Giants get lightweights for Williams


If you are wondering why the San Francisco Giants traded third baseman Matt Williams for three uninspiring players from the Cleveland Indians, you are not alone.

The deal made by new San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean is being roundly panned around baseball. Sure, the Bay Area newspaper columnists are questioning Sabean's sanity. But many executives and scouts are asking the same question: What did the Giants really get?

Williams may be a future Hall of Famer. Although prone to injury, he is one of the game's premier power hitters, either the best or second-best defensive third baseman (to the San Diego Padres' Ken Caminiti), and he was a leader, a balance to Barry Bonds' unabashed selfishness. (Giants shortstop Shawon Dunston, who ripped Bonds in midseason for being so aloof to teammates, worshiped Williams for his hustle and professionalism.)

The Giants received this trio:

1. Jose Vizcaino, a good middle infielder who is so good that he has bounced from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets to the Indians to the Giants since 1993. San Francisco wants him to play shortstop, in spite of the fact that his range is adequate at best.

2. Julian Tavarez, a talented middle reliever with a great arm, a high ceiling and an apparent motivation problem. After being the Mariano Rivera of 1995, Tavarez signed a three-year contract. His ERA rose to 5.36 ERA in '96, and he was even shipped to the minors for a couple of games. Indians GM John Hart suggested that Tavarez simply got too comfortable.

3. Jeff Kent, who just isn't a good major-league player. He can do a lot of things OK, but he's not a great hitter or defensive player.

The Giants also got $1 million in cash. That's the best part of the trade for San Francisco. The Giants are trying to do as much damage control as possible. On Friday, the club gathered members of the media, providing Sabean a chance to defend the deal. The GM says there's more to come, that he has other deals in the works that were contingent on this trade being made. The Giants supposedly are in hot pursuit of a first baseman, either David Segui or Henry Rodriguez of the Montreal Expos, or J. T. Snow of the California Angels.

They are going to try to sign Bobby Bonilla, to play third or first base. Sabean argues, with good reason, that he couldn't operate with Williams and Bonds taking up nearly $15 million in payroll, by themselves. But he could've gotten more for Williams. Much more.

The Indians' trade for Williams will allow them to move Jim Thome to first and Julio Franco to designated hitter, giving them a much stronger defensive team.

And, of course, Hart can comfortably thumb his nose at Albert Belle, a free agent who turned down Cleveland's offer of $8.5 million per year the day before the Indians consummated the Williams deal.

"We didn't want to get behind while Albert entertained offers," said Hart, whose offer to Belle is still on the table. "Albert has made it clear he wants to test the market. Obviously, by getting a bat of this magnitude [Williams'], it takes pressure off the Indians [to re-sign Belle]. Now, we've got that spot filled if Albert goes someplace else."

Numbers, please

Excuse me for being a nerd, but one of the most exciting moments of the year comes on the day when the letter carrier drops a couple of STATS Inc. books on my doorstep -- "Player Profiles" and the "Major League Handbook." Stats galore from the season just completed, surprising and interesting stats.

We borrow liberally:

Base runners successfully stole on 26 of 30 attempts when David Wells was on the mound. But three of those four runners caught stealing came on pickoffs, meaning that only one opposing base runner was thrown out by an Orioles catcher with Wells on the mound the entire season.

Right-hander Scott Erickson led major-league pitchers by averaging 1.5 double-play grounders per nine innings.

Orioles hitting coach Rick Down said Brady Anderson was the first batter he has ever seen who had a successful season (50 homers and driving in 110 runs out of the leadoff spot) while trying to hit a homer on every swing. Anderson batted .440 swinging on the first pitch, .401 when he was ahead in the count, .184 when behind in the count and .178 with two strikes. Anderson had a total of 46 hits with two strikes during the year, and incredibly, 19 of those were homers, or 41 percent. Home runs accounted for only 11 percent of two-strike hits for the rest of the American League.

Orioles led the AL in three oddball categories -- hit by pitch (Anderson, 22), sacrifice flies (Bobby Bonilla, 17) and double-play groundouts (Cal Ripken, 28).

Eddie Murray needs 29 games for 3,000 in his career, one RBI for 1,900.

Mike Mussina allowed 63 doubles, more than any other pitcher in the majors.

In his first 75 pitches in his 36 starts, Mussina gave up 25 homers to 651 batters (one for every 26 batters). But strangely, in pitches No. 76 and beyond, when Mussina theoretically should've been tiring, he allowed only six homers to 308 batters (one for every 51 batters).

Ripken batted .337 in close and late situations (by definition: the seventh inning or later, when the batting team is leading by a run, tied or the potential tying run is on base).

Leadoff batters hit .146 against Jesse Orosco.

Only the White Sox's Tony Phillips saw more pitches (3,051) as a hitter than the Orioles' Roberto Alomar (2,953).

Randy Myers had a 1.80 ERA working on three days or more of rest, 4.01 ERA on one or two days' rest and a 5.14 ERA when pitching back-to-back days.

Series money

The full World Series share amounted to $241,000 for the winning New York Yankees, who were generous in voting their primary clubhouse attendant a full share.

Infielder Matt Howard, pitcher Dave Pavlas and reliever Dale Polley got absolutely nothing, their penalty for being replacement players in the spring of 1995. Polley, who bounced around the minors for parts of nine seasons before being promoted to the Yankees after Steve Howe was released, pitched in 32 games for New York.

Belle must've been somewhat mortified by the Williams deal, which would seem to decrease the Indians' interest in him and, simultaneously, his market value. There's no real reason the Marlins should give him $10 million a year; they would be bidding against only themselves.

Voting for postseason awards isn't an exact science, and there are not necessarily right or wrong answers. But occasionally, some selections make all participants from the Baseball Writers' Association look rather dumb. A voter from Detroit picked the Tigers' Buddy Bell as the AL Manager of the Year, even though the Tigers were the worst team in baseball, and the voter left Johnny Oates off the ballot. The AL MVP voting, one of the closest on record, was effectively determined by one West Coast writer who cast a ballot with Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez ranked seventh. There might've been a case for Rodriguez finishing second, third or fourth, but not that low. Not even close.

Whitey Herzog apparently has re-entered the picture in Boston's search for a manager, and is asking for a three- or four-year contract.

The cost projections for the proposed ballpark in Seattle have skyrocketed by some 15 percent, and the project may be in some jeopardy.

Milwaukee manager Phil Garner received a contract extension through 1999, but he mulled over his decision long and hard before signing. Garner wants to manage a team with a chance of winning, and the Brewers should be contenders in '98 and beyond, assuming they get their new ballpark.

Toronto's trade for second baseman Carlos Garcia and first baseman/outfielder Orlando Merced makes it an instant contender for next year. The Blue Jays will have a very sound team, if they can beef up their middle relief.

The expansion Arizona Diamondbacks have spent $19 million in signing bonuses to land four young players, including Olympic first baseman Travis Lee. That's more than the Expos' payroll.

Free-agent second baseman Ryne Sandberg is talking contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Why not Jay Bell?

Just an opinion, but among all the choices the Orioles are considering at shortstop, the best would be to ask the Pittsburgh Pirates to assume $1 million of Jay Bell's $4.8 million -- salary -- something the slash-and-burn Pirates would gladly do -- and give them a second-line prospect for him. He's a great shortstop, steady, and the Orioles wouldn't be locked into a long-term obligation.

The Giants' Dunston has a reputation for playing hard, diving all over the place and hustling, part of what makes him attractive to the Orioles. He is among those being considered as a replacement for Ripken at short.

Orioles closer Randy Myers has played with Dunston and Kevin Elster, another free-agent shortstop, and without endorsing the potential move of Ripken, Myers rated his former teammates.

On Elster: "[He] is a guy who actually has a good bat. He has good range, he's smart, he's a team player, he can hit, he can run. As long as he's healthy, he's an everyday shortstop who's going to give you 20 home runs. What he did this year did not surprise me [Elster hit 24 homers]."

On Dunston: "Shawon's one of the best that's ever played the game. He's got a great arm. He lost two years because of a back injury and everyone said that he wouldn't and couldn't play again, but he proved them wrong. He's a team player, has speed, his fundamentals are excellent, and plays hard. He does the little things that are needed to win. I'm not going to sit here and say get rid of Cal, but if you can get either one of them, that's a plus."

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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