76-86 4th Place NL West
723 runs scored – 765 runs allowed
Chances of making postseason: 14%
The Giants are defined by their general manager, Brian Sabean. Sabean was promoted to general manager of the Giants after a dismal season in 1996. The Giants would post 8 consecutive winning seasons, winning the NL West three times and the National League once. Barry Bonds had the greatest five-year stretch of performance in baseball history. Robb Nen had a great run as one of the league’s top closers, and Jeff Kent posted Hall of Fame numbers at second base. The Giants’ success came at a cost. As players aged and left the Giants, Sabean was unable to replace them with younger players. He also failed to provide a supporting cast around Barry Bonds that would make the Giants a truly dominating threat. The Giants never won the World Series, and Sabean’s win-now attitude has buried the team. The Giants have now suffered two straight losing seasons. Yet, Sabean is still acting like he’s got a 95-win team on his hand, signing elderly players to foolish deals. In the past three months alone, he’s signed 6 post prime players and extended the contracts of 4 other post-prime players. The Giants have made a lot of noise this winter, and none of that noise is going to make them a better team. They’re another year older and continually regressing. It’s time for Brian Sabean to go.
I think Sabean is hilarious. He is the darling child of sportswriters that hate intellectuals. Those sportswriters are quick to point to how successful the Giants were during the last decade, and they naturally credit Sabean. But Sabean didn’t do much, besides turn a blind eye towards the steroids that were openly used in the Giants locker room in the late-90’s. Any team with Barry Bonds in 2002 would have made the World Series. Sabean is a meathead. Or, as the Giants writers would say, “he relates to the players.” As I say, he wants to be a player, not a general manager. He wants the players to like him as one of their own. How else do you explain him lifting weights with his team? To me, this explains the boner he has for old players. He’s a 10-year veteran who wants to fit in with other veterans. He doesn’t want rookies around making him feel old. This is just my opinion, of course, but Sabean is too “old-school” for his own good.
Sabean loathes young players. His hatred worked fine when Bonds and other were still in their mid-30’s. Now, his roster is ancient, and he just keeps adding more old players. With the Giants no longer good, these short-term fixes are hilarious to even a casual baseball fan. How can anyone justify trading Boof Bonsor, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan for one year of A.J. Pierzynski? Of course, there was no telling that Liriano and Nathan would be awesome. But, when you constantly trade prospects and refuse to draft first-round players, you’re going to pass up some talented players. Sabean had no reason to hate young players. But, it was that hatred that has made the Giants one of the highest paid, oldest, and least talented teams in baseball.
Old. That sums everything up. What happens when you put a lineup whose YOUNGEST player is 32 years old on the field? Well, a few things. First, injuries. The Giants have a roster very susceptible to injuries. Second, slow. There are some very slow players in this lineup. Third, you get a lineup that’s very predictable. These guys all have at least 10-year track records where they have established a certain level of performance. The Giants offense is the least likely in the league to surprise with a huge output above predictions. Unfortunately for Giants fans, offensive predictions are low for the Giants. And remember to consider how bad the lineup will be when players get hurt.
Catcher – Bengie Molina is a league-average catcher. He doesn’t have OBP skills, but he still has a bit of power. He’s a .700 OPS kind of guy with decent enough defense. Molina signed for 3-years, $16 million this offseason. I guess that’s the going rate for catchers, and the Giants really needed one. Molina, however, is conservatively listed at 220 pounds, which I’d guess is at least 20 pounds off his real weight. He’s turning 33 this year, and the track record for catchers that big
, or this big
, playing into their late 30’s is slim, pardon the pun. I expect some rapid decline from Molina during the course of the contract.
Second-year player Eliezer Alfonzo will spell Molina in the lineup. Alfonzo had a funny rookie season, managing to post a .767 OPS. It was funny for several reasons. One, he was 27 years old. It’s hilarious that if the Giants are going to be playing a rookie, the rookie must already be past his physical peak. Second, he had 74 strikeouts versus just 9 walks. He closes his eyes and swings as hard as he can. Or, probably more accurately, he can’t tell the difference between a fastball, changeup, and curveball. Those numbers are damning, and I expect his career to be a short one.
First Base – The Giants haven’t had a good first baseman in a long time. It has been their downfall during the past decade. Brian Sabean signed two players this winter to help alleviate the problem. Sabean is smoking grass if he thinks he’s solved the problem. Rich Aurillia had a really nice 2006. He’s a nice utility player and bat against lefties. But, he is not a starting first baseman in the Major Leagues. And, at 35 years old, he’s barely experienced enough to don the black and orange. Ryan Klesko has a few claims to fame, such as being a really good hitter five years ago and being the pervert that lured Marky Mark into his van in Boogie Nights. Klesko has had a nice career, and he still has a great eye at the plate. But, he missed just about all of 2006 recovering from shoulder injury and he’s turning 36 this year. His numbers have been on the decline for about 4 years now. It was worth giving him a shot, but the Giants should not be putting this much faith in him bouncing back to his 2001 form. He and Aurillia will likely platoon until one of them gets hurt.
The Giants will have two more backups at first base – Mark Sweeney and Lance Niekro. Sweeney is a slow, professional hitter who is 37 years old. Niekro is awful in every facet of baseball. The Giants’ bench is not a very flexible or useful one.
Second Base – Ray Durham had a fantastic 2006 season, posting an .898 OPS. He’s always been a very underrated hitter. Durham, however, is 35 and has had a troubling history of being banged up since he arrived in San Francisco in 2003. He doesn’t have the speed that he used to, but he still has excellent power and plate discipline for a second baseman. If he can’t stay healthy, the Giants lineup is in trouble.
Shortstop – Unlike Durham, Vizquel has never suffered from being underrated. He had a .750 OPS last year, which was one of the best hitting seasons of his career. He keeps winning gold gloves, which is infuriating. He’ll be 40 this season. Though he’s still a decent shortstop, which is admirable considering his age, he’s not great. Any one of these days his body could fail him. Backing up the 75 years of middle infield will be Kevin Frandsen. Frandsen will turn 25 this year. Frandsen is a non-factor on this team, even if Durham and Vizquel get hurt. Why? Because he’s not old enough to play with the big kids. Frandsen will lose at bats to Rich Aurillia and whatever veteran infielder the Giants bring in should both Durham and Vizquel get hurt. Therefore, it’s not worth discussing his worth. He won’t play until at least 2009, assuming Brian Sabean doesn’t get fired before then.
Third Base – Pedro Feliz. The Kid. The Youngster. He will turn 32 this year, but he’s still the young stud in the lineup. He’s actually probably the worst third baseman in baseball now that Tony Batista is long gone. In his 5 full seasons playing third for the Giants, Feliz has posted an OBP over .300 just once. His defense isn’t great, either. So, it makes sense that Sabean inked him to a $5.1 million deal for this season.
Outfield – Barry Bonds is still one of the best hitters in baseball. He had a .454 OBP last year. He is the heart and sole of this lineup. We all know what he can do and what he’s all about. We know that his career could be derailed by a knee injury at any moment. We know he is a huge liability defensively in left field. What a lot of people don’t know is that he could be in serious legal trouble. There is a real chance that Bonds goes to jail in 2007. Even if he doesn’t he won’t get more than 400 plate appearances. Those 400 PA’s will be good, but probably not enough to lift this lineup. Personally, I don’t think he’ll get more than 300 PA’s. Those might be enough to break Hank Aaron’s record, though.
The Giants signed Dave Roberts to a three year deal this winter. Roberts will turn 35 this season. Exactly what the Giants needed, eh? Another aging outfielder inked to a multi-year deal. Roberts has great speed and is one of the best baserunners in the game. He has better on base and defensive skills than others like Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik. But he isn’t a great player by any means. He had 499 AB last season, which was by far the highest in his career. Roberts has never been able to stay healthy. His hamstrings resemble fried onion straws. Sabean was definitely smoking hash when he made this signing.
In right is Randy Winn. Winn plays good defense and has a passable eye at the plate. But, he doesn’t have nearly enough power to play a corner outfield position. He’s a .750 OPS guy, and that just doesn’t cut it in right field. Backing up Winn and Bonds will be Trevor Linden. Linden is the case-in-point for Brain Sabean’s mentality. Linden has been in Triple-A since 2002. Yeah. Five years in Triple-A. That’s fucking stupid for one of the team’s top prospects. Sabean refused to get Linden playing time, even as Barry Bonds missed significant time each of the past three years. In 2005, Linden posted an 1.119 OPS in 340 Triple-A AB’s. Because he struggled in a trial in the Majors at the end of 2005, the Giants decided to let Linden rot away between Triple-A and the Giants bench in 2006. He got only 77 AB’s with the Giants in 2006 and posted a respectable .801 OPS. He’s still only 26 years old, but he needs MLB playing time. I have a feeling that Sabean gives outfield AB’s to Klesko, Mark Sweeney, and the middling Jason Ellison sooner than he gives Linden a full-time gig. I’m not saying Linden is a five-star stud here. I’m just saying that he deserves a chance.
Starting Pitching – Mets and Giants fans both stuck their heads in their hands when the Giants signed Barry Zito to a 7-year, $126 million. Zito is a fine pitcher for sure. He pitched well in the American League, which means he’s good. As I’ve said, a 5.00 ERA in the American League is a 4.00 ERA in the National League. Zito had a 3.83 ERA last year. Nevertheless, he is overrated. He pitched in one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball and in front of the best defense in the league. What’s concerning is that Zito has a declining strikeout rate and an escalating walk rate. His ratio was a pedestrian 99/151 in 221 innings in 2006. He’s a solid pitcher from whom I expect about a 3.90 ERA in 2007, but he’s not worth the kind of money the Giants gave him considering that he won’t make them a playoff team.
Don’t be fooled by the horrendous Barry Zito signing. The best pitcher on the Giants is Matt Cain. Cain will be 22 in 2007, and he already has an impressive season under his belt. In 2006, he had a 4.15 ERA and 87/179 BB/K ratio in 190.2 innings. More impressively, he had a 3.26 ERA with a 40/99 BB/K ratio after the all star break. He has really good stuff. Considering his age, stuff, and second half performance, Cain has serious breakout potential. Cain has a couple of yellow flags though. For one, he’s a flyball pitcher pitching in front of Barry Bonds, the slowest left fielder in baseball. He also walks too many batters. Cain will continue to improve on his solid rookie campaign. He probably isn’t a Cy Young candidate just yet, but he’s the Giants’ best starter.
Noah Lowry and Matt Morris are the only other definite members of the rotation. Morris isn’t good and is declining. He peaked in 2002 and has very little chance of being an above-average starter in 2007. Noah Lowry was good in 2005, but took an enormous step back in 2006, when he had a 4.74 ERA. His K rate fell in half, while his flyball and walk rates increased. Lowry is only 26, and his 2006 struggles are inexplicable. He could be good and should improve a bit, but a 4.50 ERA barely cuts it in the National League.
The last spot in the rotation will be filled by one of Russ Ortiz, Brad Hennessey or Jonathan Sanchez. Russ Ortiz is the fourth worst pitcher in baseball and the only one of them being considered for serious playing time in 2007. The Giants just signed him. HAHAHA. Okay. Let’s look at the merits of that signing. Ortiz had 40 walks in 63 innings and an 8.14 ERA in 2006. In 2005, he had 19 more walks than strikeouts and a 6.89 ERA. I could go on, but I won’t. Hennessey had 42 walks and 42 strikeouts last year. He’s awful. Sanchez is easily the best pitcher of the group, but he could use more minor league seasoning. If the Giants want to win, though, they’ll give Sanchez the spot. If a starter gets hurt, God help the Giants. For more on Sanchez, see the prospect report.
The Bullpen – Bad. Really bad. I mean, this bullpen has been bad for a while now, but this could be the worst group yet. They sure could use Joe Nathan.
Armando Benitez is the favorite to close games. Benitez gets a bad rap, but he’s had a great career. Ever since he came to San Francisco in 2005, he’s battled injuries. His knees are on their last breath. He really hasn’t been effective the last two years, and the Giants were trying to trade him earlier in the winter. If he doesn’t close, I don’t know who will. I guess Brian Wilson would be the favorite. He’s 24 years old and has a good slider-fastball combo. But he struggled in his 2006 rookie trial. Milwaukee’s own Jack Taschner gave up 23 runs in 19.1 innings last year. Kevin Correia isn’t good. Steve Kline is a run-of-the-mill LOOGY (Lefty-One-Out-Guy). Billy Sadler is the Giants’ top bullpen prospect and could already be the best pitcher in the bullpen. But, he’s not old enough to be given any innings on this team. The losers of the fifth starter battle will also crack the bullpen. Yikes.
Given the age of the Giants players and some bad contracts, like that given to Barry Zito, the Giants don’t look too good over the next few years. When Barry Bonds retires/is detained, the lineup looks bad. The Giants don’t seem to have any answers in the infield and outfield, and free agent signings are no longer a way for a team to fill all of its needs. The pitching has holes, but a couple of youngsters and Matt Cain could form a good core of a rotation in the near future. However, as long as Sabean is the GM, the Giants are going to fall further and further behind the rest of the teams which are steadily improving in the NL West.
The Farm System: This isn’t too good of a system, a tribute to Sabean’s intentional surrendering of first-round draft picks during the past few years. The Giants didn’t have a first round pick in 2004 or 2005. They didn’t even have a second or third round pick in 2005. Because the Giants finished in the bottom half of baseball for the first time in nine years in 2005, Sabean was unable to surrender his 2006 first round choice. He chose Tim Lincecum, who is the only really high-level prospect in the system right now. The Giants cannot lose their 2007 first round pick, but Sabean has made sure to lose just about every other pick he has in the 2007 draft this winter. Again, I’m estimating right now, but I’d say the Giants system is about the 20th best system in baseball.
1. Tim Lincecum – Lincecum was taken 10th overall from the University of Washington in the 2006 draft. He is a 22-year-old pitcher who should move through the system quickly. At Washington, he was a fantastic strikeout pitcher with 491 career strikeouts in three NCAA seasons. Control was a bit of a problem in college, and could be a concern. Lincecum is only 5’10” 160lbs., but he has a mid-90’s fastball and fantastic curveball. Unlike a lot of other pitchers, Lincecum has a useable third pitch, a changeup; though his changeup could use some more work. He’s also never had health problems. His debut was more impressive than any other 2006 draftee. In Short-Season Low-A ball, he pitched only 4 innings before being promoted. In those four innings, he allowed 1 hit, no walks and no runs. He also had 10 strikeouts. After jumping to High-A, Lincecum carried a 1.95 ERA and had 48 strikeouts to 12 walks in 27.2 innings. Despite his size, he is a strong candidate to be the top pitching prospect in baseball by 2008.
2. Jonathan Sanchez – Sanchez doesn’t have the ceiling of Lincecum, but he’s a solid pitcher who is much closer to the big leagues. He is 24 years old and probably the leading candidate for the Giants’ fifth starter spot. In 55 innings between Double-AA and Triple-AAA, Sanchez allowed only 14 runs and had 76 strikeouts and 22 walks. The Giants called him up to the Majors midway through the season and used him primarily out of the bullpen as a LOOGY. He struggled a little bit, surely a sign that he was rushed to the Majors. He’d only thrown 55 minor league innings above Low-A. The Giants may be well served giving Sanchez a little more time in the minors in 2007, especially if they fall out of contention early.
3. Eddy Martinez-Esteve – EME has a fine bat, but he is a liability defensively. He missed most of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury. He’ll be 23 to start 2007, and he’ll begin in Double-A. He has great power and a great plate approach, but he’s probably going to have to move to first base or DH. He’s a much better player in the American League. He apparently is healthy, and I think the Giants should move him to first permanently this season. I’m very high on his bat, and he could be the answer at first base for a desperate team.
4. Angel Villalona – 16-year-old man child signed out of the Dominican Republic last year. He’s slated to play third base, but he’s already 6’3” 210 lbs. or so. He’s not going to see much action for a while, but he was widely considered the top international positional prospect last year.
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