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New-look Giants ready to roll


Special to ESPN.com

March 1

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After a week of spring training, Barry Bonds wandered over to Rich Aurilia.

"You know what, dude?" Bonds said. "We have a really good team."

A few days later, before their first home game at Scottsdale Stadium, Bonds was one of the first players to jump in line to participate in the first-to-third drills.

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds hit a combined 119 homers over the past two years.

"We had guys running out of the clubhouse to get into the drills because Barry was out there," said a veteran player. Maybe, as some suggest, not having Jeff Kent around changes everything. Maybe Bonds is more comfortable with this team.

"Barry is always about winning," says Aurilia. "Not everyone always is. He is. That's why he takes the walks and tells us to go run when he's up, because he says, 'This game is about scoring runs and winning.' "

Two years ago, Shawon Dunston, who is missed on this year's team, bet Bonds that he'd top 70 homers. Last year, players said he should win a batting title.

This week, Aurilia told Barry, "Why don't you win the Triple Crown."

"I can't," said Bonds. "I can't get the RBI because of the walks." (In Game 1 of the World Series last year, Jarrod Washburn walked Bonds in his first at-bat leading off the second inning).

OK. Aurilia and others have a new goal for Bonds: batting .400. Considering that he hit 73 home runs three years after hitting 60, batting .400 62 years after Ted Williams hit .406 would be a fitting tribute and would get far more publicity.

"I don't want to put up with that," says Bonds. "I can't hit .400." Yes he can, and here's the first prediction that, if healthy, he could do it. Bonds batted .370 last season. What's the difference between .370 and .400?

Twelve hits. That's right, 12.

"Just hit 12 more balls the other way in the shift," says Aurilia.

Adds J.T. Snow: "Barry can do whatever he wants."

"Let's win the World Series," said Bonds.

The first day he arrived at spring training he said he got over losing the World Series when his wife reminded him that he said he prayed to play in the World Series.

"The lesson was be careful what you wish for," he says. "I'm going to wish for more."

Barry is always about winning. Not everyone always is. He is. That's why he takes the walks and tells us to go run when he's up, because he says, 'This game is about scoring runs and winning.'
Rich Aurilia, Giants shortstop, on Barry Bonds

The feeling among Giants players is that this team can be better than last year's club, although whether or not that means beating Arizona or making it back to the World Series is another matter.

"We took a lot from Anaheim," says Aurilia. "This team this year is better geared to play the kind of baseball they played in our park. Pac Bell is a brutal hitter's park. The only place where the ball carries at all is down the left-field line. We were older, more of a flyball team last year. This team has speed, gets on base more and can force mistakes. When you're out there freezing, mistakes are easy to make."

In Ray Durham, the Giants have one of the premier leadoff hitters in the game. New manager Felipe Alou plans to use Jose Cruz in the second spot in the batting order in order to get him some fastballs. Aurilia will bat in front of Bonds, while Edgardo Alfonzo will hit fifth and probably Snow in the sixth spot.

"Because Alfonzo handles the bat so well and has such a high on-base percentage the sixth hitter may be the key to the lineup," Alou says.

And Snow, who has been psyched by the winds of Pac Bell, looks like a totally different hitter. His stride is shortened and he's quicker to the ball.

"He looks great," says Bonds.

Said Snow: "I feel completely different."

As far as the pitching goes, Russ Ortiz is gone. But the Giants think Damian Moss can win 15 games and that Jason Schmidt is ready to be the anchor of the rotation. In Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth and Jerome Williams they also have three young pitchers who are very close to contributing .

And no one is happier than Alou.

"How could anyone have questioned my passion for the game," he says. "I managed seven years in A-ball. I was stuck there and never even asked to go to Double-A. This is my last stop. I am home with the Giants, and this is where I'll work when I'm done managing. Peter Magowan loves the Giants, maybe more than any owner loves his team. Whenever I came here with the Expos, he came to see me because I was a (former) Giant. This is a great situation. It's also a great experience to watch Barry Bonds."

In Bonds' first spring at-bat with Alou in charge -- and against Dusty Baker's Cubs, mind you -- Bonds hit a mammoth home run off Mark Prior. As Bonds rounded the bases, Dusty reminded him that during the season, he's going to walk him.

"Walk me and the Giants win," says Bonds.

Hangin' with the Giants

  • Bonds describes his hitting style as "catching" a pitch.

    "I say, 'Go ahead and throw as hard as you can,' " says Bonds. "The catcher is going to catch it, and I'm going to catch the ball with my bat and let the pitcher supply the power."

    Eckstein
    Eckstein

    Bonds
    Bonds

    Bonds is, however, working on a slight change. "I picked something up from David Eckstein in Japan," says Bonds. "I really like his approach to his swing, and I asked him how he does it."

    "It's all in the first three inches starting the swing, keeping my hands in," says Eckstein. "It was amazing. I looked over one day when we were in Japan and there's Barry with my brother talking about the fundamentals of what I do. I couldn't believe it."

  • Interested in hearing a soothing Bonds? Well, here goes:

    "If I hit a line drive at someone -- even Jay Bell standing in short right field -- I don't get upset. J.T. hits one right at someone, he throws his bat, and the next time up he tries even harder and pulls off the ball and he's messed up for the day. I tell him not to get upet because he's done his job."

  • Some of Bonds' teammates think he is so good at reading pitches that he knows what's coming 30-40 percent of the time.

    "I don't concentrate on that as much as knowing how each pitcher is going to try to get me out," says Bonds. "If I face a pitcher a couple of times, I know how he's going to try to get me out, and I adjust to it."

  • Snow's big offseason adventure was traveling to Philadelphia with the St. Louis Rams and being their water boy.

    "The first time I ran out into the defensive huddle with the water," says Snow. "One big defensive lineman said, 'Isn't this kind of a comedown for you in terms of how you make your living?' Then when I went out to the offense and offered Marshall Faulk the water, he said he didn't need any, and I said, 'Come on drink some, some of us want to get on TV."

    Around the majors

  • The Padres will look at a number of relievers (including Todd Jones) to fill the huge shoes of closer Trevor Hoffman, but for now manager Bruce Bochy says he really doesn't need one set closer.

    Villafuerte
    Villafuerte

    "Unless you have someone like a Hoffman or a Robb Nen, you're just as well off using a few different guys," says Bochy. "I think Kevin Walker could close games, so could Brandon Villafuerte, maybe Jaret Wright, and maybe even Luther Hackman. We'll see, in time. In my mind, one of the most important things for the closer is to throw strikes."

  • After facing Ted Lilly in an intraquad game, Adam Piatt came back to the bench and said, "He is throwing lights out. Whatever he did to his delivery didn't change his deception one bit, and his stuff is better." The A's are also very pleased with Aaron Harang. Last season, Harang couldn't get the ball down in the zone, but after an offseason program to lose weight, increase flexibility and free up his hips, Harang's velocity is better and he's able to drive it down in the strike zone.

  • In last week's column, I noted how Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito all take unusual responsibility for the results of the games they pitch. That goes back to what Orioles former pitcher and current vice president Mike Flanagan calls "high guilt" and "low guilt" pitchers. Flanagan says "you want a low guilt person as a closer, but a high guilt guy as a starter. Those Oakland pitchers are the perfect example of what you want as a starter, but as a closer you don't want someone who feels terrible if he blows a save."

    Now, there are exceptions. Dennis Eckersley was a high guilt person who turned into one of the best closers in the game, and always accepted the responsibility for his results.

  • The Royals are looking around for a taker for Carlos Beltran, and while the Rangers deny interest publicly, players say they have been asked about him. Of course, the fact that Carl Everett is bigger than the state of Rhode Island might have something to do with that.

  • The Rangers also have talked to the Yankees about Sterling Hitchcock, but the sticking point is how much of Hitchcock's 2003 salary the Yankees will eat.

  • Other names out there: The Padres are trying to move Bubba Trammell and Kevin Jarvis. The Dodgers would like to move some bullpen payroll (like Paul Shuey) and still wouldn't mind moving Andy Ashby.

    Lowell
    Lowell

    The Giants are talking about trading Felix Rodriguez and Ryan Jensen, although Rodriguez would be difficult to move as long as Robb Nen isn't ready to throw coming off shoulder surgery. And despite denials, several clubs claim that Mike Lowell could be had from Florida in order for the Marlins to lower payroll.

  • Let's get this straight: George Steinbrenner is critical of Derek Jeter, whose work habits are as exemplary as any in the game, and his boy David Wells can do anything he pleases. Message to Jeter: get drunk? Maybe former Yankee players aren't as jealous of Jeter and don't go running to Steinbrenner about Wells. Over/unders on Wells' departure will be accepted.

  • Speaking of that old-school stuff, former Red Sox, Yankees and Senators left-handed pitcher Mickey McDermott has a book coming out next month titled, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cooperstown: I Found a Bar." Yes, he really did drive his car into the front lobby of the Ayer, Mass. police department.

  • The Astros are not only very pleased with the early work of Craig Biggio in center field -- which is not only a remarkable story, going from catcher to second base to center field -- but if Biggio will be able to handle playing center it will take a lot of pressure off Lance Berkman's knees in that he will shift to left field.

  • And Adam Everett is bigger, seems to have developed some presence at the plate and may be ready to start playing shortstop for the Astros.

    Let's talk money
      2003 2004
      Payroll costs Guarantees/
    No. players
    NY (AL) $138M $116M/11
    NY (NL) $121M $75M/9
    L.A. $107M $93M/11
    Tex. $99M $60M/9
    Bos. $99M $84M/11
    Atl. $87M $77M/8
    Sea. $85M $45M/8
    St.L. $85M $74M/13
    S.F. $82M $77M/12
    Ari. $82M $49M/10
    Ana. $79M $69M/9
    Chi. (NL) $71M $67M/10
    Hou. $68M $54M/6
    Phi. $67M $53M/9
    Col. $67M $55M/9
    Bal. $58M $33M/9
    Det. $58M $39M/8
    Cin. $55M $38M/10
    Fla. $54M $2.4M/1
    Min. $53M $53M/8
    Pit. $52M $44M/8
    Chi. (AL) $51M $41M/6
    Tor. $50M $21M/3
    Oak. $50M $41M/9
    Cle. $49M $45M/9
    Mon. $48M $16M/3
    S.D. $41M $47M/11
    K.C. $39M $15M/3
    Mil. $39M $30M/6
    T.B. $25M $2.7M/2
    (Does not include contracts signed after 2/25).

    One look at 2004 commitments and one can draw a few conclusions:

  • The Mets, Yankees and Orioles (barring an Expos move to Washington without indemnification) are the most likely suitors for Vladimir Guerrero.

  • Kaz Matsui has Seattle written all over him.

  • The Dodgers are not going to have flexibility to go after Guerrero or Miguel Tejada unless new ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax.

  • Toronto is in prime position to take on contracts, although considering how difficult it is to attract free agents to Canada, it may necessitate taking on deals other teams want to unload.
  • This and that

  • Sean Burroughs' shoulder is healthy this season, which means his swing is back, and he's so dedicated that he finished second on the whole team in the mile run.

    "I just feel completely different," says Burroughs.

    When one looks at the Padres' young pitching -- Oliver Perez, Jake Peavy, Adam Eaton, Brian Lawrence, Ben Howard, Dennis Tankersley and a healthy Mike Bynum -- then look at their position players like Burroughs, Xavier Nady and Khalil Greene and one can only believe this will be a very good team in two years. At that point, Mark Kotsay, Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko should still be in their primes.

  • The Padres hold a tryout camp every spring with help from some independent leagues. In the last couple of years they've found Andy Shibilo, now with Boston, and left-handed pitcher Cory Stewart, who is one of their top prospects.

    "You never know with pitchers," says Padres GM Kevin Towers.

    San Diego has a minor-league policy that forces managers to pitch everyone. "Some so-called non-prospects have turned out to develop with the opportunity to throw innings," says Towers. "Rusty Tucker was supposed to be a soft tosser out of Maine who was going to be a mop-up man in A-ball. He got to pitch, was throwing in the 90s (80 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched) and might be our closer of the future."

  • One baseball executive notes that with Scott Erickson out for this last year of his five-year contract and Albert Belle home collecting his salary, "they are the poster boys for the insurance industry. Erickson had never missed a start, Belle had never been on the disabled list with an injury and now they're not playing and, with what the O's have to pay (insurance picks up $2 million on Erickson), they're almost a quarter of their payroll."

  • The new Tampa Bay policy is pay the minimum, when possible, so 34 of the 40 players on their roster will make the minimum of $300,000.

  • Two years in a row, the Indians have had a tough spring training injury -- last year outfielder Alex Escobar, this year third baseman Matt Whitney, who is the star of their lower minor-league organization.

  • One very encouraging thing for the Orioles is the fact that David Segui is healthy and trying to take a leadership role with the club.

    "With Jeff Conine healthy, it's almost like getting two new players," says Flanagan, who is trying to buy Jack Cust away from Colorado.

  • Marlins rookie Jason Stokes recently took up golf, and so impressed one of the heads of the long driving tour that he got invited to a qualifier in Orlando. Stokes not only qualified, but he won the event with a drive of 382 yards.

  • When the Mariners go to Tuscon, manager Bob Melvin has arranged for Ryan Anderson to spend time with Randy Johnson.

  • "The Art of Losing" by American Hi-Fi is this week's best new CD.

  • All you have to do is spend time with Kerry Wood and you know the growing period is over. Add him to the lift-off season, along with Troy Glaus, and maybe Eric Chavez, whose teammates shake their heads over his Hall of Fame talent.

  • The best read is that Miguel Tejada will go into the free-agent world at the end of the 2003 season , but Chavez, who is a free agent after 2004, will sign a long-term deal with the A's.

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