No Nen?

As we here at El Centro del Malo have suggested several times, the Giants' fortunes in 2004 teeter precariously on the fragile health of three players: Jason Schmidt (and his right elbow), Robb Nen (and his surgically reconstructed right shoulder) and Barry Bonds (and his 40 years of life). Now we're hearing in fuller voice what has been hinted through the winter: Nen could just as easily hang up his spikes as he could return to the field this spring.

With all due respect to Robb Nen, here's a cruel thought: the Giants might be better without him this year. As we saw last year, there are lots of "closers" out there. With a strong bullpen top to bottom, there's less need for a ninth-inning savior. (Whether the Giants would have beaten the Marlins in games 3 and 4 of the playoffs last year with a healthy Nen is an excellent question, and one I won't try to answer.)

But if Nen retires -- or the Giants collect a goodly portion of his salary through insurance payments -- that's a lot of cash to use on 1) another strong reliever and 2) another bat, say, at short or in the outfield. Assuming they won't put that $9 mil toward debt service, that is. It opens up a lot of trade possibilities.

I love Robb Nen. Not enough to want to see him in a certain kind of video, but I'll be thrilled if he's throwing 98 MPH and breaking off nasty sliders in mid-June. All I'm saying is if he can't come back and the Giants are allowed to spend his salary elsewhere, it might have some positive unintended consequences. Which I don't think I could say if Bonds or Schmidt were seriously injured.

The worst-case scenario is if Nen returns, plays sporadically or ineffectively, and the Giants are put in the position of having to overpay for relief help at the trading deadline in July.


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