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6.10.2006

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.

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