The more I play with the Giants, the more I long for a power bat at first base (imagine the damage Will Clark would've done at AT&T).
But since "The Thrill" isn't walking through those doors anytime soon, I guess that means it's time to test out the trade market in MLB 2K9. Funny thing is, the computer is very active in making trade requests. Through the first 20 games of the season, I've actually received four different offers as the Giants young pitching staff is a hot commodity around the bigs.
Unfortunately, most of the package deals involve either the Giants getting even younger with a group of minor leaguers, or I am being offered a player like Gary Sheffield who I have absolutely no interest in at this point in his career.
But that's when the Astros approach me with a deal that makes me stop and look at the numbers. Matt Cain for Lance Berkman. Basically, the Astros are dumping about nine million dollars of salary while acquiring one of my best young arms, but adding Berkman to the middle of the Giants order makes them a legit threat to win the West. All I do is move Noah Lowry back into the rotation after his season-ending injury of last season, and slide Berkman to hit cleanup.
Now my lineup looks like this:
The only one I really worry about is Frandsen, my second baseman, but he has actually started the season hitting .350 with three runs scored and three RBI, so maybe he's a diamond in the rough at the bottom of the order.
And the more you play young players like Frandsen in 2K9, the better they get as their progression improvement at the end of the season is tied to playing time. So you can't just sit your young players all season, then watch them get a big ratings boost like years past. Now you need to find ways to work those young players into the game, even if it's as a pinch hitter or a pinch runner. The Giants have a couple of young players, Eugenio Velez and Emmanuel Burriss, who I try to work in to every game in some type of capacity in hopes that they might contribute in a bigger role next year (or in case someone gets hurt). In fact, Velez has 90 speed in the game, so I love to insert him as a pinch runner in the late innings as I try to steal a base and get a runner in scoring position.
Another thing of note regarding players is the fact that every member of your team is rated in terms of their ambitions. This includes financial security, team prestige, playing for a winner, and playing time. This comes into play when attempting to sign free agents and re-signing your current group of players. So it's important to know what type of players you're going after as it's not always about the bottom dollar, an important point if you're controlling a team like the Giants who for some reason only spend the big bucks if your last name starts with a Z.
Anyway, the Giants start the season 12-8 with the new lineup and on the brand new code I just got from 2K Sports. I have to say, the game is playing even smoother (and smarter) than the previous build of the game. Not only have the frame-rate issues been almost completely ironed out, I just saw a play where there was a grounder to second with a man on first and the base runner actually stopped in his tracks so that the second baseman couldn't simply tag him and throw to first to complete the double play. Just goes to show some of the AI enhancements to the game.
Another enhancement made to the game is the new pickoff move. Hold the left trigger and a new view appears where you're looking at the side of your pitcher along with a pop-up that shows the steal rating of the player at first. Tap B to throw to first and keep him close or the runner will try and take off on you this year. Last year, I can't even remember the computer trying to steal a base no matter who was on first. Now it's more of a cat and mouse game.
As the season progresses, the Rangers propose a trade that will send me Marlon Byrd, a center fielder with a 77 overall rating for Barry Zito and his bloated contract. I don't need a center fielder, but man, the deal frees up over 14.5 million dollars a year for my team. I can't press the button fast enough as Byrd is only on the books for one season at 1.44M. That will make the Giants a major player in next year's free agent class.
In fact, I use some of the cash I just saved by dumping Zito to sign Pedro Martinez from the current free agent list to a very affordable one-year deal, making my pitching rotation the nasty: Lincecum, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Jonathan Sanchez, Noah Lowry. If these guys stay healthy, can you imagine a post season three-man rotation of Lincecum, Johnson, and Pedro? This might not work in real life in terms of what Johnson and Pedro have left in the tank, but in a video game, this could win you a title.
Or maybe not as my team starts to tailspin, or as we like to call it in San Francisco, the Giants hit the June Swoon, dropping nine games in a row. Pedro is only 1-6 in his first seven starts, and Sandoval has been a major disappointment at third, hitting just .220 with six home runs in the first 43 games. Randy Winn is another player not playing up to ability as he is only batting .256 from the second spot in the lineup. I make some adjustments, replacing Winn in the lineup with Byrd, then I move Sandoval down in the order to get Molina and Renteria more at bats.
This seems to do the trick for the time being as heading into the All-Star break, the Giants are 45-43 and only two games behind the Rockies for first place.
Kevin Frandsen has been the biggest surprise of the season so far as he is hitting .288 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI halfway through the season. Berkman is a stud as always, hitting .309 with 13 home runs, and Renteria is another player who is in a groove, hitting .287 with 13 homers and 52 RBI. Fred Lewis has also chipped in with six triples, 10 home runs, 45 RBI, and 16 steals by All-Star break.
Meanwhile Lincecum finds himself 11-5, Randy Johnson is 8-6 (and picked up the 300th win of his career), and Pedro has put together a couple of nice outings to get his win total up to five.
At the All-Star break, you can play or simulate the Home Run Derby, Futures game, and All-Star game. Lincecum is the only Giant named to the team, so I decide to sim right through and continue on with my season.
Heading into August, the Giants are 60-54 and in first place by one game. Unfortunately, in the span of a week, both Frandsen and Rowand get hurt and are out for the season. No! Who would've thought, the Giants post-season hopes rode so heavily on the shoulders of Kevin Frandsen.
The Giants never recover from the two injuries and finish the season 83-79 and in second place in the NL West.
Not bad, but I was in first place for so much of the second half of the season, it sucks to be simulating through the playoffs with nothing at stake.
Some stats to finish the year:
And in case anyone was wondering, the Mets beat the Indians in the World Series in seven games.
After the World Series, all of the season awards are handed out and Frandsen actually wins NL Comeback Player of the Year. Congrats to my new favorite player.
Unfortunately, after the season I'm also informed that Randy Johnson, Bob Howry and Keiichi Yabu are all retiring. That is quite a blow to my pitching heading into next season as Johnson was my second best pitcher and Howry and Yabu were both important contributors coming out of the bullpen.
I'm also bummed to see that my attendance figures were actually down an average of 3,524 fans from last season despite the winning record. This costs me as my overall budget is dropped from 97.21 million in '09 to 96.36 million in 2010.
But let's not concentrate on the negative news too long as overall the Giants had a successful season, and because of that, my player progression points are through the roof. Berkman gets +4 and is now 95 overall. Lewis is +5, Sandoval finished the season strong after dropping in the order and is rewarded with a +5, and Frandsen gets a +3 for his contributions. Lincecum is also bumped up +1 to a 97 overall. You thought he had some wicked stuff before, we're just getting started.
Next order of business is player re-signing. And wouldn't you have guessed, both Frandsen and Lewis are free agents looking for big pay days. Lewis, who only made 316K last season is now looking for a five year, 6.39M dollar deal while Frandsen is looking for something in the range of five years, 3.86M per year. Good thing I dumped all that Zito money. I try to negotiate with both players, and get both signed for a little less than what they wanted (Lewis got 5.9M and Frandsen got 3.5M). I then decide to release Winn, Molina, Byrd, and Roberts as they all want too long of contracts for guys in their mid-thirties.
Next up is the amateur draft. The Giants seek out pitching and a young first baseman to eventually replace Berkman, then it's time to check out the free agent list.
Top hitters include Holliday, Manny, and Thome while the top pitchers available are Pedro, Pettitte, Daniel Cabrera, and Todd Wellemeyer who went 17-9 in the 2009 2K9 season for the Cards.
Holliday wants seven years at about 17 mil. I offer him six at 16.5 and his interest drops a little, but not off the charts. Meanwhile, I offer Wellemeyer five years at 3.99M a year. I also make Odalis Perez an offer for about 3M a year and move on to day two.
What's nice is you can view all offers for every player to see where you are in the bidding. So far, the Mariners are offering Holliday more years on his contract, but less money.
By day four, I turned that Zito/Winn/Roberts money into Matt Holliday with a side of Wellemeyer and Perez. I even have enough money left over to go back and sign Molina. Things are looking good for the Giants.
In fact, when I simulate through the next season (a process that only takes a few minutes), the Giants end 2010 in a first place tie with Arizona in the NL West at 82-80. I win the one game playoff thanks to a 3-4, 3-RBI game by my main man Kevin Frandsen (at this point I want to buy a jersey), but then lose a heartbreaking series to the Cubs in the first round of the playoffs.
No worries, though, as my owner is pleased, fan attendance is up, and so is my budget as we move on to 2011 with my core players all locked up for a few more seasons.
I might not have won the World Series yet, but at least the thrill of baseball is back in San Francisco, even without Will Clark.