12.10.2005

The longer it takes, the worse it is

The Matt Morris "Watch" is now in its "final" day. Sabean said nearly two days ago that this should be resolved in 24-48 hours - we are less than 12 hours away from that guess. I figure the longer it takes, the more likely it is that Morris is signing with someone else, presumably the Cardinals. Obviously he wants to make sure that there's no chance of resigning with them before moving on or even taking arbitration, which is a new option for him.

And that option is not that bad for him. He gets to stay where he wants to stay, the new big contracts means he's going to get at least $7-8M anyway in arbitration, probably more, then he gets another year to prove that he's the pitcher he was prior to 2004 and not the pitcher of 2004-5, though the risk is that another substandard year would clearly mark his career turn. But even if that, average pitchers today are getting $7-8M and it's going up each off-season for the past couple of off-seasons, so he'll get at least what the Giants are offering anyway. But the gain is that he jumps back to elite status and get something in the $11M+ range. The worse case scenario is that he has a horrible year and no multi-year offers come in next off-season. Plus, now that the Cards are stuck with him anyway, they can still negotiate a long-term contract anyway before the arbitration date.

I have been mainly for getting Morris as the best of our options during this offseason among the free agents. I don't want to deal with Boras, mainly because he gouges teams in terms of years and money (can you imagine making any team appear to be ripped off signing an A-Rod? or making it look like a good move to trade him? And yet he did) and the track record is not good (hello Kevin Brown). That left A.J. Burnett as the cream of the crop but he's not worth the $10M+ he obviously was going to get (he got $11M eventually). And it physically sickens me that mediocre pitchers like Benson and Loaiza get $7M+ per year contracts. Morris at least was average the past two seasons, but was obviously very good previously, so we had the potential of hitting the jackpot with him if he returned to previous form and only a slight loss if he performs at the level of the Benson's and Loaiza's.

But I've been coming to the feeling that it may be best to pass on these higher priced "established" pitchers and wait for the non-tenders of Dec. 20th to see what comes up then. The risk is that we end up with no one, but there should be at least one OK pitcher, just needing a chance to prove himself, who we could sign so that we could leave Correia in AAA as backup. And if we are lucky, we get two and also have Hennessey in AAA as backup as well. I am beginning to think it's better to save the money if we can for a trade later in the season.

Because I like our starting three: Schmidt, Lowry, Cain. When they are on, any of them can be a dominant top of the rotation kind of starter. Schmidt's year was scary but he righted himself by mid-season and performed well. And he actually pitched OK most of the season, only May was horrible, though September was bad also: 3.41 ERA in April, 7.78, 4.35, 4.03, 3.13, 5.40. However, Sept was a bad luck month as he was good otherwise: 1.35 WHIP, .205 BAA, < 1.0 HR/9, K/W=2.0, 10.8 K/9, about 7 H/9, only his walks were bad at 5.4 W/9. Lowry had a similar year, very poor start, but he was downright dominant in August. And Cain had a scintillating start to his career, the only negative one can say is that he walked too many at 3.7 W/9 but otherwise he shut down the other teams, even on his second time around with a couple of the teams. If they are all on, we don't really need to add another top of the rotation pitcher.

However, if we do, then by mid-year, a struggling team will want to get rid of their soon to be free-agent expensive starting pitcher (maybe Zito? :^) and the Giants will have the budget to pick up such a pitcher for minimal prospects. Plus, this opens the door for the Giants to pursue, instead of a starting pitcher eventually, a power-hitting LHH at some point at the corner positions of the infield. Derrek Lee will be a free agent next season and the Cubs are a year older and signed a bunch of relievers plus traded for Pierre but are missing the power of the past couple of seasons, with Alou and Sosa gone first, then Jeromy Burnitz this past season, and the Giants have dealed with them before. Give them Valdez and Simon?

So I can go either way with Morris now. If we sign him great, but if we don't sign him, that's great too. As much as I think Morris is a good risk, I think we should wait for the non-tenders and pick from there. We've picked up nice pieces before (Jose Cruz Jr. comes to mind) plus players by January become cheap (Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton signed for $1M with Pirates one off-season). It won't be a big bang acquisition we Giants fans wanted but with this lame batch of free agents, there really wasn't any sure thing hitter or pitcher out there for the grabbing, we're just picking our poison.

Given that, while I've been agitating, like most Giants fans, for Sabean to do something to "show the white smoke coming from the church chimney", perhaps it might be better to wait this one out and see what happens. While our team is not ideal and it can be crippled easily with a key injury or three or a few poor performances, I think the team as is can stay close in the NL West because no one else is doing well in the off-season either. Pick up a few pitchers with potential that get non-tendered, maybe a corner infielder, who all have their problems and risk but also the potential to do well, and their motivated performance in 2006 might put us over the top. If not, we have the money to pick up somebody as a rental in the second half.

That's because baseball is no longer a 162 game season. You only need to survive the first half in good shape then retool mid-year with either prospects or trade to finish strong going into the playoffs. There's no reason to win the most games you can, because, as we saw in the NL West this past season, all you really need to do is finish with the most wins in your division. As long as you got a good finishing kick going, you might be able to ride that streak through the playoffs to the World Series Championship. Because, how often does the winningest team in the regular season win the World Series? Go Giants!

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