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  1. Nice interview. Thank you very much!

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — April 6, 2012 @ 8:54 am

  2. How many guys can the Giant take? I’d go with ‘Taker, Jericho, and maybe Arn Anderson for old time’s take. That would be a formidable team.

    Comment by Hizouse — April 6, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  3. “San Francisco‚Äôs front office may have a spotty record when it comes to trades and the free-agent market”

    David, do you think you can support that statement? Specifically, I’m talking about trades. I think such statements like this are made because of either lack of knowledge or anti-Giants bias. I put together a spreadsheet of Sabean’s trade history using WAR as a measurement tool…calculating the WAR received vs. the WAR given up. In fact, I did it in the most disadvantageous way to the Giants as I only measured the WAR received when the players were with the Giants, yet I counted the remaining career WAR for the players given up (for example, I counted the remaining career WAR for Matt WIlliams even though he left Cleveland and went to AZ….but I only counted Jeff Kent’s WAR with the Giants even though he put up another 18 WAR after leaving the Giants).

    Even with that measuring criteria, the Giants are still up over 90 WAR over Sabean’s career, or approx. 6 WAR per year.

    I think if a GM can say his trade activity drops six wins a year to the bottom line, that GM will find easy employment. Everyone likes to point to the Pierzynski trade and Wheeler trade (which, granted, could have a negative impact some day on this scenario). But, all in all, trade activity under Sabean has been a positive. Free agent signings have not been great, but a) I don’t think its been as bad as generally perceived and b) there were many other factors involved in organizational philosophy that drove some signings (such as “win now while we have Barry”….).

    Comment by Sabean Wannabe — April 6, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

  4. Good work and somewhat surprising results. Still I think we can agree that Sabean and co. can be one of the worst when it comes to free agency. They have made some really good moves (Torres, original Huff, Uribe, Vogelsong, Bonds, Zi… oh wait), but for every one of those there’s a terrible signing where the player is half as productive and ten times as expensive and those are the ones that stick in everybody’s mind.

    Comment by Greg — April 6, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

  5. I’m not sure if you conducted an interview with Barr or if you just used an interview from another source, but I sure wish that whoever conducted the interview would have asked Barr about his philosophy of drafting college prospects as opposed to high school prospects.

    Since Barr took over complete control of the Giants draft in 2008, the Giants have had 21 picks in the first 5 rounds of the draft. With those 21 picks, Barr and his staff has drafted 18 college players and only 3 high school players (only 1 of which was a position player). Specifically:
    Zack Wheeler – 2009 (#6 overall)
    Tommy Joseph – 2009 (2nd rd, #55 overall)
    Kyle Crick – 2011 (1-S rd., #49 overall)

    That’s a pretty stark bias under Barr. Maybe Barr has gone this route because he was instructed to look to draft prospects that could reach the major leagues quicker and provide support to the great starting pitching staff anchored by Lincecum and Cain while the staff was still intact? Maybe it was due to money concerns, as college players tend to be much easier to sign and sign for less money than high school prospects during the time that Barr has been in charge? Whatever the case for the bias, I don’t see it changing anytime soon. The Giants major league payroll is unlikely to drop much at all in 2012 and 2013, and the new CBA will make it very difficult for any team, much less a somewhat conservative team like the Giants, from drafting and signing any highly-rated (let’s say top 100 ranked) high school prospect past the first 30 picks, or so. It certainly is going to be incredibly difficult to get anything other than a mid- or lower-level high school prospect to sign for anything close to slot once you get past the 2nd round of the draft.

    Comment by Darryl0 — April 6, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

  6. Thanks. In no way am I saying Sabean is God’s gift to GMs, but I think the overall record is misunderstood. I think its difficult to be an MLB GM without taking risks (for example, signing Pujols to a 10 year contract would have been risky for St. Louis, but not signing Pujols is also risky). Since there is risk in almost every move, there are bound to be some moves that don’t work out and thus come under criticism. The risks the Giants took that didn’t work out seem to define Sabean, even though the overall result has been pretty good.

    Comment by Sabean Wannabe — April 6, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  7. John Barr is a god. This guy should be a household name for every Giants fan.

    Comment by pbjsandwich — April 6, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

  8. It might have something to do with the Giants consistently contending. I always felt that teams who are winning consistently (or on the upswing) draft college players so they can get help for the major league team sooner rather than later. On the other side, rebuilding teams would go for high up-side high school players so they’ll be ready by the time the team is (hopefully) ready to contend rather than wasting a college player’s cheap playing years on a losing cause.

    Comment by Brian — April 6, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

  9. I suspect if Sabean were to leave the Giants, he would be working somewhere else within the hour, should he want to.

    I wish they had touched on Belt and the story behind his acquisition among the examples.

    Comment by channelclemente — April 6, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

  10. But haven’t you heard? He’s part of the 4th worst front office in baseball! (continues to beat dead horse)

    Comment by Brendan — April 6, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

  11. We already know the story behind the Brandon Belt pick. It comes down to 1 guy – Doug Mapson – a scouting director for the Giants and long-time Sabean confidant. He was the one guy in the draft room back in June 2009 that stood up and banged the table for John Barr to snap up Belt in the 5th round.

    Here’s a more detailed post on the subject:

    Comment by Darryl0 — April 6, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

  12. Yeah, you’re essentially saying one of the same things that I did when I postulated that maybe Barr was drafting guys that could get to the majors quicker to help a competitive pitching staff. But, that doesn’t explain the 2008 draft. The Giants were clearly not a competitive team in 2008 (and unlikely to be one in 2009), yet Barr drafted no high school prospects until the 10th round of the June 2008 draft (he did take a JuCo sophomore in the 7th round). I can understand him grabbing Buster Posey with the 5th overall pick, but then he came right back and picked 8 more college guys in a row.

    Comment by Darryl0 — April 6, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

  13. I made up a spreadsheet, too, some years ago, as a way of tracking and evaluating all of Brian Sabean’s trades. But I really like your idea of using WAR to evaluate.

    But I do think that, where Sabean is concerned, there’s kind of “A Tale of Two Sabeans”. The First Sabean Epoch goes from late 1996, when Sabean officially took over the GM reins from Bob Quinn, through the end of the World Series in 2002. This period represents Sabean at the top of his game, and there’s a marked difference in the kinds of trades he made–and how successful they proved over time–from the period that effectively begins in December 2002.

    Sabean Trades, Part I (11/1996-10/2002)
    Players Traded: 79.2 TOTAL WAR
    Players Acquired: 110.9 TOTAL WAR

    Sabean Trades, Part II (11/2003-10/2011)
    Players Traded: 60.7 TOTAL WAR
    Players Acquired: 20.9 TOTAL WAR

    Some things I notice that seem to differentiate Sabean I from Sabean II:

    Sabean I seems more energetic and more of a risk-taker. In the space of six years, Sabean was able to pull of some pretty gutsy deals that brought in some big-time WAR producers. During this period, Sabean’s trades brought in 5 players who gave the Giants 9.0 or better WAR.
    – Jeff Kent: 32.9
    – Jason Schmidt: 19.5
    – J.T. Snow: 12.3
    – Robb Nen: 11.8
    – Ellis Burks: 9.8

    What made some of these and other trades possible is that Sabean was willing to risk giving up some real talent in order to bring in the type of talent the Giants needed. Keith Foulke produced 21.5 WAR and Matt Williams produced 12.2. Even Bob Howry and Chris Singleton became productive players elsewhere. So Sabean gave up far more WAR in just six very productive trade years than he did over the course of the following eight very unproductive trade years.

    Even with two fewer years in it, I notice a great deal less activity during the second Sabean period (I’m not yet counting the trades prior to the 2012 season). For the most part, it appears that Sabean has become either unable or unwilling to make the types of trades he made from 1996-2002. In fairness, I suspect that the trade market has changed quite a bit from the late 1990’s to now, and I think that market inefficiencies that could easily be exploited then, aren’t as easy to find now. I do believe they are still there. It’s just that they aren’t in areas where Sabean is comfortable or knowledgeable.

    The ironic thing is that the second Sabean Epoch includes a World Series championship, and that in spite Sabean’s lack of trading success over the past eight years. I think this can be explained through Sabean’s continued ability to dumpster dive for cheap but productive free agent talent, and of course for the incredible talent–especially pitching–that resulted from the Giants’ overhaul of their amateur draft and farm system.

    Bottom line, there are many things that Brian Sabean still does well–or that his braintrust does well. And those things are able to somewhat overcome his really deficient areas, like position player evaluation, understanding hitting, mid and upper level free agent acquisition, and involvement in the international free agent market.

    Comment by Tobias — April 7, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

  14. Interesting analysis of Sabean I vs II. It should be obvious that the amount of money Sabean has spent on signing FAs, resigning vets on the downside of their careers and some poor trades makes many of us wonder how he has kept his job. Barry Bonds phenonmenal years kept him afloat for Sabean I. Perhaps Barr is what is keeping him as GM for Sabean II.

    Comment by Derald Cook — April 8, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  15. These two are great rundowns of Sabean as a trader, showing both sides that is sometimes brought out him.

    I would note these about the Sabean II era. The basis for this era was building up over time. When a team is competitive, they get lousy draft picks in the back of the first round. My research showed that about 10% of them ever become the good players we all expect from a first round pick. Add to that the fact that players, especially past the first 5-10 picks overall, usually needs 3-5 years in the minors to develop and reach the majors, let alone star in it, and you got quite a time lap between drafting and actually matriculating a player to the majors while you are winning.

    Meanwhile, your current players get old, and more expensive, your pipeline of prior draftees start to winnow out, giving your team less and less talent base from which to trade. That forces you to go to the free agent market more and more in order to fill your need to compete.

    And, as noted, the “Win with Barry” era was here.

    Hurting that effort to add talent via free agency, teams during that period started signing up their young players more and more into their free agent years and beggars can’t be choosers, and you are forced to bid on the remaining that are free agents.

    Something I’ve never seen noted as a factor, but I think was a huge factor in why there is a Sabean II era as a trader, was the success in the early 2000’s of finding better prospects, despite drafting further back in the first round, Jerome Williams, Kurt Ainsworth, Jesse Foppert, then finally Matt Cain.

    Before, he was willing to trade off the younger players because they had determined that they were not keepers (The Hardball Times Annual this year had a nice research study on how teams know their prospects very well, mostly keeping the good ones and trading the not so good ones, for the most part), but once these young players became Top prospects and they wanted to keep them, that gave them less trading chips to use in trades, and thus you can’t be more “bold” in trades.

    And I think it can be argued that while in hindsight, they should have traded the first three, they were kept for good reasons. Williams was ready to break out but his success unfortunately sent to his belly, Ainsworth pitched well when he wasn’t injured, which unfortunately he was injured often (I recall him breaking his shoulder bone or some bone in his body, really rare), and Foppert just suddenly TINSTAAPP. Each were talented, but then suddenly, before they could be traded, their talent went quickly.

    I view Matt Cain as the bigger obstacle because as long as he was a prospect and young pitcher in our rotation, any time the Giants would try to start a trade conversation, the other team would drop Cain’s name. Clearly, the Giants have been right to keep him, despite all the fan’s calls to trade him for offense.

    I would also note that teams were apparently still, during the 2000’s, not very good at evaluating other team’s prospects, apparently relying on the Baseball America rankings for their trade evaluations. So when the Giants Top 10 included players not considered keepers, the Giants could do trades, but when it had players who were keepers, like all those pitchers, teams would demand those in trade negotiations and the Giants never got far enough in trade talks to pull off a deal.

    In addition, the Sabean II era was marked by their rebuilding efforts. While rebuilding, it does not make sense to trade away a young prospect for players in a bold trade, particularly if you think that your prospect is a pretty good one, keeping Lincecum, Wilson, Sandoval, Posey, Bumgarner, Belt.

    Furthermore, it did not make sense to trade from the major league roster until you felt that you have a surplus that could be replenished from the minors. That is why he was freed this off-season to, in your parlance, start the Sabean Part III era, by trading for Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. We had plenty of good options for starting pitching, allowing them to trade Sanchez away (having Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong made depth a nice but not necessary luxury, with the possibility of the 2009-10 Zito returning as well), and Heath Hembree and now Dan Otero, coming in the bullpen. Plus, they picked up a nice replacement in Hensley, I think.

    Lastly, Sabean gets a lot of flak over his position player evaluations and understanding of hitting, but I contend that is mostly because the team had a strong pitching tilt to their draft choices, resulting in most of their best chances of finding a good player via the draft being spent on pitching. If they spend all their best bullets getting pitchers, of course their position prospects pipeline looks bad.

    For if he was truly deficient in position player evaluation, then why does the Giants have a pretty good middle of lineup trio of Posey, Sandoval, and Belt from the farm, plus good #1-2 hitters in Brown and Panik within 1-2 years of making the majors? And if Melky pans out, maybe he’ll be part of that core going forward too.

    Many Giants fans seem to think that they discovered Brandon Belt and that they know prospect evaluation better than the Giants. The Giants were the ones who drafted him high (some thought he was an overdraft where he was selected, in the 5th round; most said “who?”, including me, a failed pitcher?) and changed him into a Top 20 prospect in one season.

    The fact is, just because a player is a Top 20 prospect does not mean that he automatically does well in the majors. There will be struggles for most of them. Staying with them don’t always work (Sean Burroughs, Andy Marte, Andy LaRoche) or it takes years for their hitting to show up (Matt Weiters) or it goes away as fast as it came (Gordon Beckham).

    It may make sense to stay with a struggling young player longer when you are losing, but when you are defending your World Series title, not really. Also, it is fine to stick with your your prospect when his hitting peripherals are good (Dustin Pedroia), but Belt’s never been able to avoid the strikeouts.

    That’s fine if you want a Dave Kingman or Rob Deer type playing 1B for you, but I want more than that from Belt, I want something closer to his AA performances, not his AAA performances, which is all we have seen so far in the majors: lots of three true outcomes, K’s, walks, homers. If he can cut down the strikeouts, the Giants will have a monster hitter at 1B, not an all or nothing type of hitter.

    That is what the team needs to make the Giants the team of the 2010’s Decade.

    Comment by obsessivegiantscompulsive — April 9, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

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