Brian Sabean and the San Francisco Giants went into the 2009 offseason with a relatively short, but particularly important to-do list.
The deadline for offering arbitration has passed. The winter meetings are over. Free agents are coming off the market.
And what have the Giants done? Aside from being involved in a juicy rumor involving Dan Uggla and signing minor league pitcher Eric Hacker, San Francisco has only seen their players leave.
Justin Miller, a vital part of last year’s revamped bullpen, signed with the Dodgers.
Brad Penny, who came on strong with his return to the National League West, signed a lucrative deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Bengie Molina is awaiting a multi-year offer from multiple teams. The Giants have told Randy Winn that he’s not coming back.
Randy Johnson and Rich Aurilia are undecided on if they will continue their careers or hang up the spikes.
Even players who San Francisco has been linked to have been picked up.
Nick Johnson is on his way to New York to take a physical. Garrett Atkins packed his bag and is moving to Baltimore.
Jason Bay and Matt Holliday show no interest in playing their home games at AT&T.
The catching pool is getting shallower, with possible Buster Posey placeholders like Pudge Rodriguez (Nationals), Brian Schneider (Phillies), John Buck (Blue Jays), and Ramon Hernandez (Reds) coming off the market.
Yet just as many other teams take a break to spend time with their families over the Christmas week, Sabean seems to crank up the heat on his personal hot stove.
It seems that while we’re all recovering from Christmas ham, lying in piles of wrapping paper, and watching college bowl games, the Giants call a press conference and make a big announcement.
This tradition started way back in 2002, when the Giants announced the signing of Reggie Sanders to play right field on Jan. 5.
Sanders didn’t blow anyone away, but he did pound out 23 homers and drive in 85 runs that year.
Two years later, in 2004, Sabean added 38-year-old Moises Alou, who promptly turned out a .312 batting average while hitting 41 HR and amassing 137 RBI over his two-year stint with the club.
The next winter, on Dec. 21, he traded away dead-weight Edgardo Alfonzo to the Angels for Steve Finley, another veteran outfielder who somehow hid 12 triples in his 41-year-old legs while playing a stellar defensive center field.
Three outfielders, three key additions to a team that was still focused on adding side dishes around Barry Bonds.
But as the strategy changed, the Christmas gifts also took on another form.
The first post-Bonds era Christmas gift was the infamous “other Barry” signing, and Barry Zito was signed on Dec. 29, 2006.
It seemed that Zito was Sabean’s big statement for moving forward, and we all know how that was received.
Zito has proved to be grossly overpaid but seems to be regaining the confidence that he had earlier in his career.
The next gift came two years later, when another storied left-hander joined the San Francisco pitching staff.
Just this past winter, Randy Johnson’s signing was announced on Dec. 26. He won his 300th game in a Giants uniform, but an injury cut short an otherwise solid year.
This is the time of year when most teams take a break. Although these aren’t all break-the-bank transactions, the December pickups are usually solid contributors for San Francisco come summertime.
Let’s not forget the actual Christmas Day signing of Keiichi Yabu in 2007, who pitched reasonably well in a number of bullpen roles the next year.
The fact that Giants fans are getting restless is just part of the process. Sabean and the front office are never one of those up-front teams who make sweeping remarks on what they’re going to do.
This offseason looks like a lot of subtraction so far and virtually no addition.
But don’t despair, because the busiest week of the year for San Francisco is when everybody else thinks nothing is going on.
There are still viable options that can very much affect next season’s offense.
Adam LaRoche, at the price he wants, is not the kind of signing that I look forward to. I think that the connections to Jermaine Dye are losing their hold.
Dan Uggla still seems a possibility, but the Giants are (rightly so) a little put off by his defense. Mark DeRosa apparently has an offer out to him, and we’ll see how that plays out.
Orlando Hudson is still on the market, as are free-agent starters like Ben Sheets, Paul Byrd, and Joel Pineiro, among others.
Although a lot of the big names have already been taken off the shelf, there are still enough impact players to choose from. The quiet front office is probably still doing their job, as they have been their whole careers.
Santa Sabean has plenty of opportunities to put a present under the tree in AT&T Park.
There’s four days left until Christmas. And there will be new presents before New Year's. Let the countdown begin.