It’s relatively easy to objectively evaluate players. That’s not the case with managers or GMs, however — though I gave my best shot at it earlier with respect to the Bochy extension. Now, I’ll tackle the Sabean extension. The fact of the matter is, the process of an organization’s decision-making extends beyond the GM. Always. He often gets all the credit or blame for a specific move, but many decision-makers in the front office play a significant role in team moves — whether it be signings, contracts, et al.
With that in mind, let’s discuss Sabean. It’s easy to be lazy in criticizing him. Mention the Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand albatrosses, throw in a comment about his love of veteran players, and voila. In reality though, Sabean is a lot more complicated than the veteran-loving moron that some portray him as (I’ve probably done so many times in the past, admittedly). This is just an oversimplified hyperbolic image of him, and isn’t an entirely fair/accurate assessment.
As an exercise, let’s just assume Sabean was not at all responsible for signing Zito or Rowand. He has, after all, been somewhat cleared of those deals in the past. Obviously it’s quite a stretch to say he played no role (or even a minimal role) in dishing out those contracts, but that’s not the point here. If we clear him of these, imagine a Sabean sans Rowand/Zito — how does his record as Giants GM look?
On a very basic level, he seems to be incapable of putting together a good offense, which ultimately stems from a flawed approach when it comes to evaluating hitters. A look back at the hitters he’s acquired in recent years, and this becomes evident. Sabean guaranteed Miguel Tejada, a 37-year-old shortstop, for $6.5 MM in November. The original Aubrey Huff signing worked out well, but that was quite obviously just as much luck as it was Sabean, and it’s not like Huff was Sabean’s first (or even second) option. Oh yeah, and Huff 2.0 is a disaster so far. The Edgar Renteria deal was too lucrative, and though the Juan Uribe contracts were both quite successful, it (again) seems like luck played a large role. Consider that Uribe was an 80 OPS+ hitter in eight seasons prior to coming to San Francisco, but in his two seasons here, he was north of 100 (107 OPS+). It’s obviously not all blemishes here, but there seems to be a pattern. I think the two best examples of recent Sabean screw-ups in player evaluation are Orlando Cabrera and Willie Bloomquist. Cabrera was so clearly a useless player when he was acquired, and yet the Giants gave up a decent prospect in exchange for him. To nobody’s surprise, Cabrera was awful in his brief time here. And then there’s Willie Bloomquist, career 1.3 WAR — all of which came in his first two seasons, who the Giants offered a two-year $4.6MM deal. These kinds of moves/offers only reinforce that Sabean stereotype.
Then there’s the positive, of course. Under Sabean, just one year ago, the Giants won the World Series. He’s assembled a pitching staff that’s consistently great; he had plenty of opportunities to trade Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, or Madison Bumgarner for a bat, but he kept them around long enough to win a championship. He has an extensive scouting background, so it doesn’t seem too far off to give him some credit for the homegrown pitching, as well as the solid core of young hitting talent the Giants have formed in Pablo Sandoval/Buster Posey/Brandon Belt.
Unfortunately, it’ll be his task in the next few years to complement this talent with solid regulars. He’s not nearly as bad as some might say, but I can’t get around the fact that I’m just not excited about the prospect of having him around for the next few years. If history tells us anything, it’s that shopping for position players isn’t his forte.