WTNYMay 16, 2006
Planning for the End
By Bryan Smith

Life without Barry Bonds equals futility. At least this has been the case so far, as Bonds' lone organizational exit has yielded thirteen straight losing seasons. Soon, Bonds will be leaving another team for which he has been a mainstay on, this time leaving baseball for good.

The San Francisco Giants have been, for years, a team built around Barry Bonds. The front office's strategy is simple and easily identifiable: win while you have Bonds at all costs. With this approach, Sabean has spent years making short-sighted trades, giving San Francisco a winning baseball team from 1997-2004. Suddenly, however, Sabean's tactics don't appear as genius.

As the cameras follow Bonds so intently this season, the Giants have been plagued with mediocrity, falling to last place in baseball's worst division. Injuries have started to hit many of the thirtysomethings that encompass the starting lineup. The Giants are simply a team trapped between two time periods -- the consistent winnings of the previous decade and the forthcoming retooling of the next.

Can life after Barry Bonds prove more successful than the Pittsburgh Pirates model? Surely, with better management and a sound blueprint, it is almost inevitable. With Bonds likely retiring after the 2007 season, the pressure is now on for Sabean and company to begin planning.

While the farm system will unquestionably be important in the rebuilding process, the Giants have a luxury the Bucs never had: money. Not only will Bonds' exit bring in excess of eight figures off the payroll, but the forthcoming exits of many veteran players will present Brian Sabean with a myriad of options.

Name 06 07 08
Schmidt 10
Durham 7
Finley 7 1o
Alou 6
Morris 5 9.5 9.5
Winn 5 4 8
Benitez 4 7.6
Vizquel 2.4 2.4
Kline 3
Matheny 2.5 2.5 2o
Worrell 1.5 2
Vizcaino 1.25
Sweeney 0.85 0.95
Wright 0.8
Fassero 0.75
Greene 0.7
Lowry 0.39 1.12 2.25
TOTALS 58.14 31.07 21.75

Arbitration players notwithstanding, the Giants can see nearly $50 million coming off the books between now and 2008. Come 2008, the only contractually-bounded commitments are with two dependable starters (Matt Morris, Noah Lowry) and two fringe position players (Randy Winn, Mike Matheny). This means that in the next two seasons, Sabean has to find the new core of the Giants.

What spots can Sabean depend upon the San Francisco youth to fill? Offensively, not much. Graciously, we can assert that second base is accounted for, either by Kevin Frandsen or Marcus Sanders. I'm not particularly sold on either player, but given Frandsen's 2006 and Sanders' 2005, it isn't too much of a stretch to think either is the current long-term answer at second base.

The team is light on corner infield players, especially for those that don't believe in Pedro Feliz or Lance Niekro. At this point, it seems Feliz is no more than a bench player, and Niekro nothing more than some 2005 lightning in a bottle. While Travis Ishikawa could make some noise, I am not a believer. The Giants are simply light on infield youth; any depth is reserved for the outfield.

The Giants have few better long-term bets than Eddy Martinez-Esteve, slowly but definitively moving up the minor league ranks. Esteve has some defensive problems, without a doubt, but either at 1B or LF, he will be an everyday player by 2008. I believe the same to be true about Fred Lewis, who probably should be leading off by the bay in 2007. Lewis' full-time position might move Winn to the bench indefinitely, but Fred's minor league success demands a role.

San Francisco has numerous other long-term options in the outfield, most falling under the headings of 'adequate fourth outfield type' or 'too risky to project'. The latter group includes both Nate Schierholtz and Ben Copeland, both with high ceilings and high flame-out potential. And while I really like Dan Ortmeier and Brian Horwitz, neither profiles to be much more than a bench player. Guys like Ortmeier, Horwitz and Jason Ellison are all useful, just not on starting lineups or in the same organization.

So, where does that leave us offensively? I am confident predicting three spots will be filled by youth, with Matheny, Winn, Ellison and Feliz all as potential bench options. Needless to say, the group does not inspire a ton of hope.

The pitching staff offers more upside, however, despite Sabean's best efforts to trade every pitching prospect he can. While Sebean's belief in TINSTAPP has paid off on numerous occasions, Giants fans must wince every time they see Keith Foulke, Joe Nathan or Francisco Liriano near a pitcher's mound. Still, Sabean was unable to trade all San Fran's pitching youth, leaving some room for optimism.

As mentioned, both Matt Morris and Noah Lowry should be in the 2008 rotation, providing 400 innings and sub-average ERAs. The latter is a long-term bet for a rotation spot. And despite some extreme early season struggles, uber-prospect Matt Cain still profiles to be the Giants future ace. This only leaves two rotation spots for Sabean to fill.

One, you can bet, will come via the current farm system. Pat Misch has gained all the early season accolades, using a change-speeds approach to manage a 0.84 ERA in 43 current Eastern League innings. Misch's second run around Fresno, destined to come later in the year, should answer whether or not Misch is made for a rotation spot.

If not the late bloomer, than perhaps the Giants could fill a spot with one of two hard-throwers: Merkin Valdez or Jonathan Sanchez. Valdez has been a prospect for ages, but like Andy Marte across the country, has not yielded enough high-level dominance. Also, Valdez has been stuck in the bullpen in AAA, which seems to be the Giants plans for him. Sanchez is the question mark; the Giants have toyed with him in both the bullpen and rotation. In any role he's used, the hard-throwing southpaw has been great, allowing 13 hits (0 homers) while striking out 39 in 27 AA innings.

Alongside Valdez in the long-term relief plans seems to be Jeremy Accardo, a budding young set-up man that I am high on. The club also has some potential relief talent in the minors -- like LBSU's Brian Anderson -- and even some potential help in the Majors (Kevin Correia), but it seems that only Valdez and Accardo are dependable bets.

Surely, the Giants seem to be better built in their staff than the flipside for the long-term. Lowry, Cain, Sanchez, Valdez and Accardo are all good bets. Matt Morris, Brad Hennessey, Kevin Correia, Craig Whitaker and Pat Misch could all be there. While undoubtedly not set in this area, we definitely know that Sabean should have his eyes on the lineup.

In conclusion, to be blunt, the Giants have a lot of work to do before Barry Bonds retires. Namely, this includes acquiring and developing numerous young position players and a few young pitchers. This can be done in a number of ways: with the millions that the Giants payroll will shed in the next two winters, through trades (Jason Schmidt, Steve Finley, Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel, etc), and through the draft.

While the Giants have been immune from the draft in recent years, choosing to forfeit their first round picks, such will not be the case in 2006. San Francisco will be picking twice in the first round, both in the tenth and 33rd draft spots. The Giants should undoubtedly choose the best player on their board, but in the case of a tie, look for the club to be leaning towards position players. With the tenth pick, both Matt LaPorta and Billy Rowell are potential choices, as well as a list of pitchers too long to mention.

No matter which direction the Giants go in June, the team must begin a new commitment -- towards youth. With each day on his knees, Barry Bonds' days become more numbered, and the onus shifts more and more towards the front office to turn the Giants into a winner.

Life without Barry Bonds will not be easy. But, with any foresight, San Francisco should be able to avoid the disastrous fate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.


The plan of using so many veterans has worked out much better than most people anticipated, considering most people have been anticipating a 2004 Mariners type collapse for quite some time. I'm not sure they'll ever a be with a ton of homegrown youngsters though. I'm also not sold on a lot of the guys mentioned. Sanchez, Sanders, and Frandsen should be okay guys for the future. Martinez-Esteve should be able to play left field about a little better than Bonds. Taschner and Accardo I'm not sold on. I don't think Niekro will amount to much. It's hard to muster any faith in Valdez and Lewis - it seems like we've been hearing about them ages, heck, I remember hearing about them in conjunction with Kurt Freaking Ainsworth about the Giants' bright future. Lewis still strikes out too much.

I'm not too confident in Morris's reliability either at this point. But they'll getting high selections in the upcoming draft(s) I imagine, and with Barry Bonds definitely and Jason Schmidt maybe (who is going to stomach giving this guy 4 years, $44 million? The thought of it makes your innards clench up) they'll have a lot of money coming off the books.

But tell me you can't see this match made in hell coming - Melvin Mora. In the offseason he'll be 35. You can just see the Giants doing something like offering him a 3 year, $30 million contract.

Still, I don't think the Giants are in as horrible a position as it may seem. As bad as Sabean may seem he usually finds a way to keep the ship afloat.

They can't offer Schmidt arbitration, as he just may take it. I suspect they'll trade him. Bonds is a different question on both points (they can't trade him, he's less likely to accept arb, and even if he does, big deal).

I suspect that Alou will also go for some mid-level prospect. Benitez may go, too, but it'd probably be in a salary dump, which is the worst mistake the Giants can make.

The Giants have to concede 2007. They have to get stuff for what they have, even if it's lottery tickets. They also have to scour the earth for B-level prospects that could pan out, if given the opportunity. Save the bankroll for after 2007.

"falling to last place in baseball's worst division"

Not right now. The NL West has the best collective record of any of the six divisions. They are playing .560 ball outside the division. You can be surprised, but it's true!

I liked this piece but one thing jumped out at me: an evaluation of Matt Morris that looks overly optimistic.

He's got absolutely nothing left. He's entering Kevin Brown '05 territory and is soon to drift all the way to Scott Erikson country. He can't miss any bats or break 88 on the gun. He's a total mess.

I still don't understand why acquiring Vlad Guerrero or Miguel Tejada or Carlos Beltran would have been incompatible with a "win now" philosophy--and left the club in better shape after Bonds' retirement. Sabean has easily spent more than $15M on replacement level talent.

I agree with Nolan, Morris might be done right now and I seriously doubt that he can be counted on for 200 innings with a sub-average ERA this season, let alone next. I think of Cain and Lowry as the only two starters that could be around for the good Giant team.

I also disagree with your assessment of Randy Winn. He's put up an EQA between .273 and .291 every year since 2002, and while he's not young, Im not convinced that Fred Lewis will be able to match what Winn has done. Are you at all concerned with Lewis' strikeout rate; I cant think of too many speed-oriented players that strikeout 20-25% of the time?


The brilliance of Brian Sabean in his first six years with the Giants came within eight outs of giving them their first World Championship in 48 years (now 51 and, embarassingly, still counting).

In the Bay Area we have a diamond store commercial that says of its president, "He's dumb, but he's brilliant." Brian was once brilliant. Since the end of the 2002 season he's been, well, less than diamond-like.

Gone are Jeff Kent, Bill Mueller, Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, Livan Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, Kenny Lofton, Rich Aurilia, Benito Santiago, Felix Rodriguez and Reggie Sanders. In their stead -- and, sadly, often at higher salaries -- are inury-prone Moises Alou and Ray Durham, Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel, Mike Matheny, Steve Finley, Armando Benitez, Matt Morris, Steve Kline and Jamey Wright. Not exactly a fair trade.

The Giants have gotten older. But they've made up for it by also getting worse. On and off the diamond, they seem less and less brilliant.

Now the Giants find themselves in a Catch 22. They almost certainly aren't good enough to make the playoffs in what is likely their last Bonds, Barry Bonds, season. Their future after Bonds looks as if the ticking clock will fail to stop on 007.

If the Giants don't re-sign their potential free agents they will have enough money to spend to make the mafia jealous. Bonds, Alou, Jason Schmidt, Finley, Durham, Pedro Feliz and Kline are making around $60 million this season.

The big question is, where will they spend all that money? The 2006 free agent crop looks as if the fields were left fallow, and the Giants just don't have enough good prospects to trade for serious talent.

Kevin Frandsen appears to be the only homegrown player who will jump from the minors to the starting lineup in 2007. Kevin likely projects into little more than an average starter. So which of their own potential free agents do the Giants re-sign, if any? Bonds, Alou and Durham are ancient and infirm. Schmidt and Kline will likely be judged by their performances over the remainder of the season, and Feliz, while a wonderful fielder at the hot corner, makes far too many outs for a team whose players not closely related to former Giants stars perform as if getting on base is a forgotten art.

Because Melvin Mora reaches base more than a sailor on shore leave, he could be a potential acquisition. Unless he is deemed by the Giants not to be old enough yet, of course.

But if Bonds is gone, who will provide the power? Unless the oft-named AT&T Park is taken over by Pacific Gas and Electric, that remains a vital question. Omar Vizquel may not be the answer.

At season's end, could the Giants be financially all dressed up, with nowhere to go? And if they are unable to attract new talent, will the party be over -- both on the field and with the fans? Without Barry Bonds as a dancing partner, will their dance card -- as well as the stands -- be empty?

Sharks Rog, I believe the commercial you referenced is one for the Shane Company, which is across the western US (or at least used to be), and the line is: "He's dull, but he's brilliant."

I agree with the above assessment that Morris is already on the downside of his career and appears headed for Erickson-ville. Lowry and Cain are the only decent bets for quality starting pitching come 2008, especially since it looks like Valdez has been permanently pigeonholed as a reliever.

As for Frandsen and Sanders... Frandsen might end up Bill Mueller-ed and moved to 3B if Sanders can't handle SS.

The other problem I see in the above assessment is that Sabean and Co. have managed to sign all these veterans at affordable present-day prices, but the deferred money is gonna kill them when they try to sign Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis.

The last sentence is a tautology. If you have any foresight, you're not the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I'm skeptical that you can dump Alou or Benitez for anything useful at this point. But I disagree you can't offer Jason Schmidt arbitration. You have to. Even if accepts, all the better - the way people throw money around, 1 year at $11 million is going to seem like a bargain vs. what he could get on the free market.