Jason Giambi: “he’s not a veteran, he’s the veteran”

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Those are the words Terry Francona used to describe Jason Giambi this morning, responding to a question about the “veteran presence” Giambi brings to the Indians clubhouse. Francona is strongly of the view that Giambi is not just veteran presence. He’s almost like an additional coach. And not just for the young kids. He’s an influence on everyone, from the rookies to the old guys and everyone in between.

It’s been a weird six months for Giambi. As the season ended I think most people would have bet the farm that his career was over. He interviewed for the Rockies manager job, backed out when it was clear that they were only offering candidates one-year deals (like the one Walt Weiss eventually took). He also passed on the Rockies’ hitting coach job.  I asked him about that this morning and he said that it just would have been weird, having been on the team the past few years and having a new manager in the dugout.  He worried that it could create problems for Weiss trying to establish himself if anyone — as often happened when he was a player — came to him for advice due to their comfort with him in situations when they should be talking to the manager.

With his power gone and his coaching ambitions on hold at least for a while, one would have assumed that he’d fade away for a time. He did too, actually, and was as surprised as anyone when Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona called him. But he still feels like he has some gas in the tank and is happy to contribute however he can, even if it’s only once or twice a week. He’s happy to be a coach in the dugout. He said it’s probably no accident that his locker is next to Jason Kipnis’, and that he views it as part of his job to help guys who will be the Indians’ team leaders in the coming years to grow into the role.

About all that: one of the things that has amazed me about Giambi’s path is that he is one of the few MVP-level superstars who successfully transitioned into a role player late in his career. Some just quit when they’re no longer a starter. Some do it against their will, but don’t really take to it. Giambi, though, has been filling small roles for four years now, going into a fifth. And he doesn’t seem to mind. I asked him why and he said “the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.”

And that’s the question: will his name be on the back of an Indians jersey when the Tribe breaks camp at the end of the month?  Over the weekend it was reported that Giambi looks destined for the 25-man roster. When asked about it this morning, Francona says that he’s not yet thinking about the roster decisions, and even if he were, he didn’t want to signal those decisions yet because the guys in the clubhouse can do the math too, and he doesn’t want anyone thinking the deck is stacked against them.

But you listen to Giambi talk and — more importantly — you listen to Francona talk, and it seems like the old gray slugger is going to have one more season in the bigs.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.