Monday, July 9, 2007

Remember when you first started watching baseball and someone with superior knowledge of the game told you – “Pitching and defense wins championships”. What that person failed to tell you was that the team with the most runs at the end of nine innings wins the game. This brings us to the sad state of affairs which is the 2007 San Francisco Giants. When Bud Selig awarded the All-Star game to the Giants for this year, his thought process was the following:

1) The Giants will be in their first year without Barry Bonds so they will need something to market to potential and current season ticket holders.

The commissioner gave the Giants the game so they would not have to have to keep Barry. Now, I understand why they resigned him but over paying him by $11 mm is contradictory to the entire plan of making money (not to mention insulting to the numerous employees with graduate degrees that are making $30,000 a year). Everyone knows he wasn’t going anywhere and the idea that he would have turned down a $5 mm one year contract is absurd. The Home Run record is worth far more to him than $11 mm.

2) The Giants will most likely be fielding a very young team that will be struggling to win games so they will need some national attention that they would otherwise not receive in 2007.

Exchange old with young and add positive in between some and national and then you have an accurate statement. How are the following players on this team – Ray Durham, Pedro Feliz, Randy Winn, Ryan Klesko, Rich Aurillia and Steve Kline? (I excluded Bengie Molina and Dave Roberts from this list for the following reasons - the Giants ERA is only what it is because of Bengie Molina who has continued to impress as a mentor to the young pitchers (think John Lackey) and every young potential base stealer should be forced to learn how to read pitchers the way Dave Roberts does). Imagine if the Giants were starting the following lineup: C: Bengie Molina 1B: Pick a Prospect 2B: Kevin Frandsen SS: Omar Vizquel (still the best fielder I have ever seen) 3B: Tomas De La Rosa (I know what you are thinking – “WHO?”) RF: Nick Schierholtz or Dan Ortmeier CF: Fred Lewis LF: Barry Bonds. This team may not win 60 games but they would play with more heart than any Giant team has played with in recent years.

3) The Giants will be unable to acquire big name players through free agency because of the loans they still need to payoff for building their stadium with mostly private financing.

Again, the commissioner was dead on with this assumption. However (and to their credit) the Giants have bucked this popular belief and have been more than active on the free agent market. Unfortunetly, they have failed to use the money with any kind of success. Through the late 90s and into the first couple of years at Pac Bell Park, Brian Sabean was as good as anybody at making trades and spending money on free agents that produced results on the field. Jeff Kent, Rob Nen, Livan Hernandez (a better player than people will ever gave him credit for) Kenny Lofton and David Bell all developed into solid contributors during their tenures with the Giants. The failure to sign Guerrero and Tejada (an even bigger mistake than missing out on Guerrero) was the beginning of what will hopefully prove to be the end of the Brian Sabean era. The list of failed acquisitions is long so I will just name a few that particularly aggravate me - Edgardo Alfonso, Ray Durham (the second contract), Rich Aurilia (the second go around), Armando Benitez, Shea Hillenbrand and (the result of the most infamous trade in Giants history) AJ Pyeznski.

I have to admit that I commend the commissioner on using sound judgment when deciding to put the All-Star game in San Francisco. Unfortunetly, the Giants failed to see the “writing on the wall” and decided to mortgage the future to finish 4th instead of 5th in the west (However, I think that 5th is very much a possibility). There are only three teams in baseball that don’t (in theory) have to rebuild: the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. Everyone can agree that rebuilding does not guarantee success but at least it has proven to work. Fielding a team of past their prime players has never worked and I doubt it ever will. The question has to be asked – “why delay the inevitable?”

Here is what needs to happen to right the ship –

1) Fire Brian Sabean

Like every company in the world, sometimes a change in management / philosophy is needed to steer the organization in the right direction. Firing Sabean would prove to the fans and the rest of the front office that there is some accountability left in the organization. The Barry Bonds era has made everyone a little too comfortable in Giants land and there is no better example of this than Brian Sabean As long as Sabean is the GM, the Giants will never be able to turn things around. It is time to usher in a new era of Giants baseball.

2) Hire Kim Ng from the Dodgers

Unlike Sabean, Ng will come in feeling like she has something to prove. There will be renewed sense of urgency in the baseball operations department that has not been around since 1997. In addition, Ng is widely regarded as one of the best contract negotiators in the game and, based on some of the ridiculous free agent spending we have seen over the last 4 years, I think it makes sense to bring someone in with some business sense. Also, she was part of the player development office that drafted and developed such players as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Alfonso Soriano and Mariano Rivera. The argument most legitimate argument against her hiring would be the lack of success the Dodgers have had over the last 5 years. While they have been bad, she has worked under three different GMs in 6 years. Each one has wanted to make their mark on the organization right away and each has failed miserably. I don’t think you can blame her for these failures. The Giants would be the perfect organization to hire the GM that the Dodgers have failed to identify for the past 6 years. Ng would definitely represent a change in philosophy for the Giants and I believe she is the right person to bring life back to a franchise that has hit the skids. (Not to mention, you would be stealing the most valuable asset in the Dodgers organization)

3) Play the young guys!

Wouldn’t it be funny if the Giants treated starting pitching the way they treat position players!? The 2007 rotation would be Barry Zito, Matt Morris, Jamie Wright, Russ Ortiz and Chan Ho Park. The dynasty franchises have always played their young home grown talent and it is time for the Giants to start adopting this method of development.

4) Acquire the next franchise player

I am not talking about Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano or Michael Young (all very good players but not cornerstones of a franchise). I am talking about Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera or Miguel Tejada. These are just 3 of the numerous cornerstone players that are available for the right price. The Giants are going to need an identity as they move into the post-Bonds era and that identity needs to be discovered sooner rather than later. If nothing else, I don’t think it would be possible to make a trade that would be viewed as worse than the Pyerzinski trade.

Obviously, these four changes will not automatically lead to a World Series championship but they will get the organization headed in the right direction.

Hopefully, my “state of the Giants” article for next year will be a little more optimistic than this year. It better be because there will be no All-Star game to save the Giants next year.