Monday, August 28, 2006

Sabean Chat on MLB.com Friday, August 25th

Last Friday, Sabean had a chat with registered fans on MLB.com today. Following is the transcript that I linked to plus some of my thoughts on some of the answers he gave:

San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean chatted online Friday about what the Giants need to do to make the postseason and the club's plans to strengthen the team during the offseason. He also discussed the team's top prospects.

Brian Sabean: Hello, I'm happy to be here with all of you again today. Thank you for taking the time to join me this afternoon. I'm always interested to hear what our fans have to say and I'm always appreciative of your support of the Giants. Let's get started.

Base_Ball_4: Can you give us a vague idea of what the team might look like next year?

Sabean: We fully expect and hope to get younger and healthier. Obviously, older and more experienced hasn't been the right formula. With that being said, going into the offseason, we'll look to improve our club through a three-pronged approach. No. 1, free agency. No. 2, through the trade market. And third, and certainly not least, our Minor League system.

OGC: Definitely a change in strategy, I guess they are tired of the ol' folks needing rest and getting injured. Then again, just dropping, say, Finley, Alou, Stanton, Kline, and Durham, the Giants can't help but get younger and healthier.

bg92: What is your plan with Barry Bonds?

Sabean: It's prudent to use the whole year to evaluate Barry, not just through this point in time in August. The greatest question to answer will be to try to predict his relative abilities or level of play in the future, thus we need to wait until the end of the season to address the matter.

OGC: Nothing new here. I still believe Barry's fate will depend on him getting within 25 homers of Aaron, at which time it becomes mutually desirable on both parties to continue, whereas if he has more than 25 homers (he is currently at 31 homers to tie, so he needs 6 more with 33 games to play; he has hit 17 in 105 games played, so he probably needs to play in all 33 games to play in order to reach the 25 homers to Aaron mark) he is probably out of luck, the Giants probably won't want him and, in any case, no team will want him, the Giants are his only avenue, DH-ing is just a pipe dream.

bow8345: What do the Giants have to do to stay in the hunt for October?

Sabean: Quite simply, win more games at home and pitch extremely well, both home and road.

OGC: Well, duh! But that's actually true, I suppose, our offense has not been that good whereas the pitching has been sterling at times, like Morris tonight and Lowry and Cain earlier this week, that's what's going to win games for us. Plus we haven't done that well at home either and we are playing a lot of games at home down the stretch against NL West opponents, so yeah, we need to win more games at home and pitch extremely well.

Jan_Martin: How are negotiations going between the Giants and the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies?

Sabean: They're ongoing negotiations and we fully expect to be back in Fresno next year.

OGC: There has been some controversy about this, the Fresno Bee had an expose where various people associated with the AAA team said that the Giants were not exactly doing well by them, with losing seasons each year they have been there, basically, so there is some thought by the team and city that they might want a new team to be their affiliation. Standard bland answer by Sabean, a trademark of his.

Base_Ball_4: Is the loan payment on AT&T Park affecting the amount of money you can spend on players? If so, when will the loan be paid off?

Sabean: Any expense we have has to have some effect on what we spend in any other area. First, we should look at our spending relative to other teams' spending. This year, we rank eighth out of 30 teams in spending. When people talk about the stadium financing expense, they seem to have a misconception that only the Giants have financing expense. All teams in new stadiums are paying rent and property tax, so while it is true that no one pays as much as the Giants, the differential between what we spend and what everybody else spends is not that great. Having said all this, the Giants' results on the playing field are not compromised by the level of spending. Our spending is at a level that should allow us to be fully competitive.

OGC: Now this was an interesting question and answer, an in-depth answer that Sabean don't normally give, so I have to assume he was prepared to give more info on this because there are a lot of fans who think the Giants have not been spending enough or all that they can, so he and Baer and Magowan have been trying to do PR to the effect that they have been spending all they can.

And as far as I know, this has been true. According to the financial estimates that Forbes do annually, the Giants operating profits are usually on the low side, close to break-even and lower than most teams in the majors on a percentage of revenue basis. This jives with the statements Giants management has given over the years on their operating policy: break even on operating profits during the season, make a little profit if make the playoffs.

Jerry_Z: What are the Giants' plans for next season? Sign a big-name free agent or go into a rebuilding mode, like what Florida is doing?

Sabean: We're open to any avenue that will make us competitive, as we feel we have been in the past. We have sufficient resources to be active in the free agent market, and our goal, as always, is to be a contender.

OGC: Blah, blah, blah, blahity blah blah. Actually the real news, and this was covered by Magowan in his interview over the weekend, is the Giants are going to spend to be competitive in 2007, and with so many free agents, they could have $40-50M to spend.

Base_Ball_3: Do you think Jonathan Sanchez will be called up again before the end of season? If so, what do you think about starting him?

Sabean: Hopefully, he'll be here sooner than later. He'll certainly come up and start some games for us, even if we have to go to a six-man rotation.

OGC: This makes it sound like Sanchez is auditioning for the rotation for 2007, like Cain did last season. That is very encouraging, if so, and if it works out that way, that's Morris, Lowry, Cain, Sanchez and the final spot, which could be filled by Jason Schmidt if they resign him, by Hennessey or Wright, if not. Correia wants to start but the Giants have shown that they are not that interested in starting him. He will probably have to pursue his dream of starting with another team unless one of the starters is shut down for the season for some injury or performs very poorly, which is always possible when you have a young staff.

natelandon: Are there plans to sign Pedro Feliz and Eliezer Alfonzo to a long-term deal?

Sabean: Pedro is a free agent that will get due consideration for a future contract, and Alfonzo's contract is under control by the ballclub.

OGC: Uninformed question, leading to stock answer and a wasted question.

bg92: What are you planning to do with the bullpen situation since it has had problems all year closing out games?

Sabean: Pure and simply, we're trying to win every game and not worry about anybody's feelings or in what order the bullpen is used.

OGC: In other words, Benitez is the closer unless he is not the closer. :^) But seriously, this is a pretty significant statement as Benitez basically got a vote of no confidence from the GM. It also shows that while salary will earn you some respect to start the season, performance is all that matters when you get down to the nitty-gritty of the pennant chase, salary be damned. I don't recall if I posted here on this or at McCovey Chronicles (I think there though) but I think that while Benitez will probably perform OK in 2007, I think the Giants are ready to trade him off to another team during the offseason for a lower reliever plus probably have to give up some cash (maybe up to half Benitez' salary) as well (to get better players in return).

slimmc_yahoo_com: If Felipe Alou was interested in returning as manager, would you be willing to keep him?

Sabean: As in Barry's case and with all our free agents, we will evaluate Felipe's body of work over the entire season and see how that bodes for the future.

OGC: This is a significant change in the Giants management's public stance on Felipe Alou's status. Sabean earlier this season notoed that Felipe's return would depend on whether Felipe wanted to come back or not. Now it appears that the Giants might decide to take another route. As I noted above, Bonds' return is not assured and Alou's return now appears to be tied to Bonds' return.

teenaposas: Do you see Todd Linden and Kevin Frandsen having prominent roles in the lineup next season?

Sabean: Players like Jason Ellison, Frandsen, Fred Lewis, Linden, Lance Niekro, Sanchez and Brian Wilson will be given a chance to prove themselves next year as part of the Minor League system component of our three-pronged plan mentioned earlier.

OGC: Looks like Schierholtz and Ishikawa will get another year of minor league development. I was surprised, a little, that Ortmeier didn't get a mention, I guess his star has dimmed this year. Same with Munter.

Bryan_Dorfler: Are there other international efforts or signings that can be expected? Can you detail your plans for improving the Giants' international efforts/presence?

Sabean: The international market is very fluid. You have to be prepared to react, as we did in the Angel Villalona signing. We hope to be more aggressive in this area with select players.

OGC: Good news here, this will help make up for the lack of high draft picks during most of Sabean's tenure as GM. But he basically said this already as part of the PR on Villalona's signing, so good questions, but Sabean is the master of the "answer dodge," of saying without saying much, of avoiding the question by appearing to answer. Questions to Sabean probably have to be to the point and very specific if we are to get him to answer what we want. Like, "What are the Giants doing regarding the Japanese League?"

deeboy89ratedrookie: Will you focus on drafting more positional players over pitchers for the 2007 draft?

Sabean: Quite possibly, we'll have a high draft selection number as well as possible multiple picks due to the loss of free agents. Of course, we'll keep an open mind in scouting amateur players next year, but in this industry, pitching is still the gold standard. With that said, we very well could be one of the few teams in the Majors to have as many as four homegrown pitchers in our starting rotation next year.

OGC: As I've mentioned here over and again, the Giants should have a good corp of pitchers going forward, particularly in the starting rotation. Looking forward, the cream of the crop will stay with the team and the flowover will get us players to fill our positional needs, much like how the 'Dres traded Eaton to get Adrian Gonzalez, except that the 'Dres was not trading from strength, they still need starting pitchers.

nancy_moniz: I am confused every time I hear a player was put on waivers. Can you explain the process?

Sabean: For any player to be traded after July 31, they must pass through waivers unclaimed. Then they are eligible to be traded. If they are claimed by another team, you can only negotiate with that one team or pull the player back, which is normally done. If you put them out on waivers a second time, and they are in fact claimed for a second time, you have no recourse but to let the player go to the claiming team without a trade.

OGC: Nancy, you can easily search on the Internet for this info, or better, ask nicely at any Giants blog or discussion board, and get this answer. It is a waste of a question to ask Sabean procedural questions like this.

natelandon: Who do you feel is the most promising prospect in the Giants' system and why?

Sabean: Hands down, both Sanchez and Tim Lincecum. They both are young starting pitchers who will have a big impact in the near future.

OGC: Another wasted question from Nate. Like the question above, you could have gotten the answer to this easily from any Giants blog or discussion board. But it was a good question, just poorly asked because Sabean will always veer towards giving an answer that Giants fans should know already. A better question would be "Who do you feel is the most promising POSITION prospect in the Giants' system and why?"

yoyosd: Can you tell us anything about Villalona that we signed out of the Dominican Republic?

Sabean: Villalona is a talent beyond his years -- not only his physical abilities, but the way he plays the game. We are very fortunate to have signed him, as he was highly sought after by the rest of Major League Baseball.

OGC: Good synopsis by Sabean of what was said after the signing but no new info here. If the questioner knew enough to ask about Villalona, he should have known enough to have seen Sabean's comments already and ask a more specific question, like to which field is his power, is he patient or free swinger, will he take walks, is he really a 3B or might he end up elsewhere, like Sandoval moving to 3B this season, how good defensively would the Giants project him (gold-glover? adequate?).

Interesting spin by Sabean that "he was highly sought after by the rest of baseball." The other bids places other teams' opinion that Villalona was a late first round pick, perhaps a supplemental pick, at best (other signing offers were in $1-1.5M range if I recall right). Only Seattle placed his abilities as that of a Top 5 pick, offering $3M for him.

mrjune21: Since the All-Star Game is in San Francisco next year, is there more pressure to build a competitive team for 2007

Sabean: No more so than every year.

OGC: Anybody at McCovey Chronicles or at any Giants blog could have given this answer. A Sabean Stock Answer (SSA).

jeffgiants: Is Shea Hillenbrand playing up to your expectations?

Sabean: No, and probably not up to his either. He has a track record of being an above-average Major League hitter, and we hope he gets it together soon.

OGC: Pretty openly critical of Hillenbrand. Sabean has typically given bland vanilla answers whereever he can (the SSA), even Benitez he had previously avoided being openly critical, so this is a breath of fresh air. And, to boot, he openly questions whether he'll get out of his slump, no "he's too good a vet to not start hitting" stock answer.

trilljester: Any chance of trading Armando Benitez in the offseason, and saving some money and using Brian Wilson or Jack Taschner as our closer next year?

Sabean: Trades are always possibilities, but hopefully both Taschner and Wilson will impact next year's team to a greater extent in whatever role they settle into.

OGC: Nice diplomatic dodge of Benitez situation and changing it into a positive view of Wilson/Taschner.

Rodrigo_Sanchez: Are you still working in the Giants organization with no contract? I feel that is important for people to know how loyal you are to this club.

Sabean: I've always been under contract. I currently am and I will be in '07.

OGC: Hmmm, no word on 2008... :^) It would be unheard of for him to be working without a contract on some oral agreement but it's nice that he confirms that previous unfounded rumors were just that. Not too surprising if it really is ending with 2007, by then the Giants transition should be continuing along and the fruits of our farm system should be much clearer, letting Giants ownership know whether Sabean should be kept on or not.

But I don't see either side wanting to drop the other at this time, the only way Sabean improves his position is if he does a Billy Beane and get a percentage of the team and I don't see any other club offering that, and the Giants farm system I think has been making a good show the past two seasons and will continue to produce over the next season, so the owners will show their pleasure over this development by giving Sabean and Tidrow raises and promotions.

deeboy89ratedrookie: It may be too little to judge right now, but given the fact that Lincecum has been working down in the farm, do you view Lincecum as an upcoming closer or a starter?

Sabean: At this time, we are looking at him as a starting pitcher.

OGC: YEAH! While his statements before made it clear that starting is Lincecum's future, too many cynical Giants fans have took their shot at Sabean by saying that he'll make Lincecum a closer or reliever. No team would invest $2M plus their #10 overall pick to get a starting pitcher and then make him into a permanent closer. So it is nice that he confirms publicly this is so. Good, carefully worded question.

slimmc_yahoo_com: In your opinion, is Frandsen the future for the Giants at second base?

Sabean: He may very well be. He will go to the Arizona Fall League to get more at-bats and experience playing other positions also.

OGC: SSA, a Sabean staple.

jo_zhang: Do you think we have a better chance of winning the Wild Card or winning the West?

Sabean: Our goal is to win the West. The Wild Card is definitely too much of a crapshoot, but we are in both races as we speak.

OGC: SSA

fresgiant29: Do you think you have a good chance to sign Jason Schmidt in the offseason or will he be too expensive?

Sabean: Jason's time here has been exemplary, but we do know he will be one of the most sought-after free agent pitchers in baseball. Like with all our free agents, we will definitely give him due consideration after the season.

OGC: SSA, nothing new here.

Base_Ball_3: Will you make a serious run for the pitcher from Japan?

Sabean: Rules prohibit us from talking about any free agents, including those in Japan, but we are in the process of thoroughly scouting those leagues also.

OGC: Good to know the Giants "are in the process of thoroughly scouting those leagues also." Implies that since they are "in process" then they never really throughly scouting theose leagues before.

hanksghost: I really like Brian Anderson in San Jose. Where do you see him pitching next year and what is your evaulation of him?

Sabean: Brian may have a chance to pitch in the Arizona Fall League or the Hawaiian Winter League this offseason, and if he is able to do so, he could be invited to Major League camp.

OGC: Good question but poorly structured allowing Sabean to answer without his evaluation of Anderson, which was the more interesting question to get an answer for. Not that I necessarily would have been better, it is easier to critique.

Jerry_Z: How about Mike Matheny for manager next season?

Sabean: We hope that Mike is able to return as our front-line catcher. That's his goal, and his situation is being monitored very closely. He is still under contract with the Giants -- to catch.

OGC: Joke type of question, what a waste...

speedbird2: What, if any, are the plans for Lance Niekro? Is he possible trade bait? Or, should Feliz leave, would you consider moving Hillenbrand to third base?

Sabean: Niekro will be back in September. He's played extremely well in Triple-A and maybe that's what he needed all along.

OGC: Not too surprising that he'll be back in September, but nice to see since he's been gangbusters since he went down. If Niekro is up in the majors next season, it might be a good idea for the Giants to just assign the Grizzlies hitting coach to the MLB team (or at least for all home stands) and personally coach Niekro to keep Lance focused and hitting well, it has been literally day and night between what he was doing at the MLB level and what he has been doing in AAA.

Kevin_McLaren: Is there something wrong with Matt Morris?

Sabean: Matt is healthy and still able to make every start. Admittedly, his performance has been up and down, but he does take us deep into most games and gives us a chance to win. The fact that he has the third-lowest run support in the National League after the All-Star break doesn't help.

OGC: Morris hasn't been really bad, just been the victim of some bad luck but also gives up a lot of homers.

damonminor: Who do you see being the cornerstone players of the Giants a few years from now?

Sabean: Our starting pitching and young pitching in general.

OGC: That's what I've been saying since spring training, but good to see someone in Giants management acknowledge it now. The anti-Sabean crowd likes to paint him as anti-youth, but besides changing over the starting rotation with youngsters and a lot of the bullpen, he has kept younger players around like Aurilia, Ortiz, Estes, Livan, Snow, Kent, Mueller, Benard.

tsfgiant: The lack of power in the lineup has been present all year. What are your plans to acquire a power hitter next year?

Sabean: Power is hard to come by, but we'll be on a search to improve that area. But we also need to improve our overall on-base percentage as a team first.

OGC: Wow, a reference to OBP! Won't the saber-nazi's be surprised! Just because some players acquired are low OBP does not mean that Sabean don't believe in OBP. Sometimes you are just stuck using or getting these players because they are the best available. In addition, I have seen Alou show that he understands why OBP is important and adjusts his strategy based on that stat, so perhaps he has won over Sabean.

Base_Ball_2: Why did you acquire Mike Stanton when you already had a more effective pitcher in Sanchez on the staff?

Sabean: Great question. We were very worried that we could abuse Sanchez's arm pitching him out of the bullpen. He's too good of a young talent and we very much needed to get him to Triple-A to start so he can return to the Major Leagues as a starting pitcher.

OGC: Basically Sanchez was brought up due to bullpen need but also because the major league staff wanted to evaluate him. Probably once they figured he is the real deal, that's when they moved to get Stanton and return Sanchez to a starting role. That was also, probably a motivation for their replacing Wright with Hennessey, if they foresee Sanchez being the 5th starter next season, there's no need for Wright, so push him out and let Hennessey show what he is capable of, now that he's more experienced.

Handsome_3000: What is your No. 1 priority this offseason?

Sabean: To get younger, stronger and healthier.

OGC: That means Durham is not returning, for sure, and probably not Alou and maybe Bonds too, who, while healthy, isn't capable of playing a full season anymore. At least if they are to get younger and healthier.

chirano: I'm a season ticket holder who's on the fence for renewing. I'd like to see an All-Star acquisition to justify my commitment to the Giants for another seven years. I don't mind spending the money, as long as you use it to go after A-list players.

Sabean: Nothing would please us more but to sign anything but A-list players, except that this free agent market isn't necessarily as deep with that type of talent to go around for all the teams that will be interested in such players.

OGC: Verifies the impression I've seen on Giants boards that this coming off-season's free agent class is not too deep. So it sounds like the Giants will probably have to reload with perhaps one big free agent acquisition, maybe the best player available (Soriano? Carlos Lee?) then fill in with re-signing Giants and with players from the farm system.

journman: Last year you turned over 40 percent of your starting roster and admitted that you overestimated your pitching strength. Are there areas in which you need to improve either your own performance or the team's ability to accurately evaluate?

Sabean: We need to improve in all areas of decision-making and in all areas of the team.

OGC: Pretty candid answer, he could have given the stock "all organizations need to continuously improve their operations, no matter how good you are."

Jerry_Z: Are we still in the win-now mode for next season?

Sabean: We always focus on winning and feel that the average fan doesn't want anything less. Our goal and our mission is to retool this team to that end and push for a spot in the playoffs next year. I certainly understand your frustration and the pain you're going through as a Giants fan. We have missed the mark this year as far as our expectations and hope to finish the season stronger than we've played to date to give you folks a good taste in your mouth going forward to the pending 2007 season. With that said, we have a long road ahead of us in the final month of the season to attain the goal that we all set of playing in October. We will continue to push every day to get there and we all should be proud of the players' effort, which has been unquestioned all season long. Today's chat session cemented in my mind how much passion and knowledge our fans have for our team. Let me tell you, I have as much passion as you do.

OGC: Nice to get a statement from Giants management about what their overall philosophy is going forward and an understanding of how some fans might be feeling about the Giants situation. Then he SSA'ed it...

Sabean: Thank you for taking time out of your day. As always, I enjoy the chance to converse with our fans. Again, thank you for your passion, and I hope to see you here at the ballpark.

OGC: And thanks to Sabean for making himself available for public statements and questioning.

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