Brian Sabean’s skill set as a general manager has become familiar to us by now. Veterans. Scrap heap pitching. Trades for a win-now window and not the future. A gruff exterior to hide a gruff, yet loving interior. Frozen yogurt. Stock in RAZR. But his most underrated, underreported skill is his ability to conjure up DL stints for struggling veterans seemingly ut of nowhere.
We’ve ignored the warrior poet aspect of his character. The secret novelist yearning to break free of baseball’s shackles. He doesn’t want to go pure Jeremy Affeldt comedy. The game is not a farce. He wants to tell exciting stories featuring compelling characters in an interesting setting. He’s baseball’s auteur.
What do I mean by any of this?
Today, Hunter Pence doesn’t appear as an available player on the roster and last night we got some word that a thumb injury he sustained back in the 5th game of the season could put him on the DL. It’s an injury that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Hunter Pence has 10 hits in 61 plate appearances with a 22:2 strikeout to walk ratio. Or it absolutely is, but the the people running the show are simply too polite to say. Because they like the player and they want to treat the people under their employ with respect. It is meant to be a grace note to a player’s career that’s gone from twilight to midnight.
It’s the mark of a good storyteller.
Brian Sabean takes care of his
characters players. He won’t hang them out to dry for very long, especially after he’s rung them practically dry of their baseball skills to get what he needs — which is a satisfying story of a season. Hunter Pence was once a hero. Then he became the lion in winter. And rather than write his epitaph, though, Brian Sabean has written the character out of his planets for an indefinite hiatus.
It helps that baseball’s rules have changed just enough to make it easier for teams to do this. The Dodgers made a lot of moves to employ their vast depth last season thanks to the 10-day DL. Five Thirty Eight remarked:
Critics charge the Dodgers with exaggerating these kinds of injuries to game the DL, allowing the team to rest some of its starting pitchers without giving up a roster spot. And the Dodgers are certainly leading the way in this practice, which became much easier to pull off after a rule change this season shortened the length of a short-term DL stint from 15 days to 10. But the Dodgers aren’t the only outfit to make heavy use of the new disabled list — teams across the league are stashing more players on the short-term disabled list this season. Nor is this a completely new development: Even before the rule change, short-term DL use had been on the rise for years.
But they’re all amateurs at this. Sabean isn’t stashing players for short term moves, that’s not what he’s about. He’s about the graceful non-sendoff of beloved players.
We all know Hunter Pence has been struggling. But he means a lot to the fan base because of 2012... he fired them up. And now, rather than simply blow him out and toss the candle holder, the Giants have refurbished it into a decoration piece.
Pence isn’t the first player to get this treatment, and he won’t be the last as long as Brian Sabean is running the show and as long as it remains company policy to play players well into their 30s. Remember 2009, when Rich Aurilia popped back up for a time?
Aurilia did not appear content with the move. He declined comment after arriving at Turner Field, instructing reporters to talk to the manager and training staff. Aurilia has an infected right big toe, according to Manager Bruce Bochy.
“I talked to Richie,” Bochy said. “It’ll be a few days, so we decided to put him on the disabled list.”
This isn’t the first time the Giants have taken the disabled-list route with a respected but struggling veteran player. Kirk Rueter was released after he refused a D.L. assignment in 2005.
Rich Aurlia and the also-mentioned Kirk Rueter are in the not-too-exclusive-yet-important Forever Giant group of players and the organization doesn’t want to make them feel that it’s just business when they bench a player.
It’s the same thing that’s happening with Mark Melancon.
Newsy Bochy session: Bum has pins removed from hand, Pence has a sore right thumb, Melancon about a week from catch, #sfgiants— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) April 19, 2018
The Giants plan to “have a catch” with Mark Melancon all right...
Brian Sabean wants to give them all dignified sendoffs. But there is no dignity in sports. Father Time isn’t fair and our bodies betray us because our souls and the memory of us will always outlast them.
Or Sabean was sick of losing and just wanted to see what Mac Williamson could do and didn’t want to give Bruce Bochy the option of choosing between a callup and a veteran.