1 San Francisco Giants Think the division champs didn't make a big off-season move? Think again

March 26, 2001

Sitting silently in his spartan office at the Giants'
Scottsdale, Ariz., training complex, Dusty Baker pauses for a
long while, thinking of the moment when he ultimately decided to
return for his ninth season as San Francisco's manager. "I was
visiting my mother-in-law in the hospital, where she was dying
of cancer," he says, his face contorting and his smooth voice
dropping at the memory. "I stood staring at her, and I thought
about my father and my aunt, who were both also very sick at the
time, and about my family and my son, who liked it so much here.
It occurred to me how lucky I was, to be a part of something
special. That same day, I signed my new deal."

While much was made in the Bay Area of the Giants' failure to
sign any celebrated free agents during the off-season, this much
is clear: Only when Baker decided to return did San Francisco,
which had baseball's best record in 2000, become the favorite to
repeat as National League West champs. To a man, the Giants admit
that without the peerless motivational skills of Baker, the
league's Manager of the Year last season, theirs would be a
rudderless ship. Still, despite receiving a two-year, $5.3
million offer that would leave him second in salary among
skippers to the Yankees' Joe Torre, Baker--stung by criticism of
his strategy following San Francisco's meek playoff showing
against the Mets--was hardly a cinch to come back.

"Dusty was a free agent, and he could've gone anywhere," G.M.
Brian Sabean says. "It was a trying time, but it was a relief for
the organization when we decided we'd all be pulling on the same
rope." Adds shortstop Rich Aurilia, "[Baker] would've been
impossible to replace. We've got a great core group here, but to
throw a new manager into the mix would've been disastrous."

In returning, Baker faces the vexing challenge of replacing
rightfielder Ellis Burks, who departed after the Giants balked at
his demand for a two-year deal, reasoning that his
already-brittle 36-year-old knees would never hold up that long.
By standing aside while Burks signed for three years with the
Indians, San Francisco lost a clutch hitter who last season had a
.344 average (highest by a Giant in 42 years) and 96 RBIs in 393
at bats; San Francisco was 72-38 when he was in the starting
lineup and 25-27 when he wasn't. Not only did Burks provide
invaluable protection to Bonds and Kent in the batting order, he
also made up for the leadership shortcomings of the frosty duo.
"He was one of the best clubhouse guys I've ever seen," says
Aurilia. "His void is a huge one."

To fill it, on the lineup card at least, Baker will turn
primarily to Armando Rios, who drove in 50 runs in 233 at bats as
Burks's understudy last year. That he did so is something of a
medical miracle, because Rios played the final month of the
season with a torn tendon in his left (throwing) elbow. Stunned
doctors, who couldn't believe that Rios was able to throw a ball
or swing a bat with the injury, recommended Tommy John surgery
two weeks after season's end. "When I heard those words, I went
into shock, and I cried a little," says the normally cocky
29-year-old Rios. "I knew Ellis probably wouldn't be back, and I
thought maybe I'd just lost my chance." After the surgery and a
vigorous off-season of rehab, a lean, fit Rios came to camp a
month ahead of his recovery schedule; he impressed the coaches
with his arm strength and increased pop at the plate. But because
Rios hit just .167 against lefthanders last season and because he
still has less than a full season's worth of big league
experience, the Giants signed free-agent outfielders Eric Davis
(.390 against lefties in 2000) and Shawon Dunston.

If San Francisco stumbles, it will most likely be on defense,
where the departure of Burks and third baseman Bill Mueller, who
committed just nine of the Giants' franchise-low 93 errors, will
be acutely felt. Replacing Mueller will be the stone-handed Russ
Davis, though San Francisco hopes rookie Pedro Feliz (33 homers
and 105 RBIs at Triple A Fresno) will be ready by midseason.

If Baker's demeanor is a bellwether, there will be no stumbles
in 2001. During his press conference the day he re-signed--just
hours after his visit to her--his mother-in-law died. That also
happened to be two days before the start of the World Series.
"If we'd made it to the Series, it might've been too much to
handle," Baker says, "but that emotional roller coaster made me
stronger, more focused. We're ready for this year. Ready for it
all."

--Josh Elliott

COLOR PHOTO: STEVE MOORE Kent's crew will score runs as usual. On the other hand, they may allow too many with a potentially porous infield defense.
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN ESTES

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Giants

"If we're picking teams, and I have one choice of a player, I
take Jeff Kent over Barry Bonds. You look at Kent's attitude,
what he does as a whole. You have to try to keep him off balance
and hope he chases something. If you make a mistake inside,
he'll kill you. Bonds is a great player. His problem is his
head. He'll never be a good player in prime time because of
what's happened in the past. He thinks about it so much. He had
the Mets' Bobby J. Jones throwing 86-mph fastballs by him in the
playoffs last fall....Dusty Baker is the best manager in
baseball. You can't find a player who wouldn't play for him. He
deals with every player as an individual, and he handles the ego
of Bonds with a very deft hand. He makes very few
mistakes....The Giants don't have a true No. 1 starter. They
have a bunch of No. 3 and No. 4 starters... Stuffwise, Shawn
Estes is off the charts. Great breaking ball, great changeup,
solid fastball. But there's no consistency....It's been sad
watching Joe Nathan throw this spring--81-83 mph. He has
nothing....I look at the centerfielders around the league, and
Marvin Bernard doesn't rate. He isn't a Gold Glove, and he's not
a legit leadoff hitter. He's a better No. 2 hitter....They're
gonna miss Bill Mueller at third. He should have won a Gold
Glove. Each year Russ Davis has declined defensively....Robb Nen
is so deceptive. Nothing he throws is straight. He has a 91-93
mph slider. That's just unheard of....Felix Rodriguez would be a
great closer. He's 95-96, plus movement. And look at his
body--he could pitch for 15 years."

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 97-65 (first in NL West)
Manager: Dusty Baker (ninth season with San Francisco)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Marvin Benard L 139 .263 12 55 22
SS Rich Aurilia R 161 .271 20 79 1
LF Barry Bonds L 9 .306 49 106 11
2B Jeff Kent R 25 .334 33 125 12
1B J.T. Snow L 98 .284 19 96 1
RF Armando Rios L 129 .266 10 50 3
C Benito Santiago[1] R 253 .262 8 45 2
3B Russ Davis R 274 .261 9 24 0

BENCH

OF Shawon Dunston[1] R 239 .250 12 43 3
OF Eric Davis[1] R 259 .303 6 40 1
C Bobby Estalella R 266 .234 14 53 3
OF Felipe Crespo S-R 295 .290 4 29 3
IF Ramon Martinez R 314 .302 6 25 3

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Livan Hernandez 17 17 11 7.3 1.36 3.75
LH Kirk Rueter 72 11 9 5.9 1.45 3.96
RH Russ Ortiz 127 14 12 5.9 1.55 5.01
LH Shawn Estes 34 15 6 6.3 1.59 4.26
RH Mark Gardner 104 11 7 6.3 1.32 4.05

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Robb Nen 8 4 3 41 0.85 1.50
RH Felix Rodriguez 118 4 2 3 1.31 2.64
RH Tim Worrell*[1] 230 5 6 3 1.46 2.99
LH Alan Embree 246 3 5 2 1.45 4.95
LH Aaron Fultz 250 5 2 1 1.37 4.67
RH John Johnstone 303 3 4 0 1.54 6.30
RH Joe Nathan 312 5 2 0 1.63 5.21

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Combined AL and NL stats

"Bonds's problem is his head. He'll never be a good player in
prime time."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)