His name is Bonds, Barry Bonds (plus a little Cain)

I was remiss in not devoting some space yesterday to Barry Bonds. 3 homers in 3 games, 3 homers in 19 total ABs so far. Still not 100%, still going through spring training getting his swing down, still not conditioned well enough to play a full 9 inning game, and he has still hit a FREAKING THREE HOMERS IN THREE GAMES, 19 TOTAL ABs SO FAR. He is an amazing hitter, the quote about him hitting when he is 50 is totally believable.

What more does his detractors need to know? If there was ever a time that Bonds is unaided by any suspicious substances and indeed should be handicapped by not being 100%, now is when they can see how well Barry Bonds can hit when he is "unaided". Because, as I noted in a prior post, Barry has been tested this season for steroids and he has been found to be clean all this season and as the Mike Morse case shows, the remnants linger in your system for a long time. So, at minimum, for those who don't believe in Bonds' ability to hit the baseball, they should at least accept the premise that Bonds is clean now and even handicapped by his bum right knee still recovering. And based on the results so far, there is no difference between the Barry Bonds of today and the Barry Bonds of the past five seasons, as far as hitting goes.

The question for Giants fans, however, is a puzzling one: when should Barry Bonds retire? Obviously, he's aiming for 2007 at minimum, in his chase of Hank Aaron. The way he is hitting, he could conceivable reach Aaron by the end of 2006 and not need 2007, if pitchers feel forced to face him with Alou hitting behind him. With 12 more games to play, he could hit anywhere from 3-6 more homers, which at the high end means that he "only" needs around 45 homers to tie Aaron; not likely but looking at the way he's hitting now, why not, especially if he puts in PH appearances regularly in 2006 when on the bench and be put in situations where the other team don't really want to walk him.

The way he is hitting, I don't see why he couldn't play beyond 2007, but with the main caveat being where do we play him? He says he doesn't want to play 1B but that would be best for the team since we have no power on the corners right now and our best position prospects are in the outfield - Linden, Fred Lewis, Dan Ortmeier, EME, Schierholtz, Timpner, Bowker. Travis Ishikawa is probably our best 1B prospect and he was only at high-A San Jose this season and still have strikeout problems, but he only turns 22 in a couple of days so he still has time to figure things out and could man 1B long term right after Bonds retires.

And no talk about DHing him with an AL team, he has stated over and over again recently that he wants to retire a Giants, that he cannot be traded away. The problem with most journalists is that they need to follow Bonds regularly, as many Giants fans do, and realize that Bonds often has an ulterior motive to what he says: show me da money, honey. Watching him push for his last contract and for the option vesting, I've seen that he will use the leverage of him leaving as the stick to get the Giants management to give him more money. If he presented himself consistently as someone unwilling to leave the Giants, what happens to his negotiating leverage? Nothing, as he would have none.

So he would openly talk about leaving, stirring up the reporters and the public, when he wants to create leverage against the team, but I think what he said after he signed his 5 year $90M contract represents what he really feels. He said that he really didn't want to leave the team and was glad that push did not lead to shove because he wasn't going anywhere. That mirrors what he has said recently when, again, he is not leveraging to get more money, him saying that he wants to retire a Giant, he has a no-trade contract, 10 year/5 year privileges.

I think it will start to change next spring training, when he starts angling for a 2007 contract. Actually, thinking further, he will probably say something to that end in his final interview of this season, whenever that will be, after the last game of the season, then put the full on push for a 2007 contract in spring training. Because it will come down to da money again.

I'm hoping the Giants can restructure his last year of the contract and tack on a year or two in order to free budget in 2006 for a mid-tier starter to round out the rotation, assuming Schmidt, Cain, Lowry, Hennessey/Correia is the other four or to get a better 1B than Sno-Kro. The budget is pretty much used up already, around $82M already allocated and Magowan recently said that the Giants will stick to the $85M figure of this season, so there is not much space for free agent acquisition. We might be able to trade one problem player for another (say Alfonzo/Durham for a starting pitcher/1B) who might fill one of our needs if they ever get themselves straight, like the 'Dres trading Nevin to the Rangers for Chan Ho Park, or how Atlanta ended up with Mike Hampton and Colorado with Charles Johnson (don't remember the full trade). But as one can see from these examples, you are trading one problem for another and at least Alfonzo has been relatively productive and useful, not like Chan Ho Park in Texas or Hamption in Colorado.

That's basically the only places I see openings for improvement, not that this is anything hard to figure. I think the bullpen is pretty set with the people we currently have on the roster, based on who is healthy, naturally. And our bench is likewise covered. And of course the starting lineup is pretty set unless we are able to trade someone, except for 1B. And we have three starting pitchers pretty set with the other two spots up for grabs.

And as Sabean said in a recent interview, he sees the benefit of going with young guys over getting a $1-2M free agent veteran, so probably most supporting roles will be filled internally, leaving the 4/5 spots in the rotation and 1B. Bonds could help immensely if he could fill the 1B spot, allowing Linden to play RF and Alou to play LF, leaving more budget for a better starting pitcher. Plus he could platoon with Niekro as Lance mashes LHP. But Bonds appears unwilling to do what other aged outfielders have done, which is to play 1B to account for his reduced speed and defense.

Cain Still Dealing the Pain

Another sterling start for the young man wonder: his 7 IP, 4 hits, 2 walks, 2 R/ER, with 7 strikeouts was again dominating but missed by one inning of getting the win. He is 2-1 in 34 IP, only 15 hits (!), but 14 walks (3.7 BB/9!), with 23 strikeouts (6.1 K/9) and only 2 HR (0.5 HR/9), 2.12 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .130 BAA. Still dominating! With only a walks Achilles Heel.

Mike Krukow noted this morning that this is all because of his natural "stuff" that his pitches have, particularly his fastball. He said that right now Cain is doing this with just a 4 seam fastball and a curveball and has so much more to learn still. He hasn't learned a 2-seam fastball yet nor another breaking pitch nor learned how to work the corners nor how to work a batter. He has basically been throwing it up there and major league hitters have not been able to hit it at all. All at the tender age of 20 years old and with a poker face of the ages, stoic no matter what the situation he is in. There's no telling how good he can become.

Assuming Schmidt is physically able to pitch next season and Cain can continue this dominance (big if, look at how Lowry struggled the next year), he and Cain would make a pretty good double ace combo for the Giants. Then if Lowry could figure out how to pitch like he did in August consistently, the Giants could potentially have the one of the better starting 3 in all of baseball. Cain's breakout this season makes the Giants re-tooling decisions much easier, as we only need another starter, which doesn't necessarily have to come from outside, though that probably would be better.

Whereas if he wasn't doing well, the Giants would absolutely HAVE TO GET a good starting pitcher to round out the rotation. And that would have sucked up a lot of budget away from perhaps upgrading at 1B plus there is that other starter for the rotation that would be nice to get as well. The team would have looked a lot more vulnerable - besides the age/injury problems - vis-a-vis the rest of the NL West or even all of the NL without Cain manning one of the top starting pitcher spots. His success means the difference between a tough off-season of chosing where to fix and where not to fix and a relatively easy off-season of picking and chosing among the free agent class, chosing to fix from within if nothing is appealing on the market, a huge difference.


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