After Thursday’s game, the San Francisco Giants made it official: Armando Benitez has been traded to the Florida Marlins.
Benitez was returned to the scene of his best season after blowing his second save in the past two weeks, and taking losses in each of his last two outings. On the season, Benitez had a 4.67 ERA and nine saves in eleven opportunities. Benitez had spent a single season in Florida in 2004, compiling a career low 1.29 ERA and a career high 47 saves, a performance which earned him a three year, $21 million deal from the Giants.
In return, the Giants will receive 25-year old right-handed reliever Randy Messenger. Initial reports suggest that the Giants will also pay nearly all of the remaining salary on Benitez's contract, which ends this year.
The trade ends a contentious stint with Benitez, in regards to both the player and the fans. His signing came after the Giants had problems at closer after the unpopular 2003 trade of to-be All-Star closer Joe Nathan to the Minnesota Twins for the even more unpopular A.J. Pierzynski. The acquisition of Benitez was supposed to end the controversy at the end of the bullpen.
However, Benitez got off to a poor start in San Francisco, suffering a severe hamstring tear before spending even a month with the Giants, and missing most of 2005. Although he was praised for working his way back, the hamstring would lead to recurring knee problems that bothered him through 2006, a year in which he was routinely booed by San Francisco fans.
Benitez had been having a pretty good season until mid-May. His only hiccup had been a meeting against the New York Mets in San Francisco, where he allowed two runs and took his first loss of the season, though it was not a save situation. Up until that game, he’d had a 1.80 ERA and had seven saves in eleven outings.
On May 15th in Houston, he blew his first save, giving up a home run that just barely stayed fair on Houston’s shallow Crawford Boxes in Minute Maid Park. He came back to record two saves and allow just one baserunner in his next three outings (all against the Houston Astros), and it seemed like the Houston blown save would be a fluke of a short porch.
But as the Giants were being swept by the Colorado Rockies in late May, Benitez gave up the losing run on a Kaz Matsui single. Benitez then went to his most infamous line in interviews after the game, saying “I’m doing my job,” referring to the groundballs he induced. He blasted the offense for not moving over baserunners.
His next outing would be in New York, where he had first earned his reputation of not having the mental makeup to be a closer, and who had been the first team to really get to Benitez. He came in after the Giants took the lead in the top of the 12th, but he gave up a leadoff walk, and gave up two balks to eventually give up the lead, then gave up a home run to lose the game.
After that game, there was no excuse-making by Benitez, who said “I lost the game.” He also said “I don’t think so” when told that umpire crew chief Randy Marsh said Benitez “Started and stopped” on his first balk.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean had clearly lost faith in Benitez, breaking the club’s silence on the matter on Thursday indicating on KNBR, that the situation would be settled in some manner within 24 to 48 hours. However, it didn’t come close to taking that long.
Messenger comes to the Giants in the process of having his best season in the majors, in his third year. He currently has a 2.66 ERA after two seasons of an ERA over 5.25. However, he has walked nine against twelve strikeouts, and has given up 27 hits in 23 2/3 innings. An 11th round pick in 1999, he has one year of options left, and there is a possibility he will have to compete for his job with young relievers in Fresno, such as Scott Munter (3.24 ERA in Triple-A Fresno), Pat Misch (2.35 ERA in Triple-A Fresno), and Brian Wilson (2.92 ERA in Triple-A Fresno, but currently injured).
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