Since the end of the 2006 season, San Francisco Giants' general manager Brian Sabean has found himself on the hot seat.
In that time span, the Giants have not won more than 76 games, and have consistently been a non-factor in the National League West.
To make matters worse, it doesn't help Sabean's case that every team in the division has made a playoff appearance in that time span except for the Giants.
It has been a long seven years since the Giants were one inning away from winning a World Series title, and the fans haven't been too happy about it.
The Sabean era has been characterized by questionable trades (his most famous one was trading Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano away for a tumultuous one year with AJ Pierzynski), head-scratching free agent signings (Dave Roberts and Barry Zito for $126 million and Armando Benitez), and passive management (Sabean and owner Peter Magowan looking the other way on the steroid-heavy locker room scene, despite getting notice from trainers that there was steroid use going on).
And the relationship between Sabean and his fans didn't get any rosier when he signed a two-year extension after the 2007 All-Star break, despite the team floundering in the basement of the division.
In many fans' eyes, it was almost as if Giants owner Peter Magowan was simply accepting mediocrity. It was the kind of move that exhibited the mentality of losing franchises like the Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals, not a storied one like the Giants.
Sure, Brian Sabean had done a lot to turn around the Giants in his tenure.
He made the gutsy move of trading away franchise figure Matt Williams, and it paid off. They went from last to first place in 1997, and the player they received in the deal, Jeff Kent, became an MVP.
However, those days when it seemed Sabean could do no wrong in the late 90s and early 2000s faded after 2005. Giants teams were frustrating to watch. Guys who were supposed to be the centerpieces of the franchise, like Benitez and Matt Morris, flopped in their tenures in San Francisco.
And the worst part? So many of Sabean's moves put the organization back. Young guys didn't get the chances they needed to succeed at the Major League level because 40-year-old players had such strangleholds of a majority of the positions.
And they weren't starting because they were necessarily better players, either. They were starting because these aging veterans were the ones getting paid the most, and we couldn't afford to have them sit the bench.
With Sabean's contract ending in 2009, many Giants fans felt this was the last year of the Sabean era. Unless something dramatic happened, we all figured with the constant criticism of Sabean in the media, and his fan support fading fast, Magowan would wise up, and try something new in the front office.
And then something dramatic happened: Manny Ramirez became available.
With the Yankees signing both CC Sabathia and Mark Teixiera to $100–plus million contracts, and Ramirez and Boras swatting down Dodgers offers like Dikembe Mutombo in the 1995 playoffs, the opportunity was there for the Giants to step in and make an offer.
All that was needed on the Giants' end was that extra year in the contract Manny wanted, and the Giants would have the slugger in the lineup they've sorely missed since Bonds' departure after the 2007 season.
At the time, everything made sense for Ramirez coming to San Francisco. The Giants had an open cleanup spot, were a franchise that not only had a history of having Latin-American stars, but actually embraced them, and had a rabid but open-minded fan base that would be able to handle the "Manny being Manny" antics of Ramirez.
After all, if Bay Area fans could handle Bonds, Ramirez would be a walk in the park, right?
However, Sabean made no move. The Dodgers continued to make offers and Ramirez continued to decline them, which only made things more frustrating for Giants fans. It was almost as if Ramirez was pleading to the Giants, "Come on guys! Just give me three years and I'll be coming to San Francisco! Don't you want that?"
The worst part of this whole dramatic charade was that Giants fans were teased too often.
On Sportscenter, you would see headlines like "Giants showing interest in Ramirez." Buster Olney and Peter Gammons would report that the Ramirez sweepstakes was narrowed down between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Baseball blogs all over the Internet talked about why Sabean needed to sign Ramirez for the fans' sake.
Despite all this, Sabean continued to sit on his hands until eventually Ramirez signed with the Dodgers.
After that happened, there were mixed reactions. Some people were inflamed, once again mystified how Sabean, a GM who was willing to overpay for Zito, was so cautious and passive in the pursuit of Ramirez.
Some people on the other hand defended Sabean's move, saying it was the right decision, and Ramirez wouldn't have fit on this team.
I wasn't one of those people.
Ramirez was the hitter that the Giants needed to make a run; not only in the NL West, but in the National League in general. The team had the pitching, some good contact hitters, and speed.
Ramirez, in my mind, would have been that big, power bat that would have put it all together.
With Manny donning a black and orange San Francisco hat, the Giants wouldn't have just been favorites to win the NL West, they would have been considered as contenders to win the World Series.
However, despite my feelings at the time, not acquiring Ramirez was the best thing the Giants could have done.
Undoubtedly, in order to afford Ramirez, the Giants would have had to get rid of some players. Who knows who they would have needed to get rid of, but I have a feeling the costs would have dire.
I'm not talking about Randy Winn or Fred Lewis as guys who would be sent packing.
I'm thinking more like Matt Cain.
After all, in order to get rid of your bad contracts, you have to include a good, low-cost, high-ceiling guy in the deal as well.
And for some strange reason, I have the rotten feeling that if the Ramirez deal went down like many Giants fans originally wanted, the Giants would have lost that All-Star No. 2 punch that has helped us to the 45-37 current record.
Furthermore, with a roster purged to make room for Ramirez, I have no doubt that the Giants wouldn't even be close to where we currently are as a team.
Because Ramirez would have been suspended for 50 games, and imagining how bare the roster would have been in order to sign Manny, the team would be looking closer to the 2008 team than the winning version currently see today.
In an odd turn of events, it wasn't who Sabean signed that saved his job (usually the case for GMs), but rather who he didn't sign. He made the tough, unpopular decision not to waste a tremendous amount of money on a superstar, and it paid off.
The Giants are atop of the Wild Card standings, and Sabean has set the foundation for success for many years to come.
In many ways, the Ramirez non-signing solidified Sabean's position as Giants GM because it proved he is learning on the fly. If he had signed Ramirez, and the team got off to a bad start, a lot of us fans would have said, "Why did Magowan extend this guy? He learned nothing from the Pierzynski trade!"
But the thing is, Sabean has learned. He has shown the fans that it was worth signing him to that extension in 2007 because he has wised up from his free-wheeling spending days, and decided to follow a different path to winning.
That's why I think Magowan decided to keep Sabean on board in 2007, even if we as Giants fans didn't.
Granted, there still is a second half of the season to go, and you never know what can happen. But, for the time being, Sabean's job as general manager of the Giants is safe.
In 2009, we have a great nucleus with two great young pitchers (Lincecum and Cain), a budding big-time slugger (Pablo Sandoval), and a mix-and-match lineup of wily veterans and energetic young position players.
This is not just a team built for the future. This is a team that is winning now, and having a lot of fun while doing it. And I'm having a lot of fun as a fan watching this team play this well, and enjoy playing with each other to boot.
Would San Francisco have had this kind of team with Ramirez? Would Giants fans have been greeted with the charming image of Sandoval and Lewis doing a goofy kind of handshake after Sandoval's first career grand slam on Monday night?
You never know. All I do know is that I'm not wishing the Giants had signed Manny like before. Instead, I'm wishing for more success with this team, and wishing that they can get some breaks and build upon this unexpected run.
I haven't liked a Giants team this much since 1997, Sabean's first season as GM. Even the 2002 NL champs weren't as likable as this 2009 bunch. They were a good, talented team, but they were business-like, and divided to the point where they just weren't that easy to cheer for.
That isn't the case now, and you can point the finger at Sabean for putting together this young, fun squad.
Sabean has earned his keep in the Giants organization, whether we make the playoffs or not. And he has saved his job because he is not the "old" Brian Sabean, the same GM who acquired Ricky Ledee and Shea Hillenbrand at the trade deadline.
This is a "new" Sabean, a GM that is much different from the one we once loved and hated. This is a GM that's now about playing his own talent, rather than stocking up on free agents.
And to be perfectly honest, I'm willing to go through at least a couple of more years with this "new" Sabean because I'm curious to see where this road will lead us as Giants fans.
My gut tells me this trip will be worthwhile.
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