WTNYOctober 31, 2003
Organizational Meetings: Giants
By Bryan Smith

The Manny Ramirez news was unbelievable today, and I need some time to digest what happened. I'll write about the situation Monday, pushing organizational meetings to Tuesday and Thursday next week. This weekend I may make a short post about rumors that are flying around as well.

Moving on, today I hit the San Francisco Giants with my organizational meetings. Matthew Durham, a.k.a. the Southpaw, agreed to answer a few questions about his team. And I answer the same questions as well...

1) On the offensive side, the Giants have free agents in right field, and at shortstop, first base, and catcher. Jose Cruz Jr. and J.T. Snow are out the door. Would you pursue Rich Aurilia and/or Benito Santiago? Can Todd Linden and Lance Niekro+Pedro Feliz handle the RF and 1B positions respectively. Are Neifi Perez and Yorvit Torrealba to be trusted at SS and C? If not, who do you pursue for these positions?

Southpaw- J.T. may not be as gone as many may think. He's made far too much money in the past for what he's done (field, but not hit), but I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him come back in the $2-3 million range. The question will be if he can get more than that on a team he'd want to play for (it'll be tough for him to get paid AND play for a contender).

I'd let Santiago go, and I think he's already gone. Aurilia would be a better choice for the Giants to go after, especially since they've got Neifi Perez penciled in without him.

I would be surprised if opening day came around and there wasn't at least a new starting OF in the Giants organization, but I think that Todd Linden and Lance Niekro will be serviceable off the bench. From what I understand, Pedro Felix has been all but given a starting job next year. I keep hearing 25-30 HRs, but I think that's a result of a smaller sample size. I'd be more than happy with 15-20 and a decent OBP.

And as for behind the dish, Torreabla will be the 2004 Opening Day starter, barring a surprise transaction (FA signing or trade). A decent backup will probably be signed on the cheap. Someone like Brent Mayne.

The position that the Giants will need to pursue the most will be in the OF, with either a power guy in RF or an upgrade in CF (moving Grissom to RF). Steve Shelby and I love the idea of a Mike Cameron signing, and it makes sense with this team and park (I'm still not used to "SBC" yet).

Other than that, everyone's going to talk about Vlad and Sheffield, and while I think that the Giants have an outside chance to land one, I don't expect it at all. Vlad played for Filipe, and Sheff almost went to Oakland with Bonds a while back, but the reality is that neither will likely be in Orange and Black next season (unless they're in Baltimore).

Wait 'Til Next Year- An offense is hard to build in San Francisco, as it's so easy to just rely on Bonds (which I address in another question). The most important move for Sabean is to re-sign Rich Aurilia, and to not trust Neifi Perez with a 500AB job. He's a fantastic fielder and worthy of a bench spot, yet a wee bit overpriced, but his .600 OPS hitting is disgusting. Aurilia's a little injury-prone, but it a top-five NL SS when healthy. With him, Durham, Alfonzo, Grissom, and Bonds, there is a start.

J.T. Snow is probably gone, unless he can be retained for about one million. I'm leaning towards making a competition between Pedro Feliz, Lance Niekro, and a minor league free agent like Calvin Pickering. Feliz has 20-25HR power, but he may never get an OBP over .320. Niekro will give you a high average, but less power than even Snow did. If the team had a manager that could effectively balance the two, that would be nice.

Give the catching job to Yorvit Torrealba. In his time with the Giants, it isn't hard to predict his 2004 line, prorated to 400AB: .265/.330/.390. It isn't horrible, and sadly wouldn't put him in the lowest echelon of Major League catchers. Since the team has a pretty solid other five, don't worry about the catching position.

And finally, give right field to Todd Linden. Baseball Prospectus loves the guy, and even after a bad 2003 season, he's ready for a Major League job. Feliz could probably play a little there too, and Sabean would be smart to add a good defensive centerfielder (Goodwin again?), that could push Grissom to right occasionally. Again, Alou must do a good job of balancing to get the Giants back in the playoffs.

2) How much does the Jesse Foppert injury hurt the 2004 rotation? Does this put added pressure on Brian Sabean to re-sign Sidney Ponson or go after veteran Greg Maddux? Would you give Kevin Correia, Jim Brower, or Dustin Hermanson the 5th slot? If not, then who?

Southpaw- Jesse Foppert's injury will definitely hurt the Giants. With any luck, he could be back in the bullpen for the second half of '04, but that's probably a bit too optimistic. If he CAN get back in the 'pen next year, he could be starting (effectively) by the second half of '05, and that would be huge. TJ patients almost always have one down year before returning to form (see: Matt Morris, John Smoltz, etc.).

I don't expect Ponson back, regardless of the rotation's position. Schmidt's getting surgery and Woody appears to be on the decline (I still can't believe they chose to keep him over Ortiz, but alas), but I still don't see Ponson coming back.

I'd love to see Greg Maddux come to San Fran, but money will definitely be an issue. With the expected 2004 budget for the Giants, Maddux would need to take a slight paycut to join the team, and with Scott Boras as his agent, that may not be possible. With Maddux you not only get a quality starting pitcher, but also another pitching coach. He's going to help out some team more than they'll know.

As for the 5th spot, everything I've heard has Correia in the rotation, so he'll be there if they sign someone, and in the 4th spot if they don't.

WTNY- Foppert's injury won't hurt too much in 2004, as he didn't quite perform like they needed in 2003. He's a fantastic pitcher, but had a lot of us scratching our heads when the radar reading said 93 mph in the Majors, after 99 being typical in the minors.

I like Maddux a lot more than Ponson. Maddux, in a spacious SBC Park, could do some good damage, and would be a good teammate to Barry Bonds. Ponson is a giant question mark, and the team should let Kenny Williams jump all over him. Maddux is a much more sure thing, and would become the second starter on this team. If pushed, Maddux would hit 15 wins, have an ERA around 3.50, and pitch 150 innings.

I didn't see a lot of Correia, so I have a hard time trusting him. I like competitions for the fifth spot, and bringing in a few minor league free agents (Justin Thompson?) isn't a bad idea. Correia looked pretty good during the last two months, but make him prove it during the next six. Don't roll over Sabean.

3) Robb Nen will be back next season, taking over the closing job that was Tim Worrell's. With a budget expected to decrease, can Worrell be brought back? Should the Giants trade Felix Rodriguez? Who and what can we expect from the bullpen in 2004?

Southpaw- Robb Nen's a great pitcher, but his contract has been a major burden on the Giants payroll for its final 2 seasons (04-05), both of which were Player Option years. Nen is definitely better than Worrell, but not better enough to make up for the salary difference.

Worrell's gone if he can get "closer" money somewhere else. If he wants to stay, I'm sure the Giants would want him back. It may just come down to numbers.

Felix may be gone, but if the bullpen is on the shallow end expect him to stay on as insurance in case Nen falls.

WTNY- Nen's contract kills the Giants, and shows the dangers with good "show-up-in-the-ninth" pitchers. Worrell did fine with San Francisco, but should take big dollars somewhere else to return to middle relief. He's always been a very good pitcher, but an 'overbudgeted' team can't afford him.

Felix Rodriguez and Joe Nathan are important parts to the bullpen. I think both need to come back, and both need to never screw up. Nen should be a little shaky in his return, so the Giants need the seventh and eighth innings to be solid. I would also re-sign Matt Herges, whom played very well during his stay. That would give Nen three very good right-handed set-up men. Outside of that, there is Jason Christianson, Scott Eyre, and Jim Brower.

4) It seems the Giants philosophy has leaned on just putting average players on offense, and letting Barry Bonds do everything else. Does this put too much pressure on Bonds to stay healthy and active? Can we expect his level of play to decrease as he nears 40?

Southpaw- With a player like Bonds there isn't much else you CAN do, unless you've got very deep pockets. Bonds' salary is almost a quarter of the entire team payroll, so it's not easy to surround him with superstars, and his age prevents the team from rebuilding around him (see: A-Rod). The Giants window is as big as Bonds' time there, unless they pick up a masher like Vlad before Bonds retires.

The Giants success will likely always ride on the back of Bonds. If he stays healthy, they're an instant contender; if he's out, there isn't a large margin of error.

Bonds has been playing like a Superman for the last few seasons, despite being on the tail end of his career. I won't be surprised to see Bonds continue his dominance for a few more years, but age will eventually catch up with him if a random injury doesn't stop him first. Enjoy this while you can, because you never know when it will end.

WTNY- At some point the wonderful journey Bonds has taken us on will end. But in the meantime, it's stupid to bet against him. He's the smartest hitter in the Majors, and really changes a game. So in that sense, it's fair to surround him with eight average players. But having good hitters in front of him is important, because they can see such good pitches as a result.

I'm torn on my thoughts of Bonds breaking Hank's record. Does he have it in him? If he does, will Sosa and later A-Rod shatter the record? Is 700+ home runs as great a feat as it once was? Bonds likely will break the home run record, but won't hang onto it long. He'll never get to 800, but will one day end the argument of best baseball player ever. He may not be signing autographs during the weekends, but Barry Bonds is the best player from this, and any, generation.

5) Jerome Williams had a sensational rookie season, although he wasn't nearly as touted as Marlin Dontrelle Willis. What kind of numbers do you expect from Williams in 2004? What other young Giants should take a step forward?

Southpaw- I always expect a "sophomore slump" from rookies who do well, but I don't think that Williams will have too much trouble with his. He's been the guy the Giants have been big on for years, and that's one of the reasons he was brought up last season.

With a healthy staff next year he could start anywhere from 2-4, depending on how well Woody picthes, and if they sign another starter.

For info on who may be the next player up in the Giants orgainization, I'll forward you to Stephen Shelby (SS's SF Giants News). He's my reference point for all things Giants in the Minors.

WTNY- Williams is a stud. Although his 2002 was a little disappointing, Williams was the stud of the 2002 AFL, which led him into 2003 very nicely. He reminds many of Doc Gooden, but draw absolutely no press this season. If he pitches like a number two starter next season, don't be surprised. His stuff borders on that of Schmidt.

Looking in the system, the Giants have a lot of good pitchers. Boof Bonser will be up soon ,and a host of pitchers follow. The best being Merkin Valdez, or "El Mago." Valdez is really the only player who will justify the Ramon Ortiz for Damian Moss deal.

6) What was your opinion of Felipe Alou in his first season as manager? How do his styles contrast those of his predecessor Dusty Baker? And going to the front office, why do the Giants need to decrease payroll in they attract the best attendance numbers in the Majors?

Southpaw- Personally, I thought Felipe was good for the Giants. The Giants are big on former-Giants, and Felipe's a quality guy in general. It was a good fit. Dusty's a good manager too, but there was too much friction for him to stay.

Something I noticed in the playoffs was that Alou may have pulled some pitchers too soon, but then again, Baker's problem was usually letting them stay in too long, so maybe I'm just jaded.

As for the payroll, from how I understand it the Giants were actually OVER budget this season, which would explain the decrease. It's easy to look at attendance (which I thought was second to NYY) and say that they should maintain or increase the budget, but without having all the information it's tough to know for sure. In general I think that a majority of the owners make too much money while not improving their teams, but I don't think that's the case in San Francisco. It seems that Magowan really does care about the fans, but I could just be naive.

In the end it doesn't matter why they need to cut payroll, it just matters that the Giants (especially Brian Sabean) do what they can within their power to get better and go for that elusive San Francisco Championship.

WTNY- After having a year of Dusty in Chicago, I can't complain about another manager. Dusty is vastly overrated, a product of good GMs and big markets. He's been handed talent, and actually hasn't gone as far as he should have.

Felipe did well in 2003, but he was holding everything together at the end. The Bonds' death midseason was a distraction, mainly because Bonds' absence hurts the team so much. Jason Schmidt was a little overworked during the season, but probably had to be really babied.

7) Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo had disastrous first seasons as Giants. Do you expect performance to increase from both of them in 2004, and to what degree?

Southpaw- I expect both to improve their numbers from 2004. With Edgardo, expect second half Alfonzo, not Playoff Alfonzo.

WTNY- Ray Durham will be my second basemen during fantasy baseball next year. He's a really good second basemen and leadoff hitter, but really didn't get the chance to prove himself in 2003. He will in 2004, when the Giants have him touch home 120 times.

8) Create a step-by-step offseason to-do list for Brian Sabean.

Southpaw- If I REALLY knew what to do, I'd probably be a GM, but here goes:

1. Sign an OF bat. Do it soon, get it out of the way. Protect Bonds in the lineup. Build from there.

2. Sign another SP, get Maddux if he'll come cheap (ditto for Pettite) otherwise get a second tier guy that won't hurt the budget.

3. Give Feliz his shot playing every day or put him in a package for a Sexon (likely) or Beltran (not likely).

4. Sign Hasagawa if you can afford him, trade Felix Rodriguez (J.D. Drew?).

5. Get us back to the World Series . . . Bonds won't lose twice.

WTNY- First of all, let me say I'm not a buyer on the Giants for 2004. They simply have too much money allocated towards Barry Bonds and Robb Nen, and likely can't succeed because of that. If Bonds gets hurt, this team becomes one of the worst teams in the division. I think signing Maddux is a good move, but I don't think Sabean should test McGowan's limits. The San Diego Padres are primed to win next season. But anyway, here is a recap of my moves:

1. Re-sign Rich Aurilia
2. Give Torrealba the catching job, Todd Linden right field, and a platoon of Felix and Niekro at first
3. Sign Greg Maddux, and bring in minor league free agents to battle with Correia.
4. Let Worrell go, but keep F-Rod.
5. Wait for the days when Williams, Foppert, Bonser, and Valdez make up a damn good rotation.

That's it for now, have a good weekend and watch the Manny situation.