Giants Have Golden Opportunity
The Giants have been developing pitchers in their minor league system, and they’re finally starting to hold on to some of them, instead of trading them for veteran players. Noah Lowry came up at midseason in 2004 and, after a shaky start last season, recovered to be a strong part of the rotation. Matt Cain showed why everybody was high on him when he came up in late season. He’s the real thing. Brad Hennessey remains an enigma, good one time, bad the next. He hasn’t shown yet he should be more than a bottom of the rotation guy, but he’s certainly a better bet than, oh, I don’t know. Brett Tomko?
Position players are a different matter. The Giants just can’t seem to develop any. When they bring up players, they look worse the longer they play.
Jason Ellison, for instance, started strongly in center field last season, but by midseason, he was a part-time player, even sent back to Fresno at one point. The addition of Randy Winn, who was a pleasant surprise to those of us who had seen him in the American League in the last couple of seasons, made Ellison irrelevant. He will be 28 next season – Giants prospects often fail to make the majors before they’re 27, which is a bad sign for their future – and it’s unlikely he’ll ever start again for the Giants.
Lance Niekro had been highly regarded as a hitter while coming through the system; only repeated injuries had kept him from coming up earlier. Like Ellison, he started strongly, but the longer he played, the more his deficiencies showed up. The famed comment by former KNBR talk show host Larry Krueger (now working for KGO) about “brain dead Carribbean hitters” could have been applied with more accuracy to Niekro. He’s a real hacker. Though manager Felipe Alou said a couple of times during the season that he wanted to make Niekro a full-time player, Alou always went back to platooning him with J. T. Snow. As a result, we still have no idea whether Niekro can hit with some consistency against right-handed pitchers. Alou’s actions would suggest that he doesn’t believe Niekro can.
Todd Linden was another bright prospect who was tearing up the Pacific Coast League. He’s been something less than that with the Giants. After he’d struggled in his latest callup last season, the word leaked by the Giants (when a baseball beat writer talks of a player’s deficiencies, it’s always based on off-the-record comments by either the manager or a club official) was that Linden had a hole in his swing when batting left-handed. They were just discovering that? Why wasn’t something done while he was in the minors – or why wasn’t he told to forget hitting left-handed?
What’s the disconnect here between the minors and majors for the Giants’ prospects? Is their original talent evaluation bad? Is it poor coaching, poor evaluation in the system? I suspect the latter, but nobody looking at this from the outside can know for certain, which is why it’s so important to hire somebody who can really take a long look at the minor league system and make the necessary changes.
I MUST ADMIT that I was amused when Giants owner Peter Magowan expressed fears that Colletti would bring inside information about the Giants’ plan to the Dodgers. What’s he going to tell them – that the Giants are going to go after more older, overrated players?
In truth, there are few secrets in baseball. If you were able to talk candidly with the general manager of any National League club, he could identify the players the Giants will go after. These guys talk with each other all the time.
The name of one of the free agent pitchers the Giants are looking at has already come out: Matt Morris, whose contract with the St. Louis Cardinals is up. Morris would fit nicely with the Giants, giving them a solid veteran pitcher for the middle of the rotation. Though Jason Schmidt’s injury history the last two seasons gives pause, he should be at the top of the rotation, with Lowry just behind. Maybe Morris would be No. 3, maybe it would be Cain, with Hennessey the fifth starter. That would certainly be a more promising rotation than last year, when the Giants brass deluded themselves into thinking Tomko and Kirk Rueter would actually be solid starters.
With Armando Benitez back as the closer, the bullpen would be in much better shape, and the Giants would be in a strong position in the NL Worst. As we learned last season, 82 wins will do it in this division.
In the field, the Giants need to start moving away from their position of signing and keeping players who are one step away from assisted living homes. Snow has to go. I know he’s a great person, a good teammate, possibly the best fielding first baseman ever, but he’s lost even the limited power he once had. Even if he offers to play for the major league minimum, he ‘s not worth it.
Edgardo Alfonzo has to go, too. The Giants will have to pay part of his salary because they signed him to a contract for double his value – thanks again, Ned, for the swell job you did negotiating contracts – but this is addition by subtraction. Pedro Feliz, for all his shortcomings, is the better bet. I have to laugh at people who say Alfonzo is a superior fielder. Alfonzo is sure-handed with anything hit right at him, but he has zero range. Feliz has enough range to have played shortstop briefly two seasons ago, and he hits for power, which Alfonzo hasn’t done since 2000, when he hit 25 home runs for the Mets.
MUCH OF THE Giants approach has been based on their fear that, if they aren’t competitive, fans won’t buy tickets. Last season, when they were bad and, worse, boring without Barry Bonds in the lineup, the pre-sold tickets kept their official attendance figures high, but many ticket-holders were trying to sell their tickets for the less attractive games. When they couldn’t, they just stayed home, and the announced crowd counts were often significantly higher than the number of people in the seats.
Now, though, the Giants have some breathing room. With Bonds back and resuming his assault on the Ruth/Aaron home run records, Giants tickets will again be a hot item for next season. In the 2007 season, the All-Star game, which will be included in season ticket packages, will be at PacBell, so that will be another incentive to buy Giants tickets.
After that? Well, the Giants sorely need to improve their farm system, so they can start plugging in young players for the team they’ll have after Bonds, whether that’s 2007 or 2008. So, it’s imperative that they get the right man to make the needed changes in the minor league system. They don’t need another man to negotiate bad contracts.
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