Love of Vets?
First off, his supposed love of vets. The big problem here is that people don't remember what Sabean did when he took over: he traded-for/signed a bunch of young guys. Kent, Hamilton, Snow, Nen, Livan, Estes, most of the guys were just entering their prime physical period. Also, young players like Aurilia (albeit took forever), Kirk Rueter, Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes, got the call up from the minors to play, Sabean didn't just go out and buy the nearest vet who filled a need. Of course, another problem is that many of these "know-it-alls" weren't around when Sabean rebuilt the Giants, they only know AT&T/PacBell Park and some only know them from their 2002 World Series.
For these people, he only went with vets in recent years because the ownership mandate was to win with Barry. To optimize that, you get and start vets, you don't try out young guys because they sometimes, oftentimes, crap out, like LaRoche did in his brief trials with the Dodgers, even though he was one of the highly rated prospects for the past couple of seasons. Or Anthony Reyes for the Cardinals before they recently gave up on him and traded him away.
For another reason why they are full of hooey: look at our pitching staff, all young guys, he didn't just fill the staff with hired guns, he totally re-built that and did a great job with that thus far, which few seem to acknowledge. Only true vet there are Zito and Yabu, and Yabu is probably gone very soon, we have a nice group of young relievers in our system, and if Valdez proves to be healthy next season, Yabu would not have a place on the staff.
It's like people would prefer to have one nice hitter and one nice pitcher, but still scrapping along everywhere else, and be happy with that. Or they just have blinders on and just think "Sabean bad; no Sabean good." The WHOLE FREAKING PITCHING STAFF IS RE-BUILT, or at least all except for Zito, and he appears to finally start being of value as a pitcher - he has been greatly responsible for much of the Giants poor home record, as I noted previously. Most teams would KILL to have a pitching staff like ours. One lost soul actually called into Gary Radnich's radio show and complained about the pitching staff, and actually dismissed Matt Cain as being inconsistent and therefore not that good.
If you play young players, they are going to be inconsistent. They will be gloriously good one moment, maddingly bad the next. There are few who are like Pujols and come out hitting, most will have their high of highs and low of lows. They are prospects, they are the young players people are crying for, they need to realize that this is part and parcel with going young: inconsistency. The point is, how is Cain doing overall? He has been just fine, in fact, more than fine, he has been very good.
Inability to Value Players
Please, except for the Pierzynski trade and Accardo trade, Sabean has been pretty much winning most trade deals. When you are trying desperately to win - and that was the mandate from the owners - you have to pay top dollar to get the players you want on the open market, those contracts are almost by definition "over paying" because the market has been in an inflationary mode the past few years. Still, he often got the best players available on the market when he had the payroll - unfortunately, they were not always that good or healthy or both. If you want to call it him going down with his ship, so be it.
But that is not the same as being unable to value players, you can only take what the market will bear you in free agency and that was an ownership mandate. That has nothing to do with overvaluing a player, that only has to do with having the winning bid to get the player you need in order to complete your team.
People don't think about the consequences of not signing players, the alternative was having young unproven players like Feliz or Torrealba or Mohr taking significant roles on the team when you could have a vet. If you are betting $20M on Barry Bonds, you have to go all in with your bets, you have to try to maximize your chances of winning. And you don't do that giving positions to unproven players who never did much in the minors to convince even the prospect experts to think that they are any good.
And, in a trade, you can control it to a much greater degree because you need to sign off on the deal before it goes through. And most deals he has made have been to the Giants advantage. He just hasn't done as many blockbuster ones lately, but is that his fault, or because other GMs are leery of getting fleeced by him and thus avoid dealing with him? I think it is a mixture of both, nobody is perfect, nobody will have great deals all the time. And in total, his trades have been in the plus column significantly.
Agent Ned and A.J.
I still believe that Ned Colletti is responsible for the Pierzynski trade. I think I now have additional logic supporting that. In a recent column, a LA Times writer, who don't think much of Colletti and writes about this regularly, writes the following:
"Some of those are minor league deals and I had nothing to do with them,"This is exactly the practice that Colletti praised when he was with the Giants and working under Brian plus in interviews just after getting hired by LA. He talked about how Sabean would give the people who work for him a lot of lattitute in doing things that a GM would normally do, such as making trades. It looks like he has reduplicated Sabean's policies in LA.
Colletti protests when I mention his trading track record, and while I find it
odd the Dodgers' GM doesn't have final approval of all deals, he adds, "The
player development people made five or six of those."
I think this is another piece of evidence supporting my assertion that it was Colletti who probably did the Pierzynski trade. Magawan long ago disavowed the trade, saying that he would have killed the deal if it had been brought to his attention. You would think that Sabean would know when to bring something to Magowan's attention or not; you wouldn't think that one of his underlings would, however.
And on the face of it, just from a talent basis, it was a steal, BP said as much in their annual after that trade, as relievers are considered fungible by a certain saber-crowd, and the prospects were suspects, and for that you get an All-Star young catcher you control for another three years.
That's a move a desk-bound fantasy baseball administrator like Ned would do, not a baseball trained scout like Sabean who should know the talents and personalities about most of the players in the majors because he has watched most of them make the leap from H.S. to maybe college to the lower minors, then upper minors, and finally the majors. He would have known from multiple reports from scouts that A.J. was a horse's behind and difficult to deal with, but Happy Ned didn't have that knowledge. He just saw "All-Star Catcher" and drooled and pulled the deal. That pattern has continued in LA with his deals to get Schmidt, Loaiza, Pierre, Andruw, and now Manny (LaRoche for 2 months of Manny?), for example.
And then to compound the problem, Ned, in the job he was suppose to do, horribly underbids A.J. in arbitration, costing the Giants precious payroll budget space. All the media reports had the figure at basically $3M, so even I knew that, but unfortunately Ned didn't read Sporting News, he didn't do his homework. The Giants offered only $2.25M so the arbitrator went with the figure he felt was more fair, A.J.'s $3.5M demand.
Of course, that was the one season that the Giants didn't really have much money in their budget for players, forcing them to do the Tucker draft pick move to save money, so not only was the trade made, but that took up a large portion of the money that was left in the budget, and then took up more because of his stupid mistake with the offer. Ned screwed the Giants all around on that one and escaped blame on that one, I believe.
Long History of Recognizing Talent
Sabean, on the other hand, has been recognizing talent since he was the draft coordinator and player development person for the Yankees in the early 90's. It was under him that the Yankee's acquired players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Duncan, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite, players who led the Yankees to multiple World Series. He also picked up guys like JT Snow and others who were traded to help the Yankees return to greatness.
Then he showed it with the Giants. He picked up Rueter just before being named GM, then made the blockbuster Matt Williams trade that worked out well for the Giants, as they picked up Kent in that deal. He also picked up JT Snow for Alan Watson, who pretty quickly pitched his way out of baseball, and signed Hamilton, who he later traded to get Ellis Burk. He also traded for Nen and Livan for peanuts, then pulled his best trade, even better than the Williams trade, he got Jason Schmidt for next to nothing, at least the Indians got Williams for Kent.
People cry about Sabean's deals since the World Series, but:
1) you can't do many deals when everyone simplistically wants your best prospects, Cain, then Lincecum, then Sanchez, now Bumgarner and Alderson.
2) you can't do many deals when the roster gets old while ownership wants to "win one more time" with Bonds.
And most of all, they miss the most important detail: look at our pitching staff. If he cannot recognize talent, then how did he amass such a great load of pitching talent together and has even more coming up within the next couple of years in Bumgarner, Alderson, and Sosa. If he cannot recognize talent, he would not have been able to do that, the pitching staff would be in much the same shambles that the lineup is.
The thing is, it takes many years to rebuild, you cannot rebuild quickly unless you have cornerstone type players to bridge the two successful eras. We had a team full of vets whose time has come and soon to go and young pitchers who were not ready to shoulder that load. This is much like the Braves teams when they awoke from 6 seasons of losing hell, full of young pitchers and hitters coming to the fore, supplemented by veterans in the rotation and lineup. If you want to get mad at Sabean for not being able to rebuild without losing, then you would have to fire 99% of the GMs who have ever held the title - rebuilding without losing is not a reasonable expectation.
Rebuilding Nearly Done
The thing is that I believe the team is pretty much done rebuilding. As anyone can see, the pitching staff is pretty much complete, we have the starters who will lead the way for us over the next 4 seasons in hand, the closer who can dominate for the next 5 seasons, and a load of potentially good relievers - I believe that this can be settled within the next season or so, particularly if the Giants bring up Alderson or Bumgarner to take on relief roles initially before moving up to the starting rotation.
As I've shown in my "Hey" series, a pitching staff that can lead the NL in ERA don't really need a top offense to win games at a pennant winning level. Lewis is looking like the real thing each and every day. Rowand looks like he will be another good piece of the offensive puzzle. Schierholtz looks like he can be another good piece once he is given a chance. Hopefully the Giants can trade Winn at some point before next spring training - his recent hot streak should boost interest in him and perhaps a key injury or poor performance somewhere could convince a team to give us something decent for him plus take on his 2009 contract. Plus, Buster Posey could be another key offensive piece of the puzzle, perhaps the last piece if Schierholtz and he can produce offensively, as we hope, that would give us four good position players offensively.
Has Sabean been perfect? Not even close. But has he been good? I believe so. The Giants plan since the World Series has been basically buy the best available free agent that our payroll can afford for the positions of need in order to compete today with Barry Bonds in the lineup. This obviously did not work and I believe it didn't work because ownership wasn't willing to shell out the money to get Bonds' successor nor willing to accept greater financial losses during that key period.
I have seen some blame Sabean for not getting ownership to change the plan. There is only so much you can do before the question becomes: do you believe enough to quit your job? That's easy for most people to do, there are normally plenty of different options for the vast majority of people.
But there are only 30 major league GM positions, and it is normally not easy to just quit your job and move on to another GM job. For one, MLB team ownership is a pretty exclusive club, and if one owner decides to tell other teams that you were a horrible GM to deal with, your career is pretty much dead. For another, you might particularly enjoy your position and team, but the owners just don't see your point for whatever reason, it is an autocracy, ultimately.
For example, that has plagued any GM who has worked under Steinbrenner, the Yankees have won in spite of him, not because of him, as the glory of the late 1990's was built during the years Steinbrenner was forced out of baseball due to some illegal campaign contributions or something like that, and while he was out, the smart baseball men under him - which included Brian Sabean - obtained many of the key players who led those winning teams: as noted above, when Sabean was director of player development and scouting, the Yankees obtained Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Riviera, and Andy Pettitte, among others, cornerstones of the Yankees for the past dozen years or so.
The thing is that the Giants, while not winning the past 3, now 4, seasons, at least has been re-building at the same time. The rebuild is nearly complete, with all the major pieces necessary for a successful pitching staff in place plus major pieces probably coming down the pipeline. As I've been quoting frequently, research by Baseball Prospectus (and similar research done at The Hardball Times, I just recall) have found that the key way to add competitive advantage for the players is through pitching and defense.
Positionally, the key thing is that they did not commit long term to players while trying to win with Bonds; they will all be gone by the end of next season, during the final phase of the rebuild. Meanwhile, they have added Aaron Rowand long-term, a plus offensive and defensive CF. Plus Fred Lewis appears to be a good LF offensively and, according to data quoted by Bay City Ball's Chris, has been good overall defensively, though that is something I believe is a work in progress because he does not have a good defensive reputation and still makes egregious mistakes in the field, that fortunately his speed appears to mitigate. We need probably two more good offensive pieces to fill out the top spots in the lineup.
Defensively, that is still a work in progress, besides the above. The infield is in flux. Ochoa and Burriss look like a good double-play combo up the middle, but it is not established yet if they can do the job offensively, though they have had flashes of goodness thus far at the MLB level. Posey appears to be a huge upgrade defensively at catcher, but he'll have to sign first, then perform well. 1B and 3B are open positions, but currently Bowker and Castillo are offensively and defensively below average thus far, even if they return to their usual positions, plus Gillaspie is considered only average defensively at best. Frandsen, should he win a position, would probably not be a plus defender, though probably average. Villalona, however, should he make it, appears to be good defensively, as well as offensively.
In the outfield, Schierholtz appears to be our future RF, but his defense is considered below average. Velez at any position, whether OF or IF, is probably below average. Rowand however is very good and Lewis is improving. Bowker, should he return to the OF, would be below average. So fielding and offensive is a work in progress, but a number of good pieces thus far.
Still, I think we have a good start towards a team strong in pitching and defense, and getting there offensively, particularly if Schierholtz, Posey and, eventually, Villalona develop as hoped and projected. In addition, perhaps we can find a plus young player via free agency. And there is always the possibility of trading for an offensive piece at some point, Sanchez should be quite the trading chip over the off-season.
Sabean should be done re-building within a year or two, hence why I was happy he got a 2 year extension: that gave time to be able to see how his rebuild develops (pretty well so far, Lincecum, Sanchez, Lewis, and Wilson took huge leaps this season at major league level, Bumgarner and Alderson at the minor league) and to better assess where the team is in terms of its rebuild, allowing us to retain him during assessment, while if the rebuild wasn't going well, he could be gone soon enough and his salary would be a drop in the bucket to eat. So far, so good, I say.