Related Articles: Baseball, All

Giants' Baseball

A Game Short... A Game Late...

At $82 million, it's not like the Giants didn't have enough money to win the division. Atlanta, St. Louis and Houston all spent about the same amount of money. And they've got the greatest player of a generation (if not the last two generations) to build around. So how did they screw this up?

Let's start with the critical errors: The biggest and most-easily prevented mistake was giving lots of plate appearances to below-average hitters!

The 2004 Giants had one great hitter --Bonds -- two good hitters, Snow and Durham, and one above-average hitter, Dustan Mohr. The rest of their plate appearances were shared by mediocrities -- Neifi Perez, Michael Tucker, Edgardo Alfonzo, Deivi Cruz, Marquis Grissom and A.J. Pierzynski. Even with this lineup, the Giants nearly led the NL in runs scored, but that was because of Barry's interplanetary performance behind the high OBPs of Snow, Mohr, Durham and for the first half of the season, Tucker.

While Felipe Alou has to make the most of what he's got, his misconceptions about hitting cost the Giants the pennant this season. Just to bring up a few:

* Thinking Neifi Perez was a major-league shortstop. He's not. He never was. Let us never speak of it again.

* Disparaging Yorvit Torrealba's hitting and saying he wasn't ready to be an everyday catcher. The Giants went out and blew the wad on A.J. Pierzynski. But Torrealba hit just as well as Pierzynski, and his defense was clearly superior.

* Blind faith in Pedro "swing at anything" Feliz. According to Alou, it doesn't matter that Feliz is actually two years older than the Giants originally thought he was. But the Giants have two players who just are a year older and every bit the hitter Feliz is: Edgardo Alfonzo and Damon Minor. Yet Alou thinks Feliz is going to develop into a better player next year?

But much of this problem falls on Brian Sabean, whose personnel decisions since 2002 have not matched his GM work in the late-90s. Looking at just what he did this past off-season:

* Let Jose Cruz Jr. leave but spent more money to bring in Jeffrey Hammonds and Michael Tucker. This downgraded both the outfield hitting and the outfield defense. The Giants dropped from the best defense in the league in 2003 to just average this year.

* Not recognizing that Torrealba is an adequate catcher. The Giants could have better spent $3 million and three players at shortstop than acquiring Pierzynski.

In other words, all of Sabean's off-season transactions made the Giants worse.

The second-biggest mistake was using a bunch of aging retreads to round out the pitching staff. Now the Giants couldn't have predicted that Joe Nathan would go to Minnesota and become one of the premier relievers in the game. In fact, just about everyone predicted the opposite. And maybe the price tag to keep Tim Worrell was too steep. But that didn't mean they needed to give Wayne Franklin, who led the majors in home runs allowed last year, the chance to throw 42 awful innings this year. They didn't need to break camp with Brian Cooper, a starting pitcher with dubious credentials, who cost the Giants two games they really could have used. And while they couldn't have predicted Matt Herges' collapse, once they realized he was just as bad as his cross-the-bay rival Arthur Rhodes, they didn't need to give him another month to stink it up before giving him the hook.

The fact is the Giants had some major-league pitchers named Noah Lowry and Brad Hennessey, and they spent most of the season in Fresno. There's no excuse for relying on 30-year old journeymen when you've got 23-year old major-league talent in your organization.

It's unfortunate, but Sabean's long-term contracts hamstrung the Giants pitching staff. In 2004, he dropped $20 million on Robb Nen, Kirk Rueter, Felix Rodriguez and Jason Christiansen -- four guys the Giants would rather not even have on the team. After Jason Schmidt, that left the Giants with just seven million dollars to fill out the entire rest of the roster! Ten major-league pitchers for just seven million dollars? Who are we, Crazy Eddie's?

So there you have it in a nutshell: Sabean didn't pick up the best possible hitters and he left the Giants with no money to sign pitchers. To make matters worse, Felipe Alou didn't even play the best players he had on the roster. All the Giants needed was one smarter signing or one better pitcher or 500 fewer plate appearances for Neifi Perez and they would have won the division again. Given his long-term success, Sabean won't be losing his job anytime soon, but his performance is following the same trajectory as Edgardo Alfonzo's hitting: good work a few years ago, but decreasing effectiveness with age.