Giants unveil new additions
Roberts' speed, Aurilia's versatility, Molina's defense key in '07
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' three new players -- center fielder Dave Roberts, infielder Rich Aurilia and catcher Bengie Molina -- were grilled before the TV cameras at AT&T Park on Thursday, with the talk centered around how vital they will be in 2007.There's Roberts' leadoff capabilities and how his speed will dramatically alter the offensive attack, Aurilia's invaluable versatility and Molina's Gold Glove defense and solid batting. But there was another name bandied about as well -- reliever Brian Wilson. The 25-year-old right-hander may surprisingly be the key to the young bullpen's success next season, and he could "save" -- pardon the pun -- the club from depending solely on arthritic-kneed closer Armando Benitez. Wilson has done exceptionally well for Lideres in the Puerto Rican Winter League, throwing scoreless ball over his first 10 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and a .135 average against. OK, these are not big leaguers he's facing, but Wilson is quickly becoming a significant performer after going 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA over 31 games in 2006 with San Francisco.
"We've had people set eyes on him and it's pretty impressive," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said of Wilson and his explosive fastball and how he could become the closer. "It helps what he's done down there, and while we'll find out in Spring Training what it means, we're very encouraged."Especially so, since Benitez's health is still in question after the perennially injured pitcher lost the final two weeks of 2006 due to arthritis, but also had knee bursitis and elbow soreness. Benitez, 34, did save 17 games last season, but Sabean said the big man's ability to compete next year is unknown, and that's where Wilson comes in. "Our young pitching is a year older, and guys like Wilson have cut their teeth as far as defining themselves further in a role," said Sabean. "For him, that's near the end of a game. That's very interesting and hard to come by." On other issues, Sabean said the one-year pact with Barry Bonds is still being worked on, and the player has yet to even schedule a mandatory physical, while catcher Mike Matheny, who missed most of last year due to post-concussion symptoms, has not improved much over the winter, making his eventual return highly doubtful. Sabean, still getting heat for signing Bonds for an estimated $16 million, said he understood the criticism, but also felt inking the slugger was important since the club couldn't corral the likes of big-time free agents Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee or Gary Matthews Jr. "The frustrating thing is we tried in every arena to do what we set out to do, get younger and healthier," he said. "But it couldn't be done to our satisfaction in one year. "We still have to field a team and put competitive people out there," he said. Hence the signings of Roberts, Aurilia and Molina, although Sabean stressed a starting pitcher is still the club's top priority. Maybe Barry Zito. Maybe not.
New manager Bruce Bochy saw Roberts in action at San Diego, and knows he'll supply an ingredient long missing in San Francisco -- speed -- which will now be a counterpoint to Bonds' power."He's the type of guy you want leading off," said Bochy. "He works the pitchers, tries to find a way to get on base, wreaks havoc once he's on base. Especially in big ballparks, you need to find a way to create runs, and this is what he does." Bochy said his philosophy is to use Roberts' passion and fast legs, and those of second hitter Omar Vizquel. There will be no waiting for Bonds' homers, regardless of the situation. "I still would like our guys to play their game," Bochy said. "I don't want to change our game because we do have Barry in the cleanup hole. You get to the point of diminishing returns sometimes when you try to force the issue." Aurilia, who played nine seasons for the Giants as primarily a shortstop, has learned to play other positions, playing 47 games as a first baseman for Cincinnati in 2006, as well as the other infield spots. By necessity, he carried six or seven gloves around, never knowing where he'd play. "I'm at a point now where I know I can play every day and it doesn't matter where -- I just want to play and help the team," Aurilia said. "It was actually fun for me last year -- kind of a challenge -- to move all over." Aurilia, one of the more popular Giants, laughed that opposing players would often give him grief at first base. "You get different comments by guys at first base. ... 'What are you doing over here?'" he said. "'I don't know. They just gave me this big crab claw and put me down there.' I hope to become better [at first], but I'm comfortable anywhere." Roberts said he was in Napa, Calif., when he heard Bochy had signed to manage the Giants, and he looks forward to working with the skipper again. "When I heard that, I knew San Francisco was an option," said Roberts, who loves the expansive AT&T Park outfield and is eager to jumpstart the Giants' running game. Molina chuckled over that, and Bochy's comment that while he loves the catcher's bat, he'll probably need a pinch-runner at times.
"I've been the slowest guy on the team for 7 1/2 years," he said, "and I'm going to pick [Roberts'] brains for stealing bases."
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.