It’s time for an interesting season in The House That Steroids Built miniseries, as we are checking out the San Francisco Giants during the one season between losing Barry Bonds to retirement and climbing back to respectability in 2009. What went down during this odd season where the team won just 72 times?
This was the second season of Manager Bruce Bochy and his time in the City by the Bay, and we can see the transition between Bonds and the organization philosophy necessary to pay off debt and recapture an immoral, bandwagon fan base.
Enjoy this one … we did.
Exhibit A: Ray Durham
A two-time All Star with the Chicago White Sox in 1998 and 2000, Durham was in his final MLB season at age 36, having spent the 2003-2007 seasons with the Giants. At age 35 in 2007, Durham had his worst year ever, hitting just .218 with a .638 OPS. But the San Francisco organization was on the hook for his $7.5M salary in 2008, so you know what happens next.
Well, Durham did not have his best season ever; he merely recovered well enough to hit .293 and get traded for whatever the Giants could get in return. In this case, it wasn’t much. Durham’s .799 OPS caught the attention of the playoff-contending Milwaukee Brewers, and the S.F. organization was rid of a bloated guaranteed salary it didn’t want to pay during another losing season at the bottom of the league.
Overall, the Giants somehow got a .797 OPS from ages 31-36 out of Durham, in a pitcher’s ballpark, after his All-Star era in Chicago—a hitter’s ballpark—where he could manage just a .780 OPS during youthful, prime seasons of ages 23-30. Someone please explain this one, because we cannot do so with defaulting to the usual.
Exhibit B: Rich Aurilia
At age 36, Aurilia was in his second stint with the San Francisco organization, having played in Candlestick Park from 1995-1999 and The House That Steroids Built from 2000-2003. He then scuffled in Seattle, San Diego, and Cincinnati before returning to the Giants in 2007 at age 35—where he promptly posted a .672 OPS. He signed a 2-year, $8M deal, and Aurilia stunk it up in Year One.
So, what could S.F. do when they owed this aging skunk $4.5M for 2008? You guessed it. He “recovered” to improve his batting average by 31 points and his OPS by 73 points at age 36. The Giants couldn’t pawn him off on another team like they did with Durham, but at least Aurilia was somewhat serviceable, also improving his OPS+ by 20 points.
His first stint with the club coincided with the Bonds era of PED abuse: The 2001 season where Barroid hit his 73 home runs was Aurilia’s best season, by far. Coincidence? We think not. We also see this season as an example of a team’s philosophy encouraging a player to do something in order to get some value out of the money being overpaid to the player.
Exhibit C: Keiichi Yabu
Yabu! His MLB debut came in Oakland at age 36 in 2005, to the tune of a 4.50 ERA over 58 IP. And then he was not in the majors at all in 2006 and 2007, as both the Athletics and the Colorado Rockies waived him. So, of course, the Giants decided to sign him, because that made sense to give an old guy with no potential a contract after he posted a 4.47 ERA in the Mexican leagues during the 2006-2007 seasons.
But guess what? The San Francisco Giants organization somehow got 68 IP from him in 2008, at age 39, to the sweet melodies of a 3.57 ERA. Of course, they did! Must have been that stellar pitching coach and staff, right? Sure. It’s nearly impossible to explain how an aging pitcher who got roughed up in the Mexican leagues could somehow then come to the National League have an 123 ERA+ season.
Yet it fits the Giants formula, pattern, and recipe for taking crappy players and getting something unheard of out of them as they age, die, and fade away. Yabu never again pitched in the major leagues; in fact, he put up a 6.55 ERA for the S.F. Triple-A club in Fresno during the 2009 season before heading to Japan for the 2010 campaign, his last one in professional baseball.
Exhibit D: Alex Hinshaw
He was an age-25 rook in 2008, and it was his only productive MLB season. We don’t remember him, either, but his stat line stood out to us, of course. His minor-league totals over 252 games included a 3.82 ERA and a 1.480 WHIP. His MLB ERA overall was 5.11 in 90 games with S.F., San Diego, and the Chicago Cubs. And you know what they say about “old” rookies like this …
Hinshaw posted a 3.40 ERA in 48 games for the 2009 Giants, and his other 42 appearances for S.F. (2009), San Diego (2012), and Chicago (2012) came out to a 7.08 ERA. So what was different in 2008 for him? And why was he not able to sustain this success if the Giants pitching coaches were so good? There are obvious answers here, of course.
Conclusion: A costly losing season for San Francisco
When you win 72 games and your payroll is bloated with the likes of Durham and Aurilia, you’re in trouble. The 2007 San Francisco team won just 71 games with Bonds, and the 2008 team ended up winning 72 games without him—because of performances from guys like the ones above: mostly aging players who suddenly could play decently again.
We will reiterate the Giants hired Manager Bruce Bochy before the 2007 season, and he was okay with PEDs, based on his career in San Diego with Ken Caminiti. That would fit right in with the modus operandi for San Francisco since the late 1990s when it permissively enabled PED use, as reflected in the BALCO report.
This team had the usual kind of sad suspects on it. Welcome to The House That Steroids Built … again.