Saturday, November 17, 2007

Don't Pull That Trigger

A report from the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday indicated that the San Francisco Giants have been aggressive in their pursuit of Florida Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera who is widely regarded as one of the top-5 hitters in all of baseball.

On the surface one would think that this type of news would be sweet music to the ears of Giants fans everywhere, myself included. However the realization that the Giants would most likely have to include either staff ace Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum in the deal makes me flinch like a hitter seeing Lincecum's curveball for the first time.

I am a firm believer that you have to have pitching to win, and while the Giants have done very little winning of late, it's been their stockpiling of quality arms like Cain and Lincecum that has given me hope for the future of the franchise.

That said, Cabrera's resume is awfully impressive. At age 24 Cabrera has already amassed 138 homeruns as well as an OPS of .930 to go along with a .313 career batting average. While the baseball world is focused on Alex Rodriguez's march toward nearly every important career batting record, they fail to mention that Cabrera is beating a very similar path.

Both players saw their first significant action in the big leagues at age 20. A-Rod played in a combined 54 games in 1994 and 1995, while Cabrera as a rookie in 2003 played in 87 games and was a key member of the Marlins team that won the World Series that year.

From 1996 through 1999, A-Rod hit 143 homeruns and drove in 442 runs on 747 total hits. Cabrera meanwhile from 2004 through 2007 has swatted 126 homers and driven in 461 runs on 758 total hits.

Clearly Cabrera has a long way to go to rival the extended production of A-Rod, but given his age it's not crazy to think he might be the next guy in line to challenge the records that may be set by Rodriguez.

The only thing that worries me about Cabrera is his lack of physical fitness, which not only could expose him to injuries down the road, but move him off of third base and into left field. He's already not a very good defensive player at the hot corner and his overall value takes a bigger hit if he is forced to play the outfield.

Perhaps the better comparison for Cabrera is Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez, who like Cabrera is an all-around hitter who cares a little less about his physique and defense than his prowess at the plate.

Either way, the thought of replacing the most dominant offensive player of our generation (Barry Bonds) with a guy who has the potential to be nearly as dangerous is very tempting. Which is what scares me most about the possibility of him landing in San Francisco in exchange for either Cain or Lincecum.

Giants GM Brian Sabean recently signed a contract extension through the 2009 season with a club option for 2010 and it's clear to most who follow the team that these next few years will be his last if he is not able to rebuild the team in the post-Bonds era.

What better way to make a splash than to go out and get yourself another marquee hitter to help spark what has been one of baseball's worst offenses over the last few seasons and put butts in the seats of AT&T Park? This time however the price is just too high.

Cain at age 22 is primed and ready to become a legitimate Cy Young candidate after suffering through a 7-16 record in 2007 despite an ERA of only 3.65.

Lincecum meanwhile showed flashes of pure dominance as a 23-year-old rookie, striking out more batters than innings pitched with an arsenal of pitches that rivals the very best in the game.

The value of that type of one-two punch at the top of a rotation cannot be overstated and I'd much rather see the team try to put together a more balanced offensive attack through free agency and their own minor league system, while allowing Cain and Lincecum to develop further.

Do you think the Braves would have been so good for so long had they traded John Smoltz in the mid-90's trying to find a quick fix offensively? I certainly don't think so and I for one would prefer that type of long term success which can only be achieved with solid starting pitching.

A quick look at the free agent crop in 2009 shows several quality position players available such as first baseman Mark Teixeira, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and outfielders like Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn and Raul Ibanez.

Also the mere fact that Cabrera would be traded and not signed as a free agent would make me worried that at some point he'd want to sign elsewhere and then the Giants would be left with nothing to show for giving away one of the game's brightest young arms.

So please Brian Sabean, step away from the negotiating table, take a closer look at some of this year's crop of free agents and move forward with Cain and Lincecum as a part of the Giants future. Trust me, it's for the best.

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