Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Five Songs (and Music Videos) That Describe the Brian Sabean Era

My feelings about San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean change all the time. I think he does a great job developing pitching talent, but I think he drafts and develops position players poorly (either doesn't give them a chance, or throws them in the fire too quickly, only to pull the plug on them right when they start to show some promise). I believe he is great at finding bullpen help off the scrap, but I also believe he has a tendency to overpay guys in Free Agency.

So, what do I do with these feelings concerning Sabes? Well, I decided to pick five songs that describe each era for the Giants under the longest-tenured general manager currently in Major League Baseball. I basically split up Sabes' tenure into five eras: 1997-2001, 2002-2004, 2005-2008, 2009, and 2010-beyond. For each of those eras I will have a song that describes the general gist of that era under Sabean.

(FYI: these aren't typical, "we all know these!" songs. Yes, I could have gone with "We are the Champions" by Queen for the 1997 team, but where's the fun in that? I wanted to find songs that you may recognize but you haven't heard in a long time because a.) they were under-appreciated in their time or b.) they were one-hit wonders and probably sucked. Either way, don't expect the usual when it comes to these song choices to describe Sabes' tenure. After all, Sabes is not the "usual" general manager in Major League Baseball.)

1997-2001: "More and More" by Captain Hollywood Project

After 1996, Giants fans wanted more from our general manager after a last place finish in the NL West in 1996. Who could blame Giants fans? We had Mark Carreon playing first and Bill Van Landingham was supposedly one of our foundations in the pitching rotation. That was not what Giants fans wanted after Peter Magowan signed Barry Bonds to big bucks in December of 1992.

So, Magowan brought in Sabean, who promised Giants fans more, and you know what? He delivered. First he traded away Matt Williams for Jose Vizcaino, Joe Roa and Jeff Kent, and it worked. Then he made Shawn Estes the ace of the rotation and he won 19 games. Then he brought in Darryl Hamilton and we finally had a decent leadoff guy since Darren Lewis left town.

1997 and 2000 produced NL West championships, and Sabean set a new standard for Giants fans: we got more and he fostered an attitude of wanting more. And for a while, Sabean delivered, always adding more to the Giants' teams from this timespan, be it free agents or veterans acquired through trades.

At the time, Giants fans all liked the "more" Sabean was delivering. If we only knew what it would produce down the line.

2002-2004: "Sweet Dreams" by La Bouche

These were the pinnacle years of Sabean's tenure as general manager. The Giants won the NL Pennant in 2002, finished with the best regular season record in baseball in 2003 (in the midst of changing managers and revamping the roster with Edgardo Alfonso, Ray Durham, and Jose Cruz Jr.), and won 91 games in 2004 despite not putting any kind of push for Vlad Guerrero and trading Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser away for one-year of A.J. Pierzynski.

The dreams and memories of Giants baseball from 2002-2004 were absolutely great, and Giants fans thought Sabes could do no wrong. Sure, there were warning signs (the increasing age of the teams, Sabean not signing first round draft picks etc.) but it's safe to say that Giants fans couldn't see them. The wins and the competitiveness of the teams simply overshadowed all the bad and we at the time, as Giants fans, were fine with it.

2005-2008: "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama

After lucking out by winning 91 games in 2004, the Giants fell off a cliff in 2005, where they built a streak of four straight losing seasons. Injuries and lackluster play from free agents started to show the weaknesses in the Giants organization in terms of building for the future (e.g. the Giants' crappy farm system was now exposed to the world because we were having scrubs replace our injured veterans) and Sabean, who couldn't do no wrong for a while, was now exposed and rightfully criticized for his lack of a long-term plan.

As free agent after free agent continued to not pan out, Giants fans were constantly graced with mediocre play from big-name signings (Dave Roberts, Steve Finley, Ryan Klesko etc.) and prospects who were either a.) vastly overrated (Lance Niekro, Jason Ellison etc.) or b.) weren't meant to contribute at the Major League level (Brian Bocock).

For Giants fans, it was one "Cruel Summer" after the next from 2005 and 2008. Unfortunately, because of the clout Sabean built with then-owner Peter Magowan from 1997-2003, Sabes was always excused for the mess he built through bad, expensive signings and poor drafting.

August 2009-February 2010: "You Can't Count on Me" by Counting Crows

After the mess from 2005-2008, Sabes conceded that he couldn't just buy good teams, but he had to develop them through drafting and development. So, after Bonds left after the 2007 season, Sabean asked Giants fans for patience. He said he would not be spending big money on talent anymore, and that we would have to go through some growing pains as the talent he drafted and picked up worked to become "MLB-ready." He sold Giant fans on Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Angel Villalona, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Tim Alderson as the cornerstones of the Giants' future.

Well, two of them worked out well, one looks to be a train wreck, one was traded away for an oft-injured, free-hacking second baseman, and the other two could be great, but one wonders if they will be given the proper chances to show what they can do at the MLB level.

And, to make matters worse, Sabean continues to block the "young talent" he harped about "sticking with" back in 2007. He signed Aubrey Huff, despite Huff having a negative WAR with Orioles and Tigers last season (The Tigers had an equally as pathetic offense as the Giants last season, just to put Huff's negative value in perspective). He signed Mark Derosa, despite Derosa being in his mid-30's and coming off a wrist injury. He signed Bengie Molina, though the Giants have a younger, better option in Posey.

As Giants fans, we thought we could count on him to progress the Giants' future along. That's why we put up with him getting that two-year extension.

San Francisco fans should have known better from Sabes. The Counting Crows would have.

November 2010 or November 2011: "Goodbye to You" by Scandal

I'm not saying that the Giants will do worse than last year. As a fan, I hope that the Giants continue to improve on their 88-win record from a year ago and make the playoffs. Personally, I think the Giants have what it takes. Sure, the Diamondbacks are better (though not as good as everybody thinks) and the Dodgers and Rockies are the teams to beat (though the Dodgers' starting pitching is very questionable in my mind). That being said, the Giants' Opening Day lineup in 2010 looks a lot better than it did in 2008 and 2009.

However, as a Giants fan, you just can't help but feel that this team doesn't have enough on paper. You feel that Sabean plugged holes with veterans, but didn't exactly upgrade the positions from a year ago. You feel that sooner or later, the horses that carried us in 2009 will break down in some way in 2010. Not completely break down of course, but regress to the point where they will be a lesser version of themselves in 2010.

Who will it be? I don't know. It could be Lincecum. It could be Cain. It could be Wilson. It could be Uribe. It could be Sandoval. It could be Affeldt. It could be Runzler. It could be Molina. It could be anyone. It could be more than one, too. And what makes it so much more terrifying is the fact that the Giants needed to get some guys as safety this off-season, just in case one or two (or even three, God forbid) of those "studs" from last year regress, and it just really didn't happen. I mean, Derosa and Huff aren't going to pick up the slack should the Panda struggle out of the gate. They'll be good complimentary players when the going is good, but when the going is tough? Well, I just can't see them making an impact.

To me, this off-season just reminded me of the 2008 Seattle Mariners. They made some pickups, but not enough to really compete and once the regular season started, it all just fell on them because they put too much faith in the wrong kinds of players (e.g. Richie Sexson, Eric Bedard, Brad Wilkerson, etc.)

Maybe I'm just being pessimistic and I hope to God as a Giants fan I'm wrong, but I just have a feeling, after this year or next year we'll be singing along with Patty Smyth "Goodbye to You" to Brian Sabean's box at AT&T Park.

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