There has been grumbling in some quarters regarding the lack of trades or free-agent signings by the Giants in this offseason—but people are missing the point. And we're not talking about, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," because despite winning it all, the Giants can certainly stand to improve in anything and everything that doesn't relate to pitching up and down their lineup.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the team is following the tried-and-true approach of building a strong farm system and depending on it in lieu of trades or free-agent signings. When Brian Sabean arrived in 1997, he immediately returned the team to contention by bringing in a number of new players through trades or free-agent signings—most notably the Matt Williams-for-Jeff Kent trade, which at the time was highly controversial.
Sabean followed that philosophy for the better part of 10 years, possibly due to the fact that the Giants' farm system wasn't really that strong. In particular, he focused on drafting and signing pitchers, whom he would later use as prospect trade bait when dealing for established players to make a run for the roses during the years the team was in contention.
But after years of making sound moves, suddenly the wheels came off. We all know the names by now: Marvin Benard, A.J. Pierzynski—and more recently, Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria and Barry Zito. (Yes, I know Edgar came through big time in the Series, but he never really delivered with any kind of consistency that was deserving of his hefty and overpriced two-year contract.) Sabean's efforts to surround an aging Barry Bonds with the right pieces during the middle years of the last decade were particularly futile.
But while all this was going on, the organization was slowly but surely building a strong farm system. The stellar starting pitching quartet of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner—as well as closer Brian Wilson—all came up through the Giants' system. As did rookie sensation Buster Posey. As has Brandon Belt, who many think is due to make himself a permanent fixture in the lineup.
While there don't seem to be any other names besides Belt ready to make an immediate impact, there are a number of players who, with a bit more seasoning, may be able to help in 2012 and beyond. Look through all levels of the Giants system, and you see an organization that now has one of the strongest farm systems in all of baseball.
Why does this matter so much? First of all, it creates bargaining chips that can be traded for established players when the need arises. But of greater importance is the fact that the team can let established players go when they become expensive free agents, and plug in younger players who can be retained for mere pennies early in their careers.
Or to put it another way, you can virtually fund and field an entire roster of young players for the same amount of money that it costs to sign one established star for a year. Growing your own on the farm still remains the best—and certainly the least expensive—way to build a perennial contender and ensure success for many years to come. More than anything else, Giant fans should celebrate this fact and look forward to at least the next few years.
Keep those blue-chip prospects coming.