Giants Will Play Blame Game
The more we see of Alou, the worse he looks. When he first came to the Giants, he seemed the perfect choice because of his link with the past and his success in earlier stops. His first year, he seemed to do a good job of managing the game, making pitching changes before a game got out of hand, but as the team has deteriorated, his managing has gone downhill, too.
Alou manages from a distance, seldom talking to any player who doesnít have the same last name. The contrast with the Giants previous manager, Dusty Baker, is especially stark. Itís not necessary for a manager to be as close to his players as Baker is, but when a manager is as remote as Alou, players drift away from the team concept, concerned more about themselves. Anybody whoís around the Giants knows about the private criticism of Alou among players. What's really alarming is the amount of public criticism, especially among pitchers, because players usually try to keep that in the clubhouse.
Alouís handling of pitchers, the most critical part of a managerís job, has been abysmal. Sabean believes in building a staff from the end of the game to the start, by concentrating on a strong bullpen, but Alouís managing has forced Sabean to make significant changes every year. Look at the bullpen during Alouís tenure and try to find relievers who have had two consecutive good years. Alou just wears them out. Heíll bring in a pitcher for a batter or two, and then replace him. Relievers seldom get a chance to rest and recover.
And, the stench from last yearís episode with talk show host Larry Krueger still hangs over the Giants. I originally sympathized with Alou when he blew up at Kruegerís comments about ďbrain dead Caribbean hittersĒ because I knew first-hand of the discrimination faced by Alou and other Latino players on the Giants in the Ď60s. But Alou took it far beyond the scope of the original discussion with his constant references to ďa messenger from Satan.Ē Krueger wanted to meet with him and apologize, but Alou refused, instead going on national TV. In the end, Krueger was fired, though that may have been a blessing in disguise, considering the upheaval at KNBR with its new owners. Krueger landed on his feet at KGO.
THROUGH THE 2002 season, when the Giants lost to the Anaheim Angels in the World Series, Sabeanís reputation was golden. He had rebuilt the club when he took over after the disastrous 68-win season of 1996, most notably bringing in Jeff Kent in the Matt Williams trade and acquiring staff leader Jason Schmidt from Pittsburgh.
Sabean had his own personal meltdown after the World Series loss. He told the public relations department not to publicize their Series appearance in the 2003 media guide because ďwe havenít won anything yet.Ē Apparently, his years in the Yankee organization instilled a George Steinbrenner-like attitude.
Meanwhile, Baker left for the Chicago Cubs, when his contract expired. The Giantsí job had been a dream job for Dusty, who loves the Bay Area, but he knew he was no longer wanted. Since then, itís gone downhill for the Giants, and the pace seems to be accelerating this season.
Sabean has made some good moves in the interim. Getting shortstop Omar Vizquel was a good one. So was acquiring outfielder Randy Winn Ė a move I originally criticized. Heís also made some clinkers, signing Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham for much more than they were worth as free agents.
He also made the trade which sent Joe Nathan to the Minnesota Twins and brought catcher A. J. Pierzynski to San Francisco for one disastrous season. Just think how much better the last two seasons would have been with Nathan as the Giants closer.
There have been two bad trends under Sabeanís direction in the last four years. One is that the team just keeps getting older and older. Is it any surprise that injuries have plagued the club? The one exception is Vizquel, an amazing performer who plays as if heís 10 years younger than his actual age of 39. In contrast, Moises Alou is still an excellent hitter but the only question with Moises was when he'd go on the disabled list, not if. Heís on it now. Durham lives there.
The other trend is a continuation of the neglect of the farm system. The Giants have touted their young pitching, but where are the results? Noah Lowry is the only starter who has actually shown heíll be reliable over a period of years. Matt Cain may be, but heís a work in progress. Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia are in-and-out. Jerome Williams and Kurt Ainsworth are gone. In the bullpen, Scott Munter and Jack Taschner looked good last year, but Munter is struggling this year and Taschner is back in the minors. The Giants have been talking about the great stuff of Merkin Valdez for three years, but you wonít find him on the roster.
Every-day players? The more they play, the worse they look. Todd Linden was a hot prospect in the minors but flopped with the big team. Lance Niekro started hot last year but faded fast and is off to a .202 start this year. Jason Ellison had a good first half in 2005, but heís buried on the roster behind the 40-somethings in the outfield.
Why will Sabean survive this kind of record? Because heís doing what his boss wants.
MAGOWAN IS heavily involved with the day-to-day operation of the Giants. Heís been a fan of the Giants since he was a boy, and he keeps statistics as avidly as a fan in a fantasy league. Every time I've been in his office, heís pulled out a sheaf of statistics to prove his point.
Magowan was the one who pushed Baker out the door. He thought Dusty was getting too much credit at the expense of others, such as, oh, letís take a wild stab here, the managing general partner.
It is Magowan who has pushed the plan of bringing in veteran free agents and generally disregarding the farm system. He has felt that attendance will drop sharply if the team falls out of contention, and reasoned that surrounding Barry Bonds with veterans was the best way for the Giants to stay in contention.
But that plan is bankrupt. Bonds sat out almost all of last year, and the team disintegrated. Heís back this season, but heís not the player he was. He canít move in the field or on the basepaths, and the weakness in his right knee hurts him at the plate, too. Heís still a dangerous hitter but not the overwhelming force heís been in the recent past.
Magowan canít blame Sabean for following the game plan, so Brian will be back next year, hopefully with a different strategy. Magowan does not have the same kind of loyalty to Alou, though, so Alou will be advised to walk away from the Giants and retire.
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