January 2010

Randy Winn: An appreciation

Randy Winn wouldn’t care if he ever spoke to the media. That doesn’t mean he dislikes reporters. It’s just that he doesn’t crave attention.

But when anybody with a camera, microphone or notebook approached Winn during his four-and-a-half seasons with the Giants, he was cordial at the very least, thoughtful and engaging at his best and always — ALWAYS — accommodating. The phrase “no comment” didn’t exist in his vocabulary.

That’s part of the beauty of Randy Winn. While he surely appreciates the glory of being a Major Leaguer, he doesn’t coat himself in it. Beating his chest and declaring, “Look at me!” isn’t part of the job description for him. Rather, beating the other team is what it’s all about.

Unlike Bengie Molina, Winn wasn’t bound for a surprise return to San Francisco. Winn’s two home runs in 597 plate appearances during 2009 doomed him with the Giants, who were bent on upgrading their offense. His departure essentially became official Wednesday with the all-but-finalized news of his agreement on a one-year contract with the New York Yankees.

Yet Winn merits a final salute as he leaves San Francisco. The man was, and is, a complete professional. Winn delivered a consistent effort whether he was thriving or slumping, healthy or in pain. By driving himself to excel in all facets of the game — he’s an excellent baserunner and a polished, underrated outfielder — Winn separated himself from the sorry plethora of ballplayers who almost seem to refuse to improve themselves.

Body language says a lot about an athlete. That’s by definition, since they make their living with their bodies. Winn always carried himself like a U.S. Marine — focused, proud, intent on his impending tasks. It follows that a Marine veteran who’s one of my regular e-mail pen pals named Winn as his favorite all-time Giant. The earnest diligence Winn exuded impressed this man to no end.

Winn maintained that attitude behind closed doors. Some guys slouch or shuffle through the clubhouse; Winn held his head high, leveled his gaze, maintained an even stride and almost never limped, despite sustaining painful leg ailments (which was the only subject he refused to discuss). One exception occurred when Winn noticed a group of reporters and began hobbling, trying to trick us into seizing upon fake news.

Indeed, Winn had a healthy sense of humor. It showed in his feigned disdain for the “Good Guy Award,” given annually by reporters covering the team to the player whose cooperation is especially valued. This two-, three-year running gag between us and Winn ended last September when we voted him Good Guy for 2009. He clearly deserved it, and he seemed genuinely pleased.

Remember the familiar yet too-seldom-heard saying, “As good a ballplayer as he is, he’s an even better person”? Winn could be president of that club — along with Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts, two other veterans who recently became ex-Giants. How fitting that they became known among the Giants as the “Rat Pack,” a nod to the famed entertainment troika of Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin-Sammy Davis Jr. How sobering, though San Francisco’s clubhouse remains filled with truly decent men, that they’re all gone.

One of Winn’s classiest acts occurred early this offseason. During a November conditioning camp held for Minor Leaguers at AT&T Park, the Giants supplemented the physical regimen by bringing in speakers to motivate and educate the prospects. Guests included J.T. Snow, general manager Brian Sabean and even Willie Mays.

Another speaker was Winn, who was about to plunge into free agency and thus wasn’t technically a Giant. Yet he felt compelled to share some of the wisdom he had accumulated through 12 big league seasons. His message focused on the importance of being a good teammate.

That’s the essence of Randy Winn.

The Yankees will quickly learn how lucky they are to have Winn in their midst. His professionalism will enhance the Yankees’ aura as reigning World Champions. They’ll cherish his ability to play all three outfield positions and his other diverse skills. On that club, any offense he provides will be a bonus.

Winn will be free to go about his business while the ravenous New York media descends on Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and other Yankees stars.

But when reporters need to speak to Winn, he’ll answer any question they have.

Fans voice curiosity about Mike Jacobs

Here’s a note from a fan expressing a sentiment that has been echoed by numerous sfgiants.com readers this offseason:

Do the Giants have any interest in Mike Jacobs to play first base? I know they liked him in the past. They can probably get him at a nice price to compete with Travis Ishikawa.
– Chris P., Phoenix, AZ

If I had a dollar for each e-mail I’ve received about Mike Jacobs, I’d be able to pay off my older daughter’s college tuition for the rest of the school year. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. But the voice of the fan is always compelling when it’s unified.

Jacobs isn’t a premier free agent like Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. He isn’t even considered a second-tier free agent. But he did hit 51 home runs in the previous two seasons. Jacobs would have an AT&T Park concession-stand menu item named after him, kind of like the “Cha Cha Bowl” saluting Orlando Cepeda, if he homered at that pace for the Giants.

These are the same Giants who ranked last in the Major Leagues with 94 home runs in 2008 and next-to-last in the National League with 122 homers last season. Granted, power isn’t the cure-all to the Giants’ offensive woes. But you have to wonder whether Jacobs might be worth signing to a one-year contract for a low base salary and enough performance bonuses to reward him for a job well done.

The Giants, who continue to seek offensive help, have contacted Jacobs’ agent, John Boggs. Their interest in Jacobs appears minimal, however. “They haven’t given any indication that he’s a player they’ve targeted,” Boggs said Monday. “But he could be the answer to completing their lineup.”

Maybe Jacobs, 29, can be this year’s Russell Branyan, who amassed 31 homers for Seattle last year after averaging 12 in the previous six seasons.

Boggs told me that I was the first reporter to ask him about his client this winter. This doesn’t qualify me for Mensa. Jacobs possesses plenty of statistical baggage. His on-base percentage dipped below .300 in each of the last two seasons and he hit just .228 with Kansas City in 2009, prompting the Royals to release him last month when they needed a 40-man roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft, of all things. He played only 15 games at first base for the Royals, prompting doubts about his ability to handle the position.

But many teams need power. And Jacobs’ 2008-09 home run output can’t be denied. After clobbering 32 two years ago with Florida, he hit just 19 last year. Yet given the adjustments Jacobs faced due to switching leagues, that was hardly a precipitous drop. He bats left-handed, an ominous trait to take into AT&T Park. But most observers agree that his slugging ability is legitimate.

The Giants surely believe that they can acquire better hitters than Jacobs, and maybe they’re right. But third baseman Adrian Beltre’s agreement with Boston removed another potential option from the Giants’ list. Unless they’re considering other first basemen (Adam LaRoche, Branyan, Carlos Delgado), contemplating the largely untapped supply of second basemen (Felipe Lopez, Orlando Hudson) or pondering the wisdom of adding an outfielder (Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Church, Xavier Nady), they might have to look harder at performers like Jacobs as Spring Training approaches.

– Chris Haft 

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