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San Francisco Giants: Will the real Brian Sabean stand up?

By Mark ONeill
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Every vessel needs a navigator and the the San Francisco Giants have the longest tenured pilot in Major League Baseball, in Brian Sabean, their general manager. Not only is he heading into his eighteenth season at the helm, he has guided the Orange and Black through unchartered waters, to achieve the highest level of success in the National League over a five-year period of time, since the GasHouse gang of the 1940’s.

MLB’s Richard Justice posted an article Wednesday, “Sabean the master of getting roster right,” that addresses precisely why it is that Sabean is so good at what he does.

There appear to be two different Brian Sabeans aboard this ship.

This article appeared on Bleacher Report the same morning as a piece entitled, “Yoan Moncada free to sign, would save the Giants’ offseason.” There would appear to be a difference of opinion here. Which is the more accurate?

My intent is not to delve into the specifics of each article, because the two are unrelated in the sense that neither was written as a result of the other. My purpose is merely to echo Justice’s sentiment that rather than having to still do something to “save” a sinking ship, Sabean has accomplished much in dry-dock, to retrofit the Giants’ destroyer.

A key component to the process of transitioning from the giddy success of 2014, to the gritty business of the camp about to open in the desert, is the need to refocus on the pluses and wishes of the previous season, as opposed to the pluses and minuses. It’s kind of picky to snivel about “minuses” in a year in which another parade was held in downtown San Francisco. If the first two were excellent, Number Three was sublime.

Jul 5, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Michael Morse (38) cannot come up with the ball on a line drive by San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley (not pictured) during the ninth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

What might the Giants have wished for in a left fielder, besides a player with a heart the size of his glove? What Michael Morse brought to the playing field and dugout, cannot be glossed over as just another power hitter whose sixteen home runs did not represent the sum total of what he provided for the club, in their quest for three. That being said though, one might have wished for a little tighter defense and even at times, an altered approach at the plate, than the effort to place one of those majestic, opposite-field rockets into the stands.

Sabean has much experience trying to obtain a power-hitting left-fielder for AT&T Park, an oxymoron in terms of matching that commodity with that ball-yard, if ever there was one, Barry Bonds notwithstanding. That’s part of the problem for Sabes; how does he attract a power hitter in the first place who wants to follow in those footsteps, no matter that a few years have gone by? Barry Bonds may not have built AT&T PArk, but his presence there paid a big chunk of it off.

So Sabean, already having watched the Giants utilize the epitome of what is generally referred to as National League ball-newcomers call it small ball-went out and acquired a player named Nori Aoki. Last season Aoki was playing for Kansas City when the Giants visited, and helped swab the deck using the Orange and Black as a mop.

You may remember the game of Sunday, August 10th, in which Aoki opened the bottom of the first with an infield hit off of Tim Lincecum, stole second and scored on a double by just-turned-Oakland A, Billy Butler. In the second he drew a walk and then after a coach’s visit to the mound, pilfered second base while Jarrod Dyson was swiping third.

Yet one more time in the bottom of the fourth, Aoki singled and stole second before coming home on Salvador Perez’ home run. One game does not a season make, but one game can sure attract the attention of skipper of another team. Aoki committed larceny with impunity as the Royals racked up seven thefts in all, during that three-game series, along with a sweep of the free-falling Giants.

Aoki does not have to have three hits and three stolen bases every game to contribute to Giants success. He will find that the Giants do not rely on one player to do it all, but rather on each to do his best to wrestle one more unit of ninety feet, away from the opposition. The opposition does everything in its power to guard against the big blast and the well-placed screamer down the line.

Aug 29, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (16) greets second baseman Joe Panik (12) at home plate after Giants catcher Buster Posey (not pictured) hit a two RBI triple in the fifth inning of their MLB baseball game with the Milwaukee Brewers at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

That’s why it’s so smart to pursue alternate means of getting it done. As dominant as Clayton Kershaw is, he cannot prevent an infield dribbler by Aoki that morphs into a hit in the box-score, as well as right in front of fans’ eyes. The ensuing grounder to the right side by Joe Panik, advances Aoki to second, and then he alertly takes third on Brandon Belt’s fly ball to medium-deep right field. Aoki scores when the normally sure-handed Yasil Puig, drops a pop fly to the right field side when his attention is inadvertently diverted by a fan brushing her hair. She happened to be holding a mirror.

In this hypothetical-but realistic-scenario-Jake Peavy, 14-3 lifetime against LA, throws six innings of shut-out ball and stomps back to the dugout, obviously irate at his removal from the game. On comes the fearsome foursome of Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla, not necessarily in that order, and they polish the captain’s brass by retiring the final nine batters, in order.

Justice’s point was that Sabean does things right; the other article screams out, “Failure!” Sabean “failed” when Pablo Sandoval accepted a dubious assignment in a town known to have booed Ted Williams. He “failed” to convince Jon Lester that Chicago was less likely to win a world series title than San Francisco, and of course, he “failed” to sign a [fill-in-the-blank] power-hitting, Barry Bonds-type player/top-echelon starting pitcher/five-tool/can’t-miss Cuban prospect.

That’s a lot of failure right there unless you look at the chronology. First came the attempts to cajole high-priced marquee players onto the bridge of the ship, who weren’t interested. Conscription having gone out of vogue at some point before the filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” Brian Sabean really cannot be said to have done that dastardly of a deed. It would be referred to simply as kidnaping today.

Being as Justice described, a GM who understands that the process of retrofitting is ongoing, rather than remain locked in a Panama Canal-like rigidity, Sabean swung the bow of the vessel to the port side-or was it the starboard-and went after Casey McGehee. He is another tailor-made addition to AT&T Park.

Casey McGehee does not have to become Pablo Sandoval. All he has to do is play his game.  Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Casey-with-the-bat is not likely to inspire any epic odes, but he is more than capable of delivering a eulogy or two over the untimely demise of a worthy opponent. He plays aggressive, heads-up ball, and can’t rely on hippie detergent to get his uniform clean. Who would have thought that when the dust of the winter had risen and we saw what had occurred, there would be Aoki out in left and McGehee plugging third.

How many home runs did the two new arrivals combine to hit last season? The answer is five. The specific number of four-baggers each hit in 2014, is not as important as how many runners they will advance, how many doubles they will send into a gap, or how many ducksnorts they will spit out, just along the third base line, as a runner is streaking towards second base and has the play aligned in front of him.

Those are the actions of players who adjust every swing of the bat to the situation on hand. As much as all Giants fans idolized certain elements of Sandoval’s game, all fans also got accustomed to synchronized gasping, as in, “Pablo. Dude. You’re good and I’ve seen you hit similar pitches before, but you would have needed to use a bat-stretcher in advance, to catch up with that one.”

Flailing got Sandoval many a timely base knock and no one is trying to say that he is not a clutch hitter. What he is not, however, is a situational hitter who is capable at will of being able to shorten up on the bat, realign his feet, and WAIT for a pitch that will allow him to accomplish the most good.

He is one of the best eye-hand specialists in the industry. Why can’t his eyes convince his hands to note that some of those pitches are are not only out of the strike zone, they’re practically in the next time zone? He bailed out the Giants a lot and kept the morale afloat at times, and he will never be forgotten for that.

In Casey McGehee, San Francisco has a player who will play with intensity and passion, and we have seen how that translates into a supporting cast of players around an intense third baseman. Together with Nori Aoki, the two will produce comparable numbers to the recently-departed Morse and Sandoval, except in the home run department.

There’s more than one way to hook a Trout, and along with him a team that is due some payback. If you can’t beat them with home runs, find a way that works, as the Giants did in 2012, when they were dead last in home runs in major league baseball, but first in the hunt for Orange October. Sabean was the architect of that team also.

I know. Weird.

October 31, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Confetti falls around the San Francisco Giants team and staff during the World Series victory celebration at City Hall. The Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers in a four-game sweep to win the 2012 World Series. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

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