My first real post on the 2007 Giants came on December 3 of last year, wherein I evaluated the difference between what General Manager Brian Sabean had said a month earlier ("We'll make a concerted effort to get younger") and what Sabean actually did. To note:
Signed Ray Durham for another two years. Durham wasn't the worst possible move, despite his age … he'd been a good hitter for many years and wasn't showing any signs of falling apart. Unfortunately, that's exactly what he did.
Signed free-agent Dave Roberts for three years. Injuries slowed Roberts down early in the year … that'll happen when you stick 35-year-olds in centerfield … and while he hit better in the second half of the season, all of the games count, so Dave's overall contribution was poor. And he's signed for two more years.
Signed ex-Giant Rich Aurilia for two years. You understand these guys were all 35 years old? That's what I call a concerted effort. Aurilia, who'd had one good season in the last five, unsurprisingly made it one in six.
The Giants lost 91 games and finished in last place for the first time in more than a decade. I think you could say that concerted effort didn't quite work out.
I listed some available pitchers who might be useful roster-fillers … turned out the pitching wasn't that bad for the Giants in 2007, so I should have been listing hitters. Of the four I listed, two were crummy, one didn't play in the majors, the fourth won 12 games for the Cubs and will be playing October baseball. Not sure that's better than what Sabean did, so I don't have much room to talk.
Onwards. Next, they re-signed Pedro Feliz for $5 million. Pedro represents everything I hate about the Giants front office, in that he is a truly abysmal hitter, but Sabean doesn't seem to realize this. In Pedro's defense, and that word is properly chosen, his glove work was good enough to raise his overall contributions above the bottom, but he really can't hit.
After that, they signed an out-of-shape catcher in his 30s, Bengie Molina. What you think of Bengie's season depends on … well, it's too simple to say depends on whether or not you like him. On the plus side, he played in more games than he ever had in any previous seasons. His bat, while awful, was about average for a catcher, which is what matters. On the other hand, he allowed 16 passed balls … last year, the entire team only had 5 passed balls. Bengie, you see, has a hard time moving, which might have been OK for Ernie Lombardi, but Schnozz hit .306 lifetime and is in the Hall of Fame, while Bengie will never see .300 and won't see the Hall unless he buys a ticket. And he's signed for two more years, and the track record for catchers of his age isn't good.
Finally, Sabean signed someone who wasn't 30 yet, pitcher Barry Zito. Zito was a Cy Young winner five years ago, and while he hadn't reached those heights since, he was a decent pitcher … not a bad guy to have in the middle of your rotation, although the fact he had led the league in walks in 2006 didn't bode well for the future. So Sabean was very happy to bring Zito to the Giants … for seven years and about $18 million a year. It was, in fact, the largest contract ever given to a pitcher. And a good pitcher, not a great one. Zito lost more games than he won in Year One of that contract, with an ERA a bit above league average, pitching home games in a pitcher's park.
And so, the 2007 season was, to the surprise of no one, a disaster. What was good about it? Well, the pitching, mostly. Matt Cain was terrific, Tim Lincecum made it to the majors, and we all drooled over a Cain/Lincecum duo for the next ten years. Some other pitchers were good (most of the bullpen), some were lucky (hello, Noah Lowry), some hated the fans as much as the fans hated them (hello, Armando, goodbye, Armando) … there was even a LOOGY who couldn't get out lefties.
Ah, but the offense. A couple of the young guys who finally got a chance to play once the season was lost didn't quite stink, and that's about it. Oh yeah, there was a man named Bonds. I'm tired of writing about him … I guess the terrorists have won, because I'm throwing my hands in the air on this one. I'm sure I never convinced any of the Barry Haters that they were donkeys, and I don't really like reading stuff like "I hope Al Qaeda bombs your ballpark so you commie queers can die with Bonds." Barry's chase for the HR record was the only thing outside of the young pitchers that was worth watching this year. So, of course, he'll be gone next year.
I might be encouraged that the team finally believes what they used to say about getting younger. But this is a team with so many problems it will take more than a year to fix them all. Simply put, there is not a single hitter on the Giants roster right now that can be safely penciled into one of the eight offensive slots in the lineup in the expectation that they will be above-average. That isn't to say none of those hitters will blossom … one will, maybe two … but ultimately, this isn't a team needing a fix-it man, this is a team needing a demolition expert. Consider:
The #1 catcher will be 33 next year, isn't much of a hitter now, and is too out-of-shape to play good defense. None of the minor-leagues will be ready in 2008. (I won't keep saying that … for the record, there are no true prospects in the Giants system ready to play in 2008, so the guys you saw in the second half of this season are what you've got in the short term.)
First base was occupied most of the year by journeymen in their 30s. The hope of the future is now converted OF Daniel Ortmeier. Ortimeier showed some nice pop in his bat with the Giants, and he'll be only 27 next year, but the power may be a mirage (when you post a SLG 20+ points higher than anything you did in the minors, you remind us that 61 games isn't a very large sample size), and he's Yet Another Giant Who Won't Walk (even in this "good" beginning, his OBP was only .315).
At second base there's the afore-mentioned Durham, still under contract, and the phenom replacement, Kevin Frandsen, who is in his mid-20s and who hit a bit in the minors, but who hasn't hit much in 150 major-league games so far. Some think he's got potential, I see an MLB career OBP of .318, and I'm not convinced.
At third base, Pedro Feliz is either gone (please, please) or re-signed (in which case, he'll stink at the plate once again). The #1 3B for the Giants AAA club will be 30 years old next year.
At shortstop, Omar Vizquel may be back for his glove. It won't be for his bat … he made Ray Durham look like Joe Morgan. And Omar's in his 40s, so he ain't getting better.
Whoever plays left-field, it won't be Bonds, so unless they sign a stud, the leftfielder won't hit as well as the one they had this year. The outfield spots, based on who is currently on the team, will be filled from Dave Roberts and Randy Winn, veterans in their 30s, one of whom can't hit, one of whom is about average at best, and the young guys Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis, and Nate Schierholtz. The latter will only be 24 and may end up back in the minors. Davis is fast, Lewis can hit a bit, and amongst the three of them, maybe one will shine in 2008.
So, there you go … the 2008 Giants, without a single hitter you can be excited about. The Giants need the following: a C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, and RF. Does this look like a good 2008 team?
Molina, Ortmeier, Frandsen, Feliz, Vizquel, Roberts, Davis, Winn
I didn't think so. This team will not contend in 2008 … there is too much to be done. What the Giants should do is put money into the farm system and scouting, finally accept the new paradigms of modern baseball analysis and get a stathead in the front office to advise the GM, and build the team slowly, avoiding for now a quick fix that is bound to fail. Don't trade Cain or Lincecum. Don't make anyone else untouchable. Don't sign any free agents in their 30s unless their first name is A and their last name is Rod. Prepare to lose a lot of 2-1 games at China Basin. Eventually, the team will get good again.
Me, I expect Sabean to begin his youth movement by re-signing Omar Vizquel and Pedro Feliz.