Archive for May, 2008

…. Surprised?

You bet. After last week’s finish to that horrible homestand, I never would have guessed we’d see the Giants finish off a 6-3 road trip by sweeping the first place D’backs. Some terrific pitching, some hard work, and some luck all added up to a nice change, multiple wins in a row.

Durham has begun his annual month-long offensive binge (you know, the one that makes his final numbers seems so much better than they really are), so it’s time once again to talk about whether our GM can finally trade him for some youth, prospects, or a real hitter.

Winn has gotten a few hits, Fred Lewis still seems like a major league hitter…. this has been a nice time for the beleaguered Gigantes.

Zito (1-8) has regained some of the form that led him to be considered such a free agent gem a year and a half ago. He’s been much better since the “bullpen” move, with an ERA around 3 since his return. He’s still getting some of the worst offensive support of any pitcher in baseball, and if the trend continues, he’ll be lucky to win 8 games all year, but, he’s obviously making adjustments, and they are –to some degree– working.

Brian Wilson landed his league-leading 16th save.

It’s been fun to see some signs of progress.

UPDATE: I’m here, I’m here. (lol)

Seriously, Durham must must must be dealt. You have to get something for him now. Not just this season, but now. He will never have more value than he does at this minute. Sabean has stood pat and missed opportunities to get value for his over-paid “veterans” after they’ve gone on short little spurts of good play, (like how he missed on Matt Morris). Now is not the time to repeat that mistake.

Deal him. Almost any young player or players would be worth the move.

…. Backtrack?

Brian Sabean sounded like an idiot in this Henry Schulman piece, and then Schulman admitted to being an idiot in this blog post:

…. Sabean said the Giants could contend if they hung around third place, drawing sneers and snorts from fans and columnists. In his defense, Sabean complained on his weekly radio show that he was asked a “trick question” because no GM can declare in mid-May that his team is done.

I don’t think it was a trick question. It was straightforward, and so was Sabean’s answer. But I do believe I did Sabean a disservice by committing a journalistic sin that I despise from other reporters. I cherry-picked one provocative thought and threw it out there as a declaration by Sabean rather than placing it in the context of the entire conversation.

Yeah, well, anything is better than writing about this flat, boring team, (other than the days Lincecum pitches). Lance Berkman has 16 home runs, the entire Giants team has 26.

I’m sorry, but I am just too busy to write about this debacle.

…. Ownership

A couple of people took the time to write well enough for the front page, so here we go:

Magowan had a unique set of skills that allowed him to navigate the impossible San Francisco political arena and actually accomplish something that benefitted the city, the franchise, the fans, MLB, and the corporations he works for and represents. Namely, the Park. Very few people had the money, the savvy, the contacts, the patience, the persistence and the vision to make that a reality. “Politics is the art of the possible.” Peter Magowan made something happen that most folks thought was impossible.

Giants fans quibbling about the Park are off-base, it is a hell of a thing and all of baseball has enjoyed it. You could make an argument that signing Barry Bonds was the greatest free agent move in the history of the game. That was quintessential Magowan: one player who was truly a difference-maker with long ties to the team and Bay Area, brought in at the moment of acquisition, in the midst of uncertainty. It was politics, PR, marketing, a great investment, and a sound baseball move all in one. Not many men claim a track record like that.

This site has documented Magowan’s fall from grace, and he’s earned the opprobrium, to be sure. But if we hit the rewind button and replay Game 6 –I know we have all done it far too many times– and alter history and WIN the fecking World Series in 2002, then Magowan completes his trifecta. Park, Player, Ring. (I’m not including “saving the team” in the list, and, at the time, that was enough for me to cut him a lifetime’s slack.)

But, while the failure to win the championship when it was in our hands will haunt the team the way McCovey’s line drive in 1962 did for forty years, Magowan cannot be blamed for that; bad luck, bad decisions, bad play, and a determined opponent get the credit. The wind came out of the sails after that Dark October, and a scrambling, desperate, penurious and out-of-touch mind-set took over the Front Office, and the Barry-less 2008 Giants is the result of that collapse of leadership.

Great accomplishments and great failures; quite a legacy. “He who never fell, never climbed.” If Peter Magowan takes his bow and walks off the stage; I’ll be standing and cheering, and I hope the rest of Giants fandom will be as well. But if you are mumbling “good riddance” under your breath as you do, I’ll forgive you.

Mark O’Connor

And then there’s the insulting, anonymous, Smack you with Facts, who wants everyone to know that Magowan didn’t save the Giants:

He did not stop the team from leaving. The move was blocked by the MLB owners/commish in order to keep the team in San Francisco (which is better for the league, apparently). Magowan was just one among a group of investors who was willing to pop some $$ in and take the team from Lurie.

He is also the one willing to be the leading man, though he never had the most shares of the team:

National League club owners today soundly rejected a move of the San Francisco Giants to St. Petersburg, Fla., handing the Tampa Bay area its seventh setback in seven attempts to attract a major league baseball team.

The owners, in a secret ballot that required 10 votes for approval, voted 9-4 against allowing Bob Lurie, the Giants’ owner, to sell the team for $115 million to the Tampa Bay group, which would have moved the Giants to the Florida Suncoast Dome in time for next season.

The action, which is expected to trigger a lawsuit from St. Petersburg officials, left the door open for a group of San Francisco investors, headed by Peter Magowan, president of Safeway Inc., to buy the Giants for $100 million and keep them where they have been since they left New York 35 years ago.

November 11, 1992

When this was going on, I was new to San Francisco, having moved here in February of 1990. I remember the situation fuzzily, and I haven’t found any really informative local newspaper articles yet. However, this one was written by MLB stooge Murray Chass, so it must be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, SYWF must be given some measure of proper due here, classless and boorish though he may be: The move was blocked by MLB, and that was what opened the door for Magowan and his partners to make an offer that, to my memory, was a bit smaller than what the Florida team was offering.

It also bears mentioning that it was just a short while later that Tampa got the OK for the Devil Rays, so it’s possible that there was a lot of back room dealings that we’ve never been privy to.

Here’s another piece, from 2000, that all but knights Magowan:

He was born and raised in New York, but Peter Magowan now stands on the precipice of a legacy as the man who saved baseball in San Francisco.

He saved it by heading up the brick and steel ballpark on Third Street, by building something out of nothing, by giving the Giants a home by the Bay, by forever rendering meaningless the idea of the Tampa/St. Petersburg Giants, or the Northern Virginia Giants or the Anywhere but The City Giants.
He gathered his boys, put together ideas, won an election where you just can’t win an election, sold the park’s name to a phone company, didn’t use any public money and peddled 29,000 season tickets – all because he couldn’t bear the idea of the alternative.

If necessity is the mother of the invention, consider Magowan the neediest guy around.

“The alternative was that the Giants would leave, and the alternative was just not acceptable,” Magowan said with the opening of his life’s dream, Pacific Bell Park, drawing near.

Get this clear: Magowan doesn’t want to be known as the savior. He points to vice president Larry Baer, ticket guru Tom McDonald, chief financial officer John Yee, marketing men Mario Alioto, Russ Stanley and longtime Giants executive Pat Gallagher as key factors in the building of the stadium nobody ever figured would get built.

But Magowan, the team president and managing general partner, is the public face atop the stadium, as out in the open as the Willie Mays statue planned for the main gate, as looming as the Coke bottle in left field. He’s on the hook if this thing is a bust in five years, if it turns into a ghost town of debt; conversely, he stands to be a hero for the decades if, as he predicts, Pacific Bell Park stands majestically in its spot for a half-century, a beacon for the timeless game of baseball and a mecca for generations of Giants fans.

Magowan doesn’t think the Giants have just built a stadium but have saved the soul of The City. He saw the Giants and Dodgers leave New York in 1958. He never wanted to see it again if he had something to say about it.

“I don’t think Brooklyn has recovered to this day,” Magowan said. “People were that upset and disillusioned. We just couldn’t let that happen in San Francisco. We believed enough that it must not happen, to find a way. We knew that if we failed, it was all over. It was really all over. We would have put the team up for sale and, in my opinion, nobody in the Bay Area would have bought it. We couldn’t have seen them bought by out-of-towners, which would have happened.”

I remember that feeling, that sense, that the Giants were on the precipice of leaving, and it was ongoing for most of the first five years I was here. In that sense, Magowan did save the team. They were hemorrhaging money, they had seen two separate ballpark referendums go against them, owner Bob Lurie wanted out, and for the longest time, no one in San Francisco wanted in.

If Magowan and his group hadn’t stepped up and come up with the $110 million, hadn’t gone out and landed Bonds, and hadn’t pulled off the first privately financed ballpark in 30 years; then, in all probability, the Giants were gonna leave. Here’s another article that details some of the difficulties the ownership group faced.

Really, I don’t see how you can say the Magowan-led group didn’t save the Giants. There were mitigating factors, for sure, but there was nobody else to buy the team. MLB was pretty much telling Lurie to stop crying and make it work in SF, and Lurie seemed to think that he wasn’t going to be able to. If you say he didn’t save the team, I guess you have to answer this question:

What would have happened if Magowan and his team hadn’t come through?

…. Change is good

Amid rumors, speculation, and assorted bloggings that Peter Magowan is thinking about retirement, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the good and the bad since he’s been in charge. You guys pretty much ignored my piece on league-wide offense trends (only seven backtalks?), so I guess you’re only interested in ranting and raving about Giants topics exclusively.

I think he’s been terrific for the franchise, between bringing Bonds to SF, stopping the team from leaving, and building the best damn ballpark in the game, he and the rest of the ownership group must be applauded. A standing ovation wouldn’t be out of order just for that short list, really.

On the other hand, he has stayed the course with Sabean, even as Sabean’s made one disastrous decision after another, both in whom he’s chosen to have wear the orange and black, and the outlandish contracts he’s doled out in signing them.

Agree? Disagree?

Let me hear from you, write long and loud, and I’ll front page the best.

…. Offensive

I recently read an author who wondered why offense seemed to be down, while so many indicators say it’s not. I felt that the author was hitting on something that I noticed, so I did some research.

I took a look at the last several years of stats from the beginning of the season, and found some noticeable changes in the leader boards that might be telling. We’re at the point in the season we’re the league leaders have well over 100 at-bats, and the early returns seem to be saying that the missing offense is to be found at the top of the heap. The number of hitters posting 1.000 plus OPS numbers is below what we’ve been seeing the last seven seasons. In fact, there’s only one hitter in the AL posting a 1.000 OPS right now, and only 11 in the NL.

Here’s how many hitters were posting plus 1.000 OPS over the first month of the season during the last seven seasons:

2000 29
2001 17
2002 20
2003 17
2004 20
2005 14
2006 18
2007 14
2008 12

ESPN doesn’t list earlier than 2000, but even so, that, my friends, is a trend. And it seems like this year in particular, the missing power hitters are all from the AL. Here’s the American League list:

2000 10
2001 6
2002 7
2003 8
2004 8
2005 4
2006 10
2007 10
2008 1

I don’t know what that means, but here’s a guess; the three best power hitters of our generation aren’t playing anymore, Bonds, Sosa and McGwire. Add in Rafael Palmeiro, Todd Helton’s late-career decline, Giambi, Bagwell, Nomar, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, I mean, I could go on and on. There’s a ton of home runs, doubles, a lot of top-notch, Hall of Fame-level power hitting gone from the game that we’ve kind of grown used to seeing.

We just don’t have those eye-popping leader boards that we’ve gotten used to seeing. Is it the drug testing? Well, maybe, maybe not.

There’s one point I’d argue right up front; yes, Bonds, McGwire and Sosa were uber-stars of the highest order, of that there is no doubt. But, they were surrounded by a much stronger cast of hitters than today’s stars are. For crying out loud, when Bonds hit 49 home runs in 2000, he didn’t even lead the league, and 16(!) other players hit 40 or more, and 47(!) players hit 30 or more. Focusing on home run production, we see that:

In 2000, 1 player hit 50, 16 hit 40 or more, and 47 blasted 30 or more.
In 2001, 4 players hit 50 or more, 12 hit 40 or more, and 41 blasted at least 30.
In 2002, 2 players hit 50 or more, 8 hit 40 or more, and 28 hit at least 30.
In 2003, 0 players hits 50 or more, 10 hit 40 or more, 30 hit at least 30.
In 2004, 0 players hit 50 or more, 9 hit 40 or more, 37 hit at least 30.
In 2005, 1 player hit 50 or more, 9 hit 40 or more, and 27 hit at least 30.
In 2006, 2 players hit 50 or more, 11 hit 40 or more, and 34 hit at least 30.
In 2007, 2 players hit 50 or more, 5 hit 40 or more, and 26 hit 30 or more.

Where are we headed this season? We’re about a sixth of the way through the season, and only two guys have already reached double figures in home runs, Utley and Lance Berkman. In the last 3 seasons, the overall big number (30 plus home run) seasons has been 27, 34 and 26; after peaking at 47 in 2000. That’s seems like a big decline.

Are there a lot of great new power hitters? Sure, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Prince Fielder, Kevin Youklis, Justin Morneau, you still have A-Rod and Manny, Miguel Cabrera, there’s plenty. However, there is a significant number of what you might call sure-fire, power hitting studs out of the game, retired, unemployed, whatever. But the missing offense, the missing home runs, the missing power, is primarily from the second tier guys. The guys who would hit 30, are now hitting 20, the guys who used to hit 40, are now working their asses off to hit 30. The fluky seasons that used to be 40-plus, like Luis Gonzalez, or Jim Edmonds, or Jose Cruz Jr., or Richard Hidalgo, or Tony Bautista; those seasons are a thing of the past.

So, if it was PED’s, then it certainly wasn’t just Bonds and Sosa and Mcgwire who were blasting all those extra home runs, (which, of course, I’ve already argued about a hundred times). Either the extra five miles per hour the pitchers were gaining by using PED’s was ensuring that the long fly balls went out, or the guys who stopped using when the testing program started were the guys who were working to get the big contracts; the guys who knew the difference between 20 home runs and thirty was about $5 million per season; and were willing to do whatever they could to get there.

Either way, offense may or may not be down, but ESPN highlight seasons certainly are.

…. Why?

Why did Wilson challenge Pat Burrell? Pedro-fucking-Feliz was on deck, we had the lead, it didn’t matter that he represented the go-ahead run…. That was absurd. For all the times our pitchers pitch around guys, and waste pitches and go from 0-2 to 3-2, to decide to challenge the guy who is leading the NL in RBI –with the game on the line– was simply ridiculous. That was un-fucking-believable.

One more reason to fire Bonehead.

UPDATE: Over at El Lefty Malo, I saw that Lowry is still having problems. Let me say it again, anytime a pitcher has a surgery that is considered one of a kind for a pitcher, his career is, in fact, in jeopardy:

…. The left-hander continues to feel tingling and numbness in his left forearm extending down to his thumb, Giants trainer Dave Groeschner said. Lowry underwent a nerve-conduction test Tuesday that showed improved function compared to results before forearm surgery March 8. But Lowry’s nerves have not healed and Groeschner said the team will “probably have to shut him down for a significant amount of time.”

Groeschner said he will accompany Lowry to Birmingham, Ala., for a consultation with orthopedist Dr. James Andrews on Monday, when the Giants have a day off between series at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

“Nerves are slow to heal,” Groeschner said. “The doctors feel this will go away over time. We’re exploring other options, other medications.”

Last month, Giants hand specialist Dr. Gordon Brody diagnosed Lowry with exertional compartment syndrome, a condition in which pressure within his forearm muscles caused compressed nerves and blood flow. Lowry had surgery to trim the sheath surrounding the muscles, which was supposed to relieve the pressure.

I’m sorry, but this is bad, really bad. Nerve damage? Tough break for Lowry.

…. Magowan

And then there’s Peter Magowan. Here’s Bill Simmons, talking about the end of the Phoenix Suns era:

…. I don’t know (Phoenix Suns owner) Robert Sarver. Never met the guy, never heard anything bad about him, couldn’t vouch for his financial situation. For all I know, he’s the greatest guy ever. But for the life of me, I can’t imagine why someone would want to own an NBA team if he cared more about breaking even than winning a championship. What’s the point? Why not sell to someone who cares more about a title? Like so many other NBA fans, I have a pipe dream of stumbling into enough wealth to own an NBA team some day. It will never happen, but really, it’s my ultimate pipe dream other than my daughter turning into a world-class tennis player and me turning into one of those deranged Tennis Dads who shows up for every match flashing hand signals and intimidating the judges. Anyway, if I were fortunate enough to own an NBA team, I would never, ever, EVER favor my pockets over a chance at a title. I just wouldn’t. It’s like going to Vegas for a guy’s weekend and refusing to lose more than $100. Why even go then? Just stay home.

For instance, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck once vowed never to pay the luxury tax like Sarver. When a potential Garnett deal started to take shape this summer, and the Celtics realized that their payroll could climb into the mid 70s (that’s millions) once they filled out the roster with free agents and buyout guys, instead of just blindly saying, “Nope, sorry, we can’t do this,” the Celtics spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out exactly how they’d make that money back through ticket sales, merchandise revenue, corporate sponsorships, 2009 ticket hikes, playoff money, extra courtside seats and everything else. They left no stone unturned. Eventually, the decision was made that the Garnett trade was worth the risk — they owed it to the fans, and if they couldn’t figure out how to capitalize financially on a rejuvenated Celtics franchise in a sports-crazed city that absolutely loved basketball once upon a time, then they had failed as an organization. They made the trade. And if you watch any of the home Celtics playoff games, you’ll see Grousbeck sitting underneath the basket next to the visitor’s bench. He’s the happiest guy in the building.

That could have been Sarver. Could the Suns have done more? Did they leave every stone unturned? Did they maximize the financial potential of those teams? Did they fail as an organization to capitalize on a potential dynasty? Looking at those moves from 2004 to 2007, you’d have to call the Seven Seconds or Less Era one of the memorably squandered opportunities in recent sports history.

Exactly. Did Magowan interfere with Sabean’s efforts to keep a strong nucleus around Bonds? Did he put the kibosh on the Guerrero signing? Did he do everything he could to get a championship while Bonds was clearly the cornerstone of a championship team for ten years in a row? From 2000-2004, Barry Bonds put everything he had into becoming the absolute greatest player ever, running out the kind of numbers you’d normally see in a video game. Did the Giants ownership do everything they could to take advantage of this?

You’d have to answer no. They failed as an organization to capitalize on one of the greatest players in history having one of the greatest runs of performance ever seen. They complained about not being able to afford the players who could have made the difference in 2000, in 2001, 2002 (notwithstanding the tremendously bad luck they ran into), 2003 and 2004, while flushing tens of millions of dollars down the toilet on “veterans” who could have been replaced for pennies on the dollar. They lowballed one great free agent after another, they traded the wrong guys at the wrong time for worthless replacements; they held onto Jason Schmidt when they knew he was washed up and leaving…..

The team was a player or two away from a legitimate shot at a title for a good six years, and the Giants spent most of that time downgrading at one position after another, all the while claiming money was the reason why. I’ll give Magowan all the credit in the world for keeping the Giants in San Francisco, for building the most beautiful baseball park in the world, and for bringing Superman home.

But, when he had a chance to bring a world championship to San Francisco, he pinched pennies, and broke the hearts of the greatest fans in the world.

…. Sabean

Two people have written articles about Brian Sabean the last couple of days, one relatively positive, the other, not. The first one I’ll mention is written by William Gum:

…. Among current general managers, only Kevin Towers of the San Diego Padres has enjoyed a longer tenure with the same club than Sabean. He’s held his position longer than any other GM in Giants’ history. Sabean brought the Giants a wild card tiebreaker, a wild card, three NL West division championships and a National League Pennant. Most importantly, he turned around a chronic loser (six losing records in seven years).

…. Sabean turned the Giants around quickly, and gave the team a good decade of winning results. He obviously had a good strategy, built primarily around Barry Bonds and trading away his younger talent for proven veterans to fill out the lineup.

Gum is writing from I don’t know where, but he don’t know jack. There is only one reason the Giants have won anything in the last decade, Barry Bonds, and Barry Bonds alone. I have catalogued Sabean’s mistakes here ad infinitum, so I won’t again, but, please, Mr. Gum, read some of my archives before you start telling us that Brian Sabean has done a good job. Even if all you consider are finances, Sabean has flushed millions, tens of millions of dollars down the toilet on completely replaceable production at every position on the diamond, for ten years.

…. He certainly wasn’t afraid of moving fan favorites like Kirk Rueter and Matt Williams and Russ Ortiz.

Huh? Sabean gave Reuter a two-year extension worth $18 million dollars about ten minutes before Woody’s arm fell off, he traded Russ Ortiz away for a guy that was out of baseball in 18 months (while Ortiz went on to win another 40 games over he next three seasons).

The Williams deal represents one of the few trades that Sabean made that actually worked, along with the deal that netted Jason Schmidt. I can’t think of another one off hand, which tells you everything.

The other article was written by John Peterson, and is more firmly grounded in reality, as Peterson rates Sabean as the worst GM in all of baseball:

…. Brian Sabean is not a good general manager, no matter what anyone says. Still, he was once considered a top GM, responsible for assembling Giants teams that finished either first or second in the division from his first year, 1997, to 2004– a span of eight years. That is no small achievement. In 1996 the team went 68-94, but in ’97 they won 90 games. How did he do it?

First, he replaced 1B Mark Carreon and his inadequate .317 OBP with JT Snow, acquired for pennies on the dollar from the Angels. Snow went on to have his best year ever in ’97 and a long and respectable career for the Giants. Then he traded star third baseman Matt Williams to the Indians for cheap, useful young players Julian Tavarez, Jose Vizcaino and Jeff Kent. The Giants had young Bill Mueller waiting to take over at third, and Vizcaino and Kent represented solid upgrades over the current options at their positions, with the added bonus of significant upside. Kent quickly realized his potential and become a perennial MVP candidate, winning the award in 2000.

Well, while Snow had a long run with the Giants, I have argued long and hard that Snow was one of the reasons the Giants struggled in their efforts to obtain a championship. Tremendous character and glovework aside, Snow’s anemic bat forced the Giants to look for offense from positions most teams don’t have to, like second base or even short, something the rarely were able to do.

Of course, if I’d known how awful we’d be at first the last three seasons, I woulda been jamming the steroids into Snow’s ass myself ;-)

That said, Peterson has a much clearer vision of what’s really gone on with this team.

…. That Barry Bonds was so astoundingly good that he could carry a roster of aging scrubs long past their primes, is a testament to Bonds’ supreme ability and unnatural career path, not Sabean’s skill as a general manager. How could he have known that Bonds, who was already turning 32 in Sabean’s first year as general manager, would sustain an amazing level of production through age 35, and then instead of slowly declining, become a significantly better player than he had ever been for four more years, through age 39? Sabean could not have anticipated this; no one could. He was just lucky that Bonds’ insane career path masked a continually flawed and uninspired player acquisition and roster construction strategy. It is no accident that, when Bonds lost most of 2005 to injury, the Giants finished under .500 for the first time since 1996.

Sabean made bad free agent signings, bad trades, and bad decisions all around. Of course, in eleven years that’s bound to happen, but Sabean has had more than his share. Everyone knows about the trade of Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser and Joe Nathan for average catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Otherwise Sabean has not been burned terribly by the prospects he likes to deal for veterans. He prefers to pay free agent value or higher for his old players. I’m too lazy to count how many 32-to-36 year olds on the verge of breakdown Sabean has signed to long term deals, but he has taken it to a new level in the last few years. The team is now a catalogue of ancient players and bad contracts….

Now, there’s a writer who’s actually paid attention to the Giants over the last decade. Anyway, both pieces deserve your attention as a Giants fan. If you read them, and decide to backtalk, tell ‘em where they can go for the real scoop on the dealings of our hapless GM; OBM.

All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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