Giants trade Benitez for Messenger
Beleaguered closer returns to former team, the Marlins
NEW YORK -- Armando Benitez's tortured era with the San Francisco Giants ended on Thursday night when the team traded its embattled closer to the Florida Marlins for right-hander Randy Messenger.Benitez incurred the wrath of San Francisco fans with his perceived attitude as well as his performance. He blew 12 of 48 save opportunities in 2005-06 after signing a three-year, $21 million contract as a free agent. Although the right-hander improved his ratio this season by converting nine of his first 11 save chances, he maintained his tendency to shrug off accountability for poor performances, prompting the crowds at AT&T Park to boo him after the slightest lapse. "It has been a battle between him and the fans," shortstop Omar Vizquel said. Benitez sealed his fate with his final two appearances, both defeats that dropped his record to 0-3 with a 4.67 ERA. Last Friday he allowed two ninth-inning runs in a 5-3 loss to Colorado, then cited the offense's failure to advance baserunners. He endured a nightmarish outing on Tuesday night against the Mets, yielding two 12th-inning runs by balking twice before surrendering Carlos Delgado's walk-off home run in a 5-4 loss. The Giants agreed to pay most of Benitez's $7.6 million salary to facilitate the trade, general manager Brian Sabean said. "I think we exercised as much patience and professional courtesy as we could to give Armando a chance to have success here," Sabean said. "I'll say one thing about Armando: He was strong enough to be the whipping boy." Shifting the focus from Benitez during a conference call, Sabean issued a challenge to the remaining Giants, who fell to 25-27 with Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Mets. "Tonight we got three hits, looked as dead as a doornail, and that wasn't Armando's fault," Sabean said. "We're at a crossroads in my mind. Apparently, the fans, the press and maybe some people in the clubhouse felt he needed to go. We're going to find out what they're made of, now that they don't have a whipping boy. We'll see who's strong enough to be a whipping boy." Asked if he felt compelled to engineer another trade that would fortify the Giants' offense, Sabean said, "Ask the guys who aren't ready to answer the bell. ... We need guys on the field. As usual, we're not getting that."
Without naming individuals, Sabean referred to Tuesday's game, when Barry Bonds, Ray Durham and Ryan Klesko were resting or nursing injuries. Rich Aurilia also has been hampered by injuries.Vizquel echoed Sabean.
"Of course we're going to struggle to score when those guys aren't playing," he said, citing his own offensive shortcomings.Vizquel also called Benitez "misunderstood," indicating that the language barrier might have caused Benitez, a native of the Dominican Republic, some undue grief. "Latin players try to translate a lot of things in our minds that sometimes don't come out the right way. That's why I'm saying we are misunderstood by a lot of people," Vizquel said. "I didn't read some of the things that he said, but obviously, we have that barrier between the communication that we want to put out there." Benitez, 34, was informed of the trade during the game and left Shea Stadium before reporters were allowed in the Giants clubhouse. "I think he was stunned," Sabean said. "I did most of the talking. It was kind of an awkward situation." Benitez's tenure with San Francisco seemed doomed from the start. The Giants signed him in the belief that he could approach the 47 saves he amassed with Florida in 2004, but toward the end of his first month with the team, he tore two hamstring tendons in his right leg completely off his pelvis, and required surgery. He returned in mid-August, but was bothered by soreness in his elbow and knees throughout 2006. "He was challenged going back to the first injury," Sabean said. Finding a new closer is the Giants' next challenge. Manager Bruce Bochy planned to discuss the matter with his staff during the team's postgame bus ride to Philadelphia. Bochy named Brad Hennessey, who has emerged as San Francisco's top setup reliever, as an obvious candidate. "I don't have a problem with that," said Hennessey, who's 1-1 with a 2.82 ERA and two saves. "If that's what they choose to do, that's what they choose to do. I don't feel any added pressure. [Pitching the ninth inning] is just the eighth inning all over again, in my mind." Bochy said that rookie right-hander Tim Lincecum, who pitched in relief at the University of Washington and throws in the high-90-mph range, would not be considered. Bochy also intended to study videos of Messenger, 25, who was 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 23 appearances for Florida. Messenger spent most of last season with the Marlins, finishing 2-7 with a 5.67 ERA in 59 appearances.
"He's a big kid [6-foot-6, 240 pounds], with a good arm," Bochy said.Of Messenger, who had nine walks and 12 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings, Sabean said, "He maybe needs more command of the strike zone than he's shown in the past."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.