Ain't No Haft Steppin' 

And who's pitching tonight? Big Daddy Cain.

But on to today's topic. As you may know, former Mercury News beat writer Chris Haft has taken over for longtime Malo whipping boy Rich Draper as the MLB "reporter" who covers the Giants. Despite the disclaimers on every story that the work is not subject to approval of MLB or its clubs, Draper turned the job into a fascinating exercise in toadyism. His mix of purple prose and embarrassing praise became a kind of art form, and I miss the big lunk.

New guy Haft is much more reasonable, but in his most recent mailbag column, I detected the first major whiff of corporate lackeyhood.

The first questioner asks about the possibility of Todd Linden soon taking over for Randy Winn and slags Sabean for Winn's contract extension. (It kicked in this year and pays Randy $23 M through 2009.)

Writes the reader: Winn will never live up to the contract Brian Sabean foolishly gave him for one uncharacteristically good month, and the sooner Linden gets in the starting lineup, the better.

Haft responds with a warning that he's going to get grouchy, then he backtracks to praise the question:

I have written that Linden appears poised to play himself into a more prominent role, so I'll acknowledge that what you suggested is a possibility.

Then he unbacktracks.

But I can't stand second-guessing, and that's what you're doing by criticizing the Winn signing.

Unless you know how someone first-guessed, you can't accuse him of second-guessing. Plenty of people criticized the Winn extension at the time it was signed. (As usual, I tried to weasel my way out of a grand pronouncement: "The Winn extension isn't too bad unless his big paychecks in '08 and '09 prevent the Giants from signing a game-changing superduperstar.")

The questioner might have been far more critical than I was back then, in which case he isn't second-guessing now. He's just bitching. And for good reason. It was a foolish contract, which Haft torturously tries to defend.

Given the finish Winn had in 2005 -- and by the way, it was two months, not one -- there's not a general manager in the Majors who wouldn't have tried to retain him.

Yes there is, and his name's Beane, Billy Beane, although no doubt there are others, especially at nearly $8 M a year with generous no-trade privileges. If Haft were the captain of the U.S.S. Critical Thinking, he would have just abandoned ship with that previous sentence.

Winn's batting only .194, but he's using the whole field and trying to bunt for hits, so at least he's thinking up there.

Using the whole field to make outs instead of using one teeny-tiny sliver of it. That's thinking! And since when does Bunting for Hits = Thinking? Does Barry Bonds, who prefers hitting home runs over bunting, not think up there? Why no, he's known to be one of the smartest hitters ever to play baseball.

Again, Linden might ultimately eclipse Winn in right field, but if that happens, it'll be because he earned it, not because of some knee-jerk judgment.

I hate knee-jerk judgments, like, oh, I don't know, giving an historically mediocre player a three-year, $23 M contract extension based on the two most abnormal months of his career?

And if Linden "eclipses" Winn this year, so what, you might ask. The Giants can trade Winn and open a spot....unless Randy says no. According to this site, he has a full no-trade clause this year and limited no-trade rights in 2008-2009. Was the no-trade the only thing that kept Randy Winn from signing with Cleveland or Pittsburgh or the Yankees or the Bridgeport Bluefish? No: he signed his extension in February 2006, eight months before he was scheduled to become a free agent.

I can see Sabean -- or an apologist like Haft -- arguing that it was worth the calculated risk that Winn's two spectacular months presaged a career bump. By locking him up at roughly $8 M a year, the Giants hoped to catch lightning in a bottle. OK, fine, but at least admit the lightning has so far been more like a fluorescent bulb. Without the cost savings associated with fluorescent bulbs.

There, I'm done being grouchy.

Me, too. Let's talk about something happier, like Pedro Feliz getting traded.


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