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In Defense of Band-Aids

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Yesterday's post brought up the age-old debate of building from within versus buying from without. One reader wrote that he (she?) would rather see the Giants give their minor leaguers big-league experience in 2011 instead of buying more "band-aids," ie, short-term free agents.

To which I say: If Aubrey Huff is a band-aid, I think I'll order a whole boxful -- like these.

But more constructively, I think it's important to stress that there are 750 active roster spots in major league baseball. There are 1500 amateur players drafted every year, and that doesn't include the foreigners and other undrafted signees. A vast majority of "homegrown" guys aren't worth a roster spot, let alone an extended starting job in the bigs to see what they can do. Unless a team has built a fearsome machine of a farm system that pumps out two Jason Heywards or Buster Poseys a year, there simply aren't enough homegrown guys to fill half a major league roster -- certainly not for a team (like the Giants) that has the talent and resources to compete for the playoffs.

Avoiding free-agent band-aids like Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe is impossible. The trick is to be smart about which ones you hire. The Giants' track record hasn't been good the past five years or so, but it seems they've turned a corner and begun to think more sensibly about contract offers (Renteria and DeRosa have been the biggest bombs).

Three million for Huff, whom most people expected was on his way down the tubes after a miserable 2009, was a reasonable gamble. Turning Freddy Sanchez's $8 M 2010 option into two years and $12 M guaranteed was...well, I'd say the jury's still out. According to FanGraphs, his D has helped push his value this year over the $6 M mark already.

It's a bit of a fallacy that the Giants give homegrown guys completely short shrift. Here are the prospects who've had a significant chance of late to show what they could do with the big club:

2007: Lincecum, B. Wilson, J. Sanchez

2008: Lewis, Burriss, Bowker, Sandoval, Bocock

2009: Burriss (Opening Day 2B); Ishikawa (majority of 1B starts), Schierholtz, Romo, Runzler

2010: Torres*, Posey, Bowker/Schierholtz, Bumgarner

It's conceivable by now the Giants could have every position filled from within, with a lineup like this:

LF Lewis
SS Burriss
3B Sandoval
C Posey
RF Bowker
CF Schierholtz
1B Ishikawa
2B Frandsen

Band-Aid free, and drastically left-handed.

*Torres isn't homegrown, which brings up another point. Shouldn't the Giants get credit for "bringing him up" in the same way they would if he'd bounced around their own system for six years until finally putting his game together? The Giants certainly reap the same financial rewards: control of his contract rights for multiple years at a below-market price.

Back to the list: you could argue the Giants didn't develop Schierholtz or Bowker correctly, that each should have gotten more solid playing time before being benched or traded. But the greater sin of the past five years is that there haven't been enough talented young position players to give chances to. Future stars have been rare (Sandoval, Posey), but when they've risen, the Giants haven't blocked their ascent. (Sorry, in the grand scheme of things two months of Posey at AAA this year isn't blockage.)

If Brandon Belt keeps raking in the Arizona fall league, then picks up at spring camp where he left off he could have a big-league job next April. But to anoint him the starting 1B right now is a tough call. And as I wrote yesterday, it's doubly so for Thomas Neal, the Giants' most highly ranked hitting prospect after Belt. Quick thought experiment: If Pat Burrell said to SF, "Hey, I love it here, I'll play in 2011 for $1 million plus generous incentives," should the Giants say, "Sorry Pat, but we can't do it just in case Thomas Neal is ready to take over in left field"? After those two, there are a bunch of guys who so far have either flailed, gotten injured or shown moderate improvement at Double-A (I'm talking Noonan, Kieschnick, Gillaspie, Ford, Crawford), plus a few guys at AAA we've seen before (Rohlinger, Burriss, Guzman, Velez).

These are not your building blocks or cornerstones for a 2011 playoff contender. Perhaps by 2012 Brandon Belt will be a fixture at Mays Field, with a couple more names from above joining him that year. Until then, keep shopping for Band-Aids, preferably the ones decorated with  All-Star statistics.

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