2007 Numbers 

There's been much banter and some confusion about next year's Giant payroll. To get it out of the comments and into the clear light of day, here is my best whack at who's signed for next year and how much they'll earn. Most of my data comes from Cot's Contracts, one hell of a site.

MIN = contract renewable at league minimum
ARB = eligible for arbitration
ARB? = possibly eligible for arbitration

Winn $5M (includes est. $1M signing bonus)
Linden MIN
Ellison ARB?

Vizquel $2.4M (not including possible signing bonus)
Sweeney $0.95M
Frandsen MIN
1B Niekro MIN

Matheny $4M (includes $1.5 M S.B.)
Alfonzo MIN
Knoedler MIN

Morris $9.5M
Lowry $1.115M
Cain MIN
Sanchez MIN
Hennessey ARB?
Correia ARB?

Benitez $7.6M
Worrell $2M
Chulk ARB?
Hennessey ARB?
Correia ARB?
Wilson MIN
Taschner MIN

M. Alou owed $1.5M deferred to 2007
Bonds $5 M deferred (at 3.5% interest) + 1M to Bonds Foundation if retired
Finley $1M buyout
Wright .3M buyout


TOTAL $ GUARANTEED: $40.7 M (8 players)


The Third Imperative 

At the start of every Giants season, the first imperative is to make the playoffs and win it all. If the first imperative cannot be achieved, the second imperative is to finish ahead of the Dodgers.

This year, the Giants have miserably failed both of those goals. There remains only the third imperative: knock the Dodgers out of the playoffs.

Thanks to the pesky Nationals and the unpesky Rockies, the Dodgers have pulled out to a two-game wild-card lead with three to play. Dodgers here for three this weekend, Phils in Florida for three.

It should be a cliffhanging weekend in three divisions, and each race has a Giant angle.

1) NL Central: The Cardinals' epic collapse and Houston's unbelievable hot streak have brought the Astros within a half-game of the NL Central. Amazing, and unfortunate for the Giants. It looks like they'll have to fly to St. Louis Monday to make up their rained out game. Perhaps unfortunate for the Astros, too -- the Giants aren't likely to mount much of an effort, even if their regulars make the trip.

2) AL Central: The Minnesota Giants have tied Detroit for the lead. Stupendous. The Giants...oh, sorry, I mean the Twins. The single biggest factor in the team's success this year is probably the Pierzynski trade. Joe Nathan remains an elite closer, Liriano would have been runaway rookie of the year if not for the elbow injury, and Boof Bonser has filled Liriano's spot in the rotation admirably and will be Minnesota's #2 starter in the playoffs. If the Twins win it all, they should send Brian Sabean a ring. Or at least a nice floral arrangement.

3) NL West: Beat L.A. Enough said.



I'm Down With Nothing Else To Do 

A few sun-drenched lazy-day notes from the yard:

* So THIS is what spring training feels like. I've never been to Arizona in March, but today's day game -- lots of rooks on the field, plenty of sunshine, a backpack full of food, and wandering baseball chatter with my main man Elbo -- made the final score inconsequential. Just nice to hang out.

* Jonathan Sanchez: Not Ready For Prime Time. I'll concede that Sanchez was pretty good today. The D-Backs dunked a couple in, Frandsen played shoddy D, and Durham missed a catchable pop-up. But I still think Ol' Dirty Sanchez is going to have trouble next year in the bigs. He doesn't hold runners on, and he seems to get flustered easily. Great stuff, deceptive delivery, and according to reports, a good head on his shoulders, but from watching today and his last few outings, another year in the minors would serve him well.

* Fred Lewis: First Major League Start! Not once did he acknowledge the cries of "Freddie!" emanating from the 1-3-8. C'mon, kid, have some fun out there.

* Eric Byrnes: The only opposing OF'er I've ever seen win over the bleacher creatures. I've already advocated re-signing Mike Stanton. Here's my second free-agent recommendation: Byrnes. Why? Look at these numbers against LHP:

This year: .331/.387/.584
2003-2005: .298/.361/.524

Behold the Masher of Lefties. Those are Alouvian numbers. Limit his exposure to tough right-handers, and he becomes a plus asset. Wind him up, watch him go. Sign him for a year, maybe two, for what -- $3 mil a year? He'd be great insurance in case Bonds blows a gasket (yes, I'm assuming Barry will be back next year), or Linden blows his big opportunity, or Winn continues to generally blow.

Plus he's a fan favorite. Butts in seats, baby. And he grew up a Giants fan. He seems to know some of the Mays Field bleacher weirdos on a first-name basis, given all the hand signals and mouthed comments being relayed back and forth today (in a good way).

* Moises Alou: Fabulous running catch in right field, great hustle double in the fourth inning, very cool steal of home. Mo is the only one fired up out there. If we could only transplant Randy Winn's legs onto Mo's body, I'd re-sign him for five years. The man can still play.

* Eliezer Alfonzo: In addition to his two-run homer, Notgardo made two excellent defensive plays. On a short sacrifice bunt by Claudio Vargas he pounced and threw a bullet to second to start a double play. On another bunt by Vargas he cradled a foul pop and tried to let it drop fair to start another double play -- savvy -- but the umpire ruled it a foul ball. Very heads-up both times. Despite his slop-hacking, he's still a valuable offensive player slugging .466 from the 8th hole.

* Kevin Frandsen: I hope I'm wrong, but that bat just screams "Joe McEwing!" And the defense at shortstop doesn't help much, either. The Giants would be wise to pencil him in as the main utility infielder in '07, but not to hand him the keys to second base.

* Jack Taschner: Once my favorite guest hosts of Sprockets, Taschner-Munter is now the new axis of evil. Was ist los, meine Herren?

* One more game: See you at the yard Saturday. Cain't Stop the Music, anyone? Let's just hope Bruce Jenner doesn't show up.



Yoo-Hoo! Over Here! Hello! 

The 2006 Giants are trying hard to make us think about the future. I don't blame them. If I weren't a clinically obsessed Giants fan, I'd regard this home-stretch flameout as a harbinger of dark days ahead, indeed, and I'd strongly think twice about re-upping my season tickets.

Today, the 2007 schedule was unveiled. Open at home against San Diego and L.A., host Toronto and the Yankees but visit Boston as part of the interleague (something seems wrong with that -- no Devil Rays or Baltimore at all?). All but six games in September are against NL West teams, with the final weekend at Dodger Stadium.

What better way to distract fans about to give up hope than by dangling next year's schedule, complete with scratch-and-sniff scents of spring outfield grass and garlic fries? April? Dodgers? Hot dogs? Bleachers? Matt Cain? Where do I sign?

Speaking of which, here's my first stab at the 2007 opening day lineup:

SS Omar Vizquel
RF Todd Linden
CF Randy Winn
LF Barry Bonds
3B Not Pedro Feliz
1B Not Shea Hillenbrand
C Eliezer Alfonzo
2B Kevin Frandsen
P Matt Cain

Replace the Nots with Mark Teixiera and, um, David Wright, and the Giants will have a fighting chance next year. Replace them with Mark Sweeney and Pedro Feliz, and we might as well start looking forward to the 2008 schedule.

More handwaving to keep fans from the jaws of despondency is the decision to allow the SF Chronicle to interview 16-year-old Dominican Angel Villalona, who just signed with the team for $2.1 million. He's in Arizona for a month-long training camp, and according to John Shea he's "the youngest by far." On-site officials weren't enthused about the interview, but apparently it went forward "with a gentle nudge from the front office."

I won't be surprised if the Giants try to re-sign Bonds for next year in snappy fashion. Yes, the All-Star Game is in town next summer, but face it: this team needs to do all it can to keep wavering ticket holders from jumping ship over the winter. With Barry on board by World Series time, the losses of Schmidt, Feliz and other familiar names in subsequent weeks won't shock the fair-weather fans quite as much.

I also predict this winter we'll see a shift in PR strategy, as the team pitches stories about its young promising pitchers and tries to make them more available to the press (as it just did with Villalona). Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain, Wilson: look for more pillowy-soft profiles of these kids, leading to a weird split marketing message for next year's team that somehow encompasses youth and innocence and promise as well as the lurid spectacle of the creepy, cynical and really old Barry Bonds chasing a home run record most people don't want him to break.

Possible Slogans:

Barry and the Babes
What Were the 1980s Like, Mr. Bonds?
You Damn Kids Get the F#@* Off My Recliner!
25 Players, 24 Tricycles, 1 Armored Escalade
Not Everyone Gets a Personal Masseuse Hired by the Team
Giants Idol 2: Home Run Drag King

What do you think next year's slogan should be? Or if you like, take a crack at the '07 opening day lineup.



Mindless Distraction 

I'll ignore the sordid events of the weekend for the time being and divert our attention with a pleasant quiz:

Of the first 25 "splash hits" -- home runs by a Giant that landed directly in McCovey Cove -- how many were not hit by Barry Bonds? And can you name the hitters?

If you cheat by looking it up, may you be cursed forever with an ill-fitting jockstrap.



Pacific Stanton Time 

The first personnel move the Giants should make this winter is counterintuitive to the youth movement everyone is advocating: re-sign Mike Stanton. Hell, do it now before the season ends.

Hold on, pal. The last thing we need is more 40-year-olds. Didn't you learn the lesson of the past two years? Old guys are slow and injured and expensive and block the progress of young guys. Old guys are boring. Old guys are old.

Actually, no. OK, sort of. In some cases yes, in some cases no. Before you go more bananas (that's "b-a-n-a-n-a-s"), raise your right hand, place the left one on your Holy Omar Bobblehead, and swear that you're comfortable with this statement: "Two down, two on, bottom of the eighth, Giants up by one. Now batting for the Rockies, Todd Helton. Now pitching for the Giants, Jack Taschner."

Having a little trouble with that one? I thought so.

With Stanton on board next year, the Giants have a lefty set-up guy in case Taschner continues his oxymoronic backward progress. With Stanton, the Giants have an emergency closer in case the guy with the hair gel and untucked striped shirt knocking back saketinis at Momo's on any given night can't pitch as well as Armando Benitez. With William Michael Stanton, you have a guy who looks like he would serve an honest drink at an honest price and give quiet counsel at a place called O'Flaherty's just around the corner. With Stanton, you have a fairly dependable LOOGY you can trade for a 19-year-old at the July 31 deadline.

Of course the contract should start with a low base salary -- $1 million is reasonable, as that's what Stanton earned this year. But to sweeten the pot in case Stanton gets better offers or hankers for the East Coast, pile on incentives for saves. It can't hurt.

But...but...he's going to turn 40!

So will Omar Vizquel. How about replacing him next year with Tomas De La Rosa, who's eleven years younger?

The key is in the dollars. Don't overpay, and Stanton will be worth it even if the Giants have to dump him a la Fassero in mid-May. Just having him all winter lets Sabean make other bullpen moves with a fall-back position.

Do it, Brian. Bring back Stanton.

P.S. I also wouldn't mind the Giants going after Daisuke Matsuzaka, if only to help bridge the language chasm between the English- and Japanese-speaking peoples. (Link props to The Soxaholix.)



For God's Sake, Just Shave It Off 

Matt Morris's performance the past month, in the Giants' most crucial run of games all year, has been pathetic. Today was the topper: nine runs in four-plus innings with a little pork fat thrown on the campfire by Jamey Wright. Six walks in one inning -- it's as if Tyler Walker, William VanLandingham, Jerry Spradlin and Jose Bautista were all rolled up into a spiritual ghost-ball and took possession of Russ Ortiz's body.

And that's the good news.

The bad news is Morris's back-loaded contract kicks into high gear next year, with $9.5 M slithering into his coffers each of the next two years. Will the Giants be paying $19 million for man-toast?

I mused earlier this week about Noah Lowry: is he injured? Does he need to make adjustments? Does he need to learn a better curveball?

The same questions apply to Morris. Is this run of putridity an indication of an injury? Are there adjustments he should be making but is too stubborn to make? Why is a pitcher with historically good control suddenly walking batters in bunches?

Here's one theory: the wear and tear on his arm has finally dropped his velocity to the high 80s. This was a guy who threw mid-90s when he first came up. This isn't unusual. Most pitchers not named Ryan or Clemens get slower as they get older. But the good ones adjust. I think Morris has adjusted to the extreme: he's afraid to throw his fastball. Witness all those damn curves. If this theory is true, then what he needs is to get back to basics. Throw the fastball, both two- and four-seam, and regain control of it. Put it exactly where it needs to go. An 88-MPH sinker on the corner is an excellent pitch. Then work in the breaking stuff.

What do you think? Are his problems physical? Mental? Is it the beard? Will his contract be yet another albatross hanging around Brian Sabean's neck?



I just heard Mike Krukow's Friday morning radio spot. He devoted much of the segment to Morris and his troubles. He said Morris is healthy but perhaps tired, seeing how his fastball doesn't have "second-stage life," meaning movement. If you don't throw 90, you need movement. Just as I noted above, Krukow talked about Morris's difficulty making the transition from hard thrower to finesse guy, that he's nibbling around the edges of the strike zone and trying to change speeds off the curveball instead of getting ahead with the fastball.

Krukow then layered on some pseudo-psychology about comfort. In his first year with a new club, Morris has put too much pressure on himself. Perhaps that's true, but does that really explain why he's gotten worse as the year has dragged on?

He finished by saying he thinks Morris will rebound next year, but only so much: he should be expected to be a decent innings-eating starter, not a staff ace. Well, we knew that when he signed, to be honest. The difference is, that's now the ceiling of our expectations instead of the foundation.




Jason Schmidt takes the mound in a few minutes to try to stop the Coor-o-sel from spinning. The best news of the day is the call-up of Patrick Misch, a.k.a. Lowry Lite, a soft-tossing lefty who has been lights out in two different stints at Double-A but until this year wasn't able to crack the code in Fresno.

His best attribute: very few walks. Only 82 BBs in the 331 innings he's pitched the past two years, compared to 248 Ks. A 3-to-1 K/BB ratio is good to have when you don't throw very hard.

In April 2005 Misch, who's ten months younger than Lowry, seemed on roughly the same career trajectory as Noah. (See this discussion.) I'm curious to see how he handles his first taste of the big leagues. Given the Giants' shorthandedness in the bullpen (Benitez out, Kline out 'til the weekend, everyone else dog-tired), we could see him today. He's projected as a middle reliever at best, but from most of the anecdotal reports I've heard, his stuff is very similar to Lowry's -- a little less fastball, better breaking stuff. Given that he just turned 25, I wouldn't count him out as a pleasant surprise for next year.



Change the Change 

I won't gnash my teeth over last night's 20-8 debacle. Before the game, the Giants needed a small miracle to reach the playoffs. After the game, which only counts for one loss, they'll need a slightly larger miracle.

Instead, I'll scratch my head about Noah Lowry. The man is not right. Felipe Alou "wondered aloud to reporters" after the game if Lowry's elbow is still bothering him, according to Henry Schulman.

I wondered aloud to myself during the game if the league hasn't figured him out. Perhaps the elbow is causing him to throw pitches above the belt, which is very very bad. But I think a bigger problem, perhaps compounded by injury, perhaps not, is that teams have figured out the change-up.

Here's my theory: batters stand in against Lowry looking change-up all the way. His fastball isn't fast enough or accurate enough to worry too much about; hitters can foul it off or let it go. His breaking pitches are still very inconsistent. Even when he throws them for strikes they're not swing-and-miss pitches.

The changeup remains his best pitch. Problem is, it's not an easy pitch to paint with; the circle grip, held back farther toward the palm, makes it less of a "feel" pitch than a fastball, which is held on the fingertips. Palm, less control; fingertips, more control.

The fastball will go exactly where a pitcher wants if he's got a good feel for it. The change is more like a knuckleball -- throw it to a certain vicinity (usually the outside corner) and hope that it has a lot of action. That's why Jason Schmidt's changeup can be so devastating; when he's on, it dives like a splitter. He seems to command it like a fastball.

Lowry's changeup isn't about location; it's more about change of speed. Sometimes it's straight, sometimes it dips and dives. When it was a surprise, just the change of speed was enough to fool hitters. But now they're looking for it, and when it gets too much of the plate, boom.

Baseball is littered with the memories of one-year wonders. Lowry may be another if he doesn't make adjustments.



Two Weeks Left 

Two blowouts and a rainout. It sounds like the punch line to a slightly dirty joke, but it's not quite what I wanted for my wedding present. Note to Peter Magowan: I'll settle for a George Foreman indoor grill -- or as my mom once accidentally called it, a "Mike Tyson grill." Imagine the culinary possibilities.

So here's where things stand, ladies and germs. To overtake both the Padres and Dodgers for the division will be nearly impossible. If the Giants went 11-3 the rest of the way, L.A. would have to go 6-7, the Padres 6-8. And the Giants' 11th win would have to be on the road in St. Louis, the day after the season ends thanks to yesterday's rainout.

A more reasonable route: the Padres hold onto the division and give the Giants a shot at overtaking the Dodgers for the wild card with those three head-to-headers the final weekend of the season.

Problem is, the Giants are also behind the Phillies in the wild card hunt, a considerable 2.5 games back. The Phils probably have the toughest schedule of all the contenders, with six games left against pesky Florida. But to gain 2.5 on one team without any head-to-head games, and 3.5 on another, all in the span of two weeks? Miracles do happen.

Even without a playoff berth, there are several reasons to pay attention:

1) Finish ahead of the Dodgers. If this is not possible...

2) Knock the Dodgers out of the playoffs.

3) More Billy Sadler. Why the hell not?

4) Matt Cain: a September ERA of 0.00, Pitcher of the Month, and a shot at Rookie of the Year.

5) Two more chances to wear my new Giants jersey with "BLEACHERS 138" on the back. I won it in a shameless team marketing raffle last week.

If nothing else, I want the Giants to end on a good note, with Kevin Frandsen slapping a few liners into the gap, Sadler notching a few key strikeouts, and Jonathan Sanchez making me all warm and fuzzy about next year. Also, if you're out at the yard for the final homestand, cheer extra long and loud for the classy vets who may not be here in '07: Ray-Ray, Mo, Finley, Schmitty, and especially Barry Lamar Bonds.

Give us a few more chills, B.



It's a Nice Day to Start Again 

Unless you're Francisco Liriano. The state of Minnesota is holding its breath.

It doesn't look good. "The last two pitches I threw, I felt a pop and it really hurts," Liriano said.

After this post, I'm sworn to radio silence for the rest of the week by my future commanding officer, Sgt. (First Class) Fanch Malo. I may try to sneak a clandestine message or two past her, just to let you all know I'm still alive. When I get home Sunday evening, I expect my wedding present from the Giants to be on my doorstep: a six-game win streak and counting.


Now reading Robert Kurson's Shadow Divers, a nonfiction account of the wreck divers who found a German U-boat sunk in 200-foot deep waters off the coast of New Jersey. It's harrowing, it's un-put-downable, and according to this guy, it's full of shit. I'm tempted to say as long as it's a great read I don't really care how much is exaggerated or distorted. Hell, I don't have any personal stake in the world of wreck diving and trophy hunting. But as we all know from current events, distortions and fictionalizations in the name of entertainment or political gain can do a disturbing disservice. So I'll read the second half with a slightly more jaundiced eye.



How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere At All? 

As suspected, the Giants have bumped Brad Hennessey back to the bullpen. Looks like the rotation down the stretch is Cain, Schmidt, Morris, Sanchez and Lowry.

It's not surprising. As the fifth starter, his job was to give the Giants a fighting chance to win. Since he replaced Jamey Wright, Hennessey hadn't been any better than Wright. Right now, Sanchez is a better option, and the Giants are short right-handed arms in the bullpen. Given Hennessey's success there this year, this is easily the best move for the team.

Sanchez is also much more the future of the Giants than Hennessey; consider this Sanchez's foot-wetting for 2007.

But the move, in addition to frustrating the hell out of Hennessey, who was one of the team's first-half MVPs, also begs the question: Where should Hennessey be in 2007?

Three possible answers come to mind:

1) The starting rotation. Unless Schmidt or another big-name free-agent signs this winter, the top four will be Morris, Cain, Lowry and probably Sanchez. Hennessey deserves a chance to be in the rotation all year.

2) The bullpen. He thrived as long man/spot starter. He also pitched quite well in shorter relief in July. Through the first four months his monthly ERAs were 2.79, 2.81, 2.03, and 2.12. In mid-August he went back into the rotation, starting five times but never looking comfortable.

3) On another team. The knock on Hennessey, that he doesn't strike out enough batters and thus needs to be "hit-lucky," means his trade value may never be higher. He's proven his worth and flexibility. He's fairly young (27 next February), cheap, and could be a solid back-of-rotation guy for years to come. He should fetch a decent return in a trade.

What does Hennessey's future hold? Discuss.



When I Was Younger So Much Younger Than Today 

One quick question for today, then back to the wedding planning:

Do we dare seat my mother-in-law next to her sister-in-law and risk a family meltdown?

Sorry, wrong question.

If Armando Benitez knees don't allow him to pitch much in September, and Brian Wilson's oblique proves disabling, and Jonathan Sanchez remains in the rotation, and Scott Munter continues to suck, and the Giants bullpen remains more short-handed than you'd expect in September...could Tim Lincecum make a surprise appearance? In one or two key games, will they point the kid toward the mound, give him one or two innings, and say, "Go blow 'em away, kid?"




Quote of the Weekend 

Coulda been a sweep...mmm, not really with the way Woody Williams pitched tonight. Those two runs were squeak-jobs, and Williams did strong work keeping other run-scoring opportunities off the board.

Still, I was hopping mad when Felipe let Morris stay in for the fifth and sixth innings when after four it was obvious the Padres had mistaken Morris for their lovable 60-year-old batting practice pitcher who just had hip replacement surgery and can't travel on road trips.

Sure enough, I wasn't the only one scratching the noggin. Someone asked Felipe, and Felipe responded:

"I never second-guess myself," Alou said when asked about it. "I let other people second-guess me. This guy is a tremendous starter, and you just don't pull a Matt Morris when you're down 4-0. You expect him to right himself like he did last time, like he's done all year."

Even though the Giants had two long-man pitchers in Wright and Hennessey rested and ready to go multiple innings. Even though the rest of the Giant bullpen pitched a relatively light four innings the previous two days and were about to have yet another day off. What could have been the end of Morris's night with a 4-0 deficit turned into a 6-0 deficit.

I make a point to praise Alou when he deserves it. Tonight ain't one of those nights.

Highlight of the game: Fred Lewis, pinch-hit single. Now 2-for-2. Will this man ever make a major-league out?



Letters to Theo 

Dear Theo,

I usually call on the cell phone, but I'm taking a few minutes to write because I want to thank you for all you've done for me this year.

No, we didn't make any trades, though I still agree to disagree with you. Mike Matheny would have done the Sox a world of good when big 'Tek went down. I mean, come on, Javy Lopez? You could drop the World Trade Center towers on Matheny's dome and he'd still catch better than Lopez. All I wanted was that Hansen kid in return, but you got all CAT-scan crazy on me.

Hey, whatever. What's past is past. The bigger point I want to make is this: You've saved my ass, kid. The pissers and moaners out here on the Left Coast have been breathing down my neck ever since the A-Juh, Jih, Jecch, cough, hack, sorry, I have a cold...a certain trade back in '03. Then the frickin' Nedster up and defects down south, kicking ass and getting all kinds of man-love from Plaschke and those other L.A.-holes. I was looking like a freaking idiot, even though I unloaded the Fat Bastard on Stoneman when everyone said it couldn't be done. Heh, heh. Good old Stoney. He couldn't get rid of Finley and his bleeding heart wife fast enough.

Still I couldn't catch a break. I traded that Accardo kid, and everyone went crazy. I traded a 19-year-old who no-hit Barbados or Bananistan or something for a proven veteran, who, oh, I don't know, has totally saved our ass out of the bullpen, but does Sabes get any credit? No.

Thank God for you, kid. Since you've gone and fahcocctahed the whole Beantown kaboodle, nothing I do this year will compare. The Marlins are making a wild-card run with half your farm system, Beckett's season has gone down the old pozzo, as my nonna used to say, you trade Mirabelli then panic and trade back for him. You let Damon walk and replace him with Cocoa Pebbles. You keep Hansen but ditch Meredith. Then you can't pull the trigger at the deadline. Kid, I'm telling you, ever since you put on the gorilla suit, everything's gone apeshit up there.

I could have had that job a few years ago, back when you were in high school or something.

A word of advice: it all goes in cycles. That's what I've learned in this business, kid. One day you can't do no wrong, you're eight outs from the World Series ring, the next day you trade Joe Na..Nuh..Necchh.., some kid reliever who turns into El Mariano Blanco, if you know what I'm saying.

At least you won a Series, kid. Chin up.

I gotta ask you something. It's kind of weird how Gammons went down with the brain cramp and all of a sudden, the Fens was blowing up left and right, and not in a good "raise-the-roof," "get-your-Dogg-on" kind of way. (You're young; you know what all that shit means.) No Gammons, no brilliant deadline trades: coincidence? Come on, you can tell your Uncle Brian. Was Gammo slipping you the inside dope? A little more than he slips the rest of us, right? Come on. I can tell. Mr. Objective Hall of Fame sportswriter, my ass.

Look, kid, I got nothing but respect for you. I'll tell you what. Let's get this season over with, let Bud have his World Series backslaps and fighter-jet flyovers and Mariah Carey anthem bullshit, and as the pain fades from the Yankees winning it all again, you and I will sit down and have a couple beers. Just a couple guys talking shop. In fact, I'm already working on a couple ideas, like this one pitcher got, I think he'd be a perfect fit for the Sox. Right-hander, throws hard, real character, he'd take some of the spotlight off Manny, keep things loose. Great addition, and with your payroll, the salary hit wouldn't be a problem. I can even see a new marketing slogan:

"Red Sox 2007 -- Just Mando Bein' Mando!"

Yours truly,
Brian Sabean


So That's Where He Learned His Slop-Hacking 

From a profile of Eliezer Alfonzo in today's Chronicle:

Instead, Eliezer was best buds with Tony Armas Jr., "my brother," whose father, Tony, was an outfielder with the A's and Red Sox, among others. "I asked him a lot of questions about baseball and hitting," Alfonzo said. "He taught me a lot about it."

Tony Armas's career stats:

5,164 AB / 251 HR / .252 BA / .287 OBP / .453 SLG

Kidding aside, it's a nice profile and shows what guys like Alfonzo go through to catch one big break. To his credit, he's made the break pay off. And if he's as hard-working and tenacious as the profile describes, there's a good chance he'll improve his weaknesses on offense and defense.

Eliezer, a.k.a. Notgardo, who is in fact Edgardo's second cousin, has a wee problem with pitch selection. Only eight walks in 234 at-bats, and sometimes he gets thoroughly abused by pitchers who don't bother to come close to the strike zone.

As long as he's hitting eighth, his tendency to swing at everything is less bothersome than, say, Pedro Feliz's first-pitch hacking. Eliezer is no Vlad Guerrero, the ultimate bad-ball hitter, but I've seen him hit some bad pitches hard, which could be an asset when a pitcher is trying to work around him with two outs.

Question: Are you comfortable with the thought of Alfonzo as the 2007 starting catcher? If Matheny recovers from his concussions, who should start the majority of games?



Four Under Four 

ERA isn't the best gauge of a pitcher's performance. It's heavily dependent on the defensive skills of his teammates. Swift outfielders will prevent pop-ups from falling in; slow infielders will let soft ground balls squirm through holes.

Still, it's a decent rule of thumb for a pitcher's effectiveness.* And if Noah Lowry and Matt Cain perform well in their next outings it's possible the Giants will have four starters with ERA's under 4.00. Despite a very inconsistent season, Lowry's ERA is right at 4, and Cain, at 4.11, needs six shutout innings or seven innings of one-run ball on Friday to dip below 4. Yes, I'm counting Brad Hennessey, whose ERA has steadily risen since his promotion to the rotation but remains at 3.72.

Lowry was supposed to start today but has been bumped because of elbow soreness. Cross your fingers that it's nothing serious, as the Giants are reporting this morning. And cross your fingers that Jonathan Sanchez has as stunning a debut in the rotation today as he did in the bullpen this summer, when he reeled off nearly nine innings without a hit and 13 without a run.

Other teams with at least three starters under 4.00:

Angels (Lackey, Escobar, Weaver)
Dodgers (Lowe, Penny, Billingsley)
Marlins (Willis, Johnson, Sanchez, with Scott Olsen at 4.04)
Reds (Arroyo, Harang, Lohse -- but if you only count his NL stats)
Yankees (Wang, Mussina, Lidle)

The only ML team with four under four are the Tigers, now that Mike Maroth is back and pitching well to join Robertson, Rogers, and Verlander. (Remember the rumors a couple years ago about the Giants trading Cain for Maroth straight up?)They could well have an entire rotation under 4.00 in a few days. Jeremy Bonderman is at 4.02.

* I could have used DIPS ERA -- a "defense-independent" statistic that supposedly measures a pitcher's skill without the complication of how good or bad his defense is -- but DIPS numbers are so out of whack I figure regular ERA is fair enough to use as long as I'm comparing league-wide statistics. In other words, whatever biases regular ERA has, at least everyone in my survey is affected by them.

For the record, the regular/DIPS splits for Giants starters:

Schmidt 3.39/3.75
Hennessey 3.72/5.11
Cain 4.11/3.96
Morris 4.54/4.39
Lowry 4.00/4.98


UPDATE: Sanchez just made the Reds look foolish for nearly 6 innings. Six starting pitchers -- it's a good problem to have. A couple other tidbits from the game:

- The Giants have two off-days, tomorrow and Monday, so Matt Morris could move up and pitch Sunday instead of Hennessey, who has not impressed since returning to the rotation.

- Todd Linden just had his best game of the year. He gave himself up to move Finley from 2nd to 3rd in the first inning, resulting in a sac fly by Hillenbrand, then he hit three line drives, one for a single and two right at infielders. He topped it off with a diving catch in the 9th. In the radio wrap Krukow bet that Linden will be one of the Giants starting corner outfielders on opening day 2007.

- Anyone want Shairon Martis back for Mike Stanton now?


Falling Stars 

What do Tom Cruise and Barry Bonds have in common? Not prescription drugs, that's for sure. Let Cruise in the Giant clubhouse, and within minutes he'd be jumping up and down on Barry's recliner, ranting about the evils of ibuprofen and flaxseed oil.

For those of you who don't follow the headlines beyond the sports page, Cruise has been kicked off the Paramount lot by the company chairman Sumner Redstone. Cruise, the most bankable movie star of the past decade, perhaps two, was considered too loony even by Hollywood standards.

At least that's Redstone's story: Cruise's antics on Oprah (see: couch-jumping) and Scientology-fueled rants against prescription drugs were damaging his street cred and hurting his box-office draw. So, goodbye Tom: Paramount is severing ties with his production company.

It's not really about the antics. Many see Redstone's gambit as a way to start dismantling the star system, in which a few holier-than-holies call the shots, make multi-millions per picture, and force a studio to make ever-larger budget bets.

Does the complaint sound familiar?

Substitute any one of many baseball owners for Sumner Redstone, but let's use Florida owner Jeffrey Loria as our example. Loria just gave a vote of confidence to his front office but conspicuously avoided praise for his popular manager Joe Girardi. Combine that with the Marlins' faceless rookie roster and rock-bottom $14 million payroll, and we can see how the Marlins, as they make a run at the National League wild card spot, have become the poster child for baseball's move away from the star system.

Not all teams are making the move, obviously. The Yankees and Red Sox continue to pile up the $10 Million Dollar Men. The Mets are a runaway success this year by spending on stars. But keep your eyes peeled for more indications that teams won't be beholden to high-salary, high-maintenance performers.

A big test case will be right here in San Francisco, where Barry Bonds has been the Tom Cruise of the major leagues for 15 years. Love him, hate him, whisper about him, worship him, it doesn't matter. You're coming to see him. He's still a huge draw despite his weirdo factor and his declining skills; unlike Cruise he's going downhill pretty fast. He may be hot right now, with home runs in three straight games, but it's plain that Barry has at most one more year in him. Cruise presumably has a lot of movies, if not missions impossible, yet to carry.

Peter Magowan hasn't kicked Bonds off the lot -- though much of his entourage are finally personas non gratas -- but we'll see what happens if Barry wants to come back to S.F. for another year. If the Giants refuse, will they Redstone him by tossing all his baggage on the table, or will they take the high road? They didn't when Dusty Baker left; someone tried to discredit Dusty by leaking the fact he was under I.R.S. investigation.

More important, will the Giants abandon the star system entirely when Bonds is gone? Young pitching will be the cornerstone of the next few years, but will the Giants be seduced into signing a marketable hitting star to put butts in the seats?

Past examples show that big stars don't necessarily equal winning teams: witness A-Rod's tenure with Texas. Winning teams, not fancy names, are the biggest draw...or are they? Around here, that might not be the case. The A's attendance record shows that Bay Area fans can be hard to convince. Whine about the difference in stadia all you want, but there's no excuse for Oakland fans' pathetic record: 23,000 a game this year, good for 26th in baseball. They haven't cracked 30,000 a game this decade, with perhaps the most fun, competitive, exciting team in either league.

Giants attendance is creeping southward but not dramatically. Barry's baggage hasn't put off many fans; in fact, we've taken a perverse pleasure in cheering on the man everyone else loves to hate. The ability of the Giants to draw 35,000 a game even in the doldrums, without their marquee star for most of 2005, may convince the Giants brass that the stadium itself is enough; that when Barry takes his leather recliner home once and for all to try to re-up the star power for star-power's-sake would be foolish.

But they may have no choice. The next two years, division rivals Arizona, Colorado even L.A. will have an infusion of excellent young talent. Some of these players have already established themselves in starting lineups -- Stephen Drew, Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin, Chad Billingsley, Jeff Francis, Garrett Atkins, and so on. There are more on the way.

Other than their pitching, the Giants have little else. Their position players under contract for next year are a 40-year-old shortstop, an addle-brained catcher, and the thoroughly mediocre Randy Winn. "Let the kids play!" is a common refrain when an aging team can't crack .500, but how many of you remember 1996? Thanks to Matty Williams's broken foot, it was Barry Bonds and a bunch of kids. Bill Mueller emerged as a viable starter, but it was a long, foggy summer full of Desi Wilson and Steve Scarsone. Rich Aurilia got playing time, too -- and was terrible. Long-term, it helped the team -- it certainly proved to Brian Sabean that several useful parts are better than one expensive oft-injured slugger -- but it wasn't easy to watch.

Rebuilding in this fickle market is not a job I would crave, I admit I'm looking forward to watching Brian Sabean go about it, as his perplexing moves of the last three years have not yet drawn down the reserve of goodwill he accumulated from 1997 to 2003. Color me pollyanna, but I still hold out hope he can turn the team around faster than a feckless team owner could say, "If it's Tuesday, I must be moving the team to San Antonio."


Note: Some good friends of mine have launched a food site based on their short-lived but much-loved magazine, Chow. The beta site is up and needs testers. Check it out and let them know what you think.



Somewhere, Jon Miller is Crying 

That's from the latest take-down of Joe Morgan over at Fire Joe Morgan, a site dedicated to exposing the blathering foibles of baseball commentators.

If you insist that Morgan is an insightful presence on ESPN's Sunday night broadcasts, please read this and get back to me.

Still not convinced? How about this, then?



The Giants have added seven call-ups to the active roster: Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson, Justin Knoedler, Fred Lewis, Jason Ellison, Lance Niekro, and Scott Munter.

Quick thoughts: Ellison was unstoppable after his demotion to Fresno in mid-July, hitting .400 with decent gap power. Same with Niekro, who hit 14 home runs in just over a month. A statistical blip, or a sign of improvement? I'm not holding my breath for the latter. For the record, I think both could be decent MLB benchers, starting occasionally against LHP, but that's about it. Dreams of Ellison leading off and playing CF, or Niekro mashing it up as the regular first baseman, are strongly discouraged.

Watch Sanchez carefully. Sabean said recently he'll get some starts in September. If Felipe uses him out of the bullpen after they sent him back to AAA expressly to stretch his arm out, we'll all scream bloody murder.

Munter was a disaster with the big club early on, got demoted to AA, and didn't really fare much better. This may be his last chance to show the Giants he can be consistent. My guess is he's been called up only because he's already on the 40-man roster.

Lewis: The next Jason Ellison and Calvin Murray? He's about to turn 26, he's had a solid but not overwhelming year in the PCL (.276 / .375 / .453 / 18 for 26 in SB), especially given how strong a hitter's league it is, and his defense is supposed to be spotty.


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