Wednesday, March 09, 2011

My Serious Doubts About Giants Insider(s)

Recently there was a huge controversy about Barry Zito in the SF Chronicle.  Bruce Jenkins wrote that a Giants insider told him the following:
... here's a message to all those fans who have seen enough of Zito: He's walking a very fine line within the organization.

A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is "exasperation" with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is "definitely not safe," and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that's what it takes to say farewell.

Zito has the rest of spring to either resurrect his worth to the Giants or show an opposing team that he'd be valuable in a trade, according to others familiar with the situation.
That just brought out a lot of Giants fans out of the woodwork agreeing and saying we should just move on and get rid of Zito.

Giants Thoughts

I had wrote about Giants fan's misconceptions about Zito previously when this happened, but didn't really address the issue about the insider much previously.  But it really bothered me and a column on The Crazy Crabbers about fans giving Sabean and the Giants a honeymoon period got me thinking further on it.  Here is what I wrote there:
I think the problem for a lot of people is that they have believed that they know better than Sabean, when they should just be quiet and let Sabean and the Giants do their stuff, they are the people who need to give the Giants a honeymoon period.
I think it's legit to complain if there is anything that don't make sense, but a lot of people complain about something when there is nothing to complain about. Like the whole Zito controversy, once that came out, they leapt upon it like starving rats on a crust of bread, and talked about dropping Zito for nothing, just to be rid of him, and would rather start someone unproven like Tanner or over the hill, like Suppan, instead.
If there was any proposed move this off-season that would jeopardize the Giants chances to repeat the greatest, it is the proposed move of releasing Zito for nothing. Not only would we not have gotten as a good a performance from the replacement, most likely, but the odds would be great that one of our competitors, particular the Dodgers, who seem to love collecting Giants castoffs (perhaps because Colletti don't trust Dodger scouts?), and the Padres, as Zito is from the San Diego area and lives in the LA area. He would sign for the minimum with them and provide pretty good performance at little cost.
So not only would those fans (and apparently a Giants insider or more) shoot themselves in the foot for the team repeating in that regard, they then boost the chances of one of our competitors at the same time, as Zito would be one of the better starters for the Padres and an improvement over in the #5 spot for the Dodgers, pushing them up while also pushing us down.
Then again, these are the same people who, at one point or another, suggested that the Giants should do one of the following or the team is doomed and/or stupid: 1) trade Lincecum for Rios, 2) trade Cain for Prince Fielder or Rios, because he's a "loser", 3) trade Dirty for Corey Hart, 4) trade Bumgarner for offense, 5) select hitter instead of Bumgarner in the draft, or 6) select Smoak instead of Posey in the draft. Any of those happen, I'm pretty sure the Giants don't win the World Series championship in 2010, yet they still think they are smarter than Sabean.
That just sticks in my craw:  that this was planted by an insider with the media.  Most people who wrote about this agree that a Giants insider leaked this in order to motivate Zito to do better.

Release the Insiders Instead
The Giants hopefully will clean out their organization of such insiders who don't understand the Giants or baseball that well.  I have gone over how stupid a move it would be to do this from a baseball standpoint.  What I realize more and more in connecting the dots is that this insider is possibly in a position of authority or influence, and thus the Giants might actually be considering this stupid move.

Worse, if this was just a stunt to motivate Zito, I'll bet now that person is (or persons are) patting themselves on the back because Zito has been great ever since then.  However, it was and still is the wrong move, Zito frankly has a fragile ego and he has not dealt well with the stress and expectations that the contract placed upon his shoulders.  He only started figuring out how to handle it emotionally at the end of the 2008 season, after nearly two years after signing.

Adding more stress and strain is maybe a good move with a young man still learning to be a major leaguer, it could be something he builds off of, but for someone like Zito who is already on the downside of his career, this could be something that shoves him closer to his retirement.  Why risk that when we still owe him so much money?

And the thing is, as I noted in the other post, Zito is actually very valuable to us right now given our rotation, he gives us a solid rotation, top to bottom, something probably 26-27 other teams would love to have, is reliable for a full season of starts plus roughly 200 IP.  Ask the Twins if they would rather go with Francisco Liriano's up and down Russian Roulette with their ace starter, they might prefer Zito's constancy and reliability.  Or how about the Brewers who just lost their ace Zach Greinke (he hurt himself playing pick-up basketball).

I'm just counting my blessings that Zito was not affected this time.  We might not be so lucky the next time the Giants insider speaks again.

Serious Doubts About Giants Management
This is my first serious doubts about Giants management since Peter Magowan retired.  I have been generally positive towards Giants management over the past few years because, whether they actually had a plan, a Giants Way, or not, I liked the direction the franchise was headed in and the pieces that were being put into place.  And I do believe that they have a plan, but that we are just not privy to all the details.

At minimum, Sabean has been saying for years now (I believe since the 2002 World Series, at minimum) that baseball was undergoing one of their foundational shifts that happens about once every generation, and that the game would be moving towards pitching, fielding, and speed, and that this would be their general template for success in the future.  And it appears that they have executed on that plan very well up to now, not without hiccups, but the best plans work around hiccups and handle multiple scenarios in order to maximize the chance for success.  Their 2010 World Series Championship is excellent proof that their plan is succeeding at a high level.

But this leak is shaking my confidence.  At minimum, this means that there is an insider who thinks that he can shake players up by going anonymously through the media.  This "success" with Zito will only embolden this person to do more of this sniping through the media.  Who knows what other idiotic statement this person might make in the future that screws up one of our players, or worse, perhaps insults one of our top stars into not wanting to sign up long-term with us.

What If This Causes Lincecum to Not Want to Sign Long-Term with Giants?
For all we know, one of our young stars (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez) might sympathize with Zito and decide that they don't want to be with the team long-term where insiders can snipe without penalty in the press like this.  Players are funny in that way, they will circle the wagons when management comes after one of their own, even if they might understand the point of management, given that Zito is the highest paid and yet did not throw one pitch during the playoff run.  Admittedly, I'm not privy to inside info, so maybe management has already spoken.

Worse case scenario, this insider is high up the food chain in a position of authority, or really bad, is one of the guys making decisions.  If this is so, what type of horrendous decisions might be made in the future with respect to the Giants?  This leak does not generate confidence on my part that Giants management got it all together or is as united as they had appeared to be.

This instead makes me think one or more of them got a big swelled head after winning the 2010 World Series Championship and think that they can do no wrong.

I Will NOT Ignore Stupid Moves, I Will Point Out the Emperor's New Clothes
If that is what they think, they are wrong, they can do a lot of harm, and while I believe the Giants are currently positioned very well for making the 2010's the Decade of the Giants, I think stupid moves can be made that will ruin our chances of accomplishing such a lofty goal and title.  And championship or not, I will point out such stupid moves as I see them and I know other bloggers and fans will do the same.

They do not get carte blanche with me, no honeymoon period.  I lived through the 70's, 80's, and heck, the 90's and 2000's, and I want them to strike while the iron is hot and win as many championships as they can and do the best that they can.  I believe that they are in an excellent position to add at least one more championship this decade, and could win more depending on how things work out with top prospects Brandon Belt, Zack Wheeler, Gary Brown, Charlie Culberson, Thomas Neal, Francisco Peguero, Ehire Adrianza, Brandon Crawford, Nick Noonan.  I do not want that window of opportunity jeopardized in any way.

My Confidence in Management is Shaken
This Zito sniping incidence could just be the first such incidence.  Zito's improved performance might convince this person that this is the way to do things in the future.  It is not, players don't like getting blasted in the press, particularly by management or insiders, and if Sabean's administration gets that reputation, free agents, whether outside or inside, will try to avoid the Giants when they can.

For the first time in a while, I am worried about our team's future, and for me that sucks because I should still be high from the World Championship that the Giants won in 2010.  This media snipe against Zito was a stupid move and because it appears to have worked, we might see more stupid moves like this.  The scarier thing is that this might be someone in management and is a sign of future stupid moves.

To Restore my Shaken Confidence, Neukom Would Have to Speak Up
Until Neukom comes out and says something publicly about this, and perhaps take some action, even if unknown action, the silence besides both Sabean and Bochy publicly stating that there is no such insider feelings tells me a number of things.

First, Neukom's silence is tantamount to agreeing with the sniper, particularly since no action has been taken that we are aware of.  If this is something not condoned under his watch or in his organization, then he either publicly would have said it already, or it would have leaked out that he said it internally and quietly.

Second, no action means that the sniper will feel free to do this again, because there was no consequence to his or her action.  And again, it is the same as supporting the sniper.

Third, there will be some players who view this the same way I do.  The team would have poisoned their relationship, or in the case with younger players, their budding relationship, with their most prized assets.  That is no way to run an organization, not for long-term success.

It might work in the short term, but any disrespect directed towards players by management will probably not be forgotten by the players, it could bite management in the ass at some inconvenient point in the future, like when trying to negotiate a long-term extension with one of our young stars.

That player could legitimately ask management if something embarrassing like that might happen to him once he sign a big contract.  And Giants' management would be able to say that only Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy spoke out about it, not anyone else.  No player would want that to happen, so then the Giants' price for an extension with that player could go up at that point if they decide that they might want to check out free agency and ask for more to sign on.

Why would this Giants insider risk all these negative consequences?  Does this person want our team to implode?  Team chemistry is very hard to concoct, but the 2010 Giants had that wonderfully in spades.  Hopefully this will not disrupt that chemistry or harm us in any way in the future.  But I worry that this could backfire at some point in the future.


  1. OGC,

    I really think this is nothing more than a tempest in a teapot that has already pretty much blown over. Zito isn't the first Giant to be called out for their conditioning/approach. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, even Timmy himself have shared that badge of honor. I do believe that Jenkins has a real source. Whoever it was probably did want to light a fire, but I also think if Zito's performance was to completely crater, the team is prepared to eat his contract.

    If the plan was to light a fire, it worked! Zito himself has said that his improved performance in his second spring start was a direct result of feeling like he had something to prove. It looks like Zito might even be finally experimenting with keeping the ball down and becoming more of a groundball pitcher, which added to what he already does could make him a lot tougher for hitters to face.

    Sorry to say this OGC because I usually agree with you, but to say this shakes your confidence in management and Neukom has to disavow in publicly is a gross over-reaction. Just my opinion.

  2. I don't even see any reason to believe that there's an insider at all. Apart from the fact the this was a columnist and not a beat writer doing the "reporting" (and those are two very different beasts with very different notions of journalistic process), note that Jenkins didn't say he had a source "inside" the team, he very carefully said he had a source "close to the team" which could mean almost anything. It could very likely be another journalist, or it could be a friend or hanger-on who likes to appear connected. You may recall several years ago there was a story from a source close to the team that said that Jim Fregosi was going to take over as Manager soon. The source for that story turned out to be Jim Fregosi himself, who was convinced that he held some Svengali-esque power over Sabean and would be brought in to save things at the first sign of trouble.

    I've had a lot of disagreements with Sabean over the years, but nearly all the media people who deal with him say he's frank and open almost to a fault when dealing with the media. They told Cain he needed to get in better shape a couple years ago; they told Sandoval, they told Lincecum. I don't see why Zito (whose conditioning really doesn't seem to be his major fault) would be the one player they dealt with disengenuously and through the media.

  3. Roger,

    That is definitely a possibility. Sabean is usually very upfront with his criticisms of players. The one I'm not sure about is Timmy. Seems like that one was more of a whispering campaign. I agree with you though, the wording "close to the team" probably means it was from someone who is not employed by the Giants or else he would have worded it something like a "source in the Giants organization" or something like that.

    In any event, it apparently hit close enough to home that it did, in fact, light a fire under Zito. Still nothing more than a tempest in a teapot and nothing that Neukom needs to be worrying about.

  4. It's OK to disagree, DrB, I know I'm not perfect.

    And I'll have to disagree with both you and Roger (thanks for the comments). Both of you make good points about the past. I don't believe that Sabean or Bochy are being disingenuous, but that this "close to the Giants" person is close to the management or ownership hierarchy to be able to speak authoritatively enough that Jenkins quoted him/her.

    To DrB's point about Zito performing, I think most of us would agree that Zito is not one you need to light a fire under, we need him to calm down and perform as well as he can. His zen attitude outside persona hides the fact that he's like most of us, get ampped up when the pressure is on, and can't perform like we've done a million times because you are overthinking your movements instead of relying on muscle memory. His zen persona is a goal, not where he is, as a human being.

    Good that Zito appears to be over that now, but his poor second half in 2010 and especially his poor start against SD to win the division speaks to his problems when the spotlight is on.

    Attacking Zito publicly like this is taking a big risk with $60M+, we don't want him reverting to his 2007-8 self, we want his 2009-10 version.

  5. OK, Roger, maybe the person is not an actual insider, but he is close to an insider enough that Jenkins believes that the information is real. Why would anyone be discussing releasing Zito that Jenkins would feel safe about publishing that info unless that person is very close to a Giants insider.

    Yes, Sabean is very straight with the press and will release information on his schedule. That's why I devoted none of the post on him, I don't think he nor Bochy are involved in anyway.

    I'm more worried about front office personnel harboring thoughts of releasing Zito and hence why I call on Neukom to do something about it.

    As I noted, it is a stupid move from almost any angle you can think of. If this is how front office really thinks, then I'm absolutely losing all faith in management. If this is not how they think, they need to go fix that leak, whoever it is, before the idiot goes and say something else stupid.

    If Neukom wants to do it secretly, that is fine, but until I hear something more substantive about this issue being taken care of, there will be a part of me that questions front office management.

    Is it a zoo where anyone can shoot their mouth off to the media? This one was relatively minor, tempest in a teapot as DrB aptly noted, but what if they then say something equally stupid about Lincecum and poison our relationship with him? Where is the line drawn? When is it drawn? At what point is the muzzle attached, at which point it would be too late to stop the crisis that caused?

    These are all management issues and it goes to the top, to Neukom. Until he clarifies this publicly, part of me will be waiting for the other shoe to fall, my belief in management is shaken.

    If nothing happens this season, then I'll start to feel better, but part of me worries that something more stupid is waiting to come down the pike and ruin the good thing the Giants got going right now.

    I would be totally pissed off if anybody within management screws this up for us, we have a great team, a great future, a great team chemistry, and creating discension among the ranks is not a good way to manage people. This is why I'm so incensed. It is a fine way to run your fantasy baseball league, but horrible way to deal with real people in the real world.

    I want multiple championships, and I honestly think that the Giants could dominate this decade, hence my "2010's Decade of the Giants" prediction. They don't have the money, but they certainly have the personnel in place, and if we can keep the main guys around for most of this decade, we'll have an excellent chance of doing that.

    But this stupid Zito quote just stirs the pot for no need. There really was little upside and a lot of potential landmines. We don't know what the players are thinking about this. The effect could lie low and not happen for years, who knows when they might bring it up in negotiations. Maybe never, but again, why take that risk?

    And if the "insider" thought the risk was worth taking this time, who knows who he wants to take on next? Lincecum has a lot of personal things that could lead someone to think that he needs to shape up. We heard a lot of that whispering among fans and bloggers during his poor August. What if Lincecum is targeted next in public? We don't know that this "insider" won't. Would you really be OK with that?

    If that happens, you can forget about him signing long-term with us. I think we can survive losing him, as I believe in Zack Wheeler, but with him, I feel even stronger about my Decade statement. Heck, with a Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain, Bumgarner, Wheeler rotation, I think the Giants could do something similar to the Yankees in the late 90's, going to the World Series every season, though winning so many would be a more difficult matter.

  6. I wouldn't count Zito's contract/performance as one of the "good things the Giants got going right now"
    Chill out. You are are overreacting.



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