They’re doing it to you again, aren’t they, Giants fans?
They’re pulling you back in. Barry Bonds is swinging a hot bat, Shea Hillenbrand is finally hitting and, suddenly, someone actually seems capable of getting three outs in the ninth inning.
Don’t fall for it. You’ve been through this too many times and the end result will be the same. No matter how feasible the rest of the pathetically weak National League makes the playoffs seem, the Giants are destined to break your heart.
Here’s who the 2006 Giants are: They’re the baseball equivalent of the Beyonce-hot blind date who seductively strokes your hand during dinner, lovingly rests her head on your shoulder and clutches your thigh during the scary moments of "Snakes on a Plane," then gives you a stiff, manly handshake on her porch at the end of the evening.
These Giants will leave you wanting, too. But next year is another story. With a little creativity, a lot of financial wrangling, some tough decisions and a lot more thought put into the construction of the bullpen, there’s no reason to think the All-Star Game will be the only time they need to bust out the red-white-and-blue bunting at China Basin in 2007.
The creativity will be required in bringing back Bonds, whose ego likely won’t accept the kind of pay cut fans would like to see him take. But bringing him back is a must and it won’t precludethe team from signing the superstar free agent they need to keep fans coming to the park when Bonds finally does take his leave.
As evidenced by the past couple of weeks, the man still has something left. He’s as healthy as he’s been in a long, long time and it shows. He’s still a fearsome hitter, if only in stretches, and he’ll be a force if teamed with a younger free-agent force. So give him $5 million guaranteed, another $500,000 for every 100 plate appearances, and a $2 million bonus if the Giants make the playoffs.
Let Jason Schmidt walk and you’ve got another $10.5 million freed up. Then give all that money — yes, all of it — to Alfonso Soriano, who is exactly the kind of in-his-prime, power-and-speed guy Bonds was when he first signed on here. And move Soriano back to second base, where he’ll surely improve defensively while working with Omar Vizquel as a pivot partner.
Ray Durham? Gone. That’s $7 million more off the books. Give it to Hillenbrand, who will appreciate the $1.2 million raise over his 2006 salary and represents the kind of production and stability at first base the Giants haven’t had since, well, almost forever.
Moises Alou and his $7.45 mil? Easily replaceable by Todd Linden at about $350,000. Sure, Linden’s a left fielder, but it he can play left field, he can play right. And he’ll be in left when Bonds needs a blow.
That frees up more than $7 mil and that should be more than enough to sign a serviceable veteran starter with something to prove. Mark Mulder, for instance. He was awful this year for St. Louis, and he’s headed for shoulder surgery, but if the surgery goes well and solves his problem, he’ll be a bargain for any team that takes a chance on him this winter.
Finally, find a way to trade Armando Benitez. As bad as he’s been, his raw numbers and radar readings will dupe some dope into taking a chance on him and Brian Sabean needs to suss out said sucker. Get a couple of solid middle relievers in the swap, then charge pitching coach Dave Righetti with making the guy who loses the fifth-starter competition a closer.
Sound too easy to really happen? Probably. But you have to admit it’s not unrealistic. And anything will be better than the Giant Tease of 2006.Mychael Urban is the author of "Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito" and a writer for MLB.com.