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6.12.2005

Out With the Old 

Word is Jim Brower was just released and Jesse Foppert called up, as his "promotion" to San Jose indicated earlier this week. Foppert will start Tuesday against Minnesota. Welcome back, Jesse. Let's hope the Giants give you the breathing room to make mistakes and prove yourself rotation-worthy for years to come.

With Brower's release, three veteran bullpenners have been tossed over the side in recent days: Matt Herges, Al Levine and Brower. Despite the trade to the D-Backs, the Giants will still pay about $500,000 of Herges's salary, according to the Oak Trib. A similar arrangement is unlikely for Brower, who dissolved from reliable, stone-chinned reliever in '03-'04 to flummoxed, stone-chinned reliever in '05.

No matter: the Giants would rather pay him $750,000 not to pitch in orange and french vanilla anymore. How much more are they willing to write off?

The roster is quickly morphing into a youth movement: the pitching staff now has five rookies or near-rookies: Foppert, Lowry, Munter, Taschner, and Walker. Ellison and Niekro have won most of the starting assignments in centerfield and at first base, respectively. They are also candidates for Rookie of the Year, as I noted in my last post. So tiny, cautious kudos to the Giants brass for realizing this spring those two deserved a shot at the roster and for giving them a burgeoning amount of playing time.

I also applaud the moves to give Munter and Taschner bullpen jobs, and to see if Walker can close. I also liked seeing Accardo and Hennessey go for a spin or two. Accardo may be back up in '06, and Hennessey showed he can pitch well although not yet consistently at the big league level. Lowry's success of last year may never return, but it makes sense to let him work through his problems every five days with the Giants, not Fresno.

With all these fuzzy-faced kids, The Oldest Lineup In The World (Ha-Ha-Ha) stories of spring training seem a faint notion. With a little more historical perspective, this season will become chronicled as Sabean's Grand Gambit. He and his front-office cohorts went for broke with this team, like a pack of old bank robbers scheming to get together for one last audacious heist. When the fates and the screenwriters are kindly, such jobs can come off with hilarity, dicey moments and ultimately, a montage of grinning old goats with suitcases of cash boarding planes destined for tropical climes.

Sabean's Gambit, alas, was no such light comedy. The bank repossessed their only getaway car, the safecracker broke his wrist trying to open his bedroom window, and the brilliant but nutso tools guy refused to leave his dank Bronx basement apartment. It didn't matter: the bank they planned all winter to knock over in Sheboygan closed four months before the heist date.

I was at the game this afternoon, basking in glorious bleacher'd sunshine and re-wiring my brain for the rebuild. It's been a long time -- since 1996 -- that I've had to endure a bad Giants' team, but I grew up assuming the worst (1976-77, 1979-1985, 1990-1992) and savoring the bright spots such as Reggie Smith's last hurrah, Vida Blue's "Vida" jersey, Mike Ivie's brief moments of pinch-hitting glory, and a whole lotta Chili Davis.

Today, I cheered Ellison's leadoff walk, Niekro's opposite-field sacrifice fly, Rueter's perfect fielding position to force a runner on a bunt, a well-executed rundown, and Jeff Fassero's crafty Maloness. I told my brother to enjoy these last few months of Woody while he still can.

In fact, when you go out to the yard the rest of this year, give the Giants who've given us some great moments a kind hand. Rueter won far more games than he had any right to. J.T. Snow could make a 12-year-old girl shriek like no other ballplayer, and he hit a really cool home run in 2000. Schmidt had a three-year run of dominance that I felt privileged to witness. Remember it's just a game, still, and one bad season is no reason to sit thoroughly sour (being dominated by Runelvys Hernandez and Jason Davis, however, is).

Appreciate the little things and root for the young guys who are making anxious audition for the rest of their careers. Baseball is a hard game; they need all the encouragement they can get.

If Sabean has any magic left in his cell phone, at least a couple of the veterans will be gone by July 31. Moving Durham and Fonzie will require miracles, but getting at least one of their contracts off the books in '06 is imperative. Trading Pedro Feliz would be nice, too.

As the losses pile up, no doubt the calls for Sabean's head will rumble from the blogosphere into the mainstream media. But he's proven himself adept at sustaining quality year after year, putting the Giants where they need to be nearly every September since 1997. Some will scoff and give credit to Dusty Baker and Barry Bonds; they'll say that anyone could build a winning team around the best player in baseball. Sorry, not true: witness Texas with A-Rod and Cincinnati with Junior. Injuries and incompetence happen.

Now comes the more interesting test for Brian Sabean, at least in the eyes of those of us who can accept the warps and woofs of a favorite team across the years. How can he rebuid this team? How will he evaluate Scott Munter, Jesse Foppert, Jack Taschner et al as they gain experience in the show? What will he learn from the free agent contracts doled out to Durham, Benitez and Alfonzo? If it's obvious by, say, end of 2006 that rebuilding is not his thing, Magowan should move quickly to find his replacement. Note that I did not write "the Next Billy Beane." There's no guarantee that all those Next Billy Beanes -- Epstein, Riccardi, DePodesta -- know how to handle a rebuild just because they trained at Beane's knee.

Finally the Giants have a nice long stretch to see what the young guys can do. It's small consolation, but I'm a silver lining kind of guy.

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