As Sabean's contract runs down, the time for the Giants to decide if he's still going to be their General Manager is coming closer. A brief account of Sabean's tenure will help to identify trends in the quality of his work.
Early Years: Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Robb Nen, Ellis Burks, Livan Hernandez
Bonds Pinnacle: Andres Galarraga, Jason Schmidt, Kenny Lofton
Decline: A.J. Pierzynski, Randy Winn, Shea Hillenbrand, Matt Morris- Rajai Davis, Ray Durham- Darren Ford, Scott Barnes- Ryan Garko, Tim Alderson- Freddy Sanchez
Sabean started out brilliantly, adding solid long-term pieces via the trade. Up until Winn, almost none of the prospects dealt (Joe Nathan being the exception) pan out. The period of decline starts with the Pierzynski trade in 2003. After the Winn trade in 2005, trade action came to a halt. Instead, Sabean relied more and more upon free agent signings.
This year, with a competitive team, Sabean started it up again. The Garko trade was more in line with Sabean’s previous deals. Garko is controlled by the club for 3 more years. Scott Barnes, at best, will be a back-end starter. The Freddy Sanchez trade was a big shift in the wrong direction. Alderson was the best prospect dealt at the deadline this year. In terms of talent management, this was a horrible deal. Sanchez’s lack of plate discipline and power means that he has one of the emptiest .300 averages in baseball. He is only slightly better overall at the cornerstone than Eugenio Velez is, and is being paid $8 mil/year.
Sabean has been excellent with his trades. However, over the last 5 years, he has not been able to use them to improve the team, so he is on a downward trend.
Free Agent Signings
Starting in 2003: Durham, Grissom, Alfonzo, Vizquel, Alou, Morris, Roberts, Molina, Zito, Rowand
2009: Affeldt, Renteria, Uribe, Johnson
A troubling trend among the hitters is the extreme prevalence of hitters with low BB rates and low OBP. Of the 10 hitters signed by Sabean, only 2 (Alou and Durham) possess career walk rates above the average of 9%. This is my primary concern with the free agent signings of Sabean. Yes, these hitters are overpaid (Rowand, Renteria). However, the money, in itself, is not the main problem. If the same amount of money had been put toward players with high walk rates and high OBP, I wouldn’t complain, as the offense would be much better.
Sabean seems to disregard OBP while evaluating hitters. This can be seen in the Freddy Sanchez trade. The perceived value of a .300 hitter wreaked havoc on Sabean’s ability to accurately assess Sanchez’s hitting prowess. This tendency will seriously hinder Sabean while he tries to build a major league offense. Over the next two years it is critical that the Giants GM allocate the payroll to hitters with high OBP, as that statistic is the primary determinant of the number of runs a team scores over the course of a season.
Sabean has been very bad with free agent signings.
This area encompasses the draft and amateur signings. It is the primary cause of the Giants’ success this year, with Lincecum, Cain, Sandoval, and Wilson being the main contributors.
The Giants were not particularly successful at drafting and developing up until the a few years ago. They were capable of producing pitching prospects that other teams desired, but before Matt Cain not a single one of them was able to stick in a big league rotation. Recent performance has been much improved. In addition to Lincecum, Cain, and Wilson, the Giants have several promising prospects. Baseball Prospectus has Madison Bumgardner at #3 overall and Buster Posey #9 overall prospect.
Sabean has been mediocre in drafting and player development. A recent upward trend, however, gives reason for hope.
Sabean has his strengths and weaknesses. He is neither an obvious non-tender nor an obvious resign.