Autopsy of the 2005 Season: Part II - Sabean's At Fault Too

Sabean also gets some of the blame for this season as well. He could have still pulled the trigger to get a name player like Tejada and Vlad or Beltran (though that last one would have been disappointing). He could have kept a young player like Mohr and platooned him with Tucker in CF instead of picking up Grissom's option. He didn't need to resign Christiansen either, he hadn't done anything really good for the Giants except for that half season after the trade with the Cards; yes, he's had arm problems, but we still haven't seen anything really good out of him.

And how could they have gotten to the point where we just released Pierzynski?!? For nothing!!! If he knew things were that bad - and I would think that the kneeing of Stan Conte in spring would have been a pretty good clue and the cancer news story even more of a clarion call - he should have traded him away like he did F-Rod because we needed F-Rod too and at least we got a good prospect for him (though the prospect has sucked since joining the Giants; hopefully Baseball America is right on him)

Cannot Afford to NOT Have Two Mega Contracts

In the chalk talk, he mentioned that the team could not afford to have two mega contracts. I think that they cannot afford to NOT have two mega contracts: look at what happened this season with the one mega contract out for most of the season. Had we a Vlad or similar hitter, the offense would have still been good enough to compete even with the diminished pitching staff that we eventually had by mid-season. Look at how good the team did when Bonds returned; you can see what a difference it would have been had we had another superstar hitter on the team. Alternately, a superstar pitcher would have keep the team aloft when it was struggling along with Schmidt during his "lost" period.

Let's go through the numbers for the offseason between the 2004 and 2005 seasons. There is the $6-7M that they have somewhere that I call their "Maddux" money; with interest it should be $7M (and Maddux was offered a 3 year contract). Feliz could have played 1B and obviously they thought enough of Niekro so he could have backed up Feliz there when Feliz played LF on Bonds' rest days, so that's $2M saved from not picking up JT Snow's option. We already have Tucker and Mohr as competant CFs so we didn't need to pick up Grissom's option, saving $2.25M there but losing $1M for signing Mohr, for a total amount of $1.25M. That is a total of $11.25M that Sabean could have spent on getting someone.

That would have enabled the Giants to sign a number of top free agents for the 2005 season. Richie Sexson signed for $10.5M in 2005 ($50M/4 years) and would have freed up Feliz for his 3B/LF role. Pedro Martinez signed for about $11M in 2005 ($53M/4 years) and would have bolstered the starting rotation. Carlos Beltran got $17M in 2005 but he got "only" $14M in 2006 and 2007 so he could have been negotiated to switch years to $14M in 2005 plus there wouldn't have been the need to sign Mohr, saving $1M, Tucker probably could have been traded at an earlier point in the season to save on his $2M salary for 2005. Millwood got $7M plus incentives for 1 year, which would have also bolstered the rotation.

I think he is taking the wrong lesson from the Bonds/Williams salary problems of the mid-1990's. The problem was not two superstars but players who were not that very good supporting the superstars. The pitching staffs of that time had ERAs over 4.70 and the batting lineup was horrible, not one starter with an OBP of over .345 in the two years except for Bonds and Williams and the next three highest ones were .344, .343, and .333, not all in the same year.
In contrast, the Giants have been constructed well during the Sabean years, with many players with high OBP. Even this year, we had good hitters. We had Alou at .400, Durham at .356, Snow at .343, and Vizquel at .341, then added Winn at .391 and, of course, Bonds at .404. Plus Alfonzo at .327 (must be a career low...) and Ellison at .316. True, these are not very high but look at the 1995 and 1996 teams: 5 starters (of 8) had OBP of .317 and under in 1995 and 4 starters had OBP of .324 and under in 1996 and the next highest was .333, not that good either.

Filling out the Roster

Or some of the money could have been spent filling out the roster with additional alternatives as backup. This is not a lost concept on him, that is why he resigned Deivi Cruz and Grissom (making Tucker the backup). But he did not go far enough with backups.

In particular, after seeing what happened the previous two years at closer, why didn't he try to pursue Dustin Hermanson? And Hermanson was a two-way backup, because he could start and he could close (in a pinch) and probably could have set-up if we tried him there (I think he was doing that early in the 2005 season for the White Sox). And, as it turned out, we needed help in all three areas during the season. And he would have only costed us $2M in 2005, as his contract with the ChiSox is constructed, so he would have only been $1M more than keeping Christiansen.

And he could have done better elsewhere. As well as Ellison did, and it was ggod to see how he would do, why wasn't Mohr kept? He hit RHP well during his career and his stint with the Giants. He played good defense at all three OF positions. And he hit for power. Yet, he was just released for nothing.

If It Wasn't for the Bad Luck, We Wouldn't Have Any Luck

But there was a lot that happened this year that would have derailed the team almost no matter what Sabean did, perhaps even if he did all the things mentioned above. Almost very player had something go wrong somewhere: injury, DL, horrible performance, age, youth, or a combination of factors. Only Eyre and Matheny were the only ones who were either at or above water throughout most of the year, and maybe Fassero. Everyone was plagued with something or another. It was like a cloud was over the team's head all season long. Some fans might point to Bonds and Balco but this is more like that guy in Lil Abner, with the black cloud following him everywhere he goes.


I don't think Sabean can do no wrong, especially lately (Nathan, F-Rod, Pierzynski, Hermanson) but he has been very good for most of his tenure as GM of the Giants. I applaud his excellent record overall, starting with his acquisition (or so speculated in the newspapers) of Rueter even before he became GM and his deals for Snow and Kent that soon followed. But this year totally sucked and he was at fault for this, along with the owners, for the reasons above; he needs to rise to the occassion if 2006 is to go differently.

However, this season was not a total loss. There were a lot of positives this season and some promising starts. That mainly came from our farm system as we had our first rebuilding year under Sabean. And while it didn't always go smoothly, there was a lot of success with the prospects brought up, with a number of rookies being pleasant surprises, including, obviously, Matt Cain but there were also Scott Munter, Jack Taschner, and Jeremy Accardo, plus Brad Hennessey, Kevin Correia, Jason Ellison, and Lance Niekro to a lesser degree.

Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come from the Giants farm system. It has been so woeful and unproductive for so long that there is a generation of Giants fans who wouldn't know a top prospect if he bit them on their toes. A productive farm system plus a few key free agent pickups - and perhaps a fast riser with their #10 draft pick next season - will get 2006 going in the right direction. But the problems with the team this season - including ownership - appear likely to continue in 2006 so I think we Giants fans will have to cross our fingers.


Autopsy of the 2005 Season: Part I - Owners Blew It

Reading through other people's take on the season, I felt the need to put out my point of view. This is nothing new, really, just the bringing together of stuff I've written over the years into a series of articles. I will write what I can each part, as the time I have to write varies.

DOA: The 2005 Season

The Giants never really got a chance to get going in the 2005 season with Bonds out then Alou out rather soon afterward, then Benitez going out and Schmidt losing his bearings for about a month and Tomko and Lowry never finding their's until later in the season and Alfonzo and Grissom never finding it at all almost the entire season. But the Giants problems actually started right after the end of the 2003 season.

Opportunity Lost

The Giants were faced with a tough decision. They had a number of free agents and not enough budget to re-sign all of them to new deals, not that they would have wanted to: Cruz Jr. literally dropped his chances in the playoffs and Worrell pitched well enough to make himself too expensive. But the fork in the road was clear: skimp on certain areas by going with youngsters and sign a premier free agent to be Bonds successor and insurance policy or be meek and sign a few minor free agents to be complementary parts to Bonds. They decided to be meek.

Magowan's Folly

It didn't have to be that way. It was revealed late in the 2003 offseason that there is a mystery pot of money waiting to be used in emergencies: they made a run at Greg Maddux, offering him somewhere in the area of $6-7M per year for 3 years. Using that money and still doing most of what was done that off-season (cutting out signing Tucker, Hammonds, and Hermanson), the Giants could have still signed Vlad (at the contract he got with the Angels) and all the other players using that mystery money plus $1-2M extra (my calculations showed this). Or they could have pursued Tejada, who signed for less money.

People like to complain about bad signings that prevented the Giants from signing a premier free agent but they forget about the context sometimes. For example, signing Alfonzo is obviously a bad move in hindsight. But at the time, we had just lost David Bell (or close to it, forgot the exact timing) and there was really no other 3B out there that was as attractive as Alfonzo. There was really no better alternative, from what I can remember. Some say that the Giants should have went with Feliz, but he was unproven and if he failed again, the Giants would not have had a backup and the fans would have been in an uproar over that plus any emergency trade to get a 3B, if any, where we would have to overpay. Again, hindsight showed that Feliz would have been adequate, but at that time, he was still a struggling prospect, still trying to figure things out.

What I think is that the Giants ownership group is who Giants fans should blame, for a number of reasons. First, they should have made the bold move, like they did when they signed Barry Bonds without properly owning the Giants yet, and pinpointed who they wanted, whether it was Vlad or Tejada or whomever and ordered Sabean to pursue that player and get him signed. Instead, they were meek and keep Sabean tethered to the budget limits.

Second, they should have put themselves in better financial position at that time. Obviously they had a rainy day fund to sign a good free agent - why didn't they have more? Why didn't they have enough to fund a superstar successor to Bonds? Look at the D-backs. They bankrupted themselves (or nearly so) in funding their World Series championship and should have been dust for years after that. Instead, they found new investors who came in and put in a lot of extra money that allowed them to sign a number of high priced free agents before the 2005 season.

If they can find these investors, why couldn't the Giants - in the heart of Silicon Valley - have found investors who could have put in enough money to allow the Giants to overspend during Bonds golden years? They invested a boatload of money into Bonds without the knowledge we have today - that he pushed things up a notch relative to players past. It was a huge gamble that I was scared about and was crossing my fingers on. Wouldn't they have wanted to get insurance, via another star successor player, in case Bonds suddenly went the way of Willie Mays and powered down severely or the way of most late 30's players and injuries took him out?

Third, even after they saw what happened in 2004, with the closer problems and the obvious reliance on Bonds for offense and the expected loss of Pierzynski's left-handed bat, they didn't expand the budget with the rainy day fund. What are they waiting for, were they saving up to draft Bonds son and sign him or something? Because, had they boosted the budget, Sabean could have pursued a number of free agents who would have been a big boost to the offense. As much as I like Vizquel, his salary plus the rainy day money would have put us in the ballpark to signing one of the premier hitting free agents available (plus would have saved by not retaining Grissom or Snow or whoever with the free agent).


The Giants roster is in the mess it is in the past few years because the ownership group was caught with their pants down. They blinked when they should have moved bravely and courageously. They should have boosted the budget because of the knowledge that these were Bonds last seasons and 1) should be going all out to get the World Series now if Bonds continued his glorious hitting or 2) provide protection for that season if Bonds is out for whatever reason (or worse, unproductive) by having someone else around to shoulder the offense's load in Bonds' absence.

Instead, they have been penny-pinching their way to this horrific 2005 season, which the fates allowed to have some excitement at the end before squishing it under their heels. And it is not like the ownership is truly penny-pinching, not like other teams where they artificially keep their budget low, so I hate to use that term, but they were being penny wise and pound foolish in not providing Sabean the budget to keep two premier hitters. They just got the wrong lesson from the mid-90's when they had Bonds and Williams and Williams' injuries caused the team to do poorly.

It is not that a team cannot be properly constructed with two high priced hitters, it was just that losing one or the other would kill the offense. But look at what happened this season: we lose Bonds and the offense got killed anyway. The team needs to take that additional risk because the offense is structured totally around Bonds and it never adequately addressed the question of: but what if there's no Bonds?

Of course, the team would have done better if Bonds was the only problem. Grissom and Rueter were DOA and never contributed much; it might have been better had Felipe platooned Grissom with Tucker in CF, but that was not ever tried even though Tucker could play CF and Grissom was horrible vs. RHP. None of the starters really got themselves going until mid-season, first Schmidt, then Lowry, then Tomko finally in the last month, and Hennessey and Correia were only stopgap measures for the most part, pitching because, to steal from Felipe Alou, "you have to put somebody out there." Alfonzo suddenly was like Popeye after discovering that he had eatten all his spinach but there wasn't any more. Feliz was worn out by mid-season and didn't do much in the second half. Plus most of the relievers could not get themselves straight except for Eyre - even Walker, who did OK while performing closer duties, could not pitch well in all other situations.

However, the Giants still needed a young blood to come in and hit and lead the offense in Bonds absence. Even Moises Alou, though a good hitter in recent years, was suppose to just be cog in support Bonds. The ownership group should have taken the bull by the horns and committed to getting Bonds successor, preferably with Vlad, but at least somebody to be a twin star with Bonds that the rest of the lineup could have revolved around and been complementary to the star's offense, and which could have been the focal point of the offense while Bonds was out. Instead, the Giants ownership wasted both the 2004 and 2005 season, if not also the 2003 season, by not upping the ante and pushing their rainy day money into the pot in order to win the hand. What good is that rainy day money if another great season by Bonds is wasted?


The Season is Over... Wait 'til Next Year

What a year! What a terrible, mess-up year! We all know it and apparently management knows it - Sabean has submitted his mea culpa about how embarrassed he was and now claims to know the beauty of bringing up prospects. But do they know it enough?

I've been writing about this since the beginning of the 2003 season: with the budget looking tight for the forseeable future (i.e. from 2004 to 2006 while Bonds is signed), the Giants could be bold and sign up Barry's successor (my suggestion was Vlad and I worked out how he would fit under our budget - for just an extra $1-2M over what they ended up with, when they were willing to spend a additional $6M on Maddux) or they could be meek and sign complementary players. They choose the latter, signing Tucker, Hammonds, Hermanson, Tomko, Snow, and trading for Pierzynski before the 2004 season. They did so again before the 2005 season, resigning Snow and Grissom, plus added Benitez, Vizquel, and Matheny, all nice parts, all complementary to Bonds in the lineup except for Benitez. While I could see that the Giants were improved both years, I felt that they would be vulnerable without Bonds successor, a point driven home by the results of the 2005 season.

In a post-mortem to the season, Sabean and Tidrow did a Q&A with some season ticket fans that was captured in a diary on McCovey Chronicles. The major newspapers in the Bay Area reported on it as well as if the news conference was just for them but this account seems the most complete. Here are major points and my reaction:
  1. "Sabean is looking for lefty bats and 2 starting pitchers". Other articles written by newspapers noted he is looking for a lefty 1B or 1B/OF. This means that Schmidt, Lowry and Cain have spots in the rotation and that Hennessey and Correia will have to earn the other two; my bet is on Hennessey and signing a non-tender pitcher, a trade or free agent could be too costly given an $85M budget and trying to get the lefty 1B, I assume that's more important right now than a pitcher.
  2. "Edgordo is gone, Feliz is the 06 3b. Q: "How much longer is Alfonzo signed for?" A: 365 days. [I wanted to ask if he had it down to hours]. " Sounds like we have an expensive infield backup, probably will play 3B if Feliz plays LF.
  3. "First base is the only place they are looking for a starter; Niekro isn't it." Only spot that don't have an experienced player signed or expected to sign, so any thoughts of upgrading must happen here.
  4. "Elizier Alfonzo is thought well of - he will be protected on the 40-man. Can't say I agree." Not that big a deal, according to most newspaper accounts, they are looking for an experience backup catcher, Haad wasn't doing it for them and Alfonzo is not experienced. He will probably be the AAA catcher in 2006 given his success at AA and high-A this season. Wasted question in my opinion.
  5. "Sabean still doesn't think he should have signed Guerrero." Yeah, we couldn't have used .317/.394/.565/.959 with 32 Homers, 108 RBI, and 13 SB in 520 AB and 141 games this past season.
  6. "They are very happy with Winn and want to sign him to an extension. Sabean believes part of his hot streak is real improvement." As I've noted elsewhere, this is not the real thing - at 11 homers in September, he would be Barry's successor if he continued that a full season - but he should have improved homerun power over a full season with the Giants because hits and flyouts on the warning track in SAFECO becomes homers in SBC. I expect him to resign for something in the $4M/year range, probably backloaded over 3 years.
  7. "They were impressed with how Frandsen performed." He rose up the system like a rocket this season. If he can continue to impress in 2006 he is probably our starting 2B in 2007 and, if Durham is out for an extended period, could be brought up to play 2B, depending on how Alou ends up using Alfonzo in 2006 (or if Edgardo gets traded).
  8. "Tidrom: Marcus Sanders can steal bases; not many MLB ss steal 50 bases a year. He is 21 according to Tidrow [cleary not true]". A quibble, Sanders just turned 20 and will be 21 next season on August 25th. I've heard that Sanders have physical problems that could affect him greatly, don't get too hyped on him yet. But if not for that, he could have been pushing Frandsen for 2B in 2007.
  9. "The payroll probably won't go down post Bonds." I would hope not, but note the word "probably".
  10. "Eyre is probably the only re-sign; but none of the guys are out of the question." About what I would have expected and hoped for. Eyre is a must sign and he indicated that something should get done before the free agent period; I hope that is true. Tomko is probably gone, I cannot imagine him wanting to be back here after getting benched twice plus he indicated in the last off-season that he was underpaid and pointed to the contract that Kris Benson got: $21M over 3 years. Even at half that I would prefer not to use him. I would rather the Giants plan to go with a 4 man rotation early in the season with Schmidt, Lowry, Cain, and Hennessey and see which goody comes out of the non-tenders. Snow is gone, he can only play 1B and the Giants are looking for a power hitting lefty 1B, unless Snow wants to sit on the bench and not play much for the minimum for vets and I'm not sure I would want to pay that.
Obviously we're not getting Bonds successor this season. Ryan Howard would be the almost perfect addition (actually I think Utley would be since he could play 1B and can hit LHP better than Howard right now, but the Phillies don't have a 2B to replace him while they are still stuck with Thome) but they would probably want Cain from us, which is a no-go for me. Perhaps if they would be OK with a strong pitching prospect, like Valdez (if he isn't getting a Tommy John as reported by Baseball America) and Simon plus a replacement 1B power hitter, like EME, Schierholtz, or Ishikawa (only the latter is a true 1B but the other two probably could be converted to 1B), our only true power prospects.

I think at best we will get a LH 1B who probably cannot hit LHP who we could platoon with Niekro at 1B. Daryle Ward would fit that bill plus play OF too (RF, pushing Alou to LF when Bonds rest, I guess). I'm not sure who else is out there but there's no primo LH 1B coming out to sign so the only way we could get one is via a trade with someone. If signing a cheaper FA 1B happens, then we would have more money left over to sign a better starting pitcher ($5-7M range) which would put Hennessey as the 5th starter.

Thanks for the end of season pennant race fun Giants! I had no problem if we made the playoffs with a sub .500 record, with Bonds and Winn we were a better team than our record. Hopefully the off-season will bring us players to get us over the hump with Barry and cover our behinds if Barry is out again.

Go Giants!

Hey, we got the 10th pick! (as I posted on McCovey)

If I counted the records right, the Giants should have the 10th pick of the 2006 draft. According to the stats I had collected, there is about a 1 in 9 chance of drafting a star player with a Top 10 draft pick, about a 1 in 5 chance of getting at least a good player with a 10th pick; the odds go down greatly after the 20th pick, by more than half, when considering 1st round picks (not including supplemental picks). So hopefully Sabean isn't talking all hot air about not signing as much free agents and relying on rookies or trades or even non-tenders (since he mentioned that but downplayed trades) to fill spots.

As much as fans have been talking about signing free agents, we have been forgetting that this would cost us a premium draft pick this year - past years' picks were in the 25-30 range where the odds of finding a good player was not very good at all. But the 10th pick should give us about a 20% chance of finding at least a good player.

Addendum: Found out on McCovey that teams cannot lose a 15th pick or better via a free agent signing. Cool!