Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

The Giants Farm System; Sabean's Response by Ed Stern

Marty, This morning’s daily newspaper contains a very lengthy article in which “Sabean makes the most of maligned farm system.” It is questionable whether Sabean has a good case. The team’s basic position is that they have been contenders for the top spot for many years. It is argued by him that this fact, standing alone, is sufficient rebuttal to those who contend that times have changed, that a productive farm system is necessary for continued success and that the Giants have been successful these past three or four years largely due to the presence of Barry Bonds.

Click below for Ed’s analysis of the Giants farm system!

The article points out that the Giants’ top triple A farm club was 33 games under .500 last year and today stands 16 games behind Sacrament ( which happens to be the A’s farm club). As has been pointed out here, the farm system has been rated at the bottom or nearly there by a number of rating organizations which measure how productive the farm systems are in producing major league talent for the mother clubs. The Giants scoff at these rating efforts.

The Giants’ proclaimed system, as defined by Sabean, is “the pitching first philosophy (which) served us well. It allowed us to make the trades we needed to put us on our way to a World Series and finishing first or second every year since ’97.”

Sabean may be living in the past. The criticism of the farm system has taken the form of pointing out that what may have been successful from ’97 until the past few years may not be successful in the future and is not responsible for whatever success the team may have this year. Another observer points out, in the same morning edition, the “many unresolved questions” the team has. describing the “unsettled infield”.

This isn’t the sole “unsettled” issue , however. Take a close look at this club. Where are the trades Sabean contends they made which allowed this team to be successful? The only trade Sabean can point to which meets that characterization is the Schmidt deal. The other player of significance who came to the Giants by way of a trade is Pierzynski this past winter. He may be gone after this year since he needs to be re-signed and the Giants may be reluctant to pay his demands. If that is the case, they will have given up one of the outstanding closers in the game, Joe Nathan, and received nothing in return.

In addition to the infield, there is an “unsettled” outfield. It consists of an aging center fielder, Grissom, who has few at bats left in his career, three run of the mill outfielders, and the incomparable Barry Bonds. Next year is the last contract year for Bonds. He constantly makes noises about retiring. This doesn’t seem like idle talk. He may wish to stick around long enough to chase Aaron or he may not. At best, he is not going to be hitting .370 many more years. Building a team around a legendary 40 year old is likely to be less rewarding than building it around a few up and coming impact players twenty years younger.

There is no need to dwell on the sad shape of the pitching. That has been written about here in detailed fashion this entire season. They still don’t know where their closer is coming from.

Crosby, Greene, Cabrera; the list can go on and on. It is not a short one. There doesn’t appear to be a Giants player on such a list. In addition, there is an undeniable advantage in producing young talent, rather than having to go into the free agent market every year, Sabean’s method of choice. You don’t end up saddled with an Alfonzo for four years, at 8 million a year. You don’t end up with a high salaried second baseman you would like to get rid of but can’t find a buyer, and, if you could, don’t have anyone in mind to replace him.

Sabean emphasizes the previous use of pitchers in persuading teams to part with talent. Other than the Schmidt deal, it is difficult to point to another trade which produced a great result. Furthermore, with few exceptions, Foulke, for instance, very few of these Giants farmhands, traded away, have been winners. This doesn’t say much for the pitching talent on the farms. They did trade Ortiz, who is a very good pitcher, but they gave him away, receiving nothing of value in exchange. They point to some young pitchers down on the farm for whom they have high hopes and therefore didn’t trade. It might be mentioned, however, that they are still pitching in double A.

The A’s farm system has been rated at the top of the heap. The A’s have been finishing near the top of the league for some time now. The Giants argument that they can’t draft attractive players for the farm clubs because their draft position is so low, due to their success the previous year, runs up against the A’s success. The A’s are successful because their farms produce impact players. The A’s then, after having the benefit of these players for a good many years for relatively cheap dollars, get rid of them and receive in exchange high draft choices. Every once in a while they pay the price and hang on to one of the developed stars.

This past year is a prime example. They drafted four players before the Giants had one draft choice. This is a successful operation and it will continue to be successful while the Giants will be struggling to fill their numerous weak spots every year with the likes of Alfonzo and Durham. It does not auger well for the future. The most distressing aspect of Sabean’s continued devotion to the past is that he seems unwilling to address it’s shortcomings, although the past two years they have attempted to draft some position players as well as pitching. Unfortunately, they are drafting so low that the likelihood of picking up anything outstanding is remote.

Sabean believes the Giants always have to be in a rebuilding posture because the fans in SF will refuse to go to the park if the team is not in contention and this is the only way to constantly remain in contention. It is not certain that he is correct. If the team has attractive young players with a future, the fans will come out. It may even be possible to have a team in the process of rebuilding with a mixture of veterans and youngsters. There hasn’t been a twenty two year old on the Giants with a future in more years than one wishes to remember. Recently, when discussing why the Giants released Perez, Alou mentioned that they kept Ransom rather than Perez because, “he was the future”. Ransom is 29 years old and has proven that he will never be a major league player. He can’t hit, in an age of heavy hitting shortstops. Not much of a future.

One final word about the future. Do the Giants realize how dependant they have become on Bonds? This is a team which cannot play at a .500 level in the absence of Bonds. As mentioned above, they are looking at a few more years, at best, with the privilege of watching one of the truly great players. one of the very few who can carry a ball club. As far as one can tell at the moment, it doesn’t appear that they have any plan to replace Barry when the inevitable day comes. That is the day this becomes an ordinary ball club.

Sabean is the general manager. The buck stops there.



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