Giants fine with youth at infield corners
Team underwhelmed by trade offers for third basemen
LAS VEGAS -- Giants general manager Brian Sabean declared Monday that the club is prepared to open next season with rookie Travis Ishikawa at first base and near-rookie Pablo Sandoval at third.That reflects the Giants' lack of enthusiasm for the trade proposals they have received involving corner infielders.
Sabean said that members of his front office talked to representatives of 25 teams as baseball's Winter Meetings opened Monday -- which wasn't surprising, given the multiple rumors that materialized involving San Francisco.After consulting his staff, Sabean and his lieutenants agreed that Ishikawa -- who'll face competition from John Bowker -- and Sandoval could be preferable to any other combination the club might forge. "We went over it today. Sandoval's probably our third baseman," Sabean said. Regarding first base, Sabean added, "Defense is too important at that position for us, and Ishikawa is one of the better young first basemen coming out of the Minor Leagues, as far as defense." Giants manager Bruce Bochy sounded optimistic that Sandoval, who made 12 errorless appearances at third base last season despite having relatively little experience there, can handle the position. "He showed no fear. He has a good first step and good hands," Bochy said, adding that Spring Training should further Sandoval's education at third. If the usual Meetings scuttlebutt is to be believed, the Giants have fielded multiple offers for a corner infielder to complement Sandoval, whose bat and ability to play first or third have guaranteed him a spot in the lineup. But Sabean called the list of options "very short, and it's getting shorter. What's been presented to us, the players have warts, let's put it that way. Either the contract's not right, or they're a pending free agent, or we think we're going to have to give up too much." Each rumor featured Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants' No. 4 starter whose talent eclipses his inconsistency. The eternally pitching-poor Texas Rangers supposedly covet Sanchez and would exchange Hank Blalock for him. Speculation involving the Florida Marlins, who are said to be offering third baseman Jorge Cantu for Sanchez, refused to die. Talk of a Sanchez deal for Cincinnati Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion is all but nonexistent, but the echoes remain. But even the most reliable insiders sometimes parrot information about proposals that evaporated days or even weeks ago. And Sabean repeated his reluctance to trade Sanchez, who finished 9-12 with a 5.01 ERA last season but looms as essential to the Giants' rotation, considering left-hander Noah Lowry's recovery from forearm surgery. "It'd be very, very difficult to trade [Sanchez], given Lowry's what-if," Sabean said. "And we'd need another starter on top of that." To distract teams from Sanchez, an industry source said that the Giants are trying to generate interest in right-hander Kevin Pucetas, who was 10-2 with a 3.02 ERA last season for high-Class A San Jose. The 24-year-old Pucetas, a candidate for San Francisco's No. 5 starter's job, is 32-7 with a 2.35 ERA in three Minor League seasons. It might not matter whom the Giants would be willing to part with. Blalock, who's moving from third base to first, Cantu and Encarnacion all are considered defensive liabilities to some degree. Moreover, Sabean typically has refrained from obtaining players due to become free agents at the end of the coming season. Asked if he'd relax this standard, Sabean replied, "It's not going to happen. Absolutely not. How can we take on somebody who we have no idea we're going to go into the future with?" This alone eliminates at least four trade options for the Giants' infield-corner vacancy. One is Blalock, a career .274 hitter who averaged 29 home runs and 97 RBIs from 2003-05. A variety of injuries, including neck, shoulder, hamstring and back ailments, have hampered Blalock in recent years and forced him to move from third base to first. But the hard-swinging left-handed batter was productive when healthy last season, hitting .287 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs. He will earn $6.2 million next year. Other potential free agents for '09 whom the Giants otherwise might consider include two Houston Astros -- Ty Wigginton, who has played every infield position except shortstop, and Miguel Tejada, who's owed $13 million next year and could move to third base from shortstop if dealt. Another is Seattle's Adrian Beltre, who'll earn $12 million next season. The Giants remain suitors for free-agent left-hander CC Sabathia, who's unlikely to sign before the Winter Meetings end Thursday.
"We'll see," Sabean said when asked if he planned on meeting here with Sabathia or his representatives. But the competition apparently is increasing. Sabathia has promised to talk with officials of the Milwaukee Brewers, his former club, before the meetings conclude. And he reportedly announced that he'd love to be a Dodger upon encountering Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti."That's usually how it works, right?" Sabean jokingly said. "Then he bumped into Anaheim and said he wanted to be an Angel." Sabean acknowledged the Giants' interest in left-hander Randy Johnson, the 45-year-old, 6-foot-10 295-game winner. But after speaking with Johnson's agents, Barry Meister and Alan Nero, Sabean concluded, "They're not in any hurry, I know that."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.