On the Giants, free agents on the mound

What better time to talk about the summer game than a week that opened with a wintry mix of precipitation, a little slush, a dash of sleet, a touch of freezing rain, and a rush to Randy’s Citgo to get the snow tires on.
Before the Major League Baseball playoffs began, I told a group of sports fans at the Elderly Services headquarters that anyone who pretended to know who would win the World Series was, in so many words, full of organic fertilizer. Anything can happen in a short series, including favored teams choking away 3-0 leads in seven-game sets.
I thought the Phillies had the best shot, followed by the Yankees, Rays, Rangers and Giants, in that order. Anybody not wearing an SF hat who predicted a Giant win should be playing the stock market or going on Oprah. I did say at the Elderly Services gathering the Giants had a chance because of their pitching — I have witnesses, not all of whom dozed off in the post-lunch gathering.
Still, go figure the Giants’ win. They have one field player — remarkable rookie catcher Buster Posey — who could start for any of the best three teams in the American League East. Two of their top relievers — Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez — couldn’t cut it for the Red Sox.
World Series MVP Edgar Renteria was so bad at shortstop for the Sox he earned nicknames like Rent-a-wreck and Rentarrhea. Their starting third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, a.k.a. Kung Fu Panda, ate himself out of the job. Despite repeated requests by Giant management that Sandoval start watching his weight and work out more, he reportedly was caught during the World Series eating a breakfast of Mountain Dew and Cheetos. Their starting first baseman, Aubrey Huff, has had a decent, if inconsistent, career, but is justifiably more famous for his lucky red thong — which drew a standing ovation at the post-Series celebration in San Francisco.
OK, so the Giants were easy to root for, especially since they hadn’t won since 1954, the year Willie Mays made his iconic over-the-shoulder catch-and-throw against the star-crossed Cleveland Indians.
Now it’s Hot Stove season, when trades and free agent signings dominate the news. And the hottest topic is left-arm-for-hire Cliff Lee to the Yankees, probably a done deal for lots of money and lots of years — $130 million and six, maybe?
Signing any 32-year-old pitcher to a long-term deal carries risk, but Lee’s two Cy Young awards and historically remarkable postseason track record — 7-2 with an earned-run average of 2.13 — make him almost a must-buy for the Bombers. Surely they don’t want to rely on the likes of A.J. Burnett or Javy Vasquez next year, and cannot count on aging Andy Pettitte forever.
One argument against signing a starting pitcher to a big contract should be discounted, however. Some argue that because a pitcher goes only every fifth day, he has less impact on a season than a fulltime starter at other positions.
Here’s another way to look at it: A first baseman, say Albert Pujols in both 2009 and 2010, comes to the plate 700 times.
In 2010, Cliff Lee pitched 212 and one-third innings, which is another way of saying he recorded 639 outs on the mound. He also allowed 195 hits and 21 walks. Assuming a few double plays, he faced almost 850 batters, far more that Pujols’ plate appearances.
In 2009, Lee pitched 231.2 innings and allowed a combined 293 hits and walks, numbers that translated to facing almost 1,000 batters.
Simply put, starting pitchers are fulltime players who have an incredible impact on teams’ fortunes in the course of a season.
That’s one reason why the Red Sox spent so much money to lock up Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey and Josh Beckett to long-term deals.
I just wish those piles of cash looked like money better spent right now.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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