Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Attention Brian Sabean: Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, and Pat Burrell Are All Telling You to Relax

As fellow community leader Danny Penza pointed out in his latest article, the San Francisco Giants still have a relatively large hole to fill at third base. Since the Orange and Black offense packs about as much punch as a box of kittens, management can't really afford to merely plug in a defensive filler.

Not if it intends to stay true to proclamations of a return to contention, to competitive relevance.

At the moment, the bloom is very much on the rose—SF has been the biggest mover and shaker of the offseason not wearing New York Yankee pinstripes. Meanwhile, glacial would be the best way to describe the offseasons of the other clubs in the National League West.

Furthermore, the Giants are the only team in the entire Senior Circuit that has gotten significantly better. At the moment.

The New York Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez, but he's replacing Billy Wagner (no slouch himself when healthy). Sure, K-Rod set a new record for saves last year. I'm still skeptical that move represents a huge upgrade.

The Chicago Cubs re-signed Ryan Dempster and picked up Kevin Gregg, but Kerry Wood walked and Jason Marquis was moved for Luis Vizcaino. They've also added Milton Bradley, which sounds like a good idea. So did the Titanic.

The Los Angeles Dodgers re-signed Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake, but have already lost Brad Penny and figure to lose some other significant players (Derek Lowe, Esteban Loaiza, Joe Beimel, Jeff Kent, and Nomar Garciaparra). I don't think for a second that Manny Ramirez is going anywhere. That doesn't bother me a bit.

The defending champion Philadelphia Phillies have added Raul Ibanez, but they need to replace Pat Burrell. The Phightins will also get a completely healthy Chase Utley back and that is, consider his year last year with a bum hip, a truly terrifying prospect. As much as I admire Chase, that's still not a huge improvement for the champs.

Other than that, the additions have been subtle and rather insignificant. At the moment.

That will change. Even now, the growing hype surrounding the San Francisco Giants, touting them as potential NL West favorites and dark horses to make noise in the playoffs is insane. At least as the team currently stands.

And that's why the Giants need to add another relatively potent bat—not necessarily 30 bombs, but a minimum of 15—at the hot corner to have much hope. Especially now that their cover has been blown by the Randy Johnson signing.

No, they cannot afford to tread water until pitchers and catchers report.

Of course, the market is simultaneously screaming at Brian Sabean to cool his heels, to play it close to his vest for a while.

The top two free agents left (Manny/Lowe) still languish with 'For Sale' signs on their blank baseball caps. Even more telling, rumors of a bidding war aren't exactly burning up the mill and it's almost mid-January. The same can be said of Adam Dunn and Ben Sheets (the next guys down the free agent ladder).

What's more, look at the contract Burrell just signed, which was $16 million over two years.

In 2008, Pat Burrell played 157 games, registered 536 at-bats, scored 74 runs, drove in 86, hit 33 homeruns with the same number of doubles, and managed a .367 on-base percentage. For the World Series winner.

Pat the Bat had a stellar postseason before disappearing in the Fall Classic.

And he made $14+ million. $14+ MILLION!

I understand everyone knew the contract was bloated, but that's still a $6 million cut in pay for a guy who had a damn good year for the best team in the Show.

Quick recap—the market for the top four free agents (including two rep'd by the infamous Scott BorAss) is tepid and one of the best players on 2008's champion just absorbed a salary hit of over 40 percent.

Flash back to Sabean and the San Francisco Giants.

The biggest name available via the real-life wire at third base is Joe Crede. San Fran has also popped up on the radar for guys like Edwin Encarnacion and Jorge Cantu (as Danny pointed out). That's an ugly mess since Crede is the most obvious fit, but he's rep'd by the aforementioned scourge.

Unfortunately, Encarnacion and Cantu would both require parting with good, young pitchers. Muddying the picture is the fact that both play sub-standard defense. You could mount a persuasive argument that neither promises to hit enough to atone for the more certain defensive lapses.

Fortunately, this isn't about what Sabean should do. It's about what he should NOT do.

Sabean would be wise to take the no-so-subtle hint and do nothing until the larger pieces start moving. It won't be a long wait and Joe Crede will probably not be the first to go. Even if he is, there's a good chance such a scenario would only happen if prices are falling and someone's offered too much.

Crede isn't so good that management should overspend to protect against losing him. He's a nice player with the potential to stagger people. He's also proven to be brittle and the Gents really don't need to waste money on a guy who's gonna spend large stretches on the shelf.

Not when you consider that the payroll is already pretty substantial—by any organization's standard, but certainly by San Francisco's.

Brian Sabean's done a fantastic job so far. His opening flourish hasn't been perfect, but it could've been a LOT worse and there's a ton to like.

Let's hope he sits back and admires his handiwork for a while before making his final push.

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