July traditionally is the month that separates the pretenders from the contenders in baseball, as it has been for the Giants this season. Because his team was playing in the pathetic NL West, general manager Brian Sabean deluded himself into thinking that the Giants had a shot at the postseason. When they had to play nine games against top teams from the East and Central, eight of which the Giants lost, that dream was shattered.
So, the changes are finally starting, with the trading of Ray Durham to the Milwaukee Brewers, giving the Giants a chance to give younger players a shot.
“We stayed true to our word,” said Sabean. “No matter where we were in the standings or what we thought our chances were,we needed at some point to turn our fortunes to our younger players.”
Yeah, sure. And there really is a Santa Claus.
In fact, this move came after the Giants had already played 98 games, with only 64 remaining. At that point, Fred Lewis and John Bowker were the only two young players among the nine Giants hitters with more than 150 at-bats. There is no doubt in my mind that, if the Giants were, say, just four games out, Sabean would have stuck with the geezers. But when the Giants fell eight games off the lead and behind three other teams, even Sabean had to face reality.
The truth is, this trade could have been made before this. The Giants got outfielder Darren Ford, a 22-year-old who has great speed but has been hitting only .230 in Single-A ball, and pitcher Steve Hammond, a 26-year-old left-hander who is a combined 7-8 with a 4.09 ERA during his stints at Double-A and Triple-A this season. Both are likely to spend the bulk of their careers in the minors.
The Giants still need to unload Rich Aurilia, though he won’t bring much, to make room for Bowker to play every day. As it is, manager Bruce Bochy usually benches Bowker against left-handed pitching, which is impeding his development. The way a left-handed hitter learns to hit left-handed pitching is by swinging against left-handed pitching. Bowker can’t learn sitting on the bench. If he looks bad occasionally, so what? I’ve talked to him, and he impresses me as a poised young man, able to handle the pressure.
I’ll be convinced that Sabean is serious about rebuilding when he trades outfielder Randy Winn, who is a good player, but neither part of the Giants’ future nor much help now — a corner outfielder who had only five homers in the first 98 games. Nate Schierholtz, who is hitting .312 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs in 83 games for the Fresno Grizzlies, should be the Giants right fielder. At 24, Schierholtz, a Danville native, is part of the Giants’ future —and he hit .304 in 112 at-bats with the Giants last season.
Since the Giants haven’t worked out a way to let Omar Vizquel retire gracefully, they should use him mainly in a mentoring role to give middle infielders Emmanuel Burriss, Ivan Ochoa and Eugenio Velez the chance to see if at least one of them can be a starter. All of them have shown potential, but overall, they’re still largely unknown quantities.
This season has always been about auditioning players for 2009 and beyond. It’s a shame it took Sabean this long to figure that out.