Wednesday, August 02, 2006

When the Media Is Not a Deep Fan

I understand columnists cannot always be a deep fan of the team they follow in their reader's base territory. But then don't bother to opine on the team like you know them deeply. One late lamented radio personality, who, surprising to me, had a strong fan base before he moved on, angered me to NO end with his mis-statements on the Giants.

To illustrate my distaste for him, when it is baseball season my radio is pretty stuck on KNBR, the Giants flagship station. But when his show was on I would turn to music. Being the OGC I am, it would not be long before I am lured to tune to KNBR to listen to a bit of Giants talk. But everytime, EVERYTIME, I, like Bart Simpson about to electrocute himself again, push the button to tune to KNBR. And within 5 to 10 minutes he would say some false statement about the Giants and I would curse myself and turn back to music.

Kawakami At It Again

That's a long intro to the latest thing that bothered me, this column by Tim Kawakami. I have loved the stuff he has written about the Warriors and even the 49ers (but then I do not really know those two teams as a deep fan), but I find his knowledge about the Giants to not be up to his higher standards in the other sports. And this is not my first post to complain about one of his columns. Here are my latest nits to pick.

First, this statement from him: "... by letting the 1 p.m. deadline slide away without a peep, the Giants' general manager was tacitly acknowledging that the ship had already hit the iceberg and begun to take on serious water." If that is so, then why did he bother trading for Stanton just the Friday before? If he was that close to acknowledging that the ship was close to hitting an iceberg, why bother pulling a relatively minor deal like that? If Monday is an iceberg hit, the Friday the captain has been warned that the ship was close to sinking, so no need to make any deals, maybe wait for Monday.

Plus, to trade, it takes two to tango. Just like the Giants created an internal list of prospects to keep and prospects who can be traded, other teams are like the same, they will create their own list of the Giants prospects. And if they are unwilling to take 2nd tier prospects, only want players on the Giants Do Not Trade list, how is that a sign that Sabean thinks the ship hit an iceberg?

The Price Was Not Right

Next: "Trade Jason Schmidt at Monday's deadline for two or three super young players? Sabean couldn't do it now because he should've done it a year ago when the price was right..." (italics for emphasis) That is a sure sign that he is not a deep fan. A fan deep in the knowledge of the Giants would know Schmidt because for the Giants to go anywhere good, Schmidt has to do well.

And last year, well, fans knew that Schmidt was not doing well, and not only not doing well, but also was complaining about a mysterious loss in velocity that he had last season. Is that a sign that the price was right for trading Schmidt?

Also, at the end of July, when the trading deadline loomed, a deep fan would know that Schmidt did not have any good stats at that time. Looking it up on ESPN (since I knew that he wasn't doing well and where the data is; only took me less than half a minute, at most, probably 15 seconds), I can see that Schmidt started the month of July with an ERA of 4.81, watch it balloon to 5.11 with his first start of July, then he had two OK then 3 very good starts (3, 3, 4, 5, 5 PQS), but all the while, the other teams have to ask, do I give up 2-3 super young players for Schmidt, who complained about losing velocity - which is his key strength - who had an ERA of near 5 at the start of July, had some good starts though, but still had an overall ERA about 4.50 near the end of the month, and of course his history of getting some sort of injury each year? Do they feel lucky? Are they that desperate and hope that they didn't give up all those good prospects for a $10M starter who might now be a 4.50-5.00 ERA pitcher?

And his stats the first half of July were ugly too, 17 IP, 15 hits, 9 ER (for ERA of 4.76), 11 BB (5.8 BB/9), 15 K (K/BB of only 1.36), WHIP of 1.53. Those are pretty bad except for his hits and his K/9. So do you believe the poor first three games of the month or the one or two or three good starts he has after that, depending on when you approach the Giants? There's no way we will get "two or three super young players" for Schmidt at that point of the season. The A's did not get that when they traded Hudson to Atlanta the pre-season before, so why would another team give the Giants that when Schmidt was obviously struggling to find consistency at that point in the season?

No Prospects, Except For the Ones We Have

Next up: "Trade a couple of prospects for a difference-making hitter? Great idea, except that the Giants have no prospects and no way to solve all their gaping inadequacies." The Giants have plenty of prospects. A quarter of the 25 man roster are prospects: Cain, Hennessey, Correia, Wilson, Alfonzo, Linden. There were numerous other prospects who have been on the roster this year: Taschner, Munter, Ellison, Niekro, Sanchez, Ortmeier, Ishikawa. There are other prospects still in the minors: Lewis, Schierholtz, Martinez-Esteve, Joaquin, Sanders, Griffin, Lincecum, Maroul, Sandoval, Copeland. The problem is that teams don't want prospects for their difference-making hitter, they wanted experienced MLB players.

Thus Washington got those good hitters from the Reds for a couple of experienced relievers. Texas got Carlos Lee, but gave up experienced hitters like Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and an experienced closer in Francisco Cordero. The Yankees got Bobby Abreu for a bunch of prospects but that's because they could afford to pay his salary, if the Phillies wanted some good prospects, they would have had to pay some of the salaries that they gave up.

Of the four prospects - Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monasterios - only C.J. Henry made the Top 15 prospect list in Minor League Baseball Analyst (by Deric McKamey) and he was a 1st round draft in 2005. But he is having a thoroughly below average season in the Sally League, which is low-A-ball, if he can't hit there, when can he hit? And his batting eye and strikezone judgement are way down, in terms of striking out a lot more. And the others are not even on the pre-season Top 15 prospect list, Smith is doing OK at AAA, Monasterious is doing OK in rookie league (but he's not dominating rookie league), and Sanchez is hitting like Neifi in rookie league (so you can imagine how he might do up higher). They are all very raw prospects (particularly the two still in rookie league), or in the case of Smith, he is an overaged (27) reliever prospect who walks too much and gives up too many homers, his main asset is striking out a lot of guys, but that is easier to do in the minors, not so easy in the majors And he just made AAA last year at age 26, he shouldn't even be called a prospect because once you are past 27, you leave prospect status and enter into the "Make a Wish" realm, because very few players past that age become a long tenured major leaguer, let alone a "super young player."

These are the type of "prospects" who were probably dangled in front of Sabean for Schmidt, guys who will probably never see the front of a baseball card unless they go out and buy a pack. And apparently Kawakami would have bit because he "would've surrendered and traded Schmidt, a pending free agent, for almost anything." And these four players pretty much fit that last description, "almost anything."

And most Giants fans want the Giants to keep their best prospects and see what we can do with them going forward while Kawakami wanted the Giants to trade them off to another team - who cares about the future - for a difference-making hitter. So first he blames Sabean for not thinking about the future by not trading off Schmidt - even if they basically got nothing in terms of prospects for him - but then he blames Sabean for not thinking only about the present and trading off all our good prospects - and we do have good prospects - for that one difference-making hitter.

Who Cares? Many of Us!

Next: "Some of us saw this coming long ago. Sabean probably saw it coming long ago, too, but he wanted to keep Barry Bonds happy by surrounding him with veterans and thought the piecemeal process might still work in the lousy N.L. West.

Didn't work. Won't work. Even if the Giants had scrounged up a few more wins and were challenging for the N.L. West, who cares?"

There are so many wrong things with this whole thing. First and foremost, who cares? There are plenty of fans who still care. Just because he does not care does not mean that there are not fans who do not care.

Second, it is very easy to say this when the team is in the midst of a long losing streak. WHERE was he about 10 days ago when the 5 game winning streak was going on and the team was in first place? Did he "see that coming long ago" back then? Why wasn't he proclaiming on the front page that "the end was near" back then? Why didn't he shout off the mountain top about how foresighted he was back then? It is easy to kick the team down when things are bad, it takes no guts to sneak out of the shadows and take a swipe at the team when things are going bad. Why wasn't he asking about the emperor's clothes when the team was in first place?

Third, "didn't work. won't work?" We were in first place not that long ago. We are still only 4.5 games behind. All the teams in the NL West have been hot, all of them have been cold. Arizona was buried just a little while ago with their extra long losing streak and they have battled back since then. Same with the Dodgers, who just had an 8-game losing streak, but now is on a five game winning streak.

That's the beauty of baseball, it is a long season. History is replete with stories of teams who entered August out of the pennant race and suddenly everything clicks and they storm into first place. There was the Boston Braves of 1914, sad sacks of the NL, flying all the way from last to first, when something like that was much harder with 7 teams ahead of them. There was, of course, the Giants of 1951, the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff, when they were 13 games back and caught up with the leaders, the Dodgers, forcing a 3 game playoff which they won. The Giants are only 4.5 games out right now, despite losing 9 games in a row, and they have not been buried, not like Kansas City, who is 34 games back right now.

Where was his balls when the team reached first place? Will he eat crow if the Giants come back and take the NL West pennant? I doubt it and if the Giants don't win the World Series, then he will probably pat himself on the back and say "I told you so", given his comments in this column. Even though there is 29 other clubs whose fans could say the same thing.

Lets Break the Last Sentence Down

He wrote this about one of Sabean's statements; let's do it with this set of his: "The Dodgers had extra talent available, which they turned into Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit over the past few days. The Padres had extra talent, which they turned into Todd Walker. The Giants traded for Shea Hillenbrand and Mike Stanton last week."

First, outrageously, he makes it like the Padres actually did something better than the Giants. The Padres needed a 3B desperately; the Giants needed a 1B desperately. The Padres got Todd Walker (who is a 2B by trade) to platoon at 3B (so he will be out of position), who was having a down year; the Giants got an everyday 1B in Hillenbrand to start at 1B, who was having one of the best years of his career. The Giants also got bullpen help with Vinnie Chulk to replace the player they traded, Jeremy Accardo, and also picked up Mike Stanton. How is getting a platoon player better than all that?

Second, Padres had extra talent?!? Here's their extra talent they traded to the Cubs: Jose Ceda, 19 year old rookie league pitcher - rookie league pitcher! - with 5.09 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 5.1 BB/9, though 12.1 K/9. I will bet that every team has a pitcher with that much talent on their rookie league or any of their A-ball league teams. EVERY team! It was strictly a salary dump on the part of the Cubs, if the Giants wanted a 3B that badly, they could have easily gotten Walker instead, but they didn't need another left-handed bat, they needed some power and hitting from the right side, which Hillenbrand provides.

Third, Sabean in his trade for Hillenbrand, turned a decent reliever into a major league hitter and a decent reliever, how is that not a good trade? True the Giants traded the potential that Accardo provided but got the veteran steadiness that Chulk provides. One could argue that he is not steady because of his early season meltdown, but I know from my fantasy league that almost all of Toronto's bullpen had a horrible April, it was not just Vinnie, and given what Hillenbrand said about Gibbon, one has to wonder if that almost complete collapse has anything to do with the problems that Hillenbrand brought to light.

Fourth, the Dodger's extra talent was bought. The Dodgers acquired Rafael Furcal during the off-season. That made both Cesar Izturis, who they traded for Maddux, and Joel Guzman, who they traded for Lugo, extraneous shortstops without a starting position on the MLB club. Why not point out how the vaunted Dodger's farm system, so highly regarded, could not develop a starter so they were forced to go out and get a pitcher with a 5.77 ERA/1.43 WHIP since the beginning of May, why not point out that the Dodger's have their own set of broken down vets, like Jeff Kent, Bill Mueller, Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Gagne, instead of putting them up as an example to emulate?

And in the case of Wilson Betemit, they got him for Danys Baez and why was he extra talent? Because they signed Takashi Saito, who played in the Japanese Leagues previously, he was a free agent. And lucky for them, because Baez was a total bust as the closer for the Dodgers, lucky that the Braves were having an even worse problem with their bullpen than the Dodgers but with their surplus of talent, they were able to trade for extra bullpen help PLUS a player who would replace Betemit in Aybar, so that they don't lose much in the trade but have the potential for a lot of gain if Baez recovers.

And for all the talk about the Dodger's farm system, only two pitchers are from their farm system, many of them were free agents they acquired. And if you count up the players on their 25-man roster who are products of their respective farm systems, the Giants would have more players currently than the Dodgers. So how is it that the Giants farm system lacks the extra talent or, as Tim put it, "have no prospects", if they are able to supply their own team with more players than the Dodgers could?

Different Interpretations

Lastly, Kawakami reads into Sabean's statements to fit his own agenda. He reads one of Sabeans's statements to mean that Bonds is leaving, that "the face of the organization is changing." But that doesn't mean that Bonds is gone. With a good portion of the team leaving via free agency, the face of the organization WILL change, but that does not mean Bonds is not around. The face of the team will be their pitching rotation, led by Lowry and Cain and hopefully by Lincecum and Sanchez not too far down the line. It is clear that pitching is the future of the Giants, like it or not.

Then he comes out of left field regarding this statement by Sabean: "We were kind of at a stalemate," when asked if the Giants approached the deadline as buyers or sellers. This reflects what he had said and which was reported by other reporters, that he was willing to sell off free agents for the right price but was also looking to buy, but he was at a stalemate because no one was offering much for any of the free agents and was asking too much for what he wanted to buy.

I think that Sabean is still working on deals with the teams he had conversations before, as the season heads towards the end of August and the deadline for acquiring players who can be placed on your playoff roster. He is going to place all his players on waivers, just like every other team in baseball, and if no team acts like an ass and put in a waiver claim, like the Rangers did last year with Tomko, preventing us from dealing with any other team (and that GM will get his payback at some point, I don't think that Sabean had took it lightly that he screwed up Sabean's plans to possibly trade Tomko off last season), any of our free agents will be up for grabs for the right price should the team really do fall off the cliff, that is, fall, say, 10 games out, instead of the current 4.5 games.

Then Kawakami ends with this cockamamie statement: "Yes, a stalemate. Not good enough to move forward, not energetic enough to plan for the future, not talented enough to do anything but plummet." Again, he reads what he wanted to read, taking stalemate to mean what he thinks it means.

First, while no one wants to ever go through a 9 game losing streak, what the Giants did over the past few weeks is equivalent to someone jumping off a building, plummeting to the ... ledge just off the side of the building. Just 10 days ago, they were good enough to move forward, they moved all the way up into first place. That same team is in place with a better 1B now and basically the same cast and crew that pushed their way into first place. He doesn't know that they won't do it again, just like I don't know that the team won't implode and crash and crumble in finger-pointing. But as long as we are within easy reach of first place, it does not take that much winning to grab first again.

Second, Sabean has been planning for the future, only some people refuse to see and that future is this: pitching (I will have to rewrite my post on Sabean's strategy soon; other people are forgetting that too). Sabean has been building this organization to have pitching coming out of its ears and eyes. Evidence of this has been his preponderance in picking pitchers in the annual draft and all the pitchers who have been able to come up and contribute significantly to the success of the Giants over the past two seasons.

The future is not that far off, we already have Lowry and Cain in the rotation, and Lincecum and Sanchez look like the favorites right now to fill out the rest of the rotation. These four could comprise our rotation for a good 3-4 seasons over the next four seasons if things work out. And if they don't work out there is a multitude of prospects we have who could step up, including Hennessey, Correia, Misch, Griffin, Joaquin, Whitaker, among others. And whoever don't make the rotation, would fill the bullpen, even as Hennessey and Correia is now and Sanchez earlier, but even there we have pitchers like Taschner, Munter, Wilson, Anderson, Hedrick, who look to be good relievers, plus Wilson might also get a crack at the rotation as well.

Third, again "not talented enough to move forward" implies that they have not been moving forward. As I have noted a number of times this season, the roster has been transitioning in season and the players brought up have provided the team a lift while they were here, like Linden and Alfonzo now and Ishikawa earlier, or pitchers like Cain, Accardo, Correia, Hennessey, Sanchez and Wilson. They have been moving forward even as people grumbled about the age of the team.

Lastly, he is missing out in a big way how the future can be changed in the off-season and rather easily. With all the pitching coming out of the farm system, our main needs will be filling position starters who are free agents this off-season. And with so many contracts ending, the Giants will have at least $50M to spend in the off-season, though some might go to Schmidt if they re-sign him, plus Bonds and Alou.

Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee are premier free agents and play at positions that the Giants will have open. Julio Lugo will also be available and, after his experience with the Dodgers playing 2B, might be willing to switch for the right price; he fits the profile of the type of position players Sabean had been targeting, speedy hitters who can get on base and create a little havoc, like our prospect Marcus Sanders.

In addition, there are still players out there whose teams tried to deal them before the deadline that the teams might still be willing to deal after the season, just to get salary relief, like Pat Burrell, Eric Hinske, Miguel Tejada. The Giants should be able to quickly buy their way to respectability in 2007, just like the Dodgers did it this season.

3 comments:

  1. Honestly, listening to KNBR as a Giants fan is almost like listening to the dentist warm up his drill at times. The worst parts of KNBR's lineup are the beginning and the ends.

    The morning show has the worse case of bi-polar disorder. The best part about the morning is listening to the 15 minutes of Kruk and Kuip, with Mike Nolan once a week.

    The Sportsphone host(s) are ridiculous in their own right as well.

    I know these guys are probably paid to instigate (or is it stimulate?) conversation and debate, but I think the most important point of view to portray is one's own. Are they true Giants fans? With the exception of Ralph (who can be debatable at times), would you believe any of them are truly Giants fans?

    While I know the season is quickly going down the drain, there are still 50+ games left in the season, and plenty of time to plug that drain and fill the pool back up.

    Someone's just gotta get the fire going, because with all the "potential" this team has, there is plenty of fuel for that fire. Not to mention most of the stars should be playing for new contracts!

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  2. Nice comments Vin!

    I agree about Ralph probably being the only Giants fan of the bunch, but you don't need to even be a Giants fan to talk knowledgeable about the Giants and baseball, I think Rod Brooks does a great job even though his allegiences are elsewhere, because he's a big sport fan, but I've never heard him make big statements where he didn't know what he was talking about plus he doesn't act like he knows the Giants, he seems to know where his limits are. I've never had a problem with Rick Barry, other than he seems to be always on the athlete's side of anything, and Tom Tolbert, both appear to have been fair and factual in what they talk about.

    Ralph is in a class all his own, if I can fault him for anything, he can be a little (lot!) overbearing with his opinion while talking with Sabean and they (he) have gotten to uncomfortable situations where someone should shoot Ralph with a stun gun and calm him down. I think he borders on what Sabean called the Lunatic Fringe sometimes with his stands. But he's a Giants fan who wears his heart on his sleeve so I usually forgive and forget with him.

    Except when he doesn't give his guests the chance to talk, he seems to be in love with his voice sometimes. He talks like I write - a lot, too much, all the time :^) - and I'll be there are over/unders every day on when he'll take his next breath with a guess - and most will pick over.

    I still think we have plenty of time too, the pendulum has been going back and forth on this season, and I like that Felipe brought in Stanton but at least gave Benitez the chance to do it (but didn't), I know with the old manager, he stands with you as the ship is sinking.

    I agree that all the free agents should be playing for their new contracts. Durham sure looks like he's got the fire and hopefully Hillenbrand will ease up and let his abilities take over. Hopefully the homer today will break the ice for him, when success has been lacking and you start pressing, you fall out of your successful routines sometimes. Alou always have the fire, contract or no, it appears, but he just needs to stay healthy. And Bonds appears to be like Mays in his final seasons, low BA but high OBP to make up for that, plus a modicum of power. I still wonder if his knees are fully healed yet, he might have a rebound season next year if that's the case, Ted Williams had a rebound year after his first poor year in his forties then retired. I think that's what motivated Bonds to go for another final year in 2007, as he recently announced.

    I don't see how he can play anywhere else but here, look at Sosa and Palmiero, there's usually one desperate team to give someone like them one more chance, like teams did with Rickey for a while, but no one gave them a chance, they were box office poison. Hopefully Bonds will play for pride and ego next season and accept a low base salary ($5M?)with games played bonuses similar to Frank Thomas' contract with the A's.

    The only problem is that if Bonds is back, Felipe is back too, and while I have no problem with Felipe, I so much prefer him over his predecessor, his being around means that Moises will probably want to play for us too and while I like his hitting, the team really does not work with two "regulars" who are regularly out, unless we can get an OF willing to play part-time who can hit for similar power. If Linden could do that, that would be ideal for 2007, but I don't know if he'll ever hit in the majors.

    I am hoping that if they give him enough time, like Feliz, he will eventually figure it out enough to be as good as but hopefully better than Feliz, as Linden did more in AAA at a younger age than Feliz did. I think they will probably give him that chance next year, if we do sign both oldies, Linden will be 2007's Finley, only with more power, which is what we're looking for.

    As far as fire, I would hope that given their age, you don't need to get a fire going, that pride and ego will do it for them, but yes, we need a "sign" of some sort, an incredible comeback, some superlative solo effort, the starters putting together a good run of pitching.

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  3. Poking around all of these Giants blogs, you see so many people willing to give up on this year. The problem I have with that is that giving up on this year will mean we're giving up on subsequent years as well.

    We have plenty of young players with tons of potential, but none of them are realizing that potential in the big leagues. Even if we were to sell everyone off this past weekend, who could we have gotten? We couldn't even pull away Milledge and Heilman from the Mets (who are terribly overrated for two unproven players). I'm with the Giants brass when it comes to "win now", but I always want to win now.

    This team has plenty of payroll and young talent to mix and match enough experienced players and young talent to make a playoff run every year. I, like yourself, hope that if Barry returns, he takes a huge paycut (I would be happy with him taking 9 million, as that would free up the other 10 we have reserved for him normally). Similarly, if Moises were to return, he should hopefully do it for a small salary as well. If they want a championship, thats what they'll have to do.

    But I totally agree about Linden. He has enough bat to be a great 4th outfielder. He has decent range in the field, and a decent glove. He still needs work on discipline at the plate (and in the field), but that'll come with more playtime. An outfield of Bonds, Alou, Winn, Linden and Ellison isn't a terrible one at all.

    As for Rick and Rod, I don't get to listen during the middle of the day much. But when I do listen, you are right, they seem to know their bounds really well.

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