Call it Christmas in June for the usual suspects in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Given the warm yuletide season around here and the scorching hot couple of days the City's seen recently, the analogy works splendidly. The only real difference is that baseball is being played at the Oakland Coliseum and AT&T Park.
And it's in the outfield of the jewel formerly known as Pac Bell where the anti-Brian Sabean ogres will (soon) find their unexpected present.
I'll ruin the suspense—underneath the fancy paper and shiny bow is a 33-year-old, allegedly broken down, no-range left fielder who spent the last two (unsuccessful) years in Tampa Bay as a designated hitter.
Ray fans would probably say he's more accurately described as a designated out.
Aging beauty, thy name is Pat Burrell.
But before getting to the San Francisco Giants' latest Hail Mary to save their struggling offense, let's address a quick bit of housekeeping.
When I say anti-Sabean ogres, I don't mean his skeptics at large—the man has given Giant die-hards PLENTY about which to be skeptical over his tenure so I can't blame everyone who wants new blood.
Instead, I'm screaming directly into the deaf ears of the geniuses who pretend the general manager has never done a darn thing right.
The ones who will tell you the former New York Yankee amateur talent scout who inked Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte (amongst others) got lucky when Jeff Kent was "accidentally" acquired in the famous Matt Williams trade.
The ones who pretend Brian had a gun to his head when he was "forced" to draft Tim Lincecum.
The double-jointed magicians who surely are working up some crazy explanation for the 2010 excellence (to date) otherwise known as Aubrey Huff. Or to contort away the resurrection of Freddy Sanchez from the ashes of injury.
In other words, the snark is reserved for Brian Sabean's unreasonable detractors.
If you play it close to the middle and simply aren't a fan of the Giant GM, stay out of the crossfire because my rubber bullets aren't meant for you. I don't want, need, or expect a consensus.
Back to the point—Mr. Burrell.
I'm sure the hew and cry around the Bay for the next few weeks will be about the at-bats now earmarked for a guy on the wrong side of 30 who is neck-deep in decline. Even if Pat the Bat hasn't been brought aboard to be anything more than a menacing name off the bench, certain fans will be apoplectic about the chances that could be better spent on developing potential young studs like Nate Schierholtz and John Bowker.
The logic will go like this—the dude hasn't been useful since he hit more than 30 bombs for the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
Even that season, he only hit .250, fanned way too frequently (136 times), played a brutal left field, and had his offensive numbers bloated by a bandbox. Since then, Burrell's had a full season worth of plate appearances in a more realistic baseball stadium and didn't produce squat.
Despite being a cog in one of Major League Baseball's premium batting orders with Tampa, he authored the following horror story: 496 AB, 54 R, 21 2B, 16 HR, 77 RBI, 67 BB, 147 K, .218 BA, a sub-.680 OPS, and 8 GIDP (much to any Giant fan's terror).
So the questions will be some form of, "What, pray (or prey) tell, are Los Gigantes thinking?"
What is the point of trying to revive a bleeding pulse in an equivalent (or worse) yard for lumber work, a hideously inferior lineup, and under adverse circumstances considering he'll either be a pinch-hitter or actually have to play both sides of the ball?
There might even be a profanity or two sprinkled in to spice it up for the hoi polloi.
To be honest, the invisible question mark hanging over San Francisco isn't totally unwarranted. Nevertheless, there are several things that turn insanity to sanity and they won't make it into the public grousing.
As it's usually the case.
Before anyone gets carried away, I'm not talking about his performances while with the Fresno Grizzlies. Forget that nonsense for a whole slew of reasons too numerous to list here.
Nope, we're talking legitimate rays (yes!) of hope.
First and foremost, there is the price—a Minor League contract means San Fran is only on the hook for the prorated Big League minimum. That's not cheap to you and me, but it is a relatively minuscule amount in the cuckoo world of professional sport economics.
If the move works, you've got yourself a wonderful bargain. If not, you pay the sunk cost in the span of a good home stand and return the plate reps to the kiddie corps.
Clean and easy.
Granted, you could make the same observation about paying some hack sports columnist to swing the bat and that wouldn't make it a wonderful idea to pay me to don a Giant uniform. There's gotta be the sincere threat of contribution otherwise the Gents are just setting fire to good money.
That's generally a bad idea, no matter how little. Consequently, there must be at least one reason to believe and it can't be too ridiculous.
Which brings me to my ace in the hole.
I've got a little birdie on the inside of the Burrell nest and it told me there is no way to overstate how miserable the guy was in Tampa. Word is he literally hated every second of his stay in so-called Florida—not that the organization or area is evil, just that it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad personal fit.
There was also the nasty little matter of an arduous divorce—as opposed to the picnic variety, I guess. By contrast, playing in the cavernous confines of AT&T might not be so tough.
Especially when you remember Burrell is a Bay Area native, rocked high school ball at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, and has only ever tasted success in the Show's National League time slot.
Naturally, my insider also leaked that ol' Pat is as happy to be in the City as he is to be out of Tampa. Bears mentioning when you realize how complete the train wreck was down there.
Now, as we near the end, allow me to pump the brakes a bit.
None of the above guarantees that Pat Burrell will snap back to his thumping ways or even be a valuable San Francisco Giant. It's hardly scientific and he's certainly zeroing in on a birthday that will bring a precipitous/permanent decline.
But he's not necessarily there yet.
Baseball is an insanely difficult game even when your noggin is screwed on tight.
It takes a special, special ballplayer to play like a winner when he feels like a loser. So it shouldn't be a huge surprise if Burrell let the dark St. Petersburg days affect his play.
Nor would it be a miracle if the one-time MVP candidate started knocking the pearl around with more authority.
As the saying goes, stranger things have happened.
And it goes double in baseball.
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