Friday, June 8, 2007


On Wednesday night, following another frustrating Giants loss, I listened to KNBR's Damon Bruce ranting on and on about how bad the Giants are and how "clueless" Brian Sabean has been as GM. Bruce was in full tirade mode. He repeated over and over how other teams have gone young and how the Giants "just don't get it." His opinion was that Sabean is finished in San Francisco, and may not even last this season.

Reading Giants blogs or our local Chronicle scribes and you'll hear the same refrains repeated ad nauseam.

Let's put aside for a moment that it's early June. My blog partner Kevin pointed out to me that Earl Weaver used to say that you just gotta have your team at .500 at the All-Star break and you'll be in a good position to make a run at the post season. The Giants are 4 games below .500 right now, but let's ignore that for now.

It's clearly real fashionable right now to bash Sabean and to lionize teams like the A's who focus their energies on developing position players up through their system to the major league club.

To jump on the "dump Sabean" bandwagon means ignoring Sabean's succesful track record with the Giants since 1997. If you look at the actual numbers, you'll see that the Sabean era has been the longest protratcted winning era in San Francisco Giants history. I've heard some people assert that "any GM could win with Barry Bonds in the lineup." But this assertion just doesn't hold up when you examine the Giants winning percentage over the 4 seasons prior to Sabean's arrival (1994-1996). Those teams had Bonds in his prime -- and Matt Williams, too -- and never finished above .500.

The Sabean-bashing is emotion-based, not fact-based. It's founded on the current fetish with young players.

We all know that this Giants team is going to rely on scoring enough runs and getting good enough bullpen support to back up the terrific starting pitching we're getting -- and are likely to continue getting all season. So far, that support has not been there often enough.

Which makes me all the more upset with the move to cut Armando Benitez loose following his balky meltdown in New York. Yes, that was truly ugly. But if you read between the lines of Sabean's post-Armando-trade comments, you get the distinct impression that Sabean may have had his hand forced by management to send Armando packing. A move, I hasten to add, that most Giants pundits and the "dump Sabean" crowd applauded.

I didn't -- and don't -- like the move, because we really do not have anybody to replace Armando. Before he was traded, Armando was 9-for-11 in save chances, the New York debacle included. Yes, Armando's appearances were often nerve-wracking. But the facts say that in closing situations, he more often than not came out on the right end of things. I don't like the move, because what's our best alternative to Benitez? Closer-by-committee? Brad Hennessey? Russ Ortiz? If the Giants had dropped Armando after a viable alternative had emerged from within our own ranks -- or if we'd picked up a better alternative in a trade -- fine. But that's not what happened. It's not at all clear that this was "addition by subtraction." It may have been subtraction by subtraction. Was this really Sabean's preferred move, or did he get an exasperated call from Peter Magowan after the New York game? Maybe we'll know someday, but I have my suspicions...

Whatever the case, Armando is gone. The next few months will reveal if it helped the Giants or hurt them.

All the pundits said -- in print or on KNBR -- that the just-concluded road trip was likely going to be grueling and difficult. The Mets are one of the best teams in the NL East. The Phillies are loaded and tough, especially at home, and the Diamondbacks have also been flying high and playing really well at home. The Giants would have done well to come back home from the recent roadtrip at 5-5. As it was, the Giants went 4-6 on the trip -- not great, but far from the disaster some were predicting.

As for the allegation that "the Giants just don't get it" regarding youth, my current issue of Sports Weekly ranks all 30 clubs by percentage of their early (top 5 rounds) draft picks that have advanced to the major league level over the past 10 years.

So where did the Giants rank on the list of evaluating and developing young talent? FOURTH. Ahead of the Diamondbacks (5th), Dodgers (8th) and yes, even the A's (17th). Yes, OK, all of the Giants draft picks that have made it to the majors have been pitchers. But if you draft and develop hurlers that can help your club, you can build around them.

Excuse me if I don't characterize Sabean as an "idiot" or as being "clueless about youth" -- the numbers just don't bear this out.

Damon Bruce's frothing condemnation of Sabean reminded me of his giddy praise of Sabean last year when Shea Hillenbrand was acquired from Toronto. I know Bruce is paid to get the callers to his show worked up and talking on the air. And I don't blame Sabean for acquiring Hillenbrand and his 17 homer, ~.300 track record as a way to bolster the 2006 Giants' offensive numbers (remember that Hillenbrand was taking over for the anemic Lance Niekro). Hillenbrand underperformed for the Giants, as we all know, but the move made a great deal of sense from a tactical point of view. Not all moves GMs make pan out.

On the other hand: Bengie Molina.

My attitude: let's wait and see how this year plays out. For those who love youth, Lewis, Fransden and Ortmeier are contributing (and doing much more contributing than Ellison or Linden did this year or in past seasons.) Many teams would love to have our starting rotation. Bruce Bochy is known as a guy who is good at getting bullpens to perform well. This is very much a work in progress.

I just hope that Giants management can ignore the howls of Groupthink going on all over the place.