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8.17.2005

The Optimist Club, Local #25 of Atherton, Calif. 

There's been recent chatter hither and yon about the makeup of the 2006 Giants. With trades possible until Aug. 31 and a winter of tumult no doubt ahead, any roster construction this far in advance requires much speculation.

Which we're all happy to do, of course. But our speculation goes only as far as our assumptions, which need be spelled out. Here are mine (position players only). Caveat: these are not necessarily my wishes; just my best guesses what will transpire between now and April 1:

- The Giants will pick up the option of Randy Winn.
- Moises Alou and Ray Durham will exercise their player options.
- J.T. Snow will not be resigned.
- Sabean will manage to dump Alfonzo but not Durham.
- Linden and Ellison become the backup outfielders.
- Pedro Feliz will become the starting third baseman.

There's one assumption I'm seeing in everyone's '06 starting lineup that I find hasty:

4) Barry Bonds LF

Barry now tells us on his Web site that he may come back in September and "definitely" will be in the 2006 lineup.

Sure, Barry, but how often? Anyone willing to bet money on anything north of 120 games played? Remember, he won't have certain, ahem, supplements to help him recover as quickly from the daily grind. You, sir, with the plaid blazer -- you'd like to place a bet? While you're at it, how about 500 shares in my brother's dot-com company -- a can't miss proposition.

Let's be extremely charitable and say Barry starts 120 games. That's still a quarter of the season sans BLB. (And in those 120 games that Barry plays, how excruciating will his defense be?)

In other words, the Giants must be good enough to win regularly without him if they want to sniff the playoffs. For that reason, I'm going to sketch two Bonds-less lineups we might see next year:

vs LHP

Winn CF
Vizquel SS
Niekro 1B
Alou LF
Durham 2B
Feliz 3B
Ellison RF
Matheny C
pitcher

vs RHP

Vizquel SS
Winn CF
Niekro 1B
Alou LF
Durham 2B
Feliz 3B
Linden RF
Matheny C
pitcher

There are some obvious holes:

1) Unless Niekro makes a huge leap forward from his ghastly .205./244./331 line against righties (in 127 ABs), the Giants will need a left handed power-hitting first baseman to platoon. The Phils want to trade Jim Thome, but the Giants a) can't afford him and b) aren't stupid enough to take a chance with Thome's bad back. (Right?)

Chad Tracy could be the answer, but unfortunately the corresponding question is, "Who would the D-Backs never trade to a division rival?" Mike Lamb of Houston is having a worse year than J.T. Snow, which isn't easy to do. Lyle Overbay will be traded to make way for Prince Fielder, but at what cost? Plus, Overbay could be the next J.T. Snow, with SBC-induced warning-track power. What about Mark Sweeney? Hee Seop Choi? Why not take a flyer on Roberto Petagine?

2) A Linden/Ellison platoon in RF is the best option, especially if the Giants can get a big bat at first base. If Linden wins the position outright by hitting for power and playing decent defense, all the better. If Linden flails, and Bonds isn't a factor, this year's power gap would continue.

3) Durham's health is becoming a comedy routine: if this is Thursday, ladies and germs, I must have leg cramps! But when he's in there, Ray-Ray's still an offensive force. He's also going to exercise his $7 million player option next year, no fool he. With the spectre of $7 million worth of leg cramps looming, I can't imagine anyone trading for him except a rich AL team that can make him a part-time DH. Odds are he's a Giant next year, batting in an RBI spot. (Another reason the Giants are better to dump Fonzie than Durham -- they have an able replacement at 3B in Feliz; they have no one at second.)

4) The Giants are one nasty foul tip away from the Yamid Haad Era. They need a real backup catcher, preferably one who hits left-handed with a smidge of pop in his bat (Gregg Zaun, Javier Valentin, Robert Fick).

The takeaway from this Bonds-less exercise: It would behoove the Giants to assume Barry won't be around that often and to get a LH power bat or two. Ah, but the Barry Conundrum has one more wrinkle. He earns $18 mil next year and limits the Giants spending in other places. Here's the salary outlook for position players:

OF:
Bonds 18
Winn 5 (team opt.)
Alou 5 (player opt.)
Ellison min
Linden min

IF:
Niekro min
Durham 7 (player opt.)
Vizquel 4
Feliz 4.1 (incl. incentives)
bench guy
bench guy

C:
Matheny 3.25
Haad min

That's about $48 M. Add to that at least $25 M for pitchers (assuming an unlikely rotation of Schmidt, Lowry, Hennessey, Correia and Cain), and a few mil more for the bench, and we're up to roughly $80 M. That's also assuming the Giants dump Alfonzo without having to eat any of next year's $8 M salary. Sabean has said he wants another veteran starting pitcher: unless he works a scrap-heap miracle, we're talking at least $3-5 million a year.

So how much more will they spend on a big first-base bat? If the answer from P-Mag's limited partners is "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!", the Giants will either have to

a) pray to St. Stan of Conteville that Bonds (not to mention Alou and Durham) can play a semblance of a schedule
b) hope the Giants young pitchers all find inner peace and a wicked slider and carry the team on a wave of shutouts
c) trade for someone cheap, like Choi, and hope he finally fulfills his potential or
d) trade Barry and spend the $18 M on someone, or ones, younger than 40 with a couple good knees remaining.

If you're praying for a), brothers and sisters, amen and good luck.

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