Alou, Righetti Must Go
1) Either fire Felipe Alou or, preferably, persuade him to retire gracefully and pay him for the contract extension they gave him earlier this season.
Alou was a feel-good story when he signed with the Giants, a former player, a link to the era in which they became the first team to sign Latino players in significant numbers. His hiring also enabled the Giants to paper over the public relations disaster caused by the way they showed Dusty Baker the door.
But the Alou story has taken a nasty turn lately, and his managerial skills have deteriorated.
No matter what you think of Larry Kruegerís comments on KNBR, Alouís reaction was far overdone, and the constant references to ďMessenger from SatanĒ make you wonder about his mental state.
The Giants also came out looking very bad because, in their glee to have a chance to bash Krueger, they failed to do anything to defuse the situation. They should have talked to Alou, got him to sit down with Krueger to air their differences (Krueger apologized publicly, but Alou refused to accept the apology), perhaps hold a joint news conference to discuss the issues, which would have turned it into a positive situation. Instead, they allowed it to fester, and it escalated, with Krueger, station program director Bob Agnew and morning show producer Tony Rhein all getting fired. As long as Alou remains, he will be a reminder of that.
But, thatís not the only reason Alou should go
In his first year with the Giants, he did an excellent job of managing the game, with a very good feel for when pitchers should come out of the game, which is always critical to a teamís success.
This year, he seems to have completely lost it. Granted that he has a weak pitching staff, his handling of it has been abysmal. Heís overmanaged with his bullpen, putting relievers in for one batter and then lifting them, as if he were in the last week of a pennant race, trying to get to the playoffs, instead of managing a team going nowhere, with the third-worst record in the league. Heís shuttled pitchers back and forth from starters to the bullpen, and on one occasion, even wound up having to use young starter Kevin Correia in the ninth inning of a tie game Ė which the Giants, of course, lost.
His record with position players isnít great, either. Remember when he announced that rookie Lance Niekro would be the full-time starter? That lasted about 24 hours. Now, the word is that Niekro canít hit right-handed pitching very well, but how can we know, since he rarely faces it? Again, if this were a tight pennant race, it would make sense to play J. T. Snow because of his experience Ė but the Giants are only marginally in the race because the division winner, San Diego, is two games below .500. Meanwhile, Niekroís progress has been slowed.
Rookie Jason Ellison was playing well until Alou decided he wouldnít be durable enough, apparently because of his physique. So, the Giants traded for Randy Winn, and Ellison is relegated to reserve status.
Some of Alouís playing decisions are dictated by the front office, of course: Playing Edgardo Alfonso at third is the obvious one, because the Giants are trying to trade Alfonso to the New York Mets, who are interested because theyíre in the NL wild card race. The shuttling back and forth of Todd Linden is also probably a front office decision. But Alou has made enough mistakes to show that he should be gone before next season.
2) Fire pitching coach Dave Righetti.
In one sense, pitching coaches are even more important than managers to a teamís success because, as the pitchers go, so goes the ball club. Weíve seen with the Aís, first with Rick Peterson and now Curt Young, how the right pitching coach can make a huge difference to the team.
So, we have to ask: What has Righetti done for the Giants? Before this season, I would have said he made a difference to Jason Schmidt, who was a pitcher with tremendous potential when he came here and then blossomed into an overpowering one. But when Schmidt had problems this year, Righetti seemingly has done nothing to right him and, though heís pitched better in the last couple of months, Schmidt still got rocked in his last start.
Otherwise, itís hard to point to one pitcher who Righetti has helped. Quite the contrary, in fact. When Livan Hernandez was here, Righetti couldnít convince him to pitch inside, and Giants fans were quite happy to see Hernandez traded. Not so happy, though, as Washington manager Frank Robinson; Hernandez has been the staff leader with the Nationals.
Righetti deserves part of the blame for the Joe Nathan trade, too. With the Giants, Nathan showed some flashes of greatness but was also very inconsistent. Traded to the Twins, he has been the outstanding closer the Giants have sorely needed the last two years.
The Giants have drafted many young pitchers and some of them have done well in the minors, but the only one who has blossomed on the major league level is Noah Lowry, and he had success from the get-go last year, going 6-0, which had nothing to do with Righetti. This year, Lowry struggled early and finally made the adjustments he needed to get back on track. Righetti probably helped with that, so thatís one positive.
Otherwise, itís pretty bleak. Kurt Ainsworth came up with great promise but never developed, so he was traded in the lamentable Sidney Ponson deal. (Ainsworth canít seem to stay healthy, so itís hard to predict his future.)
General manager Brian Sabean has used young pitchers in trades and none of them have yet developed. Those who have made it to the Giants roster, like Correia, Ryan Jensen and now Brad Hennessey, have had some success but havenít developed any consistency. Is that because they arenít that good or because they havenít gotten the right kind of coaching from the Giants, on either the minor or major league level? That question needs to be asked within the Giants organization, but I think we already know the answer..
Now, the Giants have another hot prospect, Matt Cain, at Fresno, where heís been almost unhittable Ė when he can get the ball over the plate, which isn't often enough. I donít think Righetti is the one who should be working with Cain, and the other prospect, Merkin Valdez.
CERTAINLY, THE Giants need to clean out some of the veterans on the roster, especially Alfonso and Snow, but if they donít also change their manager and pitching coach, it wonít be enough. Weíll soon know if they have the courage and judgment to do that.
NOTE: I am a guest panelist on ďThe Last Honest Sports Show,Ē which airs at 6:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday on KBHK, Channel 44. I'll also be on the Comcast Insider at 5 and 10 p.m. Saturday, for those who get that service. You'll have to check your cable listings for the channel.
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