Towers on Caminiti: "I didn't do anything about it" 

In a shocking admission from a type of person who rarely admits being wrong, Padres GM Kevin Towers tells ESPN that he never addressed Ken Caminiti's suspected steroid use because Caminiti's home runs were good for the club. As far as I know, this is the most direct admission of steroid complicity so far by someone in charge of a major-league team. You think the Giants' brass figured Greg Anderson was just passing out bon-bons and neck massages with his all-access pass to the Giants clubhouse? Mmm-hmm.

The Towers story is subscription-only, but here's a quick excerpt:

"I feel somewhat guilty, because I felt like I knew," Towers says, watching the Padres take batting practice from the balcony outside his spring-training office in suburban Phoenix. "I still don't know for sure, but Cammy came out and said that he used steroids, and I suspected. Selfishly, the guy was putting up numbers, and I didn't do anything about it. That's just the truth."

Baseball needs a lot of honesty right now. It needs a lot of people to ask themselves questions and answer honestly, as Towers is.

"The truth is, we're in a competitive business," Towers says, "and these guys were putting up big numbers and helping your ballclub win games. You tended to turn your head on things. And it really wakes you up when someone you admire as a person is no longer around. You can't help but think, could I have done something differently four or five years ago that might have changed what happened to him?

"I hate to be the one voice for the other 29 GMs, but I'd have to imagine that all of them, at one point or other, had reason to think that a player on their ballclub was probably using, based on body changes and things that happened over the winter."


A Ghost is Born 

Jose Canseco revealed that the ghost writer for his tell-all Juiced is Steve Kettmann, former Chronicle sports reporter who covered the A's. Interesting. Kettmann recently wrote in San Francisco magazine about the Chronicle's pursuit of the steroids scandal. The long, rambling piece praises the Chron reporters who broke the BALCO story ("Pulitzer, anyone?") but also reads as a confession that back in his day, the Chron was a "velvet coffin" full of lazy hacks. He includes himself:

"Thinking about Giambi and the way steroids had transformed him, I had to admit that like all sportswriters, I was a big part of the problem. By 1998 at the latest, we all knew what was going on, and yet we never dug deeper, pushed for answers, or put warnings like Michel's out there where Giambi and McGwire would have to think about them. In short: we acquiesced. Worse, it seemed a safe bet that denial and unaccountability on steroids would continue to carry the day for the foreseeable future."

If you haven't read Kettmann's piece, and you're interested in the ongoing debate on this site and others about the role of journalists in the baseball/steroids story, I suggest you read it.



Chalk One Up For Barry 

UPDATE: I missed this one: ESPN's Jerry Crasnick has a thoughtful and rather sympathetic piece on Bonds (subscription req'd).


A couple days after Barry Bonds's much-discussed press conference during which he called the media "liars," Giants' owner Peter Magowan has come back from Europe and chimed in (an AP story just hit the wires).

Here are the harshest words from Magowan:

"I would have said some things maybe a little differently," Magowan said Friday, speaking in the dugout during a quick visit to the team's spring training home. "But we have to remember this is a free country. People have a right to say what they think. I'm not the one under that kind of pressure and scrutiny that he was."

Here are the headlines that Web site editors have assigned to the story:

(from CNNSI.com):
Bonds' boss not happy
Giants owner says slugger was too harsh with media

(from SFGate.com):
Barry's Words Surprise Magowan

(from ESPN.com):
Giants owner wishes Bonds was less combative

Funny how no headline reads, "Magowan defends Bonds' right to speak his mind" or "Magowan understands Barry's feelings," both of which would be more accurate. (Read the entire AP piece.)

These headlines aren't exactly lies, but if you're already expecting bias, as Bonds is, there's not much difference between a lie and lazy misrepresentation by an editor who skims the wire copy looking for an easy hook into the story.

If anyone finds other interesting headlines or an updated version of the story, let me know in the comments box.




The Baseball Analyst, a b-spankin' new site founded by two All-Baseball veterans, has a great three-part series on favorite ball players. A wide swath of contributors, from bloggers to national media stars, pitched in with reminiscences of childhood heroes. Make sure you catch Darren Viola (Baseball Primer) on Mickey Mental, Brian Gunn (Redbird Nation) on John Tudor, and especially Jeff Peek (Traverse City Record-Eagle) on Aurelio Rodriguez. Note to Peek: that's a long magazine article, maybe even a book, just begging to be written.

My faves growing up? I loved Darrell Evans in his Giants years. Jack Clark, too, and for a while I owned an orange T-shirt upon which my grandma's friend Gloria Landis painted a black "Giants" in that 1978 script across the front, with "CLARK 22" on the back. Homemade memorabilia.

I loved Chili Davis when he came up -- he got his nickname because when young, he had such bad haircuts kids said it looked like someone put a chili bowl on his head. At least that's how I remember it. If I'm wrong, please don't tell me unless the truth is somehow better.

But for a brief shining moment, Atlee Hammaker was absolutely the tops in the eyes of a young Lefty Malito who wanted nothing more than to grow up and pitch for the Giants. That brief shining moment lasted until the 1983 All-Star Game, when Hammaker got pounded by Fred Lynn -- first All-Star grand slam ever -- and many others for about 18 runs in the third inning. He went on to win the ERA title that year, but due to injury, I believe, was never really the same. (Who knew that Atlee pitched in 13 games with the *1995* White Sox?)

I will also admit freely that in 1999 or perhaps even 2000, I told my brother, on his way to the Giants Dugout, to get me a Marvin Benard T-shirt. I loved the way Marvin scooted around the outfield like a Nicaraguan bug, bunted for hits and slugged home runs. My brother instead bought me a plain orange T-shirt with "SAN FRANCISCO" across the front, and it was all downhill for Marvin after that. I still have the T-shirt.



Sly As a Redd Foxx 

Barry Bonds came to camp yesterday and had a friendly chat with the media. Just in case you're like Barry and assume reporters are liars and news stories are no better than re-runs of Sanford and Son, here's the raw transcript. (For the truly uncensored version, click here.)

Bonds said everything that makes the people who hate him, hate him, and the people who love him, uh, scratch their heads. For the record, I fall into neither camp. I do not love him or hate him. I don't really know him, which is how he likes it, and how I like it. I don't want Barry to be my best friend or the media's best friend.

He would serve his own cause better by not calling reporters "liars," but that's his call. As a journalist myself, I resent the broad negative brush he paints with; journalists are no better than other professions: some are good, some bad, a lot mediocre. I've never been a sports reporter -- perhaps they're a different breed, more comfortable, less willing to stir the pot until something like BALCO drops and they're forced to gear up into bulldog mode. If this is true, it's likely because a daily beat reporter who's in the clubhouse every day from March to October has to strike a balance -- too pushy, too aggressive, too confrontational, and bam, you're out of there. No more access. Perhaps that's why the Chronicle had two investigative reporters, not Henry Schulman, working on the BALCO story.

This is speculation, not inside knowledge, but having danced around the block a few times with powerful, media-savvy organizations like Microsoft and various branches of the U.S. government, I understand that it's a fine, difficult line to walk between keeping the access and getting too chummy.

As for Bonds, I respect his stubborn refusal to play the PR game. He is what he is: a strange, childish, insightful, and arrogant man. He's a jerk, but he's a fascinating jerk, and I hope he carries the Giants to a World Series victory.

Is he a liar about steroids and other illegally procured substances? His leaked grand jury testimony -- that he didn't know what he was rubbing on his body -- made me roll my eyes, but I will keep an open mind. (Although I reserve the right to make cheap "nudge nudge wink wink flaxseed oil" jokes at every opportunity.)

If eventually we learn the answer is yes, he lied to the grand jury, and he's been lying to the press and public, is it a Clintonian lie from a man backed into a corner by a society that's out for blood over an insignificant peccadillo? Or is it more egregious, a breach of the public trust, as well as a law-breaking act before a grand jury?

Unlike a lot of other blogs, I'm not very good at making grand, frothy pronouncements about what I believe re. steroids, partially because that's my nature (I'm a sensitive Libra!), but more because I'm torn. I understand the libertarian "what's-the-problem-as-long-as-you're-not-hurting-others" position (although there are serious problems with it); I understand the "cheating-bastards-let's-get-em!" position (ditto, serious problems). I have feelings on both sides and in various shades of gray between them.

As for reporters, though, you can be sure that there are plenty out there digging through grand jury testimonies, trash cans behind major league stadiums, off-season workout regimens, what have you, to get to the bottom of the steroid story. My guess is that sooner or later we'll find out how complicit the MLB power structure -- from field managers and trainers to GMs and owners and the commissioner's office -- has been in letting steroids become such an explosive issue.



Hunter Thompson, R.I.P. 1937 - 2005 

Love him or hate him (I've done both at various times in my life), every writer should at least know him. From Tokyo, Malo Wire correspondent Morse-san weighs in with this tidbit from Thompson's "Hey Rube":

"Pitchers, as a group, are pampered little swine with too much money and no real effect on the game except to drag it out and interrupt the action."

That doesn't apply to Robb Nen, of course. I was away this weekend and missed the news of his retirement, but I second everything that's been said: he gave it all, he sacrificed a few years for a chance at a World Series ring, he was a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

My favorite Nen moment, among many:

April 17, 2001. Barry Bonds has just hit his 500th home run off the Dodgers' Terry Adams, who had the audacity to throw an 0-2 slider that dived toward Barry's shoetops. Bonds launches it into McCovey Cove. The place goes nuts. An embarrassing celebration ensues.

After the schmaltz has been scraped off the field, Nen comes in for the top of the ninth. The Dodgers are fuming over the delay of game to honor his Barriness; the fans are foaming and frothing and howling. Nen immediately walks pinch-hitter Chris Donnels to start the inning. Goodwin pinch-runs, steals second and takes third when Santiago overthrows the base. Man on third, no outs.

Then Grissom grounds out. Grudzelianek strikes out. And up steps Gary Sheffield.

Nen throws high fastballs; Sheffield fouls high fastballs back. Nen throws sliders in the dirt. Sheff lays off. Every time Sheff swings, my eyeballs pick up the ghost-trace of a ball arching toward the bleachers, but my eyes, pessimists that they are, are only imagining the worst. Sheff can't quite make solid contact. But, man-o-man, is he trying. And grunting. Just like Nen: leg-kick, toe-tap, grunt! Leg-kick, toe-tap, grunt!

Sheff: Waggle-waggle-waggle-waggle-waggle, high-step, grunt, massive-cut-from-holy-hell. Repeat.

The count gets to 3 and 2. Was it a fastball? Was it a slider? I honestly can't remember what pitch the mighty Sheff struck out on, but he finally did, and as Mike Krukow is wont to say, "It...was...awesome."



2005 Giants Pre-Preview: The Rotation 

Perhaps between now and April 5, Brian Sabean will convince Chuck LaMar that Kirk Rueter is the perfect fit for Tropicana Field and will be a wise mentor to the young lefty Scott Kazmir -- all for the low, low price of Rocco Baldelli. But it's far more likely the Giants will start 2005 with a starting rotation of Jason Schmidt, Brett Tomko, Jerome Williams, Rueter and Noah Lowry. Let's discuss each one:

Jason Schmidt

Age: 32 (turns 33 on Jan 29, 2006)
Relevant stats, 2004
225 IP
251 K / 77 BB
112.8 pitches per game
18 HR allowed/.593 OPS against
2005 salary: $8.75 M

I've seen reviews of last year that blame the near-miss of the playoffs on Sabean's trade of Felix Rodriguez; on Cody Ransom's glove; on the mere existence of Neifi Perez on this swiftly tilting planet. All viable theories. Let me propose another scapegoat: Jason Schmidt's crotch.

It was August 17. The Montreal Expos were in town. The Giants led the wild card chase, and Schmidt was the N.L. Cy Young favorite. He was motoring along until a poutine-eating, French-speaking Canadian (or at least someone who lived amongst them for several months a year) slapped a fateful ground ball to the right side of the infield. Trying to get to first base, Schmidt strained his groin -- not unusual if you're 13 years old and slow-dancing to "Stairway to Heaven," but a real bummer if you're a big-league pitcher.

Before the 2004 season, conventional wisdom held that the Giants could not compete without a healthy Bonds and Schmidt. Did Schmidt's subpar performance PCI (post-crotch incident) kill the Giants' playoff chances?

Not including the final game of the season, which was rendered meaningless by the previous day's Finley-fest, Schmidt made seven starts. His totals for those seven starts:

44.3 IP / 45 H / 31 ER / 5 HR / 15 BB / 49 K / 6.30 ERA

That line includes two excellent starts and five more that ranged from mediocre (4 runs in 6 IP vs San Diego) to atrocious (6 runs in 3 2/3 IP vs Atlanta).

Would the Giants have won the pennant if Schmidt were completely healthy? Of his five bad post-injury starts, the Giants lost four. In one of those losses, they only scored one run. Chalk that one up as inconclusive.

In the other losses, however, the Giants scored 3, 5 and 7 runs -- enough to win if Schmidt were truly on his game. Plus, in one game he pitched well, Sept 23 vs Houston, Schmidt came out in the 8th after throwing 103 pitches, and the bullpen melted down. Let's add that one to the "games possibly won with a completely healthy Schmidt" list, for a total of three, perhaps four wins extra. 94 or 95 wins instead of 91. The Dodgers finished with 93 wins, the Astros with 92.

Brett Tomko
Age: 31 (turns 32 on April 7)
Relevant stats, 2004
194 IP
108 K / 64 BB
101.6 pitches per game
19 HR allowed/.729 OPS against
2005 salary: $2.5 M

No matter how you slice it, using normal or brain-bending geekapalooza stats, Tomko's 2004 season was his best since his rookie year of 1997...unless you look at strikeout/walk ratios.

Barring his injury years (2000-2001), Tomko has always struck out at least twice as many batters as he has walked. In 2004, that ratio fell below 2:1 for the first time. This may be nothing. This may be something. The good news: 2004 was also the first time Tomko gave up as few as 1 home run per 10 innings. (His previous best ratio: 22 HRs in 210.6 IP in 1998).

In other words, not striking out as many guys can be OK if you're not letting them hit your pitches as hard and far. "Thanks be to the bayside ballyard, o! excellent pitcher's park that it is," you say.

No way, Jose, I say.

First of all, PBP was not a pitcher's park in 2004 -- especially not when Tomko was the pitcher. He gave up 12 HRs and 33 BBs in 79 IP at Pac Bell, as opposed to 7 HR and 33 BBs in 114 IP on the road. This odd split was apparent before the end of the season, and I puzzled over it here, noting that Tomko said he liked to pitch in hot weather.

Thankfully, PECOTA projections adjusted for global warning show that in 2005, Tomko's ERA-sLv (ERA above sea level) will drop proportionally to the square root of the ratio of Antarctic glacial retreat (total sq km) to Amazon basin deforestation (in hectares). Buy a Hummer, send the Giants to the World Series!

Jerome Williams
Age: 23 (turns 24 on December 4)
Relevant stats, 2004
129.1 IP
80 K / 44 BB
91.5 pitches per game
14 HR allowed/.742 OPS against
2005 salary: minimum, more or less

Big winter news: Jerome decided that staying in the big leagues was more important than eating as much poi as his family could shovel down his gullet. Jerome, you're a big ferocious professional ballplayer, not a helpless nestling chirping in the treetops. Never forget that.

He reported to camp last year at a Livanesque 260 pounds. He's down to 238 this year and says he needs to shed a few more. Let's see how weight correlates to performance.

Kirk Rueter
Age: 34 (turns 35 on December 1)
Relevant stats, 2004
190.1 IP
56 K / 66 BB
99.6 pitches per game
21 HR allowed/.811 OPS against
2005 salary: $7 M

Let's extrapolate the main Lunatic Fringe complaint about Rueter, i.e., that Sabean signed him to the big extension instead of paying Russ Ortiz two years of escalating arbitration costs.

The last two years, Woody has eked out 30 VORP points; Ortiz 66. The last two years, Woody has raked in $12 million; Ortiz $10.86 million.

In other words, the Braves got three times as much value: They paid Ortiz $145,000 for each VORP point he earned. The Giants paid Rueter $400,000. With one more year on his contract, can Rueter even the scales?

For the sake of this exercise let's use BP's PECOTA projection, which sets up Ortiz for a big fall in '05: 12 measly VORP points. (Brutal!) Tack on his $7 million pay ($6.5 M plus roughly 1/4 of his $3.5 M signing bonus), and Ortiz's three-year cost-ratio since he left the Giants jumps to $229,000 per VORP point. To bring his ratio down to that level, Woody would have to produce 53 VORP points this year. His career high? 41.5 in 2002.

Ah, but we're forgetting the M-Factor. Merkin Valdez was also part of that trade, remember? There's a slim chance young Merk, or as ESPN.com calls him, "No Photo Available," will make the bigs again this year -- hopefully with better results than last year's bitter cup of coffee.

Could Merk make up the difference? Not likely as a reliever. He'd have to pitch all year long and at a high level; the top relievers of '04 (Gordon, Lidge, Rivera) VORPed in the high 30s. Eric Gagne only reached the high 20s. And if he made the team as a starter, he'd likely be Woody's replacement.

Speaking of which, is this the year Woody becomes the league's most expensive long man? Will the Rueters of Kirk displace the Franklins of Wayne? (Side note: a Google image search for "sweaty Rueter" comes up with zero results.) If he really struggles, will his Giants career end as abruptly and awkwardly as this portion of my post?

Noah Lowry
Age: 24 (turns 25 on October 10)
Relevant stats, 2004
92 IP
72 K / 28 BB
95.1 pitches per game
10 HR allowed / .728 OPS against
2005 salary: minimum

According to Baseball Prospectus, Lowry is most similar to Johan Santana in 2002. Does that mean Lowry will win the Cy Young in two years? Before getting too giddy (hoo hoo, whoa, hee hee! too late!), let's note that also according to Baseball Prospectus, Lowry is second most similar to Scott Aldred in 1992. For the few of you who aren't big Scott Aldred fans, he pitched in the majors through the year 2000 and posted a career ERA of 6.02. So what's it gonna be? In Lowry's favor: Scott Aldred didn't get to spend his first major-league off-season working out at a 24-Hour Fitness with Brett Tomko. In Lowry's disfavor: His chosen mentor is a 31-year-old guy who draws charcoal ponies and needs a visualization expert. This is California, baby. Love it or leave it.



Farm Boys (or, Sabean's Record, Pt. 4) 

As I failed to mention a couple weeks ago, it would be foolish, while attempting a comprehensive evaluation of Brian Sabean's track record, to try to duplicate the analysis of the Giants' farm system and development philosophy that others perform quite thoroughly and ably. So, as I toil away at an examination of Sabean's free-agent moves (part 2) and a comparison of Sabean to other GMs (part 3), I jump ahead to part 4 of my Sabeanography and present to you a smorgasbord of other people's takes on Sabean's reign o'er the minor league system. (Side note: it looks like some real baseball scholars are working on a sabermetric GM evaluation system. More on this later.)

For the farm tour, start at The McBoofey Waiticles with an excellent discussion of and links to yesterday's Baseball America evalution of the Giants' minor leagues. Grant not only elbowed his way like Bill Laimbeer into the question queue several times during BA writer John Manuel's chat, he got deserved shout-out for his blogwork. It's all required reading, and if you haven't registered on Grant's site to join the Waiticles "family," then be warned: when the spaceship comes to get all of us, you'll be left behind holding your Nikes and your Kool-Aid. Go! Now! Join!

If you just crawled out from under a dial-up modem, Steve Shelby nabbed a preview interview with Manuel that Fogball posted on Feb. 13.

Here's more John Manuel analysis on the Giants' position prospects.

More must-read: a three-part series by Martin Lee, aka, "Biased Giants Fanatic," who questions the conventional wisdom that the Giants are retards in waiving the right to their first-round draft picks.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 is on its way, perhaps as early as this weekend, says Martin.

Got more analysis of Sabean's effect on the Giants' minor leagues? Let me know and I'll add to this list.



So Sorry 

Veteran comedian, Christopher Guest-mate and Simpsons voice-master Harry Shearer must be licking his lips. Shearer's weekly radio program, Le Show, has a regular feature called "Apologies of the Week," and there's a lot of fodder for him to fod these days.

Shearer also plays incredibly hip tunes in between his commentary and sketches; he's so hip he doesn't even tell you what he's playing. You have to go to the Web site. Forcing radio listeners to sit in front of a computer -- now that's hip! Indeed, sometimes Shearer is too cool for his own good, and his comedy turns into a big winking jumble of air quotes, if you "know" what I "mean."

But I love "Apologies of the Week." I haven't yet listened to the archive of this weekend's show, but if it doesn't dedicate the entire segment to Jason Giambi -- nay, enshrine the lad -- for his plaintive, circular, meaningless sorriness, I may have to stop listening altogether.

Giambi will hereafter be known as The Big Tautopology.

Continuing this week, we have another spectacular sports act of contrition. From today's New York Times:

"Everyone associated with the National Hockey League owes our fans an apology for the situation in which we find ourselves," a sad-faced Bettman said at the conference. "We are truly sorry."

Dig this uptight cat: "the situation in which we find ourselves." As in, "Hey, how did we get here? A press conference? A roomful of reporters? A mob of angry mulletheads deprived of a thin excuse to root for men to knock each others' teeth out? How the heck did that happen?"

Bettman probably doesn't refer to his league's fans as mulletheads. That was my little accoutrement. Allow me one more: Professional hockey? Yaw-fucking-nnn.

Time out! Disclaimer: if I've offended anyone, or disappointed anyone -- not that I've ever done anything wrong -- but just in case, well, I'm sorry. I've got a bad case of rampant 'rhoids, and boy, am I contrite. Rueful. Ful of rue. Shamefaced.

Unlike certain guys I know who don't apologize for nothing, no how, no way: "I'm not like Jason Giambi, I'm not going to sit here and cry about things being unfair or attacks are unfair."

Wow, that Trot Nixon has some cojones, first he blasts A-Rod for being a non-Jeter, and now he's going after...huh? Pardon? That's not Trot Nixon calling Giambi a simpering, apologetic tautologist?

Mais non! It's Jason's teammate, Gary Sheffield, who if he hadn't become a baseball player would no doubt have pursued a career in moral philosophy; who once complained that with friends like Barry Bonds, what kinda guy needs muscle-enhancing enemas? Barry, quoth Gary, sold Gary down the river by giving Gary The Innocent some cream to rub on his leg ("C'mon, Li'l Gar, it's like giving yourself a sensual massage. It's like floating down a hibiscus-scented river in a palm-frond canoe. Aaaahh, isn't that better?").

Sheff also complained that Barry, that damn no-good sumbitch, insisted on paying for their limo ride to Sacramento. But you better get one thing straight, bubba. Sheff isn't like Jason Giambi, who allegedly cries about things being unfair. Which in fact he doesn't, or didn't, unless Sheff misunderstood Jason's apology for all the general unfairness in the world as "crying." But when you're manly enough to share your "parasite" with your buddies, you're bound to see any sort of contrition as a sign of weakness.

It's all rather confusing. Good thing we have Jose Canseco around to sort everything out. He's not sorry, and he's very manly. But he is a bit of a parasite.



He Got Game -- Do You? 

I got an e-mail a few weeks ago from Josh, a fellow Giants blogger, asking about this old-man's league Elbo and I play in. My team, the 28-and-over White Sox, lost a few players over the winter so I asked Josh (who just barely qualifies age-wise) to join us for a practice game. Lo and behold, presto, shazam, kapow, not to mention just like that, Josh played so well he made the team, playing smooth outfield at all three positions and hitting several balls on the screws against one of our league's better pitchers. Not bad for a softball player! Congratulations, Josh!

It worked out so well, in fact, I'm dipping back into the well -- anyone out there who wants to play hardball in a fairly competitive men's league? We've still got a couple roster slots open. We're particularly interested if you have pitching experience, can throw strikes, and can swing a decent bat.

You can reply in comments or drop me a line at leftymalo --at-- gmail --dot-- com.



There Are Known Knowns 

Felipe Alou let loose some info at yesterday's baseball luncheon that clarifies the Giants' roster makeup. First, Alou told reporters that the lineup will almost certainly be

2b Durham
ss Vizquel
1b Snow/Feliz
lf Bonds
rf Alou
3b Alfonzo
cf Grissom
c Matheny

The pros of such a lineup:

* Even when he doesn't hit for a high average or slugging percentage (which since 2001 has been most of the time) Snow gets on base a lot. Doing so in front of Barry is an excellent idea. Snow also grounds into relatively few double plays (1 every 65 plate appearances from '01-'04). That means even if he makes an out with men on base, there's a good chance Barry will come to bat -- and be intentionally walked, which is why it's heartening, if you believe in such things, that Moises Alou is a very good hitter with runners on base (.301/.378/.505 the past three years).

* With Bonds on deck, pitchers might be less inclined to throw breaking balls to Feliz.

* Hackers like Grissom should bat low in the order. If Grissom walks, it's unlikely Matheny and/or the pitcher will drive him in, anyway. (It's also a good spot for Feliz; too bad both Feliz and Grip can't bat seventh.)

The cons of such a lineup:

* Omar Vizquel will be tempted, or ordered, to bunt whenever Durham reaches first base. (Actually, when Vizquel bats right-handed, this is not such a bad thing.)

* For what it's worth, the past three years Moises Alou has had a .916 OPS in 904 ABs in the 4th position. In the same period, his OPS as a #3 hitter is .768, and as a #5 hitter, .735.

* Mike Matheny.

* Four right handed bats at the bottom of the order.

Alou also said that Jesse Foppert will be the long man and Jason Ellison is likely to be the 5th outfielder. That would give the Giants a 7-man bullpen (Benitez, Herges, Brower, Christiansen, Eyre, T. Walker, and Foppert) and a glaring lack of left-handed bats on the bench. If the starters show an ability to go deeper into games than last year, look for the Giants to shorten the bullpen and add more bench strength.



R.I.P. Jimmy Smith 1925 - 2005 

If every ballpark had an organ as funky as yours, I'd go to 162 games a year.


Field of Maize? No, Mays Field! 

Every so often in the Giants blog world someone floats the idea of renaming SBC as Mays Park, or Mays Field, or Mays Patch o' Grass. Now there's a blog that bangs the drum 24 hours a day. Not much posted there yet, but let's hope it can become the rallying point for rabble-rousing name-changers, not to mention the accidental destination of an occasional misguided Superfly fan.


Sabes and Stars 

The O-Trib's Andrew Baggarly got a nice scoop yesterday that the Giants had quietly extended Brian Sabean's contract through 2006 -- or perhaps beyond. The brass is being obfuscatory: "He is under contract beyond '05," Larry Baer told Baggarly. "He is going to be here for multiple years."

Remember, Baggarly was the the first reporter to expose the true feelings about A.J. Pierzynski in the Giants clubhouse with his story last spring about some pitchers (to be named later -- Brett Tomko was one) upset that A.J. was more interested in playing cards than preparing for upcoming opponents.

Also in the news is the long-awaited announcement that the Giants will host the 2007 All-Star Game. This is good news and bad news. The good news: in the first year of LAB (Life After Barry), the team will have a surefire way of selling season-ticket packages and generating other revenue (I'm already starting to save up for my Lou Seal plush toy with "All-Star '07" jersey). The bad news: in the first year of LAB, the team will have a surefire way of selling season-ticket packages and generating revenue...other than putting a competitive team on the field.

Now, whether you think Pee-Mag & Co. would truly abide by a tear-down, start-from-scratch rebuilding year as soon as Barry goes gently into his Big Balco Barcalounger, depends on your state of cynicism and/or your back-of-the-napkin calculations on all those backloaded contracts the old guys have signed this winter. (The Giants will be spending nearly $22 M on Vizquel, Benitez, Matheny, Bonds and Alou in 2007, according to this caluculation.)



Center of Attention 

Old friend Jose Cruz, Jr. just got traded to the Az-Backs to take over center field. Jeromy Burnitz is taking $5 million to patrol the Friendly Confines. Those moves remove one team, Arizona, that's been begging for help in center; they also remove the only remaining free agent who was considered starting CF material (by some, at least).

So what are the Giants' prospects of upgrading defensively in CF without sacrificing any offense? They have two main options, it seems:

1) Trade Marquis Grissom and young pitching for an everyday centerfielder who won't break the bank and will be with the team for a few years as the defensive anchor.

I've lobbied strongly for this, and Vernon Wells remains at the top of my wish list: 25 years old, with great power potential and good defense. Last year he was hobbled with injury and still clocked in as the second-best MLB CF for zone rating, and the 8th best in range factor (ahead of Mark Kotsay, Torii Hunter and Grip). However, he rates right about average according to BP's fielding stats. No matter how you rate him, he's a big upgrade over Grip. He would also require giving up a lot, but that's what prospects are for. Matt Cain has never thrown a pitch above AA; Vernon Wells hit .317/.359/.550 with 33 home runs as a 24-year-old, and he's likely to do it again.

As others have advocated, Mike Cameron would certainly fill the Giants' defensive needs. But I seriously doubt they'll take on his contract -- nearly $15 million for '05/'06 -- even if they can shed Grip's $2m contract in the deal. And Cameron doesn't have Wells' offensive upside.

Dark-horse candidates: Wily Mo Pena. Milton Bradley.

2) Keep Marquis to start against lefties, and bring in a good defender who could platoon against righties.

Not my first choice, but far more likely if I were to bet on the Giants' proclivities. So who's out there (besides Tom Goodwin) that fits this bill?

Jeff daVanon, Anaheim
Very respectable numbers as a backup the past three years, and even better from the left side: .279/.360/.436.

He won't embarrass himself from the right side, either, in case managers pull a bullpen switch on him. His defense? In 2004, his range factor was better than Cameron, Beltran, A. Jones...in about one-fifth the innings played. His zone rating wasn't as good. BP rated him slightly below average for 2004, but slightly above average for his career. Either way, a big improvement over a full-time Grip.

Randy Winn, Seattle

Scanning Winn's stats and the $3.75 m he's due next year and in '06, I suddenly think he's a lot better than he's often credited for. First, he's remarkably consistent. The past three years (Tampa Bay, Seattle, Seattle), he's slightly better as a righty, but not by much (.813 OPS vs .778 OPS). Home OPS .773; road OPS .803. The difference is mostly in his slugging %. Safeco was the pitcher-friendliest stadium last year. Winn may even qualify as a replacement for Grip. Less power, but more on-base potential, and much better defense.

David DeJesus, KC

Groomed as Beltran's heir apparent, DeJesus didn't overwhelm anyone in '04 when he took over. Could he be pried from the Royals for good young pitching? Would it be worth the risk to the Giants, who need someone who will produce this year? I'd say not.

The third option, of course, is to stay as-is, with Michael Tucker as the fourth outfielder and one of the aging farmhands Torcato, Ellison and Linden as the fifth. None of the three inspires much confidence.



Sabean's Record, Part 1 

There's been much recent debate in my comment boxes about Sabean's track record, with some consensus that the early years of his tenure have been much more successful than the more recent years. Josh From Hollywood also takes some time over on the fancy-schmancy new McCovey Chronicles not only to defend Sabean but to praise his mini-mullet hairstyle. Essential reading.

I'd like to take a step-by-step (i.e., boring) look at Sabean's record as Giants' GM. In this post, I'll go over his trades. In the next, we'll peruse his free agent signings. In part three, which I'll probably get to around June, I'll comb through at the track records of a few other strategically selected GMs to see how Sabes stacks up.

First, the trades. My grading system, based on total Giants output of the acquired player(s) and total post-Giants output of traded player(s):

A blockbuster brilliant trade: +3
A very good trade that may require re-evaluation: +2
A nice little upgrade: +1
A wash: 0
A net loss, but no big deal: -1
A pretty bad deal with some tiny silver lining: -2
An all-time stinker: -3

In September '03 I posted a list of the trades during Sabean's tenure. Up through 2002, there was not a single trade you could criticize. From 1997-2002, the only prospect Sabean traded who has become anything special is Keith Foulke; the Giants used him and a busload of flameouts to get the players that helped win the division in 1997. The major leaguers the Giants traded have mostly netted key players: Allen Watson for J.T. Snow, Darryl Hamilton for Ellis Burks, Bill Mueller for Tim Worrell, Matt Williams for Julian Tavarez, Jeff Kent, etc.; Shawn Estes for Tsuyoshi Shinjo and David Bell, Armando Rios and Vogelsong for John Vander Wal and some guy named Schmidt. Then Vander Wal for the useful Jay Witasick. For five years, Sabean could trade no wrong. He even got David Haselhoff for Alan Embree! Oh -- Derek Haselhoff. I'll give him a +2.5 for the entire period.

Then came 2003.

- Russ Ortiz for Damian Moss and Merkin Valdez wasn't so hot. Sabean admitted it was a sheer salary dump, but it was exacerbated by the decision to keep Rueter instead of Ortiz. However, if Valdez either a) becomes a bonafide major leaguer or b) gets traded for one, we can move this trade into the positive column. Grade: -1.5.

- Livan for Jim Brower and Matt Blank. We can argue about this one. At the time, Livan was about to become as overpaid as he was undermotivated and overweight. Brower has given the Giants two gritty, solid bullpen years; who knew that Livan would go on to Montreal and become one of the league's top starters? +0.5.

- Clay Hensley for Matt Herges. Lost in Herges' terrible '04 is his spectacular '03. Half a year of excellent relief work was well worth losing Clay Hensley, who may someday reach the major leagues if he drinks enough Cytogainer and Muscle Milk. +1.5.

- Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Hannaman for Sidney Ponson. Despite conventional wisdom, Ponson didn't suck during his brief Giants tenure. He outpitched Curt Schilling in an epic game at the BOB. He didn't run over anyone on his jet-ski. No, he didn't pitch well in the one playoff game against the Marlins, but this was not a bad trade. It will look worse if Ainsworth overcomes his injury problems and Hannaman ever makes it out of A-ball. 0.

- Greg Bruso for Eric Young. 0.

- Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano for A.J. Pierzynski. Oops. It looked smart at the time. Then A.J. turned into a lazy, weak-armed, singles-hitting, double-play machine, while Joe Nathan turned into Robb Nen. In sum, the Giants traded Boof for "Oof!" -2.5. ("Minus five!" says Stan Conte.)

- A player to be named later (John Thomas) for Dustan Mohr. Now that Dustan's gone, we all miss him. But not long ago he stumbled over a bullpen mound in San Diego and a reader of this blog described him as "young, dumb and full of cum." (Two out of three ain't bad.) For three quarters of the season, Mohr was an excellent backup outfielder, and he showed flashes of earning more PT in '05. Then he got cut for -- no one's quite sure. John Thomas had a fairly unremarkable year out of the bullpen last year for the Twins' A-ball affiliate. Great trade, but the chance to reap even more reward from it has been cut short. +1.

Then came 2004:

- Carlos Villanueva and Glenn Woolard for Wayne Franklin and Leo Estrella. Sabean could have gotten these schmoes from the Brewers for a couple clam chowders in the edible sourdough bowl. (People from the Midwest go crazy for that "authentic" San Francisco shit.) Instead he traded a couple intriguing prospects. Woolard posted some decent numbers in AA last year; likewise Villanueva in single-A. If either of them makes the majors, this deal will be a big stain on Sabean's record. For now, it's a -1.

- Felix Rodriguez for Ricky Ledee and Alfredo Simon. I had long called for the trade of Fifi, but when it happened, I groaned. The Giants last summer needed to add good bullpen arms, not subtract them. Compounding the gaffe, Ledee did his best Tony-Torcato-on-crack impression, whiffing so often on both offense and defense that Felipe buried him under a pile of Barry's sweaty-bald-head towels. -1.5.

- Josh Habel for Dave Burba. If he's lucky Habel will be a Noah Lowry type. The Giants got into six games, took a tumble and got injured, and that was all she blows, matey. He wouldn't have been eligible for the playoffs, so the trade ended up with nearly zero impact and the slight possible downside that Habel will become the next Sid Fernandez. 0.

So it's true: most of Sabean's trades stretching back over a year have been crapola, and pre-Pierzynski, 2003 was roughly a wash. That's six years of giddy theft followed by a two-year drought. When it comes to trades, he's still well into the black in my ledger, but let's hope the magic returns soon.

Next: the free agent contracts.



But It's OK To Be Mocked By A Talking Duck 

this just over the wires:

Baseball legend Yogi Berra is suing Turner Broadcasting System for $10 million after his name appeared in the company's advertisements for "Sex and the City" re-runs.

The former New York Yankees player, 79, was furious to see his name used "improperly" on subways and buses in promotional material for the now-defunct HBO comedy.

Berra was offended by one ad in particular, which asked readers to define the term "Yogasm." One of the multiple choice answers was "b.) sex with Yogi Berra." The correct answer was "c.) What Samantha has with a guy from yoga class," referring to Kim Cattrall's sex-mad character.

In the suit filed in New York Supreme Court, the retired sports star says he had been tainted by the ad, pointing out he is a married grandfather and a "deeply religious man who has maintained and continues to maintain a moral lifestyle."


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