Know Your Enemy 

Just as I'm off to the mountains for a few days, the Giants head south -- not figuratively, I hope -- for what could be the defining road trip of the year. First up: the Padres.

Here's what I wrote about them in December:

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....The bullpen is the strength: Hoffman closing and Linebrink setting up. Otherwise, this team doesn't scare me at all.

Six months later, not much has changed. The Pads lead the NL West, but that's been a backhanded compliment since 2004 or so. They really are kissing cousins to the Giants. The pitching (in the Giants case, the starting rotation), defense, and just enough offense to win games like yesterday have kept them afloat.

In today's Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan breaks down the Padres season so far and attributes much of their good pitch/no hit make-up to Petco Park, which is "nearly as extreme at one end as Coors Field used to be at the other."

But the San Diego pitching has been good no matter how you slice it. Chris Young has been their savior and Chan Ho Park is pitching decently. Middle relief veterans Alan Embree and Brian Sweeney are having up years. The defense helps a lot. The Hoffman-Linebrink combo in the final innings means the Giants have to get to the Padres' starters and middle relievers if they have a chance of competing this weekend.


* The Indians have traded Eduardo Perez, one possibility as a short-term replacement for Lance Niekro as the Giants look for more right-handed pop. The Mariners gave up minor-league shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who's only 20 and already in AAA.

* Also in today's BP, Will Carroll says Tim Lincecum "has indicated to us that his signing was imminent."

Have a good long weekend, everyone. I'll be tuning in via transistor between summer thunderstorms.



I See A Foul Line and I Want to Paint It White 

All praise to Jon Miller, once again. As noted yesterday, he immediately told the radio audience during the Teixiera Hysteria Tuesday night that the poof kicked up by Teixeira's hit could not have been chalk.

Now the Chron's Henry Schulman has blown the lid off the whole thing. The foul lines at Mays Field are painted white, not chalked, and the paint doesn't just fly everywhere all loosey-goosey, at least not when Hank The Tank Schulman rubs himself all over it just hours after it's been applied.

Yes, the poof could have been grass with white paint, but it wouldn't prove fair or foul. Schulman found white-splattered grass blades on either side of the foul line, not just on the line itself.

Schulman's next assignment: Was Tom Hallion a polling place volunteer in Ohio during the 2004 election?

Watching TV before the Durty Nelly's pub quiz last night (¡Viva Sábado Gigante!) with El Comisario and others, I finally saw the play on a decent-sized screen. I still can't say for sure the ball was fair or foul, but I loved Teixeira's impression of George Brett's pine-tar conniption fit. I couldn't find a video clip or decent-sized photo, so this menu will have to do.

Kudos to Felipe Alou for his lineup construction last night. Ray Durham is mashing from the right side of the plate, and he was exactly the man needed to protect Barry. His salami was the blow of the game. Ahem.

Kudos also to Noah Lowry, who had the guh-narstiest stuff he's shown all year. I caught the last few innings on the telly, and I saw perfectly placed fastballs on the inside corner followed by perfectly placed changeups down and away. When pitchers can nail the inside corner with consistency, good things happen. It's also a good sign that Lowry has been mediocre at best since returning from the DL in mid-May, yet his ERA is under 4.00. Wait til he strings together more performances like last night, which he's entirely capable of doing.

With Schmidt, Lowry, and, yes, even Matt Morris pitching well in the second half, the pitching staff could go far in carrying the team. I'm not that worried about the bullpen, to be honest, especially if the starters keep going 6, 7, 8 innings per start. The priority is and remains getting a big right-handed bat without shipping out the jewels of the farm system. Not an easy task.

Speaking of young talent, we're just about at the half-way mark of the season. If you're a devotee of Steven Shelby's "Minor Lines" daily updates, you'll probably know how the littlest Giants are doing down to the last strikeout and sore elbow. But if you're wondering who the Giants could trade in the next month and who's a keeper, here's a quick roundup:

AAA - Fresno

Pitching: The best prospect could be Nick Pereira, a recent USF grad who vaulted from single-A San Jose to Fresno recently for fill-in duty but looks like he'll stay. Unfortunately, he looks good mainly because everyone else doesn't. Merkin Valdez, who nearly made the big squad in spring training, has been awful, losing his closer job to Jack Taschner. Taschner has righted himself since his early demotion from the big club, but he's not likely to ever be more than a big-league LOOGY. Like Valdez, Brian Wilson is young and throws hard, but he isn't a can't-miss, top-shelf prospect. All three of them could be in the Giants bullpen next year, but they're the type of pitchers you hope the GM trades while their value is still high.

Hitting: the most promising position player by far is Fred Lewis, a speedy outfielder who's showing decent power and a good batting eye (.387 OBP). Remember, this is the Pacific Coast League, so take the eight home runs with a huge caveat. (All you need to know is that Calvin Murray once hit 23 homers in the PCL.) Lewis turns 26 this winter: don't hold your breath that he'll ever be a big-league regular.

Same goes for Dan Ortmeier, who's really struggling in what should be a big offensive year for him. I'm worried Lewis and Ortmeier are going to follow meekly in the footsteps of Todd Linden, who complained this spring that the Giants weren't giving him a fair shot and should trade him. No doubt they would have traded him if there were any takers. And this is a guy who was arguably the best hitter in triple-A last year before his call-up.

AA - Connecticut

Pitching: The best pitcher is already in the big leagues: Jonathan Sanchez. Lefty Pat Misch, who looked like he was on a Lowry-like learning curve two years ago, got pummeled in Fresno last year and is back in double-A. He's doing quite well, but this may be where he tops out. A couple relievers on the staff show some promise -- Billy Sadler in particular, who throws BB's but can be wild -- but nothing to turn blue over.

Hitting: A disaster. The exciting group of Cal League hitters from last year have fizzled in the cold, damp Eastern League. The best of them, Eddie Martinez-Esteve, is out with yet another shoulder surgery. Gone for the year, I think. Nate Schierholtz is approaching NeifiLand. Travis Ishikawa has gotten fans abuzz with a couple nice call-ups to the bigs, but in double-A, where the pitching's not quite as good, he can't crack an .800 OPS.

A-Ball and Lower

Pitching: Pereira as noted is now in triple-A. Behind him, there are a few relievers worth watching, especially the closer Brian Anderson. The one kid on the 40-man roster, Jesus Reina, is allowing nearly two runners per inning with an ERA over six. He's only 22, so let's give him a few more years of slack (especially because he's a lefty). But it may be tough to justify a 40-man spot for him much longer.

Hitting: The most distressing development is that highly-touted Marcus Sanders, whose season last year in low-A put him on the prospect map, has hit a major wall in San Jose. A .302 OBP / .265 SLG in a hitter's league is a looooooooong way from the big leagues, folks. The best hitter at low-A Augusta by far is outfielder Michael Mooney, a College of San Mateo product who just turned 23. He's having a nice power/patience/speed year, but let's see how he does as he moves up. It's way early in rookie ball, but the Giants #2 pick behind Tim Lincecum, SS Emmanuel Burriss, is scuffling.

Lincecum is the real wild card. He won the Golden Spikes Award for best college player, but he hasn't signed a contract yet. The Giants no doubt will pay dearly. Some have said he could be a factor in the big-league bullpen this season, but be careful what you wish for. He's thrown a lot of innings already this year.



The San Franciscan Chalk Circle 

The Giants escaped with a victory last night thanks to an umpire's blown call in the top of the ninth. Everyone knew the ball Teixeira hit for a go-ahead bases-loaded double was fair. Everyone but first-base ump Tom Hallion, whose name sounds like a cross between a demon and bad breath.

That's the prevailing sentiment, from the Metroplex to the Bay Area, from SportsCenter to the Sporting Green. None of the press reports this morning, however, consider what Jon Miller said on the radio broadcast last night. Reminding me of Sherlock Holmes at the peak of his powers of counterintuitive observation, Miller said the conventional wisdom -- that the ball was obviously fair because you could see the chalk poof up into the air -- couldn't be true. Why is this, Watson? Precisely because there is no chalk on the foul lines at Mays Field, my good man!

The lines are painted on, according to Miller. Paint doesn't poof up into the air when struck by a baseball. Bits of grass do, and moisture from a foggy night does.

I'm not saying the umpire was right, mind you: I haven't even see the damn play. (Are they going to post it on the sfgiants.com multimedia highlight page? The world waits breathlessly.)

But those who want to convince me it was a blown call because of the chalk cloud need to try something else. Until then, just this thought: all you calling for a ceremonial defenestration of Armando Benitez, are you really ready for Jeremy Accardo, closer, after last night?



Best Wishes 

...to Peter Gammons, who should be the next commissioner of baseball if he recovers. He suffered a brain aneurysm and underwent surgery this morning. According to the Boston Globe, he's expected to stay in intensive care for 10 to 12 days.



La Gueule De Bois 

Sorry, not much to say today. I was out partying Nick Swisher-style last night and can barely move.

OK, not true. I never spend more than $150 a night on vodka.

Also, I'm much more domestic now that I'm old and can't hear a thing in those loud goddamn bars and clubs everyone's going to these days, with "DJs." What's wrong with a jukebox? No, it's boom boom boom, do it to your bitch 'til somebody dies*, drinks named somethingtini and women so skinny you want to give them $5 to buy themselves a burrito. Plus all that screaming and yelling just to have a conversation, spitting peanut bits on each other's faces. It's disgusting. I'd rather stay home and alphabetize my iTunes library, except it's alphabetized automatically.


But ask Steve Finsky: the domestic life is where it's at, according to today's Wall Street Journal:

"The property, about 25 miles north of San Diego, sits on just over four acres with five bedroom suites and seven baths. (Mr. Finley played for the San Diego Padres from 1995 to 1998.) He and his wife, Amy, had the 10,000-square-foot home built in 2003 on land they bought in 2000 for about $2 million, records show. Mrs. Finley, who owns and runs a furniture and interior-design firm in nearby Del Mar, designed the home with the help of local architect Larry Case in what the listing broker describes as an authentic Tuscan Farmhouse style.

The two-story home includes antique terra-cotta floors and a one-bedroom detached guest house. The couple is building a new home nearby, according to their listing broker, Laura Barry, of Barry Estates Inc., in Rancho Santa Fe."

By the way, Steve's a Democrat. Or maybe just his wife. But they threw a fundraiser last year for this woman (scroll to bottom of page).

Steve's an insanely fit Democrat, and Nick Swisher is a hungover Republican (probably). The Giants will take two of three this weekend.

* Shamelessly stolen from the 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000.




In honor of the Giants being at .500 for the umpteenth time this year, I present several paired items that straddle the fence of reason.

On One Hand: Pedro Feliz has an on-base percentage over .300.
On The Other Hand: It's only .306.

On One Hand: The Giants are at .500 and only 2.5 games back.
On The Other Hand: Every other team in the division has better prospects than the Giants to trade at the deadline.

On One Hand: Felipe Alou called a member of the media a "messenger of Satan."
On The Other Hand: At least he didn't call someone a "piece of [expletive], [expletive] fag."

On One Hand: Lance Niekro brought a refreshing burst of youth to the Giants' lineup.
On The Other Hand: He's spent more time on the DL than any other Giant this year. (More or less.)

On One Hand: Our team's home park is named after a company that's more than happy to rip up its customers' privacy rights.
On The Other Hand: At home you can switch to Working Assets. At the park you can switch to Mays Field.


Small print update: Now reading Rabbit Redux, the second book in Updike's Rabbit cycle. I've just started and can't wait to see how Updike develops Harry Angstrom, who in the first book is perhaps the most fascinating and in many ways frightening anti-hero in American literature since, well, Captain Ahab is the first who comes to mind. Other suggestions welcome.

Now listening to the echoes in my head of Tuesday night's Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint concert at the Paramount in Oakland. Literally: our seats on high caught a bit too much of the dissonance, which puzzles and frazzles me in a different way.

Question: If you're going to record an album and tour with one of New Orleans's finest, subtlest, grooviest musicians, why overburden the songs with ornate clever-by-half lyrics, guitar feedback and angsty post-punk drums?

Answer: Because I'm Elvis Costello, dammit. Don't you know I've written a lot of songs, too? What are you, some kind of little fool?

Elvis is probably the sharpest, most prolific, and most curious aging rocker of his generation, still full of vim and vinegar, but the marriage of Toussaintian horn sections and graceful swampy piano rhythms with his electric singer-songwriter narcissism didn't always work for me.

It was most clear not in their new collaborative material, most of which they played Tuesday night, but in "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," their collaboration from the 1988 Spike album. By the third verse, Costello's grim dada lyrical spew felt coldly flashy, his voice straining the top end of its range, the opposite of Toussaint's innate warmth, and I couldn't wait for the song to end.

Still, much of the show was to die for. The full-ensemble blowouts of several Toussaint classics, including "Fortune Teller" and "Yes We Can Can," were fabulous. So were the moments when Toussaint took control, as with his Professor Longhair solo homage and the new "Ascension Day," with Elvis's vocals the only accessory to the minor-key lament.

I also loved Costello's own reworking (with horns) of "Watching the Detectives," a song I've long had on my happy-to-never-hear-again list. The ballad "Poisoned Rose" from King of America showed how Elvis has opened up in his middle age to become a gruff but accomplished balladeer. I'd rather hear him sing slow and low than sneer his way yet again through "Pump it Up." Tuesday night we got both.

**UPDATE: My Man Elbo has an excellent take on the show as seen through his musician's ears.



Padding the Pantheon 

After attending the Jason Schmidt 16-strikeout game a couple weeks ago, I compiled a list of pantheonic games I've witnessed. Somehow I forgot to include Matt Cain's two-hitter against the Cubs last September.

After last night, however, I wonder if that game should be bumped from the list. I've never seen a pitcher come so close to a no-hitter, although in my purist's mind the four walks make Cain's feat just a tad less awesome.

But the suspense of the close game, in which Cain was nearly matched by a very impressive Kelvim Escobar, and the thrill of realizing in the sixth inning that the Angels had a zero in the H column, perhaps gives this game the edge over last September.

I can't decide:

9/9/05 vs. CHC: 9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 8 K, 105 pitches
6/19/06 vs. ANA: 8 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 10 K, 131 pitches

Last September Cain was more dominant, and it was only his 3rd major league start.

Last night he dealt with more adversity -- a wild, 27-pitch first inning and an ugly unearned run, plus the drama of his pitch count climbing ever higher.

Which was a better pitching performance? Which was a better overall game? Discuss.



Trade Bait: The Outfield 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to Trade Bait. Here's your host...El Lefty Malo!

[lonely applause, perhaps three or four pairs of hand claps, from the back of the auditorium. A fold-up chair squeaks. Someone hums "Oops I Did It Again" off-key, as if distracted by his own bellybutton lint.]

Right, thanks. Glad you all could make it.

Bummer of a weekend, eh, kids? We're talking "Sleepwalking in Seattle." We're talking less life than Kurt Cobain. We're talking a caffeine-free trip to the Land of Starbucks. we're talking...only two games out of first place! I love this game division!

The world knows by know that Brian Sabean wants a right-handed first baseman with power, and Mariners right-handed first baseman with power Richie Sexson has been mentioned, despite the fact that he got stoned this year and forgot where he put that damn power. ("It was right here a minute ago, next to my car keys.")

Perhaps the time to upgrade the outfield is also nigh. The Steve Finley Renaissance has begun to slip quietly into that good night. He's still much better than his miserable 2005, which I assumed he would be, but the hot start through early May and the league-leading eight triples have settled into a season that looks just about right for a fourth outfielder.

Problem is, Bonds and Alou are playing what appears to be a season-long game of tag-team on the trainer's table (not recommended for children under 40), which means more Finley and Mark Sweeney and Jason Ellison, all decent chaps but not the fellows to lead the platoon up Chavez Ravine, take out a few Tommy-gun nests, seize the N.L. West flag and leave the Dodgers with nothing but Ned Colletti's hairpiece to hoist skyward.

Could the shake-up come in the outfield?

The highest trade value is probably Moises: his contract is reasonable, and for the right A.L. team he could DH and play a little outfield. Finsky is next: he still has defensive skills, and a team needing outfield glovework and a left-handed bat could do a lot worse down the stretch. Neither solo would bring back a better bat -- they would have to be part of a package.

Bonds is untradeable. Ellison might fetch in return a 25-year-old double-A veteran. Randy Winn is Mr. Competent but the $23 M extension he signed this winter might scare teams away. Besides, he's the only outfielder guaranteed after this year not to a) retire (Bonds, Finley, Alou) or b) fail to hit major league pitching (Ortmeier, Linden, Lewis). Winn is the Giants' One Decently Competent Sure Thing in 2007, and they overpaid slightly to make him so. Unless they get an even More Sure Thing in return, don't expect him to go anywhere.

I'd love to see a weird creative deal emerge, something like Alou, Kevin Correia, Dan Ortmeier and a pitching prospect to four different teams for Bronson Arroyo, Kevin Youkilis and Ray Durham circa 1999, but Sabean has consistently demonstrated no skill in handling either multi-team trades or the Way-Back Machine.



Trade Bait: Catcher, or, Let's Stay Together 

The tweety-birds circling Mike Matheny's head have created an interesting situation for the Giants.

First, Eliezer Alfonzo is getting an extended audition, splitting duties behind the plate with Todd Greene. Greene would probably get more playing time, but his shoulder is still banged up from his collision with Prince Fielder. So Alfonzo is taking advantage of his Warholian Moment, not only hitting for average and power but doing a decent job defensively: 2 of 6 would-be stealers caught, and a catcher's ERA of 3.56.

None of this means squat because of small sample size, but at least he's served notice that he's no Yamid Haad (except in his taste for what me 'n' the Grimsmeister like to call "Tijuana aspirin").

Hopefully the batsmanship tandem of Greene and Alfonzo (Gronzo? Greenzo? Of course not: AlGreene!) will convince observers once and for all that Mike Matheny's Gold Glove and veteran presence are worth, no, not countless runs, but a hill of beans if the guy can't hit.

Sigh. Maybe not. Here's an MLB.com columnist:

The impact of the loss of Mike Matheny, out with a concussion, cannot be overstated. Matheny is a Gold Glove catcher and a tremendously positive clubhouse presence. He cannot be suitably replaced.

In other words, if Matheny had been catching Jason Schmidt the other night, Schmidt would have struck out 60 Marlins, not 16.

This year with AlGreene behind the plate, the Giants are giving up .16 more earned runs per 9 innings than with Matheny. But they're also scoring more runs because of their bats. According to The Hardball Times, the two of them have equaled Matheny's win shares this year -- i.e., contributed just as much to the Giants success -- in fewer innings behind the plate (199 to 341) and fewer at-bats (91 to 160).

So then: what happens when Matheny returns? Would one of the Giants catchers be used for trade bait?

Not Matheny. The Giants totally buy into his aura. He's also due $4 M next year, which means few teams would also buy into his aura, no matter how manly and veteran and savvy it smells.

Greene is hitting like a champ this year; if the Giants fall out of contention, he's a nice trading chip for a team that wants to catch a little lightning in a bottle down the stretch. If they stay in contention, he's good insurance in case Matheny gets dinged again.

Alfonzo might fetch more in trade, now that he's shown he has something of a clue at the major-league level, but the Giants would be wise to keep him on the 40-man, either in S.F. or in Fresno.

My guess: Not much trade action behind the dish. Matheny returns, Alfonzo goes back to the minors, and Greene plays a little more than normal. Matheny saves the opposite team countless runs all summer by getting on base 28% of the time and slugging like Neifi Perez.



Trade Bait: The Rotation 

It's been overshadowed by the win, the Bonds blast, and Finley's 300th career home run, but let's use Matt Cain's shaky start last night to launch into a discussion of trade possibilities involving the starting rotation.

I know Matt Cain is only 21. A child, nay, an infant. He is blessed with incredible skill and, according to all the pundits, remarkable maturity for his age.

Right now, however, he is a marginal major league pitcher, rarely going more than 5 innings per start and often giving up runs in bunches -- hence the ERA in the mid-5 range. It's not bad luck, either. The pattern is painfully evident: He falls behind and has to throw a strike, then throws a fastball down the middle, and major league hitters cream it. Shawn Green got one on a tee last night, and he parked it 430 feet away.

We all got jazzed about Cain's debut last year, but people reading between the lines saw too many walks and lots of fly balls, and cold-eyed prediction systems rightly saw the honeymoon ending this year. For those of you without a BP subscription, the PECOTA predictor called for a 4.42 ERA/1.37 WHIP in '06; it also doesn't see him getting appreciably better in the next five years.

I'm not beholden to PECOTA or other stathead tools, but I understand where they're coming from regarding Cain. It's possible he'll cut down on the walks and become dominant; it's also possible that, like so many world-of-promise pitchers before him, he'll never put it all together.

Even if he does, how long until the light bulb clicks on? A couple more months? A year? Three years? He's also a pitcher with some injury history, so how long before he's sidetracked physically?

If he's going to pitch like Kevin Correia the next three years, maybe the best strategy is to sell high now -- trade him and let Kevin Correia play the role of Kevin Correia.

It's impossible to tell, just as it was impossible to know Joe Nathan would become the Midwest's Mariano Rivera or Kurt Ainsworth would succumb to career-ending injuries.

Put in that context, should the Giants trade Cain this year for someone who's young, cheap, extremely healthy, and already proven to be a star? At this point, the Marlins would probably want more than just Cain in exchange for Miguel Cabrera, but as the Giants gaze into a near future with precious little offense, it's arguable that three years of Cabrera playing every day (until he reaches free agency) are worth receiving for the high-ceiling promise of Cain.

I doubt it will happen, and I'm not sure I would like it. Cain could well be a once-in-a-generation pitcher. But as A.Q. Khan likes to say, these arms are made for dealing.



The Unkindest Cut 

Old friend Russ Ortiz, still enshrined bobbleheadedly in the bathroom of The Fort Miley Marauder, was given his walking papers today by the Arizona Diamondbacks. That means Arizona will pay Russell $22 million through the end of 2008 for not playing for Arizona, which could describe anything from a) playing for another big-league team to b) mowing his lawn to c) sitting on the couch eating Cheetos to d) opening a ministry. Given Russ's prayerfulness and inability to get hitters out the past year and a half, d) is your best bet.

ESPN has a wee podcast today featuring Alan Schwarz and Keith Law, two SABR-smarties, discussing the move. Law said something that caught my ear: it's easy for a GM like Arizona's Josh Byrnes to cut a player his predecessor signed, but let's see a GM with real cojones cut one of his own signees.

My immediate thought: we have seen it. Last year, Brian Sabean let Marquis Grissom and Kirk Rueter go. Neither move was that brave considering both had only a couple months left on their contracts, but an admission nonetheless that the contracts Sabean engineered for each player outlived the players' usefulness.

I've seen clamor for the Giants to cut Benitez now that he's compounded his shaky on-field performance with ill-advised off-field comments. Making a few discreet phone calls regarding a trade is one thing, but cutting Benitez outright would be foolish. The Giants won't get back the $12 M still owed to Mando. He gets paid no matter what.

DFA is for a guy like Ortiz, who has descended into the abyss. Benitez has had a couple shaky months sandwiched around a devastating injury and by all accounts worked like a dog to return from the injury earlier than anyone expected. Now he's finally throwing like his old self, whining a bit about playing time and respect, blah blah blah -- like wow, no major leaguer has ever whined before! -- and boobirds want to toss him and a big chunk of change overboard? Please.

Trade bait resumes tomorrow.



Trade Bait: Second Base 

Oh Ray, what could have been. When the Giants signed you and Brave Brave Sir Edgard in the post-2002 gloom, spirits brightened. Yes, you helped the team avoid a moustache deficit, but you were no Jeff Kent. In this, no dishonor: what second baseman was (or is)?

We knew you were good for 15 homers, 25 stolen bases, 35 doubles, 5-10 triples a year. You had played in no fewer than 150 games and posted an OPS over .800 for five years straight. With the medical magic of Stan Conte, 31-year-old players were still in the thick of the midst of their prime.

In the intervening 3 1/2 years, you've delivered when healthy. But your hamstrings, calves, neck, toes, knees, eyelids, and chakras have baffled Conte and his staff. (Baffling Hamstrings: good band name!)

You will probably go back to the American League and play in 150 games a year, leaving us all scratching our heads and wondering, was it was the fog...the fine array of ethnic dining options...the sexy women flirting with you in Giants' TV commercials...the sound of Renel's voice? Something in San Francisco made your muscles go Sproing! as if you were a recurrent character in Mad Magazine.

The question for today: Should the Giants trade you?

I'm not sure Kevin Frandsen is the answer if the Giants want to make a run at the playoffs. Frandsen may be the heir apparent, but he's not the here-and-now. (Let's put it this way: in 56 at-bats he hit worse than Jose Vizcaino.) So if trading Ray-Ray means replacing him with Frandsen (K-Fran? Frannie? Frandy?), Ray better fetch some serious offense at another position.

I could see Ray going to an American League club that needs a 2b/DH type. He won't be the key to anyone's pennant race, but he'd be a nice complementary piece. In other words, he'd have to be part of a larger package to fetch a difference-making bat.

As for incoming second basemen, there are no obvious difference-makers who fit my four criteria. To refresh:

1) He's a definite upgrade. 2) His strength -- say, right-center field power -- won't get eaten up by the 421' Monster. 3) He's tradable and/or expendable. 4) His salary isn't ridiculously burdensome.

Craig Biggio is close, except for #3: Houstonians would burn down Minute Maid Park if he were traded. And Biggio might quit rather than play for another team. Utley, Castillo, Kinsler, Uggla and Phillips are all young, good and cheap enough that their teams would only move them for Cain-type pitching. Jose Vidro can still hit, but he's more expensive and decrepit than Durham -- and he's only 31. After three excellent years with the bat, Marcus Giles is floundering. Would a change of scene help? Risky move.

Conclusion: It would be great to get something for Durham other than a compensatory draft pick this winter, but if the Giants want to contend down the stretch, a healthy Ray-Ray may be their best option. The offensive drop-off in replacing him with Frandsen and/or Vizcaino would likely negate any offensive boost Sabean could produce at other positions.



Trade Bait: I Don't Know --Third Base? 

Round two of your favorite game show, Trade Bait!

I'll throw across the diamond to third base, leave Ray Durham for a later discussion, and skip shortstop entirely. Right now Vizquel is giving the Giants far more than their money's worth: an OBP over .400, excellent defense, and even strong work from the right-hand batter's box, a rarity from Omar. He's also Mr. Dreamy, and much joy would be lost in Garlic Fryville if he went away.

Now for this Feliz clown. If the Giants can upgrade elsewhere and leave Pedro to hit seventh, I won't complain too much.

Yes I will. But Pedro and I have come to this understanding: he swings at first-pitch sliders in the dirt, and I sadly sigh. He drinks milk from the carton, I slap him upside the head and say, "No! Disgusting!" It's dysfunctional, it's co-dependent, but we've kinda gotten used to each other.

I could also see the Giants trading for a third baseman and sliding Feliz to first, but his hot-corner defense has become an asset. Dither, dither, dither. Would they really trade him?

Sorry, more dither. First, let's ask this: Does anyone want him? His contract isn't onerous -- whoever acquired him would owe something like $2.5 mil and nothing beyond this year. A team that needed defense, with any offense a plus, could be persuaded. He'd be a solid upgrade over Brandon Inge, David Bell or Aaron Boone, current starters for contending teams.

But if Feliz goes, who fills his shoes?

Mike Lowell of Boston is an interesting case. He's rebounded from a terrible year to make the top 10 among MLB 3B OPS. Fenway has helped -- in some ways. 15 of his 23 doubles have come at home, but only 1 of 7 HRs. If he keeps his stroke, perhaps those doubles off the Monster would become Mays Field HRs. On defense the Giants wouldn't losing anything -- he's considered a top glove man. And other than his dreadful '05, he's always had a good batting eye. He's making $9 mil this year and the same next year, perhaps too much for the Giants to swallow.

Why would Boston trade him? They can move Youkilis back to third and upgrade at 1B from elsewhere, and one of the Giants young pitchers could be tempting.

Other names: There's no one else who's tradeable, affordable and an obvious upgrade over Feliz. It would take a fool's ransom to pry Morgan Ensberg (still arb-eligible) from Houston, Troy Glaus is still powerful but expensive and fragile, and the Marlins would want half the farm system for Miguel Cabrera. I certainly would. Hank Blalock? Like Mark Teixeira, some wonder if he's overrated from hitting in friendly Arlington half the time. It's possible, but trading for him wouldn't be an overly expensive gamble: He's making $4.75M next year, $5.95M in '08, with a club option in '09. He's definitely better at home, but this year he's hitting better away (.832 OPS) than he has the previous three years (a miserable .707 OPS). My worry: Mays Field would eat him up. Home runs in Arlington are 400-ft outs in triples alley. The upside: Hank Joe's only 25 and could be getting a lot better the next two years. It's unlikely Texas will trade him, but they always need good young pitching.



Trade Bait: First Base 

Handcuffed by the Pirates two straight days, wasting fine pitching from Matt Morris and Noah Lowry, Brian Sabean finally admits that it's time to shop for offense. "I'm not going to name names, but there are spots in the field where we're underperforming offensively."

Damn'd spots! Who would have thought the Giants would have had so little blood in them?

The other marker Sabean laid down is Jason Schmidt's untouchability. He's not going anywhere. He would fetch the most return, no doubt, so if Schmidt's not trade bait, who is?

The ideal scenario is to convince a goofy GM that Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey and Brian Wilson are future stars. Hell, they might be. But getting impact players in return for those three would be selling high.

More likely, the Giants won't get top value unless they dangle Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, Jeremy Accardo or Jonathan Sanchez.

Maybe, just maybe, a contending team desperate for a closer would take Benitez. I doubt it. Same comment goes for desperate/third baseman/Pedro Feliz or desperate/second baseman/Ray Durham.

In the next few days, I'll methodically go position-by-position, pore over statistics and ballpark factors, calculate pro-rated salaries, and take a half-cocked jibbering lunge at who's going to get traded.

Today, First Base.

This is it. Ground zero. The spot where the most dramatic difference can be forged. Lance Niekro, who celebrates three-hit games by tweaking his groin and ouching his ouch even when the ouch isn't ouchy, doesn't have enough qualifying at-bats, but if he did he'd have the 2nd worst OPS among major league first basemen. Only Richie Sexson is worse (and woe to M's fans, for across the diamond from Sexson is the majors' worst-hitting third baseman, Adrian Beltre).

Mark Sweeney isn't doing much better. He's overexposed, or just not hitting well, or both. I want him to pinch-hit, make Barry warm and giggly, start occasionally, then hide in the bathroom stall when left-handers are on the mound. This year? 0-for-15. Those 15 at-bats are nearly half the total he had in the three previous seasons.

Lance's cripple act, which forces Sweeney to play far more than he should, is nearing final curtain. But who's out there? A player's likelihood of being traded to the Giants is based on four things: 1) He's a definite upgrade. 2) His strength -- say, right-center field power -- won't get eaten up by the 421' Monster. 3) He's tradable and/or expendable. 4) His salary isn't ridiculously burdensome -- because Brian Sabean don't wanna be no beast of burden. All he wants is to make sweet love to a contract that won't set Peter Magowan's hair on fire.

Does any first baseman fit all four categories?

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Mr. Eduardo Perez of Cleveland. The dude can rake lefties -- 1.043 OPS this year, .958 the past three years. Even if he's buoyed by smallish parks, that's impressive. I assume his power is to left field, but I'm not sure. He's only making $1.75 M with a club option for next year. He's in a strict platoon with Ben Broussard, and would probably serve the same function here. Still, he's an upgrade. The Giants might be able to fob Niekro off plus Correia or Hennessey. I'd love to see Alfredo Simon or Chris Begg plus Niekro for Perez, but Mark Shapiro is one of those GMs who knows how to look up statistics on the Internet.

Nick Johnson of Washington would be great, but decide now which side of Matt Cain's ass you'd want to kiss good-bye. Johnson is just entering his prime, he's still relatively cheap, he hits lefties and righties, he hits line drives to all fields.

Other names: Shea Hillenbrand of Toronto is rumored to be on the block. He's raking this year, but mostly as a DH. I can't see him as an everyday 1B unless the Giants had a Snow-like backup for the late innings. Craig Wilson of Pittsburgh is always a mensch against lefties, but unlike Eduardo Perez he's good enough against RHP to start some of the time, with Sweeney spelling him occasionally. Sean Casey loves to hit at Mays Field, if you haven't heard. It's getting a little beyond small sample size weirdness: something like 21-for-47. He could come to town and have a half-season like J.T. Snow in 2004. He could come to town and hit fly balls to the warning track. He could come to town and refracture his lower vertebrae. Given his salary (expensive) and his contract status (nearly over), Casey may be the most attainable option.

Wild card: Mark Texeira. In a weird slump right now (only 6 HRs), Texeira is due to make $9 M in his final contract year in '07. Might the Rangers be willing to dump his salary and his power drought for less than top-tier prospects?

No way in hell: Lance Berkman (native Texan with full no-trade clause), Carlos Delgado (Mets are thinking World Series), Ryan Howard (duh), Kevin Youkilis, Paul Konerko, Lyle Overbay, Todd Helton.



Caption Contest #4, or maybe #5 

With so much to talk about -- Jason Grimsley's rat-tales, Pujols' trainer, Barry and Albert's obliques, other key injuries and the trade rumors heating up -- I'm afraid I actually have to do my day job today. (Sheesh.) But I leave you with the quote of the week, from Baseball Prospectus's Christina Kahrl on the good news of Moises Alou's return:

That's the nature of having an old outfield: best to have four sets of hands, because aging threesomes might leave somebody unsatisfied.

And for your frothy entertainment, I present this month's caption contest:


MORE FUN STUFF AFTERNOON UPDATE: Tip of the hat to Fire Joe Morgan for pointing out Tommy Lasorda's blog entry about his favorite restaurants in each major league city. His only SF entry: Fior d'Italia. Tommy says he's eaten enough pasta at one place in Chicago to fill an entire train. In the past I didn't want to call him "Fat Pasta Ass" for fear of upsetting ethnically sensitive readers, but now I think it's not just warranted, it's anatomically correct.



Pantheon of Love 

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new.

- T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"

I left the ballyard Tuesday night giddy. On the portwalk I called El Papa Malo, who gets so nervous in tight spots he turns the TV off. Sure enough, he watched the Marlins put runners on first and second against Schmidt, and he couldn't take any more.

"I knew it," I said. "I knew you weren't watching."

"So what happened? Who won?"

"I'm sorry, I can't tell you. You'll have to listen to my play-by-play."

So I got to do my own 9th-inning recap, not quite pitch by pitch, but enough to make my dad sweat it out. "Two-two pitch to Cabrera...fastball...fouled off!"

"Come on! Just tell me!"

By the time I got to "3-2 pitch to Hermida..." I was in full broadcast mode. "The set. The pitch. Change-up...struck him out swinging!"

I've been privileged to see many great Giants moments in person. Jason Schmidt's 16 strikeout game now enters my personal pantheon.

A few others, in no particular order:

* The Benito Santiago home run in game 4 of the 2002 NLCS against the Cardinals. It soared over my head. But the best part of the evening was the ride home on the N-Judah. Someone had a boom box with the post-game highlight show. When Duane Kuiper made his call, "Santiago hits it high!...He hits it deep!" the entire train car roared in unison, "He hits it OUTTA HERE!"

* The Brian Johnson home run game. Even Dodgers fans can agree -- one of the best games ever. I was away in college when the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the 'Stick, but on September 18, 1997, the upper deck felt like a 7.0 was rolling through.

* Barry Bonds's birthday bash. He throws out the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, then on the first pitch of the bottom of the inning, knocks one over the center field fence to win the game. Un-believable.

* 10th straight win. In 1982 the Giants went on an improbable run under Frank Robinson, winning 10 in a row in August to climb back in the NL West race. Those were the days of Reggie Smith at first base, once the target for Candlestick-approved D batteries, now serenaded with chants of Reg-gie, Reg-gie! This was my first real taste of pennant fever.

* Barry's 71st and 72nd homers in 2001. Forever tainted by the Friday night black home jerseys and Shawn Estes coming up small in the biggest game of the year. Barry cranked two, but the Giants were eliminated from the pennant race.

* The clincher. Sept. 21, 2000. Calvin Murray eased back toward the wall, the fly ball settled into his glove, and the Giants were N.L. West champions. Sure, I'd seen them clinch before, but never in person, and never in a year as magical as 2000. The players' impromptu victory laps to slap hands with fans was unforgettable. The Giants were the obvious class of the league, and dreams of a World Series were soon to become...see next entry.

* J.T. Snow's home run off Armando Benitez. Great moment, but I'll let J.T. take it from here: "The home run doesn't mean anything now. We lost the game," Snow said. "A loss is a loss, but to go from the high we were on, that's tough. I'd trade all that excitement, that incredible high, for a win."

Obivously the pantheon is not complete.



That's the Way God Planned It 

Billy Preston passed away today at the early age of 59. His life was short but packed with beautiful notes, much like one of my favorite solos of all-time, his organ break on I Got The Blues.

In other news, the Giants picked Tim Lincecum, a short, hard-throwing college pitcher as their #1 draft selection today. I watched video clips of him, and he looks like he's throwing with maximum effort, similar to Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt, and the Giants' most recent comparable, David Aardsma. Some scouts say short pitchers (i.e., 6-ft or less) are more injury-prone. I don't know if that's true, but guys like Hudson, Oswalt, Billy Wagner and Flash Gordon have shown that it doesn't have to be true. So if Lincecum indeed throws in the high 90s with a nasty curve and his arm never gets sore, why not take a chance?



Mando Overboard 

After yesterday's dramatic series-clinching win over the Mets -- dubbed the "biggest win of the year" by expert pinch-hitter Jamey Wright -- there was so much to discuss. Terrible clutch hitting followed by clutch hitting. Matt Morris showing a glimmer of rebound before one hanging curve to Lastings Milledge. Felipe's weird personnel management.

But it will all be overshadowed by baseball's version of a quarterback controversy: Armando Benitez's closer job is in jeopardy. That's not just according to the blog-fan vultures who've been waiting for his carcass to drop to the desert floor from the moment he signed with the Giants. After yesterday's game, Mike Krukow even said so.

I don't have the exact quote, but in the post-game radio wrap Krukow basically called Mando out for the inexcusable pitch that Lastings Milledge hit over the left-field fence. One ball, two strikes; at the plate, a rookie who had shown a proclivity of swinging at bad pitches; Mando's off-speed stuff working well....and he throws a fastball down the middle. It was supposed to go low and away: a command mistake. Krukow was unusually harsh in his assessment and said Jeremy Accardo is ready to inherit the mantle.

Accardo has indeed been dominant of late: one hit in his last six games (8 IP, 0 BB, 6 K), and a gut-check save yesterday by retiring Delgado, Wright and Valentin without a murmur of trouble. He seems mentally and physically ready to close.

Here's the catch: despite his choke-job yesterday, Benitez isn't too bad either. Throw out 2005. Throw out the first few weeks of 2006. In the past couple weeks he's regained several MPH on his fastball and the break on his off-speed pitches. The stuff is back; it's now a matter of regaining control. Giving up on him now would be silly. If he's right, the guy is nasty. Don't moan about his history of choking; much of that reputation is from his days under the New York microscope and being unfairly compared to Mariano Rivera.

He's no Rivera, and no one else is, either. Round these precincts, we think of Robb Nen as our local gold standard, but look at his stats in '97 and '99. Shaky. Most closers have off-years.

Except for his lost-in-the-woods 2003, Benitez was one of the top closers in the 2000's. He struck out a lot of batters, kept men on base to about 1 per inning, and blew a small number of saves.

You could argue he's a choker by pointing to his post-season stats; I would counter that we're talking pretty small sample sizes, and most of the damage was done when he was a young jheri-curled hothead in Baltimore.

You could argue that recent history counts most, and since 2002 he's had one good year: 2004 with the Marlins. You could argue his K rates have declined since his heyday and even when healthy, he's in decline.

I don't have a strong counter-argument except to say recently he's been getting sharper, not duller. Putting aside the bad day in the Big Apple yesterday, Benitez is making progress from his return from injury last September. His fastball is back in the mid-90s, his off-speed stuff is dipping and darting and making batters look foolish. For those who didn't see the game, find clips of his save on Saturday, May 27 against Colorado. Watching that splitter and slider in combo with a 94-MPH fastball painting the corners should be enough to give you hope.

Accardo could supplant Benitez this year, but I'd like to see Armando get a couple more chances to show more progress. Having him back at his best or near-best with Accardo setting him up is too good a scenario to give up on right now.



The Swoon in June Falls Moonly on the Prune 

When I was growing up...gosh, that phrase conjures up so many images. Walking to school backwards in the snow. Eating 5-cent hot dogs made mostly of sawdust and snout hairs. Necking in Model-A Fords. Carhops. Saber toothed tigers. The Fourth Amendment.

But none of these memories are so vivid, so painful, so delineated in the backlit mise-en-scène of my mind's eye as the June Swoon.

Every year, the Giants would show promise, and every year the dreadful Swoon would blow in from the Farallones, reeking of seal shit, and envelop the Giants in a miasma that inevitably included Candlestick bleacher thuggery and reefer* smoke.

My dad would warn me about the swoon, lest I got too giddy over the hot start of Derrel Thomas, Randy Moffitt or Gary Thomasson. Call it luck, coincidence, whatever, but the old man was right. Or so it seemed to a tot whose first taste of Giants' fever included two seven-game losing streaks in June (1975-1976).

In my formative years, the Giants were not very good in June, but I didn't quite grok that they weren't very good in any other month, either. My dad wasn't disposed to teaching me the finer points of critical thinking back then. Better to chalk up yet another 74-88 season to that damn swoon.

By the time I was 8, I was convinced the Giants would win the World Series if they somehow could skip June altogether, just as I understood on a primal level the need to keep my finger skyward when going through a tunnel, something I still do to this day. Thanks, Dad.

Or keeping my fingers crossed while driving past Cisco Grove, where as family legend has it, my mom accidentally ran over my dad's foot when he was outside putting chains on the car. This would have been a year or two before the divorce. When asked about the incident years later, my mom replied, "Gee, I don't remember that at all. It must have hurt."

I no longer fear Cisco Grove, and I no longer fear the June Swoon. Silly childhood superstitions are packed away in my closet with the bogeyman and the Bubble Yum spiders.

Longest days of the year? Bring 'em on, I say! Make way for the Re-June-venation! Matt Cain, clear a space on your mantle for that fine-looking Pitcher of the Month trophy. Moises Alou, consider yourself activated and dangerous. Barry Bonds? Fountain of youth, baby, if you know what I mean.

And please remember, the rally caps don't work unless they're inside-out and backwards.

*Current slang to describe hand-rolled marijuana cigarettes.

UPDATE: I realize I haven't written anything about Barry hitting #715. Why bother when Hammer says it all:

Now that we've gotten that out of the way and have celebrated this historic achievement, we can now move on to the business at hand. The business at hand is a country that still wrestles with old demons that haunt and destroy the progress that we have made here in the land of the free, as a country and as a people.

I for one look forward to a swift resolution of the Iran nuclear program negotiations and the immigration bill impasse. You no doubt have your own priorities: reining in child pornography, perhaps, or corruption and influence-peddling in Congress, or the soaring national deficit.


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