AT&T PARK — Seated on the edge of the dais, with CEO Larry Baer, general manager Bobby Evans and manager Bruce Bochy at his side, Brian Sabean, the San Francisco Giants executive vice president of baseball operations, spent much of Tuesday morning’s end-of-year press conference glowering out onto the horizon, and, every so often, raising his right hand above the table, revealing a giant, gleaming World Series ring.
Throughout most of the proceedings, as he’s wont to do, Sabean left Evans and Bochy to handle the lion’s share of the questions about the 98-loss Giants.
When Evans, his protege and longtime media shield was pressed on the challenge of building a contender in a National League West featuring a trio of postseason participants, Sabean leaned in and grabbed the mic to share his view “from afar.”
“One of the things you realize, we had a last-place season,” Sabean explained. “That can happen in sports. Just like you have a lost year in life, but we’re not last-place people and we’re not a last-place organization. We’re the furthest thing from that.”
One day prior, it had been the turn of Billy Beane — Sabean’s equally media averse counterpart with the Oakland A’s — to make a rare public appearance and field exit-interview inquiries.
Like Sabean, Beane is presiding over a last-place club — a third in as many seasons. Unlike the Giants exec, the Moneyball star wore a big smile.
While Sabean, Evans and Co. face a daunting offseason project, Beane and his underlings enter the winter in an unfamiliar spot: an enviable position.
The roster — at least from a position player standpoint — is set, bustling with emerging talents like Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Ryon Healy and Chad Pinder. The next wave — from Franklin Barreto to Renato Nuñez to Jorge Mateo to Dustin Fowler — patiently awaits.
Fueled by the infusion of young A’s, the club posted a 36-37 record after the All-Star break, pushing into the realm of respectability. The idea of competing for a wild-card berth in 2018 isn’t out of the question, even if manager Bob Melvin dodged when asked.
“I think we’ve created an atmosphere where guys will come to spring training next year not ruling that out,” Melvin said.
“Look,” Melvin continued. “We feel like coming into spring next year we’re going to win.”
The most obvious weakness is the youthful and wildly inconsistent starting rotation, which produced a 4.74 ERA, the fifth-worst in the American League.
Beane has never been inclined to dive into the deep end of the free-agent market and don’t look for that the change as the A’s bolster the staff this offseason.
“It’s really tough, tough area to address, especially in our situation,” Beane said, referring to the reality that the A’s are at least six years from a new park and the attendant revenue bump.
“The preferred route is to create the pitching staff organically,” Beane said. “That’s where we’ve had [the] most success.”
With the young nucleus and tremendous financial flexibility — Jed Lowrie, Matt Joyce and Santiago Casilla are tied for richest 2018 contract at $6 million — the A’s can be opportunistic this offseason, if opportunity knocks.
“I think going in, it will probably be somewhat fluid,” Beane said of the budget situation. “The balance this offseason is we want to stay disciplined in the long term.”
The Giants don’t boast the same maneuverability. The team has 11 players who could potentially command more than Oakland’s trio of top earners.
The offseason shopping list is long — starting with a desperate need for a hitter to provide a presence in the heart of the lineup and some support for Buster Posey.
Filling those needs via the trade route won’t be easy. The Giants don’t have the same reservoir of young talent as their cross-bay neighbors. Sabean charitably referred to the farm as a “work in progress.”
As always, the Giants brass spoke in a way that underscores the responsibility to not waste the primes of Posey and Madison Bumgarner.
Having waded into the collective bargaining tax three years in a row, ownership will spend, as needed.
“We’re not afraid of the luxury tax,” Baer said.
“It’s not a goal to be in it,” the CEO added, “But I think, as we’ve shown that for the right opportunity to make the team competitive and to succeed on the field, if we need to be in the CBT, we’ll be in the CBT.”
The front office has spent the last-place summer deciphering what’s gone wrong for a team that got old overnight and went from a wild-card winner to worst in the NL in a calendar year. Now, with the offseason here, it’s time to shift from planning to executing.
“This isn’t a blow it up, this isn’t a rebuild,” Sabean said. “We hope it’s a reset. What is it going to take and how that plays out to go from where we finished to being competitive to a playoff team that’s incumbent upon all of us to figure out.”