Giles an underappreciated superstar

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giles padres.jpg.315/.418/.614, 39 HR, 115 RBI
.315/.432/.594, 35 HR, 123 RBI
.309/.404/.590, 37 HR, 95 RBI
.298/.450/.622, 38 HR, 103 RBI
That was the four-season run Brian Giles had from the time he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1999 through 2002. Of course, it was a time of whopping numbers, so Giles never led the NL in a major category. He finished fifth, ninth, 10th and second in the NL in OPS those years, though. And all he had to show for it was two All-Star appearances and a high finish of 13th in the MVP balloting, that coming in 2002.
A 17th-round pick of the Indians in 1989, Giles had the misfortune of trying to climb his way through one of the games most stocked organizations during the early-to-mid-90s. It certainly didn’t help matters that he didn’t hit for power in the low minors. He had a breakthrough season in Double-A in 1993, hitting .327/.409/.452. A similar year followed in Triple-A in 1994, but the Indians didn’t have any room for him. He ended up posting OPSs of 869, 896 and 989 while spending most of three seasons in Triple-A. The Indians found a role for him in 1997, and he hit a respectable .268/.368/.459 in 377 at-bats that year and .269/.396/.460 in 350 at-bats in 1998. But rather than commit to him as a full-time player, the Indians, helped by John Hart at the time, instead traded him to the Pirates for left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon that November.
Giles was an instant star in Pittsburgh, at least on the field. His 115 RBI in 1999 was the high total for a Pirate since Barry Bonds had 116 in 1991. He became the first Pirate to turn in back-to-back .300-30-100 seasons. His first four seasons rank fifth, eighth, 10th and 15th on the team’s all-time list for OPS. He ended up spending 5 1/2 years in Pittsburgh before being traded to the Padres for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, something else that paid off big for the franchise. He currently ranks as the franchise’s all-time leader in OPS at 1018, topping Ralph Kiner at 971.
With Petco Park taking a heavy toll, Giles stopped putting up superstar numbers upon arriving in San Diego in 2003. Still, he was an outstanding player in 2005, when he hit .301/.423/.483 and finished a career-best ninth in the MVP balloting. He also excelled as a 37-year-old in 2008, hitting .306/.398/.456 in 559 at-bats. Unfortunately, he fell apart all at once last year. He hit just .191/.277/.271 in 253 at-bats before the Padres essentially told him to take the rest of the season off. Still hampered by physical problems this spring, he chose to retire Thursday rather than carry on with a long shot bid to make the Dodgers.
Unfortunately, while Giles was very clearly one of the NL’s best players for a time, he was never recognized as such. His big seasons in Pittsburgh came for sub-.500 teams that got no attention at all. He went to the postseason twice with the Padres, but he failed to excel in the spotlight. He went 7-for-27 with just two RBI as the Padres lost back-to-back NL Divisional Series to the Cardinals in 2005 and ’06. In all, he was a career .208/.311/.286 hitter in 77 postseason at-bats, most of them coming in Cleveland before he had really established himself.
I certainly don’t expect any sympathy for Giles. He made more than $80 million over the course of his career. I suspect that both he and his younger brother Marcus abused performance-enhancing drugs at various points of their careers, though there’s no evidence that Brian ever failed a drug test. Giles was also accused of domestic violence and sued for $10 million by a longtime partner, and while we have no way of knowing the truth behind her stories, there’s a pretty damning video still floating around that appears to show Giles beating the woman in a bar.
But on the field, Giles was a true star for a time, one who put a bunch of wins on the board for some otherwise lousy or mediocre teams. He ranks with Bobby Abreu, Robin Ventura and Mike Cameron among the game’s most underrated players of the last 20 years. He finishes his career with an outstanding .291/.400/.502 line and 287 homers. His 902 OPS ranks 64th all-time among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He’s not nearly a Hall of Famer given his late start and lack of defensive value, but he did play like one when he was at his best.

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

Don Ryan/Associated Press
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Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America wrote yesterday about a “growing consensus” within baseball that expansion and realignment are inevitable. The likely expansion cities: Portland and Montreal. The 32-team league would then undergo a radical realignment that would also involve reducing the season from 162 to 156 games while expanding the playoffs to 12 teams.

To be clear, Ringolsby’s actual reporting here is limited to that “growing consensus” about expansion, and the most likely cities involved, not regarding the specific realignment or game reduction plan. That I take to be speculative — he refers to it as “one proposal” — though it seems like reasonable and informed speculation. The general idea is that, if you expand, you have to realign, and if you realign you have to change the playoff structure lest too many teams in any one division become also-rans. That, combined with the near impossibility of changing the early-April-to-late-October footprint of the season and the desire of players to have less arduous travel schedules and some extra time off, leads to the shorter season.

The details of the plan:

  • The American and National Leagues would be disposed of, with MLB putting all 32 teams into four, eight-team, regionally-based divisions: East, North, Midwest, West. This is designed to (a) maintain regional and traditional rivalries while (b) cutting way back on cross-time zone travel. Both New York teams and Boston are in the “North,” both Chicago teams and St. Louis are in the “Midwest,” etc. Texas and Houston are in the “Midwest” too, but we’ll let the Texans get mad about that later.
  • The playoffs would feature a LOT of play-in games. Specifically, Ringolsby would have the four division winners go to the Division Series, where they would play the winner of four different Wild Card games, the participants in which would come from the eight non-division winners with the best records, regardless of which division they came from.
  • The schedule would go back to 156 games, giving every team an off-day every week. Between that and the more compact, almost all single-time-zone divisions, the travel schedules would be far less taxing, with shorter flights and more flights which could leave the day after a night game as opposed to directly after a night game, causing teams to arrive in the next city in the wee hours of the morning.

Thoughts:

  • Obviously this would piss off the purists.  The elimination of the traditional leagues, the shorter season, a (slightly) altered standard for records and milestones, and a doubling of one-and-done playoff series would make a lot of fans dizzy. On the one hand, I could argue that baseball has NEVER been as pure and unchanging as people like to pretend it is so maybe people shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over this, but it’s simply unavoidable that this would rattle a lot of baseball fans, and not just the ones hopelessly stuck in the past. Baseball should not be slavishly devoted to its history, but it needs to recognize that its history is a selling point and an important touchstone for many, many fans.
  • Ringolsby’s specific realignment idea is kind of fun, but will inevitably lead to some winners and losers. For example, many traditional rivalries or regional rivalries would be maintained — Chicago and St. Louis and Boston and New York would remain division rivals — but other, less-sexy but very real rivalries would be disposed of. The Mets, for example, would have no old NL rivals in their division. There will also be some teams which get screwed logistically. Here, all of Minnesota’s division rivals would be Eastern Time Zone teams, so all of its road games would be played in a different time zone. You could fix that somehow, but someone else would likely be inconvenienced. There isn’t a perfect way to do it. As such, implementation could be pretty messy, with some owners opposing it, possibly vehemently.
  • The playoff idea would make for a lot of drama with four play-in games, but I don’t think it’s a sustainable model. Yes, division winners would all be guaranteed a five-game playoff series, but having two-thirds of all of the playoff teams subjected to a random one-and-done game as opposed to the current four of ten would inevitably lead to calls for longer Wild Card series. And it would likely, over time, diminish the cachet of the Wild Card itself. Now most people think of Wild Card teams as having made the playoffs, With this plan, I suspect fewer people will think of it that way as opposed to some sort of weird, non-quite-the-playoffs limbo, thus hurting late season interest among fans of non-division winners.
  • A 156-game season wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had a 154-game season for a little over half a century total and a 162 game season for 56 seasons so far. Changing it might cause people to get grumpy about records and milestones, but other changes in the game, be it pitcher usage patterns or juiced baseballs or integration or night games or any number of other things have already changed the context in such a way that such standards were never as set-in-stone as people tend to believe. At the same time, extra off days might very well improve the caliber of play as players are more rested and therefore sharper.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Ringolsby’s article is, in all likelihood, a trial balloon leaked by Major League Baseball, so don’t take any one aspect of it too seriously, even if we should all take the idea of some radical shift involving expansion and realignment in the not-too-distant future seriously.

Why? Money mostly. There are huge financial incentives for baseball to do this. Part of this involves the cost-savings which would result from better scheduling and less travel that Ringolsby mentions. A much greater incentive would come from the franchise fees the owners of the two new teams would pay the 30 current owners in order to be allowed into the MLB fraternity.  In the last round of expansion, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays owners paid $150 million each for their teams. Given that franchises have gone up in value by a factor of ten twenty, it’s not inconceivable that new owners in Montreal and Portland would have to fork over well north of a billion dollars each to enter the league. That’s a check for $66 million written to each owner in exchange for simply voting “yes” at some meeting in Scottsdale on some fine December afternoon.

So, while there may be no uncertainly on the “how” of it all, the very fact of expansion and subsequent realignment seems inevitable. Now is a good time for us to start thinking about how the details of it all would work.