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News » No Manny Ramirez? No sweat in still sorry NL West


No Manny Ramirez? No sweat in still sorry NL West


No Manny Ramirez? No sweat in still sorry NL West
While the Manny Ramirez stall-a-thon rumbles into its fourth month, we bring you this bulletin:

The Giants feel they can win without him.

Sure, Ramirez was the difference-maker in the Los Angeles Dodgers' march to the National League West title last season. If he stays in the division, the team that signs him would become the instant favorite.

And sure, the Giants failed to add thump to a lineup that hit the fewest home runs in a nonstrike season since the 1993 expansion Florida Marlins.

But to paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, the Giants look at the NL West and say, "Why the heck not?"

"This is a great division to be in," said Brian Wilson, the Giants' All-Star closer. "Everybody's got a shot."

Or, as manager Bruce Bochy put it: "This division, I think, is the toughest to pick. It's so balanced."

This isn't a night at the Bolshoi, though. Balance does not equal beauty, and most Baseball observers expect the NL West Baseball's weakest division last year to be even worse in 2009. The Colorado Rockies traded slugger Matt Holliday, the Arizona Diamondbacks cut payroll, and the San Diego Padres will operate on a shoestring budget after John Moores was forced to sell the club.

Even if the Dodgers re-sign Ramirez, as is widely expected, they still must compete with a much weaker starting rotation.

The Giants should have the upper hand with their starting five, beginning with defending Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Newcomer Randy Johnson brings five more Cy Youngs along with a quest for his 300th victory. Stalwart Matt Cain returns a year wiser, and there is reason to expect more from Barry Zito.

With the bullpen in front of Wilson addressed with the free-agent additions of right-hander Bob Howry (Chicago Cubs) and lefty Jeremy Affeldt (Cincinnati Reds), most of the club's decisions this spring will involve the lineup, infield alignment and bench. Second base is a free-for-all between Kevin Frandsen, Eugenio Velez and Emmanuel Burriss; the Giants probably cannot carry all three players.

"I don't see any jobs as a given yet," said Frandsen, who was limited to one at-bat last season because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon. "I have a lot to prove. When spring comes, it's, 'Mouth shut, get it done.'"?"

The glib San Jose native paused and smiled.

"Well, I don't know about 'mouth shut' for me," he added with a laugh. "I like to have a good time. But when it comes to talking about my play, it has to be done on the field. There's a lot I need to finally do."

The Giants are just as unsettled at the corners, where Pablo Sandoval is the third baseman and Travis Ishikawa is the leading candidate to play first. Of course, at this time last year, the Giants were talking about starting Frandsen and Daniel Ortmeier on the infield corners.

Sandoval must demonstrate proficiency at third base or the Giants could be forced to move him to first. They'll also have to figure out a way to get at-bats for Nate Schierholtz, who is projected as their top reserve outfielder, and determine if outfielder Dave Roberts' $6 million salary guarantees him a place on the club.

The Giants will continue to seek hitters from the outside as well, possibly signing one of many frozen-out free agents such as third baseman Joe Crede or packaging some pitching in a trade.

They'll have more freedom to deal if left-hander Noah Lowry can prove his health. General manager Brian Sabean said Lowry, if recovered from a pair of arm surgeries, likely would get the veteran's benefit of the doubt for the final rotation spot over Jonathan Sanchez.

But Sanchez is coming off an encouraging season as a starter his second-half meltdown came after he topped his previous career high for innings and the Giants aren't interested in trading him for a token bat.

"I'm not going to get caught up in what-ifs," said Bochy, asked about the Giants' continuing to sniff around Ramirez. "We're a better club than we've been the last couple of years. I'm not going to pick a favorite, but we like the improvements we've made. And we feel we can play with anybody in this division."

That might not be a bold statement. Neither is new managing partner Bill Neukom's somewhat modest goal to break a streak of four consecutive losing seasons.

But if the Giants can contend through midseason, then ownership plans to pull out the stops to win. And with Bochy and Sabean entering the final year of their contracts, a surprise playoff run would be well timed, indeed.

Contact Andrew Baggarly at abaggarly@mercurynews.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 8, 2009

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