As I look up and down the Giants roster, I can't help but notice that the Giants actually have some talent. Gone are the days of signing aging, declining, and useless players to three year contracts that would cost the team a draft pick and hurt the team's performance on the field (I'm looking at you Michael Tucker, Dave Roberts, and Rich Aurilia). Instead, this off season, the Giants have signed veteran players to very manageable short term contracts that have made the Giants a dark horse contender in the NL West.
The Giants had several goals entering the off season: to find a reliable fourth starting pitcher, solidify the bullpen, identify a stopgap shortstop, and maybe find a power hitter to add some thunder to the middle of the lineup.
As of right now, the Giants have addressed all their needs except for one. General Manager Brain Sabean masterfully signed Randy Johnson to a one year deal that will pay major dividends for the Giants as long as he stays healthy. Sabean quickly scooped up Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry early in free agency to build a competant bridge to closer Brian Wilson. And finally, Sabean signed Edgar Renteria to a manageable two year contract, even if he did overpay for his services.
Obviously, what is still missing from the Giants want list is a power hitter. And boy is a power hitter needed.
In 2008, the Giants had the worst offense in the National League. The Giants offense finished dead last in home runs and RBIs and second to last in runs scored, slugging percentage, and total bases. Those numbers speak for themselves: the Giants offense was abysmal. You know you're in trouble when Benjie Molina is your primary cleanup hitter...
Well, luckily for the Giants, there is still power hitters out there on the free agent market, namely Manny Ramirez. The former Red Sox great is looking for a contract north of $20 million per season and would like to sign for more than one or two seasons. The 37 year old outfielder is coming off a campaign in which he put up historic numbers for the Dodgers during a two month stretch and single handedly brought the buzz back to LA.
Ramirez would be a natural fit (at least in the batting order) for the Giants. He would bring a sense of legitimacy to a weak Giants lineup that has lost a lot of thunder since the steroid God known as Barry Bonds involuntarily left the game of baseball. If Manny plays hard for the entire season (BIG IF), then he should be a lock to hit 30-40 home runs and drive in close to 130 RBIs. Those statistics would transform the Giants lineup from futile to at least mediocre.
However, the question remains, if the Giants sign Ramirez, would they become a contender to win the NL West?
I say yes...but very caustiously.
Let's begin with the pitching. Every fifth day, the Giants will give the ball to Tim Lincecum, who in only two seasons has become one of the best pitchers in baseball. This guy is an absolute stud and a strikeout machine. He should win close to 20 games if the offense produces and the bullpen actually holds leads. And did I mention that Giants have another young stud named Matt Cain? Give this guy some run support and get out of the way...dude has great stuff. 15 game winner right there.
In addition, the rest of the Giants rotation is a fantastic mix of youth, ability, guile, and strikeouts. The trio of Randy Johnson, Noah Lowry/Barry Zito, and Jonathan Sanchez has the ability to keep the Giants in lots of ball games and give manager Bruce Bochy lots of innings (and strikeouts from Sanchez and Johnson). Lowry and Johnson NEED to stay healthy, Zito needs to get his act together, and Sanchez needs to work through the natural growing pains of a young pitcher. If all goes well, watch out; the Giants rotation will be loaded.
And I like what the Giants have done with their bullpen. Sure, they do not have a dominant closer or even a dominant relief pitcher for that matter, but the trio of Bobby Howry, Jeremy Affeldt, and Brian Wilson should hold down the leads in lots of games for the Giants.
With the pitching staff in pretty good shape, the key factor for the Giants would obviously be the offense. With Ramirez in the lineup, the supporting cast would certainly see better pitches to hit and should have more opportunities to drive in runs. Odds are, the Giants would not rank in the bottom two in batting average, runs scored, or RBIs.
However, the fear is signing Ramirez is obvious. What if opposing teams decide not to pitch to him? If teams give Ramirez the Bonds treatment, sure other players will have the opportunity to step up with runner(s) on base, but what if the supporting cast cannot pick up the slack?
I'm sure no pitcher is going to sleep at night hoping and praying that he does not have to face Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn, or Benjie Molina in tomorrow's game. Nice players, but none of those guys are anywhere close to the stratosphere of Manny Ramirez and none qualify as protection for the great Ramirez in the Giants lineup.
Furthermore, what if Travis Ishikawa and Pablo Sandoval are not ready for the big show? Then teams will certainly pitch around Manny and his big stick will be mitigated even if it comes at the expense of a .475 OBP. The young guys need to stick if Ramirez is going to see any quality pitches to hit,
Obviously, there is a lot of risk involved with bringing Ramirez in. There is no guarantee that this move would pay off for the Giants, who are probably still another power hitter shy of really competing even with Ramirez. The supporting cast will determine how far this team would go with Ramirez and someone in that lineup is going to have to give opposing managers a reason to pitch to Ramirez...as far fetched as that sounds.
Even with all these questions, the Giants STILL should be able to compete in the NL West. The fact remains that the NL West is probably the weakest division in baseball and with the pitching the Giants have, you can never count them out for good...especially if they sign Ramirez. The other four teams in the division are all flawed and hardly invincible so it's not impossible to think that this team could actually compete just one season after winning only 72 games.
But finally, it will all come down to Ramirez and Giants management. If Manny becomes frustrated enough with the Dodgers, then sure I could see him bolting LA for the division/arch rival Giants. It remains to be seen what kind of deal that would require and just how much money the Giants are willing to spend on Ramirez.
If they want to seriously compete in 2009, management has to make a push for Ramirez.
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