Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Is the Division Worse than the Team? Baseball Discussed by Ed Stern

Marty; For the past month we have been emphasizing the myriad problems the Giants face, with the bottom line being that this is simply a bad ball club which needs a complete overhaul. Perhaps a case can be made for a more optimistic approach to this season?

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Alou was quoted this morning as saying “Our division is not the best division in the big leagues right now. Anybody at the .500 level in this division has a chance to win.” This is stating the obvious. After an impressive start the Dodgers can’t seem to win more than one game in every ten outings. San Diego is not quite as bad, winning at close to a .500 average. Neither team is going to run away and hide, as the Giants did last year. They are there for the taking. Forget about the other two teams in the division.

The Giants are now five losing games behind the Dodgers, four behind San Diego. The gap is closing fast. The Giants are five games under .500. It wasn’t so long ago that they were nine games under five hundred. They are coming off a successful road trip which brought their average on the road to the .500 level. They now start a six game home stand against the bottom two teams in the division. They will not have to face either Johnson or Webb in their Arizona series. In a week they could be right up there with the leaders.

In addition to the weakness of the other clubs there is some evidence that individual performances are becoming more productive. Pierzynski is looking more like the hitter he appeared to be when they traded Nathan for him. The pitching, which has recently been described here as being in a shambles, has shown a few encouraging signs. Hermanson has had a couple of outings in which he has thrown well. If Rueter accompanies him in consistently giving them six or seven good innings when they start, the rotation may begin to have a decent look. The closer situation hasn’t improved. One can only hope that Herges will not suffer from overwork and will be at least as effective as Worrell was last year.

The key to success is the good health of Durham and Bonds. Neither one was able to contribute to the good road trip the team just had. Durham has to be healthy for this club to prevail. He is one of the few class players on the team. Bonds must be given some rest as the season progresses. He can’t be expected to go out there every game. If he plays five games in a seven day week he can be expected to have his typical impact on the outcome. If he has to play every day, one can expect him to break down.

Losing Snow is no great loss. Feliz is going to play, whether it is at first or shortstop. If Snow is not available he will be playing first,. This will be unfortunate since they have to find out if Feliz is a major league shortstop. First base is an easier position to fill than shortstop. Next year they will have to fill one or the other of these positions. Better that it be first base.

Tucker’s hitting is improving. He gives them some needed speed and plays a decent outfield.

This is still not a great ball club but to win this division it doesn’t have to be great. Ninety games should win it. The question remains. Is it really a good idea for them to win the division? Should Sabean be looking for an outfielder at mid-year who might provide some hitting behind Bonds? Does this team have to hit rock-bottom, lose to the likes of LA and San Diego, in order to make it clear to all that a complete restructuring is necessary? Management is going to have to answer these questions in the near future.

There is a story in the N.Y.Times today which, to one interested in the Giants’ solution to their difficulties, has an impact. The story comments on the Yankees attempts to “replenish a farm system severely thinned by weak drafts, trades and injuries.” The Yankees have only one player in their farm system ranked among the 100 best minor league prospects. The Giants are in a similar position. The reason for their respective low standing is also similar. Each team feels it has to win now. Steinbrenner insists on it. The Giants management feels it is necessary or the fans will stop coming.

The Yankes trade off their top prospects, unwilling to give them time to develop. The Giants concentrate on drafting pitchers who can then be traded for experienced players, thereby having an immediate impact. Neither team is willing to wait. The article points out that “as the Yankees approach the July 31st trading deadline, they could have trouble meeting the demands of a team that needs young, major-league-ready players.” The Giants are in the same position. They have few pitchers remaining in their farm system who are attractive trade bait. They have given away many of them in recent years, attempting to bolster their immediate roster.

The difference between the Yankees situation and the Giants, however, is no secret. When July 31st approaches, the Yankees are going to make their move to acquire Randy Johnson. If successful it will bring their payroll to over two hundred million. They couldn’t care less. The Giants don’t have this option. The game, as it is played today, faces the danger that there are some teams which may never have the financial resources which will enable them to compete.

The Giants are not yet in that unenviable position. They can compete if they play it smart. This means building a productive farm system with young players coming up through the ranks. It means waiting for them to develop but at the same time putting a team on the field which is interesting, and has a reasonable chance to be a winner.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that simply as a result of having vast amounts of money a team will end up with a Series win. That is one of the few reassuring thoughts in today’s baseball world. The Yankees, the Mets, have run into difficulties as a result of less than smart decisions. The Yankees this year have a team which writers back East like to describe as an All- Star team.

This “All-Star” team, however, has players to whom they are paying gross amounts of money, who are hitting right around the Mendoza line or somewhere between Mendoza and .250. They have a shortstop who in the past has been called the best player on the team, the one who makes it all happen. He is hitting .190. The season is 1/4 gone. Playing alongside of him, out of position, is A-Rod. Is it affecting Jeter to have a player who has been defined by writers, perhaps correctly and perhaps not, as the best player in either league, forced to play third base in order to accomodate Jeter? There was a degree of arrogance involved in picking up A-Rod when they had Jeter playing the same position.

The Yankees, though, are known to have as much arrogance as money. It may be their downfall. It will not stop them from signing Randy Johnson shortly if they feel it is necessary. It will cost them millions to sign a 40 year old pitcher with a history of arm trouble. It may not be a wise move.

The Giants will not be signing Randy Johnson, in case anyone wants to know. They may, however, be getting back into this race. They don’t have much to beat. Whether it is worthwhile beating them, for the team’s future well-being, is an open question.


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