Saturday, June 23, 2007

Facing an Ugly Reality

Hey Folks,

It appears that this has turned into a theme blog-- at least for now. The last two posts were about baseball, and this one will be no different.

Unfortunately, we all must face an ugly reality today. Some of us are no longer in denial, and some of us have somehow convinced ourselves that we can do it. I truly pity those people; but I really envy them in a way.

It is with the blind faith of a young child that some Giants fans continue to believe that a patchwork roster of geriatric castoffs can compete in the best division in the National League. For that, I am envious. I wish I could see past obvious flaws and repeated failures. I wish I could see past the lack of plan for the future. But I can't.

Unfortunately, my mind is firmly set in the real world. I do not live in the fantasy world of radical liberals, Europeans, and pacifists where everyone's a winner, everyone gets to participate, people work 30 hours a week with year-long paid paternity leave, and criminals get rehabilitated instead of going to a Supermax prison. I simply can't allow myself to see anything other than the ugly truth about our boys by the bay.

This doesn't mean I'm not a fan (Ryan Boland). And how dare you for accusing me of that. I will be a fan until I die, and no bad season or lost game will ever change that. But for all the time, money, and emotion that true fans invest in their team, they have a right to criticize poor play and poor management if indeed that is the case. We demand success.

Let's be honest. We've had a good run. We've been competitive every year. We have the best stadium in baseball (and don't give me that Fenway shit... try sitting in one of those seats with no cupholders, no lot to park in, and then come talk to me), and we've all been witnesses to the best player in baseball history on a night in and night out (but not a day game after a night game) basis. You can always count on having a great time out at AT&T Park no matter what.

Well, it's a lot easier to have fun when your team is competitive.

It's hard to see your franchise in a shell of itself, with your aging, wrongly-beleaguered superstar a shell of himself too. It's tough to look at the standings and see this:

L.A. Dodgers 42-31
San Diego 41-31
Arizona 42-32
Colorado 38-35
San Francisco 30-42 (11.5 GB)

We are simply unaccustomed to such things. It's absurd, and almost laughable... like a typo. It's easy to be in denial about the season.

But the truth remains, We don't have a single member of the Giants in his prime, other than Bengie Molina.

Matt Cain, Noah Lowry, Tim Lincecum, and Jonathan Sanchez have not his their primes. They're in the pre-prime stage.

Honestly, you cannot find one guy on the roster in his prime. Now that is really a telling fact. Zito is still in his prime age-wise, but his best pitching days were a few years ago when he won the Cy Young award. That's is not to say he's still not a good pitcher and that he won't be a positive force, but the fact is, he's been inconsistent and overpaid so far.

Winn had his two best years with Seattle and Tampa. Roberts, while still quick as a cat, can't get on base like he used to, and was out over a month with an injury. Durham is in his late 30s, misses sporadic games, hasn't gotten more than one clutch hit all year, and somehow still leads the team in RBI with 39.

Although still amazing at shortstop, Vizquel is hitting .228 with only 11 extra base hits. Feliz is his normal self: solid defensively, frustratingly inept offensively, retarded cerebrally and limited verbally.

Then we've got the trio of old balls fill-ins: Aurilia, Klesko, and Sweeney. I don't even know what to say about these guys. I like them as the ballplayers they used to be. They're all great guys and useful bench players, but they are making a combined $6.2 million this year, and only Sweeney will be a free agent at year's end. We're paying $6.2 million for a combined .232 average and 6 homers-- and 3 roster spots. Klesko, has obviously been the best of the three, but he can't hit lefties and he tweaks his body wrong every two weeks.

It's this lineup that's the biggest problem. Let's throw away the 8 game losing streak for a second, and forget about the few bad starts we've gotten from the rotation. This is still a very limited team. They are squandering good starts by pitchers, the bullpen is consistently blowing leads and increasing run deficits, and you can almost pencil them in for a loss if they get down by 4 runs or more.

Over the past week, listening to the broadcasts on KNBR, I've heard these lines each time, and I kid you not:

"...and the Giants are just trying to keep the lead within striking distance."


"...(fill-in-the-blank-reliever) is trying to keep Milwaukee from blowing the game wide open."


"...(fill-in-the-blank-hitter) grounds weakly to the shortstop/second baseman, on to first, and the inning is over. One walk, one hit, two left, and going into the bottom of the 8th, it's (insert team name here) 7, the Giants 2."


We got rid of Benitez, who was a clubhouse cancer, and a terrible closer. Now we don't even have any games to close. Our de facto closer, Hennessey, has only 3 saves... two of which he earned during the Benitez era, and Matt Cain is 2-8 with a 3.46 ERA!

Zito has been terrible lately, and can't get righties out for some reason. Our $123 million dollar man has an ERA hovering around 5, and a WHIP near 1.50.

Don't get me wrong here, I think our starting pitching is still among the strongest in the league-- the 8 game losing streak notwithstanding. Zito will straighten out. Cain will get his walks under control, and will eventually get a run or two scored for him consistently. Matt Morris has been our best starter all year, and will be some great tradebait for the July 31 deadline. Lincecum will be fine, he's just young and antsy. We are lucky to have such a young pitching talent on our squad, he just needs to relax and throw the ball. Lowry has been decent as well, but I am of the opinion that we can explore trading him for a big proven bat. We shouldn't force it, but if the right player is offered in return, it would be foolish not to consider it.

Basically, this team has no plan, and the future is being shaped right now. We have a great, solid rotation, and some decent young arms in the bullpen in Correia, Sanchez, and Hennessey-- any of which could become a decent number 5 starter for us. Other than that, the blueprint is blank, the farm system is devoid of anything resembling an everyday ballplayer, and we're wallowing in last place- with one less win than both the Nationals and Devil Rays-- two teams we're used to mocking.

At this point, we all need to take a collective look in the mirror-- "Hey Sabean, don't look away, this includes you too!"--and we need to realize that it's time to start over. We've already got the starting pitching, and some young guys that we need to analyze. Can Ortmeier, Schierholtz, Fred Lewis, and Kevin Frandsen play or not? This is the question. The only way to find this out is to clear out some room for them, accept the season for the failure that it is, and then move on to bigger questions.

Who will play 1st base, 2nd base, shortstop, 3rd base, and left field next year? Who will be our closer?

I will defend Bonds to the death. But next year it really is time for us to go our separate ways unless he'll play for $5 million. He's done all he can for this franchise and has endured more criticism and hatred than anyone short of Slobodan Milosevic deserves. And yet, the last place Giants still lead off on SportsCenter EVERY NIGHT! This ride has to come to an end, so we can move on. We can be hamstrung by his contract no more.

More importantly, we need to find suitors for our old balls veterans. We can get young players in return that may be able to help us down the line. The following players should be shopped around for prospects and/or major league ready players: Ray Durham, Omar Vizquel, Randy Winn, Pedro Feliz, Mark Sweeney, Rich Aurilia, Steve "Methampehtamine" Kline, and Matt Morris.

I really like some of these guys; Vizquel and Morris especially. It's just time to move on. These guys deserve a chance to go to the playoffs, and we need to unload this dead weight for the sake of our future.

The way Morris has pitched, we could possibly fetch a promising young outfielder in a logjam situation-- Lastings Milledge being the best case scenario (but highly doubtful). There are plenty of teams looking to make a push to the playoffs by acquiring a guy like Morris, and there are plenty of teams that would love Omar Vizquel for their stretch run.

The Giants simply need a youth movement. We need to stockpile young talent, and sign some real established hitters (and by established, I mean 32 and younger)

With Barry's nearly $17 million off the books, and hopefully another $15-$20 million freed up by the veteran exodus. The Giants will have as much as $40 million to play with in the free agent market. We will have to spend it wisely, because we sure didn't do that last winter (especially with overpaying Zito).

Here are the players I want in order:

1) Ichiro Suzuki, OF - I think he's tired of Seattle and its ongoing commitment to mediocrity. Moving down the coast is still close enough to Japan for his liking. Assuming we keep Roberts in center, we'd have two dynamic speedsters, Ichiro's defense, arm, and 200+ knocks per year. He'd be an absolute hit with Giants fans.

2) Torii Hunter, OF - Hunter has resurrected himself after two sub par years with injuries. He's 32, but is in the midst of a career year. He will command less than Iitch, but would also help us in the field and at the plate.

3) Carlos Guillen, SS - Guillen has been a consistent hitter, has postseason experience, and has held it down defensively for the Tigers. The Tigers already have a $90 million dollar payroll, and I doubt they'll want to pony up enough to resign Guillen on the open market.

4) Joe Nathan, CL - Will we bring back the guy we traded away for AJ Pierzynski? I'd like to see it, but he'll command a 4 year deal at around $8 mil per. That's a lot of money for a closer. The only other alternatives are an old, overpriced Mariano Rivera, or Jason Isringhausen.

5) Adam Dunn, OF/1B - Dunn is a powerful beast. However, he goes through periods of inactivity and strikes out too much. I'd only sign him if we got a more reliable bat to complement him. Plus, he'll command big dollars.

6) Scott Linebrink, RP - It's been awhile since we've had a dominant bullpen presence, and I think Linebrink has been itching for a closing opportunity for a few years. He's lived and thrived as Trevor Hoffman's setup man, but I think he can close. He'll come a lot cheaper than Nathan or Rivera too.

So those are some good names that I think would help us get out of this rut. There is one name that I didn't mention, and he isn't quite a free agent, but I believe will be at season's end.

His name is Alex Rodriguez, and he went 4-4 last night against the Giants. He makes nearly $25 million a year, but I think he'd take $18 to be happy and be in a more laid back atmosphere. He's tired of being hated and scapegoated by fickle Yankee fans, and he just wants to do his thing in peace. He also wants to play shortstop, a position that we'll have wide open for him next year.

If A-Rod opts out of his record contract, he will be leaving money on the table. There's no question about that. No one, not even the Yankees would pay someone $25 million a year (they're actually getting part of the bill footed by Texas as we speak).

A-Rod's nazi/genius agent Scott Boras will plead with Alex to stay in his current contract, but there's not a challenge he doesn't take. And by challenge, I mean commission check. There's not a commission check that Boras won't take. Still, A-Rod will get a contract in the $17-20 million a year range.

The Giants, desperate for a new superstar, will pony up big for him, and unlike last year's free agent class, this guy actually wants to play here. He was quoted as saying that he loves San Francisco and he loves the ballpark. This is one of his favorite places to play.

It's a perfect match.

Then, A-Rod can break Barry's soon-set all-time HR record in a Giants uniform, we'll win the World Series in 2009, and everyone will be happy.

And remember, I don't live in a fantasy world.