Everyone has their own idea of how the offseason should have gone. More on-base percentage, or more power, or more Holliday, or more musical interludes, or whatever. A popular variation -- at least around these parts -- is that if the choice was between "DeRosa/Huff/Uribe/Molina/F. Sanchez" and "nothing with savings of $24M to use on international free agents", the latter was a much better idea.
In theory, I agree. It’s not a given that the quintet of free agent acquisitions will improve the team. Again, that quintet cost around $24M. The Giants spent $24M, and there’s a strong chance they didn’t improve the team. That becomes a sillier sentence every time I type it.
But we live in a cute little nerd bubble here. Some small differences:
|What we see||What they see|
|Fred Lewis||Patient, if unrefined, league-average player||Strikeout-prone goof who should have "Yakity Sax" playing as he goes after fly balls|
|John Bowker||Promising player who revamped his hitting approach in AAA with great success||Strikeout-prone goof|
||Serviceable and cheap utility infielder||An arrogant disappointment who didn't get that bunt down that one time, REMEMBER THAT?|
|Ryan Garko||A clankmitt, but a decent hitter at a very reasonable price||A total stiff who can’t handle the pressure of a pennant race|
|Buster Posey||The lovechild of Will Clark and JFK. A guy who wears catcher’s gear made of adamantium and rides to work on Pegasus
||An unknown quantity who might not be ready to catch in the major leagues|
Another small difference: The group on the right is about 10,000 times the size of the group on the left, and they have money. Season ticket money. Merchandise money. Thirty-dollar-beer money. If the Giants go into the season relying on those four players, the perception isn’t going to be that it’s because that’s the right way to build a team. The perception would be that the Giants are miserly, cheap hoarders. Why couldn’t they get Jason Bay? Why couldn’t they get Matt Holliday? Why couldn’t they re-sign their cleanup hitter? And if the Giants didn’t repeat their modest success from last year, the fallout would be brutal. How can the team get so close and then refuse to spend money on the offense? Screw this, Mortimer. I’m not springing for season tickets next year.
With Huff and DeRosa, the team brought in known quantities. Huff had some great years. So did DeRosa. Even in down years, they get a bunch of RBI. Juan Uribe and Bengie Molina? Clutch favorites. Did you really think we were going to let them go? Freddy Sanchez? A gamer. You’ll see. It’s unfortunate he didn’t help more last year, but give him a chance to win you over.
Everyone in the lineup is a known quantity. Kind of. Well, Nate Schierholtz is the token youngster, but the veterans -- and the money spent on them -- represent an honest effort to improve the offense. If doesn’t work, well, jeez, they tried.
This is a gross simplification -- not every season-ticket holder is on board with the revival of Operation Veteran Grit -- but after a season of excruciatingly poor hitting, it would have been a political disaster to stand pat. Is the marginal improvement worth $24M? No. Is the marginal improvement plus the public relations help worth $24M? Maybe. That’s not my area of expertise, but it’s not crazy to think it’s a sound business decision.
So it’s not a bad thing to ask why the Giants acquired the players they did. I doubt that Aubrey Huff was Sabean’s ninth choice to improve the infield in October, so there are probably things even Sabean would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. But it was never realistic to think the Giants could have said, "Good show! Now we’re going to avoid free agents and put the money back into player development." That might have been a sound long-term baseball strategy, but it would have been a questionable short-term business strategy.