Last Call for "Seniorball" and Brian Sabean

David ZweigContributor IJune 3, 2009

Every front office has a strategy for winning baseball games and making money. 

The A’s like to mix developing young talent with cheap veterans to field a team.  Once a player becomes too expensive to keep, Billy Bean either trades him or lets him go in favor of new, younger players. 

On the flip side, the Yankees have the most money in baseball and like to spend it on the best available free agent talent. 

The moment Jeff Kent left the Giants following the 2002 season, Brian Sabean and the San Francisco front office came to the conclusion that the clubhouse was not big enough for two superstars. 

Thus, they decided that the best way for San Francisco to win and be profitable was to play “Seniorball.” 

“Seniorball” is when a team surrounds one superstar, in this case Bonds, with classy, mature veteran players with the hope that it will be enough to win.

In the 2002 off-season, the Giants lost four of their starting nine position players (including their No. 3 hitter), as well as three of their five starting pitchers.

When was the last time you saw a baseball team with money come one game away from a World Series title then decide to revamp their entire roster the following season?

Many baseball analysts would argue that Sabean’s refusal add a second big bat to the line-up was the result of a selfish business move. 

With Bonds' pursuit of Aaron’s homerun record the Giants would make money regardless, why spend big on another star player?  This viewpoint is simply untrue. 

Over the next several years, the Giants spent tons of money, just on the wrong kind of players. 

“Seniorball” was a result of Sabean trying too hard to protect his slugger and it ended up costing San Fran dearly.  Knowing Bonds was his meal ticket, Sabean did everything he could to look after him. 

With all the negative press and treatment Bonds received for steroids use, the Giants felt that filling the roster with good clubhouse players with experience would better protect Barry than by adding another big bat.

The 2003 and 2004 seasons were a kiss of death for the Giants' long-term future.  With the best player in baseball and Jason Schmidt leading the rotation, San Francisco won 100 games in ’03 and 92 in ’04 and the front office was convinced that they could win playing “Seniorball.”

Unfortunately, as good as Barry was, he was a 40 year old with knee problems, and as hard as Schmidt threw, he was a fastball pitcher entering his mid-30’s. 

Sabean ignored this and continued to ink high priced, over-the-hill vets like Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Omar Vizquel and Mike Matheny to contracts that were way above market value. 

Sure enough, Bonds missed the entire 2005 season due to knee surgery and Schmidt’s numbers dropped dramatically from 2004.  2005 was Brian Sabean’s first losing season since taking over as the Giants GM.

With Bonds chasing Aaron’s record for all of 2006 and 2007, Sabean again opted to spend more money on mature guys who could best handle the media attention and not prime-time players who could best handle the stick. 

In 2006, Sabean signed Matt Morris and Steve Finely to horrible contracts, and he traded for Shea Hillenbrand and Mike Stanton as band-aid fixes to a broken roster. 

Rather than allowing his younger players gain some big league experience, Sabean opted to delay the inevitable rebuilding process.  This was a huge mistake, and the Giants again had an awful season.  

By 2007, Sabean knew they needed to make a splash in free agency to recover from two consecutive losing seasons. 

Desperate after missing out on Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Gary Matthews Jr., Sabean made the worst move in his career when he signed Zito to his now-infamous contract. 

On top of that, he again rolled the dice with “Seniorball” and came up short.  He added Ryan Klesko, Dave Roberts, Rich Aurilia and Ray Durham to improve a Giants offense that was already offensive.

With Bonds gone and the homerun record gone with him, the Giants finally went back to being a normal baseball team again in 2008. 

The only problem was they were left with an offense and a stadium that was built around No. 25, and he was no longer there. 

All the 2008 Giants had to be competitive was a bust pitcher who could never live up to his contract and a group of highly over-paid veteran hitters.

They did have some lively young arms, but with no hitting to support them, there was no chance at a winning season.  Naturally, Sabean though he could fix this by signing another over-priced free agent hitter. 

Just for the record, I am ok with signing Aaron Rowand in 2008 to say a three-year deal for $25 million, but not a five-year deal for $60 million.  Much like Zito and all the other free agent signings Sabean has made since 2002, Rowand was doomed to be a disappointment before he got off the plane in SFO. 

There was no way he could live up to his contract and you cant blame a guy for taking the offer with the most money on the table.  Any sensible human being would have done the same.  You have to point the finger at team management, starting with the GM. 

To no one's surprise, by the All-Star break the Giants were out of playoff race and finally, they decided to go with young players over old ones.  This is a move that should have been made in 2005, 2006 at the latest.

As a result, Giants fans are forced to experience the frustrations of the re-building process three years later than it should have started. 

Today, all of San Francisco’s hopes for a winner rest on the young arms of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Alderson.  The Giants have focused on drafting and developing starting pitching, and to their credit they have been successful. 

However, they have ignored a basic need for home-grown hitting, and “Seniorball” has been a complete disaster. 

Still hamstrung by bad free agent signings (the latest being Edgar Renteria and Randy Johnson) and a huge ballpark, the Giants will be hard-pressed to find the big bat they are looking for with out giving up supreme pitching talent.   

For years Sabean and the front office worked to protect Barry by playing “Seniorball.”  Unless the Giants manage to get an impact player before the deadline that can lead them into the postseason, this will be Brian Sabean’s last year as General Manager. 

His career in San Francisco will ultimately be judged by what he did following 2002, and not by the fact that he had a winning record in his first eight seasons or that he built a Giants team that won the NL Pennant. 

San Francisco fans can only hope that when he goes, “Seniorball” goes with him.


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