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6.16.2006

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.

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