A local columnist has produced a novel theory for the Giants’ demise: Brian Sabean’s brain turned to mush when the Giants adopted a plan of building around Barry Bonds.
So, we really shouldn’t blame Sabean for trading Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for one (bad) year of A. J. Pierzynski, or for trading Jeremy Accardo for half a year of Shea Hillenbrand, or for signing Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham (twice!) to too lucrative free-agent deals, or for throwing a ridiculous amount of money at Barry Zito while underbidding for the slugger the Giants needed, or for signing over-the hill veterans such as Rich Aurilia and Ryan Klesko.
The devil made him do it.
The Giants’ slide parallels the slide made by the 49ers in the late ’90s after they had decided to bring in free agents to surround Steve Young in a futile attempt to get to a sixth Super Bowl.
But nobody blamed the 49ers’ plan for their failures. Fans and media alike realized that, no matter what your plan, you need to make good decisions.
The 49ers’ failure was due to bad decisions on free agents and in the draft — Jim Druckenmiller? — not the plan.
And the Giants’ failure is due to similar bad decisions. Giants’ owner Peter Magowan has some culpability in this because he has to sign off on decisions, but it is Sabean who is chiefly responsible.
In retrospect, the turning point was probablythe Giants’ failure to pursue Vladimir Guerrero as a free agent before the 2004 season. That was foreshadowed when Sabean traded Mattt Williams in 1997, saying he didn’t want too much of the payroll devoted to two players. That decision was a good one. Passing on Guerrero was not.
Had the Giants signed Guerrero, who hit 104 home runs in his first three full seasons with the Angels, they would have had a combination comparable to the Boson Red Sox grouping of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez for two of the last three seasons. This year, they would not have been forced into the desperation re-signing of Bonds.
But even before that, the Giants’ failure to develop position players while Sabean has been in charge, first as player personnel director and then as general manager, has doomed them.
Many fans were enraged when the Giants promised to go younger for this season and then fielded a team that was slightly older than in 2006.
But, the only way a team can get significantly younger is by bringing in players from its farm system, and the Giants are bereft of good prospects.
The contrast was stark as the A’s swept the Giants in three games over the weekend.
This year, the A’s brought up Travis Buck, who looks as if he’ll be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, to go with other farm system products such as Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby and Dan Johnson. Kurt Suzuki has been brought up to back up Jason Kendall, with the expectation that he’ll start next season.
The Giants’ only regular from their farm system is Pedro Feliz. Because of injuries, Kevin Frandsen and Dan Ortmeier started on Sunday, but Frandsen has the look of a career backup and Ortmeier doesn’t belong on a major-league roster.
That’s Sabean’s legacy, but don’t blame him.
The devil made him do it.