"Coming into his Own"

That's how Brian Sabean describes Wayne Franklin, the latest member of the San Francisco Giants. Yes, just minutes ago Sabes traded two minor league pitchers, Carlos Villanueva and Glenn Woolard, for Franklin and fellow Brewer moundsman Leo Estrella. Franklin is the butt of a recurring joke between El Lefty Malo and his partner in crime, Elbo, which goes something like this: "Ah, what a glorious day for baseball. Whenever I hear the name Wayne Franklin, I think 'instant offense.'" This adage, unfortunately, was minted on a day when Franklin was scheduled to pitch for the Brewers against the Giants.

According to this story, Franklin gave up the most home runs in the majors last year. And Brett Tomko was a close second. No problem, says Sabean: "The kid is still coming into his own." The kid is 30, Brian. And his own what, exactly? Is his favorite novel Portnoy's Complaint? Is he a guy who when he says, "Hey there, friend, hold my glove," or "Hold my hat for a minute while I rinse off," you say, "Uh, no, that's OK, Wayne, I gotta go."

What's next? We find out that Franklin has $5.3 million remaining on his contract over the next two years? No, probably not, given he earned the ML minimum last year.

Oh me oh my. Hey, did Greg Maddux end up signing anywhere? Is he still available? I heard he's pretty good.


The Giants today signed three players to minor-league contracts: Dave Veres, Deivi Cruz and Mike Crudale. Cruz started in the Giants organization but never played for the big-league team. He gets on base less frequently than Neifi Perez but hits more home runs. We can only pray that he is put behind glass with a signed taped above that reads "Use Only in Emergency."

Veres and Crudale are good pickups, in my estimation. I've already written about Veres (since my permalinks don't work, do a search for Bullpen Plug or 3.26.04). Looking at Crudale's stats, I wonder why the Cardinals let him go. He only appeared in 22 games last year, so I assume there's an injury in there somewhere. But a 2.09 career ERA, an OPS-against of .617, and only 4 HRs allowed in 73 IP...sounds like a good guy to take a flyer on.

Checking out the Giants official site, there's a blurb posted about the Cruz and Veres signings, but nothing about Crudale. [[Editor's note: They've updated the piece with news on Crudale. Never mind.]]

Dodgers: Breath on the Mirror

Put away your shovels, for God's sake, the corpse just twitched!

They aren't exactly A-Rod-for-Soriano-type deals, but the Dodgers have made two small trades this week that signal the DePodesta era has begun. The DePodestification of the Dodgers, if you will.

Yesterday they traded cash (Dave Cash? Norm Cash? Pat Cash? No, just cash) to the A's for Jason Grabowski, a 27-year-old former Rule V'er who has had all of 14 major league at-bats and some success in the minors. But when I hear "27 years old" and "14 major league at bats" in the same sentence, I think "Damon Minor." Today they traded a minor league pitcher not named Jackson or Miller or Hanrahan to the Blue Jays for C/OF Jayson Werth, who's younger (24) and hasn't shown much at the upper levels (AAA and MLB) except for a decent .800 OPS season at AAA in 2002.

Notice any similarities? DePodesta is trading with his old comrades. Not surprising, given how much Billy Beane and JP Ricciardi have traded in the short time Ricciardi's been running the Jays. Interesting also that the three guys are far-flung enough from each other (NL West, AL East, AL West) that they don't have to worry too much about strengthening a direct opponent. Might be different if (when?) Grady Fuson becomes GM of the Rangers. Will Beane be as eager to trade with a division rival?

I think every Giants fan is waiting with trepidation for DePodesta to pull the trigger on a blockbuster that boosts the Dodgers' anemic offense without depleting its rich pitching staff.... Did I say "rich pitching staff"? One of the more underreported stories this spring is how that Dodgers staff isn't looking so hot: Quantrill gone, Brown gone, Nomo topping out in the mid-80s as if he's injured, Weaver looking Weaverish, not to mention Weaveresque, Edwin Jackson de-earning a demotion back to the minors. Wilson Alvarez probably still has that weird spitting tic -- a quick small spray every four or five seconds that completely negates any pitching worth he brings to the team -- and worst of all, they're talking about Jose Lima in the rotation. They still have Gagne and Mota, of course; Shuey and Martin both had great years as set-up men last year, but they're old and injury prone, and you never know what might happen.

So DePodesta really kicks things off with Grabowski and Werth. Maybe DePodesta won't make that blockbuster trade. Maybe he's going the Hatteberg route (or as we say on this side of the bay, "he's utilizing the Tucker strategem") and building depth with cheap mediocrity.



Miller Gets Cheeky

I was listening to the Giants game today on the drive home down highway 80 from Benecia, where the BAMSBL Royals (not my team) beat the BAMSBL White Sox (my team) 4 to 2.

(By the way, my co-conspirator Elbo also played today: his BAMSBL Zephyrs ended even with the BAMSBL 38+ Yankees at 15 to 15. Yes, this is baseball, not softball. Elbo will hopefully fill us in on this wild and wooly game.)

Back to the radio:

The Giants sounded anemic against Jarrod Washburn and a couple of Angels relievers; Felix Rodriguez pitched in the way he does that makes me tear my hair out--2 quick strikes on each batter, then nibble, nibble, nibble, full count, couple of foul balls, more foul balls -- at which point I'm yelling, "For Christ sake, don't you throw 95 miles an hour?? Throw the two-seamer! Throw the knuckler! YOU'RE KILLING ME" -- and then Jarrod Washburn, whom Scioscia has decided to leave in so he can throw more than 100 pitches in a Catcus League game (brilliant), grounds a single up the middle on the 13th pitch of the at-bat.

Hey, it's spring training. Felix is just working on some minute mechanical adjustments, right? Just building up arm strength.

At one point in the broadcast, Jon Miller and Dave Fleming -- your... Giants... broadcasters -- were saying something or another about the home opener at -- and here, Miller verbally rolled his eyes, if you know what I mean -- SBC Park, when Fleming said, in that I-sound-older-than-I-look voice of his, "I heard they've got some great new food at the SBC Park," and Miller replied, "Hopefully it's better than the new name."

If KNBR radio honchos listen to their own station on warm Sunday afternoons, then honchos would have some seriously clenched butt cheeks right about that moment. Kapow! Miller went on to say how "the folks back in the Bay Area" aren't taking much liking to the new name so far. KNBR is a minority investor in the Giants; it'll be interesting to see how many darts Miller will be able to throw during the regular season at the new name before the honchos crack down.

Which brings me to an idea that I encourage everyone to pass along to their readers, and to their readers, and so on...

Everyone who goes to a Giants home game should at least once during the game start the chant, "Pac Bell Park! Pac Bell Park!" It will do no good whatsoever other than give you a subversive thrill when the entire section, lo, perhaps the entire stadium, rocks to this retro-corporate mantra. C'mon, give it a shot.

I'll be there twice the opening week: Wed. the 14th and Sat. the 17th. Let's try it! (If you're there and want to say hi, I'm in sec. 138, row 3, seat 3 or 4.)

This is separate from what I believe should be a grass-roots movement to have the park rechristened "Mays Field" (or in the spirit of compromise, "SBC Park at Mays Field"). I have a friend who really wants to start such a movement but doesn't have any money to print fliers and stickers. If anyone wants to contribute to the "Mays Field Sticker Fund," let me know and I'll put you in touch.



Blog Find of the Week

Not only does this one win for its great name, but, bless his 18-year-old heart, the blog owner made no nod to functionality when choosing the classic, unforgettable color scheme. White-on-royal-blue makes for great pine-tar nostalgia but not sustained reading pleasure.

My Sentiments Exactly

I was about to sit down and write an angst-filled screed about how this could be the year the Giants, overloaded with mediocre talent and aging veterans, fall from grace (or from Barry's shoulders) and do a fine imitation of the 2002/2003 New York Mets. But Glenn Dickey has beaten me to it. Now, keep in mind this is Dickey's forte: he is the Chicken Little of the Chronicle. But the injuries in spring training and the coming distraction of the BALCO trial loom ominously like the combined career OPS's of Dustan Mohr and Michael Tucker.

The Lowell Juggernaut

A brief shout-out to my high school alma mater, which is doing its usual damage in San Francisco's public school league this year. The article mentions a scout at their latest game, which doesn't happen often. The S.F. public high school league (the Academic Athletic Association, or AAA) doesn't turn out many pro-quality baseball players. The last two to make the majors, if I'm not mistaken, were Kevin Jordan, my teammate from our 1987 city championship team (who last I heard married an Aussie woman and moved Down Under), and Harvey Pulliam, who graduated from McAteer, which no longer exists, in 1986.



Trivia Quiz

Those listening to the Giants-A's broadcast from Scottsdale this afternoon heard KNBR's Jon Miller talk about pitcher Tyler Walker trying to become the 9th San Francisco native to play with the Giants in the regular season. Miller named the other eight, which included Fred Breining, Mike Vail and Willie McGee. But who was the first, way back in 1970?

Pitching In

Thanks to the Web site Fundrace.org, we can search zip codes to see who's contributed campaign funds to which presidential candidate. We can even type in individual names, such as...

* Peter Magowan: Owner, SF Giants, $2,000 to George W. Bush.

* George Steinbrenner: Owner, New York Yankers (yes, that's how it's misspelled on the site), $2,000 to Bob Graham. Kinda like signing Drew Henson, eh, George?

* Frank McCourt, president of the McCourt Co., gave $2,000 to fellow Massachussetsian John Kerry. (As did his VP and general counsel Jamie McCourt.)

* Laurence Baer, listed twice as executive/vice president and CEO of the Giants (and who lives at a very swanky address in Sea Cliff), donated twice: $2,000 to Joe Lieberman and $250 to Bob Graham.

* Robert Neyer of Portland, listed as a writer in the Disney Internet Group, donated three times, to Kucinich, Edwards and Dean. Liberal media alert!

* For the record, El Lefty Malo isn't listed. But he's recently pledged to tithe 10 percent of every paycheck between now and Oct 15 to John Kerry.

* Sorry, Barry Bonds isn't listed.

Bullpen Plug

The Houston Astros just released veteran RH reliever Dave Veres. He had shoulder problems last year and missed a good chunk of time, but he says he's now healthy and has pitched well in limited spring duty with Houston. Unless the shoulder is balky, the Giants should go get him.

Last year his ERA was 4.68, the worst of his career (barring a 5.00 he posted pitching for the Rockies). Veres's big problem recently has been the long ball: 28 in about 180 IP the past three years, or one every 6 innings. Notgood for a short reliever. (Over the same time frame, Tim Worrell allowed 12 HRs in about 230 IP; Felix Rodriguez 15 HRs in 210 IP.) But in a big park with a spacious OF like Pac Bell, Veres handled correctly, and on a minimum contract, might be a good solution to the short-term bullpen woes until Nen is ready.

I advocated a couple days earlier making Zerbe the long man and turning Brower into a set-up guy. With Veres on board, Brower could remain available to spot-start, which might be necessary if Schmidt's out longer than the first couple weeks.



¿El Día de Todos Santos?

Momentum is building for Francisco Santos to make the roster on Opening Day. Tony Torcato is hitting well but has a bum shoulder; Cody Ransom is fielding well but is a bum at the plate. Santos apparently has more speed than I thought; Steve Shelby wrote me that Baseball America has in fact rated Santos with "plus" speed for a first baseman. OK, duly noted. He's probably a little better outfielder than I give him credit for. But I doubt he's the guy to put in late in the game to steal a base or to absolutely, positively score from second on a single. Also, Santos instead of Ransom in the last bench spot (Feliz, Mohr, Hammonds/Tucker and Torrealba being the others) is a serious defensive deficit.

Ah, but do they really need a light-hitting backup middle infielder? If Perez or Durham are injured or just need a day off, Feliz or Alfonzo can fill in for a day or two. If they're injured enough to be in that to-DL-or-not-to-DL limbo, that would constitute a problem. The other scenario is Neifi being lifted for a pinch-hitter; sure, Feliz can take over, but would Felipe voluntarily downgrade a key defensive position in a late, close game? Ideally, Feliz would be the starting shortstop, field adequately and hit prodigiously, then Neifi could come in and protect the lead with late-inning defensive sparkle.

(Isn't it funny how, after a winter's contemplation of Neifi at short, I'm salivating at the thought of Feliz becoming the starter there? The same Feliz who had an OBP below .300 and couldn't hit a right-hander's slider to save the national honor of the Dominican Republic? No wonder Sabean considers me part of the lunatic fringe. I'm semi-delusional.)

But if Feliz is pressed into duty at SS and 3B because the Giants lack a real backup middle infielder, then Santos makes more sense--Feliz will be too busy to play first base. Problem is, Santos bats left, too.

Speaking of lefties, I'm starting to like the Royals more and more. ¡Muchos lefties en la rotación! ¡Qué malo!



Roster Ditherings

Thirteen days until April 5, and there are a few undercurrents that could shape the composition of the opening day roster.

As you might have read today, the shoulders of Jason Schmidt and Robb Nen are not feeling their freshest. We all squint and grunt and spit our chew in the dirt with some skepticism as we listen to Stan Conte say, "Not a setback," "Not if but when," "Just a precaution," and behind our tough-guy glare is the prayer Dear Lord or Allah or Rarebit Fiend, Please let Robbie and Jason be healthy this year, all the way through. Oh please please please!

* If Schmidt isn't ready for O.D. vs Houston, word is Woody Rueter will start. Schmidt would either be pushed back a few days or put on the D.L., but unless there's a real problem, he wouldn't need to be disabled. The Giants have an off day April 9, which means they don't even need a fifth starter 'til Wednesday April 14. If Schmidt goes on the D.L., look for Kevin Correia to heed the call-up. However...

* If Nen isn't ready, as reports today speculate, the Giants will need bullpen help more than rotation help. As it stands, the bullpen's going to be more tired than a one legged man at an ass kicking contest. Who else in the rotation besides Schmidt is likely to go seven or eight innings each time out? Rueter can't go past 100 pitches; Williams is still learning how to pitch; Tomko is a horse but will often get hit fairly hard; Hermanson is coming off a few years of injury. It looks like Jason and the Six-Inning Shower Gang this year. What's more, the Giants' offense looks more anemic than last year, which means more need to pull the pitcher for a pinch hitter. How about carrying 13 pitchers to start the season?

So if Nen can't start the year, Herges will be moved up to closer. Does that mean Brower becomes a set-up guy and Correia comes up to be long man? There's also some talk that Zerbe won't make the team even if they carry 12 pitchers. He's always been a decent long relief guy, even since Estes couldn't make that start against the Mets in 2001, I think it was, and Zerbe filled in with 5 shutout innings. Last year was his first crummy year (although his peripheral stats have always been Rueter-like), so I say make Brower a 1 or 2 inning set up guy, make Zerbski the long guy and keep Correia in AAA where he can start regularly and pitch well enough to be included in a big trade come June or July.

* Jeffrey "Take These Broken Wings" Hammonds isn't going to be ready, which means Todd Linden is likely to be the 5th outfielder unless the brass figures he's better served starting every day in Fresno than PH'ing and benchwarming for a month in the bigs. If not Linden, then who comes up? Francisco Santos? I read somewhere that he's a first baseman/outfielder...I guess the same way Feliz is an "outfielder." Ah, but with the later-than-usual opening day and two off-days in the first two weeks, the 5th outfielder won't be that necessary. Mohr can platoon with Tucker in RF, and Grissom and Bonds will play everyday. I say let some other scrub take the roster spot while Linden gets four daily ABs in Fresno. Or, use that spot to bolster the bullpen.

* Finally, to Ransom or not to Ransom? Cody this spring is underwhelming as usual with the bat. But he's learning second base, which makes him more valuable. Or, from a different perspective, it makes him more like Jay Canizaro. Other than Ransom, the Giants have Feliz to back up at short. Other than Ransom, the Giants have Alfonzo to back up at second. Infield depth becomes extremely slim if Ransom doesn't make the team. Of course he'll make it. The Giants have invested six years in the guy's development. They have to give him one shot to prove he can stick with the big club. He probably deserves more, but considering he's never hit more than .250 in the PC friggin' L, not too much more.



Noticias y Notas

* Los muchachos -- and I mean that in the nicest possible way -- over at Fogball are making me feel old today.

* Peter Gammons needs a drool bucket. His latest slob-fest concerns Giants' prospect David Aardsma, who walks on all fours in the Kalahari Desert and sucks up termites and ants with his long tongue. How he thinks he can learn a changeup with those claws is beyond me. Anyway, Gammons says in his most recent column that Aardsma will be ready for the bigs by mid-year. See, sportswriting is a quid-pro-quo, just like being a gossip columnist. You get access to people like Brian Sabean because people like Brian Sabean want something from you. Plant some good stuff on Aardsma (or Cain, or Valdez, or Tony Tormato), and hope that word gets around. Buzz takes on a life of its own. It's a game of psy-ops, and Gammons is a willing carrier pigeon.

This isn't to say that Aardsma won't be ready, or that it's all a massive hoax perpetrated on the unwitting GMs around the league. Aardsma's no doubt pretty damn good. But just that extra boost in the press might be enough to convince a GM to pull the trigger on a deal that Sabean's pressing for.

* SI.com's John Donovan has once again stunned me into silence. Do these online columnists have editors? Now that people have blogs and write any damn thing they please, have the pros adopted the same methodology? Here's Donovan from his latest column on the Giants' offseason turnover: "The Giants know change as well as anyone. The Giants give change. They make change. They change because they have to. They change because they want to."

* I hope Gammons is right about Aardsma.

* The SJ Merc reports this morning that Merkin Valdez hurt his achilles' tendon and was limping around on the mound yesterday.

* Several outlets are reporting that Francisco Santos is a strong contender for the final roster spot. Yeesh. First of all, his name isn't Deivis anymore, which would have been much cooler. Second, he's a slow backup first baseman. Don't we already have one of those? It's called a "Feliz." At least bring up a guy who can pinch run and play a couple positions, like a "Dallimore." The point is probably moot: he'll only make the team if the Giants go with 11 pitchers. Given Schmidt's got a sore shoulder, and Nen hasn't thrown in a Cactus League game, and Felix hasn't yet mastered that two-seam fastball (ahem), and Alou likes to change pitchers more often than he changes his underwear (OK, I don't know how often that really is), there's no way in hell they break camp with only 11 pitchers.

* Olivier B. writes from one of El Lefty Malo's favorite cities, Montréal, where the smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's on Boul. St Laurent is much, much better than watching Vlad hit a home run off Russ Ortiz indoors at Olympic Stadium when it's a perfectly lovely day outside. Olivier asks, "PS: Is Felipe Alou still clogging post-game press conferences with fishing stories? I miss Felipe... You know he still is one of the most popular public figure in Quebec?"

Bonne question, as we say here in the land of Freedom Fries. I haven't noticed an anbundance of palaver pescadorial coming from our fair skipper, but if he's interested he should check out of my favorite columns from the SF Chronicle, Brian Hoffman's Fishing Report. And I don't even fish.



Cuidado con El Merkin

Complaints about the news-free optimism of spring training are nearly as much cliché as the clichés of the optimists. So I won't bore you by whining about yet another article on Scott Eyre's new-found focus, or Matt Herges's inner calm, or Robb Nen's patient, courageous...sorry, I promised not to do that.

But a report yesterday in Baseball America made me do two things: 1) tingle with excitement, the nonsexual kind, of course and 2) squint my eyes and think, "Where have I heard this before?"

Here's the report in question:

Valdez started by retiring Eugene Kingsale on a soft fly to center field, then got into a groove. He ran his fastball up to 99 mph against veteran catcher Tom Wilson, regularly pitching in the 96-98 mph range against the seven batters he faced. Just as impressively, he retired the veteran on an 87 mph slider, with Wilson rolling it over weakly to shortstop. Valdez also overpowered Jeff Cirillo to follow, sawing him off with a 96 mph fastball in on his hands and retiring him on a 1-3 putout.

The Valdez in question is of course Merkin, the Giants' pitching prospect whom the front office has been touting as a potential surprise this spring and maybe, perhaps, youneverknow, a possible big-leaguer sooner than you think. The above writer, John Manuel, enthusiastically throws fuel on that fire after seeing Valdez throw only two innings against decidedly scrub-level talent. The main reason: a fastball in the high 90s.

Let's see...fastball in the high 90s....fastball in the high 90s....what else starts with "F" other than "fastball in the high 90s"?

Foppert. As in, Jesse.

As in, the kid last year who supposedly threw lights-out in the spring, with a fastball in the high 90s that mysteriously disappeared once he reached the majors. So did his right elbow ligament, but it's unclear if the ligament damage was the reason for the discrepancy between the wild-eyed reports of high velocity in the minors and spring training and the more modest radar readings once he reached the bigs.

I hope the Giants don't break camp with The Player Formerly Known as Manuel Mateo in tow. Let the kid start in AA-ball, blow people away for half a year, then re-evaluate. I'm not saying a jump to the majors now would result in a Foppert-like disappointment, or even injury. But I'm extremely wary of this Saguaro Disease that infects baseball writers and radar guns every March. If he throws 97 consistently in Norwich, I'll be more convinced.



Pedro, Pitching and Defense

The last two years, Brian Sabean has stressed that the Giants need to be built around pitching and defense to succeed in their spacious ballpark. There are parameters to such statements, of course. Barry Bonds' offensive value far outweighs his declining defensive skills; an outfield full of Barry Bondses would surely make up for its defensive shortcomings with unheard-of offensive firepower.

But other than Barry in left, the Giants' 2004 outfield is following Sabean's diktat: Grissom is very highly ranked-- 7th -- in 2003 defensive win shares for NL outfielders, although Kenny Lofton and Craig Biggio are also highly ranked, so I wonder how reliable these stats are. (Caveat: I understand there are many sabermetric ways to measure defensive prowess and each has proponents and detractors. If someone wants to convince me of the superiority of one method over the rest, I'm willing to be converted.)

Moving right along: Mohr and Tucker ranked 25 and 26 in defensive win shares among AL outfielders last year, quite good considering they each played roughly half to two-thirds of a season. (Hammonds played very little in 2003 and barely made the NL OF rankings.)

So other than Barry, the Giants OF philosophy is tilted toward defense...but hold on. According to the same chart, Bonds was ranked 19th in NL OF defensive win shares and merited 3.02 shares per 1000 innings, better than Juan Pierre, Preston Wilson, Shawn Green, Gary Sheffield and many others. Even better than Vlad. I'm not sure what to say, other than let's move to the infield...

The biggest test of Sabean's P-D Credo should come with the playing time of Pedro Feliz, whom Alou yesterday dubbed a "one-man utility infield." The more Feliz subs for Snow at 1st and Neifi at SS, the more Alou will be blowing the pitching-defense axis out of the water. Snow ranked 8th among NL 1st basemen last year, which I take to be a function of his lack of playing time (812 innings, compared to, say, Richie Sexson's 1452 innings). I think we can all agree that Snow is one of the top three defensive 1B'ers in the NL, if not in all of MLB. Feliz is not.

At short, Neifi is the best in the NL based on win shares per 1000 innings. No one who played on at least a part-time basis last year came close. Feliz has played one inning as a major league shortstop.

At third, one can only assume that Feliz will see significant time only if E-Alf is significantly injured. For what it's worth, last year Alfonzo had 2.92 def. win shares/1000 innings, Feliz had 4.99. Rumors had it that Alfonzo struggled in the field, too, not because he was homesick for his family and for New York, but because his back wasn't completely healed. He did look slow and heavy to my untrained eye.

Unless Feliz turns out to be a closet defensive genius at short and first, "pitching and defense" will go out the window when he starts at those positions. Which means he better produce enough with the bat to make up the difference between his defense and Neifi/JT's defense.



Who Is Player X?

Buster Olney of ESPN Magazine has interviewed an anonymous MLB player about steroids. (Im at a public terminal and can't open a second browser window, so no link--but it's easily accessible via the ESPN.com MLB page.) It's a good read and feels like a honest take from a veteran player.

But whenever a mysterious source appears in a news article, or someone is interviewed on TV with face screened and voice digitally altered, I always want to know who the hell it is. Of course anonymity is important to protect sources' safety, reputation, job status, etc. But anonymity can also hide an agenda.

So, the question is, why is Player X giving anonymous interviews? The most obvious reason is that MLB has placed a gag order on steroid talk on everyone under its jurisdiction. Whatever the penalty is for talking, X doesn't want to incur it.

He's also talking because he wants a better testing regime and is adding his voice to the growing murmur of discord among the players aimed toward their own union.

So who is he? Can we piece his identity together from the tidbits he lets slip? Over the course of the monologue he reveals that he's a veteran, he's only got a few years left, he dips (ie, uses chewing tobacco); he's not just a veteran but a guy who's been around long enough so that young players come to him for advice. He stagnated in Double-A ball (when he first considered taking steroids, but didn't), and he suffered a serious dropoff in performance in the past couple of years (when he again considered steroids). And he knows how to read, which narrows it down to about half the active players. If you glean anything else, or hear any rumors, let me know.



Quote of the Day

El Lefty is back from La Manzana Grande, where people ride their bicycles in 20-degree weather with Mike Piazza bobbleheads strapped to the front basket. I saw it. I also saw a guy with Albert Einstein hair walking past the Gray's Papaya on 6th Avenue with a Discman in his hand and headphones in his ears. He was singing "Can you hear me, Doctor Wu?" at the top of his lungs. Fucking fabulous.

I also saw Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth play guitar to accompany a piece he wrote for a robot built by these guys, under the rapt gaze of dozens of people in a downtown art gallery. Such is the way of El Lefty Malo.

What I did not see was any Giants news for the week, as I was busy busy busy. I was throwing the ball around today at Balboa Park with a teammate and asked after the Giants. He said not much happened, except, oh, Jeffrey Hammonds broke his thumb. Or, more accurately, someone broke his thumb for him. Hammonds? Injured? C'mon, quit it. Get outta here. You sir, as they say in the environs where I just spent the better part of a week, are shitting me.

No, it's true. I really hope Michael Tucker hits 20 home runs this year, plays excellent defense and in September, comes over to my seat in the 1-3-8 and says, "Now what you gonna say, bitch?" I would gladly eat that crow. Mmm, crow. Yum yum. I will personally find in mint condition a vinyl copy of Red Rider's Lunatic Fringe and present it to Brian Sabean.

That brings us to this week's quote of the day, from Armando "Mando" Rios:

"Barry's not the only one who brought people in. He had his trainers, but you don't question him. You just want him to go out and do his job. He earned that right. It's, like, if you win the Nobel Prize, you can come to the office late. Or if you sell 10 cars and everyone else sells two cars, it's OK to take the Ferrari home for a night."

Dude, I gotta win me one of the them Nobel Prizes so I don't have to get up so early anymore.



Elbo: Barry’s ’04

Even before talk of steroids, supplements and hormones became the big story of the Giants’ spring training season, one thing seemed obvious about Barry Bonds’ 2004: it would be a little quieter, in terms of production, than the past few years.

What can we really expect out of the six-time MVP this year? I’d guess that 130-135 games is a reasonable estimate of his playing time, barring significant injury or bereavement. He played 130 games last year while fighting chronic injuries and dealing with the illness and death of his father. While he presumably won't go through anything comparable to the latter again, he's likely to deal with the former for the rest of his playing days.

I do expect his home run totals to be down. Whether it’s because he’s off the juice, or because he’s turning 40, or whatever other reason, I don’t expect him to be in the high 40s again. Thirty-five to 40 is a reasonable guess. If anything else goes wrong, maybe even the high 20s is a possibility. It’s hard to imagine him continuing to hit 40 homers a year into his 40s (although he’s done plenty of things that were hard to imagine!).

His walk total has to drop sometime too. Maybe if the homers go, the walks will too. That could actually mean he sees better pitches to hit, which brings me to the crux of this post:

He should try to hit .400 this year.

Since his astonishing 2002, when he finished at .370 and reminded us that he can hit for average whenever he wants to, this has been in the back of my mind. How many times have we wondered what would happen if he just tried to punch the outside pitch the other way, thereby defeating the defensive shifts that he’s faced for several years now? How many doubles would he have to hit before the league gave up trying to defend him as if he were a pure pull hitter?

Almost everyone is expecting his home run total to drop, though we'll never really know the reason why. We’re going to hear this debate all summer: “Of course he was juiced – look at his numbers this year.” “He’s 40 years old! Of course he’s going to stop hitting them like crazy sometime!” But wouldn’t it be great for Barry, and for baseball, if he eased up on the homers and went for the other untouchable milestone? He could try to do something for which steroids don’t help you. And it would be just one more great achievement from the greatest player around. He’d still hit some homers, sure, but he’d manage to divert attention from his homers (and by extension his body chemistry) to his BA.

I’m not saying a person can just choose to hit .400. If it were that easy, someone would have done it sometime in the last 60 years. But if you’re like me, you’ve always wondered what would happen if Barry stopped swinging for the fences so often, and just tried to get base hits. He could have an OBP of .600, fer chrissakes. Hit for average, Barry, on purpose, and you might even help your team even more than you have all along.

Weekend News

I just got back from a weekend in the Mendocino woods, a place where a man needs no laboratory to boost his testosterone levels, a place where human growth is measured in stanzas, not hormones, a place where jeans, not genes, are modified.

My positively vibrating meridians must have realigned chakras up and down the California coast: the Giants made a great PR move over the weekend by making sure Felipe Alou and Brian Sabean will be running the team through 2005. At a time when, as I mentioned in my previous post, the Giants franchise is quickly becoming a house of somewhat ill repute, the public gesture of two competent men to extend their contracts is an important one. Whether it translates to continued success on the field remains to be seen, but right now, I think it was a strong gesture.

This isn't to say that the whole enterprise could blow sky high like a backwoods meth lab, but for the moment, Alou and Sabean's re-ups provide much needed stability. Nobody's jumping ship. Nobody's taking a wait-and-see approach. If 2004 becomes a rebuilding year, as many skeptics fear, at least Sabean and Alou are committed to participating in it rather than leaving the empty bag for someone else to hold and refill.

Whether that's a good thing or not mainly depends on your estimation of Sabean. Is he most certainly "not an idiot," as well as the architect of the third most-successful team, winning percentage wise, since 1997? Is he the head-in-sand Hater of Moneyball and Destroyer of Farm Systems?

A strong yes to the former question; a qualified, more theoretical "kinda" to part of the latter. To wit: the farm system always rates depressingly low in the position player categories, but the pitching has been so strong in recent years, it doesn't really matter. As long as other GMs are willing to take the Boof Bonsers and Clay Hensleys of the world in trade for established major leaguers such as Matt Herges and A.J. Pierzynski, I say keep on chooglin'. It's a winning strategy. (Given this article, don't be surprised if Noah Lowry is the next "hot prospect" pitcher traded away -- I can just imagine the phone call that preceded this article: "Draper? Ned Colletti here. Hey, have you thought about writing a piece on this Lowry kid? Man, he's really opening our eyes this year. The ball's really coming out of his hand with authority.")

Once in a while, a trade will backfire. No duh. But before you whine about Sidney Ponson, look at the overall record. It's undeniably good.

As for Alou at the helm until at least the end of 2005, well, whom would you prefer? Ron Wotus? Fred Stanley? Charlie Hayes?



Giant Takedown?

Yes, steroids are considered fairly widespread in baseball. But the Giants seem to be ground zero. BALCO is in their backyard; Bonds is Suspected Juicer Numero Uno; Bonds' childhood buddy Greg Anderson is involved. Giambi and Sheffield both spent time with Bonds. Marvin Benard, who will not be testifying to the defensive improvement steroids can confer upon their ingesters, and Benito Santiago are now implicated. The Giants let Anderson roam freely in the clubhouse. When SBC backs out of its sponsorship, maybe we should rename it HgH Field.

And what if Giants' management is found to be complicit? Could this weaken the franchise so much that it falls into disrepair? Would Magowan's investor partners start to bow out? The franchise may be cast in shame for a while. If Bonds goes down, we're talking major disarray, major PR debacle, and -- especially if they can't reallocate Bonds's paycheck to other players -- a majorly bad team.

Even if Bonds isn't forced to step aside (or suspended? arrested?), the swirl of controversy and media frenzy, a taste of which we're already seeing these first few days of spring training, could drive the team to distraction. It might be hard to recruit players, or, if Alou doesn't re-up his contract after this year, a good manager. What manager would want to step into this situation? Dusty skipped town just in time.

If the Giants don't contend this year or fall to .500 or below, season ticket sales for next year will be down. The Giants can't afford a slump in sales, and it would be reflected in payroll in the next few years.

Am I overreacting? Maybe. It's one thing to see the Bonds era end naturally and the rebuilding begin; it would be another to see a bleak horizon of mediocrity hastened by the everpresent cloud of the steroid problem.



Elbo: Yanks after Durham?

Steve Goldman, one of the best baseball writers in America, says of the Yankees' motley crew of second basemen (Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo, et al):

Postpone the inevitable trade for something better. That being said, if any of this collection of not-quite utilitarian utility players can play a plus second base (in this case defined as "better than Soriano"), they could go a long way towards improving the team. Even in the best case scenario, the Yankees will likely be trading for Ray Durham in June.

Now that's one I hadn't heard yet. I guess if Alfonzo was a trade candidate before the A-Rod-for-Soriano deal, surely Durham isn't untouchable. But if the Giants are in the running for the NL West, which we all expect them to be, I can't imagine they'd be willing to pull the trigger on a deal like this.

For What It's Worth...

Ex-MLB manager Bobby Valentine, now managing in Japan, blasted MLB for its steroid policy but defended Barry Bonds:

"Barry Bonds does something at the plate that no other human does and it has nothing to do with steroids," Valentine said. "He has superior baseball skills. He's superior with his eyes and his ability to recognize pitches."


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