San Francisco Giants Taking a Serious Gamble on Angel Villalona
Angel Villalona is an arrogant killer or the victim of callous opportunists, depending on whom you ask.
It must be a pleasant change of scenery for the young prospect, considering he's spent the last few years as the subject of a murder investigation and dealing with its subsequent fallout. Although the scrutiny will follow him, the 22-year-old is back in uniform, pursuing his big league dream and getting paid well to do it.
All thanks to the Gents.
Which means the defending World Series champs have made a rather significant roll of the dice.
The Giants rode waves of chemistry and how-can-you-not-like-these-guys sentiment to the 2010 and 2012 world titles. They thrived in large part because they were very much a band of brothers left to focus on the game, mostly free from negativity and distraction.
It's silly to argue there was a but-for relationship between these elements and the rings, but it's equally silly to completely dismiss them. They undeniably had advantages; only the magnitude is up for debate.
Of course, these advantages would presumably be threatened by the inclusion of a man who many have convicted of an egregious sin. Judgment perceived as prejudice by the clubhouse might alternatively serve to further galvanize the group and bring it that much closer together, but as the old saying goes, don't fix what ain't broke.
But that's where we're headed.
It's one thing to bring aboard an individual who has been accused of a heinous crime, but proven innocent or otherwise exculpated. No harm, no foul and all that.
It's another thing, but still palatable, to employ an individual who committed a heinous crime, served his time and is trying to prove himself worthy of the second chance. Intelligent minds can disagree on whether doing so is right or wrong, but that's the stance our society has adopted, so the debate is academic (see: Vick, Michael).
The rub with Villalona, however, is that neither scenario fits; the entire story is obscured by a blanket of silence that doesn't appear to be going anywhere.
It's tough enough to piece together hectic events like the one in which Mario Felix de Jesus Velete was killed when you can pour over a complete record of details.
There are inevitably pieces of the puzzle missing and even firsthand accounts tend to be flawed, so certainty is elusive. But you can generally settle on a plausible account in which you're confident.
But in this case, the record has precious few details of any kind, and it's even thinner when you're talking about undisputed facts.
What's more, Villalona's not talking and the family's lips are sealed after a cash settlement, so the narrative's as clear as it's ever going to get.
That means we'll probably never know whether Villalona shot Velete in the back, as those who blame the ballplayer allege, or whether he was an innocent bystander with deep pockets, as those who swear by his innocence maintain.
We'll never know why Velete's mother told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I don't care about money, so I shall not ask them for any. The value of a son is priceless. I only want justice." And then reportedly settled for the relatively paltry sum of $139,000 (via MLB.com).
We'll never know which competing account of Villalona's true character is accurate. Was he the quiet teenage benefactor of the whole town, courtesy of the largest signing bonus San Francisco had ever given? Or was he the devilish hell-raiser who let fame and fortune go to his head?
I don't know and I won't pretend to, but as long as those questions linger, the subject remains fair game to be revived whenever convenient (or inconvenient if you ask Ray Lewis).
Without a firm conclusion, both his detractors and defenders will stay inflamed over the issue, and that means the media will always be lurking. They'll be waiting whenever Villalona breaks in with the big club. And again if he forces his way to the top of the heap through performance.
Thus, the durability of the topic means the unlikelihood that Villalona makes los Gigantes' Opening Day roster this year only delays the issue instead of rendering it moot. When he arrives in the bigs, so too will the questions.
And that moment might be close at hand even if Villalona starts the season in the minors.
Scan the rosters in the show and you'll see the delay could be nominal depending on how effective Villalona is—22 going on 23 is not so young in this brave new major league world, so efficacy is the only limiting agent.
All of which means the once-hallowed youngster could be on the Giants' 25-man roster sooner rather than later. That storm probably isn't crashing over the team in 2013 since one has to imagine the recent extracurricular activities have slowed Villalona's development.
But if he's the talent he's supposed to be, 2014 isn't much of a stretch and a midyear call-up this season wouldn't be the strangest thing San Francisco fans have ever seen.
The plan is for San Francisco to be a World Series contender for the foreseeable future, certainly this season and next.
Adding a talented bat like Villalona's is reputed to be would reinforce that perception, but given his history, nobody can be sure of the cost.
Considering the Giants are on the short list of Fall Classic contenders as long as the pitching stays intact, the brass could be improving the team with another dangerous hitter or blowing the whole thing up by disrupting a delicate balance.
When Villalona eventually arrives, it'll be big news, but not all of the good variety.
That makes him a gamble and a big one.
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