Giants Get Younger - and Smarter
by Glenn Dickey
Jun 13, 2005

BRIAN SABEAN insisted the Giants weren’t giving up on the season as they announced changes that will make them younger. He’s right. The only chance the Giants have to get back in the NL West race is by going young. The old guys weren’t cutting it.

Can anyone doubt, for instance, that the Giants will be better served by having Lance Niekro play most of the time at first, even against right-handed pitchers?

Niekro has shown he belongs in the majors, and he has the kind of power a first baseman needs. J. T. Snow, who always had marginal power numbers for a first baseman, has declined even more as a hitter this season, not hitting for average or for power.

Snow was an important part of the Giants’ success in the recent past, but only so long as Jeff Kent was here. Kent and Snow had a perfect symbiotic relationship. Because Kent had power numbers far beyond those of a normal middle infielder, the Giants could afford Snow’s relative lack of power. At the same time, Snow’s great range in the field compensated for Kent’s lack of range.

Now, though, the Giants have had corner infielders – Snow and Edgardo Alfonzo – with very little power. They can’t afford that. That’s why I’ve been advocating for some time that Alfonzo be moved to second, putting Pedro Feliz on third. With Feliz and Niekro at the corners, the Giants would have the power they need. (As I write this, early Monday morning, there is a chance that Alfonzo might be put on the disabled list).

If the Giants put Feliz at third, they could then bring up Todd Linden, who has been leading the Pacific Coast League in homers at Fresno, and play him every day. Again, that strengthens the team now, as well as giving the Giants a headstart on the younger team they’ll have to put on the field next year. Linden has been up with the Giants for short stretches in each of the past two seasons, but he wasn’t quite ready. Now, he is. He’s having by far the best season of the three he’s spent in Fresno, and he should be up here.

The Giants are stuck with two mistakes, Alfonzo and Ray Durham; Alfonzo is signed through 2006 and Durham has a player option for next year, which he will almost certainly exercise. The Giants have been trying to get something out of both players, but making decisions based on economics doesn’t do much to help a team win. They’re probably going to have to eat one of those contracts, which is better than trying to pretend they’re helping the team.

THE GIANTS are also getting younger with their pitching staff, releasing relievers Matt Herges and Jim Brower, with young pitchers Scott Munter and Jack Taschner, who was lights-out as a closer in Fresno, taking their place, and Jesse Foppert being recalled from Fresno to start Tuesday’s game.

About time.

Before Sabean could finally admit the reality of the season, he traded Jerome Williams and David Aardsma for the shell-shocked LaTroy Hawkins.

The Giants front office is adept at feeding off-the-record “information” to the media about pitchers they trade. I fell for that myself when Russ Ortiz was traded and I was told that the club feared his pitching motion would cause him problems in the future. Sure has. Ortiz has won more games the past three seasons than any Giants starter.

This time, the word that was passed was that they were afraid Williams’ motion would cause him arm problems and that Aardsma’s future isn’t bright because he hasn’t learned another pitch to complement his fast ball. Both of those assessments have appeared in print. Doesn’t mean they’re right, though.

Sabean had to go for one more veteran spasm before he could be realistic, recalling Al Levine from the minors. Levine had had a great spring training, but we soon saw how much that meant when he pitched last week at PacBell and got lit up. Thankfully, he’s been released.

Meanwhile, the Giants had been reduced to starting 42-year-old Jeff Fassero, who should be in the bullpen. Foppert has to be an improvement, and he has a good upside. Perhaps, in the second half of the season, we’ll also see Matt Cain up with the Giants.

We’re probably stuck with Kirk Rueter for the rest of the season, but hopefully, the Giants won’t bring him back next year. I know he’s a great guy but it’s past time for the Giants to recognize that he’s just not a very good pitcher.

SABEAN’S MOVES also make it clear that he’s finally given up on the idea that the Giants’ veterans lineup could stay close enough to get back in the race when Barry Bonds returns. Fourteen losses in 16 games provided the Giants GM with a harsh dose of reality.

Giamts management has always feared that going through a rebuilding phase would drive away fans, but the current team had been doing that, anyway. I had to laugh when announcer Dave Flemming made a point of talking about every seat being occupied for Sunday’s game. That was obviously scripted by Giants management because the official crowd counts last week, which are really the tickets sold, were so much higher than the actual number of people in the stands.

Fans have been turned off because this old, old club, without Barry, was boring. The younger players being inserted into the team now will bring a charge of energy, as well as hope for the future. The Giants will be much more fun to watch now – and I think they’ll be more successful, too.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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