Fly in the Kool-Aid

There's a good diary to your right asking how long the Giants should stick with Tim Worrell. My plan before I read it was to ask how long we should stick with Lance Niekro. I almost dropped it to defer to the Worrell question. But while it might be the same question, it's regarding a different player with much different circumstances. So allow me to torment you with another expose on a struggling player.

Difference #1: The Giants are committed for over a million dollars to Worrell's 2007 season. Niekro has yet to receive a substantial arbitration payday. That makes a small difference, but shouldn't be a deciding factor either way.

Difference #2: The Giants have replacements for Worrell. Jack Taschner, Brian Wilson, Carlos Hines...there are several warm bodies who could be just as effective in giving up home runs. The Giants went with a Niekro or Bust philosophy before the season, and really don't have a back-up plan. Culling through AAA rosters, there aren't many teams who do. Hee Seop Choi and Carlos Pena are hardly tearing up AAA, and there certainly aren't any vintage Roberto Petagines waiting to be dusted off. There is an actual Roberto Petagine still alive in captivity - 13 AB since May 4, 0 hits for Seattle - but he hasn't been the answer for a couple of years now.

However, I'm tired of watching Niekro as an everyday player. The strikeouts are way down, and the walks are slightly up, but everything else is dreadful. He's not hitting left-handers as he did last year (sample-size caveats apply to both seasons), and his power has almost vanished. My moment of clarity came with yesterday's game-ending double play. His insistence on pulling every pitch results in an endless fountain of ground balls. His bases-clearing triple on Monday was a beautiful piece of hitting - the count was worked full, and the swing went with the pitch - but it seems like the exception, and certainly not the rule.

With Worrell, I'm not as worried. Bullpen veterans don't seem to be held to the same standard as the rest of the Giants. Matt Herges, Jim Brower, and Jeff Fassero all received the same inglorious sendoff, and I don't think Worrell is immune. Jeremy Accardo's ascension has lessened Worrell's role, so a replacement wouldn't have to pick up the crucial innings of a setup man.

Niekro is a trickier situation. While the at-bats and outs are piling up, it is still too early to cut bait without a substantially better option. The Giants aren't going to trade for a minor-league veteran doing okay in AAA, hoping some modern-day Damon Minor is going to save the day. There also aren't substantial upgrades on major league rosters. Craig Wilson's at-bats are limited by Sean Casey's return, but he's little more than a rich man's Niekro with a lesser glove; a platoon player, although a very good one, isn't something to dish out talent for. Everyone else is either a) still in contention, b) trusting a first baseman both cheap and young, c) enjoying a first baseman making scads of money for the next thirty years, or d) the Royals.

Niekro provides a good glove, and the teeniest of hopes that he can at least bring his slugging percentage up to where it was last season. I don't trust him, I'm not holding my breath for an improvement, but there isn't much choice. There aren't any quick fixes, and that's a shame. I love quick fixes. So if anyone does have a quick fix, I'd love to hear it. Especially if it involves the Giants getting Nick Johnson for Brad Hennessey, because that's Kool-Aid worth drinking.

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