Brian Sabean takes a lot of guff. He’s an unabashed lover of veterans and middle infielders, handing out contracts as if he was he was playing Santa Claus for a group of orphaned children that were actually veteran middle infielders. He’s also a bit of a curmudgeon, screaming at Scott Cousins when Buster Posey went down and calling his fanbase the “lunatic fringe” when they struggled after the 2002 World Series. At the same time, this man has put together a team that has gone to three World Series in the last decade, more than the Yankees in that time span, while fielding a roster that, while expensive, has never been among the top five in the sport.
Sure, Sabean is probably not the guy you want running the show when there is rebuilding going on and you need no more proof than the Armando Benitezes and Pedro Felizes he signed during the end of Barry Bonds’ playing career. At the same time, when you have the best hitter in the sport, one who can hit 40 home runs and/or get on base 50% of the time, I think you can be excused for thinking your team is on the brink of competing. Hell, with a hitter like that, you could be excused for thinking you don’t even need to field a complete team.
But even that label doesn’t quite fit Sabean. The best and only true way to rebuild a team is through the draft. Yes, Sabean is more than willing to trade away prospects to fill holes, and Brandon Belt may have deserved a starting spot long before it was given to him, but just look at this Giants roster: the rotation is filled with homegrown talent. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum are a triumverate that any team in baseball would be thrilled to have developed. They have the best catcher in baseball and a third baseman who, when he keeps his weight down, is a cannonball-shaped orb of energy at third base. Sure, there’s an element of chance in the draft and any number of those pitchers could have seen their arms explode, but at some point Sabean deserves credit for his scouting staff, his training team, his development crew, and his ability to keep all of these areas firing on the right cylinders. Four teams could have selected Posey before the Giants, nine clubs could have taken Lincecum or Bumgarner before the Giants, and 24 could have taken Cain, but they didn’t. The Giants did.
Yes, luck may be Sabean’s best friend. The Giants could have seen something no other team did in Ryan Vogelsong, but chances are they were doing a former player a favor that turned into a magical wish that is still paying off. Edgar Renteria was a sunk cost until the 2010 World Series and Barry Zito looked like a $126 million dollar bust until his last two starts made everyone take on baseball amnesia. That’s without even mentioning Marco Scutaro, the pesky, refuse to strikeout guy that no one considered would be the key to the NLCS.
Brian Sabean may not be perfect and he may have given away chances to make his clubs better during down years, but this is a results-driven sport and he’s delivered. While we like to laugh about things like “veteran leadership” and “clubhouse presence,” the fact of the matter is that those things are a part of the sport, though smaller than the Inside Baseball guys like us to think. The playoffs are a crapshoot, but fifteen years of 162 game regular seasons AND multiple postseason berths don’t allow for many mistakes to slip through.
He’s not perfect, but he’s damn good at his job. I’m sorry, Mr. Sabean, I guess you do know what you’re doing.