Giants Should Look to Future
The first step for the Giants is to face reality: Barry Bonds’ career may be over, or at the very least, seriously diminished.
The Giants have been riding the Barry Bus for the last few years and had looked forward to this season and next as the years when Bonds would sail past the career home run records of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron and, hopefully, into the World Series as well.
It doesn’t seem now that any of that will happen. Bonds has had one setback after another with his knee operations and re-hab, and it reminds us that he’s approaching his 41st birthday in July. He’s had a great run but to expect a 41-year-old athlete, even one as remarkable as Bonds, to fully recover and just take up his career as it was before the surgeries and complications is unrealistic.
Even if this last setback is resolved and Bonds is able to start working out seriously by midseason, he will still need to get back in playing shape. By the time he returns, it won’t matter except at the gate because the Giants will be far out of the playoff race.
As it is, the Giants are currently behind eight teams in the National League, five of whom they would have to pass to get a wild card berth. Even that record is misleading because they’re 8-1 against the Rockies and Pirates and only 7-14 against the rest of the league. They caught the Pirates when they were going bad the first time around but the Pirates’ hitting has revived – they scored 16 against Arizona on Sunday – and they may not be such an easy mark in the series which starts tonight at PacBell.
EXPECTING THAT Bonds would be here for most of the season, the Giants brought in older players to fill in the gaps, Omar Vizquel to shore up the infield defense, Moises Alou to provide a right-handed power hitter behind Bonds.
It’s time to scrap that plan and start planning for Life After Bonds. The first move would be to put Jason Ellison in center full-time. I’d move Alou to left, Pedro Feliz to third and Edgardo Alfonzo to second. Platoon Marquis Grissom and Michael Tucker in right field.
That leaves the perennially- injured Ray Durham in limbo, and the Giants are on the hook with Durham for this year and probably next because he has a player option for another year. One of the reasons the Giants get in economic trouble is that they give players that option; it should ALWAYS be a club option.
Next year, they’ll be able to shed some of these veterans. Grissom and Tucker are on the last years of their contracts. Alou has a player option – of course – for another year, so he’ll stay. Alfonzo’s contract has another year; if they can't trade him, he should stay at second. His offensive numbers are fine for a middle infielder, and I don’t think there’s going to be a stampede to sign him as a free agent.
Then, the Giants should give a real shot to Todd Linden, who was brought up two years ago but has never been given a real opportunity, only 70 major league at-bats in two seasons. Linden is currently hitting .326, with an on-base percentage of .452, at Fresno, with nine homers and 26 RBIs in 106 at-bats. If you figure a 550-560 at-bat season, that pro-rates to about 49 homers and 143 RBIs. Even in a hitters league like the Pacific Coast League, that’s impressive.
Though he’s struggling at the moment, hitting just .240 in the Eastern League, Fred Lewis is a name to remember for the future because of his speed and athleticism.
OF COURSE, the Giants primary problem at the moment is their pitching, with Armando Benitez almost certainly out for the season and Jason Schmidt struggling. Right now, the Giants have neither a closer – though I liked the way Tyler Walker threw in the 13-inning win over the Washington Nationals – nor a stopper in their rotation.
Schmidt obviously has a tired arm, not getting over 92 mph on the radar gun this spring, and he'd probably benefit from a missed start.
"It happens to all pitchers at one time or another," pitcher-turned-announcer Mike Krukow told me today. "It happened to me. If you skip a start, it's unbelievable how fast the arm comes back.
"If you think about it, he's said all spring that the ball wasn't coming out right. How many times in the past have you seen him just freeze a hitter with a two-strike changeup? But this year, he's getting walks off that changeup.
"But, I'm not worried about him. Even if he's throwing 92 he has the stuff to win, because he's become a pitcher, not just a thrower. And if his mechanics are off, Dave Righetti can work it out. He's been through all that himself."
There are some good prospects in the farm system to ultimately bolster the rotation, though it may be next season before there’s significant change on the Giants roster.
The hottest prospect among the starters is 20-year-old Matt Cain, the Giants first pick in the 2002 draft. Cain is struggling with his control at Fresno, with 24 walks in 34 1/3 innings, but he’s 3-0 with 39 strikeouts and has yielded only 18 hits. It’s possible he could be brought up at midseason, if he can improve on his command. He’s impressed everybody who’s seen him, inside and outside the organization.
Merkin Valdez, who has been up before, is currently being used as a starter with the Norwich Navigators and is 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA, but Valdez has the potential to be either a starter or a closer for the Giants. David Aardsma, who was also up last year, is being used as a starter to expand his pitching repertoire, but it’s more likely he’ll be a closer candidate when he returns to the Giants.
THE BIGGEST challenge for the Giants organization is to change their thinking from “The Future Is Now” to giving their prospects a chance. They have some young talent, but it will never blossom as long as they fool themselves into thinking they have a chance for the postseason this year.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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