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Giants

No more spilt milk, Part 2

Last week we tackled the infield, so now let's take a few steps backward and examine who will be manning the spacious outfields of SBC Park in 2006.

LF Barry Bonds, CF Randy Winn, RF Moises Alou, 4th OF Todd Linden

The only thing standing in the way of this lineup being official for the 2006 season is the ever-unpredictable effect of the injury bug. And since two members of this foursome will be in their forties by this time next year, it wouldn't exactly be a freak occurrence for one of them to fall down and not get up.

The injury woes of Barry Bonds are well-documented, and every time he, or his ghost writer, makes a new entry on his blog it gives SportsCenter a new lead story and supplies the Sporting Green enough material for a week. Two weeks ago, Bonds announced a drastic improvement in the condition of his ailing knee, even citing the possibility of a September return.

No doubt such an announcement is good news. But how good that news really is, that's debatable. Bonds is this world's greatest baseball player and the type of player we'll brag to our grandkids about seeing, but investing $22 million and altering the direction of your franchise for someone less physically able to perform right now than I am is borderline delusional. In addition, Bonds is not being asked to return and perform at the league-average level, not even at the all-star or MVP levels. He is expected to instantly transform back into the best baseball player of all time. That player is far removed from the person who just proclaimed he's "started playing catch" and has even managed to take a few hacks in the batting cage. And it's worth noting that no mention of how often or far he hit the ball was offered

The outlook for Alou has a slightly rosier shade to it, which is not to say his physical condition isn't concerning. At 39, Alou is only a spring chicken in relation to his outfield counterpart. This doesn't mean he's destined to take a huge step backward in the upcoming year, since he shows none of the signs that a decline is imminent. But again, at his advanced age, turning into an old man on the field isn't furnished with a warning. Still, this has been his best season since 2001, possibly since his career year in 2000. His strikeout rate is as low and his walk rate as high as it's ever been. To perform these feats at nearly 40, with Pedro Feliz providing "protection" is an impressive feat to say the least.

That's the good.

As productive as he's been though, with just 30 games remaining, Alou is yet to crack the 100 game mark. Coupled with his recent return from the disabled list with a hamstring injury, it's unlikely Alou will exceed 120-games played. Even if he can maintain his level of performance in 2006, losing his bat for a quarter of the season will be difficult to overcome. And to ask him to maintain his productivity and increase his durability at his age may simply be the stuff of fairy tales.

No such confusion surrounds the starting trio's third member -- Randy Winn -- unless you're referring to the reasoning Brian Sabean used when deciding to acquire him. By all accounts, Winn's a nice person and a good clubhouse guy. That's fine if you're a dominant team like the Cardinals who could give roster spots to all the coaches' wives and still win. It's not so good when you're a team that needs virtually everything to break your way to have a glimmer of hope to compete in the feeble NL West. In that case, you can only afford "good clubhouse" guys if they're good baseball players too. Winn only scores 50% on that test.

Of course, none of this means he won't be playing center field for the G-men come springtime. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole scenario is that the Giants might be able to justify having a no-hit center fielder as long as he carried a gold glove when he took the field. Given the amount of ground their two corner outfielders cover, anything hit anywhere but dead-center next year will basically become a ground-rule double.

Alas, Winn doesn't even do that well. Despite a good set of wheels, Winn is unable to shoulder the defensive responsibilities of the position. His radar seems to have been mis-calibrated causing him to take frequent missteps when trying to track the ball off the bat. It doesn't help that he follows up by choosing a circuitous route. Now into his thirties, he's certainly not getting faster, which means his range will continue to decline.

Apparently the Giants didn't get the memo from Seattle, who handed him the position when Mike Cameron departed for New York. Less than a season into the experiment the Mariners wondered why their defensive efficiency nosedived. Soon after, they realized it was time to promote Jeremy Reed from Triple-A.

The odd man out is Todd Linden, because at this moment, the only player he could outplay is Randy Winn. But since the Giants gave up one of their best prospects in Jesse Foppert and a starting catcher in Yorvit Torrealba to purchase his services, Winn's name is written in permanent marker on the lineup card.

The shame is that the exact thing Linden needs is major league at bats. He has the power potential to be an impact major leaguer if he can cut down on the strikeouts and work his walk rate back toward his minor league levels. We'll never know what kind of player he can be until given a chance.

Linden has played some center field in the past, so the question for the Giants is whether they gamble on Linden or accept mediocrity with Winn. Since mediocrity in center field isn't going to get them in the playoffs, why not take a chance? Even if things go wrong, it's not as if anyone remembers whether you won 75 or 78 games.

Otherwise, the Giants will have to get more creative, not normally their strong suit. They could explore shifting Alou or Bonds over to first base, a move that could increase their chances of getting a full season out of either player. Bonds has made it clear he's not moving, so that's the end of that discussion Whether Alou is more accommodating, I've no idea, but if anyone could convince him to switch, it would be his father. Either way, there's no harm in asking.

What's sad is I doubt someone will even think of trying.

Non-sports related musings can be found at sharecroppers.blogspot.com.

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