Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Sabean: His Plan is to Win Now by Ed Stern

Once again, Sabean has let it be known that rebuilding is not the name of the game as far as the Giants are concerned. The trade for Pierzynski is, among other considerations, a message to those free agents sitting out there, that the team is intending in 2004 to make it to the World Series. There are a few free agents available who are capable of turning this team into a prime contender for the ultimate prize. One of them, for example, is Gary Sheffield. Players such as Sheffield, who will undoubtedly command a large number of dollars by way of compensation from whoever they end up with, are also interested in playing for a club which has a reasonable chance of winning. The present talk respecting the possibility of A-Rod being on the market is a reflection of his dismay at having to play for a last place loser every year, despite the multitude of bucks he is being paid.

Sabean has consistently taken the attitude that he wants to win it this year and let the future take care of itself. He has traded a major league pitcher, Joe Nathan, and a couple of prospects for a proven ball player to fill a hole in his lineup right now. In doing so, he has kept open the possibility of adding a right fielder to the mix who will be the fourth or fifth batter in the lineup behind Bonds, Pierzinski being the other one behind Bonds.

Sheffield, of course, is the obvious player to fill that role. One reason for optimism concerning the possibility of signing him is his close relationship with Barry. The two of them have strong personal ties. Bonds will be around for two more years. He then goes to the American League, that haven for ball players who no longer have the talent to play the game as it was meant to be played. (Think of the talk presently being rumored of Piazza, who cannot adequately field any position on a National League team, expressing a desire to transfer to the other league.)

The Giants might be able, with Barry’s help, to persuade Sheffield to defer part of his salary for the next two years. When Barry leaves it will open up the Giants’ payroll to accomodate a player such as Sheffield. In addition, Sabean has made certain Sheffield knows that, if Sabean has anything to say about it, and he does, the Giants are going to be in contention during 2004.

Vladimir Guerrero, the other impact player available, doesn’t seem to be a likely choice. The Yankees are going to give him Ft. Knox. Steinbrenner doesn’t care how much money he spends. He has an aging ball club which was decisively beaten by an upstart National League team with a lowly payroll. He will pay anything to guarantee that he continues to dominate his league even though that will not guarantee his success in the post-season.

The Giants have other concerns which Sabean has to deal with. First and foremost is the pitching. It appears that they are counting on Nen coming back. If so, Worrell is available on the open market to fill the eighth inning role Nathan filled last year. They have a need for at least two starters. Ponson is a possibility. Apparently Sabean is looking to the present roster for a fifth starter.

Sabean has a well defined plan which, in his judgment, allows the team to constantly vie for a significant playoff role. He stockpiles his minor league clubs with pitchers who have a realistic possibility of succeeding in the majors. Pitching being the dominant need of every club, he then trades those less likely to succeed upstairs, in his judgment, for position players, every year. Most of these players are well established veterans, some of whom have to be replaced in a few years. The process then is repeated. For the most part, it has worked these past three or four years.

It may work again this coming season. The trade for Pierzynski is a move in the right direction. It is interesting to note that there are very few of the pitchers Sabean has given up during these transactions who have turned out to be successes in the majors. One notable exception is Foulke. However, the record overall speaks to the team’s wisdom in choosing those who are likely to succeed and those who will not. One of their young pitchers traded away went in the deal for Schmidt. Need more be said?

The club needs to fill first base and shortstop. They have a shortstop on the roster who can field the position far better than it has been fielded these past few years. With the strong hitting projected they can carry him. Feliz may or may not be an answer to the first base situation. Somehow, Sabean will probably meet that problem.

Now that we have solved all the Giants problems for them, a brief mention about the ever-perplexing designated hitter aberration. There was a comment above about the Yankees domination of the American League and their failure to beat Florida in the Series.

Post season play doesn’t necessarily result in a reasoned determination that one league plays better ball than the other. A far better means of comparing the two would be a comparison of the records in inter-league play. I do not have the records immediately at hand but my recollection is that for the past few years the National League has a markedly better record. Is it possible that the DH plays a role in that?

My impression, and it is only that, an impression, is that the better ball players enjoy playing in the National League. When given the opportunity to make the choice they choose the National. It is a more interesting game and demands skills which are not called for, it seems, in the American. It may be noteworthy that it appears to be teams in the American League who are beguiled by the notion that Bill James has the answers to all their game problems. Simply play the game according to the statistics. Forget about the human elements. Forget about the actual situation which may differ from the situation which existed on the previous occasions. Simply look at how it worked out last month or last year or four years ago and act accordingly.

The DH rule, which hasn’t accomplished what the owers wished to accomplish, namely make the game more attractive for the fans by guaranteeing more high scoring games, may have done the opposite. It has lowered the skill level needed to both play the game and manage the game. If an expert witness was needed to testify to this, one need only look to a statement made by Joe Torre during the last World Series. When asked, on the eve of moving to Florida to play three games, whether the fact that they were being played under National Leaue rules changed demands on the managers to make strategic decisions during the game, answered that it certainly did. When played without a DH the manager had to be alert to the need for pitching changes with all the implications involved in making such changes, one had to be aware of the players available when making changes and a myriad of other factors. Torre had managd three National League teams in the past. He knew whereof he spoke.

Is it possible that the National League is ending up with better ball players because of the DH? Is it possible they are more accustomed to playing a better game because of the demands made on them which are not present with a DH? Is it possible that a young, interesting, underpaid club such as the Marlins beats the constantly dominating in their league Yankees because they are used to playing the game the way it was designed to be played?

Is it ever going to be possible to get rid of the DH plague?

One thing is certain. The Hot Stove League is more interesting than watching the 49ers or the Warriors or the Raiders these days.


1 Anonymous { 11.17.03 at 3:58 pm }

Leave the DH alone, the starting pitcher batting is a joke. You can’t NL guy can’t leave the DH alone, there is a whole of generations of fans who grow up the DH, and the players’ union won’t allow it, anyway. Thinking about it, in a 2-1 game in the NL and your team is down by a one run but pitcher is pitching well. The manager must pull this pitcher for pinch hitter for the pitcher’s spot. Thus, in the rest of the game, the hitters in the pitcher’s spot become while a DH in disguides. Also, Henry Aaron hit 22 HR as a DH, and your Barry Bonds wants to end his career as a DH for the Angels.
Leave the DH alone, Edgar Martinez, A’s Fan

2 Ed { 11.18.03 at 11:06 am }

George Vecsey is a highly regarded New York Times sports writer. Writing this morning, he reflected that “The designated hitter, while a blight on real baseball, was designed for worthy old sluggers like Piazza.”
I called it a “plague”. He calls it a “blight on real baseball.” Not a great deal of difference.

3 Anonymous { 11.25.03 at 1:51 pm }

Dear Ed,
Enjoyed very much your great article.
As a broadcaster who worked last year doing games in both leagues, NL(Giants) AL(Mariners)I still honestly believe that the
best brand of baseball is the National League.
Managers have more strategy and like
Tony La Russa has said “there is much more
strategy going on”.
I am lucky to be with two good organizations and in two of the most beautiful parks.
In Seattle I witnessed arguably the best
DH in history in Edgar Martínez, yet I prefer
the National League brand of baseball, were
it demands much more from each player to
be a “real”team player.
Ironically the DH came about when by
1968 MLB wanted more runs scored.
Did anybody noticed that this year (2003)
nobody in baseball hit 50 Homeruns?
Maybe eventually the DH will be eliminated
before we eliminate two or three teams.
Best wishes.
Amaury Pi-González

4 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:14 pm }

5 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:51 pm }

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