"The most difficult thing to do in sports, which is doubly tough for a manager, is to try to win and develop at the same time. More and more, kids are getting to the big leagues earlier. More and more, kids aren't prepared to play up here and deal with the failing. I don't think (the notion that Bochy prefers veterans to younger players) is fair, whether it's Bruce or anybody else who is the manager." -- Brian Sabean
Maybe winning and developing at the same time is kind of a secret sauce. The Giants under Brian Sabean have mixed together tartar sauce and Aqua Velva, and asked you to dip your fries in it. Oh, it’s a secret alright. Mmmm. Championship-winning teams usually have something worked out, though.
Last year, the Giants’ starting right fielder hit two home runs. Almost 600 plate appearances, two home runs. That was the lowest total for any right fielder in 18 seasons – hello, Willie McGee! – and only the 15th time since integration a right fielder had fewer than three home runs while qualifying for the batting title. This year, the Giants are still trying to figure out what they have with a couple of outfielders in their mid-20s. It almost seems like last season would have been a pretty good time to figure that all out, but I'm just a goofy kid living in my mom's basement.
Rule #1 for winning and developing at the same time: Know when to pull the plug on your own veterans.
Oh, Winn will break out of this any day now. I don’t care that John Bowker is hitting like Lou Gehrig in AAA; those stats don’t mean anything. Winn will get hot. Winn’s about to come around. Winn’s streaky, and we’ll miss out if we take him out of the lineup now.
Stop. Explore other options. Sometimes, hitters in their mid-30s just disintegrate. Last season, the Giants had the least productive right fielder in major league baseball and the most productive right fielder in minor league baseball. It’s amazing that they stuck with Winn for the full season considering those two points. Amazing. It’s absolutely ridiculous that both Nate Schierholtz and John Bowker are still unknowns to this team.
There isn't a prospect pushing Edgar Renteria right now, so we can only guess at the kind of leeway the Giants would give him. If there were a hotshot prospect in the upper levels of the system right now, I could only hope that the Giants would have given him the job to start the season. Sadly, I don't think that would be the case.
Rule #2 for winning and developing at the same time: Trust your own scouting and statistical profiles of a young player.
Player X was a September call-up from the minor leagues, where he hit very well. He hit .191/.258/.303 in 89 at-bats in the majors, though. He won a starting role the next year, but only hit .186/.308/.236 over 55 April at-bats the following season. If Player X were on the Giants, Player X would have been sent back to the minors until September, or maybe until an injury forced their hand. It’s tough to grade a team based on hypothetical situations like that, but does anyone believe that the Giants would have said, no, let’s stick this one out because we’re certain this young player is ready to contribute right now? No way. Luckily for Dustin Pedroia, he wasn’t on the Giants. The Red Sox stuck with him and were rewarded.
The Giants went into the offseason thinking that Nate Schierholtz was their right fielder. They didn’t acquire anyone else to play right field because they believed Nate Schierholtz was their right fielder. So, obviously, Nate Schierholtz lost his job because of a poor performance in the spring. Spring training! Where Damon Minors flourish and Jeff Kents struggle! Where Tim Lincecums look mortal and Todd Wellemeyers are the steals of the offseason! Spring training, you Oracle of Truth, tell us how to run our ballclub! Here is an offering of moldy garlic fries and pieces of human flesh we found at the bottom of the Coca-Cola slide! We hope you will be appeased, oh wise Oracle of Truth that we also call spring training!
Now Schierholtz is probably going to win that job back. Why? Well, he’s hitting .306 this year. Of course, two of those hits were infield hits, which means that his average would be .217 if he didn’t hit those two balls so poorly that an infielder couldn’t get to them on time, but you can’t argue with results! And John Bowker, who knows how quick the organizational hook is, will probably lose his job soon because he’s been pressing (and sucking, lest we forget).
There’s no patience in this organization with young players. Dan Ortmeier didn’t necessarily deserve the patience he didn’t receive, but I really don’t think Sabean knows the difference between an Ortmeier and a Bowker. When Sabean says "More and more, kids aren't prepared to play up here and deal with the failing," it makes realize just how well veterans must deal with failing. They must be just perfectly equipped to deal with failing, as they’ve been doing it a lot for the Giants over the past five years. And, seeing as the Giants rarely bench a veteran player, it looks like the Giants put a premium on dealing with failure.
Two rules: Don’t be afraid to treat a cooked veteran like a cooked veteran, and when you give a young player the starting job, give the young player the starting job and back away for a while. That’s all I ask of the Giants. That’s not a secret sauce. It’s just not ass-backwards. Try it.