As the season begins to wind down and the pennant races kick into full gear, it's time to continue my comprehensive look at the Giants roster. Last week, I began by looking at the team's infielders and this week, I'll be taking a closer look at the Giant outfielders.
Quietly, Randy Winn has been one of the Giants' best hitters in 2007. Through September 5th, Winn was leading the team in hitting at .298, was 2nd among regulars in on-base percentage (.353), and 3rd in slugging (.429). His 36 doubles and 47 extra base hits also led the team. Since beginning the season hitting just .192 through the club's first 17 games, Winn has hit .309/.366/.443, including two ten-game hit streaks as well as a 20-gamer (tied – 7th longest in MLB).
Winn has struggled slightly from the left side of the plate, batting just .272/.328/.381 versus right handers (a bit below his career marks of .285/.344/.418), but has lit up left handers to the tune of .351/.402/.526 (quite a rebound from '06 where he batted just .219/.280/.374 against southpaws).
Rookie Dan Ortmeier, also in the mix at first base, has slugged .472 at the big league level this year. But with just 4 walks in 112 plate appearances, he has also posted a weak .286 OBP and is batting just .255. A switch hitter selected in the third round of the 2002 draft, Ortmeier is versatile (he can play all three OF spots) and will get a long look in spring training next year, though in my eyes, the outlook is bleak.
In addition to finishing 5th in the PCL in hitting (.333) and 8th in both slugging (.560) and OPS (.925), the left hand batting Nate Schierholtz, drafted in the 2nd round in '03, has hit .360/.389/.440 in his first 18 games at the big league level. He has a strong arm and could well be the Giants right fielder of the future. He, too, will get an extended look next April.
Grade – B+: Winn has given the Giants good production in right field even if he is a bit overpaid. Still, the Giants would love to move him and his salary to open up the position for Schierholtz. The team found no takers for the 33-year old Winn at the deadline, but they are sure to try again to move him (possibly for bullpen help) as they look to get younger in 2008. He is due to make $8 M in 2008 and $8.25 M in '09 and has a full no-trade clause through this season only, after which he can block trades to 10 teams only in each of the final two years of the deal.
Dave Roberts signed in the off-season to a three-year, $18 M deal to play centerfield for the Giants. To say he's been a bust would be wrong, but to say that he's been a disappointment wouldn't exactly be off the mark. Overall, he is batting just .259/.328/.359 and he also missed a month earlier in the year with bone chips in his elbow. Still, it hasn't been as bad as those numbers imply.
That injured elbow that clearly affected his swing, and on May 9th, he went on the disabled list in order to undergo corrective surgery. His batting average at the time was .216 and his on-base percentage a mere .281. Not great numbers out of your leadoff spot.
However, in his first 65 games off the DL, Roberts hit .294/.364/.377 to raise his season average all the way up to .271 and his OBP to .340, both the highest they'd been since April 6th. That is, until his subsequent 1-for-18 slide knocked him back down a bit. Also during that stretch, he stole 20 bases in 23 attempts. With 28 for the year (in 32 attempts), he needs just two more to become the first Giant to steal 30 or more in a year since Barry Bonds stole 37 in 1997.
Yet in the grand scheme of things, Roberts has been disappointing. At the July trading deadline, the Giants appear to have acquired a strong candidate to start the '08 season in centerfield. Rookie Rajai Davis was acquired from Pittsburgh (along with minor league right hander Stephen McFarland) in exchange for Matt Morris and all of his future salary. In 34 games with San Francisco, the 26-year old Davis has hit .307 with a .386 on-base percentage and has stolen 15 bases in 18 attempts. He has also played solid, if not dazzling defense, while exhibiting tremendous range with his blazing speed.
Another speedster, home grown talent Fred Lewis (2nd round, 2002), has also seen time in CF for the Giants this year. While he is definitely fast, he all too often uses his speed in an attempt to make up for a bad read and/or bad first step (and all too often failing). He frequently takes zig-zagging and ill-advised routes to the ball and while he hasn't been charged officially with any errors, he has showed an alarming lack of defensive ability.
Overall, Lewis hit .275/.356/.401 in 142 AB at the major league level before he was optioned to Fresno in early August. However, a third of those at bats came in Cincinnati, Colorado, Houston and Philadelphia – noted hitters parks – where he hit .400/.444/.680 with all 3 of his HR and 15 of his 17 RBI, while everywhere else he struggled badly, batting just .207/.311/.250 in 92 AB. A sprained ankle in Fresno kept him out of action for much of the season's final month and likely cost him a September recall.
Grade – C+/B+: A split grade meant to emphasize the split season Roberts has had and the contributions made in a short time by Davis. Roberts has not had a great year but yet he has had a strong stretch of games. Meanwhile, Davis has been a terrific addition to the team and has shown tremendous potential for the future. Like Winn, the Giants found no one willing to take Roberts in July or at the waiver trade deadline in August. It's likely that they will try again to move him this winter, though it's not inconceivable that Roberts as a fourth outfielder could an asset to the '08 squad, especially if Barry Bonds re-signs. Lewis' deceiving numbers, on the other hand, ought to be used as trade bait this winter.
Starter – Barry Bonds
Backups – Dan Ortmeier, Dave Roberts, Ryan Klesko, Fred Lewi
In a year in which Barry Bonds broke baseball's all-time home run record and stands on the verge of surpassing 2,000 career RBI, it's been nearly overlooked that the 43-year old is likely to hit 30 home runs for the 15th time in his major league career, including the first time since 2004. His 28 jacks heading into the weekend series against the Dodgers – giving him 762 in his career – lead the team and his 66 RBI are second only to Bengie Molina's 76.
The two-time batting champ's average is a "pedestrian" .277 (still good for 3rd among Giant regulars) but his .483 OBP is the highest in the majors, his .583 SLG is 6th best, and his 1.066 OPS is second only to the likely AL MVP Alex Rodriguez (1.069). His 127 walks – 41 of which were intentional, including 24 when he has come to the plate with a runner on second base only – lead the majors as well. He's even a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen bases.
In the field, while it's clear he doesn't have the range of his youth, due to his savvy and knowledge of hitters, I feel he is underrated and he isn't nearly the detriment of, say, an Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell. He has started in left field in 103 of the Giants 140 games this year as well as six more as a DH. He has appeared in 118 games thus far overall, going 0-for-6 with 3 BB as a pinch-hitter
Grade – A-: With 22 games remaining on the Giants' schedule, Bonds stands just 70 hits shy of 3,000 in an incredible career that he intends to extend through the 2008 season before calling it quits. For the last several years, the Giants have employed a failed strategy of surrounding him with aging veterans in an all-out attempt to grasp the ring he still covets; a strategy whose supposed necessity I've never quite understood, to be frank. But in a news conference in July to announce his own contract extension, Brian Sabean – tail tucked between his legs as he admitted his failures in this regard – vowed to make the Giants younger. Many feel this means breaking ties with the game's greatest home run hitter as well as the hefty price tag that comes with him.
There is merit to this notion on Bonds' behalf. Playing in the AL as a DH and saving much wear and tear on his achy legs, he could see action in as many as 130 to 140 games. Yet Bonds has repeatedly stated that he'd like to finish his career in a Giants uniform, not to mention there is doubt as to whether another team would even take on his hefty baggage and salary demands anyway.
For the Giants' part, with Morris and his salary shipped off to Pittsburgh as well as Pedro Feliz, Omar Vizquel and Ryan Klesko eligible for free agency, the Giants should have plenty of money to spend this off-season. Bonds clearly remains a valuable offensive weapon as well as a cash cow for Giants management and personally, as a fan, I want to see the future Hall of Famer get to the 3,000 hit mark end his career wearing the orange and black.
Can the Giants get younger and still employ a lineup that can give Bonds the shot a ring he so dearly desires? Many think not, but I disagree. After all, they haven't won with a roster loaded with aging vets complimenting Bonds, so maybe an infusion of youth is exactly what Bonds and the Giants need. Either way, I implore the Giants management not to forget all that he has done in his time in the City by the Bay and bring him back for one last hurrah.
Barry Bonds Home Run Record Factoid:
Bonds, as you likely know, hit his record-breaking 756th HR on August 7th against Nationals left hander Mike Bascik. What you may not know is that nearly 31 years earlier on August 23, 1976, Bascik's father – Michael James Bascik – also had a chance to serve up a career home run number 756. That night Bascik faced Hank Aaron as the Hammer sat on 755 career jacks. Aaron was held to 1 single in two at bats against the elder Bascik.
Richard Van Zandt welcomes comments and debates at firstname.lastname@example.org
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