The Raiders are clearly the most dysfunctional franchise in the Bay Area, but the Giants are closing on them.
It was after the 2001 season, when Barry Bonds hit a record 73 home runs, that the Giants seem to have settled on their plan of surrounding Bonds with veteran players.
It worked very well in 2002, when the Giants came so close to winning the World Series, but they’ve slipped every year since then.
A comparison of that 2002 team with the one for 2007 that general manager Brian Sabean has put together so far shows just how far the Giants have slipped.
There was one problem position in 2002, center field. Tsuyoshi Shinjo was a superior defensive center fielder but not much of a hitter. Marvin Benard was, well, Marvin Benard.
But everywhere else, the Giants were well-stocked. Behind the plate, they had Benito Santiago, an outstanding defensive catcher who also hit 16 home runs with 74 RBIs that year. Now, the Giants have Bengie Molina, who has never been much of a hitter and whose defensive skills are declining.
At first base, J.T. Snow was perhaps the best defensively of all time. Now, the Giants have Rich Aurilia, who should be no more than a utility infielder at this stage of his career. At second, the 2002 Giants had Jeff Kent, in the prime of what will be a Hall of Fame career. Now, they have Ray Durham, who should be a DH for an American League club. The only clear advantage the 2007 Giants will have is at shortstop; Omar Vizquel is the best they’ve had at that position since they came to San Francisco. But Aurilia, in his prime in 2002, was a good shortstop with power.
The biggest differential is at the corner outfield positions. Reggie Sanders, a free-agent acquisition, hit 23 homers with 85 RBIs. Now, the Giants will probably use Todd Linden, another “prospect” who has not developed as hoped. In left, the 2001 Giants had Bonds, who was still an excellent defensive outfielder and easily the best offensive player in the game. Now, they have Bonds Lite.
Last year, the Giants shifted their emphasis to pitching. They have a real stud in Matt Cain and a potential one in first-round draft pick Tim Lincecum. But overall their staff is not as strong as the 2002 Giants, who had Russ Ortiz, Jason Schmidt, Livan Hernandez and Kirk Rueter in the rotation and, most important, Robb Nen as the closer with Felix Rodriguez as the setup man. Nen had 43 saves that season.
The 2007 Giants have Armando Benitez. Need I say more?
The Giants’ plan would have been fine if they’d also worked to strengthen their farm system, but they haven’t. Here are the players on the 40-man roster in 2002 who had come up through the Giants’ system: Pitchers Kurt Ainsworth, Ryan Jensen, Joe Nathan and Ortiz; catcher Yorvit Torrealba; infielders Pedro Feliz and Cody Ransom; outfielders Calvin Murray, Tony Torcato and Carlos Valderrama. Feliz is the only one left on the Giants’ roster. Ortiz had four good seasons but is long gone, as is Nathan.
The Giants are stuck with an old lineup of mostly mediocre players — and they still don’t seem to understand what’s happened. Maybe they should talk to Al Davis.