Giants Are Toast
The Giants positioned themselves well for their move into PacBell Park in 2000, putting together a strong team, though it meant taking some financial hits in their last years at Candlestick.
It wasn’t all Barry Bonds in that first year. Barry did hit 49 home runs, but he was well supported by Jeff Kent, who had 33 home runs and 125 RBIs; Kent was a run-producing machine in those days. Ellis Burks had 24 home runs, Rich Aurilia 20. Even J. T. Snow was a big producer, with 19 homers and 96 RBIs.
In that first year at PacBell, the Giants won 97 games and took the division by 11 games. The postseason was a bummer, as they lost in the divisional championship round to the New York Mets, but it was an exciting season nonetheless.
But now, that team has mostly slipped away. Burks was the first to go; with his knee problems, he had to go to the American League, where he could extend his career as a designated hitter. Kent left for a bigger contract in Houston and is now with the Dodgers. Aurilia left as a free agent. Snow is still here and still the best defensive first baseman any of us have seen, but his power is gone.
There have been some bad decisions made since then. Signing Edgardo Alfonzo to a four-year, $26 million contract was paramount; Alfonzo is hitting well now but he’ll come to earth soon, and he did nothing in the first two years of the contract to justify his contract. Ray Durham was a gamble that has not paid off; Durham really should be a DH in the American League because he is a defensive liability and can’t stay healthy if he has to play in the field. Trading Russ Ortiz destablized the pitching staff. Signing Kirk Rueter to a long-term contract (which thankfully ends this season) wasn’t brilliant, either.
With productive players leaving, the Giants have become the All-Barry show. He has been the one driving the team, and he has been the one driving attendance, as fans have come to watch him chase the career home run marks of his godfather, Willie Mays (whom he’s passed), Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
And now, there’s no Barry – and the veil of secrecy with which the Giants have surrounded him is an indication they don’t expect him to return until at least June.
LAST YEAR’S team was shaky, but it benefited from being in the worst division in the league.
In part, that was shown by the fact that the win total (93) for the division champs, the Dodgers, was exceeded by both the Atlanta Braves in the East (96 wins) and the St. Louis Cardinals in the Central (105 wins).
The division was even weaker than that showed, though. The Arizona Diamondbacks were by far the weakest team in baseball, and the Colorado Rockies had the fourth-worst record in baseball. Because of the scheduling which emphasizes inter-divisional play, the Dodgers and Giants played those teams for almost one-fourth of their schedule.
The Rockies are still the Rockies, and the Giants were fortunate enough to get them six times in their first 11 games, but the Diamondbacks appear to have improved enough to be a mid-level team.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers, so scorned by local writers and broadcasters whose color spectrum is limited to orange and black, have gotten off to an 11-2 start, which includes four wins in five games against the Giants.
Without Bonds, the holes in this Giants team become more obvious. They hit well against inferior pitching and in lopsided games, but they’re not productive against better pitching and in clutch situations. Their starting pitching is shaky beyond Jason Schmidt and Noah Lowry. Armando Benitez, the closer in whom they invested heavily, in money and hope, has yet to gain the confidence that is essential to his success.
Already six games back, the Giants are digging a hole they’ll have trouble climbing out of, even when Bonds returns. This looks like a team that will finish third in its division.
HOW WILL that affect the gate? Probably minimally this year, because so many tickets are pre-sold, but it could have a big effect next year, especially if Bonds doesn’t come back strong when he returns.
Much of the attendance at PacBell comes from people who want to see Bonds, and the team is secondary. With the high ticket prices, it’s understandable that they want to see star power, but it also means they won’t come back when Bonds isn’t there, or isn’t playing at the very high level he’s established.
We’ve already seen what it means to the team when Bonds is out of the lineup. Soon, we’ll see what it means at the gate. It isn’t pretty.
A long season ahead? Yes. But when a fish starts to smell . . .
NOTE TO READERS: Tomorrow, I will evaluate the Raiders moves to position themselves for the draft. Looking ahead, I’ll be analyzing the 49ers draft on Monday, the Raiderrs draft on Tuesday. I will also have notes from an observer at the NFL draft in New York.
I’ll be a guest on “The Last Honest Sports Show” on KHBK-TV (44), 6:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday, discussing the draft. I’m also tentatively scheduled to be on “Game Day” on KPIX-TV (5) at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night.
What do YOU think? Let me know!