I'm Sorry. So Sorry. 

My favorite supermarket stockboy sent me a love letter last night. It arrived late in the evening, like all heartfelt love letters do, and with resoluteness and seriousness of purpose it spelled out all the reasons I should love him, too.

I, and thousands of other Giant season-ticket holders, that is. Apparently the collective We -- we who disgorge our wallets to feed our nonsensical childish amusement in watching grown men cavort in tight french-vanilla polyester when there are a multitude of entertainment alternatives begging for our dollars -- have finally grown restless.

In an odd move, Peter Magowan feels compelled to explain the Barry Bonds news to us. (For those who don't feel like clicking through, a summary of the deal awaits you at the end of this post.)

While keeping to a measured tone, for successful businessmen know no other way even in the throes of passion, P-Mag apologizes for -- sorry, explains -- the Giants' decision to re-sign Bonds despite the amphetamine test and the Sweeney-under-a-bus reportage. It seems the latest Bonds imbroglios were final straws for many diehard Giant fans:

"I understand that this has been a particularly controversial and difficult decision and that there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. I received letters, emails, phone calls and had many conversations with many of our season ticket holders during our Fanfest. I truly appreciate your passion for the Giants as we work through these complex issues. At the end of the day, I believe we have put together an exciting team for the coming season."

Oh, and by the way:

"You may also be interested to know that even with the signing of the 42-year-old Bonds, the average age of the 2007 Giants will be 30.7 years versus 32.7 in 2006. So we have gotten younger and presumably healthier as we stated we would try to do when the 2006 season ended."

And look, we're still a baseball team, just like we promised! None of that hockey or cricket or jai-alai or, G_d forbid, Moneyball that other teams try to pass off as America's Past Pastime.

The Magowan letter also cites the "allegations against Barry" in the NY Daily News article, but it doesn't mention amphetamines or Mark Sweeney specifically. "All of the facts have not been accurately portrayed." Which facts, we don't know, but Magowan writes that "clubhouse chemistry" (no pun intended, we'll assume) won't be affected.

It's a fascinating document, full of forthrightness up to a point and, beyond that point, total corporate obfuscation. It stops well short of naked apology, but with obvious self-interest it pleads the Giants case in a context intended to placate long-term fans ("signing Barry to a one-year contract helped us pursue a long-term strategy toward getting the club back on track").

You may not like it, dear fans, but it's for your own good.

It also uses, word-for-word, a paragraph of text that was attributed to Brian Sabean in the official press release announcing the deal. If you had one shred of hope that this type of exercise wasn't highly vetted, processed and sterilized, please shred it. This doesn't mean such banalities aren't worth reading. On the contrary, like Kremlin tea leaves and Alan Greenspan's koans, it's always instructive to parse shades of non-meaning. The Giants didn't have to say anything, and that they did tells us a lot about the fan reaction in recent weeks.

Your 2007 San Francisco Giants: Savor the Grim Inevitability!

If you had to boil all this down to a couple sentences, it would be: "Sorry about this, but we really had no choice. Barry's here for one more year, but you, dear season ticket holder, are here forever. Right?"


Terms of the deal: One year, $15.8 million base salary, $5.8 M deferred until 2008. (I've recorded his '07 salary as $10 M on my roster list to the right.) $4.2 M in incentives deferred beyond 2008. No entourage on team payroll or allowed on the premises. If other provisions were included in the contract, they weren't revealed yesterday.



Another Sign of the Impending Apocalypse 

Jeff Weaver is getting a raise. (If you count incentives.) Not everyone thinks it's such a bad idea.

Meanwhile, Todd Helton could soon be a Red Stocking, which at least in the short-term would make me feel a lot better. Even a Helton in decline is a frightening proposition. Swapping Helton for Mike Lowell, Julian Tavarez and prospects, as one report has it, would not better the Rockies in '07.

But it would free up a lot of Colorado's payroll in the coming years and add more blue-chip prospects to what could already be the strongest farm system in baseball. Which circles us back to the debate stemming from my last two posts: will the Rockies be any better off because they, like the D-Backs, have amassed some of the strongest, deepest young talent in the game? As sayhey rightly noted in the previous post's comments, there are many ways of getting it done. It's unclear that Colorado, playing in oddball conditions at home that turn its sluggers into 90-lb. weaklings on the road, will ever find the right formula.

The team that seems poised to make the best of both worlds -- a strong farm system and big-market bucks to lure free agents -- is, and may the Lord strike me down for typing this, the Dodgers.


Barry Bonds is in town taking his physical and should sign his contract imminently. The Chronicle reports the financial terms -- $15.8 million base with incentives that could add up to $20 million -- remain the same. But Bonds's entourage will no longer have access to the team clubhouse. With Bonds officially on the team, someone's about to be kicked off the 40-man roster. Any guesses?



The Plan, Part 2 

Yesterday I asked: "Do the Giants have a plan, is it good, and are they sticking to it?"

I forgot to answer the middle part. Remember, my working theory is that the team has made younger, healthier pitching the most immediate priority, and until the farm system starts producing hitters, most of the offense will come from without.

By the way, I've fashioned a 27-man roster of those most likely to travel north on opening day. Average age of pitchers: 28.1 years. Average age of position players: 33.2 years. Obviously those numbers will change a bit depending on which two players don't make the squad. (I'll discuss those pending roster decisions in a later post.)

Asking the middle question -- is the plan good? -- begs a further question: Compared to what? (Sock it to me!)

If you've got good scouts, no one except George Steinbrenner would argue that homegrown talent is much preferable. To paraphrase Crash Davis, spending tons of money on mercenary free agents without developing a farm system isn't just boring, it's fascist.

So good on the Giants at least for trying to home-school half the population. As a foil to the Giants' approach, take Arizona. (Please.) The Diamondbacks decided to farm-raise hitters first and foremost, and with excellent scouting, they're poised to have a homegrown murderer's row into the next decade. With luck and health, we'll be watching Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Tim Lincecum versus Carlos Quentin, Steven Drew, Conor Jackson, and Chris Young for years to come.

If you believe that 90% of the game is pitching and defense -- and I hope you don't, because it isn't -- the Giants have the advantage because they emphasize pitching.

Health-wise, however, pitchers are far more fragile. If you've never heard of TINSTAAPP, please familiarize yourself. In that regard, prioritizing pitchers is fraught with more peril.

Ah, but if it works, the cash benefits are greater. I may be wrong because I don't have numbers in front of me, but my spidey-sense tells me good pitching is far more valuable (read: expensive) than good hitting. Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Jason frickin' Marquis. And that's not even good pitching. Sure, pitching, hitting, fielding: if it's part of professional baseball these days, it's expensive. But rolling your own pitching and using the cost savings to buy hitters might be, might be, the better way to go if you can keep the pitchers healthy and -- oh yeah -- they're also good. I'm willing to consider counterpoints, though.

Fer crissakes, enough dithering: Is the Giants' plan good or what?

I beg you, a fine deliberation with one's estimable malo-self cannot be rushed. If you believe pitching is the most valuable part of the game, yes. If you think it's better to invest scouting and development resources in position players more likely to have elbow ligaments at the age of 30, then no.

As a Lefty Malo, I love nothing more than young pitchers figuring out their craft. I also love low-scoring games. Aesthetically, the Giants plan is good. Yes. If those low-scoring games tend to finish 3 to 1 or 2 to zero in favor of the non-Giants, maybe not so much.

Of course, the best plan is to do whatever it takes to get into the playoffs as much as possible and win a ring. Which is why from 1997 until 2003, no one questioned the Giants much.



What's The Plan 

With one major off-season question left to answer -- Will He or Won't He? -- the '07 Giants are close to set. Once the Bonds contract is signed and sealed (and, according to the press coverage that follows, notarized by one of Satan's many functionaries), the final opening day roster spots will boil down to 5th starter, 5th outfielder, a few bullpen shenanigans, and whether Ryan Klesko and Mark Sweeney can co-exist in one universe.

Or Bonds and Sweeney, for that matter. Oh, I forgot. There are no hard feelings, it was all a misunderstanding. Mm-kay.

Please note: I'm still skeptical the Bonds contract impasse is but a formality, and I didn't need Murray Chass of the New York Times to convince me.

But today I speak of longer horizons, amigos mios. Today I ask: Do the Giants have a plan, is it good, and are they sticking to it? This is not an uncommon topic round these parts, and as you glimpse the headline that trumpets the return of Russ Ortiz, it's easy to throw back your head and Charlie Brown-like let fly a big "AAAUUUGGGGHH!" (Was Peanuts not simply a kid's version of Munch's Scream and other existential nightmares? Examine navel and discuss.)

Before we stumble away into an eternal gulag of despair, we need a sober assessment of longer-term goals. A quick rewind:

As the 2006 season ground to an unseemly halt, all the big brass buttons told us, OK, no more, the Bondscentric universe with its orbiting satellites of veteran mediocrity has failed. It was a big slobbery confessional. Younger, faster, healthier was the new mantra. The word "Rebuild" was conspicuously absent.

Among positional players, the mantra has proven hollow, though, wait...technically swapping Dave Roberts for Steve Finley is getting younger, right?

Sorry. Signing Roberts, Aurilia, Klesko and Molina and resigning Feliz and Durham is no youth movement. Some of us would have liked to see Todd Linden and Kevin Frandsen plugged in as starters this year. With Bonds missing games due to knee pain, back pain, day-after-night pain, and perhaps the pain of squeezing his neck into a dress shirt for his court appearances -- not to mention Roberts (hopefully) chained to the bench against left-handed pitchers -- Linden should get at least 300 at bats. Four hunded is not a stretch. As for Frandsen, well, we'd all like to see what he can do, but like Linden he's not exactly going to rot on the bench.

So youth movement in '07? Not so much on the offensive side, and let's be honest -- for a few more years this team is beholden to the free agent and trade markets to bring in big bats. There's an outside chance a couple current farmhands will soon swing solid major-league lumber, but one of them, Eddie Martinez-Esteve, seems destined to DH in the American League.

The mantra makes sense on the pitching side, and here I think the Giants not only have a plan but have done quite well to stick to it. But, you say, so upset your voice trembles and your fists shake, R-r-r-r-uss Ort-t-t-tiz! $126 million for a Zito in d-d-d-d-decline!

I'll address those moves in a moment, but here's why at heart the plan is operational: Not one young pitcher was traded away this winter. (Knock on wood.) Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Noah Lowry, and Tim Lincecum all remain. (Lincecum can't technically be traded for one year after the draft, but teams can skirt that rule with the "player to be named later.")

Even lesser lights such as Brian Wilson and Kevin Correia, both expected to be key bullpenners this year, have stayed put. Note that Tim Worrell retired and the Giants did not leap to replace him with a proven veteran. Armando Benitez could be gone as soon as he shows he's healthy.

As for Ortiz, yes, his inclusion on the roster could block the progress of Sanchez, who seems to be the other candidate for 5th starter. If Ortiz surprises, then another year in the bullpen won't hurt Sanchez and might even help him refine his secondary pitches, which could use a lot of refinement. If Ortiz blows, then Sanchez becomes 5th starter -- expect a steep learning curve.

The Zito contract was an overspend. Perhaps even the sign of a desperate general manager, as Keith Law argues. But for at least the first few years it gives the Giants a good (if not great) starter and, with Matt Morris on board for only two more years, it won't block the arrival of Tim Lincecum. In fact a healthy Morris will be a valuable trade chip, seeing how he's "only" making $9 million in each of the next two years. Think the Mets wouldn't be tempted to trade Lastings Milledge for him if he's pitching well and, say, Pedro Martinez doesn't return from shoulder surgery on time this summer?

Despite the handwringing viz-a-viz Zito, there are enough countervailing views out there to make the contract seem like a necessary luxury. It's also possible that by the time his $18 million annual payments kick in ('07:$10M, '08:$14.5M, '09:$18.5M, '10:$18.5M, '11:$18.5M, '12:$19M, '13:$20M), the team's stadium debt service will be low enough and revenues high enough that the contract won't be a budget constraint at all.

On the pitching mound, the Giants have a plan and seem to be executing it well. In the batter's box, they're hamstrung by their own incompetence at raising homegrown hitters, but smart, creative moves could help fill the gap quickly.

This year will be crucial in holding them to their promise. If the team sinks out of contention, trading useful but replaceable veterans (Winn, Feliz, Durham, Vizquel, Morris) for good prospects should be a no-brainer. Drafting the best available hitter or two this summer, players who project to be in the majors by 2009 or 2010, should be a priority.

Finally, the Bonds situation is a mess of the Giants' own making. To some extent it couldn't be helped. The Giants whiffed on other big names and, to avoid an offense that would have advance scouts standing next to one another at the urinals and cackling, "Beware the Connecticut Defenders!", they went crawling back to His Barriness. It's all rather sordid, and whatever your opinion of Bonds and his treatment in the public sphere, it's hard to deny the Giants could have handled it a lot better.

It's possible that information from the ongoing exploration of l'affaire BALCO and baseball's drug habit will circle the heads of Magowan & Co. for a while, perhaps settling to rest there like flies in a stockyard. Perhaps Barry himself, backed finally against the wall, will be the source of that information, which means the Giants' biggest short-term question could become a long-term worry: Will He or Won't He?



In Your Ear 

Did you know that Baseball Prospectus has a radio show? Now you do. It's weekly, and it's also podcast. You can subscribe to it through iTunes and download it here. No, it's not all wonky statistics. The most recent was a relaxed, long-form interview with long-time sports commentator Chuck Wilson, whom I'd never heard before, and it was like sitting in on a barstool conversation between three curious, intelligent guys (Wilson and BP Radio's two hosts, Will Carroll and the other guy whose name I forget). It's the antidote to typical sports-talk radio.


Lee Panas of Tiger Tales has added defensive rankings for right fielders. Good news for the Giants: Randy Winn is fifth. Here's how the rest of the Giants stand:

Bonds LF (23rd)
Roberts CF (1st....among LFs)
Winn RF (5th)
Aurilesko 1B (n/a)
Durham 2B (25th)
Vizquel SS (3rd)
Feliz 3B (3rd)

For a discussion of defensive metrics and what Panas is up to, click here.



Ranking Full Stop 

With a slippery slope of a season staring Giants fans in the face, the one main crampon of hope is the Giants young pitching. (If you prefer the ever-popular train wreck metaphor, I won't protest. For crampon, please substitute wrist strap or air bag. You're now on your own.)

For me, anticipation for the '07 campaign is mainly attached to the names Cain, Sanchez, Wilson, Sadler, and Lincecum. I'll include Lowry, too, though one more bad year and he'll have us thinking "one-month wonder" with his ability to pitch well in August and not so much otherwise.

If you want to throw the 28-year-old Barry Zito into the young pitcher bin, OK, fine. But it's really the homegrown guys I'm talking about, the only real success of the farm system in recent years.

Baseball America and others annually rank farm systems; it might surprise you that BA placed the Giants as high as 11th earlier this decade. Generally they're middle-of-the-pack, clocking in at 18 last year.

Just out of curiosity, and because a debate over Ryan Klesko's comeback potential thrills me as much as flossing, I started tallying the top-10 lists of Kevin Goldstein, former BA prospect expert who jumped to Baseball Prospectus last year. To see how the Giants stack up this year, I've assigned a point value to each of his prospect categories: Excellent, Very Good, Good, and Average.

Remember, not every member of a top-ten prospect list will succeed in the majors, let alone receive a call-up. As I wrote about last year, at any given moment a farm system likely contains four valuable major-league players and four semi-fungible bench/bullpen types. That means the top of the top-10 list is far more valuable than the bottom. So I've assigned these point values:

Excellent = 6 pts
Very Good = 4 pts
Good = 2 pts
Average = 1 pt

With that, I'm tallying scores for each team as Goldstein publishes his lists. Three of the top four systems are in the NL West, and sad to say none are the San Francisco Giants. Colorado gets 36 points, the Dodgers 31 (tied with the Mets), and Arizona has 30. Of 21 teams, the Giants tie for 10th with 22 points, still solidly middle-of-the-pack. The score was mainly hurt by their double-A hitters. After breakouts in San Jose, Ishikawa, Schierholtz and Martinez-Esteve did a faceplant in Connecticut (EME because of injury.) EME and Schierholtz are now listed as average prospects, Ishikawa not at all.

Goldstein still has nine teams to go. His Giants' list is here.

[Sorry -- I just realized the list is subscriber-only. In condensed form: Excellent: Lincecum; Very good: Villalona, Sanchez; Good: Burriss; Average: EME, Schoop, Lewis, Schierholtz, Sadler, McBryde.]

This little system I've devised is arbitrary layered atop arbitrary. Call it a lasagna of arbitrariness, if you must. But is it a good thumbnail gauge of where the Giants stand prospect-wise? Are the numerical values I've assigned reasonable? Perhaps "excellent" prospects are so valuable they should get 8 points, double that of a "very good."

Or perhaps you think Goldstein is a quack. He's taken (and like a gentleman, answered) criticism lately that he gives too much favor to raw, young, high-ceiling guys. Here's his explanation:

Let’s assume that an Excellent rating also means "potential impact player." While it’s certainly true that more AAA players at any point in time will MAKE the majors than Low A players, I would argue that true impact players are far more evenly distributed, if not even more so at the lower levels.

Cream rises to the crop quickly, maybe even more so these days, which is why many top prospects have come from the last two draft years. They seem almost too young to rank so high at times, but I bet a good number of them lose their eligibility for the lists next year with significant stints in the big leagues.

Any and all feedback on this back-of-the-napkin rating system is much appreciated. Fire away.



Brain Damage 

Today's New York Times has a chilling story about links between repeated concussions and depression, Alzheimer's-like symptoms, and suicide. It centers on the story of Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagle defensive back who committed suicide last year at the age of 44. At one point in his career, Waters told a reporter he "stopped counting" the number of concussions he'd sustained once the tally reached 15.

Pathological examination of Waters' brain tissue showed degeneration akin to that of an 85-year-old man with Alzheimer's disease.

The level of consistent head-smashing is far greater in football than baseball, but any Giant fan immediately thinks of Mike Matheny. It's obvious though not official he isn't coming back; a story like this should remove any doubt. Get out while you can, Mike. And anyone who plays sports or perhaps more importantly coaches youth sports should take heed -- it's not just getting your bell rung.

The Times story -- written by Alan Schwarz, who usually covers baseball -- also mentions (too briefly, in my opinion) that the NFL, which has a "mild traumatic brain injury committee," has consistently underplayed the effects of concussions by conducting studies that "went against just about every study on sports concussions published in the last 20 years," according to the former college football player who spurred the examination of Waters' brain tissue.

Now there's a tantalizing thread for reporters to follow. If indeed there's been a "Big Tobacco"-like cover-up, it makes the Giants' willingness to let go of the machismo and acknowledge the severity of multiple concussions not just admirable, but perhaps revolutionary in the way professional athletes are treated.


UPDATE: A well-informed reader just informed me that ESPN The Magazine did an in-depth look last fall at the NFL's concussion policy and the doctor in charge of its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. It's scathing. The thread that I wrote earlier reporters should follow? ESPN's Peter Keating followed it, and it seems to lead to gross negligence on the part of the NFL.



Return of the Follies 

Of Draper, that is. Our favorite MLB.com hack comes up with such ridiculous turns of phrase I cannot help but document them. He's an easy target, sure, but I take perverse pleasure in highlighting the malapropisms, the tortured analogies, the absurdly mixed metaphors.

So without further ado I give you the first entry in the 2007 Draper Follies:

There's a new Giants TV series airing next baseball season: "Two Men and a Kid."

The cast? Shortstop Omar Vizquel, 39, second baseman Ray Durham, 35, and the promising sprite of those middle-aged middle infielders, 22-year-old Kevin Frandsen.

It's not a sitcom, so don't expect a comedy of errors from this acrobatic troupe of sure-handers, starring starters Vizquel and Durham, with Frandsen -- in his second season -- ready to fill in at a variety of cameo positions.

Draper is off to a fine start. Just a week ago, he referred to Rich Aurilia as a "floater," which at best means a drowned corpse that has risen to the surface. There are other definitions, too.



Now listening to The Orchestra Super Mazembe's propulsive East African beat and sweet harmonies. I bought this album on the strength of one song, "Shauri Yako," which I can't stop singing even though I have no idea what they're saying. A few tracks grow irritating because of overly-punctuated nasal vocals, but on the whole it's a gem.

Now reading The Corrections again after a month-long break. I'll finish it someday, I swear. It's not for lack of interest; I didn't want to drag the hardcover around New Zealand, then the holidays came, etc etc. I'm impressed. The only other novelist I've read who can sustain such intense tragicomedy both in a grand arc and in every microscopic detail is Salman Rushdie.



The Things That You're Li'ble To Read in the Bible 

Yes indeed, the 2007 PECOTA projections are here. These are the numbers the propellorheads at Baseball Prospectus crunch to predict -- or more accurately, to estimate within a range of likely outcomes -- how both major and minor leaguers will fare in the upcoming campaign.

I don't remember what PECOTA stands for. There are other projection systems with fun acronyms: ZIPS and CHONE, for example. I don't know which is better. All are to be taken with some skepticism, of course, as many of you point out whenever I post numbers you don't agree with.

They tell all you chillen the devil's a villain /
But it ain't necessarily so

When these systems tell us that, say, Barry Zito will have an ERA over 4 in 2007, it's up to us to ask if there are any extenuating circumstances (other than "he's cool" or "he's a winner") that would put the projection to shame. Alan Schwarz of the New York Times says yes: moving from the AL to the NL tends to lower a pitcher's ERA nearly a full run. Ken Arneson of Catfish Stew says Zito's pitch selection and mechanics make him an "outlier" -- stat speak for someone who confounds general trends.

I'm exhausted talking about Zito, but I'll say one more piece: the Giants haven't had a bonafide chick magnet since J.T. Snow left. With his artsy prentensions and hipster/bachelor hair, BZ's target female will skew a little older than J.T., who specialized in pre-teen girls who dreamed of growing older and dating the high school's starting quarterback. But make no mistake: the Giants will feature his buns in as many marketing campaigns as possible. (Which may not be directed entirely at the female fan population.)

You don't think the marketeers think of this? Obviously you don't sit in the bleachers, where girls up to their mid-twenties -- maybe even older, depending on their alcohol intake -- comment loudly on players' backsides. (Mom! Stop that!) You know those pink hats aimed at the casual female fan? I predict a deluge of pink and other femmy frilly swag to help cash in on the girls who surf into the Giants Dugout and past the concession stands on a wave of Zito-inspired estrogen.

(You can already order a Zito 75 jersey, but not in pink. Yet.)

OK, back to the matter at hand. The murkiest field of all baseball statistics is defense, with a range of systems all measuring a slice. Since I don't know what to believe when it comes to defensive ratings, this approach seems as good as any: average out all the rankings into one number.

How do the Giants fare in these defensive metarankings compiled by Lee Panas? Pedro Feliz is tied for third among 3B. Ray Durham is fifth-worst at 2B. Omar Vizquel is third at SS (and Rafael Furcal sixth!). Dave Roberts ranks first....among left-fielders (he'll be playing center for the Giants). Barry Bonds is sixth-worst. Caveat: Lee only considers 2006 rankings in his metarankings. So no Ryan Klesko.

I take that gospel whenever it's pos'ble /
But with a grain of salt

Putting aside quibbles over the merits of Vizquel v. Furcal (see comments of yesterday's post), the Giants' strong left-side infield defense will be good for Barry Zito, who as noted by the Catfish Stew article referenced above is very good at inducing jam-shot grounders to third with an inside fastball.

Check out Lee's site Tiger Tales which I've added to my blogroll, for his ongoing defensive rankings. And remember, it ain't necessarily so.



N.L. West Head to Head, Part 4: The Evil Dead 

Before we jump into the details, I have to say this: The Dodgers will suck this year, even if they [*biting tongue*] finish ahead of the Giants, even if they [*flagellating self with red-hot electric cables*] win the World Series. In the small print of Grigori Perelman's proof of the Poincaré Conjecture was this note: Sunt Dodgeri, ergo horribili. The formula, boiled down for lesser minds, goes something like this: [[AB+OPS/81]/.300x - 35(team ERA)/Kgs of Lasorda]]. You could look it up.

Finally proven after a century of brain-sweat, this postulate will always trump the possibility that, say, Chad Billingsley might already be better than Matt Cain. Remember, it doesn't matter what you or I think. Do the math.

The projected lineups


SS Furcal
CF Pierre
1B Nomah
2B Kent
LF Gonzo
RF Ethier
C Martin
3B Betemit


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

Comments: Juan Pierre? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA -- oops, bunt single. I hate that guy. Still, Pierre was the most ridiculed free agent signing this winter until, um, well, someguywhogot$126million. Both Pierre and Furcal are career .350 OBP guys, but Pierre hasn't cracked .330 since 2004. Still the Furcal/Pierre combo is younger and thanks to Furcal has a lot more power than the Giants' 1-2 punch. What's more, against LHP Dave Roberts won't (or shouldn't) be in the lineup. In the middle of the lineup, L.A. is relying on health above all else. Any of the Nomah-Kent-Gonzo trio could miss significant stretches of time, though the same is true of the Giants middle. Health aside, the Bonds advantage is neutralized by Nomah's advantage over the Aurilesko combo. Call it a wash. Back end of the order: Martin at 23 already better than Molina, Ethier at 24 better than Winn, Betemit at 26 has upside beyond Feliz's proven mediocrity. (And he's simply keeping the spot warm for Andy LaRoche, who raked in AAA last year as a 22-year-old.)

Rating: O at SF, O at LA.

The projected rotations





Comments: I argued strongly last year the Giants should beware of paying Schmidt big money over multiple years. But the way the winter orgy proceeded, I would've been happy if the Giants gave him the contract he signed with L.A. Here's his ZIPS projection:

192 IP / 172 H / 22 HR / 77 BB / 183 K / 3.94 ERA

His projected ERA is better than any Giant starter. Will he outperform Zito? It will come down to his health. Over 35 healthy starts, yes. With nagging injuries like those that hampered him in '05 and somewhat last year, no. Penny and Lowe will be good to very good -- if Matt Morris strains real hard, he could have a Derek Lowe-ish season. Penny has Cy Young stuff and Delmon Young maturity; I'll still pick him to have a better season than Morris or Lowry. Post-TJ surgery Randy Wolf could be a great pick-up, but ZIPS isn't optimistic (92 IP, 4.89 ERA). The Dodgers have enough pitching depth to replace him in May if need be, but for now let's assume they let him and his $8 M salary go as far as possible. Part of L.A.'s depth is Billingsley, whose half-year in '06 excited L.A. fans as much as Cain's '05 tickled us up north. BP prospect guru Kevin Goldstein wrote this recently: "Billingsley had an up-and-down rookie campaign, but the pitcher you saw in August, when he went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in five starts, is the real deal and he's poised for a breakout with his No. 1 starter potential."

So, Zito over Schmidt (barely), Cain even with Penny, Lowe over Morris, Lowry over Wolf, and LA's fifths over SF's.

Rating: N at SF, N at LA.

Projected Bullpens: Saito did his best Aki Otsuka impression last year, coming out of nowhere to close with emphasis, striking out 12 batters per 9 innings. Right behind him is the massive Jonathan Broxton (6'3", 288 lbs.), closer-in-waiting and only 22 years old. The rest of their bullpen is Beimelish and Tomkovian, but the Giants have no answer for L.A.'s late-inning combo. Unless Benitez makes a remarkable comeback and the youngsters step up, the Giants will have the worst bullpen in the division.

Rating: OO at LA and SF.

Outfield defense: Pierre and Roberts are carbon-copy, fleet of foot with arms of rag. Gonzo in left -- I'm stunned, but BP's "Rate2" metric says he's been above-average five of the past six years. As a mere 39-year-old pup, Gonzo merits a leg up on Bonds. I'll give Winn the nod in RF until we see Ethier play more. Slight ADV: SF. Infield: BP says Kent is about average and Durham well below. Nomah not so good, but Aurilesko will not be so good, either. Furcal is better than Omar, and Feliz better than Betemit. Slight ADV: LA. Bench: Gonzo's heir apparent, Matt Kemp, is the key. He could platoon against lefties and force Gonzo to the bench. His ceiling is higher than Todd Linden, but he's only 22 and may not be ready. Also: Jason Repko, Ramon Martinez, Marlon Anderson, James Loney, Olmedo Saenz.

Final comment: The Dodgers clearly have a better lineup than the Giants, with young prospects Kemp and LaRoche waiting in the wings, a much better bullpen, and can at least match the Giants' strong rotation. Their defense won't be any worse, and they have a decent bench. Adjusting for the Poincaré postulate, the Giants will win 15 of 18.


SMALL PRINT UPDATE: I regret to inform the readership that MC Hammer's Baseball Time! is no longer on the blogroll. His last update was June 2006. If you can't update your blog at least as often as "Can't Touch This" is played at someone's Bar Mitzvah, you don't deserve a link. What you gonna do about that, Hammer?!



N.L. West Head to Head, Part 3: The D-Backs 

I just had a craving for Jon Miller. His voice, that is. On my radio. El Papa Malo reports from the freezing north that L'il Flemm said on KNBR that Tim Lincecum is as good as Cain right now. Remember, Flemm is an employee of the Giants. But he's also not prone to exaggeration or shameless marketing drivel. I don't care if my dad misheard. I don't care if it's bloodless propaganda planted by Larry Baer. Suddenly, I don't need any artificial stimulants to pep me up for the season. Let's play two!

But first, as Jon Miller likes to say, here come the Di-ya-mond-backs:

The projected lineups


LF Byrnes
2B Hudson
3B Tracy
1B Jackson
CF C. Young
RF Quentin
SS Drew
C Snyder


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

Comments: I'm not sure who leads off for Arizona. Byrnes did last year, sometimes. But he really shouldn't be starting against RHP (.287 OBP in '06). If not Byrnes, maybe Hudson or Drew. Maybe Young. The Young-Quentin-Drew triad could be awesome very soon, with Jackson and Tracy and Hudson strong complements. Definitely scary in '08, but still unsettled right now. That said, the raw talent is already head and shoulder s above the Giants. If they're not as good as S.F. to start the year, chances are they will be by the All-Star break.

Rating: N at SF, O at Ariz.

The projected rotations




R. Johnson
L. Hernandez
D. Davis
E. Gonzalez

Comments: Webb and Zito have each won a Cy Young, but I'll take Webb any day over Zito. Unit or Cain: Hall of Famer on the way down, or bright young thing ascendant? Given Johnson's health (back surgery this fall -- not trivial), I'll put even money on Cain besting Johnson this year. That's not what ZIPS says, though:

RJ: 223 IP / 202 H / 27 HR / 54 BB / 196 K / 3.71 ERA
MC: 193 IP / 167 H / 24 HR / 87 BB / 174 K / 4.01 ERA

Pretty close -- which speaks just as well to Cain's precocious talent at the age of 22 as it does to Johnson's top-level longevity at 43.

ZIPS is also predicting Livan will get hammered in the desert, with an ERA nearly a run higher than Morris. He'll throw a lot more innings, but the D-Backs will need quality, not just quantity from their #3 starter. Davis/Lowry: I can't find ZIPS on Davis. Lowry's young enough to rebound from an '06 in which his strikeout rate went way down and his walk rate didn't change. He wasn't fooling many batters. Davis is 31 and got knocked around last year after two good years with the Brewers. Pitching at the BOB won't help. Now with Russ Ortiz in the mix, the $380,000 question is how good does he need to be to keep Sanchez out of the rotation? The cynic in me says 'Not very good.'

Rating: G at SF, N at AZ.

Projected Bullpens: With Tim Worrell retired, the Giant bullpen will rely even more on youth. Pencil Correia into the set-up role, perhaps as the first option to close if Benitez is traded/injured/beaten to death by his teammates. Wilson, Hennessey, Sadler, Kline, perhaps J-Sanch. Arizona has either youneverknow Jose Valverde or Jorge Julio to close, plus a lot of young guys. A total crapshoot.

Rating: N at SF and AZ.

Outfield defense: C. Young is apparently the dog's bollocks. Byrnes is more than adequate on the corner and really fun to watch run into things, Quentin is an unknown. Until the D-Back kids prove themselves, however, I'll give slight ADV: SF. Infield: Hudson is All-World at 2B, much to Webb's heavy-sinker delight. Drew got a just above-average rating from BP, which also says Tracy and Jackson are subpar at the corners. ADV: SF. Bench: Is Craig Counsell still around? No? How about Quintin McCracken?

Final comment: For Arizona as currently configured, it comes down to young hitters and one old pitcher. If the Unit hits to his statistical projections, their first three is at least the equal of the Giants'. If the young hitters mature quickly, they'll have a potent lineup. But I see them truly busting out in '08 a la Reyes/Wright with the Mets in '06. I say the Giants win 11 of 18.


Will Worth Reading 

BP's Will Carroll publishes his first take on the Bonds amphetamine test. It's worth reading. If you don't have a subscription, I'll excerpt a couple paragraphs -- perhaps more than I should but Carroll's perspective is important to keep the discussion from spinning into hysteria -- and I strongly encourage you to subscribe.

Carroll speculates that the source of the positive test was unlikely a pure "greenie" but more of a sophisticated nutritional supplement such as AMP. It's legal, easily available, has a BALCO connection, and has questionable ingredients.

"AMP was found to contain substances that were very much like amphetamines. In a May 2006 article, Amy Shipley of the Washington Post talked with Don Catlin, a steroid researcher who works with WADA and was involved in the BALCO case, about AMP. Catlin found that the active ingredient was not listed on the label. Methylhexaneamine, like many of Arnold's substances, was a re-concocted version of a previously existing compound, this time one invented in the 1940s as a nasal decongestant. Catlin described the drug as similar to amphetamines and ephedrine."

Carroll writes:

"Why would Bonds take these substances? One source suggested that it wasn't performance enhancement, but weight management. Amphetamines and similar substances are often used in weight loss and weight management. The appetite-suppressant effect would have helped Bonds in two ways. First, his knees were under a lot of pressure carrying additional weight. The knee problems were part of a cycle--Bonds couldn’t work out with his normal intensity so he gained weight. When he gained weight, his knees hurt more. Add in that supplements like AMP are specifically designed to help "cut"--take off body fat and water weight--and there’s a twofold effect before we even get to possible performance enhancement."

Finally, Carroll says it's "laughable" that the Giants didn't know about the test results. The Giants released a statement last night saying this was the first they'd heard of it because of the drug program's privacy rules; Carroll says teams always know because they need to be in the administrative loop.



Bonds on Speed 

The New York Daily News has a scoop today that Barry Bonds failed a test last year for amphetamines and blamed it on something he got from Mark Sweeney.

That's the jist of the News report. Shitstorm to follow.

What do I think? To keep this brief and get back to my day job, I'll write a civic resolution that you can frame and hang on your wall.

IF Bonds indeed failed an amphetamine test, and;

IF the substance he took was in fact illegal, not just a cold medicine or something else that can trigger positives, and;

IF when confronted with this fact, he wilfully tried to blame Mark Sweeney, whether or not Sweeney actually gave Barry anything;

THEN the Giants should rip up the alleged $15.8 million-plus-incentives contract they're haggling over with Bonds agent and say, sorry, Barry, no más, no matter how much he helps the team by hitting home runs and drawing fans.

I believe this is the first time I've ever come down on the get-rid-of-Bonds side for non-baseball reasons. Until now, throughout the years of drama, I've always said if he's healthy enough to contribute, keep him. Pay him lots of money. He's worth it.

If this were a failed amphetamine test, period, I'd maintain that stance. Under baseball's drug-testing rules, failing it for the first time is not cause for suspension (or even public acknowledgement). Being a jerk and prima donna and thoroughly unpleasant while doing your job is not a firing offense in baseball. (Sorry, life's not fair.) Taking steroids and other nasty bits to boost his career was not a firing offense when Bonds allegedly did it. If he's indicted by the government for a myriad of suspected activities, including illegal drugs, tax evasion and perjury, he shouldn't get special treatment. But failing a drug test and blaming it on an innocent teammate? If true, he should not be part of the 2007 Giants.

I should also note reports from last year that Bonds at least once refused to pinch-hit on a day he didn't start. If true, this also is a firing offense in my book. You can hate the media, you can be a disagreeable grump, you can be a loner and prima donna, but if you refuse to help the team on the field, take a hike.

To sort out the truth from hearsay, whisper, conjecture, and media bias against Bonds, I leave you to read the news story and judge for yourself. I'm keeping an open mind. I suspect the media takes angles to cast Bonds in the worst light possible, but I also reject the common idea among Bonds apologists that he's the victim of a conspiracy. I totally agree that most sportswriters view the Bonds/McGwire/steroids/etc issue from atop a garbage heap of sanctimony that they mistake for perspective, as John of OBM frequently reminds us. This week's Hall of Fame vote is a perfect example.

No doubt this story will grow exponentially in coming days. Also, keep an eye on the unfolding story of how the Giants are trying to rewrite contracts. I believe it was first reported here -- a scoop for MLB.com, fer crissake -- and ties in with Sabean bringing an old hand back to help in the front office, reported here.



Worrell's End 

Now we know who Russ Ortiz will replace on the 40-man roster. Tim Worrell today announced he's retiring. No word exactly why, but no doubt the injuries took their toll. It had to be bad for him to leave $2 million on the table, which is what the Giants owed him for 2007. UPDATE: This story says he wasn't making progress rehabbing his neck and shoulder injuries.


UPDATE: At least one of Worrell's body parts is working fine: "I have four sons in baseball to coach and my wife is expecting again," he told a reporter.

Also: The SJ Merc tells us Worrell will still get paid his $2 M this year. I've added the figure to the bottom of the roster on the right.



Russ Never Sleeps 

Believe it or not, the Giants have just signed Russ Ortiz. Not David Ortiz. Not Manny Ortez. Russ Ortiz. The guy who's been historically bad for two years running. Not satisfied in bringing the washed-up former Giant to spring training as a non-roster invitee, the team has reportedly signed him to a one-year contract for the major league minimum of $380,000.

Before you go absolutely shit-ballistic, remember that amount of money these days is practically backwash. I just used more than half that sum to line the insides of a pair of shoes I found uncomfortably big but was too lazy to return. Piffle, I say!

Furthermore, he's not guaranteed to make the team. Brian Sabean isn't that crazy.

We hope.

Here's what Sabes told the Associated Press:

Sabean said Ortiz will compete with rookie left-hander Jonathan Sanchez for the fifth spot, while Kevin Correia and Brad Hennessey have found their niche in the bullpen and will likely be used primarily in relief this season.

In other words, two guys who really should stay in the bullpen, Correia and Hennessey, will do so -- good move. (What? You disagree? State your case!)

Plus, the Giants will have more competition for Sanchez, who might not be ready to be a starter. Based on his work in the rotation at the end of last year, I think it's apparent he needs more time to refine his secondary pitches. He can do that in the Giants bullpen and still be useful, like he was out of the bullpen last year. Or he can start the year in the Fresno rotation. If Ortiz stinks in spring training and Sanchez excels, put Sanchez in the rotation and send Russ on his way with $380,000 in his back pocket.

The only real downside for now is that someone must be removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Ortiz (if in fact he's been signed to a major-league contract -- the article wasn't specific about it, and sfgiants.com hasn't indicated a roster change as of this writing). But Scott Munter is an easy choice, and pretty soon the Giants will be able to place a few players on the 60-day DL. I'm not sure about the rules and timing, but perhaps with some fancy footwork, they may not have to drop anyone.

I'll admit there's another risk: that the Giants suck anyway, and Ortiz is just barely good enough to pitch most of the year, thus blocking the development of one of the Giants youngsters. The counterargument to that: Why waste the major-league pre-arbitration clock time of a young (read: cheap) player to get cuffed around in the bigs? Let Sanchez (or Lincecum, or Misch) bide his time in the minors.

OK, one more downside: Even if he's pretty good, we'll probably have to watch innings like this: Two strikes, then three straight balls high and outside, walk. Full-count, strike out. Full-count, single. Full-count, pop-up. Two quick strikes, three balls in the dirt, a couple foul balls, another walk. Etc. From 1999 to 2002, Northern California men suffered what was known as "Ortizian hair loss" whenever Russ pitched. Pulled it out by the fistfuls, I tell you.

You're going to hear a lot of bitching and moaning about this move in coming days. But I remain optimstic and, like Russ, put my faith in the Big Guy. (You know: Leo Mazzone.) If there's a tiny chance Russ can recapture his mojo -- and he claims he's finally figured out his mechanical problems with help from Mazzone and Puerto Rican food -- it's the bargain of the century. If he continues to be mojo-free, the Giants lose $380,000 and Scott Munter to waivers. Besides, if Sanchez really isn't ready, would you rather have Damian Moss or Sun-Woo Kim as the fifth starter?



N.L. West Head to Head, Part 2: The Padres 

In my last post I got some flack for a) not evaluating benches and defenses and b) giving too much credit to the Rockies with my prediction of an 11-7 record against the Giants.

The author responds: First, Coors Field is a hellhole where KTVU broadcasts go to die. It's an extreme home advantage, and the Giants aren't good enough to make up for it at sea level. Plus I wanted to get a rise out of you.

Second, defensive evaluations are tough even with the newest, most-fangled statistics. But defense is important, OK, so I'll give a very brief eval from now on. Please don't swallow it all in one bite. As for benches ("we don't need no stinkin'..."), they're important if two teams are evenly matched in all other categories. We're talking, say, two or three at-bats per game and maybe two or three player/innings on defense, compared to 40 or 45 at-bats per game for the regulars. Benches make more of a difference when replacing oft-injured starters, but that comes down to luck, really. Why? A really good bench player will end up starting or heavily platooning, anyway (See Roberts, Dave), so guys who project as bench-and-bench-only aren't that good (see Ellison, Jason). When lifetime pine-riders replace an injured starter and end up performing better than the starter, it's usually not something we can predict. Usually. At least it's beyond my powers of statistical analysis, which extends slightly beyond pulling boogers out of my nose. Metaphorically speaking.

Third, if you want to know who won the Barry Zito caption contest, read to the end.

Bring on the Saint Douglas Fathers.

The projected lineups


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


2B M. Giles
3B Kouzmanoff
RF B. Giles
1B Gonzalez
CF Cameron
C Bard
LF Branyan/(Cust? Sledge?)
SS Greene

Comments: When you run down those lineups, there isn't much reason to believe the Giants are better offensively. If M. Giles leads off, he'll likely get on base (career OBP: .361, ZIPS '07 projection: .356) as much as or more than Roberts (career: .344, ZIPS: .350), though he's not as much a threat to steal. SF has the OBP advantage with Vizquel batting second, but B. Giles's OPS will likely match or top whoever bats 3rd, and A. Gonzalez is not yet 25 and could easily match or top a declining Bonds. Bard seems a better batsman than Molina, and Greene is slightly less sucky than Feliz. Branyan is strictly platoon, but with a good platoon partner could easily top Randy Winn's output. It's not hopeful.

Rating: N at SF, O at SD

The projected rotations


5th guy


C. Young

Comments: Peavy very very good. Probably better than Zito. Chris Young very good. Probably as good as Cain this year, unless Cain's learning curve is more like a learning express elevator to the executive suite, baby, yeah! Ahem. Greg Maddux, in a pitcher's park, will be more like Dodger Maddux than Cub Maddux, approach 200 innings and not walk a lot of guys. In other words, he'll likely do what the Giants with fingers crossed hope to get out of Matt Morris. Hensley/Lowry? Both are wild cards. Let's go to the ZIPS:

Hensley 161 IP / 18 HR / 65 BB / 104 K / 4.14 ERA
Lowry 182 IP / 22 HR / 65 BB / 130 K / 4.15 ERA

Throw out the fifth starter as statistical noise, and you have two pretty well-matched rotations.

Rating: N at SF, N at SD

Projected Bullpens: Uh-oh. Hoffman, Linebrink, Meredith were badda-bing, badda-bang, badda-boom in the late innings last year. No reason to think otherwise this year, though Meredith can't possibly be that good. Can he? Gulp. And Hoffman has to decline at some point, right? RIGHT? Please, doc, I can't take it anymore!

Rating: OO at SD, OO at SF

Outfield defense: The Giants have no answer for Cameron. Winn is a bit better than Giles, and Bonds can't be any worse than Branyan or Cust. Cameron trumps all. Adv: SD. Infield: Gonzalez and Giles on the right side are plus-plus defenders, Greene is spotty at short and Kouzmanoff an unknown quantity at three-bee. Giants will be better on the left side unless Feliz sits, which for offense sake, we hope he does. Adv: None. Bench: Todd Walker! No, Todd Linden! Jack Cust! No, Mark Sweeney! Do I have to?

I say San Diego's bullpen and younger cleanup hitter gives the Pads a slight edge at this point. Unless S.F.'s young bullpenners have breakout years and all their oldsters hit the ball hard, S.D. takes 11 of 18.

*Contest winner is Paul, for the very first caption. Depraved, but with a frisson of self-awareness and overtones of pop-culture criticism.



N.L. West Head to Head, Part 1: The Rockies 

Now that most of the free-agent dust has settled, we can start comparing the Giants to their NL West competitors. No doubt there will be a few more signings around the division (David Wells? Jeff Weaver?) and trades, perhaps not quite as momentous as Randy Johnson-back-to Arizona, but let's play with what we have and see how the Giants stack up.

As a basis, I'm going to use a projection system called ZIPS, which just released its 2007 estimates (BP's PECOTA is not yet ready), but I'll also use some common sense and a sprinkling of conjecture pulled from certain body cavities only the Transportation Security Agency is allowed to explore.

Each day I'll line up the Giants versus a different NL West rival. I'll compare starting lineups, starting rotations, and bullpens and rate the comparisons as GG (big advantage Giants), G (adv. Giants), N (neutral), O (adv. opponent) and OO (gack). I'll assign a rating for home games and away games. Because it's Friday and no one's paying attention anyway, let's start with the Rockies:

The projected lineups


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


CF Taveras
SS Tulowitzki
1B Helton
LF Holliday
3B Atkins
RF Hawpe/Baker
2B Matsui
C Torrealba

Comments: Unless Taveras and Tulowitzki quickly improve their offensive games, the Giants have the upper hand in the first two batting slots. Colorado may slot Jamey Carroll or Kaz Matsui in the 1-2 spots, too. Matsui was much better as a Rock than a Met, and Carroll has shows flashes of OBP prowess in his utility career, including a fine 2006 as the main 2Ber for Colo. ZIPS is impressed with Tulowitzki, who could soon put up Aurilia numbers (the 20 HR version, not the 37 HR version). If Roberts is injured or neutralized by LHP, and Omar declines, the Giants lose their advantage quickly.

Other than Molina providing a bit more power at the bottom than Torrealba, the rest of the way it's all Colorado. Holliday and Atkins should continue to mash. Hawpe and Baker will probably platoon, which according to ZIPS gives the Rockies a two-headed monster (Hawpe: .368 OBP, .493 SLG; Baker: .342 OBP, .504 SLG). Between the two I'll bet they hit 35-40 HRs. Hawpe also has a cannon of an arm. And we haven't even gotten to Todd Helton. Will he regain his fearsome power, or continue what was a noticeable decline in '06? Back problems are a bad sign...

The upshot: Colorado has quietly assembled a homegrown, well, if not a murderer's row, at least a circle of muggers. But if Tulowitzki takes a big leap forward, Taveras learns how to lead off with a .360+ OBP, and Helton stays relatively healthy, we'll see a lot of games like this. Take note: while Atkins and Hawpe seem to hit equally well on the road, Helton and Holliday have big career splits. Historically the Rockies offense stinks at Mays Field, but with this year's crew, I fear the Giants have no advantage.

Rating: N at S.F., OO at Colo

The projected rotations


5th guy


Jeff Francis
Josh Fogg
B.K. Kim
Taylor Buchholz
Jason Hirsch

Comments: With Jason Jennings gone, the Rox rotation is a bit unknown, with the two rookies acquired for Jennings tentatively penciled in. Francis could be very very good; Francis could be better than Zito. Cook's heavy sinker is well-suited for Coors, which started playing far more normally last year anyway. On the Giant side, Lowry has the Coors heebie-jeebies; Zito's thrown one game there and thrown it relatively well (7 IP, 12 baserunners, 1 ER). On the whole Giants starters are expected to be very good next year. Even Morris should bounce back, says ZIPS. Colorado will only match them if the rookies bust out.

Rating: G at S.F., G at Colo.

Projected bullpens

To save space I won't list all the names. We know this: Colorado turned journeyman lefty Brian Fuentes into a damn good closer last year. He strikes out more than a batter an inning, he doesn't give up many hits. Better than, ahem, the Giants' closer. Colorado also picked up LaTroy Hawkins and Jeremy Affeldt, two vets who could be very good. File under: you never know with relievers. Like the Giants, they also have several live young arms, two of whom (Manuel Corpas, Ramon Ramirez) had very impressive debuts last year. Putting Benitez aside for a moment -- gonna need a forklift! -- the Giants bullpen is roughly akin, though their young live arms (Wilson, Sadler) had less success than the abovementioned Rox.

Rating: O at S.F., OO at Colo.

If the teams as constituted today played 18 games split between S.F. and Denver, I'd guess the Rockies would win 11.



Oh, Stop That! 

Busy today, but not too busy to giggle sophomorically at the possible captions for this.


P.M. UPDATE: Reports say the Yankees have reached a deal to send Randy Johnson back to Arizona. Good, I say. The Unit is in decline, just had back surgery, and the D-Backs are giving up Luis Vizcaino (a good young reliever), prospects Ross Ohlendorf (p), Alberto Gonzalez (ss), and perhaps a third prospect. It might make the D-Backs slightly better this year -- if Johnson stays healthy -- but it puts a dent in their farm system, which is their biggest weapon in the years ahead. Unfortunately, none of the prospects are among their top ten, according to BP's Kevin Goldstein. But think how fun it'll be to boo the Unit again. And in 2008, too: Arizona will reportedly sign him to a one-year contract extension.

Even better:

Rich Aurilia vs. Randy Johnson lifetime
41 AB / 3 HR / 4 BB / 13 K / .341 AVG / .400 OBP / .585 SLG



Dude! Suite! 

The contract details are out (thanks to Martin for passing along the link in yesterday's comments). Zito gets $10 M this year, $14.5 M in '08, $18.5 M from '09 to '11, then $19 M and $20 M in the final two years. In addition to the innings-pitched trigger, there are a passel of award bonuses and, other than green M&Ms, my favorite contract rider: "Zito also will stay in a suite for road trips."

Which begs the question: is there a limit to how many suites a team can contractually guarantee? What if they have five superstars and their hotel in Cincinnati only has four suites? Does the highest-paid star get to stay at a different hotel? Do the superstars compare suites and get jealous? Do you still have to obey curfew if you stay in a suite? Do sports teams really have curfews anymore, or are they reserved for football teams the night before the Super Bowl? Why does the new album by Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) only say "Yusuf" on the cover? Is there a wee marketing problem with his last name?

Enough of my non-sensical ramblings. Let's bring in someone else's. Hello? Bruce? You there, pal?

Like all of the coolest cats in the universe, Barry Zito isn't real big on hassles. He likes a warm breeze, smart conversation, a sensible guitar riff, the simple beauty of a 3-and-1 pitch to Vladimir Guerrero.

Señoras y señores, it's Bruce Jenkins of the Chronicle! Bruce likes Barry Zito because Barry Zito is cool. And he's a cat. Bruce also thinks a 3-and-1 pitch to Vlad has "simple beauty," which is the last phrase I would use to describe a pitch that has a 93% chance of a) being knocked over the outfield fence or b) being lined off the pitcher's skull.

One more thing: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Joe Strummer, and I'm going to endeavor not to disappoint you with several sensible guitar riffs!"

You have to understand where Bruce is coming from. He also liked Neifi Perez because he wore his socks high.

The way it looks from here, Zito is under no pressure at all.

[Ed. note: "From here" = inside the velvet coffin of Jenkins's Chronicle cubicle, where he has so much seniority he'll never be fired.] Cool people don't feel pressure. Especially not when they're being force-fit into Bruce Jenkins's oversimplified hacked-up hairball of a universe in which reside Good Barry/Bad Barry. The Bad Barry is not cool, and the people who decided to bring him back (the same people who are overpaying for the coolness of Good Barry) have performed a colossal, monumental breach of coolness.

There will be a considerable amount of tension around the Giants this season,

Perhaps because they will suck. Please continue...

but it will fully surround Barry Bonds and the prideless executives, Peter Magowan and Larry Baer, who can't seem to live without the sordid swirl

One of my favorite flavors. You should try it.

of steroid associations, a broken-down ballplayer, a disgusted commissioner and the threat of a federal indictment...

If Barry Bonds is "broken-down," Scott Rolen is positively glue-factory and Nomar Garciaparra is a partially-decomposed zombie who roams the earth and feasts on succulent human flesh. Which means he's either a Dodger or a member of the New York media. Back to you, Bruce:

New York is the worldliest setting in America, but patience runs a bit thin in sporting circles. Struggling athletes come to dread taking the field, or even turning on the radio. Not to suggest that Zito could ever be Ed Whitson, but he'd call B.S. on the type of scrutiny that takes place in that town, day after day.

So what are you suggesting, Bruce?

Whatever; he would have won his 18 games there and survived just fine. But Shea Stadium isn't Mays Field (the only name that seems to fit), where ownership has made certain that Bonds is the story, every hour of every day.

Sorry, Bruce, I don't quite follow, though I dig the "Mays Field" shout-out. Zito would have done quite well in New York, but he chose San Francisco because it's cooler, except that it won't be because of Barry Bonds, except that's OK because Bonds will suck up everyone's attention and just let Zito do his dudular pitching thing? Does not compute. Maybe your final paragraph will clear things up:

Come spring training, Zito won't believe the coolness of his situation. Just pitch, man, that's it. It eventually might bother him that the team he left behind, Oakland, does everything better than the Giants except play in a suitable ballpark. He might find that the Mets are the team really bent on winning, and the Giants' barren farm system is a product of their lack of foresight and increasingly pitiful devotion to Bonds. He might discover that when a late-inning situation calls for a pinch-hitter, Bonds might not feel like leaving the clubhouse. Let's hope the reality doesn't strike too hard, because the Giants acquired one hell of a pitcher, and San Francisco is lucky to have him.

In all of this analysis -- and I'll give him props for the "barren farm system" comment -- Jenkins leaves out three factors: Barry Bonds will only be with the Giants one more year. Barry Zito will be with the Giants through 2013, at least. And Barry Zito has a much better chance of declining than improving over the life of the contract. (Jenkins could have looked at statistics beyond the win column, but no, he knows the high-sock, cool-cat mark of a winner when he sees it.)

Jenkins has it backwards. With the barren farm system and the "lack of foresight" and the Giants' general incompentence viz a viz Oakland, it's not the one year of surly steroidal swirling slugger but the half-decade to follow that Zito will come to regret. This year, a healthy and unindicted Bonds will help this team immensely, no matter how uncool he is.



The Winner 

Happy New Year, everyone!

A couple weeks ago I asked you for your best guesses on the details of Barry Zito's upcoming contract. Here's what he's getting from the Giants:

7 years
$126 guaranteed
1 yr club option/$18 mil.
full no-trade clause

As Flavor Flav once said, "God damn, telegram!" I still haven't seen the year-by-year breakdown of salary, though news reports put his '07 paycheck at $10 million. Any other details out there?

No one nailed the exact numbers -- 7/126 or 8/137 -- but most guesses were in the ballpark. This is subjective, but it comes down to these two:

6 yr/$126 M
1 yr club option $23 M
full no-trade

Mark Raines
8 yr/$136 M
club option 2 yr/$34 M
no-trade first four years

Mark went overboard on the years and dollars -- if he hadn't added the option years, he'd be spot-on. Elliot came closer to nailing the structure of the contract, off by only one year and a few (million) dollars. Elliot also guessed the full no-trade clause.

In my original post I said guessing the right team was a tie-breaker, and Mark correctly guessed Giants, but Elliot still gets the nod with Mark a very strong second. Elliot: Send me (leftymalo at gmail dot com) your mailing address, and I'll send you the promised commemorative pin. Mark: if you can track me down at a ballgame, I'll buy you a beer. As always, once my season ticket group holds its annual draft in March, I'll post the games I'll likely attend this year.


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