Giants change look with Beltran

The 2010 San Francisco Giants were famous for (a) winning the World Series and (b) being eccentric, in no particular order. Manager Bruce Bochy compared his guys to the Dirty Dozen. He had “The Beard” (Brian Wilson), “The Freak” (Tim Lincecum) and “The Thong” (Aubrey Huff).

The Giants’ roster was ill-fitting yet charmed, having been soldered together by Bochy and General Manager Brian Sabean. Pat Burrell? Cody Ross? Santiago Casilla? They weren’t supposed to win, but they did. It was baseball of the bizarre, and a lot of people around the country grew to love them for it.

One year later, the Giants still are leading the National League West, playing before packed houses at AT&T Park every night. They are the subjects of a thorough and entertaining documentary series on Showtime. Business is good. Life is good. But things will never be as they were last year. Wednesday, perhaps more than any other day of their season, proved that.

Last year’s Giants had one everyday player with a batting average better than .300. They relied on the sluggers (Huff, Burrell and Juan Uribe) no one else wanted. They made torturous 1-0 victories seem cool.

But as of this moment, there is nothing “underdog” about them. On Wednesday they agreed to acquire Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets. Beltran, a six-time All-Star, was the must-have item on this year’s midsummer trade market. His opinions on seemingly trivial matters — AL versus NL, DH versus outfield, Ginger versus Mary Ann — became national news.

Beltran is the embodiment of the alluring short-term fix. He earns an $18.5 million salary, although reports say the Mets will continue paying most of that money. He’s going to be a free agent after this season. He’s represented by Scott Boras, agent to the stars. At the moment he walks into the Giants’ clubhouse, he will become their highest-paid player.

(Wait. Actually, he’s tied with Barry Zito. So they can pay for the team dinners.)

Beltran will change the lineup. His impact there will be immediate. He also will change the clubhouse. His impact there will be unknown. Here we have the classic case of a wealthy 34-year-old superstar, entering one of the most harmonious clubhouses in recent baseball history.

If you want to say the Giants have turned corporate, well, I suppose that’s fair. In related news, the Haight-Ashbury head shops announced Wednesday that they now will sell Burberry ties.

Make no mistake: Beltran will be embraced immediately by his new manager, his new teammates and his new city. All of those constituencies want the Giants to win, and Beltran’s bat will be a boon to a lineup that has scored the fewest runs of any contender in the major leagues. Plus, Beltran is a solid citizen. He navigated 6-1/2 seasons in New York without any major off-the-field controversies surrounding his personal conduct.

To get Beltran, the Giants had to part with right-handed starter Zach Wheeler, the top pitcher in their farm system. Wheeler, the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft, is 7-5 with a 3.99 ERA in the hitter-friendly Class-A California League.

Generally speaking, teams don’t hesitate before trading 21-year-olds who have ERAs around 4.00 in Class A. When Matt Cain was 21, he won 13 games with a 4.15 ERA — in the major leagues. But when Lincecum was 21, he was still pitching at the University of Washington. So it’s hard to know for sure what the Giants are giving up with Wheeler.

A sampling of the opinions I heard on Wednesday:

  • “I can’t believe San Francisco did it. Wheeler is a future top-of-the-rotation starter if he stays healthy. Seems like a lot for a rental (player) who you can’t get draft picks for.”

  • “Really good arm, (but) they have to move while the iron is hot. They have a chance to repeat. So, I understand.”

  • “Can’t say I’m surprised. The Giants needed to add offense. They also needed to be aggressive due to the quality of the player (Beltran) and the relatively thin list of available (hitters). Wheeler isn’t an elite guy, but he does have middle-of-the-rotation upside.”

In other words, we’ll see what becomes of Wheeler. Let’s revisit his performance in a few years, shall we?

Meanwhile, the Giants have changed for good. Out with the co-op. In with the luxury lofts. And there’s nothing wrong with that. This move was made for the right reasons. Sabean wants to see fewer 1-0 games … and more 2-0 blowouts.

It’s just that from now on, it might be hard to recognize the Dirty Dozen. They’re the guys in the finely tailored Italian suits.