The upcoming offseason will be Brian Sabean’s most challenging since his first as Giants general manager, before the 1997 season. Sabean successfully reshaped the Giants’ roster then, setting the stage for a division title. He must do the same again if the Giants are going to get back in the playoff hunt next season.
The Giants have six key players whose contracts are up, plus Steve Finley, who has an option for 2007, and Mike Matheny, who should retire.
Here are the six, and my recommendations:
<p>» Barry Bonds. The Giants must cut their ties to Bonds. He was the player most responsible for the Giants’ success in the 1993-2004 period, but he is no longer even close to that player. He will not break Hank Aaron’s career home run record even if he plays another year.
» Jason Schmidt. Because he will be the best pitcher on the market, Schmidt will command a high contract, but the Giants should spend their money elsewhere. It’s always risky to throw a lot of money at veteran pitchers. See Tim Hudson for the latest example.
» Ray Durham. A no-brainer. Durham is hitting for more power this year, but he’s a streaky hitter, a bad second baseman and no longer a base stealing threat because of frequent injuries.
» Moises Alou. See above. Alou has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, missing two whole seasons and only playing as many as140 games in five seasons, and he’s more fragile as he ages.
» Shea Hillenbrand. The Giants have talked about re-signing him, but why? He has a .290 lifetime average without much power, and everywhere he’s gone, he’s had problems with his teammates.
» Pedro Feliz. The only keeper. Feliz has had a terrific year in the field. He has decent power and is a good RBI man.
The other free agent who should be cut loose: Manager Felipe Alou, whose time has passed.
Losing five position players and the top starter will leave large holes.
There are some possibilities on the current roster: Kevin Frandsen at second, Todd Linden in the outfield, the surprising Eliezer Alfonzo at catcher.
Matt Cain has the potential to do what Schmidt has done for the Giants when he matures, but who knows when that will be. Brad Hennessey is in the rotation now and should stay, but there’s no question the Giants will feel the loss of Schmidt next season.
The Giants have never had the inclination for a total rebuilding program and they won’t do that now. With the money he’ll have with the loss of the Bonds, Durham and Schmidt contracts, Sabean will be able to sign free agents who could make a difference — if they’re out there. Washington’s Alfonso Soriano would be a great Bonds replacement in left field, for instance, but the Nationals think they can re-sign him. Carlos Lee will probably be available, and he’s a very good hitter, though an indifferent fielder. But he’s already turned down a four-year, $48 million offer from the Milwaukee Brewers, so he’s setting his sights high.
Sabean will have to sift through the possibilities and necessities to put it all together for next year, but it will be nice to see a Giants team that doesn’t seem to be auditioning for Laguna Honda.