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5.31.2005

The Mysterious Case of the Left-Handed Bat 

We've gouged out each other's eyes arguing the merits of the LaTroy Hawkins trade, but there's one thing we can agree upon: it won't mean squat if more moves aren't forthcoming.

Hawkins alone won't save this team. Hawkins plus a miraculous second-half return of the Barry Bonds Show still won't save it.

Brian Sabean knows this. He says he wants to pick up a left-handed bat to help the team's poor performance against right handed pitching. According to ESPN's sortable stats, the Giants have scored 148 runs against RHP, good for 23rd in the majors. (Texas leads with 233). They have scored 71 vs. LHP, good for 8th in the majors. (The Yankees lead with 88). Their OPS is more than 100 points lower vs. righties.

But how high the moon? Is Sabean shooting for an expensive star, a Todd Helton/Bobby Abreu type who would become the team anchor in the post-Bonds era? Is he looking for a rising young player, a Lyle Overbay/Nick Johnson/Adam Dunn type who would be relatively cheap for a year or two but extract a truckload of prospects? Or does he simply want to upgrade the bench, i.e., find a better Michael Tucker who would platoon in LF with Pedro Feliz? Does he want to scrap the Ellison experiment, which is going pretty darn well so far, put Durham back at leadoff and get someone like Steve Finley to patrol the spacious confines?

There are two main positions where a left-handed hitter would play: outfield and first base. (Yes, there are left-handed hitting catchers and infielders, but given the contracts of Alfonzo, Durham, and Matheny, I'm assuming the Giants won't be able to trade them or relegate them to the bench.) Let's examine these positions, not only to see whom the Giants might acquire, but how they might clear a roster space.

If the target is an outfielder, would it be a corner OF? Alou isn't likely to be traded or platooned; Feliz is the most obvious trade bait, but adding a big left-handed bat in LF poses a problem when Bonds returns (assuming he does this year). The most obvious outfield position is center, where Grissom is expendable (although probably not tradeable), and Ellison could revert to his backup role, pinch-run in the late innings, and spend more time learning the leadoff craft. If Feliz is part of a package to snag a power-hitting CF, Ellison could platoon in LF with Tucker.

If the answer lies at first base, Sabes would have to trade Snow. It makes no sense to keep him in a backup role, although Niekro could remain as a backup and pinch-hitter. The Snow/Niekro platoon has been effective, if not exactly fearsome. They're sort of mirror images of one another at the plate: one has a bad eye and lots of power, the other a good eye and no power. How much of an upgrade would most first basemen actually be?

I'm not calling for a trade at all costs. A Matt Cain-for-Daryle Ward exchange, for example, would make me as apoplectic as Williams/Aardsma for Hawkins has made many others. But what if the Giants could put together something for Lyle Overbay, Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, Adam Dunn, Trot Nixon, Helton or (be still my beating heart 'cuz it ain't gonna happen no way no how) Abreu?

Those players all have wildly different contract situations, health concerns, etc., and offers for them would be adjusted appropriately. But the question is, if there's a deal to get a big bat who could inject instant power into the lineup *and* play every day if/when Bonds returns -- and if the trade didn't gut the farm system -- should they do it? Thought experiment of the day: who would be worth trading for Matt Cain straight-up, and why?

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