Did Sabean prove me wrong?
The Giants winning the World Series on Monday put me in an extremely awkward position; namely, I have to give credit to Giants GM Brian Sabean.
Here’s why that’s difficult: he has made some awful moves during his tenure as Giants GM. To highlight a few:
Signed Barry Zito to a 7-year, 126 million dollar deal
Hindsight is 20-20, but this deal was questionable at the time because 1) In the 4-years since his Cy young award, he had basically put up the numbers you’d expect from a #2-3 pitcher and 2) It was the most money given to any pitcher at the time. At least he had proven durable, something which has held true while he’s been with the Giants. Nonetheless, Zito has been below league average in ERA for three of his four seasons in San Francisco and has averaged less then six innings a start. He wasn’t even on the Giants’ post-season roster this year.
Signed Aaron Rowand to a 5-year, 60 million dollar deal
Aaron Rowand was one of the many grinders on Ozzie Guillen’s 2005 World Championship club, and somehow he has another ring. He is probably best known for running full-speed into a chain-linked fence to catch a ball during the 2006 season for Philadelphia. This not only saved an extra-base hit, but actually improved the Phillies’ offense by putting himself on the DL in lieu of then-rookie Shane Victorino. To be fair, he had an excellent 2007, but has hit just .257/.318/.405 since becoming a Giant.
Traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser for (1 seasons of) A.J. Pierzynski
AJ Pierzynski had a pretty mediocre year for the Giants in 2004 before splitting for Chicago. Boof Boonser was a complete bust; Liriano has struggled with injuries but has been effective when healthy. As for Nathan? He would put up an ERA+ of 294, a WHIP if 0.982, and save 44 for the Twins while Giant closer Matt Herges was spectacularly bad with an 84 ERA+, WHIP of 1.699 and 8 blown saves in 31 tries. The Giants, fueled by some left-fielder, missed the playoffs by one game. Nathan has gone on to have a remarkable dominant stretch as the Twins closer, until he missed all of this season.
Well, here we stand. It’s 2010, and the Giants are on top of the baseball world. Second to none. Despite 357 plate appearances from mistake #2 and 33 starts from mistake #1, Brian Sabean is the 2010 general manager who was presented with that sweet trophy on Monday. Not Brian Cashman. Not Billy Beane. Not Theo Epstein.
I’ve denounced Sabean time and time again. And it would seem that I had at least some cause to do so. But it’s at least worth checking out what he got right (after all, he is a World Champion):
The best rotation in the game.
And they aren’t going anywhere soon. The epic mistake that was Barry Zito was amply compensated for by the four gentlemen who comprised the Giants rotation in the playoffs: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathon Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner. All of these gentlemen are under 27. All of them had 2010 ERA’s under 3.50. And all of them were drafted by Brian Sabean. Now, did he personally scout out all of them? Probably not, but ultimately draft choices are the GM’s responsibility, and he didn’t miss a beat with these guys. Oh – don’t forget about bullpen stud Brian Wilson, who led the NL in saves and saved 6 of the Giants’ 11 playoff wins. And speaking of good drafting/prospect development…
I can’t say enough about how awesome this guy has been. It seems like he came up with every big hit for the Giants last year. Not surprisingly, he hit .340 with men on, and .312 with runners in scoring position. And he hit four homers in 9 games against the division rival Padres. All in his rookie season – a rookie season where he seamlessly transitioned from AAA call-up to team leader.
Low-risk, High Potential Signings
One thing I love to see out of a GM is picking up a free-agent who is undervalued based on a single-season performance. It’s exactly the opposite of throwing a ton of money at a player based on a single awesome fluke year. First baseman Aubrey Huff struggled in 2009 but, at 33, he proved he wasn’t finished. Was he a slam-dunk to succeed? No…but unlike Zito, Sabean was only on the hook for a 1-yr, 3 million dollar. Wanna know how well Giant first basemen hit in 2009? They OPS’d .733. Huff was worth the shot. And he came true to the tune of a .290/.385/.506 line. Also worth a shot was Pat the Bat Burrell, released by Tampa Bay after struggling in the DH role, he was given a chance by Sabean and shined, hitting 18 homers in 96 games and taking over left field. Finally, Cody Ross. Placed on waivers by the Marlins in August, Ross performed well down the stretch for the Giants after being picked up by Sabean and came through in a big way by clubbing 3 homers against the Phillies in the NLCS to win MVP honors.
I’m not going to proclaim Sabean a super-genius either. And this doesn’t automatically mean that his style is the best or that his decision-making skills are infallible. He’s made some major errors, as I pointed out. He probably could have given Barry Bonds a little more to work around earlier in the decade. And winning the World Series doesn’t really set a GM apart from the other GM’s who made it to the playoffs; in a short series, anything can happen. A-Rod can go 4 for 21 while Mitch Moreland goes 7 for 18. Chad Ogea can out-pitch Kevin Brown. Twice. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, Sabean’s team was built to compete. And they ended up winning it all.
Time to give credit where credit is due.
Well done Mr. Sabean.
You proved me wrong.