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Giants look to spread some wealth

Giants looking to spread wealth everywhere

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SAN FRANCISCO -- While the Giants' early offseason landscape appeared bleak and empty as craters on the moon, general manager Brian Sabean hopes he will find viable life right here on earth starting Monday at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.

After two consecutive third-place finishes in the National League West and slugger Barry Bonds' strengths waning, the club made a massive, if futile, effort to secure the services of high-profile outfielders Juan Pierre, Gary Matthews Jr. and Carlos Lee.

They struck out, but in somewhat dramatic if disappointing fashion, offering significant, long-term dollars -- upwards of $100 million -- on deals.

Heading into Florida, Sabean at least has some front-burner possibilities.

San Francisco is close to signing outfielder Dave Roberts and versatile infielder Rich Aurilia, while currently trying to obtain Red Sox free-agent left fielder Manny Ramirez in a multiteam deal.

There is speculation the Red Sox want the likes of pitcher Noah Lowry and first baseman Lance Niekro, but there could be a bidding war among Los Angeles and San Diego as well. The good news is the Giants could afford Ramirez financially, and his signing might mean the end of Bonds' tenure.

Roberts and Aurilia would fill holes in a roster depleted by 11 free agents, but there is much work to be accomplished in Florida.

Sabean has said baseball's annual gathering is a bit obsolete, with cell phones and video conferencing giving round-the-clock access to other GMs and agents. But face-to-face meetings are still important.

And this is perhaps Sabean's most challenging Winter Meetings to date.

"We have to be open-minded and resourceful at the same time," said Sabean of the marketplace. "We know we have to turn the ballclub over, and in almost every area of the ballclub there would be cause for improvements.

"Because of relative needs, we're going to have to spread the wealth throughout the roster and [hopefully], we're able to do a creative deal," he said. "As for higher ticket items, the meter keeps ticking."

Sabean's reputation is definitely on the line, and the past few weeks proved doubly painful with the death of long-time associate and friend Pat Dobson, a former 20-game winner with the Orioles who served as a scout and special assistant in the past nine years for San Francisco.

Sabean's agenda includes the acquisition of a power hitter such as Ramirez -- Roberts is speedy and great defensively, but gap- and homer-hitters are necessary at AT&T Park -- a veteran relief pitcher, an experienced catcher and infielder.

It's a strong possibility the Giants will either sign free-agent second baseman Mark Loretta, who says he'll join the team for some $4 million in 2007, or re-sign veteran Ray Durham, although that seems doubtful.

The puzzle that is third baseman Pedro Feliz is likewise up in the air heading into the winter gathering. Do they re-sign the veteran -- good arm, sporadic offense -- or put Aurilia in that spot?

Sabean has another dilemma in the closer's role, for while Armando Benitez is rehabbing his arthritic knees, it's still questionable whether he can pitch up to his 47-save standard with Florida in 2004. Somehow, that seems long ago.

The Giants must decide whether to seek another arm to replace Benitez or hope young relievers Brian Wilson or Jack Taschner can assume that role.

The free-agent market for a slugger is pretty slim pickings now, and the GM is expected to concentrate on trades to acquire what they really need: a long-term star with Splash Hit capabilities.

If a real power hitter isn't signed, Bonds would return to left field. He at least revved up his game the latter part of 2006, when his bad knees got stronger with leg exercises and frequent rest.

Fortunately for Sabean, the Giants' Minor League system has had team success at every level the past few seasons, with excellent prospects. Arms used to be the organization's strength, and that still holds, but recent drafts proved bountiful for position players as well.

Possibilities in trade action include infielder Travis Ishikawa, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and Fred Lewis, pitchers Pat Misch, Brian Anderson, Adam Cowart and Billy Sadler.

These are precious prospects, especially those valuable arms, but if Sabean is to help the Giants roar back into contention in 2007 and beyond, giving up young talent might be necessary.

At Orlando, expect Sabean and his staff to stay up late and get up early. There's no time to waste there, and their hotline will always be on.

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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