Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Some Blog, Huh?

by Bat Fastard

(I haven’t read this, but Bat assures me that it's up to “Almost EEEEEE!” standards, which, frankly, gives me chills and a pain in the lower intestines.—GP)

So there I am, perfectly happy, eating horseradish cheese by the brick and watching episode after episode of some crime drama on DVD ’cause I got a big crush on the blonde detective, and my computer screams at me, “You’ve got mail!” Actually, no. The mail sound is a recording of me going “EEEEEE-maaaaaaaaaaaaail!” in a loud gravelly voice, but the sentiment’s the same. And do I have the willpower to stay plopped in my beanbag chair going “Yumyumyumyummity…” as my babe walks away from the camera? Of course not. I can’t ignore a ringing phone, either. So… well, thank God for pause buttons. And rewind buttons. But I digress.

Hoping that finally I’d receive that message from the actress who plays Detective Blondie saying that she’d be glad to run away from her hubby and join me in, I dunno, Dubai, surely you can understand—granted, the way the beginning of this sentence is worded, it sounds like you’re hoping I woulda gotten the good news—my crippling disappointment combined with the desperate malaise that greets all recipients of e-mail from Gregg. (Nothing personal, Gregg. Idiot.)

“Bat,” he rants, “I need you to take over the blog. I can’t take the pace.”

“No shit,” I offer, noting that it’s been nine months since the last entry. I mean, some blog, huh?

Turns out the guy is out of work, sort of. Not that this is new—his last day in the department he’d been trying to leave for twelve years was August 31, and he’s been—get this—temping in his old department since December. Part time. What the hell has he been doing all these months? Surely the vast hordes of “Almost EEEEEE!” fans would ask the same question, if they existed.

Now, I know all about being out of work—far better, in fact, than I know about actually being employed, but that’s another story, or several—so I can sympathize, but the guy’s written, what, 75 words since the 2002 World Series, something like that. So it’s hard to figure out where the need for Ol’ Uncle Bat comes in. Still, knowing that Gregg will never read this, I feel safe in saying that his problems are of no interest to me, particularly when they arrive in the form of an e-mail I’d rather get from a particularly appealing actress, someone who I don’t even care what she’s like in real life. Just stay in character and drop trou, lady. But I digress again. Theoretically I’m supposed to be writing about the Giants—took me 400 words to get that far—so I’ll stop bitching about Gregg and start bitching about them.

No doubt you billions of faithful “Almost EEEEEE!” readers have been concerned that the Giants apparently fell off a cliff last May and ceased to exist. Rest assured that your concern was legitimate. It’s not so much that by May it was obvious the Giants wouldn’t win a postseason berth; it’s more that the team was pretty crappy all season and shouldn’t win a postseason berth.

Further, they played like an unhappy team, a largely energy-free team. Much of that, I’m sure, can be attributed to the idiocy surrounding Barry Bonds As He Cheats His Way To Immortality, or however, the Bonds-bashers would put it. However, right or wrong, I tend to place a lot more blame on Felipe Alou. In fact, I grew thoroughly weary of the notion of the Giants employing anybody named Alou in their organization (and so very few named Fastard).

For instance, I got awful sick of Moises Alou finding ridiculous ways to injure himself for significant portions of any given season. I mean, unless I’m remembering wrong, didn’t he lose an entire year in Houston during a spring-training incident involving a stationary bike? And this year we can point to him tripping over the right-field foul line in Philadelphia and losing several weeks. The man is a terrific hitter, though. He really is. Still, let him treat New York fans to his Pierzynski-like reactions every time he pops up. Supposedly he’s a really nice guy, but Moises seems very ready to retire—or so I thought, until he signed with the Mets.

As for Felipe, how can he not be a burnout case? He looked like he was just plain sick of being there, and nothing in his demeanor suggested that he really knew what to do with this team (which, granted, would hardly make him unique). And he really doesn’t seem to know how to make out a lineup—but then, lots of managers don’t. Indeed, lots of his personnel decisions are pretty squirrelly, such as “Let’s go north with Tyler Walker and Jeff Fassero, then can them both after about two weeks,” or “Let’s bat Lance Niekro eighth today and third tomorrow,” as opposed to “not at all.” In fact, as Gregg noted in his “Manager in a Box” thing in an August 2005 blog entry that “Sometimes I think that when [Alou] makes a lineup, the first two spots and the last three (not counting the pitcher) seem like a priority, and whoever’s left over goes into the three-, four-, and five-holes.” And sometimes it doesn’t make sense at all, such as Steve Finley starting games in just about every spot in the lineup.

But there’s little point in ragging on the guy anymore, no matter how earnestly, because he’s no longer the Giants’ manager. Bruce Bochy is. (Weirdly, Felipe’s back in the fold, in some “advisory” capacity. Should we Be Very Afraid?) Rumored names had included Bud Black (now the Padres’ manager), Ron Wotus, Dave Righetti, Manny Acta (now the Nationals’ manager), and Joe Girardi (the NL Manager of the year—fired after one season with the Marlins). I was mildly bummed for Wotus, if only because he’s paid his dues, but to me the most intriguing names were Bochy and Black, so I guess I can’t complain. At least it wasn’t one of those guys who gets hired and fired every couple years, like Jimy Williams or Don Baylor or Bob Boone or Larry Bowa or Gene Lamont or Buck Showalter.

Now all we have to worry about is, well, the entire roster. The mainstay, it appears, would be 63-year-old Omar Vizquel. Ray Durham’s back. Pedro Feliz, I’m sad to say, is back. Bonds, at long last, is back. Ryan Klesko is a new face. Bengie Molina is a new face. Barry Zito(!) is a new face. Rich Aurilia is a new old face. Meanwhile, evidently they really like Kevin Frandsen, but I have the feeling we’re looking at an amalgam of Mike Benjamin, Cody Ransom, and Brian Dallimore—not that Frandsen is necessarily a bad player; just that he seems like maybe an up-and-down, fill-in guy, not someone to hang your hat on. And re-signing Feliz was a priority, if you can imagine. Feliz: the anti-Moneyball player. (Well, I don’t know that it’s all his fault. Felipe never let the guy sit last year, for crying out loud. And it showed. Remember that in 2005, Alou had said that Feliz was way better if he didn’t play every day.)

The outfield is in particular disarray. First, not that this is a bad thing, the Giants didn’t offer salary arbitration to Finley, who can now resume his career as a Giants-killer elsewhere (likely with the Rockies, with whom he just signed a minor league deal, meaning he’d be one of only two guys I can think of, along with Matt Herges, who will have played for all five NL West teams). Second, there’s Randy Winn, coming off a season that’s a lot more like Randy Winn than the last couple months of 2005 were. Age aside, I think he could bounce back—not to that level, of course, but to the level that led him to be an American League All-Star. Granted, he was playing for the Devil Rays at the time, and somebody had to represent them, but still. The Giants appear to want to continue looking at Todd Linden and Jason Ellison. The former doesn’t bother me anymore—give him another year—but doesn’t the Ellison experiment seem over? The good news, though, is that they lost the bidding wars for both Gary Matthews Jr. and Juan Pierre, neither of whom floats my particular boat. Still, they went and signed Dave Roberts (who would be the second Dave Roberts in San Francisco Giants history), and if I had to choose among him, Matthews, and Pierre, I’d go with Roberts, ’cause the other guys wound up getting huge contracts. My head is still spinning. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Giants made overtures—real or token, I dunno—toward acquiring Manny Ramirez from Boston. I don’t even want to contemplate what we’d have had to give up.

Molina is supposed to be this year’s answer to the Giants’ eternal question, “Who’s gonna catch?” As always, the answer is not “Joe Mauer” or “Ivan Rodriguez” or even “Yadier Molina.” Looks like Brother Bengie is (a) old (though younger than Feliz), (b) slow, (c) declining, and (d) in every way a San Francisco Giant, so why be surprised? Sadly, Mike Matheny’s career appears to be over—and due to post-concussion syndrome, yet. The good news is that the Giants aren’t relying on Eliezer Alfonzo to become Pudge. First, he’s not gonna. Second, while he did start off like a house afire, it sure didn’t last, and by the end of the year he was actively bad—and I haven’t even mentioned his seeming inability to successfully receive a pitched baseball.

And I also haven’t even covered pitching, especially the starting rotation, which is now bereft of Jason Schmidt—who’s now a Dodger. Chrissakes. What is with these guys? If he starts spouting off about how he’d always dreamed of wearing Dodger Blue, I’ll puke everything I’ve ever eaten, then mail it to Schmidt and tell him it’s candy. But screw him—he’s gone. In his stead is Barry Zito, once a very good pitcher, now a huge, preposterously expensive question mark—one question being, “Can he throw a fastball more than 85 miles an hour?” My fear is that the answer is no. Not only that, he’s tinkering with his delivery this spring. That sure fills me with $18 million a year’s worth of confidence!

Backing him up in the rotation are, in no particular order, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry, and Matt Cain. Now, I figure Morris is exactly the pitcher he appeared to be last year: far too much yecchh, not nearly enough yum. Lowry—I have no idea what his problem was, besides some weirdo injury. I have to figure that hitters are on to his changeup. Indeed, Cy Youngs aside, I’m not sure how different he is from Zito. Cain… well, today, supposedly, he just signed a multiyear contract extension. I’m hoping this is a smart move for the Giants, ’cause I’m desperate for them to finally come up with a pitcher who’ll turn out to be great as a Giant. (And he’s a pretty big guy, considering he’s got a short-guy face.) The fifth starter seems to want to be Brad Hennessey. Or maybe Jonathan Sanchez. Or maybe Russ Ortiz, canned last year by two teams after pitching horrendously for both, but who, hopefully not on that basis, has earned essentially a tryout with the Giants. Or, hey, maybe it’s Tim Lincecum, the number-one pick of whom the Giants apparently think even more highly than Cain.

The bullpen is chock full of Vinnie Chulk, but also guys like Jack Taschner and Scott Munter, both of whom were outstanding in 2005 and rancid in 2006. Alongside them are Billy Sadler and Patrick Misch (which sounds more like a sexual position than a ballplayer), very young dudes who got a look toward the end of last year. (In particular, Sadler, I daresay, still has whiplash and a perforated eardrum from watching, and hearing, batted baseballs fly long distances.) Kevin Correia and Brian Wilson more or less round out the Young Bullpen Righty contingent, with Wilson being looked at as a potential closer, which only scares me quite a bit. Oh, plus there’s Merkin Valdez, who really needs to come up with a nickname, like “M-Dog” or “Poot” or something. He’s the guy we got in the Ortiz trade after 2002, along with… Damian Moss! Hahahahaha! Remember that guy? A worse Giants pitcher is hard to remember! So it goes without saying that he’s a nonroster invitee this spring. Know who else is? Tyler Walker. I swear.

But all that said, I actually see some potential for some pitching gooditude—not excellence, mind you. Aside from “Now he’s a Giant,” which you can use as a disclaimer for any player, in terms of potential success, I see no reason Zito can’t kick ass. I’m still big, ish, on Lowry, and very hopeful about Cain. Hennessey did great—right up till they started counting on him—and Sanchez has looked nasty. Seems to me like there are lots of reasonably good parts in the bullpen… which brings us to our closer: Armando Benitez. This dude is going to get booed every time out, at least until he saves five straight with minimal heart stoppage. EEEEEE! veteran Richard Booroojian has dubbed him “BFI II,” with “BFI” standing for “Big Fat Idiot.” (It should go without saying that the original BFI was Livan Hernandez, so I won’t mention it.) Me, I’m hoping Benitez will make us forget all about his new appellation. I fear, however, that he’ll do so after the Giants release him and he catches on with some team that’ll win the World Series.

Okay, now I haven’t touched on everybody in orange and black, and I’m not going to. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of tears in Scottsdale over that. But as we get ready for tomorrow, the first game of the exhibition season, when baseball isn’t yet about coronary concerns, here’s my question:

What is this team?