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rain-forest mushrooms during a winter-ball road trip and opens his mind to the next bardo where right-handed pitchers no longer represent the repressive shackling of his consciousness, Sweeney's going to play a lot of first base next year.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.


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