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Bay Area Baseball

Let's Face Facts

Oakland's fans can't delude themselves. The offense sucks: last in the league in runs despite nearly leading the league in walks. What gives? The A's just aren't hitting -- they're dead last in the majors in extra-base hits. Their raw offensive productive is reduced a bit by playing at the McAfee "Hello, I have a stupid name" Coliseum, but even adjusting for the stadium, they're still terrible.

So what's the problem? It's uncommon, but easy to understand: every last one of their hitters sucks. No, seriously, it's that bad:

Durazo: 720 OPS this year vs 875 career
Hatteberg: 693 OPS vs 768 career
Byrnes: 663 OPS vs 786 career
Kendall: 564 OPS vs 799 career
Chavez: 557 OPS vs 845 career
Ginter: 554 OPS vs 781 career

Mark Kotsay leads the team with a 757 OPS, in line with his career performance, but below the expectations he set last year. The rest of the outfield makes Kotsay look like an all-star: Nick Swisher (646) is on the DL after running into the right field wall, but before he hurt himself, he decided not to draw any walks. Bobby Kielty continues to underperform, and Charles Thomas is 3-for-32 with 3 singles. In the infield, Marco Scutaro (731) and Mark Ellis (706) are around where they expected to be, but because of the injury to Bobby Crosby, they're getting a lot more playing time and pulling the team down offensively as a result.

And what's the solution? First, we need to know the odds that your six best hitters are all going to have slumps for the first six weeks of the season -- almost zero. And the odds that things will straighten themselves out over the course of the season? Nearly 100%. But certain things can't iron themselves out, like Swisher and Crosby's injuries, because in their absence, their plate appearances will go to weaker hitters. The A's (or any other good club) are built to withstand the loss of one or two regulars, provided the rest of the team plays up to their abilities. But injuries and historic bad hitting are a tough combination. Oh, the solution. Right. If there was a solution in the minors, the A's would have made the call as soon as possible. What has to happen is the following: every single player on the roster has to start hitting. Right now. As deep as the slump was, they now have to hit that far over their heads. Otherwise the A's have no chance of being the 88-win team they should be.

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Let's face facts: Armando Benitez is out for the season, and thanks to the Giants letting him all but scope his own knee, we won't be seeing Barry for at least the next six weeks. Oh, and Jason Schmidt says he lost his fastball because he pitched too many innings last year. The Giants are not a good team -- their near .500 record is indicative of a bunch of guys playing over their heads rather than real ability. You might delude yourself into believing that the Giants just might make it on their own without their two best players, but then you'd sound like the sickening theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show. You're a baseball fan. Would you really rather be a 70s TV show set in Minneapolis?

So what's the good news? With all of the injuries, the Giants are way past the point where people would really blame them if they don't make a good run at the playoffs. The key failing of the Giants player acquisition strategy -- signing aging free agents like Omar Vizquel, J.T. Snow, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, I could go on -- hasn't actually hurt them much. Benitez's injury was sheer bad luck, and Bonds has so alienated every fan and reporter on the planet that Brian Sabean can easily duck responsibility. That takes all the pressure off, and the Giants can deal from their strengths to improve the team. For example:

- Trade Edgardo Alfonzo. After posting an OPS below .800 in 2001, 2003 and 2004, he showed up at spring training fitter than usual and he's been on an early-season tear. His value hasn't been higher since the day in 2002 that he signed with the Giants, and the $12 million remaining on his contract might not look like such a bad deal to a desperate team like, say, the Philadelphia Phillies, whose current third baseman went on the DL with psychological problems. It's not that Alfonzo can't help the Giants, it's just that…

- They already have an everyday third baseman named Pedro Feliz who makes way less than Alfonzo. The Giants have been sold on Feliz for years, even before he started showing a little patience at the plate this season, but signed Alfonzo about 3 days before they figured out that Feliz could get the job done. So shift Feliz from left field back to his natural position at third base and…

- Bring up Todd Linden. He's been absolutely destroying AAA pitching this year -- an unbelievable .451 OBP combined with .651 SLG -- and projects to hit every bit as well as Alfonzo while playing better outfield defense than Feliz. Not only that, he plays Right Field, which allows the Giants to…

- Shift Moises Alou to Left Field until Bonds is ready to play. His defense is not pretty and his hamstring is not happy. A move to left will keep him off the DL and focus on his hitting.

These moves make only a slight change on the field in 2005, but getting rid of Alfonzo's ridiculous contract and picking up some prospects in return is a great idea, if it can be done, because heading into 2006, the Giants are going to be faced with the choice of re-signing players who are really old or finding an alternative. I'm hoping we see the end of Marquis Grissom, Michael Tucker and Kirk Rueter, though the ever-nostalgic Giants might keep them around for another year like I kept this one t-shirt well past the point where it had started to disintegrate. What about J.T. Snow? He's had a late-in-career resurgence, but would you give him a contract that would keep him around until he's 40?

I have a feeling nothing is going to happen to change the status quo (though without Bonds, Benitez and a fully-functional Schmidt, we're not exactly at the real status quo, but I digress) and we'll get to spend the rest of the year watching aging veterans exhibit what's known as "skills mortality." Having Barry Bonds covered up the Giants' weaknesses and Brian Sabean's recent incompetence like a nuclear weapon hides the fact that you dropped it a mile off-target. Barry made up for Kirk Rueter's AAA pitching skills, Neifi Perez's AA hitting skills and the Giants amateurish player development and drafting strategy. No more. These failings will now be painfully rendered in the loss column for all to see. We can only hope the Giants get smarter in the future.