Off the Island 

With Ryan Klesko on board at a very reasonable $1.75 million plus incentives, the Giants now have to bump someone from the 40-man roster. It is officially topped up at 40, but when (or is that "if"?) Bonds gets around to finalizing his contract*, someone will be pushed off the liferaft into shark-infested waters. (Note: this half-assed metaphor assumes the Giants are a safe if somewhat temporary haven and all other teams circling around are fearsome remorseless predators. If the fundamental premise of the metaphor is flawed, especially the first part of it, please go complain to your babysitter.)

So, who's off? Number one candidate is Lance "You're No Longer My Amigo" Niekro, who may become a nice bench player someday, think Eduardo Perez or Greg Colbrunn but with better defense, but a platooner who can only play first base and can't hit right-handed pitching is a luxury not all teams can afford. Niekro would be well-advised to learn a little outfield, a la Craig Wilson, or refine the reportedly serviceable knuckleball he learned from his dad and uncle. If Lance is released -- I'm informed he has no minor-league options left -- it's unlikely he'll go unclaimed. Injuries sabotaged his early career development. He may come around in his early 30s, and we wish him well. I just don't think it'll happen under the Giants' roof.

Number two candidate is Jason Ellison, a similiar story to Niekro in terms of age and talent. Ellison's shown flashes of major-league competence with his speed and, for a while, on-base ability. But after the first couple months of '05, he's looked awful. Opponents quickly got his number: suspect baserunning, poor plate discipline. Like Niekro, his numbers look good against LHP, but it's hard to keep a speed-and-defense bench guy who can't hit righties and, once on base, can't be counted on to steal a bag in a late-inning situation. If he were 23 with options, sure. But he'll be 29 in April. I'd love to see him stick around and contribute, but it's a longshot. (Freddie Lewis, who fits a somewhat similar profile, just turned 26. No spring chicken, and he, too, may never progress beyond a "AAAA" talent level. But Lewis at least projects to have more offensive upside.)

On the pitching side, the most expendable is Scott Munter. I'm surprised he has stayed this long. He has one pitch, a power sinker, which even when it's spot-on doesn't garner many strikeouts. And it hasn't been spot-on for a year. With his mechanics retooled he's at best a middle reliever, the very definition of fungible. In fact, I'd rather see Munter dropped from the 40-man than either Niekro or Ellison, but it probably won't happen that way.

Other than simply dropping a player, the Giants could trade one (or more) from the 40-man. Entirely possible. Giants fans everywhere would dance in the streets if Armando Benitez were shipped to Florida, but recent reports say that deal is all but dead because of concerns over Mando's knees. (You could see that coming a mile away.)

The other way to clear 40-man space is use the 60-day disabled list. Mike Matheny is a prime candidate, as is Merkin Valdez, who just had Tommy John surgery. Indeed, these seem like the most sensible options -- and consider a second move will be necessary if/when the Giants acquire another starting pitcher, which Sabean is intent upon -- but "most sensible" doesn't always square with the Giants' actions.

* UPDATE: The Contra Costa Times writes: "There has been talk in legal circles that Bonds is seeking to guarantee his salary in the event the grand jury indicts him and Major League Baseball seeks to suspend him."

The Chronicle says: "A source with direct knowledge of the tentative agreement between the Giants and Barry Bonds said Bonds agreed to defer considerably more than $5 million of the roughly $20 million he could receive under the one-year deal. In fact, the source said, all of the $4 million in proposed incentives would be paid out after 2007, in addition to a good portion of the guaranteed money. The two sides are going over contract language painstakingly, causing the long delay in announcing the deal. Bonds still has not taken his physical, and a source assured the contract is not hung up for any medical reason."

This could get interesting. I wouldn't be surprised if 2007 is Bondsless, after all.


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