Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rowand's success

Aaron Rowand has been worth every penny of his once thought to be over-priced contract. As of Thursday, Rowand is on pace to hit .341 with 21 HR's and 95 RBI's. These numbers are similar to his numbers last season with one exception, he is hitting nearly 40 points better. Amazing for a guy whose numbers last season were supposedly inflated due to the fact he played half of his games in Philadelphia's park which is more fit for little leaguers. As for Rowand's defense, it is where the Giants envisioned it to be when they signed him to the big contract. In addition, his clubhouse presence has been immense in assisting the younger players' adjustment to the major league level. With these numbers, expect Rowand to be an all-star this year.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Does JaMarcus have it in him?

When Al Davis and Co. drafted Darren McFadden to play behind JaMarcus Russell, they envisioned the duo to be equivalent in talent and success to John Elway and Terrell Davis or any other great and successful QB-RB duo. While McFadden has the speed, agility and strength to run his way to Canton, Russell most likely will follow the path of Ryan Leaf. Ok, I admit that statement may be unduly harsh. JaMarcus didn't exactly throw fifteen interceptions to go along with his two touchdown passes as Leaf did in his rookie season. Let me try to compare the quarterback to another major bust: Tim Couch. Couch, the former number one pick by the Cleavland Browns, had a 73.2 quarterback rating, just under twenty points better than that of Russell's during his rookie campaign. No, that comparison doesn't work either since Couch didn't have the strength, size and mobility which Russell exhibits, making Russell more likely to be a successful quarterback. I'll give this one more shot: Daunte Culpepper. Yup, I think that is a perfect comparison. Daunte and JaMarcus are equals when it comes to strength, size, mobility, accuracy and decision-making. While the first three qualities are positives, the latter two are negatives. If you are wondering how Daunte managed to be successful without accuracy and decision-making skills I have a two-word answer for you: Randy Moss. And unfortunately for JaMarcus, Moss slacked his way out of town. So unless you have one of the all-time greatest wide receivers catching your mistakes, those are qualities needed to succeed as a quarterback. If you don't believe me just look at how well Culpepper did in Miami and Oakland (and don't give me the injury excuse because he has had three years to heal).
Judging from Russell's performance last year, he lacks the accuracy and decision-making skills to measure up to the league's elite quarterbacks, two qualities Culpepper yearned for but never obtained. I understand that Russell began practicing late into the season due to the contract dispute so he lost precious time to learn the game. Decision-making skills will improve with experience. Though, how much can he really improve an aspect of his game which is so awful. Russell has a strong tendency to throw into double coverage and lock onto his primary target. As for Russell's accuracy, it has suffered due to Russell's preference to use solely his wrist when throwing the ball as opposed to also using his feet to step into his throws. Both of these problems were major issues during his collegiate days at LSU and during the NFL Combine. His decision-making ability and accuracy have not improved much since then, so I don't see a major jump in the professional level where his competition level is much greater. These deficiencies are fixable but it will take strong work ethic which, quite frankly, I don't believe he possesses.
Though, it is possible and if it does occur, expect a player superior to Culpepper during his Minnesota days (the last time we saw a healthy Culpepper). So, cross your fingers Raiders' fans and pray to your eye-patch wearing Gods that he works his butt off in order to turn his weaknesses into strengths. Until then, McFadden must put the offense on his back and find a way to carry them into the playoffs.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Not so big Giants

Brian Sabean, the Isiah Thomas of MLB decision making, believes the Giants can compete this year. Unfortunately, I must respectfully disagree. In a season which was supposed to be reminiscent of a rotting fish, is not quite that, but still close enough to give off that foul odor which those things do so well. The Giants are currently a whopping nine games under .500. Sure they are in 3rd place in the West, which last year meant being a game away from making the playoffs. However, it's highly dubious that that can be considered some sort of accomplishment when the teams below you are tied for the fewest wins in the majors, and you're only one win greater.
The Giants' current struggles stem from their inability, past and present, to provide their minor league system with young talent, in an era where it appears that in order to be successful one must have an abundance of good, young talent (See Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Cubs, Rays, Angels, Marlins, etc.). The horrid gamble by Sabean and Magowan that age and experience was the recipe for success led to the depletion of the minor league system. That gamble, coupled with their failure to draft half-decent position players, has led to their current dire state. Early on these mistakes were covered by the blanket of success. However, since the Giants began there descend to the bottom cellar of the baseball world, which already included the likes of the Royals, Pirates and Nationals, these mistakes have never been so transparent.
Instead of mitigating the damages, the Sabean-Magowan duo tacked on to it in a major way: Locking up Barry Zito for seven years and $126 million. The Zito signing was highly questionable, especially considering the left-hander was getting progressively worse since 2002. My theory for why they made the signing is that it was a feeling of nostalgia for signing a player named "Barry" to a record contract.
When the Giants finally realized that they were driving their franchise into the ground, which unfortunately did not happen until after the 2007 season, it was too late. The team was already stockpiled with had-beens and never-will-be's. There are only a handful of players worth having: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Aaron Rowand, Bengie Molina and Fred Lewis. Some players look promising, but the jury is still out on them: Brian Wilson, Jonathon Sanchez, Noah Lowry and Merkin Valdez.
Sure the pitching looks good, but that won't mean anything until the team can score enough runs to win games. The Giants have only recently begun to add relevant hitters to their minor league system. However, these hitters are at least two years away from contributing. By then, Molina will most likely be gone and Rowand will be near the twilight of his career. So, barring beneficial offensive additions through free agency, there is a significant chance that in three years the hitting may be exactly where they are today. One may believe that signing free agents should not be too difficult for a franchise with the park, tradition and money such as that of which the Giants possess. However, the modern approach to dealing with good, young hitters has been to sign them early and sign them cheap, delaying their free agent status for several years. The optimist may argue that the Giants can trade for their offense. That would be an ingenious idea if there were players in the organization other teams would want besides Lincecum and Cain, but there aren't.
So what should the Giants do? Well the first thing they can do is stop playing the elders who are irrelevant to the team's future, such as Winn, Vizquel, Durham, Aurilia. I suspect the Giants are attempting to showcase them in order to use these guys as trade bait come July. Though it is doubtful that anybody decent may be obtained in return. So, replace these guys with the kids and see which ones can play and produce on a consistent basis. Once the year has ended, decide who are keepers and who are not. Then do the exact same thing next year, while at the same time looking for free agents and those who may be acquired through trade to help. It may take three to four years before the Giants can be successful again, but this is the path the Sabean-Magowan duo chose through their inauspicious moves. Until then, the best the organization can hope for is fielding a mediocre team. Boy, the near future is looking bright for the team in the Bay.