I think Brian Sabean is a bad GM. Let’s get that out of the way right there. I’m not going to bother proving it, because you probably don’t have five years to read the endless list of idiotic moves, occasionally punctuated by a favorable outcome as a result of pure dumb luck.
But I want to know: at what point does the groupthink prove itself to be more competent than Sabean? I’m sure many, if not most, of you think that you’d do better than Sabean as GM (I know I do), and some of you are probably right, even if most of you are wrong (I probably am). Sabean’s the longest-tenured GM in baseball; that has to mean something. There must be something he’s doing that makes him good at what he does, doesn’t there? Or is it possible that the ownership knows nothing about what makes a good GM, and simply continue to employ Sabean because he’s been doing this awhile, and not on the strength of his individual accomplishments? Part of me thinks that anyone with the money to buy a baseball team is probably pretty good with business and personnel decisions; you don’t get a few billion dollars by being an idiot, and so there must be something that we’re not seeing which makes Sabean a good GM. The other part of me thinks that Neukom has no idea what’s going on, and he retained Sabean because he didn’t know who else to hire, and more importantly, didn’t know how to go about finding someone else to hire.
I digress. The point here is that as a community, most of us are fairly good at evaluating players with statistics (the inability to see a player in person does somewhat mitigate our collective opinion, but then statistics are good predictors of future performance when analyzed correctly), and most of us generally agree on which players should be retained, which players should be cut, which players should be pursued, and which players aren’t worth major league minimum. Nick Johnson is the most prominent example right now; he’s oft-injured, but his high OBP and position for a team with OBP problems and an open first base make him a good match. In fact, the injuries drive down his price, and we may not have much money after Lincecum goes through arbitration, so that may work out in our favor. And most people here think Nick Johnson would be a good acquisition (so would Dan Uggla, depending on the prospect cost, and some prefer Uggla over Johnson, but I believe few here think Johnson is a bad acquisition for us).
Brian Sabean is pursuing Johnson and Uggla. He is also pursuing Adam LaRoche, who would cost quite a bit more than Ryan Garko for the same production. Given he recently non-tendered Garko, his motivation in pursuing the same player for more money is mysterious. Mark DeRosa, a 35 year old infielder, admittedly with considerable position versatility, is also on the radar. DeRosa had a career year with the bat in 2008, but hasn’t been particularly impressive offensively excepting that year, and has declining defense, likely related to his age (his best defensive year was in 2006, primarily as an outfielder and a third baseman, two positions we have pretty well filled). I question why LaRoche, a player who is typically no better than one Sabean just non-tendered, and DeRosa, an older player with declining skills who would devalue our best offensive player by pushing him to first base, are considered valuable acquisitions, especially when they are seeking multiyear deals at anywhere between $7M and $10M per year (maybe he likes players with two capital letters in their last names?). I think most people here share my concerns, and likely for the same or similar reasons.
Mike Cameron is the other position player I like, for his strong centerfield defense and consistent hitting, despite his age. Anything longer than a two year deal is unwise for him, but a one-year pact at a reasonable rate makes him a good target. Again, this is a feeling shared by many here. Sabean has responded by showing interest in Scott Podsednik, who had a career year in 2009 thanks to an inflated BABIP of .342 (career .321) which pushed his average and OBP to .304 and .353 respectively. Given that Sabean hasn’t had a lot of luck signing players coming off career years to expensive contracts (see: Aaron Rowand), one would think Podsednik’s numbers, inconsistent with his career performance (he had his best year since 2003, and his first in positive WAR territory since 2005), would serve as a warning sign, as would his typically bad defense. Many people here already know this, have pointed it out, and have rightly concluded that Podsednik is a bad acquisition, especially when a player like Cameron, who has produced consistently, is on the market.
In the case of Sabean vs. the Groupthink, it seems far too easy to go with the groupthink, whose positions are clear and based on statistical evidence, when Sabean seems to have little reasoning other than "AH LIKEZ DIS GUY HE GUD!" Reasoning like that results in the signing of an interesting guy you met at the bar to be the starting left fielder. Is it possible that Sabean is truly stupid enough to think that Podsednik, DeRosa, and LaRoche are good acquisitions? Or is Sabean’s interest not genuine, intended to drive the price up and draw attention away from his real targets: Johnson/Uggla and Cameron? The fact that he’s got offers on the table to three different infielders (Johnson, DeRosa, and LaRoche are three different infielders…) would seem to point to the former. Yet it still remains difficult to believe that Neukom and the rest of the managing partners are dumb enough to stick by Sabean while he butchers the team, especially when they are obviously generally successful and intelligent people.
I’d seriously like to know what you think: is Sabean just as stupid as he seems to be, and the collective opinion of some of the more hardcore fans, substituted for Sabean’s, would result in a better team, or are there unknown factors that we, not being major league general managers, and having no real experience building major league baseball teams, which create the illusion of idiocy without the actual content? Is it possible that Neukom & Co. are incompetent when it comes to finding and acquiring talented management, or do they merely combine inexperience with exposure to information we are not privy to?