Past v. Future 

A longtime reader expressed surprise in the comments (which I'm trying to fix, by the way, to avoid the dreaded comment spam) that I wasn't so worked up about the Zito news.

Like Grant over at the McChronic, my mind is of two minds. As always, he does a great job of portraying this particular anguish: a mind with two minds is a terrible thing to taste.

Where the hell was I? Oh yes: Barry Zito. It comes down to this. You can let your fan-boy mind get giddy at the thought of a Cy Young winner and Most Durable Starter and Groovy Dude coming to the Giants -- our Giants, yes, indeed, he chose us! He loves the Giants, and by extension...he loves me! It's very self-affirming.

Or you can strap on your nerdhat --

you know you have one -- and tsk-tsk at the declining K-rate, the growing tendency to give up the big fly, and all the other indications that there is a good chance Zito will not be worth the cool buds and tasty waves of cash he's about to surf through.

Fanboy v. Nerdhat. It's a clash between past and future. Fanboy says this guy's been good, even really good, hey, everyone wants him so he must be really really good and will continue to be so. Nerdhat says, in fact, ahem, I regret to inform that past success is not necessarily a predictor of future outcome. (No wonder Nerdhat can't get chicks.)

The supreme leader of the Nerdhats, Baseball Prospectus's Nate Silver, unleashed his two different prediction systems on Zito and found the one that calculates dollar value (MORP) was much friendlier than the one that calculates performance metrics (PECOTA). Here's why:

The key difference between these two sets of projections boils down to the predictive value of ERA; if Zito’s ERAs were an accurate reflection of his ability (as our “dumb” projection assumes), then this contract would have been perfectly reasonable. But while ERA is a very useful backward-looking metric — it’s helpful in settling Cy Young Award debates, for example — it’s not such a good forward-looking metric. A pitcher’s peripheral statistics [strikeouts, walks, groundball/flyball ratios, etc] predict ERA much better than past ERA itself. Sometimes the differences are trivial, and sometimes they amount to 57 million dollars.

I’m beating a dead horse here, I know, but it’s for a good reason: misunderstanding the predictive value of past ERA is the single biggest mistake that teams make in spending their free agent dollars.

The Nerdhat in me agrees. The Fanboy in me desperately wants Nerdhat to manger merde et mourir. Or in more Nerdhatlian terms, Fanboy wants Zito to be an outlier, to confound the general trends, to show heart and courage and veteran savviness and gnarly shreditude. It'll take a fair amount of luck for Barry Zito to fulfill the promise of his contract, but when you really think about it, how often does a baseball team win a championship without a fair amount of luck?

One last thought courtesy of Elbo before I leave for the long weekend: Moneyball ushered in the concept of the undervalued skill. For Billy Beane it was on-base percentage. When others caught on, it was reportedly defense. Then a counterintuitive writer famously (to certain Giants' fans, anyway) mused that Sabean's strategy of signing old players was the next step in this philosophy. Is the new undervalued concept the long-term contract? If teams are flush with cash and can insure those contracts, perhaps paying Barry Zito $18 million in 2013, or Alfonso Soriano $45 million in 2018, or whatever, is a huge bargain because of inflation.


Zito is now on the 40-man roster with a '07 salary of $10 m, the approximate figure the papers are reporting today. (Sounds like the contract will be heavily backloaded, surprise surprise.)

Now reading: Nicole Krauss's The History of Love. Actually I just finished it. Highly recommended. It's a bittersweet sad comedy about an old Jewish New Yorker who wrote a book when he was a young man in Eastern Europe, but his best friend stole it with the best intentions and published it as his own. It's about beautiful souls reborn in new bodies -- or is it all one soul? -- and the magic of the written word. Krauss has a fantastic ear for her characters' voices -- cranky octogenarian Jews (like there's another kind? I ask you), depressed single mothers, Russian immigrant teenagers.

Now listening to: X's Under the Big Black Sun. If back in 1982 my 12-year-old tastes delved beyond the ever-pungent Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson debate, I would have been totally in love with Exene Cervenka. Fortunately I got religion, if not puppy love, in my late teens. After collecting dust for a few years, this one's still an all-time favorite. Just give me those old-time punkabilly harmonies and I'm a happy middle-aged guy.



Zito Contract Details 

* If Zito pitches 600 innings over the last three years of the agreement, 400 innings over the last two or 200 in the final year of the deal, he can either exercise a player option or opt out of the contract.

It's an odd configuration. Zito's career high in innings is 231. His low is 214. But how often will he go well beyond 200 in his mid-30s? It's very hard to say; one comparable could be Tom Glavine, who has similar stuff and was similarly durable in his younger years. After his 30th birthday, Glavine's IP went like this: 235, 240, 229, 234, 241, 219. If Zito has a career anywhere near Glavine's, it will be money well-spent.

The way it's structured, Zito will have to pitch more than half the season in 2013; if he misses at least half his starts, he'd have to throw in the vicinity of 240-250 innings in 2011 and 2012 to trigger the option.

I can't believe I'm crunching innings-pitched numbers for the year 2013. Won't Matt Cain's DX4 Vectral Clone be on the mound by then?

* Full no-trade clause.


* As part of his agreement with the Giants, Zito will fund the construction of youth fields in the San Francisco area through his foundation and donate to his charity, "Strikeouts for Troops."

Warm and fuzzy.



When Barry Met Barry 

Well, well, well. Lookee here. The Giants have confounded everyone by finally overpaying in a grand royal way for a top-line free agent. Welcome, Barry Zito.

ESPN's Peter Gammons says the contract is seven years, $126 million, which averages to $18 mil a year. The little box next to that story, if you don't feel like clicking through, calls Zito "Mr. Dependable."

Here's what the Giants are getting: a durable pitcher whose fastball rarely approaches 90 MPH and whose strikeout rate is slowly declining. He gives up a lot of fly balls, which is probably OK in the NL West with Mays Field, Petco Park, and Dodger Stadium all fly-ball-friendly. If his skills are actually in decline, pitching in the National League will help mask that decline to some extent.

The conventional wisdom, if you gather it all up from various corners of the Internet and mush it into a big bland ball of consensus, is that Zito will be a pretty good pitcher for a while, but not $18 M-a-year worth of good. The Giants have made a big bold statement, but their voice sounds suspiciously like that of someone who has been sucking on a nitrous oxide tank. This is not a rational development. It may end up working, crazy-like-a-fox-like, but a lot of things have to go right.

And so: I am neither anguished nor thrilled. A 1-2 punch of Cain and Zito will be nice to have in Zito's prime years. My main worry is that the Giants will have little or no fiscal room to move for offense, which given the state of their farm system, they'll have to buy at market rates for the foreseeable future.

They may need more offense in 2007, too -- yesterday's news is that the feds now have access to MLB's drug-testing data, which could throw more legal hurdles in front of Barry Bonds. Place your bets now on whether Barry (Bonds, not Zito) spends more days in left field or in court in 2007. Could this be why his contract has mysteriously taken so long to hash out?

If things fall apart and Bonds isn't signed for 2007, his money -- a reported $16 million -- will go to Zito, and I assume the Giants will have a few extra million to find more offense. They're damn sure going to need it. With Zito on board, look for one of the Giants' young lefties to become January's hottest trade bait.

I'll add details of the Zito contract as they come in.



R.I.P. James Brown 

The Godfather of Soul. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Mr. Dynamite. Soul Brother No. 1. The Baddest of the Bad, The Coolest of the Cool. James Brown, now playing every night at the big Apollo Theater in the sky.

I never saw him live, but I had the honor of seeing the original Funky Drummer, Clyde Stubblefield, with the B3 Bombers at Chicago's Green Mill club one night. It might have been the show they recorded for this album, but I'm not certain.

Thanks in large part to the Giants using it as a theme song one year, "I Got You (I Feel Good)" is on my short, short list of great songs I never want to hear again, but I'll never get tired of "Cold Sweat," the shout-out of cities on the route of "Night Train," the staccato horn punches in "Sex Machine," or a thousand other riffs and licks, beats and growls that gave birth to vast sweeps of the music landscape we now take for granted.



A Message From Brian Sabean 

Happy Holidays to all you punks, lunatic fringers, dead-enders, whiners, unbelievers, and season-ticket holders. May you get Steve Trachsel's used jockstrap from the 1998 one-game playoff in your stocking.



No Supp For You? 

Jeff Weaver, Mark Mulder, David Wells, Steve Trachsel, and a few other pieces of bellybutton lint are still floating free, but the last big FA pitching acquisition for several teams has come down to Barry Zito and Jeff Suppan. The former will probably get $17 million a year or more, the latter in the $10 M per year range. That's a big difference. The question is, will they perform all that differently in the next three or four years?

According to BP's PECOTA projection system, yes, they will, but it's the difference between Ugh and Double Ugh.

PECOTA on Zito: He'll post 4.2 WARP in '07 and decline to 2.9 WARP in '10. That's worth annual paychecks in the $4-6M range (or, to parallel the decline, in the $6-4M range), not $15-20M.

PECOTA thinks even worse of Suppan's near future: he'll contribute 2.9 wins above replacement (WARP) in '07 and fall steadily from there. In dollar terms, he'll be worth $3.7 M next year, not $11 M. In non-geek terms, for the rest of the decade he'll post ERAs in the mid-4s or worse and see his K/BB rate fall to Rueter-esque levels.

[As a point of comparison, Jason Schmidt posted ace-like WARP scores of 8.7 and 7.9 in '03 and '04, then 3.5 in his injury-plagued '05.]

One thing Suppan has been the past four years is consistent, with IP ranging from 188 to 204, HR allowed from 21 to 25, walks from 51 to 69, and Ks from 104 to 114. In that time his OPS against has ranged from .754 to .781.

Zito has also been consistent, just up a couple notches: IP from 213 to 231, HRs from 19 to 28, BBs from 81 to 99, and Ks from 146 to 171. He's been more inconsistent in how hard he's been hit.

With the payroll escalation this winter, perhaps Zito's good (but declining) K rates and past stretches of brilliance are worth $15M-plus annually. Perhaps Suppan's workmanlike consistency will continue for three or four years and provide a 190-inning certainty for his employers.

With either guy, you're paying big bucks essentially for innings. Let's not pooh-pooh innings too much: injuries can force replacement level pitchers into the rotation, or force young guys up too soon. But when an organization's strength is its young pitching, and the gameplan is to rebuild (even though the brass won't use that word) around that strength, why sink megabucks for megayears into guys who will simply block the door in a year or two?

The Giants would be much better served either signing a cheap veteran (for those sick of that strategy, sorry, but in this case it makes sense), or giving a homegrown kid the job (Hennessey, Misch, even giving Correia another chance to start). Then fortify the bullpen, and either spend the outrageous fortune on offense or plow it back into the farm system. Hell, overspend a little on Mark Mulder, give him lots of incentives and an option that locks in if he hits health and performance milestones. If his arm is toast, it's toast, but if he recovers to pitch anything near his former levels, voila, you have better than Suppan and perhaps as good as Zito.

Of course, as soon as I hit the "publish" button on this post, I'll find out the Giants have signed Suppan to a 4-year, $48 million deal. To which I'll say, Welcome to Stem Cell Ville, Jeff.



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.



San Diego North - Updated 

As former Giants continue to flock south to join Ned Colletti in L.A., former Padres pass them heading north.

Ryan Klesko is now a Giant, prompting me to do that funny mouth sound people make when they pretend to enjoy tasting something in front of the person who cooked it. My ancestors had a word for it: Feh.

The big question: why sign a slow, defensively-challenged left-handed hitter who is confined to 1B and LF when the Giants already have Mark Sweeney?

One answer: he's better than Mark Sweeney. He was out all last year with a shoulder injury, but if he can return to his career averages (.372 OBP, .502 SLG) as an inexpensive part-timer, he would make Sweeney expendable.

The contract is for one year, but financial terms have not yet been disclosed.

There's another twist to this: as the wire story notes, Barry Bonds hasn't yet taken his physical. Could it be that Klesko is insurance in case Barry doesn't pass the test or his contract falls through for some other reason?

I'll come back as more details emerge, but here's the bottom line for now: if Klesko is cheap and healthy, a platoon of Klesko/Aurilia at first base isn't a bad short-term plan and could be nearly as productive as, say, $14 million worth of Pat Burrell or Richie Sexson.


Update: As of 4pm PT, still no word on how much the Giants will spend on Klesko. Pray it's no more than a couple of mil, the MLB equivalent of a few coins found next to an old toothbrush under the basement couch. Questions still abound:

* If Klesko plays a lot of 1B, whither Sweeney? Answer: Sweeney really shouldn't be a starting 1B, even in a platoon. He's played his entire career as a pinch-hitter, he signed with S.F. to be a pinch-hitter, and he got over-exposed last year. He should get 150-200 ABs a year, max.

* If Klesko plays the OF...? Answer: don't bet on it. If Linden plays the same game he showed last year, he'll sub for Bonds. On days Roberts sits against LHP (which he really should), Winn will slide to CF and Linden will play RF. Klesko no doubt will play LF once in a while, but it should only be when the Giants really really need more offense on their Barry-less days.

* But if Klesko plays a lot of 1B, won't that push Aurilia to 3B more often? You got a problem with that?

* Won't this guarantee even fewer at-bats for Kevin Frandsen? If you planned on seeing Frandsen as the main backup at 3B, probably. But he'll still be the primary backup at SS and 2B.

* What about Lance Niekro? I'm sorry, I didn't realize he had more than a snowflake's chance in hell to make the team.

Still, the roster now seems jammed up with slow corner infield types. Some may be trade bait, though newly signed free agents can't be traded for a while (til May?).

Here are a few potential lineups for Bochy to play with:

Roberts CF
Vizquel SS
Klesko 1B
Bonds LF
Durham 2B
Winn RF
Aurilia/Feliz 3B
Molina C

Winn CF
Vizquel SS
Aurilia 1B
Bonds LF
Durham 2B
Linden RF
Feliz 3B
Molina C

Roberts CF
Vizquel SS
Klesko 1B
Durham 2B
Winn RF
Linden LF
Aurilia/Feliz 3B
Molina C

Winn CF
Vizquel SS
Aurilia 1B
Durham 2B
Klesko LF
Linden RF
Feliz 3B
Molina C



Never Trust Anyone Over Thirty 

Today's bone to chew on: Should we feel betrayed by the Giant front office's promise that the 2007 team would be younger and healthier?

To refresh your memory, here's the quote from Peter Magowan:

"I think we need to go in a new direction," he said. "We have -- for a long time -- had a strategy that has worked well until the last two years, when it hasn't worked so well. The strategy has been one of having a great player, maybe the greatest player in the game, at the centerpiece and filling in with veteran players. For a long time, that worked well; it caught up with us the past couple of years. Now we do need to get younger and healthier.

"The players [we are going to pursue] are going to be -- on the whole -- younger and healthier, and they're not [going to be here] for a year or two filling a role to backup a star player but [rather] to be key parts of the team for a number of years."

Please note the wiggle room. "On the whole" younger and healthier. "Key parts" of the team -- not necessarily an all under-30 starting lineup. And it's hard to spin away from the glaring point that, so far, the '07 lineup is constructed with Barry Bonds as the centerpiece and filled in with veteran players.

But is it a broken promise? The off-season is not quite half over. Pitchers and catchers report in late February. Brian Sabean's work is not done. To consider whether the Giants ultimately stay true to their promise or continue the patchwork, let's break down the organization into hitters and pitchers.

On the pitching side, the team is getting younger and healthier. It could easily start 2007 with four starters 27 or younger: Matt Cain, Noah Lowry, Jonathan Sanchez, and Brad Hennessey. The rotation could get even fresher if Tim Lincecum comes on strong next spring or summer and bumps Hennessey.

The bullpen is also in transition. Armando Benitez isn't particularly old by today's standards (just turned 34), but he's not healthy. Tim Worrell is old and unhealthy. Everyone else is young, cheap, or fungible. The Giants have plenty of young arms to funnel through the bullpen. It may not be pretty, but if you want to hold a team to its promise of younger and healthier, you have to take the lumps if and when young equals not ready for prime time. (I'm looking at you, Brian Wilson and Billy Sadler.)

Safe to say that on the pitching side the Giants are upholding their credo. Even if the team signs Barry Zito to a ridiculous contract or Jeff Suppan to a slightly less ridiculous contract, I see no contradiction. For a true wheatgrass, Ponce-de-Leon, Katie-Couric-for-Dan-Rather type of youth-and-health booster, Sabean could trade Matt Morris for a prospect or two, sign Zito, and go with Barry and four really young guys in the rotation.

On the hitting side, we got problems. The biggest one: there isn't much healthy, youthful talent in the Giant farm system. In '07 Kevin Frandsen and Todd Linden (henceforth "FranLin") will be "key parts," in Magowan-speak, but if they ever become full-timers it will be via the typical slow transition that Rich Aurilia and Pedro Feliz had to suffer through. No one else is even close to ready to take a major-league job. A major step in the new direction would find a younger, healthier first baseman under the Giants' Xmas tree, but at this point many of the rumors (Richie Sexson, Pat Burrell) aren't really that much younger than Lance Niekro or healthier than Rich Aurilia -- though they're certainly more talented and much better paid.

I really feel the New Direction is a two-year process that can't be fully judged, juried and executed in two months of off-season. I'm not 100% convinced Giants brass has the cojones to go through with The Rebuild That Dare Not Speak Its Name, but I don't see anything to make me scream "Liars!" If it's to be fixed at all, it will need at least two years:

Year 1 (2007): solidify the young pitching staff. Turn Matt Cain into an ace. Straighten out Noah Lowry. Figure out which of the young relievers has a future. Weave in FranLin, perhaps Freddie Lewis. Year 2 (2008): Hope at least one of the EME-Schierholtz-Ishikawa class currently treading water in the minors will grab a major-league job. With FranLin more established, the Giants could have three or four homegrown position players in key roles to complement a mostly homegrown pitching staff.

If all breaks the right way, it still may not be enough. The Dodgers, D-Backs, and maybe even the Rockies have long been immersed in the trippy world of position player development to which the Giant braintrust, like a boardroom full of oil executives whose martinis have been spiked with LSD, is just now opening its collective mind.



Are You Listening, Brian? 

"Some of these things are unpopular, but you know what would be more unpopular? If we did nothing, got too old, too expensive and had to go scrounging and overpaying for leftover and mediocre talent." - White Sox GM Kenny Williams, on dealing Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia. (from MLB.com, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)



Tea Leaves 

My main man Elbo snuck into the live Q&A session the Giants held for season ticket holders last night and reports this classic Sabeanism: "If a pitcher like Barry Zito showed some interest in a team like the Giants, I'm sure we would show interest in him."

Other notes from the session:

* Sabean took exception to questions about Zito and one direct question about why the bullpen was so suspect.

* It took 45 minutes for anyone to mention Barry Bonds.

* Rich Aurilia, who was introduced to the audience along with Bengie Molina and Dave Roberts, seemed to think Feliz had 3rd base job sewn up and focused on the utility aspect of his career. Someone asked him where he'd been, and he laughed and said he'd been "lost somewhere in the Midwest the last couple of years."

* Nothing concrete about the roles of Kevin Frandsen and Todd Linden, but if you want to read tea leaves, please note that when someone mentioned Frandsen, everyone in the audience clapped. Bruce Bochy said Frandsen was "part of our ballclub." Linden was "an interesting player."

* Bochy also said that Matt Cain could be the opening day starter "based on what we have right now."

* Sabean pronounced Tim Lincecum's name with accent on the first syllable: "LIN-suh-cum," not "lin-SAY-cum." He said both Sanchez and Lincecum were attracting a lot of interest this winter and hinted either could be in the rotation during the year.

A final note: Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says the Giants "continue to discuss a deal" with Florida for Armando Benitez. "The Giants would pay a significant portion of the $7.6 million that Benitez is due in 2007. The teams are haggling over the player the Giants would receive in return..."

'T would be great news indeed, but I remain skeptical. Just recently Sabean cast doubt on the viability of Benitez's arthritic knees, so why would any team trade for him no matter how much of his salary the Giants paid? And why would Sabean make Benitez out to be less healthy than he really is? Some sort of reverse-psychology jujitsu? It doesn't add up.



Roll of the Dice-K 

So now we know how much Daisuke Matsuzaka (first name pronounced "Dice-K," according to this story) is worth to the Boston Red Sox: $51.1 M posting fee + $52 M/6 yr contract w/$8 M incentives.

Let the ZitoWatch begin. While Scott Boras plays one vain, desperate owner against one another, take a stab at the final terms of Zito's contract:

- guaranteed years
- guaranteed total dollars
- option years/dollars
- other perks (no-trade, use of corporate jet, green M&Ms, etc)
- Tiebreaker: guess the team that signs him.

Winner gets a Section 138 commemorative pin. (Fuh reals, yo -- I have an extra.)



Eric Gagne is Not My Padre 

And not my Giant, either. Whew. Another bullet dodged. No pun intended.

Before we go farther into unintended punland, I'd like to mention that BP writer Nate Silver says this year's free-agent market is running at a 47% inflation rate over last year. The best three FA deals so far, according to Silver, are Adam Kennedy/STL, Dave Roberts/SF, and Craig Counsell/MIL. The three worst: Carlos Lee/HOU, Gil Meche/KC, and Adam Eaton/PHI. The Giants have actually saved $9.4 million over market rate.

Which brings me to this note from a disgruntled reader who chides me for being too gruntled:

El Lefty can't be happy about the state of the Giants either...Your post seems to be politically correct to me - Time to slam 'em! It's a disaster over there on King Street...Throw a bunch of dough at Zito.

Politically correct? I compared the Feliz signing to the Darfur genocide. Is monumental bad taste no longer enough?

[Ed. note: the new Blogger beta is wreaking havoc with my fonts. Please bear with me.]

Beyond Feliz, though, I can't really slam the Giants for any one particular move. Randy Winn is not a leadoff hitter; they needed a leadoff hitter. Roberts, as noted above, was a relative bargain. Mike Matheny is probably a permanent KO, so they needed a catcher pronto.

And complaints that the Giants have broken their promise of a new non-Bondscentric direction are premature. Let's parse:

The Giants never said 2007 would be Bonds-free. Just less Bonds-focused. His reported contract seems to belie that, but in this market, $16 million base (with reportedly much deferred) for one year of a premier slugger -- yes, he still is -- is not unreasonable. If we're to believe today's news, the deferred money will help make another acquisition.

No pitching prospects have been traded. So far.

No really stupid long-term FA contracts. Feliz hurts. But his contract won't cripple the team.

The only tack away from the New Direction is the apparent reassignment of Linden and Frandsen to the National Thumb-Twiddlers League. Not insignificant, but come on, the Giants aren't exactly forcing, say, David Wright and Rocco Baldelli to ride the end of the pine.

So, we turn to moves not (yet) made. I don't know anyone who will protest the Giants sitting on the sidelines as the Gil Meches and Adam Eatons of the world bellyflop, Scrooge McDuck-like, into swimming pools of lucre. Speak now, Ted Lilly fans, or forever hold your peace.

Jason Schmidt, however... No, sorry, I'm not going to slam the Giants here, either. This deal not done is a moot point: Schmidt wasn't going to sign with S.F. Period. That's certainly how it seems. The L.A. contract has been praised in certain circles as a wise overspend -- throw in a few more zlotys for a shorter time span. It's a decision the Giants probably never had to contemplate.

Now that the Giants haven't spent $47 million on a guy who wasn't going to take their money anyway, the big question is this: Would signing -- or trying to sign -- Barry Zito hew to the New Direction or move away from it? It would mean a swap of an older ace (Schmidt) for a younger, less dominating ace. It would mean overspending on a player whose decline in strikeouts is a bad sign. It would mean committing many, many years to a pitcher -- a very foolish proposition.

Though the initial splash would be cool, the idea of a nine-digit deal for Zito summons to mind Martin Landau playing Bela Lugosi in the movie Ed Wood: "Take care! Beware!" Or if you like, "This is the most uncomfortable coffin I've ever been in."

It was the former quote that kept me awake last night. I couldn't sleep between 1 and 3 a.m. because of it -- not to mention the sound of the rain pounding my bedroom window.

Also keeping me up: why a team would spend $24 million on Adam Eaton instead of $2 million on Jamey Wright with $22 million left over for really good relief pitching, to help on the days Wright exits by the fifth inning. I don't know.

The same could apply to Barry Zito. Why spend $17 million a year on one guy when you could use that money on, say, two hitters who will help outslug the opposition on the days Brad Hennessey and Jonathan Sanchez toss beanbags to happy batters?

I'll leave you with a quote from Omar Vizquel, in reaction to the Bonds contract: "I don't think it's a stupid contract,'' Vizquel said. "They didn't sign somebody for six years and $100 million. They'll have the chance to do more things later.''

As noted yesterday, we thought the Mark Sweeney deal last year was a sign that the Giants would do more things later. Those things never happened, unless you consider Shea Hillenbrand a thing.


EVENING UPDATE: After all this money talk, the following quote from Gabe Kapler, who just retired at 31 to take a minor-league manager job, is a breath of fresh air:

"I didn't want finances to play into it," he said. "I made that mistake already once when I went to Japan. ... Helping other people and being a part of other peoples' lives is much more rewarding than finances."



Few People in New Zealand Know of Barry Bonds 

I'm back from New Zealand, where the South Island landscapes are rivaled in my limited and humble experience only by the Canadian Rockies and the U.S. southwest desert.

It's better to be late than to be never, so I weigh in on the Giants' off-season moves to date:

The Big Picture: The "new direction" of the team applies squarely to the pitching staff, though I guess going from 41-year-old Steve Finley to the 34-year-old Dave Roberts in CF counts for a youth movement of sorts. You can chalk up as pure bunkum the idea of the offense not revolving around Barry Bonds. Unless the Giants sign or trade for a big bopping first baseman, the '07 lineup will rely even more heavily on El Barrio than it did last year.

Big Picture 1a: So much for Todd Linden and/or Kevin Frandsen and/or Freddie Lewis getting a full year of hacks to see what he and/or they can do. Unless Randy Winn is trade bait -- and in the current climate, he's cheap cheap cheap -- Linden is relegated to replacing Bonds on day-after-night games and playing RF when Winn slides over to center. And Frandsen looks less like a utility guy than injury insurance.

Yet Another Big Picture: the Giants stayed away from contract grotesqueries. In any other year, three years, $18 million for Roberts would make me snort coffee out my nose, but hello, Juan Pierre, and ladies and gentlemen, now batting, Gary Matthews Jr. In the shadow of those two horrible, terrible deals, the Roberts contract reminds me of the time Charlize Theron was totally psyched to go on a first date to my favorite little taqueria with the $1.50 Dos Equis and two-for-one tacos. My first choice was Scarlett Johansson, but guess what: Charlize turned out to be a better actor. Look, I just flew 13 hours direct. Give my metaphors time to settle.

With that, I'll make quick comments on each development:

Barry Bonds, one year, $16 million. The final numbers aren't official. Reportedly Barry can earn incentives up to $20 mil. The money is more than we expected, but that applies to every new contract this winter except Sean Casey. If Barry plays like he did last year and as much as he did last year, and puts butts in seats, and doesn't poison the clubhouse, he's worth it. Question: what happens to the $5 million in deferred salary the Giants owe Barry in '07?

Dave Roberts. Contract detes, see above. Don't play him against lefties. Bruce Bochy should know this, as Roberts played for Boch the last two years and had a total 130 ABs against LHP.

Ray Durham, 2 years, $14.5 M. The contract is contingent on Ray-Ray having hamstring-transplant surgery, right? Right? If he stays healthy and approximates last year's numbers, he's a bargain.

Pedro Feliz, 1 year, $5.1 million. As reasonable a contract as you can expect this day and age, yet it sucks. Why not let Frandsen do this job? It's not quite genocide in Darfur, but it still makes you ask if the universe has any intrinsic moral order. To keep from poking myself in the eye with an icepick, I say this: at least it's only a year.

Rich Aurilia, 2 years, $8 M. If Richie plays utility infield, fine. He probably won't hit 20+ home runs again, but he'll have more power than most UIs. Big fat caveat (in Latin, caveat magnus gravis, or something): if he's on board "to be the starting first baseman," as the Chronicle mentioned recently, stamp a big WTF on my forehead. I'll assume for now that report was a sloppy on-deadline mistake, but last year at this time, we thought the Mark Sweeney news was a prelude to a bigger 1B signing, too.

Bengie Molina, 3 years, $16 M. In this year's frenzy, this contract looks perfectly reasonable. For a guy whose game is reportedly falling apart, Molina sure hit a lot of home runs last year (19). He had the help of hitter-friendly SkyDome, but any way you slice it, he's not much more expensive than Matheny and a much better hitter. We'll see about his defense, which used to be highly-reputed. Notgardo was a nice story in '06 but still screams "Backup." Good move.

Steve Kline, 2 years, $3.5 M. Kline wasn't that good in '06, though the low HR total was a bright spot. He's cheap, which makes him tradeable, and he gives the Giants another lefty in case Taschner was a two-month wonder and Sanchez remains in the rotation.

And a quick stab at the lineup if there were no further positional moves:

against RHP:

CF Roberts
SS Vizquel
RF Winn
LF Bonds
2B Durham
1B Sweeney
C Molina
3B Feliz

against LHP:

CF Winn
SS Vizquel
1B Aurilia
LF Bonds
2B Durham
RF Linden
C Molina
3B Feliz

Tomorrow: The Moves Not Made (Yet).


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