When the Giants gave general manager Brian Sabean a
two-year contract extension back in July, they suggested that they might drop
their "win now" approach in favor of greater emphasis on developing their own
“I think the emphasis has been
more on winning than developing,” said Giants owner Peter Magowan at the time.
“It's a balance, and the balance is always in flux because you might feel
you're just a player or two players away. If you're several players away, you
put more emphasis on developing."
Well, so much for that.
By signing the 30-year old Rowand to a 5-year, $60 million
contract to play centerfield until after he turns 36, the Giants tied themselves
to three outfielders all 30 or over through at least the 2009 season. Randy Winn will be 34 next June and will make $8 million this year and $8.25 in ’09
when he will be 35. Dave Roberts will be 36 next May and will earn $6.5 million
in each of the next two seasons. Combined with Rowand’s $12 million per year
average annual salary, the three should make somewhere in the neighborhood of
$26 million over the next two years. That’s roughly ¼ of the team’s projected
$90 million payroll.
On top of that, Rowand is known to play with heart and
reckless abandon which can be both good and bad. Fans in Philadelphia will
remember Rowand for face planting into the centerfield wall and breaking his
nose and left eye. Can the Giants be sure they’ll get the 161-game player from
2007, or will they get the 109-games-played version from ’06 as he continues
“laying it all out there” as he put it yesterday? Isn’t his style of play
conducive to Jim Edmonds-type injuries and aging in the latter years of this
deal (and likely without the Jim Edmonds type of production)? The biggest risk
to this deal is the length.
Meanwhile, Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz and
Eugenio Velez will be hard pressed to find playing time in San Francisco. Davis
and Lewis will be 27 next year, Velez will be 26, and Schierholtz turns 24 in
February. With this sudden logjam, all four now find themselves as possible
trade bait, while 25-year old Clay Timpner, who was added to the club’s 40-man
roster in November, now finds his path in CF blocked for the next five years.
Is that the emphasis on developing that Magowan was talking
about? Were the Giants suddenly just a player or two away from going all the
way and I missed it? Doesn’t signing Rowand, who will bat fifth for manager
Bruce Bochy in 2008, still leave the Giants needing a first and third baseman,
not to mention someone to bat cleanup other than Bengie Molina? Does employing
Winn as a three-hole hitter really foreshadow a potent lineup?
When he re-signed Sabean in early July instead of waiting
until after the trading deadline and assessing his performance then, Magowan
told reporters, “It puts Brian in a much better
position to do what he feels he needs to do, in terms of making trades and
whatever assessments are necessary to make, than would be the case if we were to
wait until the October or November time frame. We can get a running start on
the '08 season by making these moves now.”
heard my call for Sabean to
blow up the roster nine days before the deal was announced. All things
considered, after watching the Giants assemble aging rosters the previous couple
years in an ill-advised decision to surround Bonds with veteran players in an
effort to win it all now, the idea of putting more emphasis on younger,
homegrown talent was kind of exciting.
That July 31st, the Giants
traded Matt Morris and his entire salary to Pittsburgh for the promising and
speedy Davis and minor league pitcher Stephen MacFarland. Not a bad move by any
means, but as it was Sabean’s only deadline deal, it was hardly the “running
start on the ’08 season” that I was hoping for.
The Giants' only other
significant roster move this winter so far has been to re-sign shortstop Omar Vizquel, who will turn 41 next year, for up to two more seasons ($5.3 million
this year and he has a vesting option for 2009 should he play in 140 games).
And if the season started today, Ray Durham, 36 next season and due to make $7.5
million, would likely be playing second base instead of 26-year old Kevin Frandsen. Catcher Bengie Molina will turn 34 next July and make $6 million.
But don’t worry, instead of
going into 2008 faced with the prospect of having 36-year old Rich Aurilia
playing third, Sabean indicated Wednesday that he would continue to negotiate
with free agent Pedro Feliz (33 next April), who is seeking a three-year deal.
Sabean asked reporters if Feliz did indeed have a three-year deal on the table,
“why hasn’t he signed it?” This indicates that the GM is strongly contemplating
my favorite target. My prediction is a compromise that will ensure the
secret weapon continues to drive me insane for the next two seasons (likely
for something in the neighborhood of $12-14 million).
Well, maybe Dan Ortmeier, 27
next May, will beat out Richie for the first base job and the Giants can say
they gave development a chance. Of course, Ortmeier, with just 10 walks in 205
career PA, isn’t exactly the high on-base percentage kind of guy the Giants
need. At least he’s south of 30-years old (then again, maybe they can trade
Lewis and Schierholtz for some 30+ declining veteran).
My problem isn’t so much with
Rowand, but the fact that the Giants continue to push younger players to the
back burner in an attempt to satisfy the impatient but seat-filling lunatic
fringe who shudder at the very mention of the word rebuilding. At least this
means the Giants will no longer contemplate trading 23-year old pitching studs
Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, nor will they make an even more foolish move such as
trading for 33-year old Hideki Matsui (and his $13 million salary).
Given the rapidly rising cost of
free agency, teams are locking up their good players before they reach
their peak free agency years more often than before. Subsequently, teams have
increasingly turned to the trade market, but this increased demand combined with
lack of quality supply in the free agent market has also vastly increased the
price of making trades. For a team in the state the Giants find themselves,
unloading the farm to acquire Miguel Cabrera wouldn’t have made sense. They
simply are not a player or two away from getting there.
These two factors should have
made focusing on getting younger and developing their own priority #1.
Sometimes the best move is to stand pat and focus on that dirty word,
rebuilding. Instead, the Giants hit the overpriced free agent market for
another ill-advised free agent signing and look likely to open the season with
eight starting position players over the age of 30. That is not what I call
getting significantly younger or changing the way they are doing business.
I have long supported Sabean,
noting his long and successful track record. Some would say he’s been
successful because of Bonds. Well, the Giants were in last place with Bonds for
two straight seasons when Sabean took over and immediately traded Matt Williams
to the Indians for Jeff Kent to begin to laying the groundwork for turning a
last place team into a first place team. If there is a knock on him, it’s that
he hasn’t made very good decisions on free agent acquisitions, but I’ll argue
that there aren’t many GMs that are better when it comes to swinging a trade,
A.J. Pierzynski and Shea Hillenbrand notwithstanding. Nevertheless, my own
patience begins to run thin.
It’s only December 13th,
however, and the off-season still has a long way to go before pitchers and
catchers report. A lot of change can happen between now and then, and I am
loathe to jump to a premature conclusion, but halfway to spring training, I
haven’t liked what I’ve seen and heard so far. My impatience is different that
that of the fringe, those who can’t stand the idea of sacrificing the short term
for the betterment of the long term. Losing to them is not an option. To me, a
change of direction is desperately needed.
Even if the Giants get the
Rowand of 2004 and 2007 instead of the Rowand of ’05 and ’06, the Giants will
not compete in 2008 without significant offensive additions. After committing
$60 million to Rowand, they still haven't done anything to upgrade the corner
infield positions. Instead of considering trading Winn and relegating Roberts
to a fourth outfielder and allowing Schierholtz, Lewis and Davis to develop, the
Giants have committed themselves to another couple of years of business as
To Rowand, I say it’s nothing
personal. You may have just rebounded from two tough years to break out. Being
in your prime, you could be about to put up a string of very good years. In
three years that $12 price tag could look like a bargain. It’s difficult to
imagine that you’ll continue to hit at Willie Mays Field the way you did at
Citizens Bank Park in ’07 (.557 home slugging), but if you can stay healthy, the
Giants may have indeed just bought stability in centerfield for the next five
The problem is that this is not
the right move for the Giants to right this ship. The Giants continue to favor
veteran experience over the potential of youth at the expense of the long term
outlook for the club.
Come on Brian, I want to see my
faith in you rewarded. I need to see you change focus and direction. This was
not the kind of move Giants fans should have been hoping for. A deal more in
the lines of Edwin Encarnacion (25 with OBPs of .356 and .359 the last two years
and rumored to be available) to fill that hole at third base would have the kind
of deal that lends credence to the notion that the Giants are truly emphasizing
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