No Young Players for Giants
There is no better example than Pedro Feliz. In March, 2001, I had lunch with Giants general manager Brian Sabean who bemoaned the fact that Feliz had no options left. “He really needs another year at Triple A,” Sabean said, “but we don’t want to lose him because we think he could eventually hit 25-30 home runs a season for us.”
Though Feliz had hit 33 home runs at Fresno the year before, that statistic was misleading because the Grizzlies were playing in a park with short foul lines. Sabean’s evaluation was based more on Feliz’s potential because he believed Feliz was just approaching his 24th birthday. When Feliz later had to produce a birth certificate, he was found to be two years older.
It wasn’t until last season, when he was 29, that Feliz finally got 500 at-bats in a season, and then only because manager Felipe Alou juggled his lineup so masterfully, playing Feliz at third base, shortstop, first base and left field, and occasionally as a pinch-hitter. Feliz responded with 22 homers and 84 RBIs. If he’d had the 600 at-bats a regular usually gets, those numbers would translate to 26 homers and 100 RBIs – about what Sabean had expected four years earlier.
Now, he’ll be the starter in left field most of the time until Barry Bonds returns, and then, he’ll be back shuttling between positions, though not shortstop this year, with Omar Vizquel there.
Feliz really should have been named the starter at third base at least two years ago, but the Giants signed Edgardo Alfonzo as a free agent. Alfonzo has been a disappointment but he’s in the third year of a $26 million contract. In May, 2003, in his first season as manager, Alou admitted his disappointment with Alfonzo but said he would have to continue playing him because of Alfonzo’s contract.
THAT’S THE flip side of the Giants’ plan: Young position players never get a chance to really prove themselves.
Tony Torcato, for instance, has hit everywhere he’s gone, with a career average over .300 in the minor leagues and with the Giants as well, though he’s only had 32 at-bats. He finally stuck with the big league club this spring, but only because he was out of options. My guess is that the Giants will try to trade him, which would be a blessing for him because he should be starting somewhere.
Yorvit Torrealba is an even better example because he’s been on the Giants roster for three seasons but has only accumulated 508 at-bats in those three seasons.
Torrealba is a superb defensive catcher but the Giants have never thought he’d be a potent hitter; he’s averaged .256 in his limited at-bats, which is probably about what he would average if he were a starter.
So, last year, Sabean traded Joe Nathan and pitching prospcts Boof Bonser and Francisco Loriano to the Minnnesota Twins to get catcher A. J. Pierzynski.
Nathan, of course, turned into a lights-out closer, which the Giants sorely needed last year, but I don’t think even the Twins thought that would happen. They just wanted to get rid of Pierzynski, because they had highly-rated catching prospect Joe Mauer coming up. Imagine that: Trading a veteran to make room for a young player.
Even if Nathan had flopped, this would have been a bad trade for the Giants because Pierzynski was a disaster, from both a performance and morale outlook. Pitchers were dismayed by his lack of preparation – and by the way off-line pitches sailed by him. Even his hitting was a disappointment; his on-base percentage was only .319 and he grounded into 27 double plays.
Even if Torrealba had hit only .250 as a regular, he would have been much better as the starter because he is so much superior to Pierzynski defensively – and with a catcher, defense and the ability to handle pitchers should always be the primary considerations.
Belatedly, the Giants realized that and picked up Mike Matheny, an outstanding defensive catcher with a career batting average of .239 and the age, 34, to fit right into the Giants’ aging lineup. Torrealba will have to wait his turn – again.
THAT’S THE WAY it is with the Giants. They just don’t seem to trust young position players from their system. Jason Ellison is up this year at 27, but it’s as a reserve outfielder. He probably won’t start until he’s 30. Meanwhile, Todd Linden, who seemed very close when he was brought up at the end of the 2003 season, is still in the minors, because the Giants have brought in older outfielders to play.
That system has worked, to a point. The Giants have been consistent contenders over the last eight years and even made it to the World Series in 2002. But that’s been primarily because Bonds has been the best offensive player in the game. Now, his future is in doubt after two knee surgeries, and it’s unlikely he’ll be the same hitter when he returns.
If the Giants are going to finally win a World Series again – their 50-year drought is exceeded only by the two Chciago teams and theCleveland Indians they’re going to have to allow their young players to play and develop their potential. Remember that George Allen never won a Super Bowl.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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