Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Taking the Fifth

The more intriguing questions facing the Giants have to do with the number-five spot in the rotation: who gets it, why was he the choice, and what does that choice say about the team's direction?

Wow, a whole lead paragraph without bashing Brian Sabean. I need medication.

Going into the off-season there were as many question marks surrounding the rotation as there were holes in the offensive lineup. Even with Lincecum, Cain and Zito assured, we had to wonder about those last two spots. Randy Johnson's retirement eliminated some of the suspense, as did Brad Penny's departure for St. Louis. When the Giants failed to move Jonathan "Dirty" Sanchez, that sealed the deal on number four but still left the five spot wide open.

Conventional wisdom was that the job would be filled by a veteran acquisition (a.k.a. Old Fart - calling Jeff Fassero!). When the off-season pitchers' market failed to materialize, suddenly the job belonged to Madison Bumgarner by default. In true Giants' fashion, that meant the team immediately had to go sign a veteran (i.e. a guy whose breath had to be checked for booze, not Bosco). Enter Todd Wellemeyer. With MadBum now slated to start the campaign at Chuckchansi Park rather than AT&T, the game of musical chairs continues.

While the pundits questioned who had the edge and the fans took sides (mostly favoring the kid), something funny happened: Kevin Pucetas got really really good. Now the Giants have whittled the legitimate choices for the five spot down to a pair with each of the spring candidates having varying degrees of spring success. Bumgarner struggled, Wellemeyer has been unspectacular, and Pucetas is suddenly the hot property.

So the question begs: if you're Satan or Melonhead, who do you go with? The decision may not have as much to do with performance as one might think. It's quite possible that this decsion will tell us a great deal about what Giants management really thinks of its 2010 product.

If the Giants go with....

Wellemeyer: "This team is good enough to win right now and we don't want to take the risk of an unproven kid at the back end of the roation. We prefer experience over talent, and Trent Dilfer isn't available.Win or lose, we can still get $10 for a cha-cha bowl."

Pucetas: "Holy $#@! This kid figured it out and we gotta make room. We may contend, we may not, but let's pretend we know what we're doing and develop another arm. We can still keep our inept image by bringing back Crazy Crab."

And of course, if we see Bumgarner before September that means (a) Wellmeyer's arm finally fell off; (b) Pucetas remembered he's a Giants farmahand and imploded, (c) Sanchez went back to channelling Rick Vaughn, (d) Hell froze over and the Giants were able to deal the Zito-tross.

Let me, here and now, voice my preference. As if I hadn't leaft enough breadcrumbs already, it's gotta be Pucetas.

There's a tendency for Giants management (and fans) to fall in love with the flavor of the month. We've seen how well that works out.  Frandsen and Lewis -- both once prized prospects -- can't even get a nibble on the trade market; and I've beaten up the Ransom-Minor-Linden-etc litany ad nauseum. As it relates to pitching, Bumgarner got all the attention while Pucetas' visibility vanished faster than Sarah Palin's approval rating. But while the focus was elsewhere, the guy went from pitching prospect to a guy arguing that his time has come.

Pucetas has thrown 14 innings this spring and amassed a 0.64 ERA. Now it's true the spring stats can deceive. Your prize young arm may have fanned the side, but did he whiff a legitamate 3-4-5 or is he racking up his numbers against the night shift at the San Carlos Pep Boys? Can he take the heat and pressure of the big stage, or will he slink into the shadows like James Cameron dodging "The Hurt Locker" post-Oscar party?

I don't know the answer, but I think the place to start is with this simple, yet often ignored question: what's best long term?

I've said it a lot. The Giants appear to be making things up as they go. Everything is about the next game or next week, with little or no thought about the next year. Too many quick fixes have left the team in the worst possible position: not good enough to win and not bad enough to be loveable losers. They are the worse of all sins -- a mediocre franchise. So it's time to start thinking about the future. I'm fine with Bumgarner going to Fresno, but I'd have serious issues with Wellemeyer in the rotation.

No TW didn't do anything wrong. No one has stenciled "gasoline" across his uniform. His 1.13 WH/IP is certainly good enough to make the team -- this year. But what about the future? If everything else is relatively even, one factor emerges. Wellmeyer will turn 32 mid-season. Pucetas is 26. Given the Giants' difficulties with filling out the back end of the rotation, you'd prefer any solution that didn't require the process to be repeated on an annual basis.

Wellemeyer looks to be a good insurance policy, but keep in mind that this is the same guy who imploded last year and blamed the flame-out on a tired arm. Bochy's tends to ride his starters for the full eight seconds, and the training staff will have enough to handle keeping Renteria in spare parts to spend much time gluing Wellemeyer back together.

I know the Giants' medical staff has pronounced him fit. I have two words for you: Freddy Sanchez. Don't forget that this is the same organization that took a year and a half to discover Robb Nen's right arm had been abducted by aliens.

The Giants have a lot of weaknesses on the offensive side. Any success they have this year will be due to the guys on the mound. The top of the rotation has two legitimate aces. Zito, for all his faults, has actually pitched well at times (and he earns kudos for plunking Prince Fielder). Sanchez could be Sandy Kofax or Sandy Duncan by the end of the year, but the Giants have at lease given him his shot. Doesn't Pucetas deserve that same chance?

Two years from now it's quite possible that Pucetas and Bumgarner are both on the staff. I don't see Wellemeyer making it three for three.

Roll the dice. If it works, great. If not, they've got Crazy Crab on speed dial.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, probably your best so far. While I think the case for Pucetas is strong, I think Wellemeyer is the best choice to start the season. If Pucetas won the job, there'd be no place for Wellemeyer and I'm pretty sure he would be picked up by another team rather than end up in Fresno. The problem with that is who would be the backup plan in case Pucetas didn't pan out. It looks right now that Bumgarner needs more than a few weeks of seasoning before he's going to be ready. Pucetas isn't going anywhere. He'll be at AAA where he can be called up any time if Wellemeyer is inneffective or if there is an injury to one of the other starters.


Think I'm right? Think I'm crazy? Got different slant on things? Bring it on!