Your 2006 Giants: Big 6 Questions

The questions are pretty obvious but I gotta make a list, it's in the blogger union guidebook:

  1. What will Bonds be healthy enough to produce in 2006? While I don't think his presence is necessary to making the playoffs, given our potentially great rotation, good bullpen, and poor divisional opponents (I'm waiting for the Dodgers' injured list to start growing anytime now) I think this should be possible even without Bonds in the lineup as long as the other players hit like they are capable of, I think Bonds is crucial (duh!) to the Giants going all the way. So far, so good, Bonds is happy with his brace means that we Giants fans are happy with his brace. I think all bets are off until he starts playing regularly and putting pressure on that knee.
  2. Which Schmidt will show up, 2004's version or 2005's version? This is probably more important to the Giants NL Division hopes than Bonds, so maybe I should have put it first but Bonds (to steal from Mr. October) is the straw that stirs this lovely orange and black concoction. If he is on and pitching like he has most of his Giants career, then anything Morris, Lowry, and Cain can do is not as critical so then they can pitch with less pressure on them. If he is wildly off like he was in early 2005, then the rotation will depend greatly on Morris, and while I think he is good, he's just not Schmidt good, you know?
  3. Will any of these regulars play without injury or poor performance taking away a lot of games: Alou, Durham,Winn? These players are the key supporting offensive players behind Bonds. If they can hit like they have proven they can hit and stay uninjured, then the offense should be running along nicely enough to win a lot of games, given our potentially strong rotation. Last year, it didn't work out, Alou and Durham missed a number of games, Grissom could only hit very poorly, and Alfonzo, after seemingly returning to his pre-Giants days as a Met for the first two weeks of the season, apparently the fountain of youth stopped flowing and he declined into a year-long hitting funk worse than anything he had before as a Giant (and that's doing some).
  4. Which Finley will show up, 2004's version or 2005's version? The spector of age and injury in the outfield makes Finley's performance important. He plays a pivotal role on the 2006 team. He needs to be able to hit like he did in 2004 so that the offense won't take such a big hit when Bonds, Alou, or Winn is taking a game off, like it did in 2005 when Ellison or Linden came into the game. If he hits like he did in 2005, then the margin for error for the rest of the hitters is reduced greatly, as he will be getting a lot of at-bats this year in place of the starting outfielders. In addition, he adds a needed left-handed pressence to the bench or the lineup.
  5. Will new regulars Feliz and Niekro play as good as they are capable or as bad as they are capable? As good as the top of the lineup can be with Winn, Vizquel, Durham, Bonds and Alou, the bottom of the lineup can become this big gaping hole if Feliz and Niekro don't hit like they have shown they are capable of doing. Feliz started off the year nicely but perhaps the wear and tear got to him last season and he started fading offensively by the middle of the season. Niekro had a great start but after his injury he was not able to hit at all. Was that the injury's fault or did the league catch up with him? Given that he has been able to hit - and well - all through the farm system, he has shown that he has been able in the past to adjust to the league while the league was adjusting to him and adjust to a new level.
  6. Will the bullpen hold together? Last year Benitez failing and then falling injured, set off a domino effect through the bullpen. None of the relievers expected to pick up the slack was able to, not Brower, not Herges. It fell to Tyler Walker, who was the reliver at the bottom of the totem pole in 2004 to pick up the slack at closer, which of course meant that there were no set-up men to speak of. This year, we have Worrell, who did a admirable job of stepping in a couple of years back plus Munter, Taschner, and Accardo look like they are able to do well in a expanded role on a short term basis if necessary, should any of the big boys - Benitez, Worrell, Kline - falter.

Sabean felt that depth was one of the big problems with last year's roster composition and he has worked this off-season to correct that. In the starting rotation, the addition of Wright into the mix gives the Giants 6 legitimate starters going into the season - should any of the opening 5 falter or falls to injury, the 6th starter can move into the mix. In the bullpen, the addition of Worrell provides a "proven" closer should Benitez falters again for whatever reason plus Accardo and Munter show signs that they might be able to handle the job as well. In the lineup, Finley provides a good backup should Bonds or Alou succumb to any injury.

However, there is no equivalent backup in the corner positions of the infield. Vizcaino could man shortstop adequately - offensively and defensively - in place of Vizquel and Kevin Frandsen looks like he might be able to come up and take 2B should Durham be out for an extended period. However, there is no legitimate 1B or 3B in the farm system to come up should Niekro or Feliz, respectively, falters and Vizcaino would be horrendous for the offense if he started at either corner IF position.

But Sabean can only do so much when you don't have all the money in the world to spend and Benitez, Bonds, Durham, Finley, and Schmidt are taking up $51.1M of their $85M budget and Alou, Morris, and Winn another $15M, leaving about $20M to spend on the rest of the team. And if Niekro does falter, the Giants could always bring up Travis Ishikawa and give him a shot, assuming he is doing well at AA early in the 2006 season.

Sabean is knocked, and factually so thus far, for not deliverying young players via the farm system. But it is interesting to note that four pre-arb players should be on the 25 man roster when the season start - Cain, Lowry, Niekro, and Munter - and up to five others - Accardo, Ellison, Hennessey, Linden, and Taschner - could make the roster if the numbers game don't work against them. Plus there was previous talk about Eliezer Alfonzo and Angel Chavez perhaps making the team. And some think that Frandsen could play in the majors right now, though he probably wouldn't be a starter. So if things continue to develop well, nearly half the team could be composed of pre-arb players at some time in the not-too-distant future.


Barry Not So Unique A Late Bloomer

A problem that a lot of fans miss is that Barry is not the only player to have such an unusual jump in homerun power in his late 30's. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, is that two players he is compared with were in this group.

Here's a player's AB/HR trend over his career, notice the big jump from when he was 35 to 39:

Age - AB/HR
20 - 36
21 - 22
22 - 23
23 - 14
24 - 20
25 - 16
26 - 15
27 - 18
28 - 13
29 - 14
30 - 24
31 - 18
32 - 14
33 - 15
34 - 21
35 - 12
36 - 14
37 - 11
38 - 13
39 - 11
40 - 17

Here's a player entering the phase of life when he should deteriorate, age 35, and previous to that he could manage a mid-teen rate on occassion, but then for 5 straight seasons, he not only is consistently hitting in the teens, he pushes it even higher than he's ever done it before, almost double the rate at age 37 and 39 relative to what he was doing in his early 20's.

Cheater? His name: Hank Aaron.

Darrell Evans and Ted Williams had similar spikes when they reached their late 30's. Of course, their spike was not as extreme as Barry Bonds, but neither were their workout regiment either nor were nutritional science as advanced either or even vitamin science. So do you point your finger at them too or do you acknowledge that there are players who have been blessed by their genetics to do well into their late 30's? And if so, do you acknowledge that it is plausible that Barry did it naturally, via extreme workouts he was documented to go through in Men's Health magazine?

Babe Ruth didn't have such a spike at a late age, but he was so good that even though he got a bit worse as he got older, he was able to hit in the low teens up to age 40, basically at the same rate as he was hitting from age 27-31, the so-called peak career years from most research on players' career peaks. So he was a freak too, in some ways, hitting HRs in his late 30's at about the same rate as he was during his "peak" years. Or was he a cheat as well, how could he hit as well at 40 as he could at 30?

These other players show that it is possible to end your career on a good note and do more there than you did when you were "at your peak". Barry is not alone in defying age or improving with age, his only proven sins are his problems with the press and his attainment of cherished statistical career marks.

The Elephant in the Room: Book on Bonds' Steroid Use

"Hit them when they're up, hit them when they're down" - Dirty Laundry by Don Henley

I cannot ignore the elephant in the room: a book exerpt has come out on SI and the book alleges that Barry Bonds has used steroids since 1988 when McGwire and Sosa took the spotlight with their homerun chase. It was written by the Chronicle writers who have been publishing illegally released grand jury documents, probably by the disgruntled IRS agent with an axe to grind with Barry, for some reason.

Why he doesn't chase all the millionaires and billionaires who get away without paying any taxes on their riches instead and make our country better, I have no idea why. And if he really had anything on Bonds about card money unreported, Bonds would have been tried in court already and jailed, why do these reporters keep on repeating this "fact", do they think it will suddenly become true? Instead, he illegally releases all these documents to these two reporters, who will now become rich because he gave them the winning lottery ticket, because there are a lot of Bonds haters out there.

And if the government really have all this solid evidence as the reporters said they did, then Bonds perjured himself on the stand and it sould be a slam dunk trying him and throwing him into jail - they did it to Martha Stewart. And yet he's still getting ready for the 2006 season, unjailed, and unaccused by the courts. And all this evidence that the reporters claim prove that Bonds did it, it has been in the hands of the government since sometime in 2005, when Bell testified against Bonds, but nothing has been done to Bonds yet, legally.

Steroids is Not Magical Beans

I won't pretend to know all the nuances of steroids. There are numerous theories out there about what it can do for you and I admit I don't know all of them nor plan to read up on all of them. I've seen side effects mentioned from a larger head, acne on the back, baldness, shrunken testicles, irritableness, short-temper, and glaucoma.

What I think I know is that steroids don't magically make you stronger, you still need to devote your time to build up your muscles, you still need to put the work in. It allows you to work out more often because your body needs less rest time before you exercise again. So basically, you still need to earn your bigger muscles by putting in the work to get them. It is not a magic pill you take that automatically makes you better than someone else who is not taking, you still need the work discipline to apply yourself to make your body stronger and better, with the difference being that you can do more with your body than you could naturally.

That's why all these lame players are getting caught using steroids, they think it was a magic pill, they don't apply themselves to baseball like Barry did - plus they didn't have his god-given abilities either. This wouldn't excuse Barry, if he did use, but it is not like there aren't substances available that can be taken and make the player instantly better than he was before taking the substance. Like amphetamines or even caffeine.

Book on Barry's Usage

Even if you believe the "facts" that the Chronicle writers "documented" in their book - and really, their whole case appears to be based on Bell's words, a woman who claims to be Bonds mistress and has sued him AND LOST, so she is most definitely disgruntled - and on illegally gotten grand jury testimony, then this means that Bonds was clean from the start of his career in 1986 to 1998 and judging by that portion of his career, he was already a first ballot Hall of Famer. My opinion might change once I hear these tapes and can hear for myself what was being said, but I doubt we'll ever hear them. But even if you believe her, all he did was just gild the lily, he already was a first ballot HOFer..

Speaking of the tapes, we keep on hearing about these tapes. And yet, in this age of celebrity sex tapes somehow leaking into the hands of the public and making millions for someone, nothing has been done with these tapes. If she has really juicy stuff about Bonds' alleged usage on them, wouldn't book publishers be lined up with book offers to publish the transcripts of those tapes. I know I would if I were a publisher. And she would make a lot more from a book or tape like that than the $100,000 she was suing for but lost. Anything she says that is not on tape is a "She said/He said" situation that cannot be proved either way and, wait, we know that she wants money from him and as the woman scorned, perhaps by hook or crook, she might do anything. We don't really know much, other than we know that she isn't doing it from the bottom of her heart or for truth and justice, it's all about the Benjamins.

Evidence, Schm-evidence

A McCovey Chronicle diary listed the documentation of the sourcing for the book. Suffice it to say, I had a bit to say about that here. I found most of the stuff there not convincing at all, there was only one thing that clearly looked like good evidence, a folder labeled "BLB 2003" with a road schedule and shots scheduled there. But as I noted there:

I must say that they presented this very authoritatively. That said, most of the information is pretty much circumstantial. There is not one instance where they saw Bonds taking the drug, just that Anderson is getting the drugs purportedly for Bonds.

What if Anderson SAID that he was getting it for Bonds, in order to get the good stuff for a peon ballplayer who normally wouldn't be in a position to get the good stuff? "Hey, you give me the money, I can get you the stuff only the elite athletes can egt." "Yeah, um, this is for Bonds." Not that I necessarily think Bonds is innocent, either, but there IS another possible explanation for that, particularly since Anderson outed his other clients but said he didn't for Bonds.

What if Anderson screwed his buddy? Wouldn't be the first time that a friend traded on their friend's celebrity to make a buck. Wouldn't be the first time a friend thought, "he's got a lot; I want mine." Particularly if he was treated badly by Bonds (which Gary Sheffield noted at some point in an SI interview - SI wants to bring down Bonds any way they can - but then his bodyguard loved him and Barry loved him back, giving him the stomach staple surgery his friend wanted, as a wedding present, but unfortunately he passsed away on the operating table, he is the guy Bonds was pointing to after homers). So he makes a sale to this peon ballplayer promising him the stuff that he gives to Barry, good stuff, and he tells BALCO that he's dealing Bonds, see, here's my schedule, here's his cash.

Or Anderson could be telling his bosses that he's giving it to Bonds but tells Bonds that it's flaxseed oil. I've heard and read people saying that Bonds is intelligent, he knows what's going into his body, but if your good friend gives you a drop of flaxseed oil in your mouth, what are you going to do, say "hey, don't give that to me, where's the bottle, I don't trust you, I want to see the ingredients." Or do you take it and say "so what is this suppose to do for me?" If Bonds was that paranoid to question his friend on what he's being given, he would have an official taster take everything for him. The same goes for a cream.

And maybe those are the stories that Bonds and Anderson concocted if they are ever found out, you know, plausible deniability. But we'll probably never know which story is right. My stories are just as good as their story, at least I think so. I don't think I missed an angle, other than I'm not trying to spin it against Barry which is the authors' intent, their hypothesis.

I can see the logic of their story, but my story has a logic to it as well. I am at the point where I expect the worse to happen at any point regarding Bonds, and while it's not that I'm being blindly loyal to Bonds, it's more like the motto for Missouri: "Show me." Show me incontrovertible evidence that he used. Show me a confession. All this circumstantial crap is just annoying me, it's like a bad courtroom TV show plot.

And I'm tired of the media repeatedly saying that Bonds testified that he took steroids (today, Ralph Barbieri was the latest who got me mad saying that). He never said that, he said he used some stuff and it was the government who is claiming that the stuff he used is the clear and the cream. Bonds has never admitted in court that he is a steroid user.

If True Barry Should Have Tested Positive

With all the cocktails that Bonds supposedly took, he should have tested positive by now. According to the book, he took Deca-Durabolin as part of his steroid cocktail. Yet Mike Morse has tested positive 3 times for using that drug, 16 months after taking it the first time. This article outlines some of what's up with that: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/mariners/2002479599_morseside08.html

Why haven't Bonds tested positive for this? According to the expert in the article, Dr. Charles Yesalis, "These things get in your fat cells and they just hang around forever, seemingly." According to a doping lab doctor, "There's anecdotal reports of 16 months, but we certainly have every reason to believe it could be longer than 16 months. Once injected, it resides in the body for a long period of time." He also added that he believes testing by the MLB, like that of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which regulates the anti-doping efforts of the International Olympic Committee, is too sensitive for Deca Durabolin. "You get findings that don't indicate current use or use with intent to cheat." If it is that sensitive, shouldn't Bonds have been found with that stuff? Or at least they could test to see if he had ever used it before, if, as the doctor noted, "they just hang around forever."

Subverting the Justice System

And how do they get away with releasing sealed Grand Jury testimony? Some have defended their release of grand jury testimony as necessary for whistle-blowers. But what's the use of promising protection of your testimony as a part of a grand jury if some over-zealous government worker decides that it is better that your testimony should be released?

Where will the line be drawn? Who will decide where the line is drawn? Who will spell this out? What assurrances can you give any potential grand jury testifiers when someone has decided that this particular testimony is OK to release, how can anyone be assured that, really, this time we won't release the information to the public? This cuts out a lot of testimony that you otherwise might not have gotten as well.

You Either Go the Full Monty or You Wimp Out

In addition, while I believe that he probably used some sort of PED at some point, whether on purpose or via someone giving it to him unknown to himself, I feel that ballplayers have been using illegal substances since WW II, in particular amphetamines, which I've written about before. "Greenies" was more widely used - Willie Mays was known to keep a jar of "red juice", Pete Rose has reportedly used it, and Jim Bouton wrote extensively about it in his book, Ball Four - so it probably contributed to more career numbers than steroids, on an overall basis.

And it didn't require the user to work to earn that advantage, you just take it and "pow" you got an advantage over someone who isn't taking. Not like steroids, which still requires you to put in the work to keep your body in such good shape. So no asterisks is necessary for Bonds records; otherwise, just asterisk anything and everything since WW II, because the use of amphetamines was widespread from all the sources I've seen in print, more so than steroids.

In Conclusion

I'm getting tired of this witchhunt by the media. Either show me evidence that Bonds used - none of this circumstantial crappolo provided by a disgruntled mistress and psuedo evidence that can be explained away by another theory that appears to fit the facts gathered thus far - or just shut up already! They spin a nice story in their book from what I gather from the excerpts I've read but that's all it is, a story which has as its main beam of support stories from a disgruntled alleged mistress who is looking for her pound of flesh, her dowry, her payment for services provided.

She has claimed on national TV to have never seen Bonds take any Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) but testifies as to when Bonds started taking them and how it hurt his arm and how he got acne. Maybe I'll change my mind if I ever see her testimony details, but from what I've been given thus far, what she has alleged to have testified to could have been said by almost anyone who has been following the allegations that Bonds is taking PEDs. I bet I could have Googled "Bonds steroids" in 2005, when she gave her testimony to the Grand Jury, and pulled up numerous websites and articles and blogs which will recount in excruciating detail the Bonds Haters' reasoning on how Barry cheated and when and where and why he looks like it. I could have trained her myself on what to say and what she could get away with without worry of perjury.

Building Made of Cards

Without her, their story starts falling apart. It could be Bonds conspiring with Anderson. It could be a "good" friend taking advantage of his superstar friend's celebrity to make a buck claiming to be selling the stuff that helps Barry do what he does. We don't know, there isn't enough clear-cut evidence. And while the bigwigs at BALCO are saying they supplied Barry, that is what Anderson told them he was doing. It wouldn't be the first time that a, basically, loser want to impress his bosses by "getting" them a whale of a client, his pal, Barry.

Barry, as I noted, is pretty smart. Would it be smart to be putting your big smiling face in an advertisement for your pusher? If you are deathly afraid of being revealed to be a fraud, a cheater, as Bell claims he said, wouldn't you stay as far away as you can from tying yourself to your supplier?

Furthermore, wouldn't you avoid having a mistress, calling her at all hours, including work, where people who don't really give a damn about Mr. Superstar would know that he is having an affair with her and wouldn't feel like they have an obligation to keep quiet, particularly now that everything is out in the open and public. I can see her collecting taped messages but I've seen how the press works, wouldn't some intrepid reporter show up at Bell's work and ask if Barry was actually calling all the time, as alleged? To corroborate her story? Then we would see that somewhere in print, that, yes, Bonds was calling at all hours.

But then some superstars have hubris and think they can do anything and get away with it, so why would Bonds be different? However, Bonds knows he has a bullseye on him. He knows or at least acts like he thinks the press is out to get him. And that's probably true to some extent. He knows that they are going to watch him under a microscope. And he is definitely paranoid of them.

So why do something he could be caught at. He might not have realized that the conversations were taped - FYI it is illegal to tape anyone without their prior consent in California, so they are probably not useful in a court of law - but haranguing her at work and controlling her, as she claims he did, that would not be smart, the press would have a field day with that one. Of course a mistress would be another, but that's old hat today with the press whereas harrassing her at work would not.

Just give me some real news or shut up already!


Your 2006 Giants: Schmidt's Last Stand

Jason Schmidt is our ace of the staff, he's the one who will drive the success of our rotation by pitching Schmidt-like again. Schmidt pitching like he's capable of will take pressure off Morris (not that he needs it) so that he doesn't press at any point to show the team what he can do plus take pressure off Lowry and Cain from trying to overdo things and just let things happen naturally, as they might press if Schmidt is off.

I think Schmidt is ready to lead the way again but just don't expect another year like 2003's 2.34 ERA with lows of H/9, W/9, WHIP. However, I think something along the lines of his other three successful seasons with us (2001, 2002, 2004 with ERA's respectively of 3.39, 3.45, 3.20) is very doable for a number of reasons. The only question is which (not whether) injury will hit him this year and how long will he be out and how long will he be ineffective.

Free Agency Year

A reason why he should be able to do well this season is because he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. There have been many players who do well in their year that they go free agent, motivation for that big contract always have been a good motivator for some players. Not that I think Schmidt needs that type of motivation, but that has got to play in his mind a little bit. In fact, in an off-season interview he briefly noted that he kind of wished the Giants didn't pick up his option so that he could have joined in on the riches being passed around, so it is in his mind, somewhere.

Goodbye Mr. Schmidt

If I were a betting man, I would bet that Schmidt is gone after this season. As a fan, I want the Giants to sign him to another contract so that he could be with us for the rest of his career (not with just the one contract but 2-3 years then another contract). As a fanatic, I cringe at the thought of signing him to the money that was being handed out like candy this past off-season. If A.J. Burnett can get 5 years at $55M and Kevin Millwood 5 years at $60M, I don't see why Schmidt cannot get 3-5 years at $13-15M per year, perhaps more if the Yankees jump in. And with his injury history (not one season without missing at least one start), it don't look good to throw that much money at one player.

In addition, I was leafing through my copy of The Graphical Pitcher 2005 (by John Burnson and published by Ron Shandler's company) and I noticed that most pitchers who reach 3500 pitches (or approximately so) tend to see their skill levels, as measured by their proprietary GOG metric, fall that year or the year afterward, and if they were over 30 at the time, that became a milestone of when their skill levels started declining, either to new lows or a lower skill plateau. Schmidt reached that pitch level in 2004 and you saw what happened to him in 2005. So I would not count on another 2003/2004 and hope that he can plateau at the 2001-2002 level for this year at least, before the decline comes. He could be the unusual player like Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens who can throw 4000 pitches in a season and not blink an eye, but given his injury history, the better bet is that his career has entered or is about to enter his decline phase.

Might Pull a Kent

Then again, who says that Schmidt even wants to stay. He hasn't really said anything positive in that way to the press, he has been leaning more towards anger and an inkling towards moving on and away from SF. I think the media helped in making Schmidt less than enamored with Giants management when they were asking him last season what he would do if the Giants management don't pick up his option for 2006 and he reacted as if the Giants didn't pick up his option. Which, obviously, didn't happen but now his feelings are immortalized in print. It's kind of like asking a wife what she would do if her husband beats her, of course she'll be angry, but what if he's not, and never will be, a wife-beater?

In addition, he is definitely clearly less than happy with Felipe as manager, especially after that playoff start flap that Felipe started by saying Schmidt backed out of the start. I think the only way Schmidt stays with the Giants is if the Giants win the World Series, Felipe Alou retires with his accomplishment and takes on the full-time role they had envisioned for him in Player Development, perhaps he'll head our Carribean branch to recruit new prospects - he can flash his shiny new ring - and can go fishing anytime he wants plus spend time with his young children in Florida, while the Giants name someone internal, probably Ron Wotus but maybe Dave Righetti as manager, who Schmidt would be happy with, and sign a AJ Burnett-sized contract (which would be a home discount by next off-season...) to stay with the Giants. Unfortunately, no matter what the scenario, the spector of injury will hang like the Sword of Damocles over Schmidt whereever he goes, and his signing team will be praying to whatever God they follow that his arm and body holds together during that contract.

Do the Giants Even Want Him Back?

And I'm not sure that signing Schmidt is necessarily something Giants management wants to do, particularly with the injury factor going on there. If 2006 unfolds ideally (and I don't think that this is out of the realm of possibilities), Lowry and Cain will come to the fore as co-aces, making Morris one of the top #3 starters in the majors in 2007.

Signing Schmidt in that situation would be gilding the lily when there is the matter of replacing Bonds' production at the plate, whether by re-signing him plus getting a good 4th OF to essentially platoon with him, or getting multiple other players at other positions to do that, and that will take money. But with a top three all pitching well, Wright and Hennessey would then be adequate 4 and 5 starters in 2007. The only reason for the Giants to sign Schmidt in that situation is to have a monster rotation to drive, once more, to get Barry (and the Giants) a World Series Championship in 2007. But given their cautious nature (plus getting burned by Robb Nen's injury), I don't see the Giants re-signing Schmidt unless the whole rotation falls apart, probably literally.

Schmidt in 2006

I have no idea how many IP Schmidt will have due to his injury problems. I expect something less than 200 IP but wouldn't be surprised if he threw 180-200 IP. I think his overall stats will be better than his post-ASG stats in 2005, which was:

3.66 ERA
8.7 K/9
4.1 W/9
0.6 HR/9
2.1 K/W
.216 BAA

So I'm seeing a low-to-mid 3 ERA (much like 2001, 2002, 2004), high K/9 (over 9.0 again but not in double digits), high but OK W/9 given his K/9 (i.e. good K/W ratio), low HR/9, and low BAA - that is, not as good as his best year but still pretty good for almost any other pitcher.

He sounds healthy and if the Giants are ever going to win the World Series with Bonds, this is probably it. Bonds is probably still good enough to produce a lot for a good number of games so having a Schmidt who is pitching well is a very encouranging bit of news towards making a World Series run in 2006. Hopefully Schmidt will hold up enough physically to pitch in the playoffs for us, he was always walking that tightrope of "is he/isn't he" injured badly which didn't really bite us in the rear until 2005 (when Bonds being out also bit us in the rear). We will need his dominating nature to get through the playoff gaunlet.


Rueter Retires and Wright Speculation

Thanks Woody

First off, I just want to give a heartfelt thanks to Kirk Rueter for almost a decade of excellent pitching for the Giants - he announced his retirement today from baseball. He had a few other offers but the only team he was interested in (besides the Giants, natch) was St. Louis, his boyhood team, and they didn't return the interest. He decided that it's time to devote his life to his wife and two children. And like he said, he'll always be a Giant no matter what.

He is one of the greats in the history of the San Francisco Giants, certainly of the time I followed the team. He was the bumblebee of baseball - baseball science couldn't explain how he could win so many games consistently over such a long period of time with as little "stuff" as he had and thus sabers have denigrated his accomplishments - but Giants fans have appreciated his competitiveness and his ability to rise to the occassion when it was crunch time.

He was the quintessential competitor and there would have been no limits to what he could have accomplishment if he only had more skills. Still, he finished with a 130-92 record (.586 winning percentage) with a 4.27 ERA by being a cunning pitcher and utilizing all his abilities, particularly his one good skill, keeping his walk rate below 3.0 (good pitchers have rate below 3.0) for most of his good years. Thanks for all the great memories Woody!

Giants Mailbag: Wright Stuff?

Rich Draper gave some interesting news in his latest Giants Mailbag, assuming it is true. In it he noted that if Brad Hennessey wins the #5 spot, Jamey Wright will head to the bullpen for long relief or spot starts. "Wright seems assured of sticking." That's shocking news from a number of fronts.

I know that Wright has said this spring that he'll do whatever the team wants, start, long relief, whatever, but I took that for spring time exuberance from a newbie because the bullpen is pretty set with Fassero as long relief/spot starter: Benitez, Worrell, Kline, Walker, Fassero, plus two of Munter, Accardo, Taschner for 7 in the bullpen, 5 starting rotation, and 13 position players (8 starters, 5 bench). If Wright gets the long relief position, that probably means Fassero becomes a LOOGY and Taschner's probably out since Alou had raved about Munter before plus, more importantly, you don't really need 3 LOOGY's.

The only other option is trading away a reliever. Maybe Sabean is hoping to trade Tyler Walker to a team desperate for a closer after the other team's closer burns out sometime during spring training. That is the only way I see someone traded, no one will touch Benitez with that contract, it wouldn't make sense to trade away Kline again, Worrell just signed and there's probably a rule on trading away a signed free agent, and you can't get much in return for any of the youngsters so you may as well keep them and put them in AAA to start the season.

In any case, despite Hennessey doing very well thus far, I still feel that the Giants long term looks better if they stash Brad in AAA this year and let Wright earn his way onto the 2007 rotation. With Schmidt potentially out the door and Morris, Lowry, Cain potentially a great 1/2/3 for the next couple of years afterward, the Giants need a good 4/5 for 2007-8 and if Wright can produce for the Giants what he did on the road for his career (near 4 ERA), he would be a great #4 with Hennessey taking #5. And he would be a great #5, as well, for 2006 if he can produce that.

Plus Hennessey would be a great insurance policy in case any of the starters flame out during the season. That is a strong possibility. With Schmidt's and Morris' poor health history in the past and Lowry and Cain still very inexperienced at the major league level, plus who is the real Wright, any of them flaming out would allow Hennessey to come up and the rotation won't miss a beat much.


Your 2006 Giants: Dear Barry, Won't You Come Out and Play-hey-HEY!

" Dear Barry, won't you come out and play-hey-hey.
Dear Barry, greet the brand new day-hey-HEY.
The sun is up, the sky is blue,
It's beautiful, so catch a clue,
Dear Barry, won't you come out to play?"
By the Beatles if they were teammates on the 2006 Giants and rewrote "Dear Prudence"

I've been putting out a giant tome of how I see the Giants doing in the upcoming season for a number of years now but due to personal and work issues, I'm not sure if I'll be able to get it all wrapped up before the season starts. So I'm going to do things in piecemeal fashion and put them out as they flow out of my fingers into the keyboard in a series of article, this being the first, which will focus on LF for the most part and our key player, Barry Bonds.

My Name is Barry, Barry Bonds

I think most people hear about other people who know that the breakup is coming soon so these other people are already meeting other people and preparing for the breakup such that they have their new partner when the breakup is official. I think Barry's one of those thinking ahead to future possibilities and looking beyond his baseball career. And acting appears to be his choice, after all, he did put in an appearance on 90210 many years (and pounds) ago.

Barry's inner thespian was coming to the fore with his Paula Abdul impersonation for the Giants Idol competition/ritual rookie hazing and his reality program, which appears to be one big audition by Barry to help him transition into another area of the Entertainment field after his ballplayer days are over and his personal services contract with Magowan starts up. And it sounds like he did a great job doing the whole drag thing so it might work, maybe there will be a sequel to "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar" that he can audition for, I think Wesley Snipes has hung up his inner drag queen (Patrick Swayse, not so much, I'm sure he's all for another payday).

"Act-TING" as John Lovitz used to exclaim on SNL as Master Thespian. Yeah, that's the ticket. He's the acting-meister, he's acting. Maybe he can get on "Dancing with the Stars" after this season, that is, if he retires by then. Or maybe get into a dance off with Jerry Rice, won't that be something?

Does He See His Shadow?

But there's still the little matter of the last year of his monster contract before he gets deep into all that acting nonsense. As it is most seasons, the Giants fortunes shine or fade depending on their star nonpareil, Barry Bonds. But unlike previous seasons, they will have to wait until game day for Barry to stick his head up from his barcalounger to see if he can see his shadow - if he can, then there will be at least six more innings of play before he leaves the game for a defensive substitution, most probably Steve Finley; if he can't then Steve Finley will start in CF, shifting Winn to LF.

Like most over-the-hill hitters say, "I can still hit, it's just my body won't cooperate anymore," so the question is not whether he can hit but whether his body won't cooperate anymore. Barry is reaching that point. Will his knee cooperate? Who knows. He has not given any clues yet on what's happening other than that it is feeling good. In fact, he said recently that his brace for his right knee is his new best friend because he doesn't feel any pain when he is using it in the field. So that sounds good, right?

Oooo, Pick Me Coach!

Right now the over-under is 100 games for Barry, 120 games if he's feeling good. That leaves Steve Finley 42-62 games plus DH games (that was 9 games in 2005; FYI, the DH's hit .379/.444/.553/.996 for the Giants in 2005 and that's STILL worse than what Bonds have done the past few years, amazing) to play in Bonds absence plus all the games he will get in as defensive replacement late in the game, when Barry is bushed and/or the game is out of reach. Moises will probably contribute about 20 games and Winn another 10 games, for a total of 81-101 games to play in the outfield for Finley to show that he's not over the hill and can garner another big contract, at least for another year.

He's Amazing

I think as long as Barry's body holds up, he's going to put in a good 120 games, like Hammering Hank did in his waning days, and, unlike Aaron, hit like he has the past few years and not like an over the hill hitter. Over .300 BA, over .400 OBP (.500+ again?), over .600 SLG, with 30-40 homers. Ted Williams was able to stroke it good his last season too, but just in limited play as well, and I think Barry is a comparable player in terms of physical condition, demeanor, and hitting abilities.

In addition, I think Steve Finley will do well for the Giants this season, his last month with the Angels showed that he was finally healthy and hitting like he did before and I think that will carry into this season, as long as HIS body holds up. If he can do this, there will be only a slight drop off in offensive production in LF relative to the drop the Giants experienced going from Barry to Feliz in terms of production in 2005. Plus, if Linden is doing well in AAA again, the Giants might trade Finley, assuming he's playing well, to another pennant contender and pick up a prospect or two for him, just to shed the salary and perhaps set up another trade to add back on the salary but at another position of need.

And should, shudder, Barry's acting career starts sooner than expected, then I think Steve Finley will play up to his recent past abilities and be a passable substitute in LF, unlike Feliz in 2005 (not that there's anything wrong with what he did, he's just being Feliz, you can't blame him for that). Finley has kept himself in pretty good shape and rarely has any injury. His only problem is age, being 41 himself sometime this year, if I recall correctly.

And should he fail as well, then I think Linden will be able to pull off a Feliz-like performance in LF, for the most part, his numbers in AAA the past couple of seasons are similar to how Feliz did in AAA. This worse case scenario won't necessarily doom our season as Feliz for Bonds didn't do in the Giants, it was that plus Marquis turning into a Nova, literally in Spanish, and Alfonzo proving that he COULD go lower than the past two seasons, plus Vizquel not really hitting well after April, plus Ellison going cold, plus Niekro not hitting after injury, plus Snow finally not hitting well on the road as well as at home, and Durham and Alou missing a good number of games, plus none of the starters doing very well for the first 2-3 months of the season, plus most of the relievers not doing very well for the first 2-3 months of the season (did I miss anybody?).

Niekro Speaks!

Niekro had a nice write up today in SJ Mercury. Most fans know of his problems hitting RHP in 2005 - to that he noted, "In the past, I've always hit right-handers better than lefties. I didn't pay attion to anyone who said I couldn't hit righties, because I know I can." I don't know if that's true that he hit them better, but you don't hit over .300 (as he did all through the minors, or close enough) without hitting RHP to a certain extent.

His hitting came up in a discussion diary on McCovey Chronicles, in particular his ineptitude in taking walks. For example, in 2005, Niekro had 3 walks or less in every month of 2005 except one, when he had 5. In addition, Niekro had zero games with more than one walk during the 2005 season. That's basically Feliz-bad, which is not good.

The reason he came up was because he took 3 walks in the first game, which is something he hasn't done before at the major league level for two walks, let alone three. And the poster was wondering if this was a sign that he is doing what he said he would do, which was talking more pitches. While it is an extremely small sample, and I would add that it is spring training and pitchers are just beginning to get into shape and/or trying out pitches that they are not good at throwing, I think it is a rare enough event that is noteworthy enough to point out and to keep an eye out for further progress.

Beause, bad pitches or not, rusty pitchers or not, Niekro has shown previously via inept-walkability (or Feliz-itis in Giants parlance) that there isn't a pitch he won't swing at, and yet for one shining day he somehow took 3 walks. Thus far this spring he is 3-6 with 1 HR, 6 runs, 5 RBI, and the aforementioned 3 walks with only 1 strikeout. Too early to rely on results but it sure is better than 0-8 with 1 HBP and 1 run, like Frandsen, unfortunately, is doing.

Niekro is worried about fans accepting him due to Snow's big shadow and footprints, but I think all fans are rooting for him to figure out things and became the hitter he was early in the 2005 season and for him to be healthy all season, which I think is the bigger hurdle to leap for him.