The trade made sense at the time.
The 2003 Giants had been one of the best teams in the NL, and the team was in a win-now sort of a mood. There was still hope Robb Nen would come back, and if he didn’t, Tim Worrell had done well as a closer. They had some young pitchers that were obviously going to improve as they got more experience. And Benito Santiago was going to be a 39-year old catcher that the Giants didn’t want to spend more money on. They needed a catcher.
So they got a reigning All-Star.
Joe Nathan? Dealing with injuries, he’d been struggling in the minors (to the tune of a 5.60 ERA in Fresno in 2002, two years before the trade, and that was an improvement from previous years), even though in 2003 he had a 2.96 ERA. Nathan was very good in 2003, but he was having a breakout season at 28 with a lot of bad history. There’s a theory to selling high in trades. As much as I liked Nathan, that was how you sell high.
Francisco Liriano? There was no doubt Liriano had talent. The doubt was whether or not anyone would see it. In his previous three seasons with the Giants farm system, he’d averaged just 71 innings each season, due to injuries. He was a high risk, high reward player, but it didn’t seem likely he’d ever reach his ceiling.
Boof Bonser? Struggling former first round pick…and, well, let’s face it, when people get outraged about the A.J. trade, Boof usually isn’t what they are complaining about.
It made sense. Until the end of 2004.
Pierzynski was an arbitration eligible player. The team had three years of control of him before he would officially hit free agency, as long as they offered him contracts. And then, after one year, the team didn’t offer him a contract, and let him walk, for nothing.
It wasn’t like Pierzynski was that terrible in 2004. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t so terrible that you wouldn’t expect a bounce-back. This was the move that killed me. The Twins hated him enough to dump him for spare parts that worked out. Couldn’t the Giants have tried to do something with him?
Here’s the thing that I think many people forget…the A.J. trade wasn’t the only problem of that offseason for fans…that was the Vladimir Guerrero year where the Giants cried cheap, and the “Lunatic Fringe” comment came out that would eventually inspire the name of this comic. (Thanks, by the way, Sabes.) The Giants went with Michael Tucker in the outfield, infamously giving up a draft pick to sign him.
If the team wanted to improve hitting at a low cost, trading for a pre-free agent hitter made total and complete sense. But the feeling was that, after 2004, the Giants cut him partially because they didn’t want to get stuck with a salary that probably would have been in the $3.5-$4 million range in case they couldn’t trade him.
2004 was the beginning of the doldrums for the Giants. You almost knew it had to be when the Giants were in Los Angeles, watching the Dodgers celebrate winning a division title in front of them. There was a little hope because the Giants had been close. But all the wheels began to fall off. Bonds got hurt. Alfonzo and Durham’s glass-ness began to show. Tim Worrell didn’t come back, and so the team had Matt Herges as the closer. And losing that draft pick, as well as what came in 2005 when they didn’t pick until the 4th round because of sacrificed picks, set back the rebuilding ability of the team by a few years.
The A.J. trade was simply the most obvious spoke in the wheel.
In reality, it wasn’t a bad trade. It fit what the Giants needed, and what they said they needed to do.
But it really did not work out, until you got the view from now… 2 World Series titles. That’ll calm a fan base down.