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Beware the 2010 Illusion

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No matter how the 2009 Giants play, everyone is really looking to 2010. Let’s face it, a competitive team this year is a special bonus cookie with a little extra sugar sprinkled on top thanks to a few pundits choosing the Giants as dark horse candidates. But if this year’s team doesn’t compete, we all shrug and say this wasn’t supposed to be the coming-out party, anyway, and we turn, enraptured, toward the gleaming alabaster monolith on the horizon….cue “Also Sprach Zarathustra”…..boom boom boom go the tympanis…


I forgive you for scratching your head and saying, “Tell me again why 2010 is so special?” Here’s the conventional wisdom:

* The first wave of really good minor leaguers should arrive. Buster Posey is usually Exhibit #1. Buster Posey is currently punishing the pitchers of High-A ball.

* The starting rotation will have Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and perhaps one or more of those awesome young hurlers currently in High-A ball.

* The contracts of Bengie Molina, Dave Roberts, Randy Winn will have expired. The Giants have already dealt with Roberts.

What’s wrong with this picture? First, notice the similarity between the first and second items. The rosy near-future hinges upon the arrival of key players currently three levels removed from major league baseball. In fact, nearly all the team’s young blue-chip talent is at a similar remove. It’s far more realistic — and still optimistic — to think of them arriving in San Francisco in 2011 and a couple of them succeeding in 2012. Maybe one or two can have moderate impact in 2010, but it’s delusional to count on a wave of minor leaguers ascending next year and making the Giants competitive.

Second, Randy Winn and Bengie Molina are the least of the Giants’ problems. There’s even an argument to make that both should get one-year extensions — especially if the team can trade Aaron Rowand, and if Pablo Sandoval turns out not to be the second coming of Kung Fu Panda Jesus. (A very popular cartoon show in Venezuela, I hear.)

Third, the Giants will have Barry Zito, Edgar Renteria and Rowand in 2010. I guess trades are always possible (or at least good for rumor fodder) but don’t count on it, luv. Also, I’m not crapping on Renteria yet. I give him another two weeks. But so far, so bad.

So what does this mean? Do we reset our expectations, cheer incremental progress this year and next, and make our new rallying cry “2011! 2011! Good God Almighty, 2011!”?

I say no. Waiting for the Posey-Bumgarner generation to ride to the franchise’s rescue is a fool’s exercise. I think Sabean & Co. had the right idea this winter: accelerate a couple young’uns to see if they can help now, be strategic on the free agent market, and if the team is still in contention in June, hope the trade market is juicy enough to bolster a run at the pennant at the right price.

So far, performances across the board have scuttled the common sense under a wave of small-sample-size panic. Randy Johnson! Old! Edgar Renteria! Terrible! Bobby Howry! Hates puppies! Orlando Hudson! Hits cycles for the Dodgers, not the Giants! Sandoval/Ishikawa/Burriss! What were the Giants thinking???

I give you this: Everything that could go wrong might continue to go wrong. It happens. But it shouldn’t keep the Giants from making forays into the trade markets and free agent markets to try to make 2010 a competitive year. Thanks to remarkable trade restraint this winter, they still have all their prospects. Some of them are inevitable trade chips.

I know what some of you are thinking — other than “Mmm, chips” — you’re thinking, sure, the Giants should continue to make smart trades and free agent signings, but fer crissakes it ain’t gonna happen with the current clowns in charge.

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