Brian Sabean wasn’t a genius until he was in the GM’s chair in San Francisco for nearly 15 years. You wouldn’t have had a hard time finding a Giants fan who wanted him launched well before 2010. And now he might be a genius for getting out of the GM’s chair right before it all becomes a huge mess on McCovey Cove. Knowing when to leap before you’re pushed is a true skill, folks.
Sabean’s tenure as GM is about as complete as one could get, and more flexible than most GMs ever get a chance to be. He took over after the ’96 season in which the Giants only won 68 games. He immediately saw a turn around to division champs, and he did it in pretty old school ways, which he kept for the first half of his run. He traded Matt Williams away for Jeff Kent and others, but mostly his tack was to sign big free agents and trade his prospects away for established stars.
Those Dusty Baker-Sabean teams were anchored by Kent, J.T. Snow and some slapstick player named Barry Bonds offensively and a host of short-term veterans in support, while the rotation was generally anchored by whatever pitcher Dusty hadn’t broken quite yet. None were ever brought through the Giants system, aside from basically Jason Schmidt (quickly broken by Dusty) and if you want to argue Shawn Estes I won’t stop you simply because I know you probably don’t have much else in your life.
Those teams won three divisions and got to a World Series as a wild card, so you can’t say it didn’t work. Of course, after nearly a decade of living in the now the crash was pretty damn hard. The Giants won 91 games in 2004 but spent the next four seasons never topping 76. Most would have paid for this with their GM job, but Sabean was allowed to change course. Suddenly patience in his draft picks and prospects was allowed for, and in 2009 and 2010 they were unveiling Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey, Sandoval (he was good for a while there, honest), and then later Crawford and Belt. Sure, there was still the dumbass signing of Barry Zito in there, but that was well balanced out by his kids and by surprisingly successful veteran pickups like THE MACHINE, Hunter Pence, Aubrey Huff, Vogelsong, and a few other players who popped out of nowhere. Three World Series and another playoff appearance last year would follow. It’s rare that a GM gets to try it two ways over such a long period of time, but Sabean did and get the eternal jewelry to prove it.
Perhaps he was just tired, or he saw the writing on the wall. Sabean moved upstairs for Bobby Evans before the 2015 season, and you wonder if Evans doesn’t occasionally give him the side-eye for it. Sure, the Giants were the wild card last year but it is completely fair to wonder if that wasn’t the last gasp. Timmy Smoke is long gone, and Matt Cain is the same type of dust he just remains in uniform. Bumgarner was nails, except he fell of a dirt bike, hurt his shoulder, is probably done for the year, and when pitchers have major shoulder injures that’s when the Alka-Seltzer supply in the front office goes way up.
As far as the lineup, Evans is left with one that doesn’t have anyone important under the age of 29. Buster Posey has been able to hold off the advanced aging that catching for years usually generates, and they’ve helped by getting him more starts at first as the years have ticked by, though he only played 15 games there last year and only seven so far. But for how much longer? Catchers tend to age in a hurry past 30. Belt is 29, Crawford is 30, and there are parts of Underpants that are 50+. These guys aren’t done, but improvement is probably beyond them at this point. The only kid they have hope for at the moment is Christian Arroyo, and he’s getting his brains beaten in at this level and really hasn’t hit all that well above single-A for any length of time.
Their prospects’ list isn’t hopeless but they aren’t stocked either. Chris Shaw plays first, where Belt currently lives and Posey might eventually take up residence. Steven Duggar and Bryan Reynolds are a year or two away, when it might already be too late. Only Tyler Beede looks like he can help from the mound this season.
It’s been pretty much a disastrous start for the Giants, only being held out of the basement by the decidedly rebuilding Padres. They’re already seven games behind the Dodgers and nine behind the Rockies, and while there’s still over four months to go that’s already looking a sizable gap for an aging team.
Which leaves Evans with some questions should things not improve in the next six-to-eight weeks. He has some pieces that are going to be attractive for a lot of teams. Both Cute and Samardzija are signed for a while after this season, but you can bet teams will be calling. If Evans wanted to cash in on one of them, where does he stop? It’s hard to believe any contender is going to give him a piece or pieces in return that can help this or even next year unless they’re so stacked with near-ready prospects (is this where you’d start your Happ-for-Cueto rumors?). Cueto is coming off in a career season last year at 30, isn’t likely to repeat it, and this would be the definition of selling high.
Still, the Giants are going to need a completely new outfield before too long, with only Duggar ready to step in from the system. Maybe holding onto Cueto and Shark, with Beede joining next year full-time, is enough to run with the Dodgers for a season? But after that? And if it isn’t? And Evans won’t get to hide beyond three rings.
Sabean’s probably glad it isn’t his job anymore.