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.


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