The roster moves made by the San Francisco Giants on Friday signified many things. It was the end of the road for a couple players who have been here for a while, and many Giants gave a sigh of relief to see some of that inconsistency leave the city by the Bay.
The fans will no longer have to sit on the edge of their seat whenever Tyler Walker is brought into a game, and they will not have to expect a loss every fifth day from the starting staff.
The departure of Eliezer Alfonzo rids the Giants of anyone associated with any kind of performance-enhancing history. But more importantly, it puts in perspective the turbulent career of General Manager Brian Sabean and his close relationship with now-retired managing general partner Peter Magowan.
First things first: Sabean is still around. He has another year left on his current deal, and as much as people love to hate him, this batch of transactions is a turning of a new leaf in my book. The whole 2008 season was meant to be one of rethinking the Giants playbook.
Now, as new managing partner William Neukom states, 2009 will be one of reinforcing the old “Giants Way,” focusing on fundamentals and player development, as well as committing to a team mentality off the field.
This year, and this upcoming offseason, is Sabean’s chance to show us that he embraces this way.
Since he came over to the Giants in 1997, the Giants have had their ups and downs. He has his share of genius trades (Jeff Kent, Kirk Rueter, Robb Nen), but also had his share of flops (Sidney Ponson, A.J. Pierzynski, Shea Hillenbrand). But during his time, the Giants' offseason patterns began to emerge: sign some fan-favorite veterans to hit and play around Barry Bonds.
Once it became clear that Bonds wasn’t going to be around forever, Sabean still didn’t believe in shoring it up through player development. He wasted picks on players that had potential, but passed up some really good raw talent and didn’t focus on developing the talent that he did have in his system.
But the batch of moves made on Oct. 10 shows the commitment that has risen anew in the Giants' organization: build from within.
It worked for the A’s across the Bay, and Sabean doesn’t have the fire-sale mentality that Billy Beane has. These players released Friday represented both things that were banes to Sabean: player development and importance of the draft. It also proved that he is willing to let go of that mentality that got the Giants to the point of being a rudderless ship without the offense of Bonds to guide them.
Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia were part of Sabean’s early efforts to develop pitching off high draft picks. The old strategy was to draft pretty good talent and then use it as bargaining chips in the trade market. This is how the Giants lost out on Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Salomon Torres. When Hennessey and Correia were drafted, Sabean made a decision to take these picks and try to grow them into aces.
Before this, the Giants and their free-agent binging had cost them a load of early draft picks. In 2005, the offseason signings of Armando Benitez (bust), Moises Alou (mixed), Omar Vizquel and Mike Matheny (successes), resulted in them not having a draft pick until the fourth round. That didn’t quite work out, and Sabean realized that he had to go another route.
Hennessey was a first-round pick in 2001, and Correia was a fourth rounder in 2002. By jettisoning these two guys, Sabean has embraced the fact that his old ideas no longer work. After that draft, the Giants started picking up really great talent and were no longer trading these good pitchers away.
In 2003, Brian Wilson was groomed out of the 24th round to become one of the league’s most consistent closers. The next year, Jonathan Sanchez was drafted in the 27th round. He was solid for the first half this year, but faltered when faced with a full major-league season. 2005 brought in rookies Alex Hinshaw (15th) and Sergio Romo (28th).
Finally, for the first time in three years, the Giants had a first-round pick in 2006. That brought in Tim Lincecum, arguably the best pitcher in the National League this year. Emmanuel Burriss, who was also drafted later in that same round, has garnered the starting-shortstop position next season.
In 2007, the Giants had three first-round picks, spending two of them on pitchers Madison Bumgardner and Tim Alderson, both of whom tore it up in their first full minor-league seasons.
In the last two years alone, during which Barry Bonds was hurt, the free-agent Band-aids weren’t working, and there was no hope in the minors. Brian Sabean hired Dick Tidrow, and the focus on player development began. The pitchers that used to be trade bait were now being groomed into vital members of the staff.
Sabean has one last chance with these fans to prove that he is committed to the future, and by releasing Hennessey and Correia, and also cutting ties with Walker, a “fan favorite” whom Sabean and Bochy always defended, he is well on his way to doing that.
*This article was edited by Daniel Penza before publication