It Is the West, and Barry Lamar is the Sun 

Happy new year to all. After two months of hot stove action, ESPN.com has posted its projected starting lineups and rotations for each team. Let's take a look at their projections for the NL West, compare each team to the Giants, and make some snarky comments.

(In order of last year's finish)


ESPN's projected starters

Mirabelli c
A. Gonzalez 1b
Barfield 2b
Greene ss
Castilla 3b
Klesko lf
Cameron cf
Giles rf


- Where's the leadoff hitter? I guess Khalil Greene (.349 OBP in '04, .295 OBP in '05) or the untested rookie Josh Barfield would get the nod. Without Dave Roberts in the lineup, the only other fast, high on-base guy is Brian Giles, and he certainly won't be leading off.

- Castilla and Mirabelli are about as bad at the bottom of the order as, well, Feliz and Matheny. Maybe worse. Cameron is a decent bat but not an offensive centerpiece.

- Defense: The infield should be fine if Barfield and Gonzalez are as spry as they are young. (If Bellhorn gets starts at 2B, the defense will suffer.) In the outfield , Cameron will make up for some of Klesko's foibles, and until I hear to the contrary I'll assume Giles is good enough.

Compared to the Giants...

The lineups have some similarities. Reliance upon aging stars (Bonds/Alou; Klesko/Giles). Unproven first basemen. It doesn't speak well of San Diego to say I'd rather have Feliz than Castilla as my everyday third baseman. If Klesko has another off-year, this lineup could be the worst in the division.


C. Young
Stauffer? Estes?

As my granpappy used to say, "Williams and Peavy and the rest is skeevy." Even worse, Williams turns 40 next summer; does he have anything left in the tank? The bullpen is the strength: Hoffman closing and Linebrink setting up. Otherwise, this team doesn't scare me at all.


ESPN's projected starters

Estrada c
C. Jackson/T. Clark 1b
Hudson 2b
Counsell ss
Tracy 3b
Gonzalez lf
Byrnes cf
Green rf


- Eric Byrnes is just a placeholder for Chris Young, acquired in the Vazquez trade. The more he placeholds, the better for the division. Byrnsie shouldn't be playing CF, and he shouldn't start against right-handed pitchers.

- Counsell will probably lead off, which again is good news for the division. His lifetime OBP is .346, decent but not elite, and he doesn't have the power to make up for it.

- Once again, aging sluggers. This time it's Gonzo, Green and Clark. Green hasn't slugged .500 since 2002. Gonzo is 38 and coming off his worst year since he came to Arizona. Conor Jackson may supplant Clark full-time. Chad Tracy is the only slugger on the rise.

- Defense: Gonzo and Green have had shoulder injuries, though both rebounded defensively in '05 according to BP's Rate2. The infield will have one superior glove in Hudson.

Compared to the Giants...

The D-Backs offense isn't anything special, and their outfield defense could almost be as bad as the Giants'.


O. Hernandez

Webb can be a genuine ace. I love El Duque, but he's 52 years old and shouldn't be counted on for more than 100 innings. Russell, as Dusty used to call him, sucked early last year, went on the DL, then came back and sucked some more. He could be a pitch away from major surgery. Batista is a great poet. In the bullpen, Valverde oscillates between unhittable and throwing 0-2 pitches down the middle to Pedro Feliz. In other words, the D-Backs need their old sluggers to slug and their bright young prospects such as Stephen Drew and Chris Young to hurry along, 'cause the pitching staff is going to need lots of help.


ESPN's projected starters

Navarro c
Nomah 1b
Kent 2b
Furcal ss
Mueller 3b
Cruz lf
Lofton cf
Drew rf


- Furcal and Lofton (or Mueller) at the top of the order is a potent combo, probably the best in the division.

- Kent/Drew/Nomah in the middle is a roll of the dice; Colletti is betting on health where there hasn't been much in recent years. (Odd that the only full season of J.D. Drew's career came at the cusp of free agency, no?)

- Navarro could be a .300 hitter in the 8-hole.

- Defense: Outfield could be great depending on Lofton's skills (conventional wisdom says he's weak; BP's Rate2 says he's still above average); infield will be excellent on the left side, weak on the right side.

Compared to the Giants...

If every Giant and Dodger stayed healthy all year, the Dodgers arguably would have the offensive advantage at several positions. Nomah over SweeNiekro, Kent over Durham, Furcal over Vizquel, Mueller over Feliz, Drew over Alou, Navarro over Matheny. Bonds is better in LF, sure, and maybe Winn over Lofton, but it looks more like the Giants' key to winning the division is to take out Stan Johnston with extreme prejudice.


O. Perez

I can see Penny becoming a true ace, reeling off a Cy Young type season. Lowe and Perez, on any given night they can throw a great game, but I don't see any long-term advantage over the Giants top three or four. Bullpen: Gagne is the NL's best if he returns to form. D. Sanchez could be great set-up, Brazoban could go either way. If health and luck fall their way, and Billingsley becomes this year's Matt Cain, the Dodgers may run away with the West.


Todd Helton
Todd Helton
Matt Something
Deer Meat

Are they still going to wear those purple-and-gray pinstriped atrocities? Or the shiny silver-and-black sleeveless tops? Change the unis, guys, and maybe I'll care.



"Pay Attention, '007" 

First, a few small-print updates:

* At the request of a few readers, I've signed up to syndicate my feed. Or maybe feed my syndicate. Whatever it is, if you have RSS thingamabob stuff, you can sign up for Lefty Updates over on the right. Just click the link under "Syndication." If I've not done it correctly, please let me know.

* Now listening to Curtis Fuller's New Trombone. If one of your favorite musical moments is the intro to Coltrane's "Blue Train" with the trombone harmony -- that's Curtis Fuller. Check out Fuller's 1957 debut for a similar band size, instrumentation and sound -- though I'd argue New Trombone at moments bests Blue Train with warmer, fuller grooves, and a more cohesive sound. Maybe it's the remastering.

* Now reading In Cold Blood. Never read it before, amazingly enough. The movie Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman, which I had mixed feelings about, is more or less "Behind the Scenes of In Cold Blood." I figure it's time to actually read the book, which changed the way America approached journalism, for better or worse. Capote laid the groundwork for the first-person creative nonfiction of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.

And now for something completely different...a man talking out of his ass about the 2007 Giant outfield:

The Fonzie-for-Finley trade probably means one Giants' farmhand only will make the '06 opening day roster. My guess, proferred yesterday, is that Todd Linden has the upper hand. But if he bombs in spring training and either Dan Ortmeier or Jason Ellison shines, we may see one of them.

So what can we expect in the Mays OutField in 2007?

Let's assume a few things: Bonds, Alou and Finley are no longer with the Giants. Bonds will either retire or go to the American League to DH; ditto for Alou. If Finley proves healthy and plays better than last year, he'll probably attract some interest, but not at $7 M. (There are also whispers the Giants may trade Finley this winter -- stay tuned.) Randy Winn is the most likely to extend his contract with S.F., but I won't make any predictions as to dollars or length.

As of this writing, the Giants have $34 million committed to six players in 2007: Benitez, Matheny, Morris, Sweeney, Vizquel, Worrell. That figure includes deferred salary (Alou, Bonds) and buyouts (Finley). I believe Noah Lowry will be the only youngster up for arbitration, so add a handful of other players to the roster, including Matt Cain, with minimal fiscal impact.

If Randy Winn performs well out of the gate in '06, I'll bet he's signed to an extension for '07. At least one spot will go to a youngster: Linden, if he turns things around, or perhaps Ortmeier. From the next minor-league wave, Eddie Martinez-Esteve, who's slated to start next year in double-A, could rise quickly although his defense is considered woeful. Fred Lewis is another talented but puzzling farm boy. He had a schizophrenic '05 in double-A, first half terrible, second half excellent, but there's a very outside shot he could be the Giants' leadoff guy in '07.

Will the Giants target a post-Bonds superstar to anchor the '07 outfield? There could always be a trade for someone like Bobby Abreu, but beyond Cain, the farm system is thin in upper-level, can't-miss prospects, the kind teams usually want in exchange for superstars.

How about signing one when Barry leaves? Not so much. The list of post-'06 free agents doesn't have any outfielder who screams "I'm the answer to all your problems!" (Unless your big problem is not enough guys with doubled-up vowels in their names.)

This is rank speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if the '07 outfield has Randy Winn, either Todd Linden or Ortmeier (or both), and another farm kid. Or a second-tier free agent a la Jose Guillen. Best-case scenario is if Linden becomes Jose Guillen by then, a 20-25 home run/.800+ OPS guy with solid corner defense.

The big question: will the Giants tear it down post-Barry and spend '07 evaluating the farm lads? It wouldn't be the worst thing, but it's not easy to do. Cleveland is the best example of a tear-down and fairly quick turnaround. No doubt, though, the Giants would prefer the Atlanta Braves model of slotting in a youngster or two every year and winning the division. How nice.

A final note: Dayn Perry has a great column on Fox Sports on the State Department's refusal to let Cuba play in next spring's World Baseball Classic.


The Fifth Man 

With the acquisition of Steve Finley, the Giants have found a fourth outfielder with a track record of recent success (a career high 36 HRs in 2004) and a more recent alarming decline. No need to rehash the 2005 stastistics.

OK, if you insist. Will the real Steve Finley please stand up:

2004: .275 / .338 / .490
2005: .222 / .271 / .374

His defense, according to BP's "Rate2" stat, also declined in '05, but only to league-average.

(Note that Finley, having twice spurned the Giants, is now making all the nice noises about respect for the organization and the city, having something to prove, etc.)

Make no mistake, he will play a lot. But let's clear up a misconception. Many, including a commenter or two from the previous post, believe that Finley's 2007 contract option will kick in if he gets 600 plate appearances next year.

It's possible he could reach 600 PA's if He Who Shall Not Be Named For Superstitious Reasons is out once again for a good chunk of the year. Or if the other really old guy with jelly for hamstrings pulls a similar feat.

But the question is moot: According to this site, which seems to have the most comprehensive, accurate info out there on player contracts, Finley's $7 M option for '07 will become mutual -- in other words, the Giants will still have the right to say no and buy him out for $1 m.

We can go 'round and 'round about possible injuries and how much time we bleacher creatures will spend perusing Finley's vanilla-cream polyester backside next year, but to assume he'll be out there a lot begs a more interesting question:

The fifth outfielder will become that much more important. Who will it be?

Is it Mark Sweeney, brought on board to fill in at the corners, perhaps platoon with Lance Niekro at first, and Batt inn The Pynche for Oure Olde Towne Teame?

I think not. Unless Niekro eats some magical rain-forest mushrooms during a winter-ball road trip and opens his mind to the next bardo where right-handed pitchers no longer represent the repressive shackling of his consciousness, Sweeney's going to play a lot of first base next year.

That leaves one of the young(er) guys: Ellison, Linden, or Ortmeier. They did not acquit themselves well in their big-show tenures this year. My guess is all three will still have a chance to wow in spring training and win the roster spot.

Because his highest minor-league level was double-A, Ortmeier is most likely to start the year at Fresno.

Ellison is a speedy guy, but he proved to be a bad basestealer. Don't tell me about his 14 SBs and only 6 caught stealings; as the season wore on, smart pitchers learned how to keep him close. He had no clue against lefties, and righties with good moves like Byung-Hyun Kim also gave him trouble. As with his hitting skills, the league quickly uncovered his flaws. My early-season hopes that he would become the next Darren Lewis are now locked in the basement. I may let them out again, but they will not be allowed in public, even for a short walk around the block.

Linden may get the nod out of spring training simply because he's shown too much talent in the minors to dump overboard. Yet. I think he's also out of options. Even if he isn't, he's proved his triple-A skills. The "let him play every day in the minors" argument doesn't really fly; if he can't prove his worth as a bench guy for a year, he may never play in the bigs.

Ah, but what does this all mean for 2007? I'll get to that tomorrow.



To Dream The Impossible Dream 

For the upcoming TV movie about Brian Sabean's life they better get Anne Bancroft to play him, because after today, we're going to call Sabes the Miracle Worker.

He just traded Edgardo Alfonzo. People said it couldn't be done. People laughed and pointed and chalked up Alfonzo as an $8 million backup third baseman in 2006.

But now he's gone, and in his stead, the Giants will have Steve Finley, the same Steve Finley who as a free agent spurned the Giants' advances more than once and burned hella bridge, as the kids say these days, with the S.F. front office.

But now he's ours, hahahahahahahahaha! You have to play for the Giants, Steve, or else retire.

Given the way he played in '05, however, that might be the better option. He had a year arguably worse than any of Alfonzo's three years in orange and black. He was awful, but he was injured. Was it a fluke? Is he finished? Is he off the 'roids? He is 40, after all, and through his late 30s people marveled at what "great shape" he was in. Mmm-hmm.

It's worth the risk. Even a modest comeback will be an improvement, and he's still a top-notch defender who makes a great backup for the other alte kackers in the outfield. He's owed $7 M next year and $1 M for his 2007 buyout.

In other words, the Giants are on the hook for the same amount of money, but they're spending it on someone who was above-average for several years through 2004, and who plays a position the Giants have greater need to fill than backup 3b/2b.

Strong work, Sabes.



Non-Tender Is the Night (Update) 


The morning after, the non-tendered name that may best fit the Giants' needs is
Miguel Olivo: Once a top catching prospect, Olivo has bounced from the White Sox to the Mariners to the Padres because he can't hit, although he put up a decent .270/.316/.496 in 141 at bats before being traded from Chitown to Seaville in mid-'04. Then, last year, after a mid-season trade to San Diego, he hit .304/.341/.487 in 115 at bats. If only the season were three months long, the guy would be a star.

With the Giants' current internal candidates for backup catcher being Justin Knoedler, Yamid Haad and Elizier Alfonzo, Olivo, if signed to a minor-league deal that becomes, say, $750,000 upon making the team, would be a fine idea.

Eric Byrnes is an intriguing 4th OF, though he isn't much use against right-handed pitching. He would certainly be an across-the-board upgrade over Jason Ellison (who also can't hit RHP): more power, better arm, similar defense, much better base stealer. Byrnes would also allow Felipe to keep Mark Sweeney on the bench when either Bonds or Alou were out against a left-handed pitcher.

The starting pitchers let go were Josh Fogg, Wes Obermuller, Ramon Ortiz, and Wade Miller. Miller is the only one with real upside, a lad on his way to stardom before he hit the injury wall in full-stop, Wile E. Coyote fashion. Splat. If (if, if, if, if) he can come back to form, he'll be a huge scrap-heap gem, but it's looking more and more like his hamburger is cooked.


Some curious news from tonight's deadline for clubs to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. (The Giants don't have any.)

* The Dodgers have re-signed Hee Seop Choi to a $750,000 contract after much speculation he'd be non-tendered. That doesn't mean they won't trade him, but for now he's a Dodger. Interesting move by the Nedster.

* The Cubs have offered Corey Patterson a contract. A bit of a surprise after they traded for Juan Pierre to be their center fielder and signed Jacque Jones.

* The Yankees offered Shawn Chacon a contract, as expected. It's a big turnaround for Chacon, who before joining the Yankees last summer was watching his career spiral down the drain in Coors Field. I admit I ridiculed the idea of trading for him -- and all he did was win seven games with an ERA under 3 for los Yanquis.

* The Padres did not offer a contract to Dewon Brazelton, whom they received recently in the trade for Sean Burroughs. That basically means the Pods dumped Burroughs, once thought to be a future star, for zippo.

So far, no diamond in the rough has been cut loose, a la David Ortiz a few years ago. But there's still an hour and a half until the deadline.



The Broiler 

Tomorrow night a new crop of players will be let loose on the free agent market, giving the Giants more options from which to fill their remaining needs (in descending order of importance):

- left-handed hitting 1B/3B or backup outfielder
- backup middle infielder
- starting pitcher
- backup catcher

The much-maligned Hee Seop Choi could be among this newly emancipated group, as discussed here. I'd like to see the Giants go after Choi as a platoon option with Niekro, which would free Sweeney to play more outfield and come off the bench as a key pinch-hitter.

But there's another Korean lad I'd love to see in a Giants uniform. Much to the horror of El Lefty Malo's Tokyo bureau chief Morse-San, I'd welcome Byung-Hyun Kim as the fifth starter. Morse-san does not harbor ill will against Kim because of long-seeded regional and ethnic tensions; no, Morse-san is in fact a diehard Red Sox fan and unfondly remembers Kim's Boston tenure as a disaster in which B.K. earned the nickname "The Broiler."

As in, getting lit up. Do I need to explain everything?

Apparently in Boston beleaguered relief pitchers and fast-food joints have deep, intimate ties.

Kim's work in Boston was, if not mouth-wateringly packed with sodium and trans-fats, at least quite adequate. It was more his untimely idea of a civic salute that sealed his fate.

He landed in Colorado last year, where his walk-rate and hits allowed went way up. However, he also fared badly away from Coors Field, so not exactly a rebound season for the sidearming whopper.

But a gamble on a rebound in '06, especially away from the mindfuck of Coors Field, must be worth a million bucks or so. The Rockies are trying to work something out with him, according to the Rocky Mountain News:

The Rockies would like to bring back Kim, but it's going to be for about one-fifth of the $6 million he earned last year, and Kim will have to reclaim his spot in the rotation.

That's all? He's had a rough couple of years, but he's only 26 years old and has an excellent lifetime K/9 rate over 9. Despite alarming walk totals in '05, his career K/BB ratio is still well over 2.

If he doesn't work something out with the Rox -- we'll know by Jan. 8 at the latest -- I wouldn't be hopping mad to see him sign a cheap one-year deal with the Giants.



Deconstructing Billy 

As if to answer the big wail of "Why?" that's gone up in the wake of his decision to sign with the Dodgers, Bill Mueller has shed some light on his thought process in this article from Pravda's Redondo Beach bureau.

Let's have a look:

"Once Grady and Ned were in place, it helped a great deal," said Mueller, who signed a two-year deal for $9.75 million Wednesday to plug the year-long hole left by the departure of Adrian Beltre. "It's nice to go where you know the people."

Does Bill not know Brian, um, what's his face? The other guy with a mullet? Oh yeah, Sabean. What Bill is really saying: he doesn't "know" Colletti and Grady Little, he likes them more than he likes Sabean, Mike Murphy, Lou Seal, the rest of the Giants' front office, and the San Francisco fans. He certainly knows us, doesn't he? He met his wife here, fercrissakes. What about her feelings? Conclusion: slap in the face to all San Franciscans. We can boo him now.

It's no surprise that Mueller liked Little's style of managing. "The first couple of months, he never took me out of the lineup," recalled Mueller. "When there's turmoil, he makes light of it. He gets everybody on the same page. He has a smile on his face and he's positive every day. That rubs off."

No surprise, indeed. Maybe Grady never took Bill out of the lineup because Bill was hitting the crap out of the ball. Forrest Gump could have figured that one out -- and smiled every day, too. What Bill is really saying here is playing for Grady Little makes him feel comfortable, pampered, and unthreatened. Conclusion: The Dodgers will be softer than a box of Kleenex with the weird built-in facial lotion. That stuff is creepy, and so are the Dodgers. Boo Bill Mueller immediately.

"You want to be with a team that has a chance to win, and I feel the Dodgers are moving in that direction," Mueller said. "I know Jeff Kent [a Giants teammate], the type of player he is, and Derek Lowe [a Red Sox teammate]. I think it's a very positive situation and can get better."

Moving in the direction of having a chance to win. Nice. Sounds like Mueller's new boss is having an immediate rhetorical effect on his players. Just a couple months ago, Frank McCourt said, "We want Dodgers here, we want players that play like Dodgers, and so forth." Fire it up, Frankie, fire it up! [clap clap]

Funny, the situation wasn't so positive about two weeks ago, when the Dodgers had no general manager, no manager, a pair of malcontents at each other's throats, charges of racism in the clubhouse, too many porn 'staches, a meddlesome husband-and-wife ownership team, and a team ace who can't keep it in his pants. Some of those problems have been recently papered over with the approval of the troglodyte local press, but we know the real story. Conclusion: Bill Mueller is a liar, and we should boo him incessantly.

Mueller, a .292 career hitter, has had four knee operations, two on each knee, but said he's feeling fine after playing 150 games and the most innings of his career in 2005.

Duh. Conclusion: Bill Mueller's knees may be aching, and they may not be aching, but he isn't dumb enough to say the former right after inking a $10 million contract.

If he's traded to the Giants in mid-season, I take it all back.



The Thin Blue Lineup 

As you might have heard by now, the Dodgers are about to sign Bill Mueller to be their regular third baseman. He'll likely be their #2 hitter, with fellow Blue newbie Rafael Furcal leading off.

Combine that with the departure of Milton "K.I.T. Keep It Together" Bradley, and the Fodgers' lineup will look awfully different in '06. Here's a stab:

ss Furcal
3b Mueller
rf Drew
2b Kent
1b Choi
lf Werth(less)
cf ??
c Navarro

Something like that. There are rumors they've offered Kenny Lofton a contract. 'T would be interesting to see if Li'l Kenny's ego allows him to bat somewhere other than leadoff. He didn't take kindly to being moved around in his brief stay in pinstripes a couple years ago.

The above stab will likely change when Cesar Izturis returns from injury in mid-year. Izturis could move to 2b, with Kent moving to 1b. But Izturis is a truly horrible hitter; if he's not playing his natural position, why bother keeping him around? I'm guessing he'll be traded once he proves healthy. Meanwhile, the Dodgers will look for a 2b with some pop and move Kent to first full-time. That makes Choi trade bait this winter. Just a guess.

The key to their lineup is Drew. Will he continue to be the fragile, overpaid, self-absorbed albatross that leaves a huge offensive chasm whenever he's injured?

We can only hope.

If Drew's healthy, the Dodgers will have a nasty one-through-four. But it's obvious Coletti has a lot of work to do on the second half of the lineup.

Ned's done a pretty good job so far, I must admit. He's filled two gaping holes at 3B and SS with above-average offensive and defensive players. He's dumped a psycho no one wanted around anymore for a top prospect. Their pitching staff is still a big puzzle; Penny, Lowe and Perez are the three remaining starters, all making big bucks, all with physical or mental question marks.

Do the Dodgers scare you? Will Grady Little make more bizarre moves than Felipe Alou? When you're sitting in the bleachers this summer and Jayson Werth turns around and pretends to flick boogers on you, will you mistakenly happen to coincidentally lose grip of your beer, oopsie, just as he's trying to make a running catch against the left-field wall, but not before you've hocked a big loogie into your plastic cup -- out of sheer coincidence, mind you -- not that I would ever condone such behavior especially if the Giants' season ticket police are reading this?



More on Morris Risk 

From Will Carroll in today's BP:

Matt Morris is a Giant now. Was three years too long for him or will the ballpark help him?

I’ll leave the park effects work to Clay and Nate and the defensive work to James and Keith, so I’ll stick to the injury aspects of Morris’ signing. Morris has remade himself after his shoulder injury and came back nicely from off-season cleanup. Pitchers that remake themselves after injury--think Tommy John or Frank Tanana--often have long careers. Morris has taken a pretty serious workload during his time in St Louis, but if you look at their track record, there’s not a lot of serious injury there to the starters. Morris isn’t a horrible risk from the injury standpoint and likely to be a positive component for a Giants team that you just have to think is going for it this year. I think Brian Sabean is sticking to what he does best and planning to build the team up with in-season trades.



Mueller or Nomar? 

Now that Matt Morris is safely ensconsed in the Giants starting rotation (salary details to come), the attention of Giants' brass turns, or so we hope, to the other big hole on this team: a big bat, either at first or third.

Except for his AL batting-championship year in 2003, Bill Mueller has never been confused with a "big bat." Nomar Garciaparra, the object of much affection and speculation this winter, was everything you'd want from a big bat until A Series of Unfortunate Injuries in places you never want to imagine ouchy situations: the Achilles' heel (sharp intake of breath) and g-g-g-g-groin (collective groan of empathy).

Mueller is rumored to be on the Giants' radar screen. Nomar has not been mentioned once in connection with the team.

Also note: The Giants talk about needing a *left-handed* bat; Mueller is a switch hitter, Nomar is a right-handed hitter.

Two questions:

1) Should the Giants go for Nomar, Mueller, or someone else, perhaps in a trade?

2) Will the Giants go for Nomar, Mueller, or someone else, perhaps in a trade?

UPDATE: Here are the details of the Morris contract, courtesy of SI.com:

He will receive a $2 million signing bonus at the end of his contract and is scheduled to make $5 million next season and $9.5 million in both 2007 and '08. The contract contains a $9 million club option for a fourth season that could go up to as much as $11 million with escalators based on performance. He would receive a $1 million buyout if the option is declined.

Very well done by the Giants front office -- and without Ned The Contract Man! Cheap in '06 while Barry, Durham, Alfonzo, etc are still on the books, then $9.5 M in '07 and '08, when Cain and Lowry are staff leaders but still relatively cheap, and the 4-5 slots can be filled with Hennesseys, other farm hands (Burres? Misch? Valdez?) or low-cost vets from elsewhere. I assume the $2 M signing bonus would come due in '08 or perhaps '09. I also like the expensive club option -- a brass ring for Morris to shoot for, but no obligation for the Giants other than the almost negligible $1 M buyout.



Morris Risk, Morris Reward 

The chatter is pointing Matt Morris toward San Francisco, where the ex-Cardinal righty would become the Giants' #2 starter. The expected contract is 3 years at something like $25 million, perhaps with a fourth-year option. That's what Ken Rosenthal is reporting today.

[UPDATE: ESPN.com is reporting the deal is three years and $27 million, which sounds like there's a fourth-year option with a couple million for the buyout.]

The rotation would be Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, Cain and probably Brad Hennessey with the edge over Kevin Correia for the 5th slot if the season were to start tomorrow.

There's been much debate about the pros and cons of Morris. I've weighed in as cautiously pro-Morris. When healthy, he can be dominant. But how healthy will he be? $27 million is a big risk for a 31-year-old pitcher who has had major surgery twice. At his peak in 2001-2002 he was one of the game's elites, but the odds of a 31-year-old returning to his age 26/27 performance are not good. It happens, of course. Several elite starting pitchers -- Clemens, Schilling, Randy Johnson, Maddux, etc -- have divined the answers to life, the universe and the strike zone in their mid-30s. Why not Morris? The only person who can answer that is an overweight fortune teller woman I know in the Tenderloin who knows how to read MRIs.

Let us pray that, having had plenty of time to pitch their woo at Morris, the Giants know everything they possibly can about his health, including how closely he trims his toenails. Then let us pray his second-half fade in '05 was due to first-year fatigue coming off winter shoulder surgery.

For those who clamor each off-season for Brian Sabean to make a bold stroke, this is about as close to high risk/high reward as he's going to get these days.

According to another report this morning, the Giants are seriously in the running for Bill Mueller, too. A local paper in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates are trying to lure Mueller with 3 years and $12 million, reports Mueller is speaking with the Dodgers and Giants and leaning toward the West Coast.

Pedro Feliz will make $4 million in 2006. If that were Mueller's '06 salary as well, it's a one-year swap I'd gladly take.

At first glance it sounds like the Giants would lose power and gain on-base ability. Feliz's career OBP is a god-awful .290. Mueller is even better than I would have guessed: .373. Over the course of a full season, Mueller would be on base about 50 times more than Feliz.

Funny thing is, Mueller doesn't give away too much in power. Career slugging percentages: Feliz .439, Mueller .430. You could argue that Feliz has been hurt by the cavernous outfield of Mays Field, and Mueller helped by years at Wrigley and Fenway, but anyone who's watched Feliz consistently knows he's hurt by his own crappy pitch selection more than anything else.

But three years for Mueller? The guy turns 35 in March. Hoping he's healthy in his age-38 year is a huge risk. Any chance the Giants could front-load his contract so he's paid in diminishing amounts, the reverse of how contracts are usually structured?

Adding Mueller would probably create this lineup if the season started soon:

CF Winn
SS Vizquel
2B Durham
LF Bonds
RF Alou
3B Mueller
1B Niekro/Sweeney
C Matheny

With his high OBP, Mueller is better suited for the #2 hole, but I saw somewhere he doesn't like batting second. And dollars get you donuts that Felipe sticks with Vizquel in the 2-hole because of speed and good old "bat-handling" skills.



The Squeals of 12-Year-Old Girls 

There's going to be something missing next year at Mays Park & Field, an absence of a certain sound in the air. It's a high, piercing sound that often accompanies a short badly-edited snippet of the Who's "We Won't Get Fooled Again." Next year, we will no longer hear the manic squeals of 12-year-old girls whenever J.T. Snow comes to bat.

With J.T. leaving, who could be the new Giant target of tween affection (marketing squad, take note)? Tim Worrell is kinda creepy; Noah Lowry is like, cute, but omigod what's that weird thing near his eye; Randy Winn is hella shy; and Barry Bonds is associated with too many scary adult things, a reminder of what happens when children grow up too fast but don't quite grow up at all.

No one on the current 40-man roster has that necessary combination of smug, I'm-the-high-school-quarterback clean-shaven look; well-proportioned but not over-maculinized body; and cute little ass.

Not that I'm looking. I'm just judging by the squeals that tip off us older guys to what the 12 year olds find, like, totally hot. (Unlike blog fanboys, who have other ideas of what's dreamy.)

Speaking of latent man-love amongst American male archetypes, I couldn't tell for a moment if this latest Rich Draper concoction was an article about Mark Sweeney replacing J.T. or a review of Brokeback Mountain:

They are longtime buddies who played in the Minors together, evolved into big leaguers and talk fairly regularly. They especially share the nuances of that vital first corner territory and love of the game.

Since 1997, J.T. has been forever sweet sixteen to the preteen set, and to hell with the slugging percentage.

This is all a roundabout way of saying goodbye to J.T., gum-chewing BMOC, classic rocker, loyal Giant, monotone pitchman on local radio, and sweet flasher of leather. Nine years is a long time to spend with one team these days, and as much as I grumbled about his warning-track power, I must say they were mostly nine years well spent.

I vividly remember Snow's three-run jack off...I mean, dong...sorry, let's just go with home run off Armando Benitez in the 2000 playoffs; his two-run double to tie game four of the 2002 NLCS; the spring-training beaning by Randy Johnson that left J.T. wriggling in the dirt.

Any fond memories you'd like to share?



Sweeney? Odd. 

There's a report on the San Diego Union Trib's Web site that the Giants have signed career backup/pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney. If true (I haven't seen it anywhere else), Sweeney would likely be the Giants' main first baseman and platoon with Lance Niekro. Although he could be a bench guy who's serving as Plan B in case the Giants can't get anyone more powerful.

Here are a few deals that have some impact on the Giants:

- Trevor Hoffman decides to stay with the Padres. Impact: Crap! That guy kills the Giants. I was praying he'd be lured out of the league by Cleveland.

- Mark Loretta goes from San Diego to Boston for backup catcher (and former G) Doug Mirabelli. Impact: Pretty good. When healthy, Loretta is an excellent hitter. Mirabelli is a big lumbering backup who may end up as San Diego's #1 catcher.

- The D'Backs get catcher Johnny Estrada from Atlanta for two middling pitching prospects. Estrada was excellent in '04 with Atlanta but fell off sharply this year. I think he was injured. Impact: He's better than, uh, whoever was their catcher last year.

Here's what the media said today about the Kline-Hawkins deal.

Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus:

The Orioles and Giants swapped disappointing relievers, with the Os sending Steve Kline west for LaTroy Hawkins. The deal is interesting largely because it means Hawkins becomes one of Leo Mazzone’s charges in his first season on the Chesapeake. Hawkins has been a very good pitcher at times, and his reputation as a guy who can’t handle pressure situations in more myth than fact. It would not surprise me at all to see Hawkins be one of the top five relievers in the AL next year.

Christina Kahrl, BP:

So, would you take an offer of Kline for Jerome Williams and David Aardsma? I didn't think so, but that's effectively the result of the latest sprig of Brian Sabean's creative thinking. The Giants are hoping he's happier going back to the NL after a lot of public pouting over his decision to sign with the Orioles, and have been quick to talk up his second half: 3.8 runs per nine, four home runs as part of a hit per inning clip allowed in those 28.2 IP, nine walks, and eleven strikeouts. Yes, that really is what Sabean referred to as the good news. Financially, it looks like the deal is a wash, since Hawkins is due $3.5 million, Kline $3 million, hence the Orioles getting cash in what, in the fuzziest of reads, can be interpreted as an exchange of problems. But Kline was a flop as a situational reliever in '05 (.317/.364/.515 against lefties), he's the one who's 33, and he's the one whose up-side is ... well, not too dissimilar from that of a retread like Scott Eyre.

John Shea, SF Chronicle:

The Giants swung a reliever-for-reliever deal Tuesday that better balanced their bullpen and possibly made it easier to fill other holes on their roster... The Giants also sent the Orioles cash to help compensate for the difference between the 2006 salaries for Kline ($3 million) and Hawkins ($4.35 million), leaving them the flexibility to fill their other needs, including a starting pitcher.

I immediately sent Shea an e-mail asking how sending the extra cash leaves the Giants with the flexibility to fill other needs. No word yet on that.

Andrew Baggarly, Oakland Trib:

Hawkins, 34, was acquired from the Cubs in May at a steep price (Jerome Williams and David Aardsma) but never settled in with the Giants and was made expendable after the Giants signed Tim Worrell last week. But with the exploding market for relievers, Hawkins figured to fetch something, even with $4.35million owed to him next season. The Orioles reportedly plan to use Hawkins as their closer. Kline is due to make $3million next season. A club source said the Giants sent about $700,000 to Baltimore to offset the two salaries.

Jeff Zreibec, Baltimore Sun:

Meanwhile, Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said that he made the Kline trade to give the left-hander a "change of scenery" and the Orioles a power arm in the bullpen for the seventh and eighth innings. The Giants also sent some cash the Orioles' way, believed to be around $900,000, to cover the difference in the two relievers' contracts...Hawkins, who learned of the trade while talking with the builder of his new house in suburban Dallas, said he was excited to get back into the American League and work with Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone..."Leo is a good dude. He is funny as [heck]. He's a pitcher's pitching coach," said Hawkins, who spoke with Mazzone for about 45 minutes yesterday.



That's Just Lefty Being Lefty 

Fasten your seat belts, we could be in for a bumpy night and a busy tomorrow.

Other than a few splashy signings and trades, most of the Hot Stove action has been elbow-jostling for prime position on Dec. 7, as no doubt a bunch of players (Vicente Padilla? Byung Hyun Kim? Milton Bradley?) might suddenly become free agents and the meager chicken scratch that everyone has been pecking at (Matt Morris, ooh! aah!) will be spread a little more widely if not much more deeply.

Also breaking up the logjam could be the Burnett signing today, with a cascade effect down the chain of free agent pitchers.

Sabean has been doing his own jostling. He signed Tim Worrell, and now according to a couple reports he has saved the Giants $2 million by trading LaTroy Hawkins for Steve Kline. In St Louis Kline's nasty lid inspired a whole gaggle of dirty little groupies.

It's probably no better than a lateral move. Both Hawkins and Kline have had good relief careers until recent hard times; Hawkins a short, dominant streak with Minnesota, Kline several years of steady but not spectacular work. If a team between now and April needs lefty relief, the Giants have a trade chip. Did I mention the move also saves the Giants about $2 million?

[UPDATE: It now seems the Giants sent cash to the Orioles to even out the difference in salary. This is very very bad. The whole reason for trading Hawkins in this new era of wildly overvalued relievers was to dump salary or get useful position players. Argh.]

Before all heck breaks loose in Dallas, I'll strap on the Predictatron 4500 and behold the Giants' future.

I predict...!

...the Giants pass on Matt Morris, Jeff Weaver, and all the other free agent pitchers demanding $10 million a year. Instead they trade for a cheaper, younger arb-eligible guy (Kip Wells?), maybe sign a guy not offered arbitration (Byung Hyun Kim?).

However, if the Giants sign Matt Morris, they turn around and trade Jason Schmidt in a package for offense.

...the Giants will sign Nomah to an oddly shaped, prove-you're-healthy contract that has incentives and options and lets him play multiple positions. With time at 1B, perhaps the starter's job at 3B, plus backing up Durham and Vizquel up the middle and Bonds in LF, Nomah gets 500 at bats and is installed as the everyday second baseman when Durham leaves in 2007.

The more I think about it, the more a healthy Nomar makes sense, especially if he learns to play several positions decently. It's all about his health, as Dusty Baker points out:

"It's just a matter of how many games is Nomar going to play and if he can stay healthy. That's been the issue for a couple years now. When he's healthy, Nomar is a heck of a player. Sometimes you go through those periods and streaks in your career. You might not get hurt again for the next five, six years."

He's never going to hit 1.000 OPS again, but .850-.900 isn't out of the realm of possibility.

A spooky comparison:

In December 2000, Darren Dreifort was 28 year old good ol' boy from the southern Midwest, had pitched 670 big-league innings over the span of 7 seasons, had recovered from one Tommy John surgery, and signed a 5 year, $55 million contract.

In December 2005, AJ Burnett was a 28 year old good ol' boy from the southern Midwest, had pitched 1,524 big league innings over the span of 7 seasons, had recovered from one Tommy John surgery, and signed a 5 year, $55 million contract. And pierced nipples.

I predict the Giants don't sign a pitcher with pierced nipples.



Many Headed Hydra 

Not much time today, but good food for thought is Joe Sheehan's note from Dallas in today's Baseball Prospectus. He muses over Boston's reported 26-person contingent at the winter meetings, and how the role of general manager might be better served as a committee of experts: "The 'team GM' trend is something I think you’ll see grow within the game, because it’s the best way to manage the responsibilities of a complicated job and advance the interests of the ballclub."



Now I Got Worrell 

Generally I'm pleased with the Tim Worrell signing. He turns 39 next July, so the chances of physical breakdown or decline are higher, but at $2 M a year, he's making well below market value. The salary seems to be a reasonable risk. Could the Giants have signed him for less? The comments in today's reports make it sound like he really really really really really wanted to re-sign with the Giants. I assume that if a $500 Tower Records gift certificate and a pat on the tuschie was acceptable recompense for Worrell, Sabean would have sussed that out. That's his job, after all.

The sussing, I mean. Not the pat on the tuschie. But you never know.

As others have pointed out, signing free-agent Worrell before Dec. 7 means the Giants surrender yet another high draft pick, a "strategy" Brian Sabean has used intentionally to avoid the signing-bonus payouts that high draft picks command. (As noted here, the Giants cannot surrender next year's first-round pick, so the Worrell signing forces them to give up their second-round pick.)

On this matter, my panties do not bunch up as much as other people's. There are interesting arguments both for and against Sabean's practice.

The other main question is, did the Giants overpay Worrell, just as they have overpaid Michael Tucker, Neifi Perez and other players with useful but limited skill sets in the past?

According to the Giants, the contract calls for $1.5 M in '06, $2 M in '07, and a $500K signing bonus. I assume the bonus goes on the books for '05. Let's compare to other relievers who have signed this winter. Worrell will make less than Scott Eyre (3 yrs/$11 M). Less than Bobby Howry (3 yrs/$12 M). A lot less than Kyle Farnsworth and Tom Gordon (both around 3 yrs/$18 M).

Gordon is on an excellent three-year run with a WHIP right around 1.0 and about one K per IP. He is going to be Philly's new closer. He and Worrell are about the same age. Gordon is more a "proven closer," but Worrell has ably filled that role as well. Gordon has been a better pitcher recently, but by $4m a year?

From 2000 through 2004, Tim Worrell accumulated 90 VORP points, or 18 a year. I'm throwing out 2005, which was skewed by his leave of absence and emotional distress.

From 2001 to 2005, Gordon accumulated 105 VORP points, or 21 per season. Since I ignored Worrell's worst year (2005), I'll toss out Gordon's low point -- 6 VORP points in 2002 -- and substitute his stellar 1998 year as Boston's closer. That gives him 130 VORP points over a discontiguous 5-year period, or 26 per year.

OK, Gordon's best 5 recent years are noticeably better than Worrell's. But it's hard to argue he'll be $4 million better -- in effect, worth three times as much as Worrell -- in '06 and '07.

How about the others? They're younger than Worrell, yes, but without his track record of success. Scott Eyre, as noted before, was rewarded for essentially one stellar year. Bobby Howry has put together two consecutive excellent years. Kyle Farnsworth has never had two straight good years, although when he's good, he's a monster.

I'm not arguing that Worrell will be as good as any of these guys next year or in 2007. What's likely is that he'll be nearly as good for a lot less money. And if he flames out due to age, injury, recurring emotional distress, alien brain implants (hey, it happens), then the Giants have only thrown a few million down the toilet instead of $12 or $18 million.

I also think signing Worrell gives Sabean the flexibility to trade LaTroy Hawkins and his nearly $5 million salary. It seemed untradeable just a few months ago, but if Kyle Freakin' Farnsworth can make $6 mil a year, it's not a stretch to think a non-penny-pinching, bullpen-depleted club would bite on a year of Hawkins -- who after his DL stint last summer proved himself healthy and reliable, except for a wee mental block when facing his former Cubs teammates. The trade could come once the season starts and injuries kick in -- as happened to the Giants in '05.

Welcome back, Tim. Don't pull a Herges on us.



Blue Chunks 

Former Dodger exec (and former Laker) Tommy Hawkins has some unkind things to say about his former organization. Hawkins was one of their top PR guys until a year ago. Caveat: the messenger is L.A. Times caveman/columnist T.J. Simers, but it seems he didn't strain to add too much of his own content (remember, it's subject-verb-direct object, T.J.).

Quoth Hawkins:

"Every time I see some of the decisions being made or some of the people that have been fired or some of the people that were brought into positions who have never spent one hour in baseball, I want to throw up."

"You take what's being done in tickets, advertising, marketing, customer service, public relations, and it's about as disjointed as I have ever seen in any organization."

"The [McCourts] wiped out history. There's some pomposity there. They came in believing they had the right idea and could do it their own way, and now they've hit the wall. Then they go out and hire all these efficiency [and crisis management] experts who haven't spent an hour in baseball either."

No wonder Brian Giles reportedly turned down a more lucrative offer from L.A. to stay with the Padres.

No wonder everyone has turned down the manager's job. Even Ann Heche.

No wonder Phil Jackson couldn't return a semblance of normalcy to...oh, sorry, that's the other dysfunctional laughing-stock of an L.A. team.

My heart breaks.


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