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2010 Giants: Trade For A-Rod

(originally written 8/22/10)

For the last two summers, every radio show, every message board, every barstool conversation pertaining to the Giants consists of loyal fans who all seem to have the instant remedy to San Francisco’s six-year playoff drought.

“The Giants need a bat.”

Well, technically, the Giants need a lot of bats with 25 players on the roster at any given time, and unlike youth sports, there isn’t a lot of equipment sharing going on. And bats break a lot.

“The Giants need a big hitter!” That’s what they really mean, and it makes a lot more sense.

Um, no, they don’t.
And not because they got Jose Guillen and Cody Ross.

I’d like to state for the record that the Giants have quality major-league hitters at every position. Maybe none of them are Hall-of-Famers, but they’re all more than capable at their positions. There are no washed-up prospects, no converted catchers in the outfield, no 40-year-olds just hanging on for paychecks, nobody who’d be considered in the lower half of players at his position in the N.L.

I don’t fault Giants fans for only wanting their team—our team—to succeed. I can promise you, as someone who barely restrained tears upon their demise in the 2002 World Series, I feel the same way.

The difference between me and a high percentage of fans is my pragmatism. I refuse to support mortgaging tomorrow just for a chance at improving today, when today’s team already has quality MLB hitters one-thru-eight. 

Before I begin, there is a common misconception amongst the loyal Giant faithful that “big bats” grow on trees. That the Giants should just pick one off a branch and bat him cleanup.

It would be great if a 40+ home run hitter could be placed in the heart of the Giants order. A “difference maker”. Somebody who “scares opposing pitchers”. Well, remember, we had a guy like that for 15 years, probably the best ever at what he did, and the Giants made exactly one World Series and four postseasons during those 15 years. 

A slugger is not a cure-all, as evidenced by San Francisco’s recent sloppy, shoddy, uninspired play against the Padres and Phillies. A-Rod could join the team and hit home runs every time up. It will matter little if the team is going three games in a row without drawing an unintentional walk (true!), if routine throws aren’t being completed, if signs are being missed leading to free outs for the D, if runners are sleepily allowed to advance bases, or if Tim Lincecum’s starts more closely resemble those of Tim Leary.

For arguments’ sake, though, let’s say a “big bat” IS the missing link between the Giants and a deep run into October baseball. Who exactly would the Giants acquire? Yes, that’s right. It isn’t enough to say the Giants “need a bat”. That bat has to be held by someone with exceptional talent—who for whatever reason, is no longer wanted by his current club.

That rules out Albert Pujols, whom I’ve gone on record as saying wouldn’t be dealt by St. Louis if world peace depended on it. It rules out Alex Rodriguez, not that SF would want to annually pay their third baseman more than their ballpark mortgage. Face it, fans—we are not going to acquire any first-ballot Hall-of-Fame sluggers. The few that exist aren’t going to be dealt by their teams, because—shock—then they wouldn’t have them anymore.

Acquiring an All-Star is more realistic. The most common names I heard at deadline time were Prince Fielder of the Brewers, Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, Miguel Tejada of the Orioles, Dan Uggla of the Marlins and Adam Dunn of the Nats.

Fielder is a star, but he would help the team in one way and one way only—left-handed power. I will grant you he is one of few major leaguers who could regularly park baseballs into McCovey Cove. However, as the Brewers’ best player and face of their franchise, it would cost a lot to get Prince. At the very least, San Fran would have to cough up Jonathan Sanchez, a position-playing prospect near major-league ready (uh…do we have any of those?) and most likely one or more additional prospects.

The Giants would get, in return, an overweight corner infielder (don’t we already have one of those?) who can only play first base—a position currently occupied primarily by Aubrey Huff and, when resting from catching, Buster Posey. Fielder would play pretty much every day, meaning the Giants would lose Posey’s bat for one extra game per week. Huff would have to play right field full-time, where he’s been surprisingly adequate. 

Still, he’s a better first baseman than outfielder, and the team has better outfielders than Huff. The Giants would weaken themselves defensively at two spots—and in the starting rotation. They’ve already got a 21-year-old rookie (Madison Bumgarner) fifth starter; trading Sanchez would make Bumgarner effectively the fourth starter on a pennant contender—as if he’s not already under enough pressure at an age when many pro pitchers are college juniors. Plus—PLUS—moving Bumgarner up to 4th means you need a new 5th. Do you really want Brandon Medders making important starts down the stretch? Cuz trust me, there ain’t much else within the organization.

If that weren’t enough, Fielder—as Giants fans remember well—is a bit enigmatic. This is a guy who has major issues with his estranged dad, the former Tiger/Yankee star Cecil. He’s known to lurk outside of opposing clubhouses to “talk” with pitchers who plunk him. And do the Giants really want a guy who would actually go through the trouble of choreographing a clownish “bowling pin” walk-off celebration with all Milwaukee personnel involved? Never mind that it was performed against the Giants. It’s the fact that the guy even let that fantasy pass his lips. Prince Fielder can bash with anybody, but the price is awful steep for a one-tool, narcissistic player with a chip on his shoulder.

Tejada would not have been a terrible fit, but to accommodate him at third, Panda Sandoval goes to first, and you have the Fielder situation all over again. Or you put him at SS and put Bochy in the position of having to bench Freddy Sanchez (and Edgar Renteria when he makes his monthly pop-in from the DL) so Juan Uribe’s bat stays in the lineup at 2B. That, combined with Aaron Rowand, would be $28 million on the bench, guys. OUCH.

Bautista—still not sold he isn't a one-year wonder. Anytime you have a guy go from homer totals in the teens to fifty-something, you need to be skeptical.

Uggla—would have been worth acquiring just to keep him from playing against the Giants. But he’s never been in a serious pennant race, would have cost loads, and quite possibly bounced as a free agent after 2011. Unless Florida wanted Freddy Sanchez, cash, and AA-level prospects for him only—in which case their GM would be laughed out of baseball—pass.

Dunn—we hear his name every year. The Giants have enough trouble with unproductive outs; bringing in a guy who K’s 200 times a year (which normally I wouldn’t be against) would help…how? Sure, he’d bash home runs, but not like he did playing at launching pads like Cincinnati and Arizona. Besides, like Fielder, he’d have no other value to the team on the field if his power slumped.

What’s gone practically undocumented—the Giants DID get a big bat during the season, Pat Burrell! Here’s a player with four 30+ home run seasons, seven years with at least 84 RBI, and a World Series ring. The frugal Tampa Bay Rays thought enough of his resume to give him two years and $16 million! Though he didn’t perform as expected in his new league and new role (full-time DH), he has torn it up in San Francisco from the start—at a price of absolutely NADA. What more does anybody want?

What the Orange and Black need is for the bats they have—and they DO have a capable lineup—to remain patient and work pitchers better. Posey is a superstar in the making. Sandoval has had a down year, but still has upside. Andres Torres, if he cuts his K’s, has the potential to be a very good catalyst atop the lineup. We know what Huff, Burrell, and Uribe can do, and Freddy Sanchez once won a batting title—which is not done by accident at the major league level.

They also need to knock off the “look at me” crap—no more orange shoes, no more guaranteeing victories, no more blonde dye jobs, no more attacking Mike Murphy in the clubhouse (that last one was a joke from Barry Zito on KNBR’s “Unicorn Hour”, when questioned about Guillen’s reputation).

Guillen is a fine major league outfielder with a strong resume; he is playing for what will likely be his last chance at a multi-year deal so we’ll be getting his very best. With him in the mix, this is now a Giant lineup with no glaring holes—provided all members are playing to their abilities. Go get ‘em!

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