Organizational Rankings: #19

Today, we keep looking at some teams that have legitimate hope, so it gets harder from here on out. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the previous parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
#20: Toronto Blue Jays

#19: San Francisco Giants

Ownership: B

Other MLB owners might not be very happy with Peter Magowan, as he stands as the blueprint of how a privately financed stadium can work just fine. The Giants built a beautiful stadium without significant government subsidies, and the revenues generated by the park have allowed the team to sustain a championship level payroll over the last decade. Magowan stepped down as the managing partner in October, but the ownership group remains stable and the Giants should be well capitalized going forward.

Front Office: D

Brian Sabean’s history of transactions while running the Giants is a series of astounding moves. On one hand, he made one of the worst trades in recent history (Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski), gave out the worst free agent contract ever (Barry Zito), has consistently overpaid for declining veterans (Matt Morris, Dave Roberts, and Aaron Rowand), and has overseen a roster that that hasn’t finished at .500 in four years. However, he’s also done a very good job of identifying veteran players who had some life left in the tank, and has gotten good value from signings that looked like mistakes (Bengie Molina, Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel) and has done a good job of developing and retaining some terrific young pitchers. Given his resources, though, he’s squandered too many good opportunities, and the Giants missed opportunities to win due his unwillingness to rebuild.

Major League Talent: C+

The Giants look to be gearing up to be this year’s Blue Jays, with a terrific pitching staff, a very good defense, and an extreme lack of major league hitters. Randy Winn and Fred Lewis are nice pieces, but when they are your best hitters, you better plan on winning a lot of 3-2 games. The Lincecum/Cain/Johnson/Sanchez/Zito rotation could easily be the best in baseball, however, and Sabean capitalized on the buyers market to rebuild a shaky bullpen and add a few stopgap veterans to make a run at a weak NL West. There are some good young talents here, but unfortunately, they’re almost all on the pitching staff, and building around young arms is a high risk strategy. If Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez all stay healthy, they could have a good run in store the next few years, but the odds of all three staying healthy and effective are not very good.

Minor League Talent: B+

If every team could only retain four minor leaguers every year, the Giants might have the best in the game. Their system is remarkably top heavy, with three of the best prospects in the game in Madison Bumgarner, Angel Villalona, and Buster Posey, and a nifty sidekick in Tim Alderson. These are premium talents, and could easily make up the core of the Giants future. But after those four, there’s quite the valley, and the rest of the system is rather pedestrian. The major league team is in need of good young hitters, so Posey and Villalona can’t get there fast enough – if they can find out a way to develop a few more quality position players, than this system could compete with the very best in baseball.

Overall: C+

The Giants have strong ownership, a fantastic ballpark in a high earning market, a major league team with legitimate playoff hopes, and a farm system that has several premium talents on the way to the Bay Area. With a less manic front office, they’d probably be one of the premier organizations in the game. The unpredictability of Sabean’s moves, along with the organizational plan of acquiring only 30+ players in free agency, has left them as an underachiever. But things are looking up in San Francisco, and as long as they can keep Lincecum’s arm attached to his body, they’ll have some hope.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

23 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #19”

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  1. Scott says:

    Sounds about right. The pitching and defense formula figures to be a lot more competitive in the NL West than the AL East. With that said, Sandoval and Renteria on the left side of the infield looks to be below average, to say the least.

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  2. Thanks for the great analysis, depressing though it may be. Is it vain folly to hope for a Lincecum-Cain-Bumgarner trio pitching to Buster Posey in the 2012 playoffs? With Angel Villalona a hulking presence at first?

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  3. Noli says:

    Nice analysis. Although, the Sabean grade has to reflect his moves over the past 5-7 years. In fact, if it wasnt for last year’s turnaround in terms of organizational investment in youth, Sabean would likely have gotten worse than a D. But, the pre 2003 Sabean was a lot better. Kent and Schmidt were absolute steals…and he knew how to trade for the right veteran players to fill in the rest of the lineup around kent and bonds (burks, lofton, santiago, carter).

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  4. bikozu says:

    I think you’re a little too down on the minor league talent after the top four and aren’t taking into consideration the young talent on the major league roster that will stick around going forward. They have a high pick this year and a lot of payroll flexibility (despite the Zito contract) going forward.
    Sabean has done a good job of handling the minor league talent in the organization so not everything he’s done is bad. Especially considering that all of his moves this offseason were good values.

    I’m not a Giants fan, but I think you’re underestimating them going forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if they take the NL West 3 of the next 5 years.

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  5. Greg says:

    You have to wonder why owners don’t read write ups similar to this and say “Brian Sabean is THIS BAD? Jesus, fire him already”. I mean, it’s not like it isn’t common knowledge to the avid baseball fan (let alone the ones that get paid to know it) that some front offices just need to be turned over.

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  6. Justin Haddad says:

    Randy Winn is no longer a Giant. Sabean released him.

    Also, Gillaspie is a pretty darn good prospect. He will not be ready till 2010-11, and Villalona will not be ready till at least 2011, as he just turned 19.
    It will be Villalona at 1B in 2011-12 and Gillaspie at 3B, and sandoval will probably be dealt, IF everything goes right with Villalona and Gillaspie.

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  7. B says:

    What do you mean Randy Winn is no longer a Giant? That just isn’t true. As for the Giants prospects, they do have a number of players in the minor league system that look like they may be MLB contributors at some point – but most of them are still in the lower levels of the minor leagues. Since they aren’t the kinds of talents that the top 4 are, they aren’t top-100 caliber prospects at this point, but the ones that can keep producing the next couple years as they move up in the system will become more highly regarded. Just have some patience with them.

    With Sabean, the grade you give him really depends on the time period you’re looking at. The last few years he’s been one of the worst GM’s in baseball (with his former assistant Agent Ned even worse). However, it seems the Giants having finally shifted their organizational philosophy to focus on building a team through the draft. Sabean has been successful at this in the past (his Yankees experience got him the GM opportunity), and looking at the future of the Giants, we can see he is moving us in the right direction. So it’s hard to assign a grade I guess…an F for the recent past but maybe more like a B+ going forward as our farm system gets better every year.

    As for Gillapsie – we did bring him up to MLB at the end of last year, but it seemed more some sort of stunt – like it was an agreement they made to get him to sign or something. He doesn’t really figure into the MLB plans until a year or two down the road.

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  8. Justin H says:

    ahhhh yes, my fault. Dave Roberts got released. My bad.

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  9. mymrbig says:

    Dave, I’m a big fan of the series, but this wasn’t one of your better efforts (IMO). And I’m not a Giants fan. And I think Sabean is generally one of the worst GMs in MLB.

    My problems:

    (1) I think you are short-changing the Giants’ farm system here. Sure, they have 4 great prospects and are a little top-heavy. But they have some other decent prospects like Henry Sosa, Rafael Rodriguez, and Gillespie, plus a few others. So while the middle tier of their system isn’t great, the top tier is awesome and the lower tier is fine. And this ignores a recent graduate like Pablo Sandoval, who apparently didn’t merit a mention either in the minor league or major league sections, despite his youth and successes last season (and this winter).

    (2) As I said, I think Sabean is a terrible GM. He should have no control over a team’s purse strings because many of his big free agent signings are just bad. But he really shouldn’t be knocked too much for the Pierzynski for Nathan/Liriano/Bonser trade. At the time of the trade, it wasn’t a horrible deal.

    Liriano had major injury issues and wasn’t any sort of great prospect, just a guy with a good arm and some upside. Him developing where many other traded pitching prospects didn’t develop was just blind luck. His last year in the Giants’ organization (2003) he threw 9 innings all year.

    Nathan was just a solid set-up man who dealt with a myriad of health issues and only had 1 good, healthy season. He had completely failed as a starting pitcher and while his 2.96 ERA was good, his 3.45 FIP was hardly irriplaceable for the Giants.

    Bonser was the headliner and he’s largely flopped.

    Pierzynski was a league average catcher for the Giants (2.0 value wins, .314 wOBA) and he was held down partly by bad luck (.270 BABIP in 2003, career .306).

    Even looking retrospectively, until Liriano puts together another healthy season or two, this wasn’t as bad of a deal as everyone makes it out to be.

    (3) I disagree with your assertion that Zito is the recipient of the worst free agent contract ever. Definitely one of the worst. But I’d take Zito over Darren Dreifort and probably Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle.

    Dreifort got paid $55 million to throw 205.2 innings with a 4.53 ERA and a FIP around 4 (with 25% of the innings out of the pen and 75% as a starter). That is $267,431.68 per inning (courtesy of wikipedia). Zito only needs another 94.2 IP to make his $/IP salary lower than Dreifort’s!

    Hampton was paid $121 million to throw 891.1 innings, earning $135,752.19 per IP. Zito only needs to throw another 551.2 innings to make his $/IP salary lower than Hampton’s!

    Neagle was paid $51 million to throw 370.1 terrible innings, earning $137,800.59 per IP. Zito only needs another 538 IP to pass Neagle.

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    • B says:

      I somewhat agree with your take on the AJ trade – the Giants knew Liriano had injury issues when they traded him, and unless he stays health for a substantial period of time in the future it’s really not a big loss. Bonser is closer to a replacement level starter than anything. Nathan, however, has been the best reliever in baseball since the Twins acquired him, and the Giants have been in desperate need of his services over that time. What makes the trade so bad for Giants fans is the fact that AJ was such a….we flat out released him after one season, and because we didn’t have a closer, it led to the Herges debacle, and then the Benetiz disaster.

      With regards to Zito, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him more or less out of the league within a year or two. His stuff is as bad as ever, his control/command has shown 0 improvement…at some point his 5ish ERA just isn’t going to cut it anymore. I really don’t think he’ll get to Neagle or Hampton, though he should pass Dreifort.

      As for Sabean, like you said, he’s been a terrible GM. It does appear he’s somewhat improving though, and it helps that the organization is changing their strategy to focus on what he’s good at, the scouting/development side of things. As bad as most of his free agent moves and trades have been, he also drafted Cain, Lincecum and Sanchez and restocked our farm system quickly with very good drafts and international signings – if he continues to focus on this side of things the Giants should start producing home grown players on par with well run franchises like the Red Sox or Twins. I never understood why a GM with a scouting background completely ignored that side of things for as long as Sabean did…

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      • mymrbig says:

        Good point about Zito, but I was kind of being facetious with my 3rd point. Zito vs. Dreifort vs. Hampton vs. Neagle is kind of a worthless discussion because all 4 pitchers were almost worthless relative to what they were paid.

        I think Hampton will turn out to be the best of the bunch. I think his first 2 years in Coors were pre-Humidor, so they weren’t quite as bad as they look. Then he turned in 2.5 averagish seasons with Atlanta before the injuries really took hold. He was still overpaid, but the quality of his IP will probably end up being a good bit better than Zito.

        With so much young pitching in the organization, does Zito get to stick around as an overpaid #5 if he can get (and keep) his ERA around 5?

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    • Noli says:

      I remember the giants insistence in starting over the hill mark gardner over joe nathan. now, nathan was likely never going to be a starter (if so, he would be marginal at best), but the mind set of the organization during the bonds-kent era was to build their team around veteran pickups by trading their prospects and not financially supporting player development. If they happen to let a prospect get through to the majors…likely a pitcher…they had a relatively short leash on him.

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    • Noli says:

      and i agree that the dreifort deal was probably worse, although one would reply by saying that the financial burden of zito’s contract on the giants is a lot more than the burden of dreifort’s contract on the dodgers (given the total contract, the amount of years and the different payrolls).

      but, i think the hampton deal was “better” largely because the giants basically gave zito what was at the time the largest contract ever for a pitcher. that means you think that he is the best pitcher, or one of the top 5 best pitchers, in baseball. at the time, he wasnt even in the top 10…or 15…perhaps in the top 20! Sabean outbid himself (i still dont believe the mariners offered him more) and gave ace/cy young money to a pitcher whose stats were OK, but not ace/cy young like. Zito was four years removed from his cy young season…and in those 4 years between, we saw his numbers decline to a 7-8 million dollar type pitcher. The giants threw 15 million dollar money at him because they wanted to save face after losing out on carlos lee and soriano and to try to prepare themselves for post Bonds with another Barry on the roster.

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  10. Andy says:

    “has consistently overpaid for declining veterans (Matt Morris, Dave Roberts, and Aaron Rowand)”

    dont forget to add Edgar Renteria to that list…

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    • mymrbig says:

      The Renteria signing is a little hard to judge. The free agents who signed early this year all did so before the market imploded. It didn’t look like a terrible deal at the time, particularly considering what the Giants got out of SS last year.

      But you are certainly right that if the Giants had waited a month or two they probably could have had Renteria for 1/3 to 1/2 of the money. Pretty much every team that made early signings this year ended up overpaying because of the way the market developed. They paid 2007/08 prices, which were much higher.

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      • alskor says:

        It looked like a terrible deal at the time. The market went south and now it looks like an atrocious deal.

        That deal was widely mocked at the time it was signed. Word was nobody else was in on Renteria for anything near that price.

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    • B says:

      At least let Renteria play a real game in a Giants uniform before we throw it in with the other bad veteran signings. It may end up that Sabean paid more for Renteria than the other shortstops on the market, but he outproduces them. Someone else also might have signed Renteria early if the Giants didn’t, so they may not have had the chance to get him specifically for less (though of course they could have gotten someone like Cabrera for less). Basically my point is at this moment in time all we can do is speculate since Renteria hasn’t even played a game yet, let’s have some patience before we judge the signing.

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  11. Hawerchuk says:

    By these standards, you know who was a great GM? Chuck LaMar. Drafted some amazing #1 picks.

    Sabean should have lost his job when he intentionally gave up his late first-round picks because he claimed the ROI was higher on second-rounders.

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