Always Be Closing 

The holy-shit money being thrown at relief pitchers has stirred up outrage among some baseball observers. But we Giants fans are always looking for the silver lining -- or at least the cheap pun -- behind every fiasco.

Closers suddenly too rich, too old, or both for most teams' blood? Step right up, my little GM friends, and talk to your Uncle Sabes.

For teams that don't want to spend $10 million a year on a closer, the Giants have two potential solutions: LaTroy Hawkins and Tyler Walker. Both have spent shaky time in the role. Hawkins flamed out as the Cubs' closer, but no doubt there's a team willing to take a chance on him for one year and $4-5 million. (His contract calls for extra money if he closes.)

Walker showed promise but not much consistency last year filling in for Armando Benitez. With the top closer free agents (Gordon, Hoffman, Wickman) all in their late 30s and probably looking for 3 years and more than $20 million, I'll bet Walker is enticing to several teams right now. He's so young and cheap, in fact, Tyler could be a very valuable commodity. Of course, he could end up as the next Joe Nathan; Sabean would be foolish to part with him too quickly. Given Benitez's health questions, Walker might be pressed into emergency save duties in '06, too.

But with Accardo coming on strong, potentially as Benitez's heir apparent, I'd say the Giants can afford to trade Walker for the right price. Even better would be a trade of Hawkins and his outrageous salary.

Reports this morning say Sabean went hard after Loaiza, lost him to the A's, and has an offer out to Matt Morris. Waiting for an answer, Sabes will turn his attention to the bullpen. We assume that to mean he wants to buy. Why not sell, too?



Forced Cheer 

News and notes from the long weekend:

- I ate a lot, but not this much.

The free agent frenzy and trade swirl -- Eyre, Bobby Howry, B.J. Ryan, Josh Beckett, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, and so on -- has so far left the Giants in the dust. This could be a good thing. It would have been nice to trade for Thome with $22 million of his remaining $46 million paid by the Phillies, but he really should be in the American League as a part-time DH.

- Matt Morris, San Francisco Giants: I'm starting to let it roll around on my tongue to see how it feels. With Estaban Loaiza now going to the A's, Morris is starting to look like the Giants' main pitching target. If he's healthy, he's a big upgrade from Tomko.

However, I still feel the bulk of the Giants' moves will be somewhat surprising, kind of like Billy Beane trading both Mulder and Hudson last winter. We sort of expected one, but both? Now that the market's been set for starters, Jason Schmidt's final year at $10M+ looks like a bargain. Might he be traded for younger, cheaper pitching? There may also be some significant addition by subtraction (Ray Durham? Pedro Feliz?) to clear the decks for other incoming surprises. Troy Glaus, anyone?

- Small print update: Now reading: former New England Journal of Medicine editor in chief Marcia Angell rips the pharmaceutical industry (i.e., "Big Pharma") a new donut hole in The Truth About the Drug Companies. Don't get angry -- get generic!

Also, I put the new Cowboy Junkies on the headphones a few times this weekend. It's not really new -- One Soul Now was released last year. But that's about the speed I move. I wait until consumer goods are not just retro, but retro-twice-removed before I buy them.

I'm a 15-year Junkie junkie, but these days I circle their new albums with trepidation. They've always played a limited repertoire that verges on generic country-rock, but when they're on, the blandness falls away to dense imagery, arrangements that swoop in from unexpected angles, and a certain morbid wit that runs upstream against their three-chord earnestness. (No wonder one of their favorites to cover is Springsteen's State Trooper.) Unfortunately One Soul Now doesn't meet those standards. The production is too slick by a couple notches, the lyrics often ring precious and forced, the uptempo numbers feel like filler. They've done this before. Some of the tracks on Miles From Our Home are unlistenable; I've never liked the cup-of-coffee cheeriness of "Anniversary Song." They haven't done a front-to-end stunner since Lay It Down (1996), although the extremely dark and dense Open (2001) was underrated and underlistened to.

- No matter how bad the Junkies get, they're a hell of a lot better than the Christmas-themed music I'm already hearing on radio stations and in public places. It's not yet December -- for Christ's sake (and I mean that), does it have to start so soon? When a director of marketing has so obviously pushed a button, it's not holiday spirit, it's retail-sector behavioral programming. But you knew that already. Right?

- When Brian Sabean's kids asked him how to tell if the turkey's done, he pointed to Edgardo Alfonzo and said, "Same shape. Same flexibility. Yep. Stick a fork in it."

- Does anyone want some turkey soup? We've got a lot left.



The Grim Draper 

I hereby nominate Rich Draper for this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest, and I'll ignore the fact there's no non-fiction/sports/propaganda category.

Draper's opening 'graph from Friday ranks up there with his all-time worst:

"Somebody keeps whispering in Noah Lowry's ear, and it's not like he's hearing voices. It's his own body doing the talking."

To hell with Bulwer-Lytton. Let's have our own Draper Follies. Please post your nominations for worst 2005 Draperism; at some point this weekend I'll narrow them down to the top 3, then we'll vote.



Five Years (My Brain Hurts a Lot) 

With the hot stove starting to glow, and all the GMs pushing through the market square, one big question on everyone's mind is "Will A.J. Burnett get a five year contract?"

The last pitcher to get five years was Chan Ho Park, whose $65 million contract from a rich Texan was such a waste you'd think Chan Ho was being paid to build schools in Afghanistan or haul ice to the Gulf Coast.

In the words of another rich Texan, there's been a lot of, heh heh, o-pie-nin' about whether the Giants should go for baroque and jump into the A.J. fray, or if they should more modestly offer someone like Jarrod Washburn, Esteban Loiaza or Matt Morris a two- or three-year contract.

Weighing in on the contract-length debate is Will Carroll, the Baseball Prospectus med-head/injury guru. In his latest chat, Will is asked if the team who signs Burnett to a five-year deal will only know misery:

Will Carroll: You know, I don't think misery is the right word. Sure he could blow out his shoulder as easily as any other pitcher and that bone spur that Jim Andrews left in his elbow worries me, but I haven't seen anyone with better stuff. I would *never* sign a pitcher to a deal over three years. I'll pay more to get less years.

That's an interesting concept. How would that work? Instead of offering Burnett 5 yrs/$50 mil, offer 3 yrs/$39 mil? More likely he means outbidding for someone like Morris or Jarrod Washburn without the enticement of extra years. Contract length is important to ballplayers -- it's what sealed the deal for Omar Vizquel, who reportedly had a two year, $10 M deal from the White Sox on the table when the Giants tacked on a third year and swept him off his feet. The average dollars per year were less, but the security of a fat paycheck at the age of 40 was too tempting.

The rumor mill, fed by the Chronicle and stoked here, is tilting slightly in the direction of Morris. (My two cents: he's been a top-echelon starter in years past but injuries have kept him from an All-Star career. Injuries may have affected him last year, too. Sign him only after a thorough physical exam, and to no more than two years with perhaps a third-year option based on performance. Be jubilant if he returns to '01-'02 form.)

But as we've seen in previous winters, the market for starting pitchers can get surreal fast. In two weeks, the idea of getting anyone not named Pedro Astacio for reasonable dollars could become laughable -- if you're a pitcher or an agent, that is. Since Brian Sabean is on record saying he won't be caught again without canned beans, beef jerky, and extra pitchers in his cupboard when the Big One hits, the Giants may well swallow hard and follow Will Carroll's advice.

As responsible Giant citizens, we can do our part to prepare ourselves for major sticker shock. Best to start now by applying small jolts of electricity to sensitive areas. When this no longer causes blurred vision, try licking the tops of car batteries.

This just in: the Mariners are signing Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima to a three-year deal. Looks like Yorvit isn't in their long-term plans, which makes the Giants' trade for Randy Winn look even better.



Eyre Out 

As expected, Scott Eyre has signed with not-the-Giants. In this case, the Cubs. There was nothing the Giants could do -- Eyre wanted to be closer to his Bradenton, Florida home in the suburbs of Tampa/St. Pete: "This is a situation where I can fly home after a day game and be home in two hours, and my wife can fly up on weekends."

Three and a half hours, actually, if you count the time change. But we get the point.

Some stories this morning are calling it a two-year contract, but the third year is a player option at $4 million. Unless Eyre becomes Randy Johnson or Billy Wagner in his late 30s, consider that third year a given.

So that makes a total of three years, $11 million base, with incentives that could add $2.4 million more. As I wrote here, the Giants are right not to cough up $4 mil a year for a middle reliever.

Ah! but according to the salary list on this very blog, you say, that's what they're doing with LaTroy Hawkins! Yes, but the Cubs spotted most of Hawkins' '05 salary, so one could argue that the Giants are only paying Hawkins roughly $2.5 mil per year....yeaaaah, but then you counter that Hawkins was an active Giant for only half of '05. That makes the Giants' outlay about $3.3 m a year, which...OK, OK, I get the point. It's too much for a middle reliever. But why make the same mistake twice?

Sure, it would have been nice to extend Eyre for a reasonable amount in June instead of making the panic move for Hawkins, but hindsight, etc.



The Giants added six minor-league players to the 40-man roster. In short, this means other teams can't steal them in the Rule 5 Draft. I'm not a prospect nerd, but here's my two cents: I don't know much about the pitchers Coutlangus, Reina and Acosta. Nate Schierholtz has been a highly touted prospect for a couple years, but he seems to have run into a couple problems: 1) originally a third baseman, his infield defense wasn't good enough, so he was moved to the outfield. That sets the bar higher for his offensive production. Which leads to 2) He doesn't have very good plate discipline. 132 Ks and only 32 walks in 502 at-bats this year at class-A San Jose. Ugly. He hit 15 homers and 37 doubles. Not bad. But he'll likely get eaten up by good pitchers at higher levels if he doesn't learn better plate discipline.

The good news is he's only 21 and has time to improve. He'll probably start 2006 in AA, so keep an eye on his BB/K rate and his extra-base hit totals. If he's going to be a major league starting outfielder, he'll need more power, or else we're talking Tony Torcato Two.

Travis Ishikawa is more intriguing. About half a year older than his 2005 teammate Schierholtz, Ishikawa is strictly a first baseman. I don't know about his defensive skills. Like Schierholtz, he strikes out a lot -- 129 Ks in 432 ABs at San Jose last year -- but has more power and a better eye, with 70 BBs. Better yet, he's shown a good eye at every level and seems to be improving. His power is certainly improving. Lots of Ks are forgivable if they also come with lots of power and walks. (See: Adam Dunn and Jim Thome.)

Elezier Alfonzo, a 26-year-old catcher, is remarkable for his name -- no word whether he's related, but he hails from Venezuela, as does 21-year-old Mets prospect Edgar Alfonzo. He had a career year last year, rocketing up to Fresno from San Jose after bouncing around the minors for nine years. He's likely a potential backup to Matheny if the Giants don't trade for one, or if Justin Knoedler doesn't pan out.

For a deeper discussion of the players, check here and live among those who follow every minor-league twitch.



Drink Up, Johnny 

My favorite quote so far from today's news about the new steroid (and amphetamines!) policy:

Players who test positive for amphetamines for the first time will be subject to mandatory evaluation and follow-up testing. "That's going to shake it up a little bit," [Atlanta catcher Johnny] Estrada said. "Amphetamines have been around since the days of Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle. It was kept hush-hush and just accepted. Now that they're in the public eye, guys are getting criticized for taking them. I've heard guys say they'd retire if they can't take amphetamines. I don't know if they're joking or not."

"I'm 29 years old, I drink my coffee and that's all I need. But 10 years from now, I don't know what it would take for me to be able to catch nine innings every night."



Ned Colletti's a Dodger. I always knew I hated that guy for some reason. The Giants assistant GM will be announced as the new L.A. general manager tomorrow, according to wire reports. He beat out longtime Dodger executive Kim Ng, who would have become the first woman GM, not to mention the first Asian American GM. And the first GM with only two letters as a last name. This guy is bummed.


I've now seen this reference to Colletti repeated a couple times:

A native of Chicago and graduate of Northern Illinois University, he has authored four books.

Hey, wow! A fellow traveler! Gotta go to Amazon to see what he's written...whoa, languid French bisexual erotica.

Oops. That's Colette. Not Colletti.

Let's try this again. After a bit of searching, I could only find two books of his own solo penmanship: You Gotta Have Heart: Dallas Green's Rebuilding of the Cubs, and Golden Glory: Notre Dame vs. Purdue. Classics, both. Thanks to Ned's work, it's rare you hear the words "Dallas Green" without the word "heart" somewhere nearby. Like "green-eyed monster" and "jealousy." Or "Portnoy" and "liver."

Finally: dammit, how come I never saw this picture before? At least when Ned decorates his new Dodger Stadium office, he won't need to buy an extra rug.


A sampling of reactions re. Colletti from around the Web:

Catfish Stew says "Dodger fans can now expect that every single pitching prospect they have will be traded for some sort of average major-league talent. Every. Single. One."

Dodger Thoughts listened to Colletti's press conference and was struck by his humility and by the difficulty of getting a read on his true nature. "The hiring of Colletti is somewhat like the approval of a Supreme Court justice. People are projecting their own fears or desires onto Colletti based on scraps from his past, but I'm not sure any of us can really know how he'll act wearing the black robe until he throws it over his sport coat."

Brian Sabean says Colletti will probably eat a lot of pasta with Tommy Lasorda.

Colletti says, "What, you talkin' to me?"

Bill Plaschke, the L.A. Times version of Bruce Jenkins ("I'll take a guy who wears his socks high over some computer-derived on base percentage any day!"), says Colletti is a solid old-school guy, "a batting-cage guy," but untested in being out front. "Colletti could be out of his league, a guy who blinks hard under the Hollywood lights."

Tommy Lasorda, on his very own blog, says he doesn't like Colletti because he's Italian..."I love him because I’m Italian!" Fuggedaboudit, Tommy! In the comments section of Tommy's post, somebody left this note:

What are the odds that Tommy will stab Ned in the back by the all-star break?

Posted by: dodgers@justwrite.us | November 16, 2005 04:15 PM

Thought I'd record it for posterity before Tommy's blog-handlers forcibly remove it from the premises.



There Once Was a Man Near Pawtucket 

The best way to feel stupid and have a good laugh, other than watching a Farrelly Brothers movie, is to riffle through the rounds of the dear Scorebard's latest Web game, Humbugardy. Laugh, because the wit and irreverence of the Bard and his contestants is unparalleled in baseball writing. Cry, because the questions -- rather, answers, as the game is modeled after Jeopardy -- cause extreme cramping in mere mortal brains like mine.

Example (6th Degree Quotes for 800):

This pitcher is the last to strike out the last batter to strike out against a pitcher who attended the same university as a famous poet born in the same city as the player who once said, "It's a strained muscle or something."

But not all is toil and trammell; sometimes El Bardo just wants poetry. Or in this case, ahem, "poetry" (Subjective for 1000):

As judged by the host on the evening of November 15, 2005, the best original limerick about Carl Everett.

Ongoing submissions including mine can be viewed here.



How Soon is Ned? 

The Dodgers are interested in Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti. They will interview him for the open general manager position soon. But when, Ned, when?

"It's soon," Colletti said.

That would be quite a defection. You have to wonder how much of the company secrets Colletti would take with him. For example, only Ned knows that when Brian Sabean's right eyelid twitches as he offers you Ryan Vogelsong, don't accept. Or, if you can't see him face-to-face, listen for the slight stutter: "Omar? Brian. Listen, Fonzie really wants to come back to New York, and he's comp-p-pletely healthy. Twenty p-p-pounds lighter."

Colletti would be wise to keep a list of these "tells" on the back of his cell phone.

There's also an argument to be made that Colletti would take a lot of his own secrets with him, and perhaps good riddance. He's been the Giants' main contract negotiator for years, and as discussed in the comments of this post, Ned worries about being crushed by statistics. He has dreams of giant numbers falling on his unprotected head. It's a little known fact that Ned is lobbying Congress to fund the Statistics Defense Shield Initiative to prevent the nefarious regimes of Beanegola and Prospectustan, not to mention the evil midget dictator of North Boras, from bombarding the faith-based citizenry with numbers of mass deduction.

To date, these terrifying formulations have not penetrated the Mays Field homeland, but one can never be too vigilant.

Another question is, would Colletti in L.A. and Sabean in S.F. be more amenable to trades between the two organizations? Historically, Dodger-Giant swaps have been as rare as Sammy Hagar driving the speed limit past Kettleman City or vegetarians signing up for the Harris Ranch Olfactory Immersion Weekend Package and Spa Kit.*

Do former colleagues inevitably like to trade with each other? Would Ned and Sabes instantly become bitter rivals? I don't have time to look it up at the moment, but it seems to me trades between the A's and Jays have been more frequent since J.P. Ricciardi took over in Toronto.

Final question: if Colletti defects, do the Giants get compensation, a la Lou Piniella going to Tampa and Randy Winn to Seattle? And if so, would Colletti handle the trade negotiations?

* More Central Valley analogies welcome in the comment box. Winner will be named in my will as inheritor of my commemorative Pac Bell Park replica model (not life size).


Small print update:

For those who care, I ripped through Krakauer's Into Thin Air in 48 hours. Never read it before, believe it or not. At his best, Krakauer makes you feel the altitude sickness, the 60-knot winds, the minus-100 F wind chill, the migraines and retching and hypoxia and brain swelling and unbearable fatigue to the point where you ask, Why are these people climbing Mt. Everest? "Because it is there" doesn't seem like such a noble answer anymore.

I recently bought my very first iPod, and it's given me the chance to listen to some old favorites in new contexts: up close through headphones, in the open spaces of gym workouts, with the backdrop of city streets as I walk or take busses here and there. I've had a great time revisiting Komeda's Pop På Svenska. It's like a rebus or easter egg hunt, there are so many fun musical bits (typewriter keys, bird squawks) hidden amongst the band's artsy pop gems. I have no idea what singer Lena Karlsson is saying (except for the first track -- "Oy Vilket Liv!" apparently means, "Wow, what a sound!") but Swedish never sounded so sexy. In the review I linked to at right, the reviewer pretty much nails what's great about the album and the band.



The True Public Cost of Pac Bell Park 

Or Mays Field, if you wish. Neil DeMause of Baseball Prospectus wrote yesterday about a researcher, urban planner Judith Grant Long, who has calculated the hidden public costs of sports stadiums.

With Pac Bell Park, the Giants were (and still are, by people like me) widely hailed for only asking $15 million from the public -- the cost of relocating city facilities from the bayfront property before stadium construction began. The rest of the costs were borne by the Giants; $306 million was the published figure.

But with tax breaks, the value of the land (donated at no cost by the city), and other subsidies, Long concludes that, adjusted to 2001 dollars, the public has shelled out $142 million, or 41% of the adjusted construction cost.

Projects in other cities are far worse, with eight stadiums actually costing the public more than the final construction cost.

Thanks to DeMause for highlighting this research. Yes, the Giants have their annual debt service to pay off, but with all these tax breaks the pain is somewhat tempered. I'd love to see reporters, when discussing payroll and other financial matters with the brass, make them acknowledge they've gotten more public help than they like to admit.

And let's also hope Long's research gets into the hands of civic leaders who are still considering the appeals of sports teams who claim they need new stadiums. I'm not saying categorically that the public shouldn't pay a cent to help build new facilities; how instrumental has Pac Bell Park been in the revitalization of that corner of South of Market? The King St. corridor and surrounding projects still would have come to fruition, but would it have happened as quickly without the ballpark? Would the California Stem Cell Institute have placed its headquarters there even though the nearby biotech campus is still only half-finished?

These are not rhetorical questions -- I really don't know, although I suspect there is at least some correlation. But there's a lot of rhetoric on both sides of the stadium construction debate: I remember in the late 1990s, when S.F. voters were asked yet again to decide on a new ballpark site, opponents argued it would foul traffic in that part of town, an apocalyptic vision that never came true.

Is there a definitive study of a ballpark's economic impact post-construction? Denver's LoDo; San Diego's Gaslamp district; Baltimore's inner Harbor: how many of these locales were boosted by ballparks? Have the cities regained in tax revenues what they gave away to ballpark owners?

Innate distrust of rich developers aside, A frequent topic of debate on this and other Giants' blogs is how much benefit of the doubt should we give Peter Magowan and his corporate partners? The new numbers from Judith Long should prompt a new evaluation.

As a season ticket holder, I'm going to write Pee-Mags (who to his credit twice has responded personally to my letters) and ask about this. I encourage others to do so, too, and let's compare notes if we get answers. If the Giants have gotten a 40% break on construction costs, why not boost the payroll by a similar margin? If not, why not? Time to come clean.


Eyre Time 

The Associated Press got a hold of Scott Eyre's home phone number and talked to the Giants reliever during taco night. He was cooking dinner for his kids at home in Florida, and the loquacious lefty made it clear re-signing with the Giants was not a priority.

He said all the nice things about San Francisco, the Giants organization and the fans, but you don't need a magnifying glass to read between the lines of his comments: the Giants would have to overwhelm him to bring him back.

"I feel like I've pitched well enough to deserve to find out what I am worth. If the Giants make something nice, I'll consider it very heavily."

Remember, the Giants have already made their first offer: reportedly two years plus an option for an undisclosed dollar figure. Eyre translation: that was not "something nice."

"[I'm] doing all the dad things I like to do," he said. "I want to be happy, and it will be mine and my wife's decision."

Why would he play on the West Coast when several big-budget East Coast teams are probably happy to keep him within a couple hours' flight of his kids? If he played back East even for a non-Florida team, he could fly home on off-days.

"If something comes up where I can play closer to home and it's going to be a fun clubhouse and something like San Francisco, it's going to be a tough decision to turn down. If people don't understand that, they don't love their kids like I do."

C'mon, Scott, what clubhouse could be more fun than San Francisco's? That Barry Bonds guy is such a free spirit, always keeping guys loose and giggly, no? And Felipe Alou: Mr. Personality!

"They're still on my list, No. 1 on the list," Eyre said. "I guess you could say with the people I've talked to, I'm trying to get three years and my agent thinks I could get more."

Translation: the Giants are still No. 1 on his list if they can give him 4 years and, say, $12 million.

Is any team crazy enough to give a journeyman 33-year-old lefty with one excellent year in his resume that kind of contract? I doubt it. Even the Yankees have learned some lessons about showering middle relievers with cash ( Steve Karsay ). But other teams will certainly have more payroll budgeted for their bullpens and could easily match not to mention outspend the Giants. And a match may be all it takes, given the big hints Eyre is dropping about wanting to play closer to home. Even if the Giants trade LaTroy Hawkins and others to free up payroll, I don't see much future in S.F. for Scott Eyre.

Question: how much do you think Eyre is worth? If he doesn't re-sign with the Giants, should they go into spring training with Fassero and Taschner as their lefty relievers?



Twenty Questions 

As Brian Sabean packed his bags for the annual General Managers Gone Wild in Palm Springs, he sat down with local beat reporters to tell them how difficult it would be this off-season.

Just as it is every year. Yes, Brian, we've heard this before. Didn't you listen when George W. Bush warned us about the soft bigotry of low expectations? With it coming from a man proud as hell to be a C student, well, no wonder you didn't listen, Brian. Plus your mind works much like mine, and whenever you hear that phrase you free-associate your way to the low spark of high-heeled boys, and you giggle.

Although Sabes is probably right this time; let's not get too frothy. It's no bumper crop of free agents out there, and the Giants have mostly untouchable young guys, mediocre young guys or overpriced vets to trade.

Pitching is the number one priority, as it should be. Not because pitching is 90% of baseball, as Jim Bunning or some other fossil might suggest, but because low-scoring games are much more exciting than big ol' slugfests. Give me a sleek, nailbiting 3-2 win anytime, with a Bonds homer, a Moises Alou RBI double, and a couple hit and runs sprinkled in there. I'm a simple man with simple needs.

That would make Scott Eyre, whom the Giants reportedly have tendered a two-year contract with a third option year, priority 1A. No reports yet on the details of the contract, but no doubt Eyre will test the free agent market. Let's hope the Giants haven't over-offered anything. This team needs a lefty middle reliever making $4 million a year like it needs Victor Conte running the candy counter next to the Coca-Cola kids' lot.

Just to scare you, here's a quote from last May, after the Giants learned Benitez would be out most of the year:

"To me, you always figure something is going to happen with one of your starters, whether it's a front-line guy or a kid," Sabean said. "You don't usually go through a season without one of them going on the DL. But when you lose the closer you expected to have from Day 1 and through the course of the year, and you really don't have any other alternatives, you're digging a hole. Therein lies our lament, and we're not going to be in a position where it happens again, (even if) we have to overpay somebody."

Not only is it significant because Sabean uses the word "therein," the only person other than P.G. Wodehouse to use it in speech in the last 150 years, but it makes it clear he could enter the Flaky Starter sweepstakes. I really doubt A.J. Burnett is on the Giants' radar screen because of his ten-cent head, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them try to go 3 years, $27 million for Kevin Millwood, Matt Morris or Jeff Weaver.

Henry Schulman says it's more likely they trade for an arbitration-eligible guy such as Kip Wells, Jason Jennings, Bronson Arroyo or Kyle Lohse. Not a bad idea, given any of those pitchers could turn a corner and become a star in the next year or two. Or not. But it's really not much more risk than throwing $30 million at Matt Morris.

According to Sabean, the front office has compiled a list of 20 free agents the Giants would like to trade cell phone numbers with. No word whether the Giants would also offer to take said free agents to the opera or ballet, lean over just before intermission and say, "Gee, your hair smells terrific -- is that jasmine?"

That probably won't work on Konerko. He's more of a symphony guy.

What's more intriguing is the number. Twenty? They're looking to fill two holes: starting pitcher and lefty first baseman-slash-outfielder, no? Are there ten worthy candidates for each? According to this list, maybe if you squint really hard and have three or four tequila shots. Among the starting pitchers, you come up real fast on the likes of Rick Helling and Jason Johnson. Among the first basemen/OF types, well, let's just say John Mabry starts to sound intriguing.

OK, maybe the List of 20 includes relief pitchers, including Scott Eyre's potential replacement. We can be somewhat assured that C.J. Nitkowski won't be signing with the Giants -- he's farther right than Mark Dewey, notorious anti-"Until There's a Cure" protester. No doubt C.J. is staying as far as possible from Sodom on the San Andreas, where the restaurants smell like gerbils or hamsters.

I'll bet Jeff Fassero has no idea what a gerbil or hamster smells like.

My guess is the list of 20 is just Sabean squirting squid ink into the face of the media. Sure, he and the Nedster may "talk" to 20 free agents, but that includes passing their agents in the hallway and saying, "'Sup?" Let's not equate 20 conversations with 20 free agents actually capable of helping the Giants in 2006.

If you were a betting fool, and perhaps you are, how much would you bet the Giants first off-season acquisition (other than Jeff Fassero) is a starting pitcher? Any odds on who it would be and how much the Giants will spend?



SF (SS + C) = Au 

Omar Vizquel, in 2005 you set a record for gasps and giggles per 9 innings
and made it fun to watch baseball at Mays Field.

Mike Matheny, you threw the moneychangers and the basestealers out of the
temple. O! squatting soldier of righteousness!

Solid Gold, guys.



Sweet Things From Boston, So Young and Willing 

Somewhere in Rancho Mirage, Joe Morgan is wearing Sansabelt slacks, teeing up a long fairway shot, and chuckling to himself: "Adios, goddamn college boy punk ass Moneyball bitches." Thwack!

Yes, Joe is feeling good today. Two of baseball's boy brainiacs are gone. First Paul DePodesta was canned by the Dodgers, now Theo Epstein has walked away from the Red Sox after an acrimonious contract extension negotiation with team president Larry Lucchino.

Lucchino seems to be the anti-Steve Jobs. Jobs is famous for emanating a "reality distortion field" that makes everyone gasp at his ideas and bow down before his shiny little products. Lucchino seems to emanate a bad smell that makes everyone wrinkle their nose and say, "Who is this putz?"

Epstein was his protege. Despite a 10-year relationship and the glory of bringing a World Series title to Boston, the two couldn't sit down and figure things out. As La Comay likes to say, "¡Qué bochinche!"

The Giants immediately squelched any discussion of New England native Brian Sabean jumping ship to run the Red Sox. Sabean has a weird secret contract, the length and payment of which the Giants refuse to divulge. But he's certainly around through 2006, if not longer. Perhaps more attractive to Sabean than a compliant ownership team and a nice view of the bay from his luxury suite is the looming end to the big headache with bulging biceps known as Barry Bonds. Bonds will be gone after this year, although his $5 million a year in salary deferments will be around 'til 2010 or so.

Before you scream and shout that Bonds, player of his generation, Homerun Jesus, Superman, is irreplaceable, please file under: Alex Rodriguez and Texas Rangers. No, the Giants don't have a stable of young sluggers waiting in the wings, but if Sabean can build a dominant pitching staff based on the Giants' deep farm talent, he may not need too many big bats. (File under: 2005 Chicago White Sox.)

A bigger question is whether Sabean wants to hang around if attendance in the post-Barry era falls off. He doesn't have to worry about me; unless I end up homeless, I'll continue to shovel my hard-earned money down the Giants' corporate maw for season tickets. But plenty others will balk if there's no nameplate superstar and/or a winning team on the field.

We may grumble about the Magowan Administration, but, uh, why? Driving off Dusty Baker? Please. Dusty was no saint and no miracle worker. I was sad to see him go, but life moves on. Not spending $150 million a year on payroll? I thought budgetary restraint was a virtue. Letting the BALCO thing fester in the clubhouse? We'll see how it plays out. Giving campaign money to Bush? I'll hold my nose.

Perhaps you prefer Tom Hicks or Peter Angelos? How about Frank McCourt, who actually said this during his press briefing after he fired DePodesta:

"We want Dodgers here, we want players that play like Dodgers, and so forth."

Man, that should get Dodger fans, you know, the ones who like the Dodgers, fired up, and whatnot.

Steve Sax, he had psychological throwing problems, but they were Dodger problems. Steve Howe, he may have been in love with Snow White, but he never stopped Thinking Blue. Steve Garvey was porking women who were not his wife, but man, what a Dodger!

From the DePodesta debacle also comes the news that Giants' bench coach Ron Wotus will not make the short list of managerial candidates to replace Jim Tracy. Whew. As I wrote a while back, I don't know if Wotus should be the next Giants' manager, but he certainly gets a lot of praise from smart people (like, well, Paul DePodesta), and hopefully the Giants will at least consider him to be Felipe Alou's successor in the not-too-distant future.

Someone should ask Wotus what he thinks of on-base percentage.

Now that smartypantses DePo and Epstein are gone, we'll be keeping an eye on Toronto's J.P. Ricciardi, Cleveland's Mark Shapiro, and of course King Moneyball himself, Billy Beane. None have presided over flaming 25-man pileups or been subject to incurable regional alienation and angst.

But the old-school backlash has begun. Scott Podsednik rules the universe. Darin Erstad is a valuable asset in the clubhouse. Chicks dig sacrifice bunts. Joe Morgan is sipping a scotch at the 19th hole and smiling.


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