The All Star Break: is the Fat Lady Singing?

The Giants are 37-50, 10 games back - worse than when I took my vacation but at least most of my vertigo is gone now - and if the fat lady isn't singing, she is darn near about to sing and sing loudly, unfortunately. There's little silver in the silver lining right now for the Giants, they are in a pretty bad situation.

And yet again the other teams have yet to pull away either, the Giants are one good win streak away from being near the lead again. Of course, win streaks have not been plentiful at all this season. And the team has been sputtering all season long and does not look capable of pulling off a long win streak that would put them back into contention. I fear that this closeness will just tantalize us fans for the rest of the season.

What I'm really annoyed about, however, is a local radio sportstalk personality. He was talking ad infinitem about how the Giants don't have a plan right now but he's wrong - again. The Giants have a plan, he just doesn't like their plan, which is to stay competitive for this season and next.

Also, he wants them to trade away the free agents so that we can get a prospect ready to contribute next year instead of a draft pick who would pay off down the line when we let them go. Wrong again bucko, though I guess it still makes his point, the Giants would have to offer arbitration to any player they let go free agent in order to get a draft pick - so not happening - so they would get nothing for the player if they let them go as a free agent. In any case, he's severely deluded if he thinks we could get much in trade for the free agents we have - he used the A's as an example - the A's were trading two of the top pitchers of the Majors, the Giants, well, not so top, not even so middle.

Right now, Tomko is probably the only potential free agent who would garner any good prospect in a trade and for reduced value because he is just one start past his being taken out of the rotation and put in the bullpen. Even at top value he is only a middling starter, the only plus is if the other team believes that Tomko is really a second half pitcher (got a bridge here for ya if you believe that one). Tucker, Grissom, Cruz, Sanchez, Rueter, Christiansen, Fassero, and Snow would not get us any good prospect who would do anything for us down the line, let alone next year. Eyre is probably worth the most in a trade but I would bet that the Giants will try to retain him for another 2-3 years at $1.5-2.0M per annum. And Schmidt - technically not a free agent unless the Giants buy out his contract - isn't going anywhere because any team trading for him wouldn't be willing to give up somebody the Giants could rely on for this season because that's why they are trading for Schmidt, they need someone they can rely on.

The players who would get the most value would be Durham and Alfonzo, but we would need a desparate team to take on either one's salary for this year and next right now, especially since Alfonzo is still on the DL, we can't get anything for him until he gets off and starts hitting. Right now, because of Alfonzo being on the DL and the team appears to like Ellison, Durham would be the best one to go so that Alfonzo could take over 2B and Feliz 3B and Ellison leadoff, but Durham, despite his lengthy stays on the DL, has been more valuable to the Giants offense than Alfonzo since they were both acquired. In any case, probably one or both will be gone over the offseason as then both would only have one season left on their contracts.

I suppose that Alou, Matheny and Vizquel could also be traded but I would think that most teams would be scared away from Matheny's and Vizquel's contracts and Alou was here to be with his Dad, not be traded away. Besides, without him, the Giants offense would not have a reliable offensive weapon and he would be a good combo with Bonds once (if?) Bonds return.

The Giants plans are still to try to get competitive for this season and I don't have any problems with that as long as they are not trading away any of their top ten prospects. They have made trades before with their lower tier prospects and I don't have a problem with that, especially if they do as they have announced, which is that any move they made will be made with both 2005 and 2006 in mind. The Giants would probably have to take on salary from a budget minded team in exchange for a mid-level prospect from us, for example Eric Brynes, who would be getting a big raise next year in arbitration, though I guess we could give them Ellison if the Giants end up getting a CF for 2005 and 2006.

But this season is pretty much toast unless the Giants can get off to a good start after the All-Star break and play well for the rest of July. However, they will get tested early and often, starting with a 4-game set in LA, then facing Atlanta and Florida at home, before ending the month on the road vs. da Cubs and the Brewers. It will not come easy for them.

However, the team has had glimmers of hope that, if stringed together, they could win a bunch of games plus the break will give the players a chance to de-stress a little and get into a new state of mind. Schmidt appears to be back, if not to the dominating style of the past two seasons, to the winning form that he had prior to changing into the pitcher's version of Superman. Tomko had a few nice outings, both in relief and starting, and perhaps he can pitch well again, like he did earlier this season. Even if he is not a second half guy, he is a streaky guy who might be able to pull off a good win streak. Lowry appears to have figured out his problems and appears ready to, if not duplicate his run last year, then to pitch well enough to keep the team in contention throughout the game. And Hennessey and Correia both had good outings, maybe one can catch fire and put in a good streak for us like Correia did in 2003 and Lowry did in 2004. I'm encouraged by the reports on the changes in mechanics helping Hennessey out a lot and Correia I've liked since 2003, hopefully he can get it together like he did in 2003.

The bullpen appears to be settling down now, all of them appear to be doing well or well enough to support a winning team. Getting Hawkins back should really solidify the relief core of Walker, Eyre, Munter, Christiansen, and Fassero and hopefully Tauscher and Accardo can continue to chip in where necessary. And if the Giants can get back into contention, the news is that Benitez is ahead of his recovery schedule and could return before September, which hopefully will give the Giants another good reliever in the pen.

The offense is still sputtering about and there hasn't been much sign that it will pull of it anytime soon. One problem is the same problem we had in 2003, we have two hitters who are lead-off type batters who hit poorly with runners on base - Ellison and Durham. That was solved in 2003 by hitting Durham 1st and Cruz 8th. The problem today is Felipe is killing the offense by putting Durham in the 5th position because with the runners on, he is doing very poorly but he has high OBP hitters ahead of him. That affects the pitches Moises get, as reflected by his single homer he's had the past month despite hitting for a high average. The Giants would be much better off hitting Durham 3rd (and Niekro 5th) if they must leadoff with Ellison or do as in 2003 and hit Durham leadoff and Ellison 8th (especially since Ellison hasn't hit for much lately).

Another problem, and this is something Felipe can't do much about, is that we don't have a good hitter to bat 3rd, someone with power who could hit for a high average/OBP. Niekro and Feliz don't get on base much so they should really be hitting 5/6/7. Moises Alou would be good for 3rd but Felipe seems to like to put him 4th, but even if he hit 3rd, we don't really have someone to truly hit 4th. If Linden could have continued his hitting in Fresno, we would, but alas that didn't happen. Alfonzo, when healthy, hits for high OBP but little power. Snow was adequate there in previous seasons for a modicum of power vs. RHP and high OBP, but it appears that last season was his last gasp that the baseball gods allowed his talents, one last rise from the dead before succumbing to age.

The only good thing is, like I noted before, thank goodness for Alou, Matheny and Vizquel. I cannot imagine what our offense would look like if we didn't have them to steady what little offense that we have had. Hopefully they can continue to shine throughout the rest of the season as we will need their contribution if we want to have any hope of getting to .500, let alone contend. If anyone should bat 3rd, perhaps Matheny because he has hit very well with RISP, maybe we can capture some lightening in a bottle or something, we need some sort of miracle to help the offense.

The offense is probably the area that the Giants should concentrate most on improving via trade. However, they might not need much of a boost if Alfonzo and Grissom can return soon and contribute to the offense. But they need help now, not later, so that is the tightrope Sabean is walking along in putting together the team. That's why I'm guessing that they are mainly looking at a LH CF who would push Grissom/Ellison to RF so that if Bonds return, it would be Bonds in left, LH CF in center, and Alou in right.

Ultimately, though, these are too many "if's" that we need to get things going and I'm afraid that the Giants cannot afford many more "if's" to not work out this season before we are totally out of the pennant race. There is hope but, like sand in an hourglass, there are only a few grains of sand left before time runs out unless Sabean can pull off some sort of blockbuster trade that shock and awe the Giants fan and the MLB. But he hasn't done that in a while and don't really have the pieces to do that unless he trades Linden and Valdez away.


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