Autopsy of the 2005 Season: Part I - Owners Blew It
DOA: The 2005 Season
The Giants never really got a chance to get going in the 2005 season with Bonds out then Alou out rather soon afterward, then Benitez going out and Schmidt losing his bearings for about a month and Tomko and Lowry never finding their's until later in the season and Alfonzo and Grissom never finding it at all almost the entire season. But the Giants problems actually started right after the end of the 2003 season.
The Giants were faced with a tough decision. They had a number of free agents and not enough budget to re-sign all of them to new deals, not that they would have wanted to: Cruz Jr. literally dropped his chances in the playoffs and Worrell pitched well enough to make himself too expensive. But the fork in the road was clear: skimp on certain areas by going with youngsters and sign a premier free agent to be Bonds successor and insurance policy or be meek and sign a few minor free agents to be complementary parts to Bonds. They decided to be meek.
It didn't have to be that way. It was revealed late in the 2003 offseason that there is a mystery pot of money waiting to be used in emergencies: they made a run at Greg Maddux, offering him somewhere in the area of $6-7M per year for 3 years. Using that money and still doing most of what was done that off-season (cutting out signing Tucker, Hammonds, and Hermanson), the Giants could have still signed Vlad (at the contract he got with the Angels) and all the other players using that mystery money plus $1-2M extra (my calculations showed this). Or they could have pursued Tejada, who signed for less money.
People like to complain about bad signings that prevented the Giants from signing a premier free agent but they forget about the context sometimes. For example, signing Alfonzo is obviously a bad move in hindsight. But at the time, we had just lost David Bell (or close to it, forgot the exact timing) and there was really no other 3B out there that was as attractive as Alfonzo. There was really no better alternative, from what I can remember. Some say that the Giants should have went with Feliz, but he was unproven and if he failed again, the Giants would not have had a backup and the fans would have been in an uproar over that plus any emergency trade to get a 3B, if any, where we would have to overpay. Again, hindsight showed that Feliz would have been adequate, but at that time, he was still a struggling prospect, still trying to figure things out.
What I think is that the Giants ownership group is who Giants fans should blame, for a number of reasons. First, they should have made the bold move, like they did when they signed Barry Bonds without properly owning the Giants yet, and pinpointed who they wanted, whether it was Vlad or Tejada or whomever and ordered Sabean to pursue that player and get him signed. Instead, they were meek and keep Sabean tethered to the budget limits.
Second, they should have put themselves in better financial position at that time. Obviously they had a rainy day fund to sign a good free agent - why didn't they have more? Why didn't they have enough to fund a superstar successor to Bonds? Look at the D-backs. They bankrupted themselves (or nearly so) in funding their World Series championship and should have been dust for years after that. Instead, they found new investors who came in and put in a lot of extra money that allowed them to sign a number of high priced free agents before the 2005 season.
If they can find these investors, why couldn't the Giants - in the heart of Silicon Valley - have found investors who could have put in enough money to allow the Giants to overspend during Bonds golden years? They invested a boatload of money into Bonds without the knowledge we have today - that he pushed things up a notch relative to players past. It was a huge gamble that I was scared about and was crossing my fingers on. Wouldn't they have wanted to get insurance, via another star successor player, in case Bonds suddenly went the way of Willie Mays and powered down severely or the way of most late 30's players and injuries took him out?
Third, even after they saw what happened in 2004, with the closer problems and the obvious reliance on Bonds for offense and the expected loss of Pierzynski's left-handed bat, they didn't expand the budget with the rainy day fund. What are they waiting for, were they saving up to draft Bonds son and sign him or something? Because, had they boosted the budget, Sabean could have pursued a number of free agents who would have been a big boost to the offense. As much as I like Vizquel, his salary plus the rainy day money would have put us in the ballpark to signing one of the premier hitting free agents available (plus would have saved by not retaining Grissom or Snow or whoever with the free agent).
The Giants roster is in the mess it is in the past few years because the ownership group was caught with their pants down. They blinked when they should have moved bravely and courageously. They should have boosted the budget because of the knowledge that these were Bonds last seasons and 1) should be going all out to get the World Series now if Bonds continued his glorious hitting or 2) provide protection for that season if Bonds is out for whatever reason (or worse, unproductive) by having someone else around to shoulder the offense's load in Bonds' absence.
Instead, they have been penny-pinching their way to this horrific 2005 season, which the fates allowed to have some excitement at the end before squishing it under their heels. And it is not like the ownership is truly penny-pinching, not like other teams where they artificially keep their budget low, so I hate to use that term, but they were being penny wise and pound foolish in not providing Sabean the budget to keep two premier hitters. They just got the wrong lesson from the mid-90's when they had Bonds and Williams and Williams' injuries caused the team to do poorly.
It is not that a team cannot be properly constructed with two high priced hitters, it was just that losing one or the other would kill the offense. But look at what happened this season: we lose Bonds and the offense got killed anyway. The team needs to take that additional risk because the offense is structured totally around Bonds and it never adequately addressed the question of: but what if there's no Bonds?
Of course, the team would have done better if Bonds was the only problem. Grissom and Rueter were DOA and never contributed much; it might have been better had Felipe platooned Grissom with Tucker in CF, but that was not ever tried even though Tucker could play CF and Grissom was horrible vs. RHP. None of the starters really got themselves going until mid-season, first Schmidt, then Lowry, then Tomko finally in the last month, and Hennessey and Correia were only stopgap measures for the most part, pitching because, to steal from Felipe Alou, "you have to put somebody out there." Alfonzo suddenly was like Popeye after discovering that he had eatten all his spinach but there wasn't any more. Feliz was worn out by mid-season and didn't do much in the second half. Plus most of the relievers could not get themselves straight except for Eyre - even Walker, who did OK while performing closer duties, could not pitch well in all other situations.
However, the Giants still needed a young blood to come in and hit and lead the offense in Bonds absence. Even Moises Alou, though a good hitter in recent years, was suppose to just be cog in support Bonds. The ownership group should have taken the bull by the horns and committed to getting Bonds successor, preferably with Vlad, but at least somebody to be a twin star with Bonds that the rest of the lineup could have revolved around and been complementary to the star's offense, and which could have been the focal point of the offense while Bonds was out. Instead, the Giants ownership wasted both the 2004 and 2005 season, if not also the 2003 season, by not upping the ante and pushing their rainy day money into the pot in order to win the hand. What good is that rainy day money if another great season by Bonds is wasted?