Tuesday, November 30, 2004

After spending last winter hunting bargain bins for other team's castoffs, the Giants have hit the free agent market like a sailor at a tattoo parlor on shore leave. After signing the star-crossed closer Armando Benitez, the team has now promised $32.5 million to Benitez and shortstop Omar Vizquel. Interestingly enough, if the team had that duo down the stretch, they probably would have overtaken the Dodgers. Shortstop Cody Ransom made a critical error on Black Saturday and almost every member of the bullpen was worked way too much down the stretch. It's almost as if principal owner Peter Magawon told GM Brian Sabean that he had to address those positions pronto.

It's clear the Giants had very little extra money to throw around for the 2004 season. The team had one last lump sum $25 million to pay on their ballpark and it was taking all the team's resources to make the note. Hence signing Michael Tucker for two years at $3.5 million (which in essence meant two years for $2.4 million as the Giants didn't have to come up with the $1.1 million bonus money for a first round pick). Also they found a lot of players with the Nice Price sticker attached: JT Snow ($1.5m), Scott Eyre ($1m), Dustin Hermanson ($800k), Jeffrey Hammonds ($1m), Brett Tomko ($1.5m).

That kind of asturity seems to have gone out the door this year.

Even while picking up options, they've done things that would have seemed absurd last year. Snow had his $2 million option kick in. Marquis Grissom, who looks like he's in for a big letdown season, will return for $2.75m. Backup infielder Deivi Cruz will earn $800k plus bonuses. Brett Tomko banks $2.5m large. All these players performed admirably in 2004 but there are cheaper options out there. Sabean's one year on a budget seems to have pushed him to spend, spend, spend.

There are still opportunities to save some cash. A.J. Pierzynski clearly will be on the trading block if Sabean can't convince him to sign a cutrate multiyear deal. He may end up going for an affordable centerfielder, a hole that the team will need to fill especially if Grissom slumps. But some things never change. The Giants for the second year in a row have ceeded away their first round pick. This time it goes to Cleveland for Vizquel. Or maybe to Florida for Benitez. Or maybe somewhere else for another outfielder. Only time and Sabean's open pocketbook will tell.