Archive for June, 2006

…. Best wishes

My thoughts and prayers are with Peter Gammons and his family, as he has been admitted to the hospital to undergo brain surgery for an aneurysm. Peter has been one of the great baseball writers of my lifetime, a Hall of Famer, and I’m looking forward to his recovery.

…. State of the union

Henry Schulman revisits his Five Questions for the Giants from the beginning of the season, and finds himself.

…. 2. Will the rotation be better? As Jamey Wright might say, the rotation abso-damn-lutely is better. For three years, manager Felipe Alou insisted he really does not like to make lots of pitching changes, and people snickered. Now that he has some decent arms, he is proving it.

Giants starters rank second in the National League with 4682/3 innings and fifth in ERA at 4.26.

Wright has cooled off some but remains a fine fifth starter. Jason Schmidt might be an All-Star. Matt Cain still has sophomore consistency issues but already has thrown a one-hitter and taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Matt Morris is on an upswing after a dubious start. Noah Lowry has struggled the most, failing to rebound from the oblique injury that cost him April. Probably 20 teams could use Brad Hennessey for their rotations right now, and he cannot crack the Giants’ starting five.

General manager Brian Sabean need not worry about his rotation going into the July trading season. In fact, he might have a starter to trade. That is a huge benefit as he searches for a needed bat.

The Giants can’t trade a pitcher, believe me, but they need to do something to upgrade the offense, and they need to solve the bullpen issues that are threatening the season. In my mind, there are too many areas of weakness, but I wouldn’t expect Sabean and the Giants to give up; especially since Bonds doesn’t appear ready to.

…. I’ve been <i>busy</i>!

Real busy, and sick to boot. That’s why I haven’t written, I hope you can forgive me. ;-D

While I was away, the Giants have continued to tread water, and we’ve learned that it was Victor Conte, (surprise!) who leaked Grand Jury testimony to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.

…. E-mails seized by federal authorities identify the convicted founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative as a source in the San Francisco Chronicle’s reporting on the steroids scandal, according to an online court filing that accidentally revealed confidential information.
The filing details exchanges between Chronicle reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada and Victor Conte, who jokingly suggests in one message that he be placed on the newspaper’s payroll in exchange for information about grand jury testimony by elite athletes.

It was unclear from the filing whether Conte provided the reporters with grand jury transcripts, but it does show Conte discussing the testimony of athletes about their steroid use.

Accidentally? Please. Who’s running this farce, Inspector Clouseau?

The article also has a quote from Conte’s lawyer denying the assertion, so who knows whether this is more BS or not, but what we do know is that this little tidbit was leaked by the same crack crew who would have been forced to go after the reporters if they hadn’t given Conte up; which would have led to an embarassing situation. I mean, can you imagine how ridiculous the government would have looked if they had ended up getting longer jail time for the reporters who broke the story than they did for either Conte or Anderson? Oh yeah, I forgot. They already do look ridiculous.

…. Blind, or worse

Let’s talk about basketball for a moment. I’m sitting here watching ESPN’s postgame coverage of the Miami Heat’s 101-100 win over the Mavericks, and I’m wondering pretty much the same thing I was wondering most of the game:

How could these announcers and analysts and ex-players and ex-coaches not even mention the most salient aspect of the heat’s ability to win this game; namely, the ridiculous disparity in free throw attempts between the two teams? Dwayne Wade did what he needed to do to draw the fouls? That’s what Hubie Brown saw? Is that what happened? One player on the Heat had as many free throw attempts and conversions as the entire Maverick team, and it was him, not the referees?

The Mavericks were in the penalty with 6 minutes left in the third quarter, while the Heat didn’t commit a single foul until there were 30 seconds left in the quarter. The only reason the Mavs didn’t blow the Heat out was the referees, calling one ticky-tack foul after another, 38 in all. And don’t give me the hack a Shaq was why. Wade ended the game by shooting two free throws with 2 seconds left. It wouldn’t have been close if it weren’t for the refs, and since no one is saying it, I am. That was a disgrace.

Novitzki shoots 5 free throws, and Wade shot 25. Please.

UPDATE: I wasn’t the only one complaining, so I guess I’m not crazy.


UPDATE: So now i’s over. The refs gave the championship to the Heat. Wade shot over 100 free throws in 6 games, an absurd total, and one that was single-handedly responsible for the Heat’s win. Ridiculous.

…. Worse than that

…. Bad to worse

The Giants just threw out a 3-4 homestand in which they were humiliated by the two worst teams in the NL. After yesterday’s disgusting loss, in which Tim Worrell gave up his 8th(!) home run in just over 16 innings pitched, the Giants find themselves exactly where I said they’d be finding themselves if Sabean didn’t take off his rose-colored glasses:

…. This is a mediocre team, performing as expected. And in particular, it is a terrible offense. The Giants rank 14th in doubles, 12th in home runs, 13th in total bases, 7th in on-base percentage (Bonds is a huge component in that), but only 12th in OPS. And that’s the bottom line for a GM. He can’t look at the standings and say, well, we’re only 3.5 games out of first, we just need a hot streak. He has to look at the team with a much more discerning eye. He has to say, we’re a poor offensive team, we need power, real, real bad.

Even though the D’backs are in the midst of a seven game losing streak, and no one is running away with the NL West, the Giants just hosted the two crappiest teams in baseball and managed to win but 3 of 7 games.

So, while Rome is burning, Sabean must be fiddling.

Oh, and in the meantime, deos anybody but me think Bonds might be closer to retiring than continuing? Now it’s an abdominal strain, added in to his bone chips, knee cartilage, and general aches and pains. At what point does he just say no more?

…. Slippery slope?

The Grimsley story keeps getting more interesting. In this NY Daily News article, Grimsley’s lawyer says that the pitcher did not name any names:

…. Novak denied that Grimsley had named other players, saying the pitcher had simply discussed the names of players raised by the agents interviewing him.

“There is a lot in the affidavit that my client would dispute,” Novak told the Republic. “He has admitted his past steroid use. The substance of that part of the affidavit is accurate.” IRS and U.S. Attorney spokespersons declined comment.

It appears that the whole “Grimsley named names” aspect of this is bullshit, and that what really happened was the feds named names and Grimsley said he knew them or he didn’t. A huge part of the government’s strategy in this whole sordid affair has been the use of carefully leaked details, going all the way back to Bonds’ Giambi’s grand jury testimony. When they have leaked bits and pieces, the news media has been quick to fill in the blanks, which only adds fuel to the fire. That sure seems to be what happened with this story.

Here’s another example, Murray Chass and Jack Curry of the NY Times that the US Government is close to indicting Bonds on perjury and possible money laundering charges:

…. Because federal investigators asked Bell to avoid Mitchell, it is a strong indication that they are actively pursuing perjury charges and possibly additional charges of financial malfeasance against Bonds…

I’m not so sure of that. If they have such a strong case, why bother pressuring Grimsley to wear a wire to get Bonds to incriminate himself? And why is it taking so long? I’d say the government is having a pretty tough time getting themselves ready for a possible perjury charge, partly because it’s such a hard case to prove, and partly because they know that they have so little right now. I think that’s why Kimberly Bell is still in the spotlight, because money laundering, or tax evasion charges would be much easier to prove, and would put Bonds in a situation where he might have to cop a plea that would allow the government to look like the nailed him for everything.

Also in that Chass and Curry piece is a quick little interview with a legal beagle that bears highlighting:

…. Jeffrey A. Fagan, a professor of law and public health at Columbia University’s law school, said getting Grimsley to wear a wire would have been “for symbolic value.” Fagan theorized that federal authorities were trying to make “a deal with Grimsley to get the higher-value target.” Still, Fagan wondered about the wisdom of focusing so heavily on Bonds.

“One could be critical they’re spending scarce resources and scarce time going after someone of symbolic value rather than strategic value,” Fagan said. “You could go after someone bigger who is involved in distribution.”

But, Fagan added, authorities could view Bonds, who is second on the career home run list with 716, as being valuable in preventing others from using illegal substances. “In theory, a minor leaguer coming up is more likely to be deterred by a criminal investigation of Barry Bonds than a criminal investigation of Jason Grimsley,” Fagan said. “Perhaps the government sees Bonds as a deterrent.

You betcha.

As always, check out Baseball Musings when you’re not here, as David has been right on top of this story from minute one.

UPDATE: In light of the Jason Grimsley bust and the subsequent shockwaves caused therein, the Armchair GM is calling for Bud Selig’s resignation:

…. Selig once said: “Nobody worries more about the image of the sport than I do. I’m proud of our players.”

If that’s true, Mr. Selig, save the image of the sport, and step down for someone who will do more than simply “worry.”

UPDATE, PART II: I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t explain why I tended to doubt the government’s leaked details. It’s because I don’t believe what anyone working in or for our government says, pretty much ever. I don’t believe that prosecutors and DA’s and IRS agents and FBI guys and all of them, really, ever stop themselves from doing or saying anything they possibly can, up to and including lying, illegally leaking sealed testimony, witholding evidence,bribes, etc., etc., etcetera, to win whatever argument, case, law, deal or thingamajig they’re currently dealing with. Consequently, I don’t believe Novitzky, or any of the guys doing everything they can to save me and the children from Barry Bond and steroids.

UPDATE, PART III Here’s a on the possible reasons for the feds to want to shut Kimberly Bell’s cakehole:

…. Attorney Martin Garbus said Friday that agents asked Kimberly Bell not to assist former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell in the independent investigation he is heading. “I would say they want to protect their own prosecution,” Garbus said. “The consequence is, yes, they are impeding the Mitchell investigation.”

The FBI declined to comment Friday and Mitchell did not immediately return calls for comment.

Garbus said Mitchell wrote him May 31 and demanded “that Ms. Bell cooperate with my independent investigation of alleged steroid and performance-enhancing drug use in major league baseball.” Bonds would be entitled to learn whatever the former girlfriend tells Mitchell, Garbus said. If that information conflicts with what she told federal authorities, Bonds could use it to undermine her credibility in court. “She might say something that the feds would rather her not,” Garbus said.

As opposed to Murray and Curry’s assumption that the feds want to keep her quiet because they are about to indict Bonds, it appears that the possibility exists that the feds know Bell’s testimony is as thin as tissue paper, that she’s an idiot, and that they have, oh, something like a snowball’s chance in hell of getting her to stand up in front of people who read books without having her contradict herself about what shoes she’s wearing today. For instance.

…. Stupid is as stupid does

Jason Grimsley is the latest baseball player to find himself . By way of Baseball Musings, you can see the search warrant for Grimsley at the Smoking Gun. As David Pinto noted, the first tidbit that stands out is the fact that Grimsley avoided this (frankly absurd) public shaming by first cooperating with the investigators, and it was only after he hired a lawyer (and stopped cooperating) that he found his name in the papers.

A couple of things come to mind:

Grimsley obviously never watched NYPD Blue, a show which has gone a long way towards teaching people how to interact with the authorities; which is to say, never talk to the authorities without a lawyer present, guilty or innocent. Virtually everyone interviewed by Caruso or Franz will evetually tell them everything they want to know, unless there’s a lawyer there. I mean, come on. Not to mention the countless movies and TV shows that have also shown us that using the US Postal service to ship illegal substances is another big-time no-no.

Grimsley’s alleged admission of continued HGH use (since the banning of such substances) is also noteworthy, in that it furthers my argument that any professional athlete worth his salt will, in fact, use any possible means (legal or otherwise) to ply his craft at the highest level. Grimsley is an athlete on the edge of solid success, bouncing around as a reliever, one of the more fickle jobs in the big leagues. As such, he is the perfect candidate for PED use. The fact that he has continued to use them after the new policy suggests that the recent suspicions by Lupica and his pals (that players like Giambi and Bonds have continued to use PED’s) are perhaps more accurate than I suspected.

All in all, Grimsley”s problems demonstrate that the likelihood that we are at the forefront of the eradication of PED’s in professional sports is still extremely low. It will eventually prove to be impossible to monitor every single player, punitive measures will never dissuade the players at the edge of success, since the rewards will always be far greater than getting caught, (as the difference between being in the majors and not is so fantastically huge). In other words, just like in any career in the world, the rewards involved in cheating to win will always be there, and there will always be people who will take the risk. The right and the wrong of it are immaterial.

UPDATE: Wow. Now we find out that Barry’s old friend, IRS agent Jeff Novitzky is involved, (still on his Bonds vendetta, of course), and Albert Pujols, the man Lupica and the rest of these sanctimonious assholes want as their new superhero, has some how gotten his name dragged in, as his trainer (insert ironic smile) has been named in Grimsley’s alleged testimony.

Novitzky cannot possibly be doing this on his own, which means that his authority must be rather far upstream. Otherwise, I cannot imagine an IRS agent having the authority to get wire taps and pose as postal service workers in a federal drug sting operation, can you? So, under whose authority is he operating?

The NY Times is also running an editorial that mirrors my earlier comments about Grimlsey’s possible reasons for turning to PED’s.

…. Seligula’s beard?

I’m just wondering, why, exactly, is Mike Lupica writing a Bonds-bash column every day of the week? He ran one on the 29th, the 1st, the 2nd, and now today, he rips Bonds in two separate columns.

Why would that be? Could it be that Lupica is in cahoots with the commissioner, running the anti-Barry campaign Selig feels that he cannot, at least not without exposing himself to the same questions that Lupica is taking Bonds to task for; you know, the old “what did you know and when did you know it?” Of course, one could ask Lupica a couple of questions too, like; “Since when did you become the conscience of the sporting world?” Or even; “How come you’re so willing to ignore all of the illegal speed use that plagued baseball for forty years, so willing to excuse Aaron, Mays, Mantle and all of your heroes?”

In reality, Lupica is simply being a childish baseball fan, reminding us that the players he grew up idolizing were all true gentlemen, paragons of virtue, and men of true character. Ignore the facts that get in the way of a headline, of making yourself look righteous.

…. Fifty-fifty

We’re just about a third of the way through the 2006 season, and the NL West is as crowded as the Bay Bridge at rush hour. All five teams are separated by less than 4 games, with the D’backs and the Dodgers proving to be the early favorites. The Dodgers, in fact, have under-performed their expected wins by a decent amount; they should be 33-20 having outscored their opponents by 61 runs. The Giants, on the other hand, have outscored their opponents by just 8 runs, leaving them exactly where they should be; one game over .500.

A quick look at the month of May shows a different picture, however. While the Giants were treading water with a 13-15 record, the Dodgers were 18-9, the Padres were 18-10, and the D’backs were 18-8. That, my friends, is a bad trend. Sabean should be thinking about making some changes right now, because the Giants have been a .500 club from the first minute of the season, while our three main competitors for the NL West title have been showing signs of pulling away.

The month of June will determine who is playing for the postseason and who is playing out the string, (something like 75% of division leaders on the Fourth of July make the post-season), so the Giants have the next 30 days to make a move. So, what is the Giants biggest need right now? Glad you asked.

The Giants have scored 258 runs in 53 games, good for just under 5 runs a game (Which is almost exactly as many runs as the NL-leading Cardinals have scored, by the way). Not juggernaut status, but certainly adequate. But, when your team ERA is 4.47, 4.9 runs a game translates into a .500 team, win some, lose some. The Cardinals are allowing almost a full run per game less than the Giants which means….. well, you get the picture.

In the month of May, the Giants were a little more offensive, averaging over 5 runs per, again keeping pace with the Cardinals, but somehow,the Giants were unable to take advantage of actually lowering their ERA (3.95) by that full run. Yes, you read that right. In May, the Giants allowed under 4 runs a game, scored more than 5, and still managed to win fewer games than they lost. How? Well, the Giants had six blowout wins, which skewed their numbers. They won games 9-3, 10-1, 14-3, 10-1, 9-2 and 9-0. In those six wins, the team performed like the ’27 Yankees, averaging a 10-2 win. If you take those games out of the Giants record for the entire season, you can see the real team, clear as day; a 21-26 record, 7 games behind the pace; and a team with little real chance to contend.

And that is what Sabean must do. He has to remove those six games from the season, and then look at what he’s got. Without those six games, the Giants have scored 197 runs in 47 games, which is just over 4 runs per game, a far cry from the Cardinals, or any other contender (the Dodgers have scored an NL-best 291 runs this season). And while the Dodgers also have five or six blowouts this season, they also have run off streaks of 6, 5, 6, 5, 1, 3, 16, 8, 7, 6, 8, 7, 4, 3, 12, 8 runs, which demonstrates the offensive consistency needed to be a real contender. For crying out loud, Brett Tomko is 5-1 for them. The Giants have had no such run of offense, nor, for that matter, have they had a serious stretch of preventing runs.

This is a mediocre team, performing as expected. And in particular, it is a terrible offense. The Giants rank 14th in doubles, 12th in home runs, 13th in total bases, 7th in on-base percentage (Bonds is a huge component in that), but only 12th in OPS. And that’s the bottom line for a GM. He can’t look at the standings and say, well we’re only 3.5 games out of first, we just need a hot streak. He has to look at the team with a much more discerning eye. He has to say, we’re a poor offensive team, we need power, real, real bad.

The Giants are getting just shy of league worst production from the catchers slot (3 home runs, 19 RBI), first base (7 home runs, 34 RBI), second base (4 home runs, 23 RBI), left field (5 home runs, 25 RBI), and centerfield (3 home runs, 31 RBI). Vizquel is one of the top shortstops in the league, and although he has no power, he is getting on base and accumulating plenty of hits from the #2 slot. Right field has also been good, but only when Moises is playing. Without him, (as we’ve been for a couple of weeks now), we’re right back in the cellar. And then there’s Feliz, whose recent hot streak has brought him up to league average.

In short, this is a team with virtually no power whatsoever in the lineup (particularly when our two 40-year old outfielders are hurt, which they probably will be for most of the rest of their careers). Then again, we knew this coming in. We knew that a team of has beens and castoffs, relying so heavily on two aging sluggers, had little margin for error. Unfortunately, our luck’s been bad, and not likely to get much better. As an aside, let me mention, again, what a disappointment Ray Durham has been. Between injuries and slumps, he’s been a complete bust, one more in an endless stream of overpaid “veterans” Sabean has based his last four seasons on.

It is clear that Bonds is never gonna be Bonds again. It is clear that he will not be here next season, playing or not. It is clear that the strategy of surrounding him with league-average or worse talent will not work. It. Is. Clear. There is still time to salvage this season. Sabean needs to find a way to get more power in this lineup. First base is the obvious spot. (Geez, Frank Thomas sure looks like a bargain right about now, eh?) Here’s what I wrote about Thomas in December:

…. Frank Thomas can be had for probably $3 millon a year for two years right now, I mean, the A’s are negotiating with him!!! He had 12 home runs in 105 at-bats, I mean, come on, that’s two seasons of Snow. I know he’s been injured a bunch the last two years, but jeez, the guy’s a Hall of Famer.

…. So, to solve what has been, for most of the last decade, a gaping hole at first base, Sabean signs a 36-year old, career pinch-hitter. Read that sentence a couple of times.

Listen people. Frank Thomas is negotiating with the Oakland A’s. That means he’s gonna be cheap. There’s no logical reason for Sabean to ignore him. Remember Galarraga? Thomas is a younger, better Andres Galarraga. He’s not worth two years for $6 million but Neifi Perez is worth two years for $5 million? Whatever drugs Sabean’s taking, he’s not sharing, that’s for sure.

He ended up signing an incentives-laden contract, with a base of $500,000. In other words, he’s cheaper than Sweeney, who makes $850,000. All he’s done is hit 11 home runs (more than any Giants player has), which projects to about 38 for the year. Sweeney has 38 home runs in his entire 12-year career.

Sabean’s wrong. He and Magowan are wrong. Their approach to building this team is wrong. It’s not too late. Make a move. Get a hitter. Get. A. Hitter.

UPDATE: Over at Baseball Musings, David links to a Contra Costa Times article by Gary Peterson, in which Sabean’s record as a GM is adressed:

…. we keep coming back to: 170 games over .500, meaningful games every April through every September.

Not only that, we keep coming back to the tightly focused mission statement Sabean has been expected to fulfill. If it can rightly be said that Sabean hasn’t exactly stocked the farm the past 10 years, it can also rightly be said that it hasn’t exactly been an organizational mandate. Bonds, and the window of success he has represented, has been the top priority.

Thus, Sabean’s task has differed from that of say, Oakland’s Billy Beane, who for years was asked to groom replacements for the fabulous players the A’s were going to have to let slip away when their contracts expired.

Sabean could not serve the Bonds window with players who would be on top of their game three years from now. He has needed known quantities, veteran players who already were as good as they were going to get. He needed players who would complement Bonds’ skills, and who would work for wages that would complement his hefty salary. The older Bonds has gotten, and the higher his salary has soared, the more exacting Sabean’s task has become.

Yeah, well, it would have been great for Sabean and the Giants had Felix Rodriguez not given up that three-run homer to Spezio, but he did, and we know the rest. In the meantime, Sabean has followed up his great early trading success with some of the worst deals possible, all made in that indefensible “known quantity” bullshit.

Trading promising young talent for mediocre, established “veterans” is and always will be a recipe for failure. It’s one thing to pass on superstars, I don’t agree with it, but it’s defensible. It’s an entirely different thing to try and fill half your roster slots with left over potato salad, particularly when you’re throwing millions of dollars away on “known quantities” like Neifi Perez and Shawon Dunston.

Peterson’s got it all wrong. The Giants are 170 games over .500 during Sabean’s tenure because of Bonds. Since the start of ’05, we’ve seen what Sabean’s plan will produce without Superman to save the day.

All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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