What follows is my post about why we should keep Sabean:
After saying that Sabean's role as Giants GM was not secure, that it depended upon the results of this season, Magowan apparently has seen enough and the Giants are negotiating with Sabean on an extension. I assume that it would be for at least 2 years - and that's what I would advocate for (AP leak says "multi-year"). I like what Sabean has done in rebuilding the pitching staff over the past three seasons and would like to see what he can do with the lineup once Bonds's salary is no longer on the payroll, especially now that most of the roles in the pitching staff has been filled, except for closer (Hennessey has the title but no real hold on it yet).
Some people accuse me of being Pollyannish and viewing the world with rose colored glasses. On the contrary, I've seen a lot of bad seasons go by in my 37 years of Giants fanaticism that I feel that I'm being cautious when I support Sabean. Believe me, I don't want to return to the 70's and 80's where mediocrity ruled, for the most part, until we found our thrill (Will the Thrill, that is)
So why do I conditionally support Sabean? First people blame him for the farm system when they should be supporting him. I have studied the draft and it is not easy finding good players through the draft, even when you are drafting high, in the top 5, even if you have the top pick, teams have only been successful 39% of the time finding a good player. It is exponentially worse when picking late in the first round, with the 21-30 pick, which is where you pick when you are a consistent winner, as Sabean had the Giants from 1997 to 2004. People don't realize what a big difference it is between picking 5th vs. 30th.
Second, this is the guy who presided over player personnel for the Yankees when they put together a number of their World Series winning teams' key players, like Posada, Mariano, Pettitte and Jeter, and the guy who led the Giants to winning - IMMEDIATELY after one of the worse losing seasons ever in Giants franchise history and kept them winning for 8 seasons. That should speak to his talent evaluation abilities. Add to that his masterful rebuilding of the pitching staff over the past 3 seasons and I think that he hasn't lost anything.
Third, circumstances have dictated the acquisition of many players. If a position is open and every other team is asking only for your best prospects, it's easy to trade off Grilli, Fontano, or Vogelsong, but not so easy to when the names are Lowry, Cain, and Lincecum. It's not everyday that a team will give you Fred McGriff for a bunch of second tier prospects, like the Padres did with the Braves.
So, if free agency is your main avenue of player acquisition, and given how hard it is to draft good players in the first 100 picks when you are competing hard for the division title, you have to accept lesser players like Feliz or face the fans's anger if you don't field someone there. And often, like when we signed Alfonzo, Durham, Benitez, and Vizquel, the Giants acquired the best available free agent; unfortunately, they didn't turn out the way we wanted in many cases.
But sometimes that is fate or luck. Who knew, for example, that I-Rod, who was continuously injured in his late 20's when he should be healthiest, would be a better free agent acquisition than Alfonzo or Durham or Benitez, who came into their contracts with the Giant with a pretty good health record or had performed well the year before. I-Rod should have gotten worse physically, not better, with age.
I Once Doubted Sabean Like Others
The odd thing is that I was once like some of the Sabean Naysayers. Back a few years, I was wondering why Sabean couldn't produce in the farm system, particularly since he was good at identifying position players to trade for. It didn't make sense. And I was complaining with everyone else about this.
Unlike others, I decided to investigate how badly the Giants are compared to others. That required gathering data on how well teams draft so that I could compare the Giants against other teams who were better. I started first by compiling the draft picks and comparing who was good and otherwise.
I looked at the stats and was totally surprised: good players are not that easy to identify, even in the first round, and as a result, there are really not that many of them available via the draft every year.
That blew my mind, most experts would rave about this prospect or another, but after the 10th pick, you have better odds of rolling a 7 with a pair of dice than you do of selecting a good player, when the best teams picked around the 21-30th picks overall. And the odds fell like a rock: by the 100th pick overall, which neared the end of the 3rd round, less than 2% of the picks for picks 91-100 overall, were good players. So then I compared the Giants against other teams who were winning divisions and picking in the same range overall, and the Giants were arguably as good at picking as the A's, Yankees, and Braves for the time period examined, if not better in some cases.
I did the same thing with free agents. Yes, a lot of them went bad. Same with trades. Focused on the Giants, we don't notice that other teams make bad trades, bad free agent signings. Yeah, we could fire them all, but then the next GMs will probably do just as well. No one will ever steal other GMs blind forever. And if you take small risks, you get small gains; you take bigger risks, you get bigger gains, but also bigger lossess when the bigger risks go bad.
Also, when you think back, a lot of the free agent signings were considered the best available player at the time we signed them, with a lot of teams competing to sign them over us. Alfonzo, Durham, Benitez, Alou, Vizquel, Molina, Durham again, Zito. Sabean signed the best available free agent on the market but most did not work out as expected or hoped.
But who knew Durham would be so fragile after so many years without ever going on the DL? Alfonzo would still be very valuable if he could get on base like he did all through his career, but suddenly he couldn't do even that, let alone hit for some power, so his OBP and SLG was much depressed. Benitez was injured, it seemed, within moments of signing. He isn't the best pitcher but even if he imploded, if he pitched anything like he did the previous five seasons, he would have been a good sign. Alou had injuries, but who could have seen him tripping on the warning track in foul territory. Matheny's concussion was the first I'm aware of to force a MLB player to retire. It was like the pendulum swung back after all his great moves from 1997 to 2002.
I've gotten a lot of flack (or to put it closer but nicely, manure) over calling this a "stealth rebuild".
Q: But what is a rebuild?
A: Changing the composition of a team from older to younger. The Giants have rebuilt their pitching staff already with young players, most of them from our farm system.
Q: Is every player called up going to be great and successful?
A: No, players will fail, see Lance Niekro and Jason Ellison, who had the starting job but could not hold them, or Todd Linden, who could not hold the key 4th OF starter role this season, or Brian Wilson, annointed closer of today if Benitez failed, but couldn't even keep his spot on the 25 man roster.
Q: Is a rebuild solely done with young prospects and no free agents?
A: No, for example, Detroit signed key free agents in I-Rod, Magglio Ordonez, Troy Perceival, and Todd Jones, during the depths of their latest rebuild, undertook by their new GM, Dave Dombrowski, architect of the Expos and Marlins division/pennant titles.
Atlanta, as a significant contributor to returning to winning, signed Charlie Leibrandt, all of 34 years old the season he joined them. They also signed Juan Berenguer, 36 years old, to be their closer. They also kept older players, like Dale Murphy and Lonnie Smith, during the losing seasons, before finally trading them when they were ready to start winning again. And signed 32 year old Otis Nixon, 29 year old Rafael Belliard, and 30 year old Sid Bream as contributors to their first winning year after 6 abject losing seasons, and they are grizzled vet signings similar to the Giants M.O. of recent years, none of them were top players. They also signed Terry Pendleton, who was a huge contributor, and 30 years old. Their only home grown prospects playing in their first year of winning, was Mark Lemke, no big shakes, Ron Gant, who was very good, and David Justice, who was even better. Gant took 5 years to contribute, 7 to break out. Justice took 5 years to do both. Their pitching staff was pretty much home grown, with Smoltz, Avery, Glavine, Stanton, and Mercker leading the way.
Q: Do teams normally win during rebuilding?
A: No. Look over the history of every team who are leading or competing for division leads today, almost all went through at least a 3 year period of losing - many much longer than 3 and not just losing but abject losing, where team is the suckiest team around. All except the D-gers, who, while not losing consecutively, clearly was in a malaise of barely .500 ball.
DO me a favor if you don't believe me. Take whatever favorite team you like to use as an example that the Giants should follow in rebuilding and see what pain they have gone through, what they did to turn things around. Look at their history in baseball-reference.com, as I've done many times. I know the D-gers are the only team to return to title competing status without a long or gut wrenching period of losing and rebuilding. If they are not still rebuilding, like the Royals, Devil Rays, and Pirates, for example.
Even the Yankees had a bad period, which, coincidentally for our story, has a link to us: Brian Sabean was in charge of player development and scouting at that time. From 1988 to 1992, the Yankees were either losing or near the cellar, and Sabean was director of scouting from 1986-1990 and VP of player development/scouting from 1990-92. As the above link notes, he had a "vital role in developing the Yankee's farm system into one of baseball's finest, having drafted or signed as amateurs the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, J.T. Snow, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte."
Giants Are Rebuilding Already
So the Giants losing over the past 2.5 seasons, with veterans on the team but also younger players, plus signing free agents along the way, are no different from other teams who rebuilt and eventually became successful division winners again. They have been doing it while trying to win at the same time. Yes, it stinks to lose good young players like Accardo, but we were close and Hillenbrand, if he would have hit his career numbers, would have been a huge boost to our offense. As it is, we still have Chulk, who, while not as good thus far as Accardo, has still been a very good reliever for us.
And Sabean has been in charge of this rebuilding, with Tidrow. Another reason I like Sabean as a GM, besides his success with the Yankees, is because he started out in coaching. He coached in college from 1979 to 1984, and was head coach at the University of Tampa in 1983 and 1984, leading them to their first ever appearance in the NCAA regional tournament. As coach, you have to know to some extent how to tell good hitters from poor ones, good pitchers from poor ones. You also had to recruit high schoolers and be able to distinguish the ones who has the skills and talent that might be able to help you win.
Rebuilds require that sort of knowledge. It helps when the GM is able to pitch in with reviews of players and know when to challenge the scout's opinion on a player, to see the subtle shading that might ID the diamond in the rough. That gives our GM and added dimension that not all GM's have.
I think this is the best compromise. As much as people hate Sabean, I think their emotions are getting in the way of their thinking. The fact is that he has rebuilt the pitching staff. It is young and it is good. Sure, not every part is great, the bullpen in particular: get used to it, when you rebuild, not every prospect will be doing great. The good news is that the bullpen ERA is actually not that bad, it was under 4.00 the other day, though the 5 runs Chulk gave up probably pushed it above that. But that's what you call learning pains as the young pitchers become experienced.
But can he do the rest? I think a two year contract is ideal. We can always can Sabean after a year if things are not working out. And changing GMs during a rebuild can set back the rebuild sometimes. Plus, eatting one year shouldn't hurt the club that much if we do fire him after a year. But if he is still as skilled as he had shown previously, then he should do a great job again and we should return to competitiveness pretty quickly. In any case, we should be able to tell within 2-3 years how successful he is.
Why such a short time frame? Looking at the Giants record by score difference, they are pretty much around .500 for all differences except for two: they are 3-0 when the difference is 13 and they are 6-15 when the difference is 2 runs. They are also 13-16 when the difference is 1 run. Adding a bit of offense would swing those records around quickly to the positive side. They have lost 37 games (out of 48) by either 1, 2, or 3 runs. Adding a bit more offense should swing those games to the win column quickly.
Also, Magowan noted that they were impressed with what Sabean did with the draft picks this year. Sabean said that Bumgarner and Alderson should advance quickly and reach the majors in two years. That's a timetable that we can set our clocks to and see if they are doing what he said. After all, he's also the one who thought Valdez was ready a couple of years ago.
In addition, there is a bunch of position prospects who are nearing the end of their development and should rise up very soon - Lewis, Schierholtz, EME, Ishikawa - plus others who are still developing, including our Carribean Angels, Villalona and Joseph. They in particular will be sign posts of how Sabean is doing, they should be progressing or else, again, it would bring into sharper question his abilities.
2007 Strategy Thoughts
What should Sabean do has been on the minds of Giants fans, both supporters and detractors. I think first and foremost our team's strength is its starting rotation. It should not be weakened unless we are getting a first rate prospect in return, someone who should be starting by next year at the latest, plus a prospect who is good but still developing, and that's for Morris, he should be the only starting pitcher available for trade. If we cannot get such a package for him, then we hold on to him, but for his experience and training abilities, but because our rotation is so strong with him this year.
However, during the offseason, most probably Morris should be moved. I like him but Sanchez needs a spot in the rotation and the rotation should still be strong with Sanchez, just strong with Morris. Basically we wait as long as we can to trade Morris until a team is antsy enough to offer a nice package for him. That also opens a spot for Misch in the bullpen.
Ortiz, I still like and would like to keep him. We don't have many choices for closer right now, unfortunately, Wilson and Sadler have not developed this season as would have been expected based on how well they did last season. They made Accardo available for trade but unfortunately they didn't deliver. Ortiz could spot start if necessary, if Sanchez fails, he should be OK in relief, he should be OK closing. Just because a team is rebuilding doesn't mean that you go ahead and let the team lose in bad fashion. So use Ortiz as backup for a variety of positions.
I like Kline, but Misch was doing great in AAA, so we should trade Kline to a pennant contender who needs a good lefty reliever, and get a nice prospect in return. Then Misch will get a chance and we won't have to rely on Taschner so much, put him in more situations where he can succeed. I still like him, particularly his attitude, but obviously he's been doing poorly. But that's the pains of rebuilding, putting up with prospects's ups and downs.
Durham should be shopped, particularly if he gets hot again in the second half. Frandsen looks ready to play at the major league level. He's not going to be good or great but he's going to be a complementary piece of the lineup, he should get an OPS in the 700's and 2B looks like his eventual position.
However, we have options for him at 3B too. We should not resign Feliz again. We needed to this season because we needed someone OK at 3B but he has been much less than OK. Frandsen could take 3B.
There is also SS. Aurilia could play there, but I'm thinking he can't do it on a regular basis anymore. So we might have to go with Vizquel again, as shortstops are not that great offensively anyway, so he won't be a total burden there, but he could be batting 2nd. However, if some team is willing to give us a good position prospect for him, I would take it and play Aurilia and Frandsen there on a rotating basis, maybe even through Feliz there a few times. If we are selling, it won't matter much anyway.
Speaking of Aurilia, he is too versatile to trade away. He can play 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS. He is protection in case any infield regular is injured (
I would also try to keep Klesko, though the price has to be reasonable. He is a high OBP hitter who can hit for power, what more can you ask for as an example for our young hitters to emulate. It is one thing to ask them to learn by watching Bonds, another to watch Klesko; the former is a daunting task, the latter more down to earth in expectations. Plus we could platoon him with Niekro and give Lance one last chance to be productive. If he can hit LHP and Klesko RHP, we can get pretty good production out of the 1B spot. If Klesko is too pricey, I think Ishikawa should be promoted and platoon with Niekro. Sink or swim time, time to fish or cut bait, particularly if we are accepting the possibility of losing in 2008.
I would be OK with keeping Bonds if we aren't paying him much. If he wants more, he can go. And I think there are automatic draft picks now, we don't have to offer arbitration or anything. Otherwise, we bring up Schierholtz, Lewis, and Ortmeier and let them play for playing time. I don't think they have much to learn at AAA anyway.
Winn has a no-trade, but Roberts could be traded. I think we should keep him. I like his speed at the top of the lineup, and I think he will start disrupting the other team in the second half because he's been hot in July. He also has a nice OBP for his recent years, so I think he'll be good up there. I'm not convinced yet about Lewis, and I dont' believe in just giving players all the at-bats at a position, so I rather he fight with the other two for playing time. Roberts is platooned a lot anyway, so that would open up a lot of ABs for the three if needed.
I had been hoping the Giants could sign A-Rod for SS or 3B, but the more I think about it, the less I see it being possible. There is a lot of money opening in the payroll, but I don't think $30M worth and that's what he is asking for. That would mean increasing the payroll and yet not signing any other free agent. I don't see the Giants increasing their payroll to fit A-Rod. But the talk about signing three other free agents don't make too much sense to me because I doubt that there are any good players available for 1B, 3B, and SS who are worth $10M each who we can sign instead of signing A-Rod. Plus, I hear that the Angels billionaire owner has his eyes set on A-Rod, and with Cuban trying to buy the Cubs, they could be in play for A-Rod as well, to make a big splash there. And he's worth over $2 billion. We are not outbidding either owners.
And hopefully we start getting some surprises from the farm system. We have a lot of relievers preparing to move up, so we should be fully stocked there for a while. However, position wise, Horwitz is the only one who appears to be getting ready to join the majors soon. Everyone else (besides Lewis, Schierholtz, and Ortmeier) is having problems of one sort or another (or lack of talent).
Seeing if Fairley (assuming he signs), Noonan, Williams, and Culberson develop and advance will be interesting, particularly Fairley. He loves baseball and appears willing to work hard to reach the majors, plus he was previously busy with other things, like school, football, and other activities. Now, he will be 100% devoted to baseball but even then, he was very good at both the OF and a starting pitcher, so he would gain also from the focus on being solely an OF without worrying about opposing teams' hitters. The two Angels too, will be interesting to follow.