Giants in Trouble

by The Sports Insider on April 18, 2004

It is risky to jump to conclusions following the Dodgers sweep of the Giants at SBC Park. But this column is all about risks, so here goes.The Giants are in greater trouble than we think.

The team’s offense does not go beyond Barry Bonds, its starting pitching is mediocre after Jason Schmidt and its bullpen is shaky without Rob Nen.

Other than Nen, there is no Giants star sidelined by injuries. Nor has the team played an unusually tough early schedule, as they have been a great home team and for years (though not in 2004) have killed the Padres in San Diego.

It is sad to say , but the Giants are in trouble because General
Manager Brian Sabean made some off-season deals in 2003 that have proved
disastrous.

First, he traded proven starter Russ Ortiz to the Braves for
essentially nothing. Damian Moss., the young pitcher of promise Sabean received for Ortiz, lacked control and mental toughness. Moss was so bad that he was shipped off to Baltimore along with Giants pitcher of the future, Kurt Ainsworth, for the whining but not winning Sir Sidney Ponson. Ponson failed to help the Giants and then returned to the Orioles as a free-agent.

Sabean has done a great job as GM, but the Giants miss Ortiz were still in their rotation. Ortiz was said to be only a six inning pitcher, but he was 21-7 last year with the Braves. Now the Giants have starting pitchers like Brent Tomko, and if you think his giving up three consecutive homers yesterday was a fluke, check his career record. Tomko gives up the long ball with regularity and the Dodgers proved that SBC Park will not protect Brent from the gopher ball.

Second, Sabean’s mistake with Ortiz was compounded by his paying a combined $12 million annually for Edgardo Alfonzo and the injury-hampered Ray Durham.

That’s Vladimir Guerrero money. Guerrero ultimately signed with the Angels for $14 million annually, but the Giants would have had the inside track had they offered him $12 million well before the Angels offer. Giant fans no doubt recall Sabean saying the team could not afford Guerrero, but they could have gotten him or someone else to bat behind Barry had they not mortgaged their future for Durham and Alfonzo.

What did the Giants get for their $12 million a year? Neither player is a homerun threat who can protect Bonds. Sabean is a New Yorker at heart and clearly was mesmerized by Alfonzo’s performance in the Mets playoff defeat of the Giants in 2000. But the man no longer has any punch in his bat. When he’s on a tear, he hits doubles, not homers. And Sabean gave the ex-Met a four year, $28 million deal!

If the Giants are as short of cash as they claim, Alfonzo was a luxury they could not afford. He’s not getting any better, and at $7 million annually, is preventing the Giants from going out and getting either a top pitcher or outfielder with power.

Durham’s acquisition only became a problem when the Giants announced this off-season that they had no money to spend on quality free-agents. Durham is they type of sparkplug that the Yankees always seem to have, but his speed is wasted with the Giants. The team would have been better off with a cheap, good fielding second baseman and used their money for pitching and power.

Do Giants fans realize Sabean is paying Nen $9.5 million this year? Nen has been the highest paid reliever in baseball history, and never was a good as the automatic, lights-out Mariano Rivera. Arm-trouble can happen to any pitcher which is why Sabean’s commitment of so much money to Nen made no sense. Tim Worrell had a solid year as close in 2003 and the Giants only offered him peanuts to re-sign.

A’s GM Billie Beane has his own problems (he spent years trying to obtain Erubiel Durazo, who through Saturday was still looking for his first RBI for 2004) but he knows enough not to drain his budget on a closer.

Prior to opening day, the word was that Sabean would wait until the trading deadline to acquire the pitching and power the Giants need to get to the World Series. But with the team faltering despite Barry’s phenomenal start, such midseason acquisitions could come too late.

Those who have been unable to get good seats at SBC Park in past years may get their chance to see lots of games come September.

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