11/14/2003 5:01 PM ET
A difference in style for Giants
Out with the old but freakishly fit, in with the new and often misconstrued.
The National League West champion Giants got younger, better and considerably more colorful on Friday, trading right-hander Joe Nathan and two minor-league pitchers for Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski in a move that, in all likelihood, ended the San Francisco tenure of free agent Benito Santiago.
Some people celebrate individual accomplishments with a nice dinner and maybe a bottle of bubbly. Not Giants general manager Brian Sabean, who was recently named Major League Baseball's Executive of the Year by The Sporting News. He did his celebrating by proving himself all over again, adding an All-Star.
Sabean, you see, makes it a habit of drafting and developing young pitchers. Sometimes they work out in a big way, as was the case this year when rookies Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert and Kevin Correia stepped in to help bolster the big-league rotation.
The other benefit to Sabean's approach is less obvious but no less significant -- young arms are a commodity often used to procure positional talent from outside the organization.
And while Nathan went 12-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 78 games for the Giants this year, Sabean jumped at the chance to swap him and two unprovens for his catcher of the present and future.
"You can never pass up an opportunity to add a young left-handed hitting catcher who has been an All-Star and owns postseason experience," Sabean said.
Santiago, who turns 39 in March but has the body of a 19-year-old, was a fine catcher for the Giants. After admittedly squandering several prime years of his career, he made a late commitment to getting the most out of his considerable talents and spent three solid years as San Francisco's No. 1 backstop.
He was a great teammate, a mentor to the Giants' many Latin players, a father figure on the field to San Francisco's moundsmen and a popular figure with fans. Ask most people about Santiago and you'll invariably get some version of the same response: "He's a great guy."
Pierzynski, who turns 27 in December, has a decidedly different reputation. For lack of a better comparison, he's the Warren Sapp of big-league baseball. You love him when he's on your side and aren't so crazy about him when he's not.
But as is the case with most labels, the generalization isn't always fair.
The truth is that Pierzynski is prone to brutal honesty, and that gets him in trouble from time to time. He's also something of a chatterbox on the field, and that's not always endearing to opponents, either. In fact, the Oakland A's all but handed out A.J. voodoo dolls during the 2002 playoffs, so under their skin was he.
But there's a method to what some might perceive as madness. During those playoffs, Pierzynski said, "If they're spending any time worrying about me, that's less time they're worrying about the game, and that's good for us."
And shortly after saying that, Pierzynski was proven correct.
A day after blasting Pierzynski during that American League Division Series, Billy Koch, then the A's closer, could only watch as Pierzynski blasted him with a two-run, ninth-inning homer that put Game 5 out of reach and sent Minnesota on to the AL Championship Series.
Now he'll get a chance to join Barry Bonds in the heart of the Giants' batting order and see if he can help San Francisco get back to the NLCS and beyond.
"I appreciate [the Twins] sending me to a winning team and one that has a chance to compete," Pierzynski said from Hawaii on Friday.
Santiago will likely get a job somewhere for next season, and he deserves one. But it's clear that the Giants upgraded with this move. Pierzynski hit .312 with 11 homers and 74 RBIs last season, and he led AL catchers in average, hits (152) and doubles (35).
Oh, and he's relatively cheap. He earned $365,000 last season, and while he'll surely get a big raise as in his first year of arbitration eligibility, he won't break the bank, either.
"A.J. is a young man who's just coming into his prime," Sabean said. "We're excited about adding a quality left-handed bat to our lineup."
Pierzynski was excited, too, and he should be. He's a great fit for the Giants, attitude and all.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This column was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.