Sports

Giant makeover scheduled for '08

SAN FRANCISCO -- In 1996, the Giants endured their third consecutive losing season, posted a 68-94 record, got rid of popular slugger Matt Williams and virtually started from scratch under rookie general manager Brian Sabean.

Eleven years later, they endured a third consecutive losing season at 71-91, sent Barry Bonds packing and left Sabean with a sense of déjà vu. Is another massive turnover in store for 2008?

"Yes, quite possibly," said Sabean, who had six new Opening Day starters in 1997 after landing second baseman Jeff Kent and shortstop Jose Vizcaino in the Williams trade, and using some extra money to acquire first baseman J.T. Snow.

The Giants soared to a division title that season and were annual playoff contenders before foolishly disbanding the 2002 pennant winners. Now, it has come full circle and the present downfall cries for a similar response.

"Change could be a good thing, but you've got to see what's available out there," said Rich Aurilia, who was a backup shortstop in 1997. "That year, a lot of guys came from different places and we just had fun.

"Everybody meshed together. But when we lost Matt, in return we got a starting shortstop and a starting second baseman. We get nothing for Barry, so we just have to wait it out and see what happens."

On the flip side, Williams was in his prime when the 1996 swap to Cleveland went down, whereas Bonds' skills are fading at age 43 despite an impressive 28 home runs this season. But his departure clears the air for radical change.

"When you lose your star player and go-to guy, it's going to change the personality and culture of your ballclub," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I think it's fair to say we're going to be a team that's more oriented to speed, defense and pitching, and not as much power."

The new philosophy must be implemented with a free agent or a trade because the present roster is devoid of hitters suited for the heart of the order. This year's rookies flashed speed but were deficient elsewhere.

"We do think we're going to have some flexibility in the trade market or, specifically, the free-agent market to move some dollars around," Sabean said. "To get that type of threat in here, I can't guarantee what's going to happen."

For the Giants this season, it was four runs or bust. They were 13-59 when scoring fewer than four runs and 58-32 with four or more. They outscored only the Washington Nationals in the NL.

"We got off to a bad start offensively and we never really rebounded," Aurilia said. "The division has the best pitching and we really never caught up."

Among the newcomers, outfielders Rajai Davis, Nate Schierholtz and Fred Lewis showed flashes of brilliance, and a late batting binge by Kevin Frandsen suggests he might be ready to supplant Ray Durham at second base.

An emphasis was placed on the rotation, where there was plenty of disappointment. Matt Cain (7-16) was a victim of non-support, Noah Lowry (14-8) had a career year interrupted by injury and Barry Zito didn't reach expectations.

After signing the richest contract in Giants history -- $126 million over seven years -- Zito struggled to an 11-13 record. Rookie Tim Lincecum (7-5) provided hope with 150 strikeouts in 146ª innings.

"A lot of things went wrong, but it's not time to be sentimental," Vizquel said. "It's time to come in next year and do something different. Change is always good, especially when things aren't going your way. This team has had three years of disappointment, so bringing in new guys will be good."

And necessary.

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