Now that I have my smarmy reaction to the LaTroy Hawkins trade on record, going a little more detail into my dislike of the trade is in order. It starts with a disclaimer: If the Giants went into March with this bullpen, I would be pleased. Brian Sabean has built a nice, balanced bullpen. Armando Benitez, Tyler Walker, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Munter, Tim Worrell, Steve Kline, and Jeff Fassero all bring different strengths to the bullpen. I have a healthy amount of confidence in the five righties above, and trading Hawkins wasn't a poor move by itself.
Another disclaimer: I liked Hawkins more than most here. His past record of success was more important to me than him getting run out of Chicago, and more important than the choker label he was slapped with. If you start perceiving a reliever as a choker, you'll end up getting enough instances to back up your claim 90% of the time. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, just as I was with Felix Rodriguez.
Second to last disclaimer: My perception of the trade bringing LaTroy to the Giants has nothing to do with this trade. That's in the past - a horrible, horrible past - and it has no bearing on what I think LaTroy or Kline is worth.
Last disclaimer: I like Kline as a member of almost any bullpen. His numbers against lefties last year were awful, but I'm willing to call sample size shenanigans. He's had a successful career, and he's not over the hill by any means. In the short-term, I have more confidence in Kline than I do in Taschner. The declining K/BB rates of Kline scare me quite a bit, but it's hard to gauge that sort of thing accurately when a pitcher goes for about 50 innings a year.
That's one of the real problems; as a lefty specialist, Kline really isn't a guy that's going to get a team bulk outs. LaTroy Hawkins has a history of success against lefties, just like Rodriguez did, and this allowed him to work full innings. Kline is a specialist in a bullpen that didn't need one. He'll be called in to face a batter or two every other game, and the Giants will allocate almost $5M for him to do so. The loss in innings when going from Hawkins to Kline isn't that big of a deal, and was something that could be accepted in exchange for the salary relief the Giants were getting. The Giants are sending out cash to even the deal, though. When given the choice of Steve Kline or LaTroy Hawkins at equal cost, the team went with Kline. I disagree with that choice.
Kline throws left-handed. If Felipe Alou didn't have a lefty specialist, he just might take a sniper rifle to the top of a clock tower. That's been avoided. Left-handed pitching gets left-handed hitting out. That argument is final. If you believe in a different truism - say, good pitching gets left-handed hitting out - that's fine. But that's not how the Giants do things. Left-handed pitching gets left-handing hitting out. Thank you, come again.
The absurd contracts given out to Bobby Howry and Kyle Farnsworth gave me hope this offseason. At those prices, a short-term commitment to Hawkins was a steal. His value was back. He could have been traded for straight salary relief, or he could have helped the team fill one of its many holes as part of a trade. Playing musical bullpen specialists helps no one.
Worrell and Kline are luxury items. They are the kind of players acquired by a team with minor problems, or a team not on a strict budget. The Giants are essentially going to pay that combination a little over $6M. That $6M could have been allocated to the starting pitching, or it could have helped the team with a first baseman. It could have gone anywhere else but the bullpen.
There is still time left in the offseason, though. If the Giants fill the offensive holes and patch the rotation, this rant is useless. The bullpen is still the least of the team's worries. But if the Giants are planning to enter 2006 with Mark Sweeney starting at first base, solely because they couldn't afford a better option, it's because the team misallocated its resources. It isn't as if the $6M was going to get the Giants a Jim Thome or Paul Konerko, but it could have allowed the Giants to get creative in improving the offense. Maybe another team was looking to dump a decent player with a bad contract, or maybe it could have gone to a free agent like Nomar Garciaparra. If a real offensive improvement came down the line, it would have been worth putting a bargain-basement option in the place of LaTroy, and foisting his salary on whatever team would take it.
If nothing like that fell into their laps, no problem. Starting the season with LaTroy and Jack Taschner wasn't a ridiculous fallback plan. With the move for Kline coming before any other improvements, however, the Giants have played their hand early. Looking back, there were three options:
- Keep LaTroy and have Taschner as the lefty specialist for about $6M.
- Have Kline and Worrell take the place of the above for the same price, give up a second- or third-round pick, and allow Taschner to be a backup plan.
- Apply that money to bigger problems, like the offense or starting rotation, stick with Taschner, and pick up a super-cheap bullpen replacement to slot behind Benitez/Walker/Accardo/Munter. If there is simply nowhere to spend that money, stick with #1.