The optimist looks at the National League West and NL wild-card standings and declares the Giants’ season far from over. Make up one game per week on the leaders from now through the end of the season, the optimists says, and they’re right where they need to be.
The pessimist looks at the optimist as though he’s crazy. It’s not just the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and NL wild-card-leading Cincinnati Reds that the Giants must reel in. There are four teams ahead of them in the division, and several more in front of them in the wild card chase.
The odds of the Giants going on a killer run are long as it is; they
haven’t had a killer run all year. The odds of such a run coinciding with the scads of teams they’re chasing going into the tank are only slightly better than the odds of Armando Benitez winning the Cy Young.
So the pessimist is right to say the Giants are done. They are. But if the pessimist blames Brian Sabean, the optimist as every right to look at him with that same you’re-looney look.
Sabean-bashers surface every year spinning the same broken record. The Giants never get anything out of their farm system, they moan. The A.J. Pierzynski trade was a disaster, they cry. Vladimir Guerrero should be in black and orange, they bleat. And any knucklehead could see that this year’s team was way too old, they spew.
But let’s quickly examine these claims. It takes no more than a cursory look at each to dismiss the validity of each point.
» Where did Noah Lowry come from? How about Matt Cain? Brad Hennessey? That’s three-fifths of next year’s startingrotation, and there’s a chance they’ll be joined by Jonathan Sanchez. All four, drafted and developed by the Giants.
True, the system hasn’t produced many promising position players over the past several years, but the Giants are not the A’s. They don’t have the luxury of a fairly patient fan base that understands the realities of the game. The Giants, since Sabean came aboard, have had to look at every year as THE year to get it done, and that means sticking with established position players even if it retards prospect development.
» It’s way too simplistic to look at the deal that sent Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser to Minnesota for Pierzynski as an indictment of Sabean’s competence. At the time of the trade, the Giants were desperate for a quality catcher, and Pierzynski was an All-Star. Meanwhile, Liriano was a huge question mark because of arm trouble, Nathan looked lost and had completely lost the trust of then-manager Dusty Baker and Bonser was some guy named Boof.
Is Liriano a stud now? Sure. But he’s also on the disabled list with more arm trouble. Is Nathan a stud? Yes. The lowered expectations and change of scenery suited him nicely in Minnesota. But he was never going to be a stud in San Francisco. And Bonser, well, he’s still just a guy named Boof.
Pierzynski obviously didn’t work out very well here, but that’s a risk every GM makes when he makes a trade. The GMs who don’t take those risks end up working in Kansas City. Sabean did what he needed to do to get a catcher, and when the deal was made, nobody said boo about it being bad. Pretty much every GM bats .500 on trades, and Sabean is no exception.
» Seriously, knock it off with the Guerrero stuff. Turn the freaking page already. It was never going to happen no matter how hard the Giants tried. Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno was fairly new in town and looking to make a big statement to his team’s fans, so he was going to land Guerrero come hell or high water. If the Giants offered $12 million a year, Moreno would have said, “Give him $15 million.”
» Are the Giants old? Absolutely. But as Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Jason Giambi, Kenny Rogers and Ken Griffey Jr. have illustrated this season, it’s not impossible to be a very productive player after your 35th birthday. You have to be healthy, though, and some of the Giants’ key fossils have not been. That’s not Sabean’s fault. That’s not anybody’s fault. Nor is it Sabean’s fault that certain veterans are performing well beneath their career standards.
Big-league general managers have one job: To put a compelling, contending team on the field. And when’s the last time Sabean didn’t do that? Never.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.