It's All About Barry
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 26, 2005

NO OTHER player has the influence on his team that Barry Bonds has. Everything they do is based on Bonds.

Everybody jokes about the age of the Giants. My favorite came from reader Janice Hough when the Giants were trying to acquire 40-year-old Steve Finley: “The Giants outfield will put a whole new spin on the term, 40-40,” she wrote me.

Yet, the Giants have no choice. Just as the 49ers had no choice but to try to surround Steve Young and Jerry Rice with enough veteran talent to make a run at the Super Bowl in the late ‘90s, the Giants must do the same, in their attempt to win the World Series.

Unfortunately, the 49ers couldn’t reach their goal, and the Giants won’t, either – but they still have to try.

Bonds' presence also dictates the style of offense for the Giants. Ray Durham is a good base stealer but the Giants don’t want anyone at the top of the order either taking the risk of running into an out or creating an open base which invites pitchers to walk Bonds, not that they even need an invitation.

IN THE OFF-SEASON, general manager Brian Sabean tried to trade Edgardo Alfonzso to open up a starting position for Pedro Feliz, but that was a lost cause. Nobody else is stupid enough to take on the contract that the Giants foolishly offered Alfonzo.

It would have worked better to try to trade Durham, who has some value to a team that could better use his offensive talents. He’d be best, of course, as a designated hitter with an American League club because he’s so weak defensively. A Durham trade would have made it possible to move Alfonzo to second – his offensive numbers are more reasonable for a middle infielder – and put Feliz at third.

Since Durham is still here, Giants manager Felipe Alou should be more creative with his lineup, to make better use of his talent. Specifically, he should bat Bonds second and drop Durham to No. 5, possibly pairing him with Marquis Grissom to get a running game going and manufacture runs in the bottom half of the order.

There have been several statistical studies which show that it’s better to put your best hitter at No. 2 than the traditional 3-4 spots. Bonds would come to the plate more often in that spot, which I think everybody would agree is a good thing.

Will Alou do that? No, because he’s a traditional baseball man.

BASEBALL HAS been the slowest of the major sports to embrace technological changes. Many in baseball still scorn the A’s “Moneyball” approach because they think the A’s are making decisions based on computer analysis. What the A’s are actually doing is setting up profiles of the type of position players and pitchers they like, so they can narrow the field. Then, they scout these players to determine whether they’re worth drafting or trading for.

Revolutionary? Only in baseball. The Dallas Cowboys were doing this more than 40 years ago.

Unlike the A’s, where the manager always has to factor in Beane’s thinking, there is a split in decision making for the Giants. Sabean makes the off-field decision, but Alou is responsible for the on-field ones. Sabean has to work within that framework.

But mostly, he has to work with the reality that the Giants’ best chance to get to the World Series is by riding Bonds’ back.

So, Sabean has strengthened the Giants defense by adding catcher Mike Matheny, who’s 34, and shortstop Omar Vizquel, who will be 38 in April. Their age obviously makes both players short-term fixes, but that’s what the Giants need.

To get a big bat to bat behind Bonds, Sabean acquired Moises Alou. At 38, Alou is near the end of his career and he will have defensive troubles coping with the tricky right field in what I still think of as PacBell Park. But for this year at least, he will supply the added power the Giants need.

In the near future, the Giants will probably be a more pitching-oriented team. Sabean wisely resisted the impulse to trade away pitching prospects for mid-season help last year, so the Giants have some impressive young pitching coming along.

Noah Lowry made a big impact in mid-season last year. Jerome Williams can be a strong starter if he hits the salad bar more frequently than McDonald’s. Matt Cain, who will start the season at Double A, is only 20 and draws raves for his stuff from everybody, inside and outside the Giants organization; he was on the cover of “Baseball America” this month. Jesse Foppert, Merkin Valdez and David Aardsma all have big fast balls; any or all of them may pitch out of the bullpen this year, though both Foppert and Valdez are possible starters in the future.

But for now, it’s all about Bonds.
IT MAY BE just this year. There are already questions about how well, or how frequently, he can play this year. He’s coming off two off-season knee operations, and owner Peter Magowan has questioned how many games he can play this year.

My guess is that he won’t be as dominating this year as he’s been, and that he’ll fall off sharply next season. But until he does, the Giants have to make him the focus of everything they do.

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