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With rivals reeling, Giants whiffed
I happen to have a high opinion of Jamey Carroll. He’s a pro. He plays all over the diamond. Still, he was last seen appearing in 93 games for a lousy Indians team in 2009. While he may start at second base for the Dodgers, he has been a utility infielder for much of his career, and utility infielders are like long snappers. You need them. You value them. But if you see them surrounded by reporters after a postseason game, it’s generally because they messed up.
I mention Carroll to illustrate a point: The Dodgers have spent very little this winter. That is partially because they have a fairly established core of young players, partially because the team’s ownership doesn’t lead the league in stability or cash on hand.
Owner Frank McCourt told MLB.com on Thursday that his “personal situation and divorce has no bearing on the team whatsoever.” Really? No bearing whatsoever? By that, I assume he means the following: It was always our plan to sign Jamey Carroll long before upgrading our rotation. We have only two pitchers who started for us in last year’s postseason, which was our goal. The quality of our rotation, too, will have no bearing on the team whatsoever.
But enough about the Dodgers – for now, at least. Divorces are awful, and public divorces that temporarily tarnish an iconic sports franchise are even worse. I can’t tell you if Hollywood is still gossiping about it – sorry, I live 2,000 miles away – but I can report that this remains a Very Big Deal in baseball circles.
Which brings me to the team I really want to address here: the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants and Dodgers didn’t get along when the National League was the Chevy Volt of baseball leagues, and they don’t get along now. They’re not supposed to like each other. And their respective fan bases really don’t like each other.
I suspect a great number of San Franciscans are deriving some satisfaction from the Dodgers’ plight. That’s to be expected. This is a rivalry. Giants fans want the Dodgers to struggle in 2010, because Giants fans want their team to win the National League West.
Still, I don’t think Orange and Black devotees should be entirely content with what has happened this winter. Remember that San Francisco is coming off a third-place finish in the West despite brandishing the second-best ERA in baseball. If pitching is king, how did that happen? Well, the Giants also ranked next-to-last in home runs.
So, the mandate of general manager Brian Sabean was clear: find two gentlemen capable of hitting baseballs up to the Coke bottle or into the Cove. He delivered Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff, along with the re-signings of second baseman Freddy Sanchez and utility infielder Juan Uribe.
Tim Lincecum paces a strong pitching staff, but the Giants need some bats.
Horribly inadequate? Well, no. I wouldn’t go that far. Many contenders wanted to sign DeRosa, and Huff is only one year removed from a season with the Orioles in which he batted .304 with 32 home runs and 108 RBIs. Uribe, too, was a vital player for the Giants last year and seems well suited to the NL at this point in his career.
In fact, barring injury, San Francisco will have a better Opening Day lineup this year than it did in 2009. And I understand that Sabean has been somewhat limited by the unprecedented nature of Tim Lincecum's arbitration case, which could cause a big jump in commitments to current players. Then there is AT&T Park, with its big lawn and faraway fences that have been known to deter free agent sluggers.
But if I were a Giants fan, I would feel unfulfilled by all of this. This team entered the offseason with a great pitching staff and money to spend. They were down three points, with the ball, first and goal, late in the fourth quarter … and kicked a field goal.
Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters this week that he expects Pablo Sandoval, Huff and DeRosa will bat third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Not bad, but I’m sure Dodgers fans (and Dodgers employees) feared for months that the rival Giants would come away from the winter with Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. There was no Big Splash to make McCourt’s financial frostbite sting the Dodgers even more.
“We’ve been hearing it for years: ‘They need a bat, they need a bat,’” one American League scout said this week. “Well, they got Aubrey Huff and DeRosa. They’re good players, sure. But another big bat would be Holliday or Bay or getting Adrian Gonzalez in a trade, which won’t happen.
“I don’t think they totally revamped their offense like they hoped to. But maybe it doesn’t really matter to them, because pitching is the way they’re going to compete. In the Giants’ defense, maybe they’re thinking, ‘The division is coming back down to us.’”
And it is. At least, the Dodgers are. So wasn’t that all the more reason to overhaul the offense now, with your biggest rival mothballing its roster after consecutive NLCS appearances?
The Giants haven’t had a 100-RBI hitter since You Know Who in 2004. Not coincidentally, that was also the last year in which they contended until the season’s last days. With DeRosa in left, Aaron Rowand in center and a palms-up shrug in right, the Giants don’t have a single outfielder who has had a 100-RBI season in the majors.
The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have made the best upgrades of any team in the division. Adam LaRoche, who agreed to a one-year deal this week, will lengthen their lineup and improve the infield defense. They have added Brandon Webb (back from injury) and Edwin Jackson (trade with Detroit) to the rotation.
At the moment, the Rockies probably have the best all-around roster in the division. They were better than the Giants last season, and nothing has happened since that would change my mind. San Francisco has Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but Colorado has balance – not to mention the expected return of Jeff Francis, after he missed all of 2009.
The Dodgers will probably add another starting pitcher soon, but I doubt that they will be as good in 2010 as they were in 2009. As a result, the Giants have pulled even with their rival -- something that would have been a great achievement one year ago. But at the end of an off-season that started with such optimism, it qualifies as a letdown.
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