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11.06.2005

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?

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