It's been a busy offseason for the Giants and general manager Brian Sabean. The GM chatted with fans online about the upcoming season and answered questions about Barry Bonds, new additions to the team, young talent in the San Francisco system, the World Baseball Classic and how the Giants match up in the National League West.
Brian Sabean: Hello fans, I'm happy to be here to chat with you. Spring Training is just around the corner, so let's get started.
tom_sigismonti: Do you expect Barry Bonds to be 100 percent by the start of the season?
Sabean: Every indication as we speak, Barry will be ready for Spring Training, including he has agreed to participate for the U.S. team as a DH in the World Baseball Classic.
nebraskanheat: Is Scott Munter healing well?
Sabean: Munter is on schedule to be ready when all the pitchers report on Feb. 15. He obviously opened our eyes last year and will be given a chance to make our staff, probably as a middle reliever.
nebraskanheat: Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia seem to be set on battling for the fifth spot this spring. Are they entering Spring Training with an equal shot at the no. 5 spot, or is it Hennessey's job to lose?
Sabean: Hennessey, last year, had 13 quality starts out of 21 starts and because of that will be given a bona fide shot to become our fifth starter. Correia showed signs of brilliance last year and his overall stuff is really intriguing. Also, we've signed Jamey Wright to a Minor League non-roster invite. Jamey was with Colorado last year and has pitched well in the past as a fifth starter type.
danny_seidel: Do you see any young talent coming into Spring Training that can surprise us during the regular season?
Sabean: Starting with the pitching, Merkin Valdez will be given a chance to impress the staff. In the catching department, Eliezer Alfonzo, recently added to the roster, will be added to the backup competition along with Yamid Haad and Justin Knoedler. We look forward to seeing Kevin Frandsen not only play second and third base, but he might be given an opportunity to learn shortstop as well. He's on the fast track to become a full-time player in the Major Leagues. And lastly, in the outfield, Dan Ortmeier and Nate Schierholtz hope to get enough exposure this spring to give us an idea how far along their development is.
giantman2: Brian, how many at-bats do you see Lance Niekro getting? Hopefully he'll get the majority of at-bats at first base, regardless of lefty-righty matchups.
Sabean: At this point in time, Lance will be given a chance to win the job full-time. We feel he's put himself in a position to do so. It remains to be seen exactly what will transpire with the number of at-bats, especially against right-handed pitching, thus the reason for bringing in Mark Sweeney to help his transition into becoming a full-time player.
Eric_Young: Did Armando Benitez play winter ball? Does he appear healthy now?
Sabean: No, he did not play winter ball. He finished the year healthy and is looking forward to arriving in Arizona to begin his workouts before the Feb. 15 reporting date.
dedicated2giants: Has there been any progress in long-term contract discussions with Randy Winn?
Sabean: We're very interested in signing Randy long-term. I talked to him as recently as today and he is interested in pursuing a multi-year deal. Formal talks won't begin until the end of the month or the first week in February.
jack_rhodes: Will the Giants try and get a superstar when Bonds is done?
Sabean: Replacing Barry, per se, will obviously be almost impossible, but we are committed to sign the best player or players available with the monies that will be available once he leaves.
bndskntsnw: Is there ever any discussion about batting Barry third to get him more at-bats and guarantee his appearance in the first inning?
Sabean: Internally, we usually visit on this subject every year. At the end of the day, it usually ends up being discussed first-hand between the player and manager and they decide what is in everybody's best interest.
danny_seidel: Which player, besides Bonds, do you think will have the biggest impact on the Giants season?
Sabean: Pure and simple, Jason Schmidt.
Bryan_Dorfler: Brian, has your budget been allowed to increase much with all of the new Major League Baseball media revenue? If so, how much and what do you see the 2006 player payroll being?
Sabean: Our budget for 2006 will end up being similar to last year's figure, in and around the mid-80s, with an opportunity to be increased at the trade deadline.
dedicated2giants: Have you spoken with Steve Finley on his role with the team? Since being acquired, he has not seemed too pleased with the idea of being a bench player, albeit a often used one.
Sabean: I have spoken with Steve, including just recently, and his desire is the same as ours: to play as much as possible. We feel confident that he'll get plenty of at-bats in our outfield. The only complicated situation that is inherent is that his best position is center field and we are in the process of trying to sign Randy Winn long-term at that position. Having said that, we do have a club option on Steve and it is in our best interests to make sure he does get ample playing time in order to evaluate him properly against picking up that option. So simply stated, we do not view Steve as a bench player, more as a starter in an outfield that will probably change on a day-to-day basis to utilize everybody's strength and keep everybody fresh and healthy.
coppernob: Have Ned Colletti's moves in Los Angeles so far surprised you at all?
Sabean: No, not at all. In fact, it's obvious everybody in the division is trying to have the most competitive team they can in hopes of giving themselves a chance to not only win the division, but become a playoff team. In general, the whole division has been very active. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone based upon how weak we all were last year.
losangelesgiant: Do you feel that you have upgraded relief pitching from last season?
Sabean: We'd like to think so. Tim Worrell has a great track record, especially late in the game, and hopefully will become our go-to setup man. Experience and track-record wise, the addition of Steve Kline has lessened the pain of losing Scotty Eyre to free agency. A healthy Benitez and a year's more experience for Jeremy Accardo, Munter and Jack Taschner bodes well. Tyler Walker and Fassero's contributions last year prove how versatile and durable they are and will be counted on in a number of roles during the season.
cappy1j: If Felipe Alou retires, would Ron Wotus be first in line for the managerial job?
Sabean: Wotus is a valuable asset and has been to our organization for a long time now. He is one of the up-and-coming managerial candidates in all of baseball and certainly will be given a chance to interview if our managerial situation were to change.
dedicated2giants: If Schmidt returns to form in 2006 will you try and re-sign him even with the likes of Matt Cain, Matt Morris and Noah Lowry around to hold down the future?
Sabean: Absolutely, if he returns to form.
nebraskanheat: How do you feel we match up with the rest of the NL West?
Sabean: In our judgment, we are not only a stronger team from top to bottom that started the season last year, but are also stronger than the team we had to finish the year. We feel the division is wide open and that we should be back in the saddle to make another run at winning the division or making the playoffs.
giantskent: Do you think that Pedro Feliz will pan out at third base?
Sabean: Pedro will be our everyday third baseman and quite frankly, he's one of the better defensive third basemen in our league. To have him in the lineup every day at that position as well as hitting further down in the lineup this year should be good for all parties.
heints25_2: Who will backup second base and shortstop?
Sabean: We signed Jose Vizcaino for this very purpose. We need to keep Omar Vizquel and Ray Durham fresh. The fact that he now plays all four infield positions and has been a competent pinch-hitter will really expand our roster.
thisisntmycar: When you are trying to sell a free agent on the virtues of joining the Giants organization, is there any one selling point that can, without fail, get them interested in talking to you?
Sabean: Our own players themselves are our best ambassadors.
ernie_williams: If you have five outfielders, does that mean Todd Linden and Jason Ellison are competing vs. each other for the fifth spot?
Sabean: It's complicated as a result of Sweeney being able to play the outfield and ultimately whether we keep 12 or 11 pitchers.
Base_Ball: Do you see Bonds being used often as a pinch hitter when he does not start?
Sabean: We certainly hope so, but believe it or not, there are times when players of his stature are virtually given a complete day off, which means they aren't available to pinch-hit or even play defense.
nebraskanheat: How will the World Baseball Classic affect your plans for Spring Training?
Sabean: Hopefully, once the teams are announced and we know which of our players have made the final rosters, we will then make plans for them to come to Spring Training early so they can become game-ready sooner than usual. We feel it's an honor for our players to be invited and participate and trust that they will come into camp in the best possible shape to begin playing all out much sooner than they are accustomed.
danny_seidel: What role do you see Cain playing this year?
Sabean: Matt will certainly be in our rotation. It remains to be seen what slot he will take, but we hope he's capable of providing in and around 200 innings.
dedicated2giants: Looking back on the LaTroy Hawkins trade, do you feel you jumped the gun or was it a neccessary move for a possible playoff run?
Sabean: Looking back, I do have the same feeling that we were in a desperate situation in the bullpen. Our starters were not providing the innings needed, home or road, and the bullpen certainly was being overtaxed.
Dave_Hill: Does Kevin Frandsen have a chance to win a job with the big club in Spring Training?
Sabean: Kevin's going to be given every opportunity to show us how ready he is to play in the Major Leagues in 2006. With Durham as our everyday second baseman, Kevin would obviously be hard-pressed to win that spot, but we are encouraged that he does play second and third base at this time and also will be introduced to shortstop. It would be in his best interest as a young player to play every day as a second baseman instead of being on our roster as a utilityman.
giants6gal: What was behind the decision to get Sweeney instead of resigning J.T. Snow?
Sabean: The signing of Sweeney did not affect our decision with J.T. Sweeney's obvious strength is that he can play first base and the outfield as well as come off the bench as a pinch-hitter. But when we made the decision to give Niekro a chance to become the full-time first baseman going into the future over J.T., we felt he needed some support, which Sweeney provides.
Jeremy_Baril: Do you think Walker's slump last year was because he was asked for so much so soon? Will he be back to normal this year and be a good middle relief pitcher?
Sabean: Tyler really stepped up for us in a very difficult situation, first to become the closer once Benitez was injured, but more so was open-minded to helping the staff any way that he could throughout the year. His durability is a valuable commodity.
giantman2: Do you think that either Bonds or Moises Alou will be with the Giants past 2006?
Sabean: We certainly have to be open-minded given the principals involved.
Howard_Lewengrub: Why did you choose to sign Vizcaino over Rich Aurilia? The price was about the same and Aurilia is younger and a better hitter.
Sabean: We had bona fide interest in Richie, but unfortunately his signing would have cost us another draft pick and we felt with the picks we lost last year, and the two we've already lost this year, that it was time to hold onto our picks.
jack96: Any update on the assistant general manager position ?
Sabean: Currently, we are working on restructuring our department from within and there are no immediate plans to fill Ned's duties from the outside.
katgman: With a payroll the same as last year, the Giants have moved into the middle of the pack or lower in budget. Is this an aberration or a long term policy?
Sabean: At the end of the day, we still expect to be in the top third of baseball's payroll expenditures.
Sabean: Thanks for joining me today. We're hoping to do this once a month, so I look forward to chatting again with you soon.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.