. He should be leading off and playing CF for the Yanks next year, bumping Bernie Williams to DH. That's respect.



Hungover at Howard's

Corned beef hash and over easy eggs, 2 cups of strong black coffee, and the Chron sporting green: that was all before me at Howard's Cafe this morning, er, well, more like noon-ish. Despite the martini, the spiced rum cider, the parsnip bong and the two or three glasses of wine last night, I was feeling pretty good. Maybe it was the 9 hours of sleep, or the two aspirin I took with foresight just before bedtime .

I was ready for the morning's news about the first day of winter meetings. Feeling good, as I've mentioned.

Then, buried in John Shea's coverage, were a few paragraphs about how close the Giants are to signing Darren Oliver to a $2 M contract. I've seen this rumor before, but its absence the past couple days had given me hope.

My fingers are crossed: this is, in fact, a ploy by Brian Sabean to drive up Oliver's perceived value so that the Diamondbacks, Yankees and Dodgers get into a bidding war over his services; the Dodgers, realizing that Jeff Weaver is allergic to smog, sign Oliver to a 3 yr, $10 M contract to replace Weaver in his Dodger Stadium starts. This move then takes the Dodgers out of the running for Vlad, and with fewer options, he is forced to sign with the Giants for 5 years/$40 M, his own customized leather recliner with built-in Spanish-English translation software, and the eternal patriarchal benevolence of Felipe Alou. Remember, folks, Brian Sabean is not an idiot.

A couple other thoughts:

* The Braves just gave up Jason Marquis, Adam Wainwright and Ray King to the Cards for JD Drew and Eli Marrero. Interesting trade, more about potential than anything else. Drew might have a breakout year, and he might stay off the DL. Jason Marquis might become a dependable power starter. Wainwright is a highly touted prospect. If if if. Might might might. Considering how much Drew's name was bandied about in rumors, I'm a little surprised the Cards didn't get a more established pitcher for him and for Marrero, who seems to have a lot of skills but not the numbers to match. (He also lost a lot of time to cancer recently, so I'll cut the guy a lot of slack. His 2002 numbers were pretty good.) Advantage: Braves.

* Dodgers get Juan Encarnacion for PTBNL. Encarnacion is like Drew. Everyone's waiting for the big bang that may never come. Like Derrek Lee, he could be 40 HRs/30 SBs waiting to happen, with only the right situation and some maturity to trigger it.



Blue Jay Way

There's a report that the Jays have signed Miguel Batista to 3yrs/$15mil. Batista's always been a sleeper in my book. I like his numbers pitching in an extreme hitter's park since 2001; he starts or relieves without a complaint; he writes poetry. Perhaps his new contract is written in iambic pentameter.

This gives the Jays a rotation of Halladay, Lilly, Batista and Hentgen...not bad at all for a midrange budget team. I was hoping the Giants would go strong after Batista, but 'twas not to be.

Two hours later: Check that. Batista's contract is 3yrs/$13M. That's cheap. If you compare the past three of years of service from Batista, who'll make $3.6M in 2004, $4.75M in 2005 and 2006, to Kirk Rueter, who'll make a combined $12 M in 2004-5, Batista stacks up pretty damn well. (Especially when you look at those K/BB rates, but of course, Rueter is the great all-time outlier when it comes to K/BB rates predicting success.)



Do the Math

So far this off-season, the complicated calculus performed by Giants fans trying to determine the direction of Our Fair Franchise --

[[(Neifi - Aurilia) + Herges(2x) - (5.5Worrell/2) + A.J.(ArbX) Tucker(vsRHP - vsLHP)/sqr*1st-rd-draft-pick * THG]]

-- has been even more twisted by the obvious fact that the rest of the division is getting worse. Curt Schilling, begone. Kevin Brown, good riddance. Hellooo Jeff Weaver and Casey Fossum. There's a good chance the Dodgers will trade LoPuka, too. Huzzah! I'm sure the Dodgiz will upgrade at the winter mtgs or beyond, but the Giants are right to insist, as they always do, that they'll compete for the division crown.

Problem is, I'm not really that excited by a division crown anymore. I want an ownership that wants to win the World Series, Steinbrenneresquely, rabidly, every single year.



Shelby Nugget

As Steve Shelby of the Daily Giant Planet noted yesterday, Brian Sabean was on KNBR and said the Giants had exceeded their payroll limit. Sabean also noted that he's not planning to trade Torrealba, as the Yorvit-A.J. combo is one of the best in the biz. My guess is that's Sabean-speak for, "Oops, I should have traded Yorvit BEFORE I traded for A.J." Or "I really tried to trade Yorvit, but everyone realized he was Neifi Perez with shinguards, so I traded for A.J. and Yorvit is back where he belongs, as the backup catcher."

Other tidbits:

- Let me tell you something: The Benito has landed. KC signed Benny to a two-year deal worth $4.3 mil plus lots of incentives.

- Worrell got $5.5 mil over 2 yrs from the Phils. Assuming Nen comes back full-bore (no assurance), Sabean did very well to go with Herges in the set-up role for less than half the money. If Nen doesn't come back strong, Herges could close, too, but the rest of the ranks will be thin: Felix, Christiansen, Brower, Eyre and Zerbe (and/or whomever they pick up for peanuts between now and April 1). Trading for Herges was Sabean's best move of the summer; resigning him on the cheap has been the best move of the winter.

Unsung Heroes

Re. my "barlor game," Josh in Hollywood writes about four Giants who made their teams that much better in subtle ways:

--1986: This was where the Giants went from lovable losers to a team to be taken seriously, year in and year out. The MVP: Roger Craig. I'm not sure if a manager can really be an MVP, but if it's possible, he was. With his "humm-baby" and his squeeze plays, and his instructions to the team to never complain about the 'Stick, Roger was a winner and made the Giants into one as well through sheer positive attitude and agressiveness. He was the Phil Jackson of baseball, but in place of Zen, he used good ol' fashioned Southern wisdom. And he had the foresight to hire Dusty Baker. Thanks, Rog.

--1993: Robby Thompson. It was his career year, yes, but there was more. I was always fond of saying Robby would take a line drive in the face to win a big game. In September, 1993, he proved me right. Needing a win to stay ahead of the hard-charging Braves, and down one in the 9th at home to the Pads, Robby took a Trevor Hoffman fastball of his jaw to get on base for Will Clark. The Thill homered, and the Giants had a huge walk-off win. Of course, without R.T. in the lineup the Gaints lost 8 in a row and eventually lost to the Braves, but there was Robby on the last day of the season playing despite having to wear one of those ridiculous, Terry Steinbach face mask deals. Thanks, Robby.

--1997: Forget Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Estes, Gardner, Rueter. The most important guy on Dusty's first division title team was supposed to be a bench player behind new leadoff guy Darryl Hamilton and shitty slugger and arachnophobe Glenallen Hill. But Stan Javier wouldn't have it. He took over leadoff during Hamilton's injury, and moved to right when he came back. He provided great D, good OBP, some SB's, and a spark to The Little Team That Could, including hitting the first HR in interleague history, an opposite field shot, no less. Thanks, Stan.

--2000: Everybody talked about Bonds and Kent. The MVP came down to Bonds and Kent. But nobody seemed to notice that there was a guy hitting behind them who hit .344 with 20-something HR's. Ellis Fucking Burks was the MVP of that team. They were like 90-15 when he played or something. And look what they did the next year without him. Bonds hit 73 bombs, but Kent was terrible in the clutch and Rios and Vanderwal couldn't get a big hit to save their lives. And they still finished two games back of the World Champs.

Thank you for the venue to ramble on. Now back to the harsh reality that is the 2004 Giants. --Josh in Hollywood

Thanks, Josh. I'll add one comment: Not only was Burks the heart and soul of the 2000 Giants with his bad knees, clutch hitting and apartment right across the street from Pac Bell (he supposedly liked to hang out at Momo's after the game); but the Giants have been looking for the next Ellis Burks ever since he left. Right field at Pac Bell has become left field in Seattle -- the place for vagrants, charlatans, false hopes, wannabes, couldabeens, but no one to hang out, relax, have a Momo's martini and drive in 100 runs for four or five years.

For those who missed it, I invite anyone who wants to wax poetic about their favorite player in their favorite year -- the unsung MVP -- to write me. Doesn't have to be a Giant. Pick your year and player.

Dark Days Ahead?

I love my Giants, but I fear my front office.

I'm a congenital pessimist, so take this under advisement. Or with a double bourbon. In five years, when the Giants are mired in perpetual Blue Jay-land, ie, good enough to root for but constantly left behind by the bigger spenders, we might look back on the Day of Michael Tucker as the day it all really started.

There are warning signs.

1) The Tucker signing, for which the Giants deliberately and unnecessarily surrendered a draft pick, raises a red flag. A first round draft pick costs millions to sign; the Giants would rather put that toward the 40-man roster. On one hand, this is admirable, an admission that money spent on high draft picks is more often than not a waste. But it's also an admission that money is tighter than a mosquito's behind in the offices overlooking Willie Mays Plaza; a team with normal resources shouldn't have to choose between a first-round draft pick and a number-5 starting pitcher. When every last half-million counts in the way every quarter counts to the inhabitants on Homeless Island, there's a good chance that the Giants are experiencing a serious, Diamondbackesque cash crunch that the press hasn't yet sniffed out. Keep an eye peeled for news of other cost-cutting measures.

2) Every last half-million counts, yet many of those half-millions are paying for the Italian shoes of Neifi Perez and Michael Tucker. In other words, there's still a disturbing reliance on the mediocre proven veteran. It's the baseball equivalent of environmental degradation, which leads to a thinning of biodiversity. In 50 years, the world will be dominated by cockroaches, rats, crows, pigeons, zebra mussels and other adaptable species; in 5 years the Giants will be a faceless rotating wheel of 32-year-old veterans who are happy to play for $1.5 million a year. I'd rather have a team of Jerome Williamses, Cody Ransoms and Todd Lindens than Sterling Hitchcocks, Jeff Fasseros and Michael Tuckers.

3) Barry Bonds is a mortal. He may continue to produce, but he will not play 150 games a year ever again. He also may get caught up in larger scandals. Whatever his performance, he simply will not be a Giants in three years' time. The new baseball math shows that marquee players don't guarantee winning seasons; right, A-Rod? But what if a team is mediocre AND has no marquee player to sell to the masses? Bo-ring. I'll still buy tickets...probably...but the casual fan won't. Thus the vicious cycle begins: mediocre players, mediocre teams; mediocre teams, fewer fans; fewer fans, less money for payroll; less money for payroll, more mediocre teams...

At some point -- probably the day that Barry doesn't get out of his leather recliner, or moves to Bel-Air to DH for the Angels -- Pee-Mag will order Sabes to junk it all, get the payroll down to $30 million, and start from scratch.

Disfrute while you can, folks.



Mis Sentimientos Exactamente

Rob Neyer weighs in today on Kaz Matsui and the Giants' latest moves. Here's the kicker, as we say in the hack biz:

But man, the Giants are looking at a lineup that includes Neifi Perez, Michael Tucker, and a few other has-beens who were not cast off by the Royals. As things stand now, the Giants will be hard-pressed to win 85 games next year. Then again, 85 games might be all it takes to win the NL West.

Neyer also speculates that the Giants signed Tucker before the arbitration deadline -- thereby surrendering a draft pick -- because they don't want high draft picks. High draft picks demand too much money and rarely pan out. Wow. That's the only explanation I've read so far why Sabean would so blatantly and so unneccessarily cough up a pick like this. And if the Giants are throwing draft picks on the campfire then pissing on them for good measure, it's a grim sign that the payroll reduction plan is part of longer-term marching orders.

Elbo: Tucker - The Man And His Dream

So Michael Tucker "can see [himself] playing right field most of the time." Rounding out the outfield will be Jeffrey Hammonds and Marquis Grissom, alongside The Greatest Of All Time.

But wait. I'd just like to note the importance of the fourth outfielder here, since at least once a week, he's the third outfielder. Barry Bonds has played more than 143 games only once in the last five years. He takes most Sundays off, unless he's chasing some sort of home run record. This means that, whether the Giants are up against a righty or a lefty, their lineup will include Grissom, Tucker, and Hammonds, unless Hammonds is disabled, which everyone knows is going to happen sometime. Which means the Mighty Pedro will be in the lineup. Grissom, Tucker and Feliz, once a week? Or more, if Barry's playing time is limited?

There are a lot of whispers around town suggesting that Barry's playing time will be drastically reduced next year. All that loose talk about him retiring after his pop died may have overstated the case, but would it be all that surprising if he played 120 games or less in 2004? About as surprising as Pedro Feliz hitting .220 with 9 walks in 100 games, which is to say not surprising at all.

I realize that Barry has three full years left on his contract, but that doesn't mean he'll play all three. And that's one more reason to lock up a high-quality right fielder, though it seems less and less likely every day.



Snow and Tucker

The Giants just announced two signings but no financial details yet:

1) J.T. Snow is coming back for a year, plus an option.

2) Michael Tucker signed a two-year deal.

Unless the Giants are planning to sign Miggy Tejada or get in on the A-Rod negotiations, these two signings pretty much rule out the big bat the Giants need to protect Bonds - at least via the free agency route. Before I comment further, I'll wait to see the money involved, but for now, I'd like to quote Charlie Brown: "Auuggh!"
OK, a few hours later and Mystic River under my belt. (Most overhyped movie of the year--it hit far too many wrong notes.)

It looks like Snow's contract calls for $1.5 M in 2004, with an $2 M option for 2005 that kicks in with 450 plate appearances. He says he'd much rather take less money and stay with a winning team than go elsewhere. Fair enough. Felipe, bat him second.

Tucker gets $3.5 M over 2 years. He's expected to contend for the RF starting job; a platoon with Hammonds seems like the best fit. The last three years, Hammonds has hit .293/.367/.435 against lefties (that's an .802 OPS vs. .720 against righties). Tucker the past three years is .263/.339/.431 against righties (that's a .770 OPS vs. an anemic .665 vs lefties). Simply put, Michael Tucker is not a very good hitter. (Unless he's playing against the Giants, but that doesn't do the Giants much good now he's on their side.) "I can see myself playing right field most of the time," Tucker told the Associated Press. While you're at it, Michael, visualize whirled peas.

Having a nearly set roster, says Sabean, allows him to get creative with trades at the upcoming winter meetings. Is it possible to trade a player you've just signed? Tucker for a middling prospect or two? That would shave $3.5 million off the payroll!

Other comments: Sabean says Pedro Feliz will back up Snow at first and will get "as much playing time as we can possibly get him."

More frightening words have seldom been spoken.

Aurilia, Cruz, Benard, Galarraga, Ponson, Santiago, Worrell and Young were not offered arbitration, so the Giants lineup vs. LHPs might look like this (parents, please avert your children's eyes):

Durham 2B
Pierszynski C
Hammonds RF
Bonds LF
Alfonzo 3B
Grissom CF
Feliz 1B
Perez SS


Against RHPs:

Durham 2B
Snow 1B
Pierszynski C
Bonds LF
Alfonzo 3B
Grissom CF
Tucker RF
Perez SS

The Dude does not abide. Sabes, I hope you got something up your sleeve, babe.

Lots of arbitration news tonight, too, which I don't need to get into. Plenty of free agents to sign without giving up draft picks -- Pudge, Maddux, V. Guerrero, Lopez, Sheffield (huh?? haven't the Yankees all but signed him? Why don't the Braves offer arbitration and snap up the draft picks?), T. Walker, Cameron, M. Batista -- but something tells me the Giants are finished with the free agents and are more interested in trades from here on out.



From Herpes to Millionaire

Before the arbo deadline, the Giants signed Matt Herges to a 2-year contract: $1 million in 2004, $1.5 M in 2005. Sounds good to me. He might well be the closer in 2005. (After his first game with the Giants last summer, he cheerfully told the post-game interviewer that when he was a Dodger, the Giants' fans called him "Matt Herpes." Hey, why not?)

I've added on the right a running update on the Giants' potential 25-man opening day roster and the $$ allocated...

Barlor Game

In the spirit of the Washington Post's Style Invitational, a reader-fueled, weekly contest of puns, quips and other wordplay, I'd like to institute a Lefty Malo barlor game -- a frivolous diversion that's more suitable for barstools than salon divan.

First, a word of explanation. Last night The Laz and I were headed home from the Bar Nothing -- one of those Tenderloin joints where you have to ring the bell or know the passcode -- and we listened to the best of the Rolling Stones from the late 70s/early 80s. In between air drumming and Mick-posturing and keeping an eye peeled for cops, we debated what made each song great. On "Emotional Rescue," for example, it was the snare, miked to perfection, and the disco-funk bass line.

It got me to wondering...what makes a particular baseball team what it is? Who, or what, is the heart of each great team? Who is the straw that stirs the drink? It's often an obvious choice, like Jim Thome with this year's Phillies, but other times it's more subtle: the heart and soul of the team, the player that the other players vote as their MVP, the secret weapon.

On last year's Giants, the obvious answers are Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt. What about Marquis Grissom, who earns the sabermetric stink-eye by never, ever taking a base on balls? But he anchored the outfield defense and had a great offensive first half, climbing out of the 8-spot, spelling Durham as the leadoff hitter. He arguably was the key ingredient to the Giants' huge lead.

Yes? No?

Pick a team and a year, and let me know who came to your emotional rescue, riding across the desert on a fine Arab chahhhhhhger. I'll post your answers and ripostes as they come in.



Vlad's Homies

Writes Jayson Stark:

The buzz is that the Orioles are prepared to offer Guerrero a five-year contract. But Guerrero is said by friends to prefer a team with a big population of Spanish-speaking, and preferably Dominican, players. And that's not Baltimore.

Let's see...currently on the Giants roster, or potential returnees: Castillo (Dominican), Torrealba (Venezuelan), Galarraga (Ven.), Perez (Dom. -- El Famoso Señor Zapata!), Alfonzo (Ven.), Feliz (Dom.), Felix (Dom.).

And A.J. Pierzynski, isn't he, uh, Polish Rican or something?

When You Play With Me, You Play With Fire

Theo Epstein must feel like Prometheus, who dares pull a fast one while the gods aren't looking, then, just as he's feeling smug and slapping high-fives with his fellow mortals, he's suddenly chained to a rock, exposed to the elements and attacked by a giant bird, who rips out his liver over and over and over again.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the George/
He is trampling out the vintage where the Red Sox' dreams are stored/
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword/
His Yanks are marching on.

addendum: Derek Zumsteg at Baseball Prospectus has a nice piece today on Rule 5 loopholes. He speculates that the delays in the official Sheffield signing, even while Sheff talks smack about the Red Sox and all but guarantees a World Series, are a Yankee ploy to keep a spot open on the 40-man roster until after the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Post-draft, boom, they "sign" the deal, add Sheff to the 40-man and safely remove from the roster whichever prospect they were worried about.



Hambone and Collusion

Sounds like an early '80s cop-comedy TV show.

But it's not.

It's something far more dramatic.

In a world where warriors were valued by their deeds...

In a time where only the strongest lay claim to unimaginable fortune...

One man became the right fielder of the San Francisco Giants...

Jeffrey Hammonds is indeed a member of the 2004 Giants, as Gammons-san reported earlier. And indeed the more he plays, the more Magowan pays. According to the AP, he'll earn a base of $1 million. He can incrementally earn up to $100,000 more for playing in 150 games, and up to $500,000 more for up to 550 at bats.

In other words, $1.6 million tops.

[Ed. note: Readers have pointed out my bad math: it's more like $1.725 million tops.]

That makes him easily tradeable if the Giants fall out of contention, and a huge bargain if he defies all odds and plays nearly a full season. Let me amend that: he'll be a huge bargain if he plays nearly a full season and hits the crap out of the ball. (Yes, yes, I know, it was a tiny stool, er, I mean statistical sample, but Hambone's .849 OPS with the Giants was the second-highest on the team last year.) If Alou plays him a full season and he hits like Jose Cruz, Jr. (who had nearly 650 plate appearances), then let us pray that the Giants' new first baseman is Jim Thome's long-lost clone or their new shortstop is Alex Rodriguez who suddenly decides to forego half his salary.

The other good thing about Hambone's salary is there's little pain in making him the 4th OF. Even as a 4th, he'll get plenty of playing time. Bonds and Grissom need their Geritol breaks. If 'Quis is hurting but not enough to sit, he can shift to RF and Hambone can play CF. I predict the G's go after a lefty-hitting OF -- perhaps Orlando Palmeiro, as Westwood Blues has been agitatin' for, perhaps a bigger fish such as J.D. Drew -- who can platoon with Hammonds. Maybe even a lefty hittin' type who can play both RF and 1B...Matt Stairs, anyone?

Money update: Hermanson will earn $.8 to 1.2 M, Hammonds $1 to 1.6 M, and A.J. is an estimated $2 - 3 M in arbitration. That's about $5 - 6 M for those three, leaving the G's another $5 - 6 M for a SS, 1B, 5th starter, 5th OF, and whatever bullpen pieces they need.


Tom Gordon, 2 yrs/$7.25 M. LaTroy Hawkins, 3 yrs/$11 M. Paul Quantrill, 2 yrs/$6.8 M. Mike Timlin, $2.5 M. Luis Castillo, 3 yrs/$16 M. Keith Foulke, likely to get $6 or $7 M per year. Collusion? Are you kidding me?

Elbo: Hammonds in right?

Peter Gammons is reporting that the Giants will sign Jeffrey Hammonds to a one-year deal laden with incentives.

This is all right. If you're going to sign Jeffrey Hammonds, you should do it in such a way that you don't have to pay him a lot for long trips to the disabled list. I sure wouldn't count on him for much consistency, but I suspect he's penciled in as the opening-day right fielder. Penciled, as in on a medical chart.

I also see that the Kansas City Royals (!) are taking a crack at Benito, and that the Dodgers' bullpen just got a little weaker. I suppose the Yankees have to keep up with Boston now, but doesn't $6.8 million over two years seem like a little bit much for a setup man?

Rumor Mill

According to the Merc, the Giants haven't even approached Rich Aurilia to negotiate, signaling that he's all but gone. That we figured. But then the paper reports that the G's are also shopping Neifi Perez. Zippity-do-dah! Then the paper says they're not interested in Kaz Matsui, which naturally leads us to assume Miguel Tejada is in their sights. Or Cody Ransom. Or Craig Counsell. Or Lou Seal. Or...

Meanwhile, over at first base, JT Snow is in the same position as Aurilia. The Giants are just getting around to talking with his agent, but it doesn't look promising. However, the team has had discussions with the agent of Todd Walker, hoping to sign him and move him to first base.

I take all this stuff with a grain of salt so large I get high blood pressure just thinking about it. As Kevin Towers told a reporter recently, Brian Sabean has a habit of pulling things out of nowhere. It's possible he doesn't use the media to float rumors for strategic purposes, which is what most reported rumors are -- very deliberate placement of information by one party or another looking to gain some sort of negotiating advantage.



It's Dustin-y

Good news. The Giants just resigned Dustin Hermanson for $800,000 with another $400,000 in potential performance bonuses and $35,000 in facial hair design consultancy fees, according to wire reports. Another piece of the puzzle is in place. A rotation of Schmidt, Rueter, Williams, Hermanson and Correia would not be shabby. The Giants' top three obviously wouldn't match up against Pedro, Schilling and Lowe or Mulder-Hudson-Zito, but in any given series, Schmidt-Rueter-Williams (or Hermanson) could keep the Giants competitive. Obviously the Giants are crossing their fingers and hoping Williams really blossoms into a top-flight pitcher a la Brandon Webb. Hermanson could probably pitch as well as Derek Lowe (in fact, they're quite similar type pitchers).

But this is all whistling past the graveyard, really. I'm just talkin' big, and hoping it all works out in the end. I'd feel a lot safer if Javier Vazquez were on board. This begs the question: do the Giants try to spend $$ on a *real* number-two starter, or do they let Brower and Correia fight it out for #5 starter, then if need be, trade for help in June or July?



El Malo Book Corner

This just in: Steven King is feverishly working on a new novel, "The Girl Who Thought Tom Gordon Totally Sucked Ass." As with most stories written in New England, it will likely end in nightmarish disaster in front of 60,000 flesh-eating zombies howling for blood.

Different D-Backs

When the Giants play Arizona next year, it's going to be a very different ball club. As expected, Az. just traded for Richie Sexson, giving up one of the prospects they got in the Schilling deal as well as a host of others: Junior Spivey, Craig Counsell, Chad Moeller, Lyle Overbay and Chris Capuano.

I'm a bit surprised they gave up so much for what will likely be a one-year rental of Sexson. He makes $8.6 million in 2004 in the last year of his contract. If he hits 40+ homers again -- quite likely in the BOB's friendly indoor spaces -- he'll be cued up for a multi-year contract that probably averages more than $10 mil per year. Given the D-Backs commitment to shedding payroll, that doesn't sound like money they want to spend. Or maybe he becomes the keystone around which the team rebuilds.

Wait, did the D-Backs really give up a lot? I didn't realize until checking just now that Spivey is 28 years old, turning 29 in January; Moeller is also 28, turning 29 in February. What I thought were two young, promising players are in fact two players approaching career "middle age," who spent a lot of time in the minors and have only recently proven to be useful at the major league level. In other words, replaceable.

Just like Craig Counsell, your new Mr. Milwaukee.

So far, that's three utility/useful/replaceable guys...

But Overbay's another matter, right? He's young, he's got a sweet swing, he could be the next Mark Grace...hold on. Overbay is 26, turning 27 in January. He's not so young anymore, either. (In contrast, Mark Grace made his Cubs' debut at the age of 23 and never looked back.) A couple more years of struggles at the major league level for Overbay, and we're talking Damon Minoresque levels of promise unfulfilled.

So, from the point of view of the D-Backs risk factor, the trade seems to boil down to the two young lefties malos the D-Backs are sending: Chris Capuano, who made his ML debut in 2003, and Jorge de la Rosa, whom the pundits say could be an ace in the making.

Of course, Brian Sabean traded the Giants' Richie Sexson of the mid-1990s, Matt Williams, for what everyone thought were a bag of journeyman spare parts. Thanks to Jeff Kent, the deal went the Giants' way. And this deal will fall the Brewers' way if Spivey becomes the next Jeff Kent, if Overbay becomes a pretty good line drive hitter, and the two lefties become mainstays in the rotation.

But that's a lot of ifs.

Meanwhile, Giants' fans will see a whole lot more of Richie Sexson in 2004. Their lineup is looking roughly like this:

SS Cintron
2b Kata
LF Gonzalez
1B Sexson
3b Hilenbrand
CF Finley
C Hammock
RF ??


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