Brian Sabean doubled his original mistake by signing Freddy Sanchez to a two-year contract, but he really had no choice.
Sabean made a panicky trade in the second half of the season, obtaining Sanchez for Tim Alderson, who had been rated the Giants’ No. 2 pitching prospect.
Sabean apologists in the media wrote about scouting reports which noted that Alderson’s pitch velocity was down, but that’s normal for young pitchers who are throwing far more innings than they had in their high school careers. Rest takes care of that problem.
Significantly, Madison Bumgarner, the No. 1 prospect, also had reduced velocity, around 88 mph on his fastball, when he came up.
Sanchez had cartilage damage in his knee when he came to the Giants, so he made a delayed debut. He later injured his shoulder and finally had to have knee surgery, so he played only 25 games for the Giants.
Sabean didn’t want to be known as the GM who had traded a top pitching prospect for 25 games of Freddy Sanchez, so he negotiated a two-year deal for $6 million a year.
What are the Giants getting for that? Sanchez won a batting title with a .344 average in 2006, but he has hit .304, .271 and .293 since then. He’s a hacker, so he’ll fit right in with the Giants, but his on-base percentage is low and he has limited power.
He’ll be 32 in December and he’s coming off a year in which he played only 111 games. He’s playing a position where he’s vulnerable to more injuries, having to make a pivot on the double play with his back to the incoming runner. The only question is whether he’ll spend more time on the DL than Edgar Renteria.
Sanchez is clearly on the downside of his career, but Sabean loves those guys. Renteria is the best current example, but Aaron Rowand is close behind, entering the third year of a five-year, $60 million contract. By the last month of the season, Rowand was sometimes batting eighth. Ouch!
There are other players in the past who have gotten big contracts out of Sabean even though their skill levels had declined: Dave Roberts, Edgardo Alfonso, Ray Durham.
The next test will be Juan Uribe, now a free agent. Uribe was a pleasant surprise last season. Signed to a minor-league contract, he played three infield positions as a backup before settling in at third base. He hit .289, 36 points higher than his major league career average, and hit 16 homers in just 398 at-bats, approaching his best years in home run ratio per at-bat for the White Sox, when he was playing in a noted hitters’ park.
When that happens to a player who has changed leagues, it generally means that the new league’s pitchers don’t know him.
Sabean has an example close at hand: When Randy Winn came to the Giants in midseason 2005 from Seattle, he hit 14 home runs in just 58 games. He had never hit more in a full season for the Mariners, and he didn’t in four full seasons with the Giants, either, but Sabean gave him a contract so rich that he was untradeable.
Will Sabean learn from that mistake? He never has before, and the Sanchez signing is the latest indication that he never will.