Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Tomko, Fiend! How I Loathe Thee!

I just love how Brett Tomko decides to wait until the meaningless final game of the season to break out his Curt Schilling impersonation, all this coming after he blows not one, but two leads in the most important, make-or-break game of the season last week in San Diego. It was a fitting, kick-in-the-face end to a depressing season made briefly exciting by Bonds’ return.

Tomko’s performance Sunday was such an insult that I can't even bring myself to look at his pitching line, even if it was a beautiful complete game victory. I’m sure Tomko was pitching with a ton of anger and frustration behind him, but he could have fallen off the mound and died in the second inning for all I cared. His hideous performance last Tuesday essentially cemented his departure this offseason; I mean, if Dustan Mohr gets axed for falling over a bullpen mound, what chance does Tomko stand after this disgrace?

With the season ending, the Giants need to take a close look at their team and do some evaluating. It’s easy to get duped into thinking that this is a good team if Bonds is in the lineup, since they played reasonably well after his return. Well, it’s not. The starting pitching needs an upgrade and so does the lineup. When we take into account that a couple guys (Matheny, Vizquel) were probably hitting over their heads, and ain’t getting any younger or better, an acquisition to improve the batting order looks essential.

Here are some of the pros I see from the Giants as the 2005 season closes:

-Randy Winn was a steal. Even if he maintains only 75% if the production he carried with him after the July trade (a safe bet, considering his .359 average grossly outweighs his career performance), he’ll be a catalyst at the top of the lineup. Winn’s presence solidified the center field defense and mercifully got Jason Ellison out of the lineup, and his bat almost single-handedly made Giants baseball watchable again in the second half. He was also a threat to hit for the cycle in just about every game. He was amazing, stupendous, brilliant…the superlative machine is about to overload, so we’ll just end by saying it was one hell of a ride.

-Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, and Brad Hennessey. Lowry was sensational in the second half, and the uptick in his strikeout numbers is a great omen. Cain just looks like the real deal, especially if he can get those control problems ironed out. The way he overmatched major league hitters, at the ripe age of 20 no less, was truly a wonder to behold. Hennessey is a little tougher to project, but you have to love the way he finished the season. His K/BB is mediocre and he’s eerily reminiscent of Kirk Rueter when he takes the hill, but as we all know, Rueter flummoxed hitters for nearly a decade.

-Omar’s defense. Vizquel certainly didn’t disappoint with his the glove, turning in one Tinker Bell-esque play after another and wowing the otherwise terminally bored SBC season-ticket holders.

-Bonds’ performance. Nobody knew what to expect from the King upon his return to the throne, but he brought little doubt to his grovelers that he had lost very little at the plate. His performance in the field is another issue, but I think we can all live with a few extra loopers falling in for hits if Barry can do his usual .1400 OPS thing next season.

-Moises Alou. His contract looked short-sighted when it was finalized this winter, but who can really complain about what Alou brought to the table? He spent two stints on the DL and did his usual lost lamb act on the basepaths, but at the plate he was just as productive as ever. It’s difficult to say if he can repeat next season, but his contract is looking like the only good one Sabean signed this winter.

The young bullpen arms, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Munter, and Jack Taschner. One good thing to take away from this season is that the Giants finally wised up and jettisoned the old, lifeless corpses of Jim Brower, Matt Herges, and Jason Christiansen and finally gave young, cheap guys like the aforementioned trio a chance. None of these guys cost a dime, they all have potential to be terrific, and at worst they couldn’t possibly pitch as horribly as Brower, et al. Accardo was flaky, but his stuff is electric. Munter’s K/BB ratio was ugly, but his ability to get groundball after groundball should be quite valuable. Think of a better version of Julian Tavarez. And Taschner was nasty, and frankly better than many name-brand LOOGYs being trotted to the mound in the majors. If Benitez starts living up to his contract, Hawkins regains his 2002-04 form, and Eyre comes back, the Giants could find themselves with a very good bullpen in 2006.

OK, now the cons, although there are so many, I’m just going to point out the major ones. Wait, there are a ton of those, too. D’oh!

-Pedro Feliz. As a part-time player who gets 300 at-bats and plays three different positions and hits lefties well, as he did in 2003, then Feliz is a worthwhile player to have on your team. If he’s getting more than 600 plate appearances and is being relied on repeatedly to come through with the game on the line, then this guy just sucks ass. Brian Sabean needs to milk Feliz’s 20 homers and 80 RBIs for all they’re worth and for God’s sake get something of value for him now, before other teams realize that he’s just a black hole. His habit of hacking away at anything within a stone’s throw of home plate has just gotten old, and when you toss up a .717 OPS and soak up as many outs as Feliz does, it’s hard to find the positives. At mid-season, I think Feliz was perilously close to finding himself on the receiving end of a long-term contract extension, but thankfully his unproductive second half shed light on his true colors.

-Omar’s offense. It’s not really fair to pick on Omar when the team as a whole really couldn’t hit worth beans, but his second-half collapse helped justify the nay-saying over his controversial signing in the offseason. Anybody wise baseball mind will tell you that building an offense is more essential than building defense, so paying up for a 38-year-old Vizquel seemed really silly after his bat went into the tank. Think about it: yeah, he played great defense, but what the hell did that defense really do in the standings? Are you going to tell me that the Giants weren’t better off saving the money they spent on Vizquel, Matheny, and Benitez and using it to get Nomar Garciaparra, a guy who could have provided tenfold offensive production at shortstop at the expense of some defense? I don’t think so. It’s kind of like settling for all the mediocre Housewives when you could have Eva. Regardless of whether Vizquel starts hitting again or not, he has no business at the top of the order anymore. This same rant can basically go for Mike Matheny, too.

-First Base. J.T. Snow walks, plays good defense, gets some big hits occasionally, and charms the ladies in the crowd. That would be all well and good if the Giants had the kind of power at other positions that could support his four home runs. But when Pedro Feliz is hitting weak grounders on every first-pitch breaking ball out of the zone and Edgardo Alfonso is taking a sabbatical from hitting home runs, you need some production from your first sacker. I’ve always loved J.T. for his hustle, plate discipline, and his winning personality, but at this point he really doesn’t need to be kept around, unless he comes back for cheap as a spot starter/late-inning defensive replacement type.

The in-house solution is a rather unappetizing one in Lance Neikro. I’d rather give him a shot to prove himself than sit through another season of Snow, but I’m really skeptical about Neikro’s potential for success as a regular. His .587 OPS against right-handed pitching screams Greg Colbrunn-esque platoon player, and his hacktastic ways at the plate aren’t exactly welcome in a lineup full of brain dead hackers (and not just the Caribbean kind). It’d be nice to see a Paul Konerko-type acquired, but given the Giants’ tight payroll, it won’t happen. I wouldn’t mind seeing a younger, better version of Snow (Doug Mientkiewicz, perhaps?) signed for cheap to stick in against tough righties, while Neikro gets most of the at-bats and does his usual filleting of lefties.

-Jason Schmidt. Whatever the reason, Schmidt looked a lot more like Pedro Gomez than Pedro Martinez this season. His control was screwy all year and his velocity was down, making his changeup less effective. If Schmidt has suddenly decided to revert back to his pre-2002 ways, then maybe picking up his $10 million option isn’t such a good idea. Of course, the pickle is, if the Giants pick it up, and Schmidt pitches the same or regresses even more, you’ve got $10 million of suck soaking up your payroll. If they decline it and he goes to the Dodgers and wins 20 games and the Dodgers, God forbid, win the World Series, well, the Giants would just look like a bunch of big, fat asses then, wouldn’t they? It’s hard to say if the 2002-04 Schmidt is ever coming back, but it should be said that if he returns, maybe Felipe should ease off the throttle and stop making Schmidt throw 140 pitches when he was gassed two innings ago. Which reminds me…

-Felipe Alou. Ol’ Cream of Wheat Brains may have been a hell of a manager back in the day, but he’s proven without a shadow of a doubt that he has no place at the helm of a major league baseball team in the 21st Century. His complete mismanagement of this team wasn’t the main reason the Giants lost 87 games, but it certainly didn’t help. Alou’s laundry list of idiotic decisions is too extensive and gory and will be the subject of a separate rant. But among Felipe’s biggest crimes include overworking his starting pitchers to a seriously dangerous point, mismanaging and/or overworking the bullpen, a mind-boggling insistence on batting Pedro Feliz third for long stretches, a hideous over-reliance on bunting, and a general inability to inspire his team, drawing criticism from his own son for the team’s non-existent chemistry. Apparently, Alou summons comparisons to the devil himself to anybody who dares question him, but I’ll risk the fire and brimstone and say that it’s time for Felipe to go. Hmm, and wouldn’t you know it, Jim Tracy was just let go…hint, hint.

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