Winn lifted the Giants (Photo/Getty)
When the words scrolled across the ticker on ESPN, I was in Lake Tahoe but I might as well have been on Cloud Nine. It was July 30, and the Mariners had finally found a taker for their long-underappreciated outfielder, Randy Winn.
The first thing I saw was where he’d been traded – San Francisco.
My immediate reaction was… it made no sense.
Leading up to the trade deadline, many baseball writers speculated Winn would be sent to New York to join the Yankees, which were in desperate need for a center fielder. Instead, Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi found a team in the Giants that was well out of first place with a roster already abundant with outfielders.
As the ticker continued to scroll across the television screen, the news only seemed to get better. Not only had Bavasi found a taker for Winn, he had also coaxed the Giants into sending their promising backup catcher, Yorvit Torrealba, as well as young right-hander Jesse Foppert, once rated the best pitching prospect in baseball.
I was ecstatic. The M’s had pawned off the light-hitting outfielder for two players that could very well be pieces to the team’s puzzle in the near future.
That was less than two-and-a-half months ago, and what’s transpired since is almost impossible to believe from both the Mariners and Giants’ standpoint. While neither Torrealba or Foppert were bad with the Mariners organization – Torrealba split time behind the plate with Miguel Ojeda and Rene Rivera for the final two months of the season, while Foppert spent the rest of the season in Triple-A with Tacoma – Winn became a smash hit in the Bay Area.
Following the trade, the Giants immediately inserted Winn in the lineup as their every-day center fielder, demoting former starter Jason Ellison and releasing Marquis Grissom and Alex Sanchez. Winn, a Bay Area native and Santa Clara University product, responded with the best two-month stretch of his big league career.
His numbers in San Francisco were staggering: .359/.391/.680 14 HR, 22 doubles, 5 triples, 7 stolen bases. Yes, a .391 on-base percentage with the Giants. That same number was his slugging percentage with the Mariners over the first half of the season.
Living in the Bay Area this season, and watching nearly all of the Giants games, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing out of Winn. It seemed like every night, he was doing something to win over the fans.
Case in point, August 15 at Cincinnati, little more than two weeks after the trade. On that night, Winn hit for the cycle, becoming the first switch-hitter to accomplish the feat in Giants history.
From there, the hits only kept coming. And the fans only kept watching… with amazement.
Winn finished the season on a tear, coming up with the Giants biggest hit of the season in a come-from-behind win at division-leading San Diego on Sept. 26, and going 4-4 at the plate twice in the final week of the season. He was named National League Player of the Month for September, putting the finishing touches on his unbelievable second-half of the season.
My question: Where did that slap-hitting outfielder go? You know, the one that hit six home runs in 386 at-bat with Seattle before being shipped south?
Only months earlier, the Mariners felt they had to deal Winn in order to open up a spot on the field for someone with more pop. The move was accepted fairly well in Seattle, and met with harsh criticism in the Bay Area.
The San Francisco newspapers wondered why the Giants had elected to be “buyers” instead of “sellers” at the deadline, making their roster even older in the process. In the process, the Giants were also left without a backup catcher, which led to the premature callup of Yamid Haad behind the plate. And dealing Foppert, a 25-year-old hometown kid who was once regarded as a pitcher to build around, wasn’t a popular choice.
This trade, like many others from the past – the Freddy Garcia deal comes to mind – further proves the uncertainty that comes with all trades. Every trade is graded out by publications and media outlets, but when it all comes down to it nobody knows definitively what will happen when players change uniforms.
Somehow, someway, Randy Winn went from an underappreciated, undervalued left fielder in Seattle to a player many Giants fans see as a key part of their future, and a relative bargain for next season (San Francisco will almost certainly exercise its $5 million option on him).
All Seattle can do is hope Torrealba and Foppert pan out. Torrealba is slated to be the team’s starting catcher in 2006, barring an offseason deal that brings in someone else. Foppert, still regaining the strength in his right elbow after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2004, will likely begin the year in Triple-A.
Like it or not, they already have some catching up to do with Mr. Winn.