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Brian Sabean has some tough calls to make this offseason

Oct 30, 2012, 8:53 AM EDT

World Series - San Francisco Giants v Detroit Tigers - Game 4 Getty Images

Brian Sabean bashing is a pretty common pastime among stathead types. I’ve spent an awful lot of time doing it, I’ll admit. For what it’s worth, my bashing him has less to do with any individual moves he’s made and more to do with some poor behavior on his part, but it’s undeniable that, for whatever reason, Sabean catches a lot of flak from the so-called smart set.

But that flack pales compared to two World Series championships in three years. No, you can’t absolve Sabean of bad moves and give him all the credit for those titles — like most GMs he’s had good moments and bad — but it seems pretty damn petty to take potshots at the job he’s done, especially in recent years, in light of the undeniable success of the Giants. Ultimately the job is to win and the Brian Sabean-led Giants have won.

But baseball success is a fleeting thing, and there are a couple of decisions Sabean has to make soon that are anything but easy calls: contracts for Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.

Pagan and Scutaro were key components for the Giants down the stretch. Indeed, despite there being little reason to assume he’d be useful, Scutaro was probably the absolute best mid-season pickup by any team. Pagan likewise was a critical cog in the machine, posting his best season in 2012, hitting .288, finding the big gaps in AT&T Park to his liking with 15 triples and playing some sweet D.

However, as Chris Haft notes at MLB.com, both of them are free agents. Today is Scutaro’s 37th birthday. Pagan will turn 32 next summer. Neither has the sort of track record that anticipated their 2012 contributions to the Giants’ World Series championship and neither can be expected to repeat that performance on a consistent basis for an extended period, but both will greet the ecstatic San Francisco fans at the victory parade tomorrow as heroes. And there will be a lot of those folks who desperately want to see Scutaro and Pagan back in Giants uniforms next year.

And each is likely the best option for the Giants too. But not at any price and not for a lengthy period of time.  And that’s Sabean’s biggest challenge this offseason. A challenge that a lot of World Series winning general managers have had to face mere days after the champagne dried: how to balance the past, the present and the future of a winning team without overpaying and without letting emotion play too large a role.

It’s a nice problem for a GM to have, but it’s certainly not an easy one to solve, even if you have a couple of World Series rings on your fingers. And no matter how much success Brian Sabean has had in recent years, he gets almost no time to rest on those laurels before being put to the test once again.

  1. escapingexile - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    Let me preface this by stating I am a Dodger fan. As such, I would love to see them bring Scutaro back on a multi-year deal. He can be the Juan Uribe of our friends to the north. Was that an amazing run he went on? Absolutely. Is there a snowballs chance in hell he would be able to sustain it? Nope.
    As far as Pagan is concerned, I can’t say that I watched him much other than while he was killing my Dodgers. That being said, bring him back too. I’d love to see us knock that smirk off his face.
    I’m just not sure about giving the credit to Sabean for either of these runs in two of the last three years. At no point did anyone look at the Giants and say wow, this is an awesome team that they have assembled here. In my opinion, they just managed to get hot at the right time. I think this year’s run was sustained on the attitude that “we are going to do this in spite of Melky.” That credit would be better placed with Bochy or with uniformed personnel rather than with Sabean.

    • nogoodtomedead - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:11 AM

      PS- thanks for overpaying for Uribe. We almost signed that ass until you outbid us- I’m glad the money is flowing for you in LA now so you can continue to outbid us for signings we would probably regret

    • temporarilyexiled - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:32 AM

      If and when the Dodgers show that they actually know what they’re doing, please let me know.

      Otherwise, know that I both:

      1. Look forward to the two franchises going head to head in 2013, and

      2. Take comfort in the fact that the Dodgers still haven’t gotten their act together.

      It’s great entertainment for Giant fans.

      • Brinke - Oct 30, 2012 at 6:02 PM

        The thinking around the Giants is, if they hadn’t lost Posey last May, they might’ve won last year, too. But 2 outta 3 ain’t bad, acc to Meat Loaf.

        #BEATLA

    • bluburt - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:46 AM

      “I’m just not sure about giving the credit to Sabean for either of these runs in two of the last three years.”

      I guess that Sabean was not the guy to draft Cain, Bum, Timmy, Buster, Romo and Wilson, not the one who signed Pablo out of Venezuela. Wasn’t he the guy who traded for Lopez and Ramirez in 2010 that set up their dominating bullpen. Oh yeah, traded for some dude named Ross. Sure he caught lightning in a bottle in Ross and Scutaro, but you get credit and blame for all moves.

      I know you are a Dodger fan and that you are biased against the Giants; as I am biased against the Dodgers. Superstars help, but championship teams are built by the smallest acquisitions. It seems as if the Dodgers are trying to build a champion the same way the Yankees and the Red Sox did but unfortunately that way does not seem to be working right now. (Giants in 2010, Cards in 2011 and Giants in 2012). Not giving Sabean credit seems very short sighted.

      If you were not watching the Giants this year or in 2010, you missed a dominating pitching staff that was deep to the last man. It is an old adage, but good pitching really does beat good hitting. That has been Sabean’s MO and will continue to be moving forward.

      Good luck to the Dodgers. Baseball needs you to be competitive. Just don’t dare to win a WS…

      • sailcat54 - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:08 PM

        The Dodgers’ management isn’t trying to build a winning team. They are trying to buy one. They are wasting their money.

      • socaljim23 - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:47 PM

        Could not agree more. P.S. Part of good pitching beating good hitting is good defense behind the pitching. See also, Sandoval, Crawford, Scutaro and Belt. Period. Dot.

    • Brinke - Oct 30, 2012 at 6:00 PM

      I’d say re-sign both to one year deals. PS, thanks for signing all those fat, overrated and overpriced FAs last July- they’ll impact your payroll for years, compromising your ability to do much of ANYTHING. PS- what time is the World Series parade in LA?

      Oh. Never mind. You can catch ours on SportsCenter.

    • studyandwrite - Oct 30, 2012 at 7:51 PM

      hilarious and he lives in l.a.. do snowballs melt in l.a.? they do in boston, where scutaro hit .363 in august and september of last year when all the other red sox went south. and the idea of you being competent enough to pass along credit, hilarious, and he lives in where, all together, l.a.

    • yosembok - Oct 31, 2012 at 1:42 AM

      Please keep Mattingly as your manager. It was just precious to see Bochy catching him returning to the mound and forcing him to substitute hs pitcher. It’s also delicious seeing Kemp not know what a warning track is for. Oh i didn’t know that the fence is close to the dirt part of the outfield.

    • i2eyemac - Oct 31, 2012 at 1:25 PM

      Why is anybody saying anything about the Dodgers, for crying out loud? Here’s the issue: Will Pagan and Scutaro re-sign for something like two years and non-hero money? A “Yes” depends on their answer to the following question:

      “Is it worth it to me to take a little less than the money I might be able to extort from a desperate GM in some bottom-tier team, and have a chance to get to the post-season again with a group that loves me and a city that loves me?” Me, I hope the answer is “Yes.”

    • giantsinthewest - Oct 31, 2012 at 3:41 PM

      Sabean constructed this team. He’s been the GM since around the Bonds days (I’m no going to fact check the exact years, he’s been here long enough to have drafted/signed all these guys, that’s the point). Obviously the author of this post doesn’t put much importance/credit on roster construction. But they should.

      Second, people need to change the way they evaluate the Giants and maybe even teams in general. The Giants were widely dismissed when they won the WS in 2010. Terms like “lightning in a bottle,” etc were used to describe the team. When Posey got hurt in 2011 and the team failed to reach the post season people probably thought, “there’s the regression we expected.” That line of thinking is incorrect. But let’s say 2010 COULD be a fluke. Doesn’t 2012 change “could” to “wasn’t”? There is a core of pitchers and relievers. The roster looks similar. And at this point can’t we just say Sabean has an ability to find value in role players?

      It’s really irresponsible to put your opinion out there, uninformed as it is and use it to judge teams. GMs are important. If you didn’t see the Giants coming you were blind. Look at the WBC, Japan shows us that you win tournament style competitions with strong pitching and situational hitting. The Giants success just supports that theory.

  2. philsieg - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    Leave Sabes alone. At 64, I’m all for employing the elderly. ;-)

  3. natslady - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    At no point did anyone look at the Giants and say wow, this is an awesome team that they have assembled here. In my opinion, they just managed to get hot at the right time…

    True, in my observation. They are saying that NOW–but they weren’t saying that before. Winning changes things.

    • Marty - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:27 AM

      “They managed to get hit at the right time” = Winning in the Playoffs

      Welcome to baseball, young Nats fan.

    • indaburg - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:12 AM

      Winning changes everything.

  4. Marty - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    They should sign Scott Cousins then give him an assignment in San Jose cleaning bathrooms at municipal stadium.

    And Sabain was dead right in saying what he said, especially at that time… righteous bloggers be damned.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:37 AM

      If he was “dead right” why did he apologize soon after he said it?

      • Gamera the Brave - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:37 AM

        Because the overall interests of the Giants are poorly served by the GM popping off like he did (overall PR, Giants brand, etc.), and he realized that in retrospect. Just because you are correct, doesn’t mean you have to open your yap.
        Not that it’s ever stopped me…

      • Marty - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:41 AM

        He was dead right to apologize too, after letting Cousins know his place.

      • billy1122 - Nov 3, 2012 at 4:50 PM

        Craig let me tell you something. I have read several of your Brian bashing articles and I’ve had about enough. First, let’s talk about the Posey collusion. Posey was NOT blocking the plate so there is no reason for the collusion. He took out a ROY, a batting champ, and an MVP for no reason. Brian were a little harsh on his comments but I agree with him 100 percent. He apologized because he was probably forced to. But, I am getting very tired of reading your drivel you post about Sabean. He is a hell of a G, if you want to admit or not. He doesn’t have 200 mil to work with like the Dodgers or the Yankees that’s why he has to sign guys like Pagan. He works with what he has and still wins. I feel you are very unprofessional in your little ‘blogs’ that you have written about him and its time you give it a rest.

    • stex52 - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:52 AM

      I didn’t like the Cousins-Posey collision at all. I would love to see that sort of thing banned from baseball in some fashion. But it was not illegal and and it isn’t even unusual. Several catchers were injured or at least off for a couple of days this year, too.

      And Sabean’s response was off-the-map unprofessional.

    • clydeserra - Oct 30, 2012 at 6:14 PM

      http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/images/stories/large/2012/07/16/Collision148312605.jpg

      http://i.usatoday.net/sports/_photos/2008/08/18/baseball-oly-med.jpg

  5. joecool16280 - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    Petty Giants fan here. I can’t stand Sabean. Yes, they’ve won recently but it’s been despite him not because of him. There’s no way anyone can say that the moves he’s made are championship moves. Credit goes to Bochy and the attitude he brought to these teams. Sabean is straight up lucky and a condescending jerk.

    • indaburg - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:10 AM

      You may not want to have a beer with the guy, but he does seem to know what he’s doing a little bit, no? Two World Series in three years and you’re this surly? You are a tough person to please.

      • nogoodtomedead - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:37 AM

        I’m also a giants fan- and about six years ago was screaming for him to be fired- but the guy is on an unbelievable hot streak. It hasn’t been flashy moves- but here’s a few-

        1) First- 2010. Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross. Yes- maybe all these guys contributions ended up being more luck then sense- but he picked them out of the garbage can and they ended up being part of that weird attitude/chemistry that won it all.

        2) Exercising the Lopez/Affeldt options. Got a ton of heat for this because everybody seems to think that the money should have been spent on a bat (my argument was that there is rarely an impact bat available in FA, and the over-pay is ridiculous, pitching is the teams strength and you try and maintain that). And after watching Affeldt make the heart of the Tigers lineup look plain stupid in Game 4 I’m going to say it was the right call. (Despite all of Affeldt’s goofy injuries. Point was- he paid for a sure thing rather then freeing up money for a hopeful upgrade.

        3) Melky for Sanchez. Suspension aside- Sanchez was going to be non-tendered- yet he somehow got KC to trade a useful player in an area of weakness for the Giants that was just coming into his prime.

        4) Pagan for Torres/Ramirez. We all loved Torres- Pagan is a much better player.

        5) Chris Stewart for Kontos. Again- Stewart was headed to the waiver wire- ended up getting a reliever who ended up solidifying the bullpen this year while Mota was suspended and through various injuries.

        5) Signing Gregor Blanco. Who would known? Was a sprak-plug in the lead-off spot early in the year- stole some bases- saved a perfect game- and gave us somebody other then Justin Christian to play everyday when Melky went out.

        6) Scutaro. Who should be resigned. I know he won’t repeat the numbers- but a two year deal would be fine since there aren’t any prospects knocking at the door. If Panik is ready next year- he’s a fine bench player.

        7) Pence. Man his numbers were terrible! But he drove in runs in the regular season and was a leader in the post-season. And I liked Tommy Joseph- but filling a need dealing from the one position you have a surplus of prospects/ young players in is fine.

        These are good moves. They aren’t flashy- they’re team building moves. And right now he’s doing a hell of a job. I wasn’t crazy about the Wheeler/Beltran trade- having Wheeler coming up would be nice for some Timmy insurance- but the fan-base was screaming for something to be done to repeat and Beltran actually played great for the Giants down the stretch.

        Leave Sabes alone- he’s pulling the right strings right now.

    • nogoodtomedead - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:59 AM

      I forgot to add Mijarres (sp?) to that last. Got him for nothing- and gives us a young lefty in the bullpen with surprising good MLB numbers to leverage/ replace Affeldt/Lopez

      • temporarilyexiled - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:46 AM

        Great points. ALL of them. This is the stuff that everyone needs to focus on. As for Brian Sabean’s personality, it seems to have different aspects. We see the I-don’t-care-what-anyone-else-thinks side. But I believe the players and the rest of the organization see an entirely different side. The stuff the Giants have been saying is identical to what he was saying to Showtime. I don’t think it’s an accident that each and every player has been saying virtually the same things.

        As for Scott Cousins, there are many sides to this. Posey needed to learn better technique. Scott Cousins needed to score, not to do ANYTHING to score. There are times to go straight for the catcher. THAT was not one of them. That Sabean let him have it is just fine with me. Honest outrage, followed by a necessary apology. That’s good enough for me.

        As it stands, the Giants won before AND after Posey’s injury. Maybe Sabean KNEW something.

    • echech88 - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:32 AM

      So you’d rather have some glitzy GM like Theo Epstein and suck than have an old school, outdated philosopher like Sabean and still win?

      On behalf of every fan of every other MLB team: DIE

      • temporarilyexiled - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:48 AM

        Good point. Maybe made just a BIT too strongly.

      • kardshark1 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:27 PM

        You’re forgetting that Theo Epstein has won 2 WS rings as well, and in a much shorter time frame. I get your point, but bad example.

    • joecool16280 - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:37 PM

      Very good points Nogood. Nice work. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Sabean has had the same formula for 15 years and it hasn’t worked until Bochy came along. He’s the real reason.

  6. urfinished - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Petty is one word to describe it.
    Dumb is another. The guy won 2 of the last 3 championships. Criticizing him is asinine. Why be that type of media?
    I’m a DC guy and certainly don’t root for them but the constant criticism is just dumb.

  7. sisqsage - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    Scutaro is much more vaulable than Uribe ever was simply because of the way he plays the game and contributes on multiple levels (clutch hitting, fundamentals, great in the clubhouse, defense etc.). Uribe struck out way too much and only hit .248 in his best year in SF. Scutaro has been a valuable player for a long time. His age works in the Giants’ favor on a new deal. Who is going to empty the bank on a 37-year-old second baseman? That shouldn’t be too hard of a deal to get done. Pagan will be more problematic. He should be able to get up to a three-year deal for a good chunk of change from multiple suitors. Also, the Giants have to weigh how close top prospect Gary Brown is from being ready to take over CF at AT&T.

    Also, Melky coming back is not totally out of the question. There’s sentiment in the Giants organization to the effect that Melky has finally been punished enough and that he’s only going to get a below market one-year offer anyway, so why not take another shot. He’s still a great outfielder. The question is how much offense is there sans PEDs?

  8. riverace19 - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    Scutaro gets on base; Uribe does not. End of comparison. So you are a Dodgers fan escapingexile really sorry about that.
    Why does no one talk of the home grown pitching staff which was the real reason they won? Cain Bumgarner Lincecum Vogelsong Romo Wilson Casilla all drafted and raised a Giant.
    Bochy does deserve a lot of credit but the Giants have won 2 out of 3 from drafting well.

    • escapingexile - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:51 AM

      Try and expand your Giant mind, and understand the point I was making. The Scutaro/Uribe comparison was intended as a postseason hero signing a contract for more than they are worth. End of comparison.

      I don’t need your pity for the team I choose to follow. I did credit uniformed personnel, which the last time I checked, would include the pitching staff. Don’t discredit the fact that we were ran by a jacka$$, which thoroughly depleted our farm depth. For my money, I would take our own homegrown talent in Kershaw against any one of yours.

      Enjoy your time on top while it lasts.

      • nogoodtomedead - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:08 AM

        You do know that Ned Colletti is still your GM? And your on the Giants case? You added 300 mill in payroll this year and CHOKED down the stretch. And homegrown talent? Say goodbye to that- you guys are so eager to make a splash your gonna be Yankees west- over paying for everybody. I respect the Dodgers- and I love our rivalry with you- but get the hell outta here with this- you have nothing to stand on right now.

      • jkcalhoun - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:14 AM

        I was going to ask, if you dislike Sabean this much, what are your thoughts on his protégé Colletti? But I’ve clearly been pre-empted by nogoodtomedead.

  9. mazblast - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    If Sabean were a young guy and one of the sabermetric types, the writers would be fawning all over him. He clearly knows what he’s doing, even if nobody will make movies ignoring the facts to glamorize him. He has built two World Series winners, which is as many as anyone this century and more than a lot of the “cool” guys.

    As for who to keep and who to replace, that’s not easy. Based on their respective ages, I’d say keep Pagan and let Scutaro go, with the organization’s thanks and best wishes. However, I’m not Sabean and I don’t get a vote. People will complain whichever way he goes. I’ll wait and see, remembering that the guy has the hardware to back up his decisions.

  10. psunick - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    With that pitching, the GM can make as many moves with the offense that he wants. And they’ll all work.

    My heavens…how many teams have 4th and 5th starters who pitched like Bumgarner and Zito did in the postseason?

    I think the Giants will be champions for many years to come.

  11. jkcalhoun - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Sabean’s M.O. changed significantly when the ownership group tapped a new managing general partner in 2008. Seems like there has been a lot more focus on drafting and player development since then, and not just pitching. Maybe it’s another turnaround that, at least in part, has more than a little to do with Zito.

    • APBA Guy - Oct 30, 2012 at 12:01 PM

      I think this comment is the most on-target so far. I’ve felt, going back to the Shysterball days, that Sabean was doing ownerships’ bidding during the Bonds’ era, and now that the ownership direction is more rational, he’s been able to combine the homegrown base of talent with some timely moves-and some luck-to get two rings in 3 years. The Great and Powerful Beane hasn’t done that yet. But Beane hasn’t had rational ownership and sufficient payroll to work with, either.

      • SOBEIT - Oct 30, 2012 at 12:44 PM

        Exactly. We have seen this team change a lot since the late 90s to early 2000s…and the organization philosophy has a lot to do with that.

        Instead of being a team of bangers who are too old, we now have a balance of youth and veterans. Pitching will always be a staple and that leads to having great defense to compliment great pitching. It was very frustrating to see great pitching wasted because of poor defense or slow defense. Remember that 2010 was an OF of Burrell, Ross, Torres and Huff. What a difference a couple years can make.

        And now for the final piece…hitting. Sandoval, Posey are the core. Hopefully we can keep both Pagan and Scutaro. I know giving the hometeam a discount is not a reality in today’s market, but I hope that Pagan realizes that for a few million less, he will be having fun and have a good chance at playing for championships every year. Pence is on the books for next year and Belt and Crawford will continue to mature and get better. Blanco is going nowhere and so Sabean will have challenges, but not like previous years. And our prized prospects are just a year or two away from joining the club to show what they got!

        We are looking for Blockbuster trades and signings, but not at Blockbuster $$$. This is where Sabean continues to earn my respect…evaluation of talent to give them the opportunity to shine!

      • temporarilyexiled - Oct 30, 2012 at 12:50 PM

        One of the big questions will continue to be how well the prospects should actually be prized. When this aspect of team success truly catches up with the rest, we’ll be talking about a dynasty. Until then, it’ll remain extremely competitive, as the prices for free agents will no doubt be overinflated, and the number of GMs willing to trade with Sabean will be limited.

      • yosembok - Oct 31, 2012 at 1:50 AM

        Dodgers just signed League for. $22.5m for 3 years. His salary is more tan Affeldt, Romo, Casilla, and Lopez combined, and,he can’t pitch as well as any one of them. They can keep spending and wishing.

  12. Matt S - Oct 30, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    I don’t know if I’d call Sabean a “jerk”, necessarily, but rather an outspoken guy who puts his foot in his mouth sometimes. None of his colleagues and employees has said anything negative about him in public, and his longevity in the position has to count for something, doesn’t it?

    Sabean has been the General Manager of the Giants for 16 years, and in that period the team has accumulated 12 winning seasons, 6 postseason appearances, 3 pennants, and 2 World Series titles. By that measurement, how many teams have done better over a similar span? Yankees, for sure. Red Sox and Cardinals, probably, and the Braves due to all their division titles. The A’s and Angels have had lots of winning records but less postseason success. And that’s pretty much it.

    In the 16 years prior (’81-’96) the Giants had 7 winning seasons, 2 postseason appearances, 1 pennant, and 0 titles. What’s more those teams all played at frigid, unlovely Candlestick while the Giants have been ensconced at AT&T Park for much of the Sabean era. Even before the last three years, now has been a golden era of sorts of us Giants fans. And a lot of that is due to Sabean’s stewardship of the team.

    So yeah- he has made a lot of exasperating moves and non-moves, but so have Brian Cashman and Billy Beane and Ken Williams and all other GMs that stick around long enough. It’s sort of like being in Congress- you can’t help but accumulate regrettable legislative votes if you’re there long enough. Overall, though, you can’t really argue with Sabean’s results- even if I’m reasonably certain he’s going to overspend to keep Pagan, Affeldt, and Scutaro around.

  13. txnative61 - Oct 31, 2012 at 2:04 AM

    I’m a “buck stops here” person in regards to Sabean, and he’s earned his accolades. That said, he could not take the field, and the players, coaches, and Manager all go into making a team a champion. One player, in particular that impressed me this year was Marco Scutaro. I think undervaluing his veteran presence would be a mistake, as he seems to possess the humility to accept and excel in a lesser role. “Clutch” is not easily learned nor suddenly lost.

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