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All-Star Breather: The Giants Outfield

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Bully for Brian Wilson and his two outs in the eighth inning last night. In my parallel universe, he stayed in and retired the side, and the A.L. didn’t tie the game against Wilson’s replacement, Billy Wagner.

Then the N.L. went on to win the game and everyone recognized Wilson’s key contribution. With home-field advantage, the N.L. participant would win the World Series four games to three thanks in large part to the A.L. team’s right fielder misplay of a ball off the oddly angled wall in the N.L. team’s park. The N.L. team’s owner would become unnaturally obsessed with Brian Wilson and force his GM to trade three future All-Star hitters for him.

It gets better: Merkin Valdez recovers nicely from his arm problems and becomes the new closer, and the Giants with their new high-octane offense and elite starting pitchers become the surprise team in the N.L. West next year.

We were this close. By the way, the A.L. should have won in the 11th. Kinsler was called out stealing second; he was safe. Later in the inning Navarro was out on a close play at home; he was also safe. It was infuriating that Fox announcers Buck and McCarver barely made mention of how the umps missed two crucial calls in the same inning. Were they even watching? Maybe not — apparently Buck doesn’t like watching baseball. He says the games are too long. TV’s a part of the problem, he says. You think? Like when Fox forces MLB to start All-Star and World Series games at 8.45 PM Eastern?

The game last night was epic and wonderful, and not even The Two Blowhards could ruin it for me.

Enough of that. Let’s talk Giants outfield and what needs to happen between now and Opening Day 2009:

Step 1: FreddieLoo! has shown signs of slowing down. Perhaps it was mid-year fatigue, and the All-Star break will refresh him. Perhaps the bunion that kept him out of Saturday’s game is taking a toll. No matter. He needs to play through nagging injuries, as that’s what good starting players do, and he needs a full year at the leadoff spot, including more at-bats against lefties. Is he the leadoff man for the next few years? Might he be better suited, as Bruce Bochy has suggested, to batting second or third? Let us find out. The corollary to this rule is…

Step 2: Do not let Dave Roberts, due to come off the DL soon, take playing time from Lewis. Roberts will likely be around next year. It’s hard to see a team trading for him, and the Giants are usually reluctant to cut a player with millions still due on his contract. Best-case scenario: for the rest of this year, Roberts takes over for Eugenio Velez, who was brought back up as a lefty pinch hitter and pinch runner (never mind he’s not a good base stealer). Shazam! Let Roberts do Velez’s job, send Velez back to Fresno to play every day, and worry about 2009 later.

Step 3: Trade Randy Winn. His replacement would be Nate Schierholtz, whom frankly I don’t think will be as good as Winn, not this year, not ever. But we need to find out. If Winn asserts his no-trade clause and the Giants still want to audition Schierholtz, they’ll have creative roster decisions to make. Assuming Roberts replaces Velez, could the Giants make the rest of this year work with an OF of Lewis, Rowand, Schierholtz, Winn and Roberts? Lewis and Rowand would start nearly everyday, Schierholtz the lefty could platoon with Winn in RF, Winn could start for Lewis or Rowand a couple times a week, in effect becoming a sort of super-4th OF. As noted, Roberts would be strictly pinch. 

Come November Sabean could revisit the logjam. Roberts and Winn simply cannot both be on the team next April. If Sabean makes Roberts go away, it might actually be worth keeping Winn for ‘09. A lineup featuring lefties Lewis, Schierholtz and Bowker would be highly susceptible to left-handed pitching. Having a 4th OF who hits well right-handed would be valuable. Finding a cheaper version with more power than Winn (Dan Ortmeier? Brian Horwitz?) would be more valuable.

But keep in mind Winn’s defense is a huge boost in RF, especially at Mays Field. Put a slower player (or in Lewis’s case, one who sometimes gets bad reads on balls) out there, and the number of opposition triples could go way up next year.

Step 4: Don’t forget Bowker. John Bowker was an outfielder until this year. If a better first-base option comes along (from where, who knows), the Giants can always move Bowker back to the OF.

Bottom line: Rowand’s not going anywhere and Lewis looks like a solid if not spectacular fixture. The Giants have enough internal options that a splashy trade or free-agent signing for the 2009 outfield would be silly. Save the crazy moves for the infield, please.

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