MANAGER BRUCEBOCHY first season with Giants
AFTER ONLY oneweek of managing exhibition games for the Giants, Bruce Bochy made a boldexecutive decision. He arranged a private meeting with Barry Bonds, who,depending on the headlines of the day, is either the anchor or the millstone ofthe franchise, and told the slugger he wanted to bat him third in the lineupinstead of his customary fourth position.
"I watchedhim hit too many home runs against us in San Diego," says Bochy, whomanaged the Padres to NL West titles the past two years yet oddly was let outof his contract to go to a division rival. "I like the idea of seeing himhit in the first inning. But I also told him it could help him get off thefield sooner. If we can take him out [after his last at bat] for a defensivereplacement and it saves him 40 or 50 innings, it's worth it just forthat."
Bonds has hitfourth in all but 32 of his 470 games in the lineup since then manager DustyBaker moved him to cleanup on June 27, 2002. Bonds grew accustomed to the spotand resisted overtures to move up or down in the order. This time? "He wasgreat about it," Bochy says. "He said he wants to do what's best forthe club." Bochy regarded the move as a logical one, but it could also beinterpreted as symbolic for a manager wanting to make an immediate impressionon his new team. "You can tell he's making everyone accountable," saysrighthander Matt Morris.
The many movesyet to come for Bochy this season, not to mention the fortunes of thefranchise, will depend on the health and production of Bonds, who turns 43 inJuly and has little help around him, no matter where he hits. Says one ALgeneral manager, "I'm not sure how good they are with Bonds. Without him?Whoa." Last year Bonds stayed off the DL, played in 130 games, hit 26homers (leaving him 22 short of breaking Hank Aaron's career home run record)and drove in 77 runs--and the Giants still lost 85 games. San Francisco was amiserable offensive team, finishing 10th in the NL in runs (746) and 15th inon-base percentage (.324). Without a major upgrade (and none seem obvious), theGiants could be looking at a third straight season with 85 or more losses forthe first time in the franchise's 125-year history.
Their preferredlineup will have no one under the age of 32 by the end of April--when thirdbaseman Pedro Feliz (career OBP: .288) hits that mark (if little else)--and noone other than Bonds who has ever driven in 100 runs in a season. The club isbanking on 34-year-old centerfielder Dave Roberts to ignite the offense("Our first true leadoff hitter since Brett Butler," owner PeterMagowan says), but Roberts doesn't hit lefthanders (.257 career) and has yet toscore 100 runs, hit 20 doubles or collect 150 hits in a season.
Moreover, theGiants suddenly view Ray Durham as the cleanup protection behind Bonds--basedalmost exclusively on Durham's .327 second half last season--even thoughDurham, 35, has batted fourth only 11 times in his career and has missed anaverage of 35 games a year with injuries in four seasons with SanFrancisco.
To compete inthe NL West, the Giants will need superior starting pitching results from BarryZito, Matt Cain, Morris and Noah Lowry, but that could prove difficult with allthose old legs behind them on defense. San Francisco will employaverage-to-below-average defenders at every position except shortstop (OmarVizquel, 39) and catcher (Bengie Molina, 32). So while the Giants may have amanager with a new outlook, their dependency on a 42-year-old leftfielder withtroublesome knees and a supporting cast past its prime reads like the same oldstory. --T.V.
a modestproposal ...
Barry Zito(left) got into some bad habits after the All-Star break last season and as aresult struck out only 59 batters against 42 walks in 95 innings. Inparticular, he began working around hitters and falling behind in the count,which prevented him from using his signature pitch, the curveball. A pitcherwith such habits won't be able to perform at an elite level for long, which iswhy PECOTA projects Zito to have an 11--10 record with a 4.26 ERA in 2007. Inleaving Oakland's McAfee Coliseum for San Francisco's AT&T Park, Zito movedto a bigger home ballpark and a league that's easier to pitch in, all of whichmeans one thing: He can get away with challenging hitters even without a greatfastball. Pitching coach Dave Righetti's most important task this season is toget that message across to the former Cy Young Award winner.
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS
* New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
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THE NUMBERSDON'T LIE
On-base plus slugging percentage of 42-year-old Barry Bonds, which would haveranked him fourth in the NL last season had he made enough plate appearances,and only slightly below his career percentage. The Giants' leftfielder wasparticularly productive (1.089 OPS) during the club's modest push for theplayoffs, hitting 12 of his 26 home runs during the season's final twomonths.