What's Really Important for A's, Giants
by Glenn Dickey
Jun 17, 2005

IN THE press box during Thursday’s A’s game, former A's second baseman Shooty Babbit expressed an opinion that is held by many A’s and Giants fans: The only thing that counts is winning the World Championship.

“Don’t talk to me about how many regular season games you win,’’ said Babbit, now a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who also works with Marty Lurie on “Inside Baseball Saturday Night” on KFRC, broadcast live from Crogan's in Montclair. “It doesn’t mean anything unless you win the whole thing.”

If we were talking NFL or NBA, where teams start with relatively equal payrolls because of the salary cap, I’d agree. Though the 49ers like to blame their problems on the cap, it’s really bad decision-making that has killed them, and the off-season flap with their “training video” doesn’t give me any confidence they’ll make the right decisions in the future. The Warriors’ inability to even make the playoffs for more than a decade is also a result of bad decisions.

But the A’s and Giants payrolls combined are roughly two-thirds of the payroll of the New York Yankees. It’s simply not reasonable to expect that they can compete year-in and year-out with a team that has so much more at its disposal.

The A’s, especially, cannot afford mistakes. Take one example: Jason Giambi.

Last season with the Yankees, Giambi was a total bust, with a variety of injuries. Yet, with their all-star lineup, the Yankees nearly made it to the World Series last year, taking a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series before the Boston Red Sox started their incredible run.

This year, Giambi has been in and out of the lineup with little production, though he did win a game with a home run earlier this week. He is in the fourth year of a seven-year contract, with a club option for an eighth year. Even if he does nothing for the rest of his contract, the Yankees can take that in stride because they have the money to sign other players who can be productive.

But if he had agreed to that seven-year offer the A’s made, it would have crippled them for the length of the contract. The A’s offered Giambi seven years at $13 million a year, which is nearly one-fourth of their current payroll. Giambi signed with the Yankees for a reported $18 million a year – but that’s less than one-tenth of the Yankee payroll.

The A’s payroll problems are more extreme than the Giants, whose payroll currently stands at about $85 million, but the Giants can’t make many mistakes, either. They’ve had to make decisions, like the trading of Russ Ortiz, based on economics. Last year, general manager Brian Sabean was severely limited because the Giants had to pay Robb Nen $13 million for the second consecutive year, even though Nen didn’t throw a pitch in those years.

And the Giants are still hurt by two bad free agent decisions on Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham. I’m sure Sabean would love to unload one or both of these players, but there’s not much market for either. The Yankees could just eat those contracts and not look back, but the Giants can’t.


THEIR PAYROLL limitations have often forced the A’s to make tough decisions as their stars have reached free agency. They tried to keep Giambi. They let Miguel Tejada go because his agent declared in the spring that he would be looking for an eight-year contract at $12 million a year – and the A’s had Bobby Crosby in the wings. The one position player they re-signed was Eric Chavez, whose bat always seems to be in deep storage for the first two months of the season.

Before this season, they traded Tim Hudson, who would have been a free agents at the end of this season, and Mark Mulder, who had another year to go on his contract.

So far, they’ve gotten nothing out of the Hudson trade. Dan Meyer, whom they’ve projected as a future starter, was shaky at Sacramento and is now on the disabled list. Juan Cruz has been in a funk as a reliever this spring and has now been sent to Sacramento to work as a starter, which may be his best role. Charles Thomas, who hit .353 in Triple-A last year and then .288 with Atlanta in 83 games, never got in a hitting groove with the A’s and has also been sent down to Sacramento.

Meanwhile, Hudson has done well with the Braves – but he went on the disabled list with the same oblique muscle sprain that plagued him with the A’s. Hudson’s ability is obvious, but so is his fragility.

Meanwhile, though Mulder has generally pitched well with the Cardinals (with far more run support than he got in Oakland), that trade looks good for the A’s right now. Dan Haren has hit his groove in recent outings and looks as if he’ll be a solid starter. Kiko Calero has looked very good in relief when he’s been healthy. The third player in that deal, Daric Barton, is only 19. He’s highly regarded within the A’s organization for his hitting but it’s too early to judge his major league potential.

The Giants have had a much different philosophy, putting together a veteran team to surround Barry Bonds. That has worked well in the recent past but not at all this year, with Bonds out.

Though Sabean has gotten the brunt of criticism for this strategy, Larry Krueger pointed out in his KNBR show Thursday night that Sabean was only doing what Giants management, chiefly managing general partner Peter Magowan, wanted him to do. As Krueger noted, Sabean was an important part of the Yankees player development system when they were bringing up players like Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams.

Now, the Giants have changed their approach and are bringing up young players and pitchers. I think that’s a smart move. Bonds’ future is highly uncertain, which puts the former strategy in question. The younger players bring an infusion of energy.

BOTH TEAMS have done well with their approaches.

Starting with an NL West division title in 1997, the Giants have been either in the postseason or in contention for it every year until this season.

The A’s had a very nice run for five years, making the postseason the first four seasons, missing it by a game last season. They also were second only to the Yankees in regular season wins in that period.

No, neither team has won a World Series in that span, though the Giants came oh-so-close in 2002, but until this season, they’ve given their fans a full season of excitement. In baseball, where so many teams are out of postseason contention in May, that’s very important. A World Series triumph would be the icing on the cake – but it’s the cake that’s important.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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