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The New Year in Baseball

Los Angeles, the New San Francisco

I spent the last week in cold and rainy Los Angeles, which gave me a lot of time to read the LA Times Sports section (I know, why would I do a thing like that?) Ned Colletti's first month on the job has been, at the very least, a PR success. People have forgotten about the Angels, which is good, because they suck. As much as I liked Paul DePodesta's constant retooling of the roster, his tenure coincided with the rise of the Angels.

At any rate, Colletti's strategy should be very familiar to Giants fans. He went out and made the following free agent signings: Sandy Alomar (age 39), Nomar Garciaparra (32), Bill Mueller (34, ex-Giant), Kenny Lofton (38, ex-Giant), Brett Tomko (32, ex-Giant.)
It's like a giant Giant reunion -- these new old Giants join other old Giants like Jose Cruz (age 31), Ricky Ledee (age 32) and Jeff Kent (age 37). Anybody else? Ah, the lone young player, Rafael Furcal (age 27) I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody.

Do I need to say it? This strategy bears an uncanny resemblance to what we thought Brian Sabean was responsible for in San Francisco, and the team bears an even more uncanny resemblance to the 2002 and 2003 Giants. We all saw where that strategy led us last year: 75-87 and a foul odor at SBC Park. Even worse, Colletti pulled the standard Sabean buy-high, sell-low trick: take a player who has trade value (Hee-Seop Choi) and sign someone to replace him (in this case, Garciaparra) thereby reducing Choi's value to nothing. I feel bad for the big Korean slugger -- there is no worse fate in baseball than becoming the statistician's pet.

But Colletti did learn something from his trip to "Northern California Misadventure" -- don't sign old players to long-term contracts, especially when that means they'll block younger, better players. The Dodgers are on the hook for a bunch of one- and two-year contracts (except for Furcal's three-year deal) which should save them from the Edgardo Alfonzo Experience (I need not elaborate).

The Dodgers have to be the odds-on favorites to win the NL West in 2006. In comparison, the Padres won some (signing Brian Giles) and lost some (trading for Vinny Castilla). Same goes for the Diamondbacks. I heard a rumor that the Rockies might get demoted to AAA. Am I forgetting anyone?

Oh yeah, the Giants. They've engaged in a little "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" this off-season. The "big" deals:

Old: Brett Tomko 4.48 ERA, 5.38 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 0.95 G/F
New: Matt Morris 4.11 ERA, 5.47 K/9, 3.16 K/BB, 1.60 G/F

I like Morris' control and his ability to get ground balls. The Giants may be a lot of things (mostly old) but bad infield defenders, they are not. This move made the Giants one or two wins better, at a cost of one extra year and several extra millions per. Make no mistake: Tomko was a deal for the Giants, a league-average pitcher who cost them next to nothing. If they'd had more like him they might have had a shot at .500 last year.

Old: Jason Ellison 264/316/361 and Edgardo Alfonzo 277/327/345
New: Steve Finley 222/271/374 and Jose Vizcaino 246/299/337

This proves that the Giants can shuffle the deck chairs on their sinking ocean liner as well as anybody. This finally clears the way for Pedro Feliz to play third base every day, three years late, and just as he's becoming over-priced. Finley will backup all three outfield positions and block whatever development Todd Linden has left in him. Sadly, this is just more evidence that Brian Sabean will quit his job the day Barry Bonds retires.

Old: J.T. Snow 275/343/365
New: Mark "don't call me Mike" Sweeney 294/395/466

Raise your hand if you think Sweeney will have a 395 OBP next year. This isn't actually a terrible move. Other than his fluke 2004, Snow has been terrible for a long time and only kept his job because LLJT – Ladies Love Jack Thomas. Unfortunately, this will be the 9th consecutive year that the Giants don't get enough offensive production out of first base.

Old: LaTroy Hawkins
New: Steve Kline

Yawn…We start out with Jerome Williams and this is what we end up with?

Let's do a quick calculation: the Giants won 75 games last year. Let's say Barry Bonds comes back and plays 130 games. Give the Giants 10 wins. Be generous, and give another two for Matt Morris. That's 87 wins. Probably not enough to win a weak NL West, certainly not enough for the Wild Card, and not likely good enough to beat a real team in the playoffs. But what's new in Giants land?