Decision Time for Giants, A's
For Giants manager Felipe Alou, the toughest decision this spring is how to find ways to play Pedro Feliz. Last year, shuttling between first base, third base, shortstop and even left field (four games), as well as pinch-hitting, Feliz got 503 at-bats. They were productive at-bats, as he hit 22 home runs and had 84 RBIs.
This year, though, Alou says it will be difficult to get Feliz more than 350 at-bats playing him that way. There will be no games at shortstop, for instance, because the Giants have acquired Omar Vizquel and have Deivo Cruz to backup. There will be fewer games at first base because J. T. Snow re-discovered his batting stroke in the second half of last year.
My suggestion to Alou: Make Feliz the starter at third base, with occasional starts at first. Have Edgardo Alfonzo back up at third base and second base.
This would be a no-brainer if it weren’t for Alfonzo’s large contract, with $13 million remaining for the next two years. That was a mistake, and the Giants should bite the bullet either by agreeing to pay part of his salary so he can be traded or by making him a reserve.
Feliz, who will be 30 next month, is in his prime, capable of being a 30-homer, 100-RBI man if he’s a regular. He is also a better defensive third baseman than Alfonzo. He and the team shouldn’t be penalized because of Alfonzo’s contract.
Picking reserve outfielders isn’t usually a big deal, but it is this year because of the age of the Giants outfielders. Barry Bonds, Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou cover significantly less ground than they did when they were younger. Opposing hitters who can find the “Death Valley” spot in right center at PacBell Park are going to have a great time this year. You can probably expect a park record number of triples.
Alou will have to replace either Grissom or Alou, or both, in late innings if the Giants have a lead. That puts a premium on defense for the backups. Michael Tucker, who can be good but was inconsistent last year, has a spot on the roster. Rookie Jason Ellison should not only make the team but be the first defensive replacement in late innings.
The only pitching decisions Alou has to make now are for middle inning relief; the rotation is set and he has his closer, Armando Benitez. By next season, though, and possibly even in the second half of this season, there will be decisions to be made on young starters. Merkin Valdez has been optioned to Fresno to be a starter. Jesse Foppert was a starter before he broke down and, though he may be in the bullpen this year, will probably be in the starters mix next year. Hot prospect Matt Cain will be at Fresno, and some think he may be a midseason callup.
A’S MANAGER Ken Macha, though he hasn’t formally announced it, has apparently settled on a rotation of Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Dan Meyer. Haren and Meyer came in offseason trades and Blanton is the latest hotshot from the A’s farm system.
Barring injury, the first three are set. Either Blanton or Meyer could fall back with bad outings in the rest of the spring, with Seth Etheridge, Kirk Saarloos and Keiichi Yabu still in the mix. The A’s, though, will be much stronger if Blanton and Meyer remain in the rotation, because they both have the potential to be outstanding in time, which is not true of any of the three behind them.
The big decision remaining for Macha is in the outfield where Mark Kotay in center is the only lock.
Fan favorite Eric Byrnes, highly-regarded Charles Thomas, rookie Nick Swisher, a favorite of general manager Billy Beane because he embodies Beane’s philosophy of power and high on-base percentage and veteran Bobby Kielty are in the hunt for the other two spots.
My suggestion to Macha: Start Byrnes in right field and Thomas in left. Both are nonstop workers and players. Thomas, who hit .288 in 83 games for Atlanta last season, is also an outstanding defensive player.
Swisher had a strong season in Triple-A last year, though he was playing with a broken bone in his wrist, which wasn’t discovered until after the season. He is very confident, with the kind of swagger you like to see, but he has been slow recovering this spring from offseason wrist surgery. It would be best to send him back to Sacramento for a couple of months so he can play regularly.
Kielty? He’s shown nothing to indicate he should be any more than a backup.
WHAT’S TRULY amazing is that these decisions can be made now, although there’s still three weeks of spring training left. But I’ve felt spring training was too long ever since 1966, when Juan Marichal held out so long that he only had 10 days of spring training, which so handicapped him that he only won his first 10 games en route to a 25-6 season.
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