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Keeping Sabean? Wha? Part I

The Chronicle article about Brian Sabean's possible contract extension ends with this paragraph:

The Giants are in the midst of their third consecutive losing season, and many fans have called for Sabean's head. But many in baseball believe Sabean has gotten a bum rap because he has been forced by ownership to continue building teams around an aging Barry Bonds with older role players rather than spread payroll around and concentrate more on the farm system.

One problem with that paragraph was the use of "aging role players". I doubt very much that anyone said, "Psst, Sabes, I like 'em old and I sign your checks. Hop to it!" No one demanded old players, they demanded good players. For a while, Sabean was on a roll and blurring the lines between the two. Then the magic stopped, and the philosophy didn't change.

And spreading payroll around might be what Sabean does worst. When you have a team like, oh, the Tigers did this offseason, maybe it makes sense to pursue free agents who are the Dr. Pepper to your farm system's Dr. Skipper. Yeah, a good farm system should have three Michael Tucker-type players at hand at all times, but when a team is complete, it doesn't hurt to pay a couple of million for the real Michael Tucker. But Sabean runs every team as if it's a candle short of a birthday cake. The two biggest problems with the Giants in the post-Kent era:

  1. The complete inability of the farm system to produce position players.
  2. The inclination to go after two or three players with limited upside to fill out a roster instead of one player with All-Star upside and less-expensive filler.

This is the kind of quote you get when both of those points start necking:

If we had signed Guerrero or [Gary] Sheffield, we would have been without [Jim] Brower, [Scott] Eyre, [Matt] Herges, [Dustin] Hermanson, [Brett] Tomko, [A.J.] Pierzynski, Feliz, [J.T.] Snow, [Jeffrey] Hammonds, [Dustan] Mohr and Tucker -- obviously not being able to field a competitive team, especially from an experience standpoint, given our level of spending.

The quote just gets sillier and sillier with time. The correct answer was:

We signed Vladimir Guerrero or Gary Sheffield, and now we're going to surround them with cheaper free agents and farm system products. Heck, with a combination of those two sources, we should be able to find players almost as good as [Jim] Brower, [Scott] Eyre, [Matt] Herges, [Dustin] Hermanson, [Brett] Tomko, [A.J.] Pierzynski, Feliz, [J.T.] Snow, [Jeffrey] Hammonds, [Dustan] Mohr and Tucker."

Points "1" and "2" have been behind every down year for the Giants. Are they both due to the shortcomings of Brian Sabean? "Maybe" to the first. "Yes" to the second. The "Keep Sabean" groundswell - especially now, when the team he built is the Washington Generals of the National League - doesn't make much sense. It isn't even worth discussing the idea that Sabean was hamstrung by being forced to build around the best one-player performance in the history of baseball. Wanting to keep Sabean would make sense if you believed:

  1. General managers have little to do with their farm systems, usually deferring to other members of the organization.
  2. Even so, Sabean tried various ways to fix the lack of farm system production with regards to position players.
  3. Because the farm system didn't help at all, Sabean was forced to spend market price for below-average to average players when filling out a roster, and it made him sick to do so.

The choice between sticking with Sabean or helping with his query letter to George Steinbrenner isn't that easy, but it would take a lot of extenuating circumstances to believe the points on that last list.

I'm ready for new blood.