Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Is Brian Sabean Finally Wising Up as Giants General Manager?

I hate to say it. I am as big a Sabean basher as the next McCoven commenter on McCovey Chronicles. For years, I felt he got too much credit as GM when the Giants were riding high and competing for the NL West Division title every year. I came to these feelings because of two things: A.) He had Barry Bonds, the best hitter alive, and B.) the NL West wasn't exactly flush with talented "management" (e.g. Sabes was the best of a mediocre bunch of GMs in the NL West at the time).

But, as I write this post, the Giants are 64-49, which is three wins better than where they were at last year after 113 games. They are one game back of the Padres in the NL West, which I never would have thought back in June when they looked like a dead lock for third or fourth in the division. They are one game up in the Wild Card race, and I like their chances considering Dusty Baker is managing the Reds (e.g. They are going to self-destruct at some point).

And, who deserves some credit?

Sabes. F'ing Sabes.

Those words don't come easy. However, just look at what he's done this year.

  • He signed an aging, "left for dead" ("I Spit on Your Grave"-style) Aubrey Huff to a one year deal worth three million dollars. Huff, a career DH prior to this season, was expected to play first base and provide the Giants with pop, though his projections were rather disheartening (Bill James projected a .338 wOBA and a 4.5 wRAA). What has Huff done? He has mashed (20 home runs), surpassing expectations offensively (his wOBA is .403 and his wRAA is 30) and defensively (he has played three positions and sports a cumulative 2.1 UZR). Huff has been the Giants MVP, and his WAR (4.2, which converts to about $16.9 million according to Fangraphs) proves it. And we all thought Nick Johnson (.330 wOBA; 0.1 WAR) was a better option in the off-season.
  • He passed on Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, more expensive free agent choices this off-season. Granted, some of it was out of his hands (Bay said straight up he didn't want to play in SF and Holliday was demanding too large a payday because his agent is Scott Boras), but Sabes made the right move by passing on the two, expensive sluggers. While Holliday looks to be worth his salt (4.4 WAR; .388 wOBA), Bay has been a tremendous disappointment (.144 ISO; .337 wOBA; 1.3 WAR).
  • He admitted he was wrong (not publicly, but in action), cut ties with Bengie Molina and by July 1st, Buster Posey was the everyday catcher, which every Giants fan wanted in the beginning of the year except the Molina family. And guess what? The move paid off. The Giants went 20-8 in July, the first time they won 20 games in July since 2000 and Posey has been a spark in the lineup (.387 wOBA; 2.4 WAR).
  • He signed Pat Burrell, though everyone thought (including myself) thought it was a dumb idea, that Burrell was done, and that he was just going to cause a logjam in the Giants lineup. I was totally wrong. Bruce Bochy finally decided that Aaron Rowand was benchable, Mark Derosa got surgery and sat out the rest of the year (a blessing in disguise; Derosa would have made the lineup situation worse), and Burrell came in rejuvenated and with a chip on his shoulder to prove the Tampa stint was a fluke. Burrell has posted a .377 wOBA as a Giant, has been a model teammate and has provided one of the best moments Giants fans have had against the Dodgers in quite a while.
  • And lastly, he stayed pat at the Trade Deadline, and didn't trade away any top prospects, even though everyone clamored that the Giants needed a bat. My argument for those pining for Jose Bautista or someone similar was this: Where would he play? I think Sabes realized that and decided to roll the dice on this offense, figuring that Pablo would turn it around at some point, which would cover the offense should Burrell and Posey cool (which sort of has happened). Second, the Giants have some special prospects, and I think Jonathan Sanchez is a special (not to mention affordable and under team control for two more years) pitcher, and to lose them for short-term gain would've been a travesty. If you don't believe me, look at how the Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez trades have turned out on the Giants end.

Granted, Sabes has made some blunders. Signing Molina was a bad decision. Signing Sanchez, despite his glowing recommendation from Mychael Urban (Urban said that Sanchez was a guaranteed for a .300 average and 10 home runs prior to the season and that we should "Book it." Not quite Urban. Not quite) was a bad decision (his .286 wOBA and 0.3 WAR echo that). Signing Derosa was a bad decision. Not doing enough medical research on Sanchez and Derosa in the off-season was a bad decision.

That being said, Sabes has improved on those mistakes (for the most part). He didn't stay hard-headed about improving the blunders he made earlier this year. In fact, we've seen Sabestradeable player" factory. He understands that they can help you win games NOW. I think Posey has showed him that, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some guys in the minors this year get shots at starting positions next year. A couple of years ago (last year even), we couldn't say that of Sabes. It would almost be guaranteed that a veteran would be starting on Opening Day, even if that veteran is a washed up Steve Finley.

Maybe this is all a flash in the pan. Maybe Sabes is just letting it ride because that's what he does: let things ride when they are working. Maybe he hasn't changed philosophies, but just ran out of options and got incredibly lucky with Huff, Posey and Andres Torres. Maybe this off-season, he'll fall into his same, dumb idiosyncrasies and re-sign Edgar Renteria to a one-year contract because he's been a "Great Giant" this season.

I don't know. I can't see the future. But in terms of the present, Sabes has finally earned my approval as the Giants general manager so far this season.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to use the rest room and throw up now.


  1. I too believe Sabean should be commended for not making a dumb trade deadline move. That took more balls than dealing Sanchez...

  2. Nice post, but signing Molina was not a mistake. Posey was not ready. His MLE in April was 0.286/0.351/0.381/0.732; Molina hit .344/.403/.422/.825. In fact, he hit very well until he was injured.

    Posey heated up in May and when the Giants brought him up, let him acclimate to the majors first at 1B, before putting the full weight of catching full-time on his shoulders. Experts, such as Earl Weaver, said that there is a lot to take in when first becoming a major leaguer, noting that there is an adjustment process, and that players are better served if they are eased in, rather than just thrown in.

    Then, when Posey looked ready to the Giants, they traded Molina and picked up Chris Ray, who has been a great addition to the bullpen and going forward, as he has closer experience, plus picked up a good prospect in Michael Main, essentially paying for him. I doubt we could have picked up Ray without Molina to trade.

    Also, the Giants have been opening up spots in the lineup for legit prospects over the past few seasons. They left 1B and 3B open for Ortmeier and Frandsen for the 2008 season, but they both failed to deliver, Frandsen due to his injury, then 1B, 3B, and LF last season for Ishikawa, Sandoval, and Lewis, then RF this season for Schierholtz and Bowker.

    The difference between Posey and other prospects is that he actually had talent and was a Top 5 pick, something none of the others could say, and performed well in the minors at a young age, which only Pablo could say. Belt is a prospect with that type of pedigree (his hitting this season at young age) and he will probably get an opportunity in 2012, 2011 if needed mid-season, if he shows that 2010 is not a huge fluke (so far so great in AA).

    Lewis, Bowker, Ortmeier (I would throw in Linden, Ellison, and Niekro as well) all did better once they had the experience edge over other minor leaguers, it is the truly gifted who can do well in the upper minors at a young age.

    Frandsen was one, but, for whatever reason, the Giants soured on him. His injury could not have come at a worse time, he was basically written in as the starting 3B, at worse, and would have gotten the time that Castilla got instead. Perhaps the injury made him just a step too slow for the Giants tastes, defensively, or maybe his tude made them think that he'll never fit in.

  3. Mistakes, DeRosa, possibly Freddie Sanchez, Molina, getting rid of Bowker, Frandsen, and Lewis for nothing. I just think the return he got for these guys was horrendous and they could have been much better chips for a much better deal if we needed one going down the stretch. Lewis drove in the winning run for Toronto Tonight. Positives, he lucked out on Huff, because he tried to sign everybody else first, and finally went to Huff almost as an afterthought. It took them long enough to recognize that Andres Torres new approach the last two years was for real. And, even if his hitting wasn't quite that good, his fielding should have made the idea of Eugenio Velez, a nonstarter. It took him long enough to make a deal for Molina, but at least he received decent value in return. Off topic, tonight's Broxton meltdown was awesome, too bad it kept the Phillies directly on our tails. If the giants want to get the Phils off their tails they will have to go into Philly and get business done.