We are going to get a glimpse of the possibilities tonight, and for some of the 20 some-odd games left in the Giants season. How is Bonds' health? How has his skill suffered for being off for more than five months? Can he stay healthy? Can he regain the monstrous form we've grown accustomed to?
Many seem to think that he's back, and thus all will be fine. The Giants should spend any extra money (if, indeed, there will be any) on starting pitching to solidify the rotation, and the offense will go back to its 2004 form which saw the team place 2nd in the NL in scoring. It is definitely a possibility, and one that I would hope for.
However, there are several realities which intrude upon this dream, and they lie in the possible answers to the questions I posed above. Can the Giants really count on Barry to be Barry and for everything to go back to the way it was? I don't think they can.
Add in some other factors, like:
- Moises Alou, the best hitter on the club presently, will be older next year right along with Barry. Can he be counted on to put up a 900 OPS again? He ought to see better pitches with Barry in the lineup, but can he stave off skill regression due to age for another season?
- Randy Winn, bless the guy's heart, won't hit like this next season. He's been almost single-handedly driving the Giants' current pitiful offensive output -- if he doesn't hit like this when he came over, the Giants likely sit 10 games or more out instead of just seven.
- Ray Durham's also going to be a year older, and he, along with Winn and Alou, has been the only other guy that has truly produced this season.
- Mike Matheny's had a career year at the plate, and has hit fairly well for a catcher. Next season, back to a sub-700 OPS you go, Mike. I'd like to put more faith in the guy, but since he's never produced near this level at any other point in his career (and he's going to be older, too), I simply can't do that.
What do these things make me believe? It isn't time to get more pitching, which currently is the Giants strength. It's time to get more offense. But where, really? Next year's team is pretty much set. There may be some positions open, to be sure, like utility infielder (it seems that if the team can't jettison Edgardo Alfonzo, this will be his role), backup catcher (can we really trust Yamid Haad?), and possibly the 4th or 5th outfielder (dunno if Brian Sabean will trust either Jason Ellison or Todd Linden), but other than that...
...except for 1st base.
There's another trust problem at this position: 1) Sabean obviously won't trust in Lance Niekro to play the position full-time next season, and 2) I think it's obvious Sabean would like nothing more than to bring J.T. Snow back for one more year, if he can.
This is a huge problem. The team didn't give Niekro enough of a chance to see if he could be trusted playing full-time, and they're giving Snow every opportunity to maybe get a little hot and secure a spot next year. It's been mishandled, and now the Giants really, to me, only have one choice -- go out and get a 1st baseman.
A 1st baseman that can hit.
This, too, is a huge problem. The free agent class for 1st basemen next year is sad, really. A listing of the potentially available players is here, so you can take a look if you'd like. But it boils down to Paul Konerko and a bunch of dudes. It isn't just a problem because of that, it's a problem because there are some older veteran players on that list that I think will tempt Sabean if he actually decides to get a free agent (John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco, Frank Thomas, and Tino Martinez). I'm only joking a bit with those names -- they're all in their late 30's to their 40's, and as he's already picked up drug-policy violator and known problem-child Alex Sanchez, I can't eliminate Palmeiro from that list (betcha he'll be cheap - snort, laugh).
Trade is a possibility, too, but I haven't a clue as to what Sabes could accomplish there.
How much would Konerko, the only true option in the free agent market, cost? Egads, I know not. He already makes near 9 million this season, so I would have to think he'd go after Carlos Delgado-type money (around 12 mil per). The Giants couldn't afford this, I don't think, unless they are able to dump Alfonzo and his 7 mil per somehow. They'll already have salary raises with Mike Matheny (1.25 million more), Armando Benitez (1.5 mil more), Jason Schmidt (about 2 mil more), Omar Vizquel (1.5 mil more), and...Winn in CF will likely make 2 million plus more than Marquis Grissom did, LaTroy Hawkins' extra millions will be totally on the team's payroll next year, and Scott Eyre will receive a pay raise, too.
Offsetting this will be Kirk Rueter's 7 mil or so, Bonds' slight pay drop of 2 mil, and hopefully the aforementioned dump of Alfonzo, although I'd imagine the Giants would have to pick up a large chunk of his salary to seal any deal involving him.
In part 3 I'm going to take a look at the rotation, and why I think that Sabean's best bet is to gamble with what he's got now instead of going out and getting a free agent or two.