Monday, August 15, 2005

 

2006 Outfield Outlook: Return of the King

Our Boys in Black and Orange fared just about as well as you’d expect going into the weekend series with Florida, scoring just three runs in the entire series, though they did somehow manage to win one game behind Noah Lowry’s brilliance and an inexplicable one-pitch rally-stuffer from Jeremy Accardo. We’ll see if the bats can wake up against the Reds and their comically inept pitching staff, a unit that makes the Springfield Isotopes look like the ’63 Dodgers. I know we all like to rip Brian Sabean for some really goofy contracts that he handed out this past winter, but at least he didn’t give this eyesore a cool $8 million to toss up an ERA in the mid-6’s. The Giants will throw Kevin Correia against the Reds in the opener today. Correia hopes to build upon a solid outing last Wednesday against the Braves. Cincinnati will counter with their ace Aaron Harang. Boy, did it feel funny typing that sentence.

Lest we forget, as I promised, let’s take a look at how the outfield shapes up for next season. Looking into our crystal ball, we see an aching deity, an overpaid left fielder masquerading as a center fielder, and a creaky slugger whose baserunning is only marginally better than Ruben Rivera’s. The starters seem pretty set, barring a trade, so the real interest is in who will win the reserve outfield spots. Will we slog through another year of Michael Tucker, or will we give Todd Linden a chance to stick? Will Ellison be back, or will Calvin Murray make a triumphant return from the dead? The excitement is too much!

Left Field Rejoice, for he who is all-powerful, he who sends small white orbs sailing into the night sky and splashing into the cold McCovey Cove water, he who gives his middle finger to inquiring reporters, shall return to grace SBC Park once again! Opposing pitchers, beware! Autograph-seeking white boys, repent! Bonds is back!

Or, um, so we hope. The Great One has vowed to be back next season, and after a year of watching some of the most turgid Giants baseball since Mark Leiter was the team’s unqualified ace, fans will be happy to see what should be some exciting play at SBC. But with Bonds’ return come some big fat question marks, lit up like the Las Vegas Strip at night. Even though Bonds is Bonds, he’s been out for a year, and a year layoff for anybody would make a man rusty. Going up against 90-mph fastballs after a year of non-baseball related activities and snapping at various media outlets can be a rough thing. I mean, even Superman would lose a little of his touch after a year of sitting around the couch, eating nachos and watching the belly grow. I’m sure even he would get his ass kicked around a little by Lex Luthor’s faceless goons during his first few times back on the horse.

Well, I’m sure Bonds hasn’t spent his injury time sitting around gorging himself, but even if he has been rigorously working to keep himself in game shape, it'd be naive to think he'll immediately come back and start smashing terrified pitchers like he has all his life. Then again, he's amazed us before, and even Bonds at half-speed is better than no Bonds at all, given the fear factor in opposing pitchers.

If something does happen, God forbid, and Bonds isn't ready for next season, it seems that Pedro Feliz would likely get the majority of the at-bats in his stead, with Todd Linden spelling him occasionally. This is a doomsday scenario, of course, because without Bonds next season, I can't even begin to concoct a scenario where the Giants will be competitive without him, unless Jason Ellison is suddenly possessed by the ghost of Joe Dimaggio, and I just don't see that happening.

Center Field When I heard that the Giants had traded for Randy Winn, I was more depressed than mad, figuring this is what we should have expected from Sabean at this year's trade deadline, dealing two decent younger players (one with solid potential) for a middling outfielder with an arm rivaling Ethel Merman's. I was like Albert Finney in Miller's Crossing when Gabriel Byrne coldly told him that he was plowing his fiance; I just felt a deflated sort of sadness.

Well, I've reconsidered and decided that it really wasn't such a horrible thing when you think about it. Yeah, Foppert once upon a time threw in the mid-90's with satanic breaking pitches, but since 2003 his velocity has dropped and his mechanics are a complete mess. The boys at Baseball Prospectus, especially pitching injury guru Will Carroll, didn't really have anything good to say about him. Torrealba was a fine backup catcher, but that's basically all he was, a backup. Is he better than Yamid Haad? Hell, yeah. Is he just as good as Matheny? Sadly, yes, but we're paying Matheny 3 mil to save games with his magic glove, so Yorvit had to go. All in all, it's not like his loss was going to make or break the franchise.

As for Winn, we've at least solved the Center Field problem for next season. Winn is not a star, but he's a decent bat who can patrol center field as well as anybody who's started for the Giants in recent memory. He can take walks, steal bases, occasionally pop one out (as I write this, he just homered off of Aaron Harang), and hit for a reasonably high average. He sings, he dances, he puts up a .770 OPS. Not great, but certainly better than what we got in the first half of this season.

Of course, you might make the argument that he's basically Michael Tucker. That argument carries water (Winn has a .745 OPS, compared to Tucker's .707), but Winn switch-hits and plays better defense. Winn does have a $5 million player option that the Giants are sure to pick up for next season, making him a rather pricey average outfielder. Ugh. Winn is no prize, but if he can get on base enough to set up Bonds, I guess he'll be worth that contract and the price of Foppert and Vorvie.

Backing him up will be Jason Ellison. I was going to praise Ellison's defense, but he's made 8 errors this season, a ghastly sum. Then I looked at his .277/.331/.380 line and figured hitting might not be his cup of tea either. So what exactly does he do? Well, he hits lefties decently and runs like the wind. Other than that, he doesn't do anything particularly well, and if he's not hitting around .300 (as he was in his hot first month) he shouldn't be playing with any regularity. He's a nice fifth outfielder, but if he gets the Shinjo treament next year and receives way more playing time than he's worth, it's a sure sign that the 2006 season is down the dumps.

Right Field Moises Alou, in between DL stints, has been everything the Giants could have hoped for. Before the season, Alou stated that if the Giants won the World Series he would retire. Ye-harrrr....ugh. Reading that quote would be rather funny now if it didn't conjure up a sensation like a flaming knife to the sternum. I think it's safe to say that Alou will be back in right field next year, slugging prominently, taking bizarre routes to low liners, and fumbling around the basepaths like Mr. Magoo. Even though he'll be a year older, I just can't see a complete collapse happening.

Now we get to the fourth outfielder, and I see one prime candidate, Todd Linden. Linden has been unconscious at AAA this season, and he just has nothing left to prove in the minors. His major league trials have been shaky, but there's no reason to think he couldn't cut it as a backup to Alou and Bonds. Are you going to tell me he's a worse fit than Michael Tucker? Yeah, I thought not.

The other option is bringing back Tucker, and I really hope Sabean hasn't gone so far off the deep end that he feels he has to re-sign Tucker or something at the behest of a cheaper, younger option than Linden. Tucker has been a decent outfielder for two years, and he cost us a nifty draft pick to the Royals, but if I see him in black and orange next year I'm going to puke.

Another, less appetizing options besides Linden is the guy we got for Matt Herges, Doug Devore. Devore is a fourth outfielder-type who didn't hit in 2004 with Arizona but who is hitting reasonably well with Fresno now. I guess the best thing to say about him is, hell, he couldn't possibly be as bad as Alex Sanchez.

I have all kinds of wild and crazy propositions for fixing the pitching staff, and we'll get to them sometime this week, hopefully.

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