2005 Giants Pre-Preview: Second Base 

(Third in a series. Other positions: Catcher. First base.)

The incumbents

Ray Durham
Age: Turns 33 on Nov. 30
relevant stats
*2004 innings played: 990 (118 games)
*career OPS: .789
*2004 OPS: .848 (17 HRs, 28 doubles, 57 BBs, 10 of 14 SBs)
*2005 salary: $6.5 M (or $7M)

Dick Cheney
Age: Turns 64 on Jan. 30
relevant stats
*Crawls out from under bridge in 2.5 seconds
*Eats 1 billy goat per month
*6.4 scowls per week
*Orders invasion of foreign country once every two years
*Drafts personally avoided: 2
*2004 salary: Depends on Halliburton stock price

Free agent second basemen
Reese, Alomar, Cairo, E. Wilson, McLemore, Alexander, Grudzielanek, T. Walker, Kent, J. Hernandez, Polanco, Womack.

In the minors
Athas, Dallimore, Doster, Ransom


El Lefty

A running joke between me and Elbo: His Imperial Barry is sitting at His End of the bench on a chilly S.F. summer night and realizes he needs someone to talk to. "Hey, Marquis, how old is Ray Durham?" His Barryness asks. "Is he old enough to come down here and sit by me? Go ask Ray how old he is."

We're glad you asked, Barry. Ray Durham will be 33 in a month. Until he turned 31, Durham rarely missed a game and was one of the rare major league leadoff hitters with good speed, good base-stealing ability, and good power. From 1998 through 2002, Ray-Ray averaged 17 homers and 29 steals (versus 10 caught stealings) per year. How good is that? How about Joe-Morgan good, or Craig-Biggio good? (Click here and scroll down to the "Similar Batters" category.)

Hey, that's pretty good! Is that $7 million worth of good? Because that's about how much Ray will earn next year and the year after if his option kicks in. Put in terms of Biggio, Morgan, and Johnny Damon, the answer is yes, if Ray does what he did this year -- post a career-high slugging percentage (.484) and get on base at a very respectable clip (.364). (The decreased stolen bases are less consequential, although as Dave Roberts and Carlos Beltran demonstrated in the LCSes, it's nice when a guy can guarantee a stolen base in a critical situation.)

But if Ray plays in only three quarters of the Giants games, as he did this year, or fewer as he did in 2003, his salary starts to teeter on the edge of liability.

That's where Barry's question about Ray's age comes into focus. Are those balky hamstrings and quads going to improve in his mid-30s? Optimists may ask, "Why not?"

After all, Marquis Grissom has achieved relative health in his late thirties, perhaps because he's hanging out with Barry. (Ahem.) The 39-year-old Steve Finley gallops around center field like a college wide-out who knows that kegs and cheerleaders await his return to the frat house every Saturday night. Ray, too, could find a second wind, especially under the tutelage of Stan Conte, who runs a consistently healthy ship.

Defensively, Durham is no Joe Morgan. In 2004 he caused a lot of tense moments with 16 errors and a weird double-clutch throwing tic that conjured the ghosts of Sax and Knoblauch. I don't profess to understand defensive ratings, so I'll just toss out a couple comparisons:

In 2004, Durham had the 4th best range factor among qualified ML 2Bs behind Orlando Hudson, Aaron Miles and Alfonso Soriano. He also had the third-worst zone rating in the same group, ahead only of Miguel Cairo and Bret Boone. If anyone wants to tell me what this signifies, I'm all ears.

In 2004 Neifi Perez was Ray's backup until the Giants could no longer bear his swinging bunts and bow-legged gait. Then Cody Ransom stepped in and became the world's sorriest defensive replacement. With Ray's injury record the past couple years, whom the Giants sign as a backup infielder is important. It's possible they'll go try to convince Omar Vizquel or Barry Larkin to sign as super-utility guys, playing a lot of short and backing up Ray when necessary.

El Lefty recommends

Making sure Ray is healthy so he can lead off at least 150 games is a top priority. If he's running on all gears offensively, the Giants can tolerate his mediocre defense. However, if the Giants can come up with a surefire leadoff hitter (any suggestions?), trading Durham while his value remains high might not be a bad idea.

Elbo recommends

The same. Apart from Kent, that’s a pretty lame free agent pool. I imagine Placido Polanco makes too much money to be a Neifi-like utilityman, but then again, we paid Neifi a lot, didn’t we?

Plus we have to make sure Cody Ransom never plays again.


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