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Bay Area Baseball

Youth, and Spare Parts

The 2004 Oakland A's and 2004 San Francisco Giants both finished 91-71. According to The Hardball Times Win Shares site, the A's got 17 or 18 wins from Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Erubiel Durazo, none of whom were available to make a significant impact on the 2005 team. Coincidentally, this is the same number of wins the Giants got from Barry Bonds.

Now, subtract 18 wins from 91-71, and you've got a 73-89 team -- just a .450 winning percentage. Not coincidentally, the Giants have a .431 winning percentage, which is what you expect when you unplug Bonds from the lineup and replace him with nobody special. But the A's, who supposedly got next-to-nothing of value for Hudson and Mulder and lost Durazo to the DL for the year, have a .573 winning percentage, basically the same as last year. So what happened? How is it possible that the A's are just as good this year as they were last year and every other year, but the Giants are 17 wins worse?

In the field, the answer is obvious: youth, and spare parts. Whereas the Giants have had just three regular players under age 27 since Brian Sabean became General Manager -- those would be Bill Mueller, Marvin Benard and Rich Aurilia, none of whom have much value anymore -- the A's have three players aged 24 or 25. Those three, Dan Johnson, Bobby Crosby, and Nick Swisher, are all on the upward swing of their careers. While only Crosby was in the majors last year, they have each provided performance equal to or better than the 2004 residents of their positions. The Giants, in contrast, re-signed J.T. Snow and Marquis Grissom for 2005, and were saddled with Edgardo Alfonzo at third. Grissom was released, Snow has been benched periodically, and the Giants would give their first-born draft pick to get Alfonzo off their hands.

The A's positioned themselves to get better, while the Giants could -- at the very best -- hold steady, but certainly couldn't replace Bonds' lost production. On the subject of spare parts, the A's have gotten increased production from Bobby Kielty and Mark Ellis, both of whom could have been had for a song prior to the season; Kielty makes $875,000 and Ellis makes $400,000. The Giants have similar spare parts: Michael Tucker and Deivi Cruz, who cost $2 million and $800,000, respectively, nearly two-and-a-half times what better players cost the A's!

It may seem like the Giants have more money to spend since their payroll is almost double the A's, but their lack of thriftiness across the roster has actually left them more cash-strapped than Oakland. While the Giants couldn't go after any big-name free agents in 2003, and failed to land the big fish in the 2004 off-season (though in fairness, they did pick up Bonds' 2005 and 2006 options), the A's picked up multi-year deals for Eric Chavez, Rich Harden, Mark Kotsay, Bobby Crosby and Jason Kendall, and rid themselves of what they deemed to be the bloated contracts of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. All is not lost in Giants-land: 24 average guys and a part-time Barry Bonds can still win 95 games. The Giants -- with a farm system that's nearly bare -- could still make a run at the pennant in 2006 if they put down the money necessary to do it. They didn't in 2004 or 2005, but faced with declining attendance, they may have to.

Kirk Rueter Released

There was much nostalgia among long-time Giants fans at the unceremonious departure of Kirk Rueter, one of the few Giants who actually owned a nickname. But Rueter has long been a below-average pitcher and a costly albatross on the Giants payroll. "Woody" had a worse-than-average ERA (even dating back to 1998), a historically low strikeout rate, and a bloated salary. Giants' management may have been blinded by a couple of strong outings in the playoffs, but it was illogical to pick Rueter over Russ Ortiz and Livan Hernandez, though it was a good idea to get rid of Ortiz. Sentimentality -- it's the stuff that keeps Bernie Williams in center field, but note that though the Red Sox won the World Series thanks to Derek Lowe's "clutch" pitching, he quickly got the TNT. The Giants could use a little bit of that, rather than trying to assemble "a good bunch of guys" in the clubhouse…