Two Step 

The Giants have their manager in place and it's time to clamber aboard the free-agent merry-go-round. While I was away this weekend, the first filers stepped forward. Who the Giants should and shouldn't try to sign, well, we've beaten that topic to a bloody pulp. The team has so many holes to fill, spending a massive chunk of payroll on a Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano is foolhardy.

The rebuilding phase starting today should be considered a two-phase operation. Phase 1: strengthen this team's foundation of young pitching. This is the goal for 2007. The mantra: Quality, improvement, health. Help Noah Lowry find consistency. Break Sanchez in gently. Make Cain refine his control and his off-speed stuff. In the bullpen, give Brian Wilson some save opportunities and figure out how to harness Vinny Chulk's excellent stuff. With a 93-95 MPH fastball and excellent slider, he should be much better.

Meanwhile, find out once and for all if Todd Linden can play every day. Kevin Frandsen and Fred Lewis, too, though the clock won't be ticking quite so ominously for them. See if Eliezer was a fluke. If a young, promising slugger is available for trade without stripping the system of young pitching, fine.

Phase 2: In the second half of '07 and into the winter, focus on the offense. Are Linden and Alfonzo long-term solutions? Has Randy Winn rebounded from a horrid '06? Can Frandsen be Vizquel's replacement? Can Vizquel play another year or two? The post-'07 free agent market for hitters should be a lot better, so make a splash, especially at the power corners.


Small print update: Now listening to Thomas Belhom's "No Border." Belhom played Saturday night at the Troubador in West Hollywood as the drummer for Stuart Staples, erstwhile lead singer for the Tindersticks, one of my all-time favorite bands that may or may not have disbanded. I can't quite tell. Since their last effort, Staples has recorded a couple solo LPs.

This was my first exposure to the solo material and it sounded similar, minus the T-Sticks' ever-present "queasy listening" strings. Two other Tinderstick members were in the band on keyboard and lead guitar; Belhom the drummer is a Calexico alum; the bass player does work with Lambchop. Maria McKee showed up to reprise the duet she sings on his solo album. Maria McKee? Lone Justice? Don't tell me you don't remember "Ways to be Wicked"? Seeing her 20 years later was a bit of a shock, but no doubt people would say that about me.

No more than 30 people were at the show, which Mrs. Malo and I attended spur-of-the-moment with a friend who recently moved to the Southland. We moved easily from bar to stage front and couldn't quite believe it was this easy to get so close to Staples, one of the most singular pop voices of the past decade. As an American and a Californian, I was a little embarrassed so few people were there. I imagine the San Francisco show, tonight at Bimbo's, will be better attended given S.F.'s higher tolerance for subtle Euro-melancholia.

Oh, the Belhom LP: I struck up a conversation with him as he broke down his drum kit after the show. He was humble and spoke with a thick French accent and was genuinely pleased to hear that I liked the set. They were all horribly jet-lagged, he said, and thought they played piss-poorly. He gave me his CD for free. It's not bad when he sings in French -- and not good when he sings in English.



Blowing Like a Circle Around My Skull 

Spend a few days in San Francisco and you're sure to notice the weather coming from the west. Usually that means banks of fog borne on a brisk wind, quite often in mid-summer when tourists come to California expecting hot sand and surfboards and golden tans.

Spend years in San Francisco and this constant movement from the west -- a left-to-right lean of flags and trees, garbage skittering down the street -- becomes ingrained. Then, once or twice a year, you step outside and something doesn't seem as it should. Keys? Wallet? Check. Forgot to put on underwear? No, it's there. Everyone in the neighborhood has gotten a subtle haircut? Probably not.

You realize what it is. The wind is blowing from the east. Trees are moving right to left. It's as if the world reversed polarity while you were asleep.

Today is one of those days, and the wind not only comes from the east, it howls and huffs, making the closed door to my bedroom rattle with each barometric shudder.

It's a warm wind, dry like old newspaper, suspect in late October even to a native, redolent of earthquake and firestorm. My eyes water, my skin itches. It's our scirocco, our föhn, our Santa Ana. We grind our teeth without thinking, we bite our lips and peel dry bits of skin from them, we wonder why we're not enjoying the weather. This haunted-house wind from the desert bears whispers of strange times to come, for sure.

For some, it is a new political era. For others, the end of the housing bubble. For me, it's the static electricity. The air's so dry I get shocked every time I touch metal. Even worse, it fills me with dread of the off-season of expectation. Much like the Congressional rebuild all the pundits say we're about to usher in, the Giants are supposed to emerge from the winter with fresh, new ideas, an energy to right many of the wrongs of the past few years, seasons of misguided priorities and failed policies.

But on days like today, I feel nothing but foreboding under blue skies. Maybe it's the sound of dry brown maple leaves scratching like the devil's claws down the sidewalk. It's like I walked into a Cormac McCarthy novel. Anytime now a half-starved mule train will stumble out of the asthmatic haze with the driver's bug-eyed corpse still at the helm, shot through the neck and slumped in the saddle.

Maybe it's the disconnect between the temperature and the inevitable descent into late-afternoon dusk (always a bummer). Maybe it's the knowledge that new regimes can quickly turn stale.

Bruce Bochy? Really? OK, sure, I guess. But can anything truly change if the general manager and the chief executive remain?



Dropping Science 

I wasn't really rooting for the Cardinals, but now I'm definitely not rooting for Jeff Suppan.



Cracked Acta 

Unless Brian Sabean is a lad insane, or at least one who pushes things to the edge, the Giants' managerial search is down to four candidates: Mets coach Manny Acta, Angels pitching coach Bud Black, Padres lame-duck manager Bruce Bochy, and Giants coach Ron "Ronnie" Wotus.

Others could emerge, but time's running short. The Giants ideally need a manager in place by the end of the month so the rest of the rebuild can get underway.

Ann Killion of the Mercury News has some words of advice for whoever signs on: Beware Bonds.

If Barry comes back -- and it seems more "when" than "if" -- it should only be a one-year tour of duty, after which the new skippah would have full control of his clubhouse. Yes, but three of the four managers on the short list would be first-time MLB managers, which means short-term contracts. Very short-term. Perhaps only one year, and we'll see after that.

If you were Manny Acta, would you want your first managerial job to coincide with, and only with, Barry Bonds's Final-Year Freak Show? If you were Ron Wotus, would you want to feel like the organization man being asked to bridge the gap between the Bonds and Non-Bonds Eras, with the unspoken implication that once Bonds goes, Giants brass can go out and get a more experienced candidate?

Whoever signs on would no doubt want a multi-year deal. Duh. Any manager in any situation would, but with the 2007 San Francisco Giants there's added incentive. The front office should recognize that '07 could be a disaster, or at least a distraction, and that the real work starts in a Bonds-free '08.

Put in that light, Bochy has the most leverage to ask for such a deal. Watch that man: He's a known quantity, he's won pennants with relatively weak squads, and he'd attract free agents who like his style, according to Mark Sweeney: "I think he would have a lot of clout in signing free agents, because a lot of guys would say they would play for him. He's definitely a players' manager. That goes a long way, especially with the type of players we have in San Fran. He's a good fit."

What does that mean, by the way: "the type of players we have"? Players who prefer working for a nice guy? Was this a dig at Felipe's standoffishness?

There's no panic in Detroit with Jim Leyland sitting pretty, but with the A's, Rangers, Nationals, and perhaps Padres all looking for new managers, the Bonds factor may weigh heavily. Only a masochist, a rookie manager with no other options (some poor little greenie), or a retread looking for a job, any job, would gladly take on a year of Bonds with no guarantee of contractual light at the end of year-long tunnel.

The candidates circle, the open chairs beckon, everyone weighing their options and glancing back over their shoulders. Will the Giants' chair be filled by the last man standing?



Tigers in Six 

Everyone's in a lather about Kenny Rogers's muddy hand, but BP's Derek Jacques takes issue with a body part from the other team:

When will someone stop Ronnie Belliard from doing that disturbing thing with his tongue, where he starts randomly licking the air around his face? The FCC gets all bent out of shape over Janet Jackson’s nipple, but this passes muster?

Now that Scott Rolen is starting to hit like he had a massive cortisone injection in his ailing shoulder, I revise my series prediction.

One last note on this busy day: The Phils have signed 43-year-old Jamie Moyer to a two-year contract extension. Price tag: $10.5 million. Earlier this year, Roy Oswalt got a five-year, $73 million extension. Oswalt's contract established a ceiling for this winter's negotiations with the top free-agent pitchers (Zito, Schmidt), but I'll bet Moyer's contract raises the floor a bit, especially for Schmidt, who has battled some health problems the past few years. If a 43-year-old can get two years, no way the 34-year-old (in January) Schmidt settles for two-plus-option or even three. Put your money down now: it'll take four years, maybe three plus an easy-to-reach option, to lock him up.

Oh yes: winner of the Conte Caption Contest is CTPinDC. I don't recognize that handle; long-time listener, first-time caller?



Tigers in Five 

Yadier Molina and Jeff Suppan the heroes of the NLCS? As Billy Beane once said, "My shit doesn't work in the playoffs."

It's a relevant point as we head into an off-season of major changes for the Giants. All the armchair GM'ing we're about to do should always have a caveat, even if it goes unstated: Get the team into the playoffs and cross your fingers.

The conventional wisdom -- pitching and defense wins playoff games -- is true. Except when it isn't. The loss of Pedro Martinez and El Duque should have been a crippling blow to the Mets. Except it wasn't. But they still lost. Go figure. Here's what BP's Joe Sheehan wrote yesterday, before Game 7 of the NLCS:

Over the course of a season, if two teams are separated by 23 games—a 104-win team and a .500 team—that edge comes out to about one win a week. One team goes 4-3, the other goes 3-4. That difference is tiny—one game—but it adds up over the course of a season. In one week, though, those two teams are virtually indistinguishable from each other.

Playoff matchups rarely occur between teams separated by that much. The NLCS, for example, features teams separated by 14 games in the standings, or about [one] win every two weeks. So the Mets would go 9-6, whereas the Cards would go 8-7. Over 15 games, that’s nothing; a bloop here, a random good start there, an injury. Over a season, sustaining that gap is an indication that one team is better than the other. Over seven games, the gap between those two teams simply disappears, the edge that exists over 162 games vanishes, and you’re left with teams that are essentially equivalent. That’s what playoff baseball is: matchups between teams that become essentially equal.

(Hat tip to Sheehan for reminding us of the Beane quote.)

So as you watch Brian Sabean rebuild the Giants this winter, think about this year's playoff teams. None is a perfect blueprint that screams "World Series winner." The Tigers have good young pitching. (The Giants should have plenty of that the next couple years.) The Tigers have a 41-year-old who's become the unlikeliest of staff aces. (If Sabean had hired Kenny Rogers last winter, we all would have howled. But is it now an acceptable idea to sign, say, Terry Mulholland to a 2-year contract?) The New York teams had lineups of thunder shut down in short series. (Who would have bet on that going into the playoffs?) The Cardinals' best post-season pitcher is Jeff Suppan. They wouldn't have gotten this far without Jeff Weaver. (Imagine a similar sentence from a BizarroWorld newspaper celebrating the Giants' NL pennant: "The Giants wouldn't have gotten this far without Brad Hennessey and Jamey Wright.") The Mets got stellar performances from John Maine and Oliver Perez. (Ditto: "The Giants pitching was bailed out by stellar performances from Jonathan Sanchez and Damian Moss.")

This all adds up to a Grand Unifying Theory of Nothing Much, Really. Good teams slump. Mediocre teams coalesce. Horrible pitchers find a secret inner mojo reserve. Just get us to the playoffs, and let the fates have at it.

The corollary to the Beane-Shit Theorem is simple: Endy Chavez happens.

Except when it doesn't.



Lidle Hands Are the Devil's Workshop 

Since the phrases "Game Six" and "Shea Stadium" are the cosmic punchline to one of baseball's sickest jokes, we might as well get more baseball-related bad taste out on the table.

First, this.

Then these guys. (Thanks to Elbo for the tip.)

To temper the cruelty, here's a gentler satire.

Some say flying small planes through dense urban areas is tempting fate, but that's peanuts compared to this.



Conte Caption Contest 

No time today for a proper salute to St. Stan of Conte, the man who held the Giants together with cat gut and glue all these years. He's leaving the organization, so let's send him off with a caption contest. Choose whichever photo tickles your fancy. Photo A is with Robb Nen, photo B with Steve Kline, I believe.


More Managerial Machinations 

This morning brings reports that the Giants are interested in talking to Bruce Bochy, the Padre manager who has permission to shop himself around.

First question: Why is the Padres front office practically pushing Bochy out the door, stopping short of actually firing him? Here's what CEO Sandy Alderson told the San Diego Union-Tribune: "He may very well not go to San Francisco. If he doesn't and comes back to the Padres, my hope is we have a happier, more content and more motivated Padres employee than we would have otherwise. There is only one way to (prove) to somebody that the grass is not greener, and that's to allow somebody to roll around it a little while."

Other than being an excellent metaphor, it's totally disingenuous. If the Padres were totally content with Bochy, they wouldn't grant him permission. Full stop. So what's their beef with him? For the record: 12 years in San Diego, four division titles, one NL pennant, 1996 Manager of the Year. His middle name is Douglas, and he is the only manager in ML history born in France. C'est vrai!

Second question: Are the Giants willing to give a big contract to a manager not named Lou? Jon Heyman of SI.com doesn't think so: "There's been talk that the Giants might be interested, but like the Padres, the Giants aren't expected to want to spend big bucks on a manager (Bochy is due $1.9 million in 2007)."

Again from the SDUT, here's an anonymous Giant official with a poor command of English grammar and syntax: "Sabes thinks [Bochy] runs the pitching good, and we've got a lot of young pitchers," said the Giants official. "That's something we've got to be concerned with – somebody who can run the pitching. Sabes likes the way Boch runs the pitching, not only running the pitching, but the way he runs a game on the field. He thinks Boch does a good job."

Third question: How interested in star power are the Giants when it comes to managers? Again, other than Lou Piniella, would any hire really generate enough buzz to boost attendance? Even with Kooky Lou, any attendance blip would quickly subside if the team got out to a slow start next spring. Bochy is a familiar face, but his marketing sizzle quotient is just a tick above that of Ron Wotus, i.e., somewhere between "Yawn" and "Mm-hm, uh-huh, yep, that's nice, dear."

Speaking of running the pitching good, here's BP's Kevin Goldstein on a Giant farmhand not named Lincecum:

In a system desperate for a breakout performer, [Billy] Sadler was just that this year--reaching Triple-A while compiling a 2.43 ERA in 55.2 innings of relief with 79 strikeouts and just 28 hits allowed. The 25-year-old has made three appearances so far in Arizona, and he's been almost untouchable. He's faced a total of 11 batters, given up a single, walked one, coaxed a couple of groundball outs, and struck out the other seven, including three of the four lefthanders he has faced. He has two plus pitches with a fastball/curve combination, is a bit of a late bloomer at 25, but should be competing for a big league bullpen job in spring training.

Cheap Lefty analysis, based on two innings I saw Sadler pitch in September: He better not allow any baserunners because he won't be able to hold them on. His move to the plate is painfully slow. Also known as "Nen Slow." No matter how good his stuff, it's a big flaw in his game. The only relief pitcher who could compensate for a Nen-Slow move to the plate was Robb Nen, because he threw lots of Nen-K's.



Steve Lyons for Manager! 

That's one insufferable Fox broadcaster down, three more to go. Steve Lyons: hacking at slop nightly.

We can also rejoice that Lou Piniella is about to be hired by the Chicago Cubs, according to reports, for no other reason than we're spared listening to him on national baseball telecasts. Did the man say one interesting thing during the playoffs?

Another name bandied about for the Giants' position, Bob Brenly, doesn't seem to be leaving the Cubs' broadcast booth, so that leaves Ron Wotus as the last serious candidate standing from round one. But that doesn't mean Ron is the next Giant skipper.

Piniella to the Cubs means Joe Girardi, likely the NL Manager of the Year, will need a job. He did a decent job with a very young team in Florida that included several prize pitching phenoms. He's also a veteran of the Bronx Zoo, so he and Sabes will have something in common. Could he be a fit?

The A's third-base coach Ron Washington is often mentioned as prime managerial material, and his season just ended. Could he be on the Giants' interview list? A's players seem to adore him. I have no idea what his strategery skills are like, but he's considered an excellent teacher of young players.

However, "Wash" may be in line for the Oakland job. The Chron reports this morning that Ken Macha may be on the outs after being an insensitive jerk about players' injuries one too many times.

When Joe Kennedy and Rich Harden were on the disabled list, he referred to them as "non-entities." Asked if he was concerned about Bobby Crosby's back injury affecting the shortstop's future, Macha responded that he hoped Crosby is back next year and can play 150 games, "but if he can't, someone else will." And he raised eyebrows when asked how he felt about Mark Ellis' broken finger, which knocked the second baseman out of the playoffs, especially considering Ellis' tough injury history. "It's part of the game," Macha responded. "A lot of people get hurt."

If Macha steps down, would he be considered for the S.F. job? I can just imagine the conversation:

KM: "Bonds! How's the [air-quotes] 'knee problem'?"
BB: "Look, pal, the plasma TV's over there by my recliner. Just stick to repairs and don't ask questions."
KM: "I have to do the lineup."
BB: "You're not the Video Only technician? Do you have clearance for this quadrant of the clubhouse?"
KM: "The knee?"
BB: "I think I need the day off."
KM: "But..."
BB: "Big homestand coming up. 755, baby. I'm sure you'll figure something out."
KM: [walks away, muttering under breath] "Ooh, oww, my knee, it's so sore, I'm so old and tired!"
BB: [yells after him] "And tell Fred Lewis to get in here with my dry-cleaning!"

Speaking of Barry Lamar, some say the only other team that would have him is Detroit, given BLB's cozy relationship with Jim Leyland. But now that the Tigers have won the AL pennant and are odds-on favorites for the Series, why bother bringing Bonds into that mix? They won't desperately need the offense: All their main hitters are under contract or control next year.

Maybe, just maybe Arte Moreno, the free-spending Angels owner, will make a play for Bonds, but it looks like it's here or nowhere for him next year. Which means the new manager will need to handle a year of media-circus absurdities before he can breath easy in 2008.

Media absurdity? Isn't Steve Lyons available?



The Coin Toss 

Not much time today, but here's a link to a post by Jon Weisman, who despite being a Dodger fan is an excellent writer. Weisman looks back on his own assessment of the post-2004 free-agent starting pitchers and shows that it's really really really hard to predict how a pitcher will perform. All the more reason not to throw mega-millions and multiple years at aging starters.



OPP (Other People's Phenoms) 

We all know how thin the upcoming free agent class is. Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and (probably) Aramis Ramirez are the best young(ish) sluggers; Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt are the best starting pitchers.

Doesn't exactly make you want to write a $90 million check, does it?

If Peter Magowan answers that with "No, it doesn't," then good for all of us Giants fans. Overspending for the top of this year's FA class means less money to spend in subsequent years when a true can't-miss player may come to the fore.

Plus, from all the noises Giant management has been making recently, we know they're going to spend frugally, if not wisely, amid the free-agent frenzy. Not even Barry Bonds will get Barry Bonds money, if Pee-Mags is to be believed.

As Brian Sabean so helpfully informed us, this team will have to improve either via free agency, trades, or the farm system. (What? No reproductive cloning or parallel-universe identity extraction? Why doesn't he consider all the options?)

One source of trade bait is the pool of disgruntled, overpaid veterans whom perhaps the Giants could trade for their own disgruntled etc etc. But disgruntled and overpaid means they will continue to be the latter and perhaps even the former, even if they receive a warm, snuggly orange, black and french vanilla down comforter as part of their welcoming ceremony.

A much better pool of potential tradees to tap are the perfectly decent ballplayers who are about to lose their jobs to up-and-coming phenoms. Ryan Howard made Jim Thome expendable. Carlos Quentin made Shawn Green expendable. Josh Barfield made Mark Loretta expendable.

The team looking to trade loses a bit of leverage, especially if the player about to be replaced can't really play another position. Jim Thome could not have moved to the outfield to make room for Howard. The White Sox picked up Thome for a good but not great CF, Aaron Rowand, and pitching prospects. I think the Phils even tossed in some cash. In other words, reasonable. It didn't hurt that Thome was a huge injury question, sure, but however you look at it, the Phils needed to clear space pronto.

For similar reasons, there should be a few interesting position players on the market this winter. Here are five, with their potential displacers in parentheses:

Mark Teahen, KC 3B (Alex Gordon)
KC doesn't have to trade Teahen. They may not want to, seeing how he suddenly figured out how to hit with power this year. They could move him to 1B. But his trade value is rising quickly because of his improved offense and his heralded defense. He just turned 25, so whoever trades for him could be getting 4 or 5 years of continuous improvement. Downside: he just had shoulder surgery.

Joe Crede, CWS 3B (Josh Fields)
Fields is heir-apparent, but Ozzie loves Crede, so Fields may be switched to the OF. If not, Crede has two more arb-eligible years. With his excellent D and power bat, he'll command much more than the $2.6 mil he earned in '06.

Wilson Betemit, LAD 3B (Andy LaRoche)
I'm not sure LaRoche is ready for a full-time job, but with stats like these, I'm sure LA will give him a shot in spring training. That means Wilson Betemit could be out, or he could remain a utility/platoon guy. His numbers against lefties are dreadful. Would Coletti and Sabean trade with each other?

Jonny Gomes, TAM OF (Delmon Young)
Delmon is ready. After a promising 2005 (21 HR, .372 OBP / .534 SLG), Gomes regressed in '06 (20 HR but only .325 OBP / .431 SLG). Maybe it was depression; playing indoors in Florida for a crap team would drag anyone down. He'll be 26 next year, so there's a good chance he'll straighten up and fly right.

Yorvit Torrealba, C COL (Chris Iannetta)
Sure, backup catcher's not a priority. But if Eliezer Alfonzo remains the starter next year because of Matheny's concussions, they're going to need backup. Why not Yorvit? His defense is excellent, and his offense is...he's a good bunter.

I'm sure there are other candidates for this list who might attract the Giants' attention this winter. Let me know if you can think of any.



Weirdest Baseball Story of the Year 

It looks like Cory Lidle was the pilot of the plane that crashed into a Manhattan apartment building today.



The A-Rod Obsession Revisited 

Now that the playoffs are down to four teams, with the big bad $200 million Yankees bounced and waiting for the next Steinbrenner fecal tempest to rain down upon them, let us commence the comparing of the payrolls. It's become known as the MasterCard assessment, always ending with some little piece of Schadenfreude ("Watching George Steinbrenner dump a box of giant Madagascar hissing roaches into A-Rod's locker") rung up as "priceless."

Try putting that in your little brown Bloomie's bag, baby.

As the A's finally extend their season past what Oaktowners had tabbed the "Boo-Yah!" round, this year's Most Valuable Coupon-Clipper award once again goes to Billy Beane, who's already out scouting for next year's Frank Thomas (Hint: It's probably not Frank Thomas).

Because the A's haven't choked on their Jeremy Slide sundaes, they can be officially anointed the anti-Yanks, perhaps even the True Anti-Yankees®, by getting the most from so little. In yesterday's edition, Baseball Prospectus writer Maury Brown breaks down each major league team's payroll efficiency, and it's no surprise the A's are the best among the remaining contenders. (Of all this year's playoff teams, Minnesota was just a smidge better than Oakland.)

The hands-down efficiency champs -- in BP-speak "Cost per marginal win" -- were the Florida Marlins, who spent a measly $199,000 for each win above what a theoretical team full of replacement-level players would have won. The least efficient were the Cubs: 96 losses, a $94 million payroll, and a staggering $4.9 million per marginal win.

The Giants were at the bad end of the scale. With $2.9 million spent per marginal win, they ranked 5th behind the Cubs, Yankees, Boston and Baltimore. This is no surprise. Even those allergic to number crunching could see the Giants got very little for the money they spent this year.

Which leads me to reassess my own recent obsession with an A-Rod acquisition. By paying A-Rod $15 million a year (the Rangers are paying part of his salary, perhaps the Yankees will be willing to do the same), do the Giants get enough bang for their buck?

The short answer: not if he hits like he did this year.

A longer answer: Let's assume for a moment that Pedro Feliz doesn't take a pay cut. He earned $4.1 million this year, so dig if you will a picture of P-Happy getting $10 million over two years from someone this winter. According to BP, Feliz this year contributed to the Giants' cause nearly 5 wins more than a warm body would have done (the stat is called "WARP" or "Wins above replacement player"). The Giants paid Feliz $800,000 for each win over replacement he contributed. Given that he's 31 and showing no signs of improvement at the plate, Feliz has probably hit his efficiency peak. Unless he takes a pay cut, the cost for his contributed wins will only go up from here.

On to Alex Rodriguez: In this, his worst season in many years, A-Rod posted nearly 7 WARP. The Yankees are paying A-Rod $16 million a year, thanks to Texas swallowing much of his contract. That's $2.3 million per WARP this year. Not very efficient use of payroll. But unless A-Rod has begun what would be one of the most spectacular declines in baseball history, he's much more likely in the next few years to post numbers like 2005, when he won the MVP and tallied 12.5 WARP. At $16 million a year, that's three times what Feliz is likely to produce and only slightly more expensive per win. Put another way, 12 WARP for $16 million is probably a more efficient use of payroll than, say, 4 WARP for $5 million, which I'm guessing Feliz's next employers will receive next year, if they're lucky.

Obviously the ideal for the Giants is to find someone who produces more than Feliz but earns less than A-Rod. Eric Chavez, who suffered through injuries to post his worst offensive year perhaps ever, might be available. Even at his worst offensively, he's a gem on defense and contributed 7.3 wins above replacement. He also makes $45 million through 2010.

One more A-Rod thought: His contract allows him to opt out after next year unless he gets an $8 million-per-year raise or $1M more than MLB’s highest-paid player, according to Cot's Contracts. How would that complicate trade scenarios? No way the Giants -- or any team, I imagine -- would grant him such a raise. So unless he strikes that from his contract, A-Rod could be gone in one year. That could reduce the Yankees' ability to get prime prospects in return.



The A-Rod Jihad 

I just received an e-mail from a Yankee-loving guy in my company's New York headquarters. He sends out a daily "budget" that tells the reporters which stories are in our paper's daily lineup. He's a funny guy, and once in a while he adds a little personal comment. Today's subject line: "Friday morning budget, no longer anemic. But Yanks need to dump A-Rod."


I couldn't let that one go unchallenged, could I? The world is full of A-Rod-hating Yankees fans, and it's my mission to re-educate them one at a time.

Whoa -- what am I thinking? Better to let their bleating and braying grow so loud, their boos so embarrassing as they rain down upon one of their own, that the Yanks are forced to dump A-Rod upon the poor Giants, pay $5 million of his salary per annum, and ask for someone other than Cain, Sanchez or Lincecum in return. (A reader in my comments box recently criticized my rather fantastical idea of A-Rod for Lowry, to which I reply, "Are you frigging nuts?!?")

Ah, but A-Rod. He's a choker, isn't he? A vainglorious preening robotic blue-lipped bitch-slapping choker? And he can't produce in the playoffs, as evidenced by yesterday's 0-for-4 with 3 Ks.

It's one thing for Red Sox fans to ride the guy mercilessly; that's their job. But his own hometown fans?

Behold the playoff histories going into this year's post-season:

.305 BA / .393 OBP / .534 SLG
6 HRs in 31 games. One every five games.

.307 BA / .379 OBP / .463 SLG
16 HRs in 115 games.

Just for fun, let's bring in the post-season stats of another True Yankee, a guy who could walk into any Italian deli, auto body shop or firehouse in N.Y. and receive a free hand job:

.284 BA / .363 OBP / .465 SLG
11 HRs in 85 games.

Wait, one more. The Truest, Yankiest, Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap-Clappiest Pinstriper of this generation:

.277 BA / .373 OBP / .483 SLG
22 HRs in 120 games. About the same pace as A-Rod. But not nearly the same extra-base power.

A-Rod has had a few bad playoff series with the Yankees. He's also had some excellent playoff series and will likely have more. If his teams don't reach the playoffs in years to come, it will not likely be his fault. If Yankee fans don't want him to help the Yankees reach the playoffs, fine. Send him this way.



Such a Lot of Fools Trying to Anaesthetize the Way That You Feel 

No cable in the Malo household, so this first week of playoffs I've been dipping in and out of the radio broadcasts whenever possible. A few thoughts:

* Ted Robinson is much better than I remember him from his Giants days. He's not as shrill and eager to inject excitement into the game as he used to be. He's working the Twins-A's series with Steve Stone, who usually works for the Cubs. Stone is an excellent, insightful analyst.

* Buck Martinez, the color guy for the Yankees-Tigers series, sounds like he's got marbles in his mouth or a half-bottle of Robitussin in his belly. It's not what he says -- he's astute and thinks ahead strategically -- it's the way words roll out of his mouth. Maybe a mosquito bit his tongue and it's swollen. The play-by-play guy, whose name escapes me at the moment although Martinez seems to be calling him "Boogie," is bad. He's overly fond of baseball cliches and strings them together in embarrassing fashion: "After the quick hook the portsider comes in and gets the twin killing!"

* The regular Sunday night radio team Dan Shulman and Dave Campbell are on the Dodgers-Mets series, and they're very good. "Soup" Campbell isn't a top-notch analyst, but his low-key, deprecating, sneaky smart approach meshes well with Shulman. One of the best radio broadcasts I've ever heard was their work on the Sunday night game in September 2001 when Mike Mussina nearly no-hit the Red Sox in Fenway.

A few playoff thoughts:

* I'm neither an A's hater or lover. I have no regional affection for them, nor do I put creedence in the manufactured interleague rivalry with the Giants. They're a fun team to watch, and I'm a big admirer of Billy Beane. Hands-down, best GM move of the year: Frank Thomas. The Twins are cuddly and their biggest fan is a total hottie, exactly the kind of team everyone with a heart should cheer for, but I'm rooting A's this time. I'd like to see another A's-Yanks showdown and the A's in the Series, no matter how much crap A's fans will give us next year in the bleachers.

* If Albert Pujols is allowed to hit another home run in a key situation, Bruce Bochy should have his manager's license revoked.

* John Maine and Oliver Perez are starting for the Mets because of injuries. Jeff Weaver is starting for the Cards today because, um, well...I don't know. Let's see what the local press has to say: "La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan selected Weaver to pitch today, and a potential Game 5, because of better road numbers (4-1, 4.03) than Jeff Suppan (5-5, 5.36)." That should make Cardinal fans digest their lunches better.

* The first playoff game in Carlos Delgado's 13-year career, and he goes 4-for-5. Instead of trying to jack everything out, he takes a smooth opposite-field approach. That is one cool cat.

* Yankees fans give A-Rod a standing ovation to start the playoffs, as if nothing ever happened during the regular season. Biggest assholes in baseball. Except for this guy. And this guy. But no exception for this guy. I don't know if he's a Yankee fan, but I wouldn't be surprised.



From the Committee for the Protection of Missing and Exploited Giants 

A ribald comedy of errors, whereupon the Managing General of the Fighting Giants of San Francisco stumbles higgeldy-piggeldy into the wrong chatting room, expecting to parlay with the local and regional fanatic base of his black-and-orange equipage. Without further ado...


Maf54 (7:25:14 PM): anyone here? im not wearing pantz

Beesabes (7:25:28 PM): Yo wassup maf54

Maf54 (7:26:13 PM): beesabes -- cute name!

Beesabes (7:26:25 PM): dont wear it out

Maf54 (7:26:46 PM): r u hot?

Beesabes (7:27:01 PM): not so much

Maf54 (7:27:22 PM): why zat?

Beesabes (7:27:35 PM): under .500 2 straight yrs, no playoffs 3 straiht yrs

Maf54 (7:27:47 PM): mebbe I can help

Beesabes (7:28:15 PM): kinda looking 4 guidance

Maf54 (7:28:25 PM): yrproblem is all those straight yrs! ;-)

Beesabes (7:28:36 PM): bummer 4 sure

Maf54 (7:28:59 PM): can u send me a pic?

Beesabes (7:29:12 PM): nope, ned broke my laptop this wkend, im at netcafe soma right now

Maf54 (7:29:29 PM): smart

Beesabes (7:29:45 PM): i am not an idiot

Maf54 (7:29:59 PM): i should probly do that instead of House PC

Beesabes (7:30:12 PM): weird brand -- whatever

Maf54 (7:30:55 PM): waita sec -- ned? is he cute too?

Beesabes (7:31:17 PM): forget that LA cocksucker

Maf54 (7:31:34 PM): fer real? :-) u guys ever, uh, "work together"? [grin]

Beesabes (7:31:54 PM): not anymore, fuck that guy

Maf54 (7:31:59 PM): i wanna see his pic first at least! so this ned, hot r not?

Beesabes (7:32:19 PM): maybe if he shaved the stupid stache

Maf54 (7:32:32 PM): already shaving!! SOOOO hot

Beesabes (7:32:55 PM): man i thot it wuz cool 2 b older, now p-mags is all dude, no way, time 4 new directions n shit

Maf54 (7:33:12 PM): whats that mean

Beesabes (7:33:46 PM): time 2 get younger

Maf54 (7:33:59 PM): i like yrstyle - younger is better

Beesabes (7:34:22 PM): i dunno...

Maf54 (7:34:39 PM): younger legs, more stamina. better skin. i like where this is going

Beesabes (7:34:56 PM): yah but when u r younger theres lots to learn

Maf54 (7:35:10 PM): dontcha know it! ;-)

Beesabes (7:35:23 PM): and we need 2 flash more leather

Maf54 (7:35:51 PM): Beesabes, u r getting me so excited!!

Beesabes (7:36:09 PM): cool. u want season tickets?

Maf54 (7:37:01 PM): i wanna watch everything u do

Beesabes (7:37:35 PM): awesome! visit sfgiants.com anytime to order

Maf54 (7:37:45 PM): no way, not on this computer -- hastert checks tha cookies

Maf54 (7:38:24 PM): but ive known some giants in sf in my time ;-)

Beesabes (7:37:56 PM): ok instedd u can call 800-277-BALL

Maf54 (7:38:08 PM): dirty boy!!!

Beesabes (7:38:22 PM): I feel dirty, all those great vets i had to letgo when they --

Beesabes (7:38:29 PM): when they couldnt perform anymore

Maf54 (7:38:55 PM): trust me not all older guys have that problem!!

Beesabes (7:39:08 PM): it was rough

Maf54 (7:39:32 PM): omg!! how ruff did it get?

Beesabes (7:39:54 PM): esp w/ grip and woody

Maf54 (7:40:05 PM): Grip woody? im so there!!!

Beesabes (7:40:51 PM): u had 2 see the look in there eyes

Maf54 (7:41:31 PM): u should see the look in mine!!!

Beesabes (7:42:01 PM): hey maf gotta go dude thx for hearing me out, sometimes a guy just ha-

Beesabes (7:42:08 PM): has 2 to blow off steam, get stuff off his chest u know?

Maf54 (7:42:14 PM): omg!!...blow...chest...mmmhmfhhfgmmmmffffmmmm

Beesabes (7:42:35 PM): hey u ok?

Beesabes (7:42:55 PM): hello?

Beesabes (7:43:15 PM): dude r u even a giant fan?

Maf54 (7:43:25 PM): uhhh, giants. mm. yeah.


Second Season: A Bit of Playoff Doggerel 

The playoffs began four innings ago, and already Frank Thomas has gone deep. ¡Viva El Gran Dolor!

Here's my quick-hit list of things I want from this year's playoffs, in verse:

Dodger Humiliation, Big Hurt Vindication,
A Santana No-Hitter, Steinbrenner is Bitter
At argh! yet another quick Yankee demise,
As Pudge guns down Jeter to end their game five,
While A-Rod K's once -- and Congress holds hearings!
Then a mob forces Cashman to trade the offender
to the Giants for Lowry and a smidge of cash tender.
The Budster's caught nose-picking high in his box,
And every game of the playoffs,
From The Homerdome to Shea Stadiohm,
From Saint Loo to Da Bronx, from Motown to Oaktown,
Goes extras and causes a run on Maalox.
I also won't mind if a band of jihadis
Bombs Fox Network HQ, with help from the Saudis,
And we pass laws obliging all outlets and stations
To broadcast Jon Miller -- not obnoxious Fox filler --
to every last villa and nook in the nation.

[UPDATE: If you like it limerick-style -- and who doesn't? -- try a little something from The Master.]


Small print update:

Now listening to the Hold Steady's new album Boys and Girls in America, streaming free online. I love this Web-o-Net thing. I've never heard the Hold Steady before, being kinda old and married, but was it too curmudgeonly of me while hearing the first 30 seconds of the first song to exclaim, "Good God, that's the most blatant 'Born to Run' nod I've ever heard"? Then comes the second cut "Chips Ahoy" and more copyrighted '70s rock sounds, including the swirly keyboards of Manfred Mann's cover of Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light." Track #3: The Hold Steady's "Hot Soft Light" or Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town"? What the hell is going on here? And despite the blatant ripoffs, er, homages, why is it still pretty good?

Now reading The Corrections. Five years after buying it as a present for my mom, I'm finally getting around to it. So I'm a little behind. Just a chapter in, I'm already impressed by the way he paints in small details without losing the psychic, historic flow of the opening chapter, an introduction to a crusty old married couple, Alfred and Enid. As I inscribed five years ago, "Oprah loved it; I hope you do, too."



The Long Goodbye 

Today, we start a series of goodbyes to Giants we have known, loved, cursed, and cheered, often all at the same time.

First up: Felipe Alou. Anyone who spends 50 years in the major leagues deserves our respect. (Except Tommy Lasorda.) Official word comes today that Felipe won't be asked back as manager. Perhaps he'll become a scout or advisor; perhaps he'll latch on with another team. Perhaps he'll retire and go fishing. That's what I would do if I were 72.

[UPDATE: Here's the official announcement.]

A manager always deserves some blame for a team's performance, but it's impossible to know how much. Should Dusty Baker have left in Russ Ortiz in Game Six of the '02 Series? If Felix Rodriguez had induced Scott Speizio to pop up, or even fly out to the warning track, no one would ever have questioned Dusty's move. Dusty would first and foremost be a World Series champion manager, not a guy with a rep for player-friendliness, pitcher abuse and rookie aversion.

Felipe's bullpen-go-round was often annoying, but was it worse than leaving relievers in for longer stretches? We'll never know. Baseball doesn't have a parallel universe league to test out the road not traveled. Managers make decisions; fans with limited knowledge (we often don't know that a certain guy's arm is hurting, or a certain batter has developed a hole in his swing) second-guess.

I'm not sorry to see Felipe go. I think a housecleaning will help as the Giants move to a younger caste. But I'll emphatically defend Felipe against the "cream-of-wheat" mush-head jokes. The guy wasn't senile. He wasn't incompetent. Just like any other big-league manager, he made decisions that were easily second-guessed, and each one reinforced the bias of fans who thought the guy was feeble. If you think Felipe's case is special, go read the bulletin boards and blogs devoted to the other 29 teams. Bitching about the manager, even calling for his head, is standard -- indeed, rather boring -- fare.

In the end, I don't know how good a manager Felipe was. He guided the Giants to 100 wins his first year with roughly the same type of team-building strategy as was in place the next three years: Bonds is the centerpiece, fill in the gaps with relatively cheap veterans. Sometimes the veterans played well (Marquis Grissom 2004, Omar Vizquel 2006), sometimes they didn't (Armando Benitez 2006, Grissom 2005, Steve Finley 2006).

Did Felipe get the most of what he had to work with? Impossible to say. Impossible to measure. File under Not His Fault: Other than Vizquel, he didn't have a high-OBP guy to put at the top of the lineup. He didn't have a 40-home run guy. He didn't have a reliable closer. File Under His Fault: He played Steve Finley against lefties too much. File Under His Good Ideas: He turned Dustin Hermanson into a closer. He put Durham behind Bonds. He let Eliezer Alfonzo become the #1 catcher.

Felipe only managed four years, but because of his history with the club and the timing of his hire, just after the near-miss World Series and the poisonous Dusty departure, his tenure will be heavily scrutinized.

I thought this particular quote from today's paper summed up both the roster situation and Felipe's pride:

"I don't believe one manager enjoys having players die in their hands. I had here the last two years a number of careers finish here. ... Some of them were big players who reached the end of the line here. If you're talking about next year, we've got to make sure we have some guys we don't have to release in the middle of the season."

In other words, "I did my job."


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