Just announced after today's game:

Down to Fresno are Brian Wilson, Scott Munter. Wow, Sabean wasn't messing around with the harsh assessment on the radio.

To minor-league camp go Tomas De La Rosa, Sun-Woo Kim, Scott Atchinson.

That leaves a bullpen of Benitez, Kline, Correia, Chulk, Sanchez, Hennessey, and Special Agent Jack Taschner and a bench of Frandsen, Klesko, Linden, Alfonzo, Sweeney, Niekro and Ellison. If the bullpen stays at seven, which seems likely, two of the benchers gotta go. Last-minute thought: with Aurilia able to back up all the infield positions and Frandsen with options remaining, might the kid go down to Fresno to start every day?



Brian's Song (and Dance) 

The old softshoe is back, Mr. Talkin' Much and Sayin' Little, just give 'em the old razz-ull dazz-ull but in that monotone New England way, though I should say that as I caught the season's first "Brian Sabean Show" on KNBR this afternoon I thought he was a bit more forthcoming than usual. Just keep in mind Billy Beane's timeless assessment of Sabes: like a shark with its fin just under the water, not to mention the "master of the dry hump." What, you haven't read Moneyball? Get thee to a bookery!

Here's a synopsis of today's radio spot:

* Benitez's name has "been out there" as a trade possibility, but the offers weren't enough, and the bullpen situation forces the Giants to be "pragmatic." In other words, ain't no one else to do the job. Certainly not Brian Wilson because...

* Wilson has fallen "flat on his face" this spring. Harsh words from Sabes. Not pleased at all with Wilson's spring performance. He may not make the team.

* It's likely Jonathan Sanchez will start the year in the bullpen, but Sabes hasn't been happy with Sanchez either. His mechanics are off, he's been pitching with a fastball only...sounds like Sanchez hasn't progressed much from the end of last year.

* Sabes didn't dispute the assertion that his job is "on the line" this year. He said "the farther away you get from the World Series," the more the pressure, and that he's OK with it. He didn't raise his voice, get defensive or in any other way seem put out by the question. Very smooth.

* Jason Ellison is what the team needs and has "the inside track" to make the team, although he didn't specifically say Ellison was on the squad. Sabes thinks both Niekro and Ellison would get claimed on waivers, and he'd hate to lose either of them with nothing to show. Sweeney is not out of the mix, but about the best Sabean could muster in Sweeney's defense is that he's a proven veteran -- "we know what he brings to the table." Something like that.

* Tim Lincecum will definitely be a starter in Fresno. Sabes sounded extremely reluctant to convert him to a closer if that need becomes apparent. He's not sure Lincecum could take the pounding a closer's body takes, though he also acknowledged the kid has a "rubber arm." Whatever the case, Sabes said he's "on the fast track." He just needs to work on his command.

* Pedro Feliz has progressed more from last year than any Giants hitter. He widened his stance and is taking balls to right field. He's also shortening up with two strikes. [Ed. note: Riiiiiight.]

* Linden is playing with a lot of confidence and, as a switch hitter with power, has been a late bloomer. Sabes says he'll get 300 at-bats easily and now that he's playing a decent centerfield could get 4 to 5 starts a week. Sounds like Linden is an option to start in center on days Roberts sits against lefties.

* Everything has to be decided after Saturday's game; opening day rosters are due to MLB Sunday at noon. Five more days...Five more days...



No Ice for the Dice 

I'm on assignment Thursday and Friday with little time to write, so you'll have to amuse yourselves elsewhere. I recommend here. And here. And going against my initial instincts, here. If you don't vote for me, I'll get a dolphin tattoo on my ankle and move to MySpace.

Congratulations to Russ Ortiz, Mr. Fifth Starter. Remember, Russ, the leash is short. Starting eating donuts again, and [draws finger across throat in menacing motion]. But garlic fries are another matter, starting this year. I have never seen a word on a Web page drip with more sarcasm than the word "delicacy" in that story.

Speaking of stories, I was in a waiting room today and saw the Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue. Tom Verducci's cover story on Daisuke "Dice-K" Matsuzaka is excellent: well-written, well-reported, and counter-intuitive. Verducci makes a compelling argument that Matsuzaka, if successful, could make major-league teams rethink the way they coddle pitchers, even though he's already being forced to adjust to American workout regimes. We'll see if he can go a whole season without icing his arm.

It may not be "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," but it's as well-crafted a piece of sportswriting as you'll find these days in a mainstream sports publication.


Devil Spawn 

If luck and health and planets and tarot cards all line up in the Giants' favor this year, yes, they could make the playoffs and then, as Joaquin Andujar liked to say, youneverknow.

More realistically, though, this is a rebuilding year in which the pitching staff continues its rejuvenation with the emergence of Jonathan Sanchez, maybe Tim Lincecum, and perhaps a young hotshot reliever or two (Brian Wilson, Billy Sadler).

But the renewal is all on the pitching side. The hitters won't experience much youth movement unless Todd Linden and Kevin Frandsen are forced into starting roles because of injuries. For the next few years, in fact, the only way a youth movement among Giant hitters will happen is through trade, which brings me to the point of today's post.

The Giants have pitching. The Giants need young hitters. What team out there is a mirror image with an excess of young hitters and zero pitching? The Devil Rays.

At some point, probably this year, the Rays will have five legitimate players in three outfield positions: Delmon Young, Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton (reportedly being groomed to switch from infield to outfield), and if he can get his head screwed on right, Elijah Dukes. Upton came up as a SS/3B type, but the Rays have excellent players, top-ten national prospects, in fact, rapidly approaching the bigs at those positions. Upton's shoddy infield D makes him a candidate to move. They have positional talent to spare.

And the Rays are so thin in pitching behind Scott Kazmir, they could be tempted to trade a blue-chip hitter for a blue-chip pitcher if they feel the team can make a competitive leap forward this year. Jonathan Sanchez for Rocco Baldelli? Baldelli's not perfect, between his injury problems and his low-OBP style. But Sanchez is no sure thing, either. He may never develop a steady third pitch, forcing him to be a reliever. That diminishes his value. If you were Brian Sabean you would make this trade expecting Baldelli's offensive game to mature in the next couple years while he plays above-average center field.

A trade with real cojones would be Matt Cain for Delmon Young, a future ace for a future perennial All-Star. Would it actually be equitable? BP's PECOTA system sees Cain contributing between three and four wins per year to his team for the next five years; it sees Young adding between four and five wins a year. Just a thought.



Spring Stats Are Fun 

Player A this spring:

.359 BA / .405 OBP / .692 SLG / 3 HR / 39 ABs

Player B this spring:

.262 BA / .324 OBP / .415 SLG / 1 HR / 65 ABs

Both are right-handed hitting first basemen. One of them is likely to make the Giants' opening day roster, according to this story. The other one is Albert Pujols.



Sweeney on Waivers? 

According to SI.com's Jon Heyman, the Giants have placed Mark Sweeney on waivers. If spring rules follow regular-season rules, Sweeney is now exposed to all major-league teams. If none claim him, the Giants either keep him or release him outright into free agency and remain responsible for his '07 pay, minus the league minimum.

I haven't seen this news elsewhere. Waivers are not a publicly disclosed action, so let's take it with a grain of salt until we get confirmation.

Remember, if Sweeney is claimed, the Giants can pull him off the waiver wire. They don't have to let him go. They can also try to work a trade with the claiming team. It seems to me a team loses maneuverability when it places a player on waivers. Any strategical thoughts on why the Giants would do this?


P.M. UPDATE: Whaddya know? Bruce Jenkins has won five (5) awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association. That's totally awesome. Five! Congratulations, and may he also win one soon for unleashing full-blown baseball analysis. Because when Bruce lets loose, he gives a new meaning to analysis. He analyzes and analyzes, then he analyzes some more: Socks, game faces, batting average, gut feelings and dirty uniforms. They all go in the analysis blender and come out like one big nutritious smoothie of old-fashioned baseball common sense with a cheap bourbon chaser from one of those dives where sportswriters used to hang out but can't anymore because of all the damn yuppies. I hear there's a video game in the works, Bruce Jenkins: Analysis Unleashed III. Game, set, match...to Bruce Jenkins, ladies and gentlemen.

Speaking of curious, open-minded newspaper columnists, check this out. Unbelievable. Wait til guys like Jenkins and Shaughnessy find out about things like hybrid cars and microwaves. They're really going to -- how would people of their generation say it? -- freak out, man!

One last thing: here's today's Giant lineup. Might this also be the opening day lineup?

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



The Prodigal Fopp 

After a year and a half wandering through the sodden woods of the Pacific Northwest, straining to hear the call of the marbeled murrelet, his once-powerful right arm slowly regaining strength after.....the accident....the prodigal son has returned.

An insignificant contract, a minor-league assignment, a few kind words, o! such little fanfare for the once-golden boy, Jesse Foppert. Released by the Mariners after a dismal spring showing, Bay Area native Foppert will report to Fresno to see if he can regain the mojo that brought him to the majors as a 23-year-old.

He was part of the law firm of Foppert, Williams and Ainsworth LLC that rose quickly through the minors and was expected to form the core of the Giant starting rotation through most of this decade. Instead, the trio, like another famous pitching trio -- the Mets' phenoms Wilson, Isringhausen and Pulsipher -- succumbed early on to injury, ineffectiveness, and overblown expectations.

Of those Mets, you should recognize at least one name. Jason Isringhausen retooled his career as a premium closer. Paul Wilson has bounced around as a mediocre starter for years, with a run of six straight years in the bigs with Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. Bill Pulsipher has pitched in a total of 106 major league games over a 14-year career. He was most recently spotted in the uniform of the Long Island Ducks.

The former Giants' prospects will be lucky if, in ten years, they can look back on the same amount of "success" as the Mets ex-wunderkinds. Cruel, this game.

Let's wish the best for Foppert, who joins another ex-Giant and Bay Area native, Tyler Walker, trying to return from Tommy John surgery with his hometown team. The best not just for him; if he can work his way back into shape, the Giants could certainly use his arm in the bullpen. (Same goes for Walker, who won't be ready until mid-season at the earliest.)

A side note: Say what you want about Randy Winn, but that trade was one of the few check-marks on Sabean's side of the ledger in recent years. The Giants got Winn and gave up Foppert and Torrealba, who despite many observers' beliefs (including mine), has never proven adequate as a starting catcher.

Speaking of trades, you know which team matches up the best with the Giants as potential trade partners? It ain't the Dodgers. More on this over the weekend, or next week.


P.M. UPDATE: SI.com has an interview with Curt Schilling, who recently launched his own blog, 38 Pitches. It's a fascinating discussion with a player who's hyperaware of his relationship with the rest of the world. Here's a gem of an exchange:

SI.com: Do you think that Internet-based baseball analysts and writers should be available for BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame voting?

Schilling: Oh, it'll come full-circle at some point. Why wouldn't it? They already have a much larger impact than the Murray Chass' of the world would like to believe. I mean, you've got guys who are putting out what I know to be legitimately valuable statistical information and its relevance to a game in a win or a loss at Baseball Prospectus. Then you have guys that I'm not too fond of, like Murray Chass, who says, "What is VORP and who cares?" It was a stupid article. The only thing it did was show his ignorance to me in modern day baseball. Because those numbers do matter, those numbers do have value. Do they have value to me in getting a player out? No. But I would tell you that there are a lot of front offices that use those numbers for a lot of important decision making.



Caption Contest 

Good gosh a'mighty, these are a few of my favorite things: Flanderin' mayors, supermarket checkout boys, solar power, and ugly-ass ties. Have at it.



Baggarly, Part 3 

We finish up the Q&A today with Merc beat writer Andy Baggarly by taking on a few big issues: media responsibility, Barry Bonds's image, Cal Ripken's double standard, and Pete Rose's gambling problem. Big thanks to Andy for his participation. If you haven't read them, parts one and two are below. You'll have to scroll down. For some reason my permalinks aren't working.

Q: We recently learned that a BALCO defense attorney leaked the now-infamous grand jury testimony to the Chronicle, then went to a judge and said the resulting stories made it impossible for his client to get a fair trial. Was it wrong to publish it? Should a reporter consider his source's motivations before publishing sensitive information?

A: You'll understand if my response is a bit evasive. Really, there are no easy answers here. I wouldn't want to venture an opinion because I don't know the manner in which the information was obtained. Generally speaking, you always have to consider a source's motivations when publishing non-attributed material. Sometimes it's the only way to get information out there, but people should be accountable for the things they say. In these cases, you have to weigh the value of the information. It's never an easy call. That's why we have assignment editors, sports editors, managing editors, etc. No ethical decision gets made without consultation on several levels.

Q: Has Bonds gotten a raw deal from the media?

A: In many respects, yes. A resounding yes. I'm no Bonds apologist; in many, many, many ways, he's made his own bed. And if you have strong negative opinions about steroid use, as most of the country apparently does, you're not cheering for Bonds to break the home run record. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on that.

But there's a lot of misinformation about Bonds out there, especially from out-of-market columnists. As a brief aside, having written columns myself, I can tell you it's not an easy job. You're putting yourself out there, often commenting on things that you can't possibly know authoritatively. My columnists are great about soliciting my insight, and I try to give them as much information as possible. But a week of writing columns is kind of like starting a big league game. You've got four at-bats, and not every one is going to be a hit. You've heard of players who "give away at-bats," right? Same can be true for some columnists. Let's say you work for someplace like the Orlando Sentinel. You're looking for a fourth issue to write about, maybe the local college team was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, the Magic is out of town, and voila! There's Bonds. Everybody hates Bonds, right? Eight-hundred easy words right there. Mention the giant recliner. Mention flaxseed oil. Mention how he doesn't stretch with the team. Write a witticism about his head size. Morally grandstand. ENDIT. [Ed. note: "Endit" is a reporter's shorthand that indicates to an editor where the story copy ends.]

Problem is, Bonds doesn't have the recliner anymore! He hasn't in two years. The Bonds recliner flap is the biggest overblown story in recent baseball history. Go in any clubhouse and you'll see a veteran with a recliner. When Doug Jones was with the Cubs, his teammates gave him one as a joke. When he left, and for years afterward, the oldest player on the team inherited it.

Another problem: Bonds isn't the only player who skips stretching. A few years ago, there was a guy who stretched by himself, had his own PR team, stayed in a different hotel from the rest of the team and got special treatment from team ownership. His name was Cal Ripken, Jr. That's the stock answer I give whenever anyone asks about a Bonds double-standard. Is it because he's African-American? Because he's surly? Maybe a little of everything, but race is an issue on some level. If you don't believe that some semblance of institutional racism exists in America, you're blind or stupid or both.

I have to interject a little something here: while finishing this Q&A, I overheard two scouts having a conversation over my shoulder criticizing Lou Brock's comments that baseball needs to do more to get African-Americans involved in the game. They thought it was a crock of shit. I think one guy's exact quote was, "Why make them play if they don't want to? Basketball is easier. All you have to do is jump. Baseball takes work."

I got so angry I started shaking. Against my better judgment, I even brushed past them and made a little comment. And some people think we're a color-blind nation...

Back to the answer. One other piece of misinformation that you see all the time in the boilerplate of Bonds stories: he admitted in his grand jury testimony that he unknowingly used steroids. Wrong! He admitted to taking what he was told was flaxseed oil and arthritis balm. When asked if he thought they were steroids, he testified that Greg Anderson was his friend and he believed the substances were what Greg represented them to be. He never said that yes, they were definitely (or probably) steroids. Now, is his explanation plausible? Or laughable? I don't think you'll find many people who believe him. But to misrepresent what he told the grand jury is a mistake the media should take great care not to make, and it's made routinely.

Q: Given the latest revelations from Pete Rose (he recently admitted he's been lying for years about the extent of his betting on baseball), does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Do you see a difference between Rose and Bonds?

A: This is my 10th year covering MLB, so I'll get my first Hall vote this winter. It's a privilege that I'll cherish and take very seriously. I'll just say this: The Hall of Fame is full of people who did bad things. Cap Anson probably kept the game from being integrated for 30 years before Jackie Robinson came along. The Georgia Peach was no peach. I think anyone who made an impact on the game, even if it wasn't 100 percent positive, should be in. In some ways, my definition of a Hall of Famer is a bit broader than just the statistical debates. It includes cultural considerations. (I think Fernando Valenzuela is more deserving of the Hall than Don Sutton, for example.)

One thing I definitely believe is that the Hall shouldn't be a vehicle for punishment, as it's become with Rose. I won't be able to change that with my ballot, since he's not on it. As for the "steroid guys," I'm really torn. Thankfully I have a few months before I have to make a decision on McGwire, and a few years before Palmeiro, Bonds, etc. are on the ballot. My gut on Bonds is that he's in, because he was a Hall of Famer before the era in which he's suspected of using performance enhancers.

Q: Excluding players and coaches, who's the biggest unsung hero in the Giants organization?

A: Gotta be longtime clubhouse manager Mike Murphy. A major league clubhouse is a very political place, and somehow Murph manages to treat everyone the same. He's an advocate for everyone all the time. His favorite saying is "I don't bother nobody." The other day I saw Yorvit Torrealba on the field. The first thing he said, after hello, was "Where's Murph?" That's pretty typical when former Giants come around.

Clubhouse staff work the most insane hours of anyone in baseball. It's not uncommon to work 18-hour days during the year. Lots of ballparks have little rooms with cots because the clubbies aren't done scrubbing shoes until after midnight then have to be at the park at 6 a.m. getting ready for the next day.

Q: If you weren't covering baseball, what would you be doing?

A: Writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet, or maybe teaching English someplace abroad. Something that involves writing and travel, seeing new places. I'm constantly on the move during a baseball season, but I pine for destinations more exotic than Cincinnati and Milwaukee. If the Giants open next season in Japan or Europe, I'll be the happiest guy of all.

Q: What happened to Rich Draper? Life isn't the same without his prose.

A: Rich is happily entering the golden years of retirement. We always bugged him to join us for drinks or dinner on the road, but he eluded us every time. We finally roped him a few weeks ago to fete him and give him a proper sendoff. Rich definitely has his own unique writing voice. (The Marquis Grissom feature, written Dashiell Hammett-style, was my personal fave.) Hopefully he'll continue to drop in from time to time.



A Few Bits of Tid 

* One question the Giants must answer is whether to start the season with 11 pitchers or 12. The latter seems more likely, what with only two days off in April. Food for thought, however: the LA Times reports the Dodgers will open with 11 pitchers, and they have three days off. What's the big diff? It may come down to confidence in the starters' ability to go deep into games right out of the gate. So far, no Giant starter has gone five innings in a spring game.

* Unless Russ Ortiz goes splat in the next two weeks, he's the fifth starter.

* If you're following the Armando Benitez trade rumors, you've probably heard the name Yusmeiro Petit. A thumbnail profile: A Venezuelan in the Mets organization, Petit baffled scouts by dominating hitters with average stuff and landed on many top-100 prospect lists in 2003-2004. He was traded to Florida in 2005 as part of the Carlos Delgado trade and hasn't fared well since, either at AAA or in a short 26-inning stint last year with the Marlins. Hitters at the highest levels seem to have caught up to his stuff, but he turned 22 in November and has time to make adjustments. He's not an elite prospect anymore, but if the Giants land him for Benitez, it would be significant.

* Bob Eucker has a stalker.

* Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus thinks Freddie got a raw deal:

Frederick Lewis was demoted by the Giants. This decision, while not surprising, reflects choosing yet another dance with Todd Linden instead of a player who can run, who plays defense, and who gets on base at a better clip. Maybe Linden, who reached Triple-A back in 2002, really has turned the corner. The Giants would still be better off with a fourth outfielder who can cover for the three old guys and both hit and run for Bengie Molina. Jason Ellison will be the fourth outfielder, and he’s basically an inferior version of Lewis. Spring performance doesn’t change that. Lewis should be in the majors.

That's confusing. If Sheehan thinks Ellison will be the fourth outfielder, what is Linden? The third-and-a-half outfielder? Ellison is no lock to make the team. With his second-half work last year, Linden has indeed earned a chance to go north in April. Besides, he's out of options, and Lewis isn't. Sloppy work, Joe.



Nor a Lender Be 

The Rangers are changing the name of their ballpark from "Ameriquest Field" (Ameriquest is a mortgage company) to yet another corporate moniker. Take a guess -- Pfizer Pfield? Halliburton Park? ExxonMobil Greens?

The answer is their own: "Rangers Ballpark in Arlington." It's the first case I can remember from this callow age of ubiquitous corporate sponsorship that a stadium has been renamed in the right direction. Will it stay that way, or is this a temporary switch to disassociate the team from a rather, shall we say, subprime partner?

Keep hope alive!

SMALL PRINT UPDATE: Now listening to Sonic Youth live last summer at the Roseland Theatre. Comes with Yngwie Malmsteen shout-out at no extra charge. (It's in the Intro.)


Perhaps Because I Am a Libra... 

...I cannot kick a man when he's down, not for very long at least, unless his name is Neifi, and even then, come on, he is one of the top 1,000 or so baseball players in the world, let's give the guy a bit of a break especially now that he's not on our team. I'm even holding out a scintilla of hope that Pedro Feliz has learned to hit the ball to right field and not swing at the shadows of passing jumbo jets. Heck, I even sent Russ Davis a Chanukah card.

Where was I? Oh yes. Libra, am I. Fair. Balanced. Just.

So when one of my favorite media whipping boys, Bruce Jenkins, whom I have targeted with jokes -- completely unsubstantiated, mind you -- about the old silver flask tucked into his battered gray Chronicle-issue newsroom desk drawer and his disturbing love for men who wear their socks high, when Bruce gets something right, I give props.

Mad, major props. Pra-shizzle-ops, for all you young urban readers out there.

Reading his column in today's Chron, "Giants Need Fast Start," I found myself nodding, more or less, in agreement. Let's try to figure out why:

In a somewhat cruel twist of fate, just as the Giants start to build a respectable young pitching staff, the entire division is on a significant upswing.

Very true. Concisely said. An excellent nut graph, Sir Jenks.

Get out of the gate quickly -- say, 10 wins in the first 15 games -- and the Giants can re-establish a foundation of trust among their fans. If they fall substantially behind in the NL West, you won't find many people feeling good about the season or, more importantly, the future.

The 10-of-15-or-else scenario may be a bit hyperbolic, but I get the general point. This is more about marketing the team the rest of the year. A slow start may turn off the casual fan. This is generally true most years, and it's certainly true that when a team falls way behind, people tend to be pessimistic, but contrary to the standards that columnists generally hold dear, being obvious isn't as bad as being wrong.

Outside of his Cy Young season in 2002 (23-5, 2.75), Zito has never been Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux. He has been a clever, highly competent starter who more than holds up his end.

Again one could say obvious, except that a lot of people (not me, not you, but a lot of people) actually think Zito deserves such lofty comparisons. Good on ya, Bruce, for bursting their bubble.

To expect him to win 25 games, stifling the Mets or Cardinals with two-hit shutouts, simply isn't realistic.

I'd prefer a more sophisticated statistical breakdown, say, "To expect him to regain his dominant strikeout ratio while cutting down on walks, etc etc," but I'll take what I can get. Wins are generally meaningless, but to win 25 in a season, you either have to be the luckiest guy on earth or very very good.

Across the bay, the A's have lost so many great players due to budget constraints or injuries, it boggles the mind -- and they always survive. A single injury -- say, Zito, Cain or even Bonds -- could instantly destroy the Giants' season.

Well, more Bonds than anyone else. But yes, you're right, and without making a "thirtysomething" joke. This is perhaps the crux, the crunchy nugget, the Achilles heel of the Giants season. One injury, and blam. Perhaps no team is as dependent on "health luck" as the Giants.

Take an honest look at the NL West and try to find a category where the Giants have a clear-cut edge. It certainly isn't youth, farm system, speed, starting pitching, run production, defense or the bullpen.

It certainly isn't. Thank you, Bruce, for not including gamefaces or mental toughness or clubhouse chemistry or veteran savvy in that list.

Bonds, believe it or not, is the only man in the division with a full-fledged power reputation. The No. 2 guy would be Jeff Kent, followed by Todd Helton, and then it's pretty much over.

Hmm. Todd Helton, not full-fledged in the power department? His home run totals have dropped the last two years at least in part due to injury, but ahem, so have Barry Bonds's. Averaging 35 HRs a year for seven years seems mighty fledged to me. And did Bruce snooze through the Rockies games last year? I wouldn't blame him, but, hello? Matt Holliday? Garrett Atkins? These names ring a bell?

Colorado's strength won't ever be pitching, not in that ballpark...

Maybe, maybe not, but it would be nice if he acknowledged that the Rockies have a quietly effective closer in Brian Fuentes and their starters were surprisingly good last year. Also scoring at Coors Field, though still above league average, was the lowest last year that it's been all decade.

...But the Rockies are drawing heavy praise from some longtime Denver skeptics, largely due to Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzki and the other solid young hitting talents in camp.

Holliday isn't just a guy "in camp" -- he actually got some MVP votes last year. Again, I quibble.

Given that the Giants' offense contains only two legitimate cornerstones -- Roberts' speed and Bonds' power -- a few surprises need to occur. Ray Durham has to stay healthy all season. Pedro Feliz needs to develop more plate discipline and wear his socks higher.

OK, you got me, I added that last bit about the socks. I couldn't resist. I get so antsy when Jenkins makes so many legitimate points in a row.

The Giants would also appear to be at a severe disadvantage in short relief, at least when measured against the Dodgers' Takashi Saito and the Padres' Trevor Hoffman (with all-world setup).


But there is hope for scrappy Brian Wilson, who really wants to take a stranglehold on the thing, and perhaps even Tim Lincecum, whose entire package screams "closer," at least for this year.

I won't argue for now with the idea of Wilson as closer, or even Lincecum, but I object to the image of Lincecum's package screaming "closer."

Jenkins hasn't paid much attention to the Rockies, and he ends by circling back to the obvious: start fast or people won't support the team as much. At least his point runs counter to the Giants' hand-waving and the blatant PR-ness of the Zito overspend. A little subversive sand in the vaseline, sprinkled with some surprisingly matter-of-fact assessment of the strength of the N.L. West: keep up the decent work, Bruce.



The Existential Dread of the Daily Blogger 

Over at McCovey Chronicles, Grant encapsulates the boredom of spring training, or as Sartre once wrote, l'inexprimable ennui de l'entrainement du printemps, with this post. As the famous rap song says, "Self-deconstruction, you're headed for self-deconstruction."

No less existential is my interview with Merc beat writer Andy Baggarly. Here's part 2.

Q: If you retired tomorrow from sports reporting, which players would you invite to dinner just to hang out and talk about anything other than baseball?

A: I'd have to start with Omar Vizquel. Maybe we could go to a museum before dinner. I'd love to hear his comments on all the pieces. Plus I've been to his house (for a story about his artwork). I guess it's only fair I invite him to mine.

Ed. note: Unless you read Baggarly's story in print, you missed these photos from Vizquel's house:

Q: Does Brian Sabean read blogs? Can I send him coded messages? What about the other executives?

A: Ha! Somehow I doubt it. Bloggers are by definition part of the Lunatic Fringe, right? Seriously though, the Giants probably obsess more about fan opinion than most organizations. The front office often takes the temperature of fans, but mostly it's the season ticket holders they poll. Makes sense -- they're chipping in about $50,000 more per year than the average blogger (if you count the seat license).

There's a fair amount of misinformed comments on some of the blogs, but by most accounts I'm very impressed with the fans that post on the sites. Most are curious, know baseball and are hilarious to read. (Will someone get E to switch to decaf?) And wow, do they want details. Contract stuff, minor league stuff, every kind of statistical analysis, it's amazing. I think the biggest impact bloggers can have is their grassroots appeal. If you see 5,000 fans wearing Benitez Nattoware at a game, it's going to get noticed. Same with the Mays Field campaign.

Q: When we hear of a trade rumor in the paper, how often is it something concrete, with real interest on both sides, and how often is it just an idea someone is floating to see what happens? Who floats them, and why?

A: Great question. The best answer is all of the above. There are times I'll think of a trade that might make sense and poke around by asking a writer or executive with another club. (The Marlins and Benitez being a good example, and there turned out to be some smoke there.) But generally it's looked down upon for a writer to "throw something against the wall." I won't stick a name out there unless I know the player has been scouted or mentioned in trade discussions. That's a pretty broad brush. If the Giants call Boston and ask about Manny Ramirez, that makes it fair game -- even if there's a 99.999 percent chance a trade wouldn't happen.

So why write it? Partially to cover your ass in case it happens, and partially because people loooooove trade rumors. (Except the players' families.) Even though it borders on infotainment at times like the winter meetings, I always strive to characterize trade or free-agent rumors accurately. In print, there's a big difference between "discussions" and "serious discussions."

One other example occurred to me: This winter, I knew the Giants needed a middle-of-the-order hitter and Pat Burrell had been on the block for some time. He's a Bay Area native, too. So I cold-called his agent and he told me that Pat would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to SF. Mind you, I had no information that the Giants had done anything more than kick around Burrell's name in internal discussions. But the fact Burrell was willing to waive his no-trade (something he previously had said he would only do for the Red Sox or Yankees) gave me a news entry to write the story. It became a good "talker" and had legs for a few weeks. A trade didn't happen, but nothing in the story was incorrect because I didn't overstate the situation.

Q: Why do you think Sabean has such a schizophrenic track record with trades: brilliant from '97 to '02, then almost nothing in his favor since?

A: Trades are like the weather. There's a certain amount of random chance involved. I can only speculate, but there might be a couple factors beyond luck that have contributed to his dry spell. 1. He has fewer prospects to trade because the team punted so many draft picks over the past five years. 2. The culture has changed. He just doesn't have as much in common with this younger generation of GMs, which makes it harder to brainstorm deals that can actually get consecrated. 3. Ned Colletti is in L.A.. There's no underestimating the impact of that move. 4. The Giants have to win now. Sabean can't afford to make certain kinds of deals, especially one that would be unpopular in the short term. The Matt Williams deal is a perfect example. Do you think Sabean could do that today? Hell no.

Q: Because of the crazy salary escalation, has trading become a much smaller part of a GM's strategy?

A: It depends on your market size, to an extent. If you're the Twins, you develop what you need and trade to fill the gaps. If you're the Yankees, it's much easier to buy what you want. The biggest problem with making trades is that young players under cost control have become insanely valuable commodities. You just don't see those four-prospect-for-a-star trades often anymore. Look at the Freddy Garcia/Gavin Floyd swap. That was all about the White Sox getting some cost control.

One of the most beautiful things in baseball is a well constructed trade that helps both teams. I'm sure some GMs are frustrated by all the financial impediments that keep deals from happening and have become dissuaded from spending, or wasting, so much time on them. But I think the best GMs in the in the game are still constantly looking to make deals like these, and occasionally they pull them off.

To be continued...



The Clenched SFist Is a Symbol of Defiance in Some Cultures 

Grant and Lefty down by the schoolyard: our SFist conversation, part 3. Please note that the editor of the SFist picked the Dodgers to win the division. I think he's angling for a promotion to run the LAist. Also please note the only comment on the message board as of 6:46 pm was a spam ad from a local race track, while as of this morning, the latest post on Gavin Newsom's new g-whizza Jen Siebel had more than 400 comments. It's now public and official: baseball bloggers are total dorkbots.


Springtime for Baggarly, Part 1 

I've never been to spring training, though much of what it's about -- the leisurely pace, the re-emergence of grass and sun, the loose camaraderie of players not yet under eye-popping pressure -- is what I love most about baseball. The simple act of finally playing catch again.

But spring training is now part of MLB's big business, and reporters are obliged to file daily to feed the hunger for news of roster maneuvers, slight injuries and trade hints that rotisserie leagues and bloggers (guilty as charged) stir up 24/7.

To get a taste of what it's like to cover a team day in and day out, I asked Andrew Baggarly, Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News, to submit to a Q&A. Here's the first part:

El Lefty Malo: Give us a sense of your day during spring training. What time do you get to the park, what are your deadlines? How does that change during the season?

Baggarly: Spring training is the one time of year I work "normal" hours. Before games start, the clubhouse is open at 8 or 9 a.m. most days. I usually do the rounds collecting notes or just chatting with players, then when the workout begins, one of us (Chris Haft is the most frequent volunteer) usually makes a coffee and bagel run. The morning is spent transcribing interviews, which is the part of the job I hate most. During the season, I don't have to do much transcribing because most interviews have to do with daily or game stuff, you're on a tight deadline and you're just going off notes.

But we write features every other day in spring, so most interviews are in-depth and I always use a tape recorder for those. It takes most of the morning just to assemble all the material you need to write a feature. Usually I can get a fair amount of writing done in the morning too. They start throwing bullpens and BP around 11. I usually go on the field or walk to the right field deck to watch. It's always good to watch bullpens the first few days after pitchers and catchers report. You never know when a $126 million pitcher will invent a totally new delivery!

About 1 p.m., Bochy is available in the dugout. Then I go back into the clubhouse to see if any players are left. This is the best time for long interviews, like a 45-minute sit-down I had with Bengie Molina for the bigger piece I wrote on him. These usually need to be set up a day or two in advance, though. This time of the spring, I'm usually done by 3 p.m.

After exhibition games start, one problem is that I can't watch every inning of every game. The players shower and go home when their work is done, and for the starting pitcher and many regulars, that means they're gone long before the game ends. So we usually are allowed in the clubhouse around the fifth or sixth inning to talk to the starting pitcher. The other day, Bonds held court for 45 minutes while the game was still on.

This isn't normally a big problem since the later innings of Cactus League games aren't too important. But it has some drawbacks. For instance, I've seen Scott Munter pitch just once this spring.

For road games, I have to leave early to make sure I get a seat in the press box and a parking spot. Some places like HoHoKam get slammed. Ditto Seattle because they have a lot of Japanese media members. Unless it's a trip to Tucson, I'm pretty much done by 6 p.m. every day. There are plenty of fine dining establishments in the Scottsdale area, but I like to cook too and I'm renting a house so I've got all the facilities to have quiet evenings in whenever I like.

The biggest difference between spring and the season is that you're never on deadline during spring training. That doesn't mean I can send stuff in whenever I feel like it. The office wants to get feature copy in early because they're scrambling with other late stuff (late-breaking news, NBA, NHL, etc.) when getting close to press time. Still, any deadlines I'm under are pretty soft. It's a lot different than having to file a story the instant the game ends.

Q: I've heard the longer you cover a sport, the less a fan you become. Is that true?

A: Unfortunately, I think this is true to some extent. I was a huge, huge, HUGE Cubs fan growing up and skipped many a college class to sit in the Wrigley Field bleachers. The first few times I covered games at Wrigley, I could barely contain myself. That's sort of gone away. If I see Ron Santo in the press box, I don't get starry-eyed or ask for an autograph. We're both professionals, which means I have to turn the "fan" part of my brain off. So I really can't be a Cubs fan anymore, nor am I.

Like I often tell people, the only team I root for is the one leading after eight innings. As you might imagine, late lead changes are a killer on deadline. (A quick aside: I covered the Dodgers the year Eric Gagne won the Cy Young and never blew a save...I think the last two years of Benitez are payback from the baseball gods!)

But while you can't really be a fan of any team, I do think I'm a bigger baseball fan than ever before, because I know so many people within the game and I appreciate all of its nuances so much more. It's easy for people in any entertainment-type business to get jaded, and sportswriters are not particularly good at avoiding that. You hear a lot of griping in press boxes. But I always consider it a privilege to do what I do and I don't think it's hard to keep up my enthusiasm for the game. Still, it's a long season, and some days you can't help but feel worn down by the travel.

Q: Is it a challenge not to become too friendly with the players and thus compromise your ability to report potentially awkward or negative stories?

A: The most important thing you can be is professional. That works both ways. I had one player in the Giants clubhouse come up to me this spring and he wondered why we didn't rip the team harder last year. I think most of the players who "get it" know that when I'm writing with a negative slant, it's because the team isn't winning or the player isn't performing. It's not personal.

As long as you're fair and not taking cheap shots or writing with some semblance of schadenfreude, they shouldn't be ticked off. Yeah, I think it's possible to get too chummy with players, but you have to be outgoing and friendly. A good reporter seeks to develop a rapport with every person in the room. You can't get them to open up and share things unless they feel comfortable with you and believe that you'll treat them with fairness.

Q: Was it tough going back into the Giants clubhouse after you broke the story about pitchers' friction with A.J. Pierzynski?

A: It's a weird feeling to know the team is holding closed-door meetings and changing their pre-game routine because of a story you wrote. But my job is to take people inside the clubhouse and let them know what's going on behind those doors, and it was pretty obvious the situation with the catcher was affecting the team on and off the field.

It might be obvious, but it takes a few episodes like this in a reporter's career to understand that people aren't going to like everything you write. You can't worry about that. You have to have a thick skin. That wasn't always easy for me because I consider myself a people pleaser. But I came to understand that as long as I was fair and accurate, it didn't matter if people got upset at me for something I wrote. Everything in that story was 100 percent accurate and sourced up multiple times, so I had nothing to worry about.

I will say that in retrospect, I wish I had handled one aspect of that situation better: When I asked the catcher about his relationship with the staff, the questions were of a general nature. I didn't confront him with some of the specific accusations that several pitchers had told me, and I owed him that. Maybe I was afraid he'd go ballistic on me, then everyone in the clubhouse -- including other reporters -- would notice. It wasn't done that way out of any malice, but it wasn't the right way to handle it. If I had to do it all over again, I would have been more upfront with him before writing the story.

Q: When we hear that a player is out with a "stomach flu" or "food poisoning," how often is it the kind of flu Mickey Mantle used to get after spending a night out with Whitey Ford?

A: Oh, I'd imagine it happens from time to time, but I'd suspect the medical excuse is usually valid. Players take such better care of themselves these days. Plus, the Giants have been an older team and many have kids, which means colds and flus.

I've never covered up for a player, nor would I. If I suspect something is amiss, I'll do some digging. But nobody's going to come out and say that such-and-such was on a bender last night. It's kind of like the steroid era. It's irresponsible to write conjecture, which is why it took so long for that story to blossom.

To be continued...



Use Your SFist and Not Your Mouth 

Grant and Lefty parley-voo Giants, Part 2. The more time I spend on SFist, the more I get aggravated after reading the Zipcar ad that says, "350 hours a year having sex," because, really, come on, that's an hour a day nearly every day, or two hours a day every other day. Does anyone really do that? What? Everyone except me? Great.


On Your Toes and Hit that Line! 

Road trip to Fresno, anyone? Not to see the Bulldogs, sorry. But it's quite possible that the triple-A Fresno Grizzlies could start the year as entertaining as their big-league affiliate and provide a sneak peek at the Giants a year from now.

As reported yesterday, Jonathan Sanchez is being groomed this spring to start, which means he probably won't join the big-league bullpen next month. That's not a bad thing. His future is as a starter, so best to give him a few months at least to refine his game within a splitter's distance of the confluence of the Mighty 99 and the Yosemite Freeway.

With Tim Lincecum also likely to start the year as a FrezzGrizz, and a few other promising prospects (or at least entertaining, in the case of Erick Threets who throws 100 MPH but with control problems) optioned yesterday to AAA, here's a best guess at the ones worth watching come April in Fresno:

Pat Misch

Billy Sadler

Nate Schierholtz
Eddie Martinez-Esteve
Fred Lewis

Eugenio Velez
Travis Ishikawa

It's not too much a stretch to pencil Sanchez and Lincecum into the Giant rotation in 2008, Sadler and Misch into the bullpen, and Lewis and EME into the outfield rotation. Longer shots in my book are Ishikawa, Schierholtz and Threets.

The Giants may surprise us by keeping Lewis, Sadler or any of the three starting pitchers this April, but I doubt it. For those who don't follow prospects closely, one guy worth watching is Velez, whom the Giants plucked from the Toronto farm system in the Rule 5 draft last year, stashed in low-A ball, and watched tear up the Sally League. Problem is, he's relatively old -- 25 this May. It's a long way from low-A to AAA, and just as far again to the bigs. Can he do well against his peers? I've heard he might be moved from second base, where he's been wreaking havoc all spring, to the outfield a la Alfonso Soriano, so keep an eye not only on how he hits in Fresno but where he plays defense.

While we're in Fresno, I really want to check out this place, too. I hope you don't mind.



Ich Bin Ein SFist 

Part one of a preseason discussion with me, El Lefty Malo, and the handsome, mysterious Grant Macronico, is now available to download for your eyeballs on SFist.com.

And no, neither one of us is Gavin Newsom's new girlfriend.


Cy Younger 

[Ed. Note: I've made a few changes to the following post. Thanks to A. Baggarly for the gentle corrections.]

Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News [not Oakland Trib, though because of corporate ownership, his work appears there, too] has nailed down the details of the Matt Cain contract in today's report. The big picture: if Cain triggers the fifth-year option and all the escalators, he'll earn $17.75 million through 2011.

The breakdown:

2007: $400,000
2008: $700,000
2009: $2.65 million
2010: $4.25 million

* $1 million signing bonus, which I'll count as next year's salary [not this year's, as it's due to Cain in Jan. '08] on the chart to the right.
* 2011 club option for $6.25 million that vests if one of five conditions are met. The conditions are complicated; all but the final condition include Cy Young votes, and a DL stint due to arm injury at the end of 2010 would void the option unless Cain is that year's Cy Young winner or he throws full seasons in both '09 and '10.
* Escalators: the option can rise to as much as $8.15 million. He can add $200,000 to his pay in '09 and $400,000 in '10 if he makes 32 starts or pitches 210 innings.

Other notes: Baggarly also reports that Jonathan Sanchez continues to build up arm strength to start, not to relieve. He could begin the year in the AAA rotation. If so, I'd guess Jack Taschner has the inside track on coming north.


PM UPDATE: No surprise, but Todd Linden seems close to making the team as fourth outfielder. Bruce Bochy says as much here. He's been playing Linden in center field this spring, which could be bad news for Jason Ellison. The more comfortable Linden gets in center, the less need the Giants have for Ellison.



Records Were Made to Be Broken 

We're getting close to seeing some of the open roster spots nailed down. Brad Hennessey not only thinks Russ Ortiz has "pretty much locked up" the fifth-starter job, he also wants to be traded.

Jason Ellison is forcing his consideration as a bench player. Armando Benitez has returned to active duty, presumably under the scrutiny of many opposing teams' scouts.

I'll wait a few more days to assess the various camp competitions. Here's another to consider: Best Album by a Recently-Hired Giant Employee or Spouse Thereof.

The nominations:
Finding My Way
The Wayward Wind

Vote early, vote often.



Use 'Em or Lose 'Em 

Steve Goldman, who writes a Yankees blog for the Yes Network, takes up the debate I highlighted a couple days ago: should phenom pitchers be forced to hone their craft in the minors even if they're pretty damn good already? Goldman applies the question to Yankees' wunderkind, 20-year-old Phil Hughes. His answer: Bring him on.

The Yankees will expend a great deal of mental energy on trying to figure out when Hughes is "ready" — he has yet to pitch above Double-A — and yet he probably is ready, an anxious spring training debut last Thursday notwithstanding. Ninety-nine percent of pitching prospects go through their entire professional lives without having a month resembling Hughes's career line. Expecting further progress is a bit like saying, "We have Tom Seaver right now, but we think we could get Roger Clemens."

So the rumble builds to bring Tim Lincecum north in three weeks, an anxious spring training debut yesterday notwithstanding. In the article hereby linked, note that Craig Counsell was not impressed.

"He's got a good arm. I don't think he was that good today," Counsell said. "I've heard some people talking about him. You can see it, but I don't think he was on top of his game."

Asked if he was surprised to see so much power from such a little body, Counsell said, "There are no bonus points for throwing hard because you're small. You've got to make pitches. Guys who make pitches get outs."

Let's see how Lincecum fares the next two or three times out. Strikeouts against the opposing pitcher don't count. If he seems ready, the big question becomes: starter or reliever? I open the floor to debate.


SMALL PRINT UPDATE: Just added to the link list is Joe Posnanski's The Soul of Baseball. Posnanski covers -- or used to cover, I'm not quite sure -- the Royals for the K.C. Star and is using the blog to promote his new book of the same name. He's also one of the best baseball writers in the land.

Now reading: Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart. So far it's total farce, which is great. John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my faves. In fact, Shteyngart's protagonist, the obese, Hamlet-esque, bicultural Misha (a.k.a. Snack Daddy), reminds me of Ignatius J. Reilly transported into a tale of post-Soviet, post-9/11 misadventure capitalism. Like Toole, Shteyngart makes me laugh out loud at least once every few pages. But to make farce work over the length of a novel, it needs depth, darkness, complexity, and nearly 100 pages in, I'm starting to feel the fabric stretch a bit thin.



Bonds Third, Durham Fourth 

According to reports from Arizona this morning, Bruce Bochy is testing a lineup with Barry Bonds in the third slot, somwhere Bonds hasn't been since 2002. Bochy's reasons are sound: get Bonds up in the first inning and get him his subsequent at-bats earlier, which gives Bochy more flexibility in bringing in a defensive sub.

Ray Durham will still bat behind Bonds, as the cleanup guy. One other lineup note: there's talk about batting Randy Winn eighth because of Benjie Molina's lack of speed. Molina is so slow, it's difficult for a pitcher to bunt him to second. And even if Molina reaches second, he's no lock to score from second on a basehit.

Here's one possible lineup against RHP:

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

Against lefty starters, the picture is less clear. According to Todd Linden, whose quotes -- often wondering what the Giants are thinking -- have been all over the papers recently, the Giants still think he's better as a RH hitter. He may get the bulk of his starts against LHP and as a CF, where he's been playing a lot so far this spring.

Roberts has always sat against tough lefties, which will undoubtedly continue under Bochy. But who will lead off in his absence? And will Feliz and Klesko platoon, with Klesko 1B/Aurilia 3B against righties and Aurilia 1B/Feliz 3B against lefties?

Here's one possible lineup against LHP:

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


PM UPDATE: SI.com has a profile of Barry Zito worth reading. As player profiles go, it's not pure fluff, with some insight into his new delivery (yes, he has made some subtle changes) and his role as P.R. distraction and mentor (he took Matt Cain out for drinks at the Redwood Room in the Clift Hotel).



The Other Side of Tinstaapp 

No, we're not talking about a remote islet in the Dutch Antilles.

For those of you not familiar with the acronym TINSTAAPP -- There Is No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect -- it was coined by Baseball Prospectus writer Gary Huckabay several years ago and is frequently used to squash overenthusiasm about bright young pitchers making waves in the minor leagues.

It's used as shorthand for "Pitchers get injured far more often than hitters, so don't get too excited. One year you're Tim Lincecum, the next you're Brien Taylor."

Yesterday, Huckabay revisited the meaning of TINSTAAPP in a BP article, part of a series the site is running called "Hope and Faith" that asks what it will take for each team to win the World Series this year. Huckabay takes on the Giants. You can read his assessment of the team here, and you can read a discussion of the story here.

I won't get into his five-point plan. Instead I want to highlight Huckabay's reminder that there's a second piece to TINSTAAPP: because pitchers are more fragile, it's a good idea to use the best ones early. A 22-year-old (like Lincecum) carving his way through the minors (like Lincecum) is more likely to be as good as he's ever going to get, says Huckabay, than a 22-year-old hitter raking balls all over the double-A Eastern League. Because of the injury factor -- the inevitable wear and tear on a pitcher's body -- it's foolish to waste that phenom pitcher's talent in the minors.

In other words, There Is No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect, because once a true prospect is indentified, he should quickly be a major leaguer and no longer a prospect.

Huckabay then applies it directly to Tim Lincecum: "...guys who are totally blowing people away in the minors like they’re so many hot dog pretenders before Kobayashi are absolutely not pitching prospects -- they’re already pitchers, and more time in the minors only means time off the living, pulsating clocks that are their labrums, rotator cuffs, and elbows. No pressure, but Tim Lincecum in 2007 = Johan Santana in 2003, if the Giants are going to go anywhere. There’s nobody that doesn’t know that without Lincecum, the Giants aren’t going to win. Some of us might not want to admit it, but c’mon."

Huckabay's premise seems to feed the short-term, win-now mentality that keeps a team like the Giants from rebuilding and maximizing future health. He basically says use it or lose it, damn the long-term consequences. If Lincecum is ready, of course bring him up. But as a general rule, I'm not convinced. Any thoughts?

* Quote of the day: Russ Ortiz told the Chronicle's Gwen Knapp he had lost weight by cutting sugar out of his diet. He said he expected to lose 5 to 6 pounds and dropped 12 to 13 instead. "That was pretty much it, so it goes to show you how much sugar I was eating," he said. "...I always used to eat whatever I wanted and work out, and it kind of evened out."

* My favorite shill has left the blogosphere. Rich Draper, who "covered" the Giants for MLB.com, is no longer providing a wealth of purple prose for our amusement. New "beat writer" Chris Haft (who used to cover the Giants for the Merc) has taken over. Let's remember Draper fondly, shall we?



I've Got Me a Date with Botticelli's Niece 

A couple years ago Oakland Trib beat writer Andrew Baggarly broke the news that AJ Pierzynski was a jerk-face. OK, maybe not "broke," but certainly "reinforced."

Baggarly took some heat at the time -- by the typical fandoids who say sports reporters should stick to telling us about the games played on the fields, courts, and ice -- but his story was a touchstone that year. It turned out the guy who outed AJ, Brett Tomko, wasn't exactly Mr. Wonderful, although he won back a lot of points in my book for his artistic touch.

Now Baggarly has struck again, revealing the truth about another Giant whose eccentricities may have his teammates scratching their heads. It turns out Omar Vizquel is a major artist, and not just with the glove. This isn't breaking news; I've seen previous mentions of Omar's artistic inclinations.

But Baggarly devotes a full feature, visiting Vizquel's suburban Seattle home, which was designed around a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. He's not just a charcoal pony sketcher, not just a wearer of outrageous duds, not just a groovy musician, but a multi-talented, intellectually curious, creative dude. His media include acrylic paints, marble, fallen trees, and bronze. He goes crazy in the art store and once even used a chain saw.

Please note that he is not such an aesthete as to dismiss worldly pleasures, especially those to which his teammates -- or 90% of them, statistically speaking, if you know what I mean -- can relate: "My favorite thing to paint," he says, "are the naked ladies."


Mo' Mound Mechanics: The hard cheese of Matt Cain. Includes video breakdown, with side-by-side comparison to Dice-K -- a must-see. Thanks to this McCoven post for the link and subsequent discussion.



Noise Pop 

The Matt Cain contract is 4 years, $9 million, plus a mysterious 5th year option that includes "escalators." For some reason whenever I hear that word in relation to baseball contracts I think of the shoes David Bowie wore in Ziggy Stardust. I know, those are "platforms." Talk to my neuropsychologist. Or perhaps my cognitive therapist. Or my pharmacist. Speaking of which, I'll be consulting these Pharmacists tonight.

Back to the contract: Other than the years and total dollars, we still don't know the details, including the year-over-year pay scale. Very frustrating.

I was way off with my 5 year, $26 M prediction, unless the option and escalators boosts the contract significantly. And it could -- Lowry's option is $6.25 million but bonuses could bump it to $7.75 M with the total value of the contract reaching $17 M. But it seems nearly impossible for Cain to earn what I had predicted.

Bottom line: This is a great deal. They're overpaying a bit for two more years in order to get a hell of a bargain through 2011. (Assuming Cain stays healthy, of course.)



People Play Baseball. Numbers Don't. 

Since people are finally playing baseball today, the first day of spring-training games, I thought I'd start off by quoting the New York Times resident curmudgeon Murray Chass, who railed two days ago against "new-age" things such as certain baseball statistics with funny names. He really doesn't like VORP.

I admit, VORP does sound funny. VORP VORP VORP! Snicker-snack, it's so Jabberwockian! But "ERA" sounds funny, too, especially when you think about baseball pitchers who chew tabacky and rub liniment on their arms getting confused with pissed-off women burning their bras on the streets of Washington.

I caricature because I love. As do the fellows at Fire Joe Morgan, who eviscerate Murray Chass here. I'll let them carry most of the water in making the argument, but dammit, why do people like Chass bury their head in the sand when it comes to new statistics? Batting average is a statistic, ERA is a statistic, saves is a statistic. Chass (and others like him, some who read this site) feel quite comfortable quoting those stats.

And they're not even good stats. Certainly batting average: it's a terrible way to make a strong, precise evaluation of a player's worth. Why the resistance to newer, perhaps better stats? When you were eight, you spent a few minutes learning how to calculate batting average. Why not take a few minutes now, in the adult phase of your development cycle, to understand VORP? It's a pretty handy concept.

I end with a full quote from Chass's column: "I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein. People play baseball. Numbers don’t."

Threat? Undermine? Substitute "Communism" for "new-age statistics" and you have a McCarthyite rant. Swap in "atheism" for "new-age statistics" and you have paranoid Bible-thumping. And if you think I'm trying to knock down a strawman, consider that beyond whoever writes about baseball for USA Today, Chass may be the most widely-read baseball scribe in the land.


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