Self-denial at its peak: “Our approach has always been to try to win and develop younger players at the same time,” Giants owner Peter Magowan wrote to season ticket-holderslast week after general mananager Brian Sabean was signed to a two-year extension.
Here are the Giants’ regulars: Bengie Molina (33 years old on Friday), Ryan Klesko (36), Ray Durham (35), Omar Vizquel (40), Pedro Feliz (31), Randy Winn (33), Dave Roberts (35) and Barry Bonds (43).
Can a call to Julio Franco be far behind?
The aging of the Giants has caused local media types to develop a theory: That Sabean has had his hands tied by Magowan and chief operating officer Larry Baer.
What rubbish. Sabean has been on board with this philosophy from the start, including the decision to build the team around Bonds. Any good baseball man would have made the same decision. When he signed a five-year extension before the 2002 season, Bonds was by far the most dominant player in the game, a hitter who made everybody in the lineup better.
That policy looked good until Bonds broke down in the 2005 season. In the first three years of that new contract, the Giants won 95, 100 and 91 games, going to the World Series in 2002.
But Bonds isn’t as dominating a player now, and he’s not getting much support. Once, Bonds was backed up by hitters such as Ellis Burks and Jeff Kent. Now, the Giants’ No. 5 hitters have been Durham and Klesko — with a combined 13 homers in the Giants’ first 89 games.
No wonder Bonds Lite leads the majors in intentional walks.
Sabean’s decisions have become increasingly erratic — and they are his decisions. I have had multiple one-on-one conversations with the Giants’ principal decision makers since 1992 and the pattern has always been the same: Though Magowan is more involved than most owners, it is Sabean who makes the decisions, with Magowan’s approval, which is usually automatic.
Sabean has always been a win-now type of guy; he came from the New York Yankees, after all. Though he was farm system director for the Giants before becoming GM, he has always valued prospects chiefly as trading chips. Bill Mueller is the only respectable position player drafted and developed by the Giants in Sabean’s 15 seasons.
Though Sabean has concentrated on developing pitching, he has used pitchers as trading chips, too. He’s traded six first-round picks, though he has wisely hung on to Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
Most of the early trades worked out well, one spectacularly, when he traded Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jason Schmidt in July 2001. Lately, the trades have turned sour. You know which ones.
This year, Magowan had promised that the Giants would be a younger team.
They didn’t need Bonds for the gate because season tickets were tied to All-Star Game tickets. But, when Sabean couldn’t get the top power hitters on the free-agent market, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, while he was filling in with aging mediocrities, the Giants had to sign Bonds for his bat. Even with Bonds, they’re a low-scoring team. Without him, they’d be setting records for offensive futility.
Now, once again, Magowan promises a “new direction,” but as that mailing to season ticket-holders shows, he’s still in denial.
If I were Julio Franco, I’d stay close to the phone.
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