Burrell to make debut on Friday, Giants renew commitment to crusty old vets

It didn’t take long for the Giants to purchase the contract of Pat Burrell, who will make his debut tonight in Pittsburgh just days after San Francisco signed him to a minor league deal. After all, he’s old, and the organization is committed to old and halting their youth movement as much as possible. (See the signings or re-signings of Rich Aurilia, Edgardo Alfonzo, Bengie Molina, Dave Roberts, Omar Vizquel, Ryan Klesko, Jose Vizcaino and Neifi Perez – just to name a few – in previous seasons.)

In calling up Burrell, the Giants had to make a roster move in the process, meaning 26-year-old John Bowker had to be optioned to Triple-A Fresno. Granted, Bowker was only hitting .207 at the time of the demotion, but the Giants, in all of their infinite wisdom, have decided that 82 at bats were enough to close the book on the outfielder for now.

I have nothing against Burrell, per se. He could turn out to be a solid pinch hitter and I would much rather see him wasting away on the bench than Bowker. But it’s the Giants’ continued philosophy (if that’s what you want to call it) towards judging hitters that infuriates me. They never really gave Fred Lewis a chance and now he’s hitting .304 as the Blue Jays’ leadoff hitter. For as good as a Giant as Randy Winn was over the years, they stuck with him too long last year while a younger, more talented Nate Schierholtz rotted away on the bench. (Speaking of Schierholtz, where does he fit in with the addition of Burrell?) And I’m still not sure who Kevin Frandsen killed to have never been given a legitimate shot at sticking with the big league club either, yet Edgar Renteria is in his second year of wasting everyone’s time in the “City by the Bay.”

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Yankees sign Winn, could signal the end of Damon’s time in New York

The Yankees signed free agent outfielder Randy Winn, which more than likely signals the end of Johnny Damon’s time in New York. Joel Sherman reports that the deal for Winn is a one-year contract worth around $2 million.

Brian Cashman has maintained that he won’t go higher than $2 million for Damon, who still has pop in his bat but is the worst defensive outfielder in baseball. Winn was a disaster against left-handed pitching last year, but he’s an outstanding defender and will play a great right field in New York.

Damon and his agent Scott Boras are reportedly still seeking a contract in the double-digit range, but considering he’s a defensive liability, he probably won’t get much more than $5 million guaranteed. The A’s and Rays are possible landing spots, but he’ll have to come down on his demands.

Of course, if he comes down a bit on his demands, he might be able to return to New York.

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Five Deep Sleeper Teams for the ’09 MLB Season

I know this guy (I’ll stop short of calling him a friend but wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone if he called) that at the start of all the major sporting seasons will throw out his list of “sleeper teams” to watch out for.

What’s funny about this guy is that he knows if he’s wrong he’ll never be called out because hey, they were just sleeper teams anyways right? But if he’s right, well hell, he’ll look like some kind of sports sleeper team Nostradamus.

This is the same guy that’ll pick a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 every year in the March Madness Tournament, so on the rare chance it happens he’ll have the opportunity to say that he called the upset of a lifetime. The funny thing is that he would have been wrong the previous 34 years of predicting 16’s over 1’s, but that would be beside the point.

Anyway, this piece is dedicated to him – the “Sleeper Team Guy.” For fans, there’s nothing like predicting a perennial loser (i.e. the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays) to rise from the ashes and make a postseason run no matter what sport it is. And with Opening Day right around the corner, I think it’s a perfect time to hand out some potential sleeper candidates of my own.

Below are five deep sleepers to make a postseason run this year in baseball. Most pundits assume that none of the five will finish better than third in their respective divisions, which is why I can get away with calling these teams “deep sleepers.” If any of them make the playoffs, I’ll wax poetically about it in my sleeper teams piece next year. If none even sniff a postseason berth, then in honor of “Sleeper Team Guy” don’t expect me to admit I was wrong. Yeah, that’s right – accountability is for losers.

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2009 MLB Preview: #17 San Francisco Giants

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Offseason Movement: The G-Men added a solid piece to their starting rotation in former Cy Young-winner Randy Johnson. The club also signed free agent Edgar Renteria to play shortstop, and added Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry in hopes to strengthen their bullpen. Rich Aurilia and Josh Phelps were given minor league contracts, although Phelps was already reassigned to minor league camp.

Top Prospect: Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Who would have thought that the farm system that produced Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez would have a pitcher as its top prospect? While catcher Buster Posey, corner infielder Angel Villalona and starter Tim Alderson deserve mention here, Bumgarner earns the Giants’ top prospect tag for his “ace” potential. While he isn’t expected to take Lincecum’s No. 1 spot any time soon, Bumgarner could turn out to be a San Fran’s No. 2 in the next couple seasons. He dominated his first full year in the minors after being selected in the first round out of high school, posting a 1.46 ERA in A-ball. He has a fastball that reaches 97 mph and once he develops his secondary pitches, Bumgarner should make his first big league appearance in no time.

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Dodgers vs. Giants: The Manny Ramirez standoff

One of the more underrated and overlooked stories in sports right now is the battle going on with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Manny Ramirez. Manny and his agent Scott Boras want at least a five year contract, while the Dodgers want Manny and his agent Scott Boras to look up “realistic” in the dictionary and get back to them.

The Dodgers’ standoff is admirable; finally a club is willing to stand up to a player that probably won’t be worth what he’s asking for in the long run. Manny is a weakness in the outfield, is known for quitting on plays and even worse, quitting on his team. But the guy is still one of the best hitters in the game and given how weak the NL West should be again, the Dodgers would be instant favorites to win the division if they can re-up with Ramirez.

But another battle brewing under the surface is the one between the Dodgers and Giants. San Fran has shown interest in Ramirez, but has balked at his asking price and reports state that they’re no longer a potential suitor. But does anyone truly believe that the G-Men are taking themselves out of the running and just handing Manny over to their rivals (the frontrunners for Ramirez) at a discounted price? Not a chance.

The Giants are several bats away from competing for a World Series title or even an NLCS berth. But they’re seemingly one big bat away from at least competing in the NL West and the postseason. Their pitching staff is solid and they have enough decent hitters in Bengie Molina, Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn and Edgar Renteria (assuming his bat returns to form now that he’s back in the NL) to be a contender if they can sign Ramirez.

The problem is that after they chose not to re-sign Barry Bonds, Brian Sabean and company pledged to rebuild. Of course Sabean then went out and signed Molina, Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia – all players well into their 30s – so the Giants can’t use the rebuilding excuse as the only reason not to sign Manny. Still, the team finally has chemistry again and tossing a personality like Ramirez into the mix could ruin an otherwise drama-less atmosphere in the clubhouse. And for what? A shot to maybe contend in the West and then lose in the postseason?

The Manny Ramirez battles have only begun and it’ll be interesting to see who cracks first. Ramirez could get tired of waiting for the Dodgers to offer him a long-term contract and take one of their initial proposals for 2 or 3 years. Worried about the Giants making a move, the Dodgers could also start to get antsy and cave to Boras’s demands. Or the Giants, in fear of wasting good pitching for another year, could seize the moment and put the power hitter smack dab in the middle of their lineup.

I’m sticking with my prediction of a few months ago: Manny will return to the Dodgers. The Giants are too freaked out about another Barry Zito-deal and will stick to their rebuilding plan. I imagine L.A. retains Ramirez with a 3-year contract.

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