Heavy Rotations 

As has been amply noted, the two World Series teams this year are riding high on excellent starting rotations. Their pitching has compensated for mediocre offenses built around one or two big bats (Berkman, Ensberg for Houston; Konerko, Dye for Chicago).

This was also meant to be the Giants' formula in 2005, with a strong rotation anchored by Schmidt, and Bonds and Alou supplying the power for an otherwise slappy O. With Bonds back for perhaps his final year in '06 and only a remote chance of another top-shelf slugger joining the lineup, it will probably remain the Giants strategy.

Can the Giants emulate the success of the White Sox and Astros? To follow Houston's pitching blueprint, the Giants need to sign a couple more All-Star/Hall-of-Fame caliber starters at $10-million-plus per year. The 'Stros rotation is the product of getting money's worth from Clemens and Pettitte, locking up a homegrown talent (Oswalt), and getting the most from a mediocre journeyman (Backe).

What about the Sox? They feature a young homegrown phenom (Buehrle), a middling prospect who has a career year (Garland), a good-but-not-dominant veteran (Garcia) and a salary dump victim (Contreras). No starter is making $10 M this year.

The Giants are not quite either model. Jason Schmidt is akin to Garcia: a trade deadline acquisition who decided to stay on for a few more years. Lowry is the Giant Mark Buerhle, although Noah made his ML debut at an older age. Matt Cain, let's hope, is S.F.'s Roy Oswalt, who debuted at age 23 with 141 IP, 2.73 ERA, 144 Ks and 24 BBs.

Will the Giants fill the other rotation spots with Pettitte-like free agent splashes, scrap-heap finds or mediocre veterans? One high-priced FA seems likely to me, given that Schmidt may be off the books in a year. Hennessey could be a Brandon Backe-type, mediocre overall but tough in big games. He's already shown he can step his game up at times.

This meandering exercise is less a blueprint for rotation construction and more a demonstration that, perhaps more than anything, a general manager needs a lot of luck. The $10 million spent on Andy Pettitte in '04 was a waste. The $10 million for Pettitte this year was a bargain. Jon Garland picked a great time to have a career year at the low price of $3.4 million. Kenny Williams got the Yankees to pay some of Contreras's salary, but he still gambled that the Cuban's poor performance in the Bronx was a result of insane expectations, not innate tremulousness. Roger Clemens had perhaps his best year ever at the age of fourty-frickin-three. Imagine if he'd gotten injured and his $18 million salary sat on the DL most of the year.

No doubt the Giants are weighing how to divvy up their offseason money for a starting pitcher, slugging first baseman, fourth outfielder, etc. I'll bet the success of the rotation-dominant Astros and Sox will tip the scales toward signing a stud starter. Schmidt's fragile and may never return to form. If he's injured or ineffective, someone who can step in as staff ace next year may be worth overpaying (a little) for in '06 and in the next few years, while Cain, Lowry and Hennessey remain inexpensive.


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