Sabean’s Method Proven to Succeed, Not Please

By: Ben Leonard

Despite the Giants’ poor spring, three rings seems to have management perfectly content with its staff. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the Giants are nearing contact extensions with manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean. Sabean routinely draws the ire of many Giants fans during the winter with his lack of movement, signing only complementary players after the fiasco with that left-hander from Oakland. Look at this offseason: Nori Aoki and Casey McGehee quenched Sabean’s perpetual thirst for veterans. In spite of all his success, does he really deserve an extension?

One of the main criticisms of Sabean, and his manager Bruce Bochy is their penchant for relying on veterans long after they have clearly gone over the hill. But really, they were just stopgaps for young players coming up. Juan Uribe? Buying time until Crawford’s arrival. Aaron Rowand? A way to fill seats until his young pitchers developed. Recently, Sabean has been more quick to dispose of failing veterans. Tyler Colvin, a saavy pickup with upside potential when acquired, struggled in 139 at-bats last season, so Sabean dumped him. Dan Uggla? Gone after 12 plate appearances. This might just be because there have been less holes to patch recently, but Sabean seems to know and act accordingly when a ship has sailed.

The exception this year might be the decision to send down promising catcher Andrew Susac in favor of Hector Sanchez, but even that is tenuous. Susac missed a large amount of time throughout the spring due to injury, therefore rendering him much less prepared for the season. Susac is the catcher of the future, but he needs the at-bats to continue his development. Buster Posey’s not leaving the squat anytime soon, so it’s unwise to stunt his growth by only playing him roughly every fifth day. Furthermore, Sanchez is Tim Lincecum’s de-facto personal catcher; leaving him in Fresno might upset the applecart. This move shows veteran saavy on the part of Sabean, not infatuation with veterans. He might not be pleasing fans who see the youthful potential in Susac, but he’s really making the best move for the future of the ballclub.

Some might point to his inaction during the winter as squandering the chance to have a guaranteed contender, and his championships won through luck. However, Sabean’s style of addressing needs mid-season, instead of forcing long-term contracts out of fear, seems to be more effective than the desperate methods of big winter spenders. Throwing money at the perceived problem might be superfluous and prodigal in the long-term, especially when a team that looks poised to contend in January could very well collapse after one key injury. Scott Cousins, anyone? Moves made in the winter tend to harm teams long-term more than it helps, with massive contracts tying down general managers.

Most of Sabean’s best moves have come at the deadline. Before the Hunter Pence deal in 2012, the Giants were playing Aubrey Huff and his .280 wOBA in the outfield, along with Nate Schierholtz. Midseason is the best time to make moves, because they involve prospects, which are by no means guaranteed to succeed. Look at who the Phillies got: Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph, and Seth Rosin. No explanation needed. Furthermore, in 2013, with the Giants close enough to sniff a playoff spot but not in a realistic way, Sabean didn’t listen to the desperate cries of his fanbase. He essentially stood pat, but didn’t make a desperate deal to unload veterans for prospects, because he knew his team still had a chance to win the next season (but not in June).

He also makes underrated use of sabermetrics to evaluate and keep talent. Sabean, not usually thought of as a progressive, has actually made strides through these advanced stats, while the rest of baseball worships the Astros for their system.

Sabean deserves this extension for bringing the Giants to the promised land not by luck, but by veteran saavy. He makes fans feel despair in the winter, but excites them in July when the time is right. Maybe he’s just tempering expectations to make those rings feel even better. Reactionary moves doom franchises: Sabean’s calculated moves, not luck, are the reason the Giants have paraded down Market Street three times. Thus, he deserves all the accolades and money he receives. He’s terrible at keeping the fans happy during the winter, but he sure knows how to win.

Cover Image: By Brian_Sabean_2010.jpg: btwashburn derivative work: Delaywaves (Brian_Sabean_2010.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons