Giants get lightweights for Williams

ON BASEBALL

November 17, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

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.

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