The Making of the Next Great Giants Villain

mcgee

In the wake of Pablo Sandoval’s departure this offseason, I spent a lot more time and energy rambling about Panda’s career and legacy with the Giants than I did pondering the prospects of the man who would serve as his replacement at third base. However, one simple tweet of mine from November summed up quite succinctly, I believe, my feelings on Casey McGehee as the Giants’ new third baseman. Summed it up better than any 8,000-word article of mine could, in fact:

Now, notice that my unparalleled genius is on display here for reasons twofold. First, that tweet was dated November 19, 2014. The Giants traded for McGehee on December 20, 2014. Second, “it” (that being McGehee’s tenure as a Giant) has not gone well, at all. So you see, I knew the Grand Casey McGehee Experiment was going to be a disaster a full month before it actually started. All hail me.

Let us not mince words. McGehee, as everyone knows, has been abysmal. After Wednesday’s loss to the Dodgers, he’s hitting .169 and he’s been grounding into double plays at a rate that would make A.J. Pierzynski blush (8 GIDPs in 16 games, to be exact). “Hits” McGehee pretty much turned into “Shits” McGehee the second he put on a Giants uniform.

Now, we should let a month’s worth of cold bat, especially at the beginning of the season, slide. Sadly, that’s not how the Twitterverse works. McGehee is the latest Giants player to be raked across the coals online on a nightly basis, and many Giants fans (not just the beer-drunk KNBR callers) are saying it’s already time to move on.

Actually, that’s putting it all too nicely. Some Giants fans want the team to move on, but not until after McGehee is beaten and stomped and chained to the bottom of McCovey Cove. McGehee has been the recipient of the sort of venom from Giants fans that I haven’t seen since the Armando Benitez days of yore. I mean, read that article. Some asshole actually wants the McGehee to die in a fiery inferno because he’s hitting a buck-sixty. The Internet: I get older, the man-children on it stay the same age.

Back on planet Earth, let’s ask if there actually is reason to believe that McGehee is going to rebound. Just based on the fact that he’s a career .262 hitter, which is 100 points higher than his current average, then the answer is yes. Is there reason to believe he’ll actually turn out to be a good hitter over the course of the season? This is where it gets murky.

Proponents will point out that McGehee had a higher OBP than Pablo Sandoval last year and he was a solidly above-average hitter for an NL third baseman. Critics will counter that he slugged just .357, hit just .243/.310/.310 in the second half, and (fancy this) led the league by grounding into 31 double plays. Add in the fact that he had washed out of baseball year before last and evidence is mounting that maybe McGehee isn’t a worthy successor to the Panda’s throne.

This isn’t meant to pile on McGehee. He isn’t the first hitter to have one horrible month where he can’t hit water falling out of a boat. Hell, Giants fans should be all too familiar with this; Sandoval himself hit a lousy .177/.262/.302 in April last year and he turned out fine. Give McGehee another month to right himself and maybe he’ll hit .296, like he did in May of last year.

So the Giants’ big offseason acquisition might look like a bust now, but let’s not overreact to what is still in the arena of small sample size. I realize that telling fans on Twitter and the Internets not to overreact is like telling the scorpion not to sting the fucking frog, but a player, especially a new player playing in a brutal park on hitters, deserves at least two (two-and-a-half?) months before earning our scorn. McGehee looks lost at the moment, but I’m cautiously optimistic about his season-long prospects, maybe just for the sole purpose of serving as the token dickhead contrarian. I unabashedly predict that he’ll end the season hitting something like .280/.340/.380, which would certainly be acceptable production.

Besides, the Giants traded for McGehee (cheaply, I might add) fully knowing that he was just a one-year plan. Worst case scenario here: McGehee stinks for a couple months and the Giants give Matt Duffy a shot. That’s not a sky-is-falling situation. I can, however, think of an even more terrifying scenario. A scenario where McGehee rights the ship, hits just well enough to be above-average from here on out, and the Giants rashly hand him a three-year deal this offseason. Now that’s a scenario that should have Giants fans losing sleep at night.

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Five Quick Takes from the Giants Opening Series Win Against the Dbacks

giantsdbacks

The Giants are currently on pace to win 108 games. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s the second week of April, not late-August, so that means, well, less than nothing. The Giants just wrapped up a series victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, taking two out of three at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks project to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year and feature one of the most rotten pitching cores in the National League, so this wasn’t exactly a true test of the Giants’ early season mettle. Giants fans will take it, however. It’s great to get the season off on the winning track, but they’ll face stiffer competition against the Padres this weekend in Petco, a park the Giants never seem to play well in.

It’s hot take time, which means every lazy, sleep-deprived writer’s fallback device, the list! Here are five takeaways from the Giants’ opening series win in Arizona

The Giants have a lot of injuries. Let’s see, we knew Hunter Pence would be out for the season’s first few weeks. Now Matt Cain is on the DL again, Jake Peavy is fighting a dead arm, and Brandon Belt hurt his groin chasing a foul ball in Tuesday’s game. What is this, 2013? Angel Pagan hasn’t even gone down with his annual back injury yet.

I guess if the Giants are going to get bitten by the injury bug again, they might as well get it out of the way early. It’s disheartening to see Cain hurt again. The more this goes on, the less likely it seems that the old hoss is coming back. Belt’s injury apparently isn’t serious (he’s not going to the DL), but we had enough of Constantly Injured Brandon Belt last year. This is his fifth season in the bigs and we still really don’t quite know what he is. All I ask for is a full season of health from him to lend some answers that question.

The top of the Giants’ order might be pretty good. Nori Aoki and Angel Pagan tore it up this series, and those two combined with Joe Panik and his contact-heavy stroke might make for a damned good top of the order. A lot hinges on Pagan staying healthy, obviously, but there’s some serious high-on-base potential from these three guys.

The rap on the Giants’ offense so far is the glaring lack of pop. That is a major concern, but what the Giants do have is a collection of good contact hitters who can slap singles and doubles and put the ball in play. That might seem like something we would have pooh-poohed back in the Moneyball-obsessed 2004 era, but in this day and age of historic strikeout rates, that’s pretty valuable. The Giants need to look no further than their 2014 World Series opponent to see a team that succeeded with just that approach. The top three hitters in the batting order were the catalysts this series and if they can keep it up and not be swallowed alive by the BABIP monster, the Giants should have an above-average offense despite the lack of gaudy home run numbers.

Roberto Kelly is no Tim Flannery. Okay, so this is unfair after just a couple of games, but boy did Kelly get off to an inauspicious debut as the Giants’ third base coach on Monday. In the third inning of the opener, with Aoki on first base, Panik ripped a gapper to right-center field. Aoki tore around second and looked primed to score on the play, but Kelly threw up a late…very late…stop sign. Kelly’s delayed hold sign totally discombobulated Aoki, who turned third base, put on the brakes at the last second, and then got hung up between third and home plate. It was an embarrassing moment all around and the Twitterverse was aflutter with calls for Flan Man to come out of retirement. Let’s hope this kind of thing doesn’t become a regular occurrence.

Madison Bumgarner might be in line for a Steve Carlton 1972-type season. The Giants have all kinds of issues with their pitching staff, but good lord, Madison Bumgarner is just unhittable. The ridiculous thing is that on Monday he clearly wasn’t all that sharp and yet he still basically carved up the Dback lineup (which has some pretty good hitters, mind you) for seven innings.

Again, the Giants have a lot of questions with their starting rotation, and it takes no great stretch of the imagination to see the team imploding behind an aging, injured, and suddenly ineffective pitching staff. Which means that Bumgarner might do something like win 20 games for a crappy team. The most famous example of this kind of phenomenon is Steve Carlton’s 1972 season, when he won 27 games for a miserable Phillies team that won just 59.

I’m not saying I think the Giants are going to be bad. The pitching just worries me, and if the season does spin out of control, it’ll be the starters that do the team in. If that happens, look for myriad ESPN columns comparing Bummy to 1972 Carlton.

Congratulations, Chris Heston. Chris Heston, erstwhile projected AAA lifer, earned his first major league win on Wednesday by tossing six innings without giving up an earned run. With that win, Heston passes Robin Yount’s brother on the all-time list.

Seriously, though, it was a nice moment for a pitcher who was thrown into the mix as an emergency stopgap. Heston figures to get at least another start with the Giants going two weeks before their first off day. Hell, maybe he’s the 2015 version of the 2011 version of Ryan Vogelsong, but with his yawn-inducing minor league numbers, we should all be happy if he’s simply better than Ryan Sadowski.

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Strangers to Modest Mouse

modesmous

 

I can’t believe it’s actually here. When I sat down, plugged in my headphones, and closed my eyes for my first listen to Modest Mouse’s new album, Strangers To Ourselves, I thought I was dreaming. After eight years of speculation, lots of weird rumors and a few lineup changes mixed in, one of indie rock’s most celebrated band is finally back with new studio material, and not a moment too soon.

For a time, it seemed like band leader Isaac Brock had decided to follow the Harper Lee guide to releasing new stuff. Not six months ago I got on Reddit’s Modest Mouse fan community and posted a surly reply to some poster who was trying to guess when Modest Mouse’s new album was going to be released. Basically, in my grumpy Reddit comment, I complained that I had long lost any hope that a new album would ever see the light of day. Sure, there were rumors, like that of the strange collaboration between Isaac Brock and Big Boi, and, yeah, they had played a bunch of new stuff in concert. After eight years, though, as 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank sailed further and further into the past and as their tour stops became more and more fleeting, it seemed that any new Modest Mouse album was a dream destined to be unrealized.

It didn’t help that Eric Judy, Modest Mouse’s original bassist, co-founding member, and heart and soul, up and left in late-2011, leaving the band without a bassist (they finally settled on Russell Higbee, formerly of Man Man). They also lost Johnny Marr, the famed former guitarist for The Smiths, who left after We Were Dead; they replaced him with Jim Fairchild. They also added Lisa Molinaro of Talkdemonic and replaced a drummer, and it was this turnover that contributed to the gap between albums (many fans are still holding out the probably futile hope that Judy rejoins the band one day).

Oh, they’ve been active in that time. They’ve still toured and they’ve still done the music festival thing*. They even broke out new songs here and there while out on tour (we’ll get to that later). So it was frustrating for fans to see them out there doing stuff and playing live while not giving their hungry fans a new album to chomp on.

*One of those festivals was Coachella in 2013. Modest Mouse’s performance on the first weekend of the festival that year has become semi-notorious because of what an utter train wreck it was. I had the misfortune of attending that disaster in person, one of the most crushing disappointments of my life as a music fan.

About three songs in, it was clear that Isaac Brock was drunk and/or high off his ass and the set devolved quickly. The sound was incredibly poor, Isaac spent a good five minutes rambling some nonsensical bullshit, then sang “Hakuna Matata” for some reason, and it all ended with the band going over their set time, resulting in them having their sound cut off right in the middle of “Float On”. For masochists, here’s the ugly affair in its entirety.

Well, it’s here, and I’ve been playing the damn thing on a non-stop loop since last Monday. Before I give my overall opinion of Strangers To Ourselves, here are some stray thoughts and/or comments that I had upon my first week of listens.

—First things first. I’ve been waiting for “Pups To Dust” for four years. Four long years. Back in April or May of 2011, the Portland, Oregon-based documentary series called Don’t Move Here (which focuses mainly on the indie music scene in and around Portland) did a ten minute tour of Isaac Brock’s house. The short video is now somewhat famous among Mouse fans, and in it we learn, among other things, that Brock is a huge fan of taxidermy. At the end, Brock and other members of the band rip into a brand, spanking new song, which unfortunately fades out after about two minutes.

With its catchy hook and upbeat, toe-tappable sound, fans took to it quickly. Personally, I loved it. The song wasn’t named in the video, so fans simply dubbed it “Give It Enough”, and the legend began.

For fans, this song became as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster. After the documentary aired, not a shred was heard or seen of the song from that point on. Not even a freaking rumor. Even as the band was breaking out new material in concert, there wasn’t a trace of “Give It Enough” anywhere. After four years, many began to lose hope that it would ever see the light of day, with more than a few pointing out that the since-departed Eric Judy was on bass in the video, so thus it may have been thrown in the dustbin.

Alas, our own personal Sasquatch was found: “Give It Enough” appears on Strangers to Ourselves as “Pups to Dust”. The lyrics have changed a bit and the tempo is sped up, but it’s the same song, and it’s glorious. Many fans are already listing it as among the best songs on the album, and it was definitely worth the wait.

For those who have never seen it, here is “Pups to Dust” in its original incarnation (with Eric Judy!):

—My personal favorite song on Strangers is a song that sounds like one of Aesop’s Fables gone horribly awry. “The Tortoise and the Tourist” is an angsty track that harkens back to Moon and Antarctica, and is the darkest on the album. It continues the album’s general theme of man’s destructive relationship with nature and is easily the most cynical of them all. That’s just the ways I likes it.

Listening to it the first time, I was immediately reminded of “The Stars are Projectors”, which, not coincidentally, is my favorite Moon and Antarctica song. Maybe it says something about me that my favorite track is one so clearly reminiscent of the old days and not one more fresh-sounding (must be the hipster in me), but I don’t think it’s a bad thing when a band, while continuing to evolve and experiment and generally leaving the past behind (as Modest Mouse generally does in this album) still offers up a track or two that reminds fans why they started listening in the first place.

—Any hardcore Modest Mouse fan is already familiar with much of the material on Strangers already. As mentioned before, the band has been breaking out new material in their concerts since 2011, and eight of the fifteen songs on the album have already been played live in that time frame at one point or another (that doesn’t include “Pups to Dust”). “Lampshades on Fire” is the oldest and most frequently-played of the bunch, having been initially broken out way back in May of 2011, and having been played a whopping 33 times in concert before the album even came out. Makes sense that it turned into the new album’s first single, I guess. It is pretty catchy.

I like to think that I have some kind of fanboy bragging rights for some of these songs, as I was in attendance at shows where a few of these songs first were broken out for the first time ever. In 2012, I was there when Modest Mouse played at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater and debuted “Sugar Boats” (it was originally called “Heart of Mine”, according to the taped set list at the show).* They also played “Ansel” for only the second time ever.

*This show was probably the only time in my post-age-21 life that I’ve endured an entire concert stone cold sober. Stanford was re-opening the famed Frost Amphitheater after like a two-decade hiatus, and the venue was completely dry and (officially) smoke-free. Of course, that didn’t stop Isaac Brock from rolling onstage with a cigarette in hand, drinking something that most assuredly wasn’t water from a red plastic cup. For the record, the jam during “Breakthrough” at this show stands as one of the most amazing moments of any concert I’ve ever been to.

I was also at Fox Theater in Oakland in April of 2013, when they played “Be Brave” and “Shit in Your Cut” for the first time ever to an audience. That show was devoid of the usual energy the band takes with them onstage and was a disappointment, but it was miles better than the train wreck that transpired at Coachella two days later.

I distinctly remember, for whatever reason, Isaac Brock not playing the distinctive guitar riff of “Shit in Your Cut” at that show, instead merely singing vocals and not playing any instrument at all. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Modest Mouse play a song where Isaac wasn’t playing something, and I remember being confused and scared (and drunk, definitely drunk).

For the record, the list of songs from Strangers that debuted live before the album came out is “Lampshades on Fire”, “Shit in Your Cut”, “Ansel”, “Pistol”, “Coyotes”, “Sugar Boats”, and “Be Brave”. “God is an Indian and You’re an Asshole” was teased at one show last year as a segue into “Dark Center of the Universe”, so I guess we’ll count that, too. So, along with “Pups to Dust”, that’s nine of the fifteen tracks that were already heard, in some form, before the album was released (or leaked, whatever). Yes, I typed that list by heart, and yes, I am an irredeemable dweeb. Do I get Modest Mouse nerd street cred for knowing all that?

—Here’s a very early version of “Ansel” from that Stanford show:

I loved “Ansel” when I first heard it at that venue, and the studio version lives up to my early expectations. The album version is basically the same as the early live version, with some added lyrics at the very end. The song is about the death of Isaac’s brother in a climbing accident and contains some of the most poignant lyrics in the band’s history (which is really saying something). “The last time that you get to see another soul/No, you never get to know/No, you just don’t know.” C’mon, try not to shed a tear at that.

—I’m forming a higher opinion of “Pistol” with each passing day just due to the amount of hate it’s getting from fans, and the contrarian in me is eating it up. Without a doubt, “Pistol” is the most un-Modest Mouse song to ever grace one of their albums. It’s a (clearly intentionally) trashy dance number that contains the most overtly sexual lyrics in the band’s long history. I’m guessing Brock intended it as a send up of trash club music, but if that’s not the case, I don’t know what the hell is going on with “Pistol”, and I’m clearly not the only one.

Fans online are just demolishing it, and one published album review (that otherwise praised the album) called the song a disaster. It’s definitely a shocker when heard for the first time, and I could do without whatever that is distorting Isaac’s voice, but I don’t hate it. I’d rank it low on the list of my favorite songs from Strangers, but I’m not one of the legions of fans pissing on it. It’s different, and credit the band for trying something new. Maybe it doesn’t work entirely, but I’d rather that they try something like this and swing and miss than regurgitate “Dashboard” over and over again.

—My least favorite song on Strangers is “Wicked Campaign”, which begins like a bad Kings of Leon knockoff and ends like milquetoast background music for an airline commercial. It’s not terrible, but it’s pretty weaksauce for a group that made its name with bristling vocals and high-pitched, energy-packed guitar riffs and jams. And James Mercer, I love ya, and I especially love Broken Bells, but stay off my Modest Mouse albums.

—One new song that popped up in concert during the band’s album hiatus that wasn’t included on Strangers to Ourselves was something called “Poison the Well”, a rocker that sounds straight out of We Were Dead that was played roughly a dozen times from 2011 to 2012. There was a lot of speculation that it would show up on Strangers, but it’s curiously missing. Isaac Brock has stated in recent interviews that there is still a ton of material that has been recorded for the next album, which they’re apparently going to release very soon (yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it). Maybe “Poison the Well” is included in that, or maybe it was scrapped or is being reworked. In any event, here is the song, for the curious. It’s not half-bad.

——————–

I think it was fair to be completely skeptical of Strangers To Ourselves after the long layoff and especially after Eric Judy called it quits. However, I have to say that I’m completely satisfied with this effort, and as a hardcore fan of this band for years now, I consider myself pretty hard to please. Isaac Brock has stated in interviews that he took so much time putting the album together because he didn’t want to rush out a subpar work, saying releasing an album “isn’t a race”. Better to take your time and perfect a record than paste together a mediocre piece of crap.

If that’s the case it certainly paid off. The album flows well and contains just the right combination of loud, high-energy songs (the Mouse’s trademark), with slower, more deliberate stuff like “Coyotes”. This album definitely has a latter-day Modest Mouse sound, so it certainly won’t appease that subsection of fans who refuse to acknowledge anything from Good News for People Who Love Bad News on (you know who you are). In fact, “Lampshades on Fire”, “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box”, and “Be Brave” all sound like they came straight out of Good News.

For those fans who have the ability to recognize the post-Lonesome Crowded West, lo-fi days, though, I think there’s a whole lot to like here. All of Brock’s trademark wordplay is back (“Honest to God/I was honest as hell”), and a lot of the songs just flat out rock. I absolutely can’t wait to see how awesome “Tortoise and the Tourist” will be when the band plays it live.

I once quipped (again, on Reddit) that this album should have been titled “It’s Been a Long Time Coming, but Not Soon Enough”. I’m not sure that makes a whole hell of a lot of sense, but the bottom line is Strangers To Ourselves has proven to be worth the wait and it lives up to the lofty standards that this band, considered one of the godfathers of indie music, has set for itself.

And if that isn’t happy enough news for you, it looks like we won’t have to wait another eight years for their next one.

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2015 Giants Predictions (That May or May Not Be Bonkers)

Being a working stiff means that I have to miss out on one of the year’s true joys: the first baseball game on the radio. Sure, it’s an exhibition game, rife with scrubs trotting in from the outfield with triple digits on their back, but it’s baseball! On the radio! After four long months without Jon Miller, Dave Flemming, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow perpetually narrating the summer background, even hearing one of them describe a weak Casey McGehee chopper (why do I feel like we’ll be seeing lots of those?) is like a breath of fresh air.

Sadly, once you get past the initial elation and euphoria that baseball is back in some form, you’re hit in the face with the blunt realization that exhibition baseball games kinda suck. Don’t get me wrong, I love the spring positional battles and the dogfights for the 25th roster spot, but the fact that more than half of the players are either just getting tuned up or just flat out don’t care kind of puts a damper on everything. Then you get games that end in ties, like today’s Giants game against the Dodgers. After a couple of these, it’s hard to really bring yourself to turn on one of these March games, unless you need background noise while you paint the fence or something.

What I do find interesting are predictions. Specifically, my predictions, which I promise this year will be only moderately alcohol-fueled. It’s that time, in this space, to do some quick and dirty prognosticating and see which players will lead which statistical categories for the Giants this season. Then, at the end of the year, when all of these predictions are 100% accurate, we can all come back here and bask at what a baseball genius I am. And the answer to your inevitable questions that will come this October as to whether or not I’m actually Branch Rickey reincarnated…yes. Yes, I absolutely am.

Of course, if all of this turns out to be nonsense and Brandon Crawford hits 50 home runs and I’m wrong on everything, well…hey, I’m just vomiting drunk and typing random numbers on a keyboard in my underwear when I should be resting for work. What the hell do I know? See, it’s no-lose! If predictions come true, I’m a god. Predictions are terrible? Blame the 750 of Gordon’s I just murdered and this whole thing an inexact science, and you can’t predict baseball anyway. Heck, who could have predicted the Giants would go on to win the World Series when they were playing like a Pacific Coast League team last July?

Of course, these are predictions, which are a much different animal than projections. Projections actually have some method behind them. Real, no fooling smart people take a player’s history, age, size, and the history of dozens and dozens of similar players at and up to his age, blend it all together, and try to take as accurate a picture as they can as to exactly how said player will perform in the coming year. This has a lot of utility in major league front offices, obviously, because if they can semi-accurately predict how well a player will produce, they can consequently also have a pretty good idea of exactly how much they want to pay him. The most famous projection systems include Baseball Prospectus‘s PECOTA, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS, and Steamer, which is currently featured on Fangraphs.

This, uh…won’t be one of those. So if you’re the type who prefers your baseball preseason picks to be done with a bit of scientific method, as opposed to reading the manic scribblings of an unhinged asshole, now’s probably the time to back away from the computer slowly.

While I appreciate the tireless work and laboriousness that goes along with those popular forecasting systems, personally, I don’t find them very interesting. They all more or less spit out the same thing, and don’t really tell you anything you can’t already glean or back-of-napkin yourself. You can pretty much set your watch to the results that these things produce every year. If a player is 26 or older, take his numbers from the previous year, regurgitate a conservative replication of those numbers and, if you’re PECOTA, shave off ten to fifteen games from the player’s total, and you have it. If a player is younger than 26, project his numbers a tad more liberally. It’s the same every year, and it’s why I don’t madly rush to read when these are released every season.

I know this makes me sound like an old anti-stats dinosaur, but hear me out. I find it more interesting to read some columnist’s totally unscientific predictions because they have the chance to be a little bit more bold. Yes, they could turn out to be utter lunacy, but at least when you get a group of salty writers going off of intuition and gut feel or whatever, you’re going to get a whole slew of differing results. Get PECOTA, ZiPS, and Steamer together, ask them how Yasiel Puig is going to do in 2015, and they’re all basically going to tell you the same thing (and they totally do…look it up). That just isn’t interesting in the slightest, if you ask me.

So that’s why my predictions come to you from exactly where they should always be: pulled directly from my ass. Before this diatribe starts to go on like a Philip K. Dick drug trip, here are my picks for the Giants’ 2015 batting leaders.

And a giraffe shall lead them all. A baby giraffe, no less.

And a giraffe shall lead them all. A baby giraffe, no less.

AVG: Buster Posey, .305
R: Hunter Pence, 85
H: Hunter Pence, 175
HR: Brandon Belt, 32
RBI: Brandon Belt, 97
SB: Nori Aoki, 23
BB: Brandon Belt, 70

That’s right. Your Completely Insane Giants Prediction for 2015 is that Brandon Belt will hit 32 home runs, a whopping fifteen more than his career high. Actually, it’s not that insane. Belt did hit nine home runs in the first six weeks of the season last year before Paul Maholm broke his thumb with a pitch. Anyone who remembers his bomb off of Jason Motte in the 2012 playoffs knows that he has power that even AT&T Park can’t contain. It’s just a matter of turning on fat pitches and consistently driving them long and far. Belt has also shown enough contact skill as a major leaguer to lead me to believe that he could even crank 30 homers without striking out a million times. Not insane. Not.

Casey McGehee is nowhere near these leaderboards. I just thought I’d mention that. I do think Nori Aoki will have a successful year on the bases, all while endearing himself to the Orange and Black faithful. Angel Pagan’s injury woes scared me away from picking him to lead in stolen bases or runs scored.

Hunter Pence’s injury is an unspeakable tragedy. Our seemingly indestructable alien cyborg hero was felled by a pitch from someone we’ve never heard of. It could have been worse, though, and he’ll likely only miss a month of the season. I still think he’ll accumulate enough hits and runs, as usual, to lead the team.

Just when you thought this man couldn't get any more awesome.

Just when you thought this man couldn’t get any more awesome.

W: Madison Bumgarner, 17
IP: Bumgarner, 213
K: Bumgarner, 205
ERA: Bumgarner, 2.98
SV: Santiago Casilla, 37

Well, that was certainly boring. It would have been fun and all to throw some variety in here, but Bumgarner is far and away the Giants’ best pitcher, so it’d be ridiculous not to have him owning the team’s pitching leaderboards. I can’t let myself off that easy, though. Here a couple of predictions for the rest of the staff.

Tim Lincecum finishes with an ERA under 4.00. Is this overly optimistic? Probably. Lincecum hasn’t sniffed the underside of a four ERA since 2011, so why on earth do I think he’ll get his act together now? Two magical words: blind hope. That’s a legitimate reason, right? Lincecum will get some idea of how to pitch with reduced velocity this season, toss up 190 innings of 3.80 ERA ball, and the Giants will re-sign him to another two-year deal after the season. My stomach is already churning.

Matt Cain finishes with more than 180 innings pitched. Remember the days when, if you had predicted only 180 innings for Matt Cain, you’d have been guffawed out of the room? Now that even that goal stretches the line of credulity. Cain will probably miss out on 200 innings, but not because of injury, simply because the Giants will probably ease up on him after he missed half the season last year. Whether he’ll be the old horse in those 180-ish innings is anyone’s guess. He’s been pretty mediocre for two years running, but it’s hard to tell if that mediocrity is the result of the bone chips in his elbow or if he’s just plain getting old.

Tim Hudson makes the All-Star Team again and rides off into the sunset a Good Giant. This would be too much fun. I think Huddy will get off to another strong start, with antsy hitters pounding all of his sinking stuff into the ground, and, at the least, he’ll make the All-Star Game as a sentimental pick, a symbolic pat on the butt for what has been a long and superlative career.

Curtis Partch is this year’s out-of-nowhere effective reliever. The Giants always find some random pitcher who develops into an integral part of the bullpen. Remember, Santiago Casilla hadn’t done a damn thing before the Giants gave him a spring invite back in 2010. Heck, his name wasn’t even Santiago Casilla back then. I wildly predict that Partch will be the next one. He averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball last year, but he’s never had any control in the majors (7.1 BB/9, ick). If Dave Righetti can work his magic and get him to spot his fastball and develop a secondary offering, we could have ourselves a bullpenite.

Hunter Strickland will learn to speak Spanish. Just kidding. I do think the Hunter Strickland saga is about at an end, though. The dude throws hard as hell but, as Bryce Harper demonstrated to the world, that don’t matter when the ball comes in straight and you don’t have anything in your repertoire to fool lefties. To wit, Strickland has already given up two home runs this spring, both to left-handed hitters. Remember Denny Bautista, who threw pure gas but had no idea where the ball was going? Strickland doesn’t have those kinds of control issues, but this ends something like Bautista’s Giants tenure, if I had to guess. At least Strickland has one other thing in common with Bautista: he has a World Series ring.

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The Best (and Worst!) Moves of Brian Sabean

Jeff Kent doing what he did best.

Jeff Kent doing what he did best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently it’s Brian Sabean Week here on Paulie Unfiltered. We’re celebrating, of course, Sabean’s ranking as the 14th-greatest baseball GM of all-time by Mark Armour and Dan Levitt. Much of the Sabean talk here has been filled with love, which is pretty good seeing as how, once upon a time, I described Sabean as…ahem…not “so much incompetent as he is just flat out insane”. So, yeah, I’ve changed my tune a bit on the man over the years. Multiple World Series victories will do that.

A few days ago, I wrote up a frightfully overlong post about Brian Sabean and how he is now generally seen as one of the better baseball general managers in the game’s long history, and how the Madison Bumgarner pick in 2007 was the turning point in the general perception of Sabean. Now here’s another frightfully- or, horrifyingly, to be more exact- overlong post about some of the big moves he’s made over the years. Sabean has never been shy about making a big trade or free agent splash in order to improve the team. Some have worked out swimmingly. Others…not so much.

Sabean’s resume includes: three World Series championships, four pennants, five division titles, and seven postseason appearances. That’s a record of success any GM would kill for. Any general manager who has been at the helm that long with that and with that many postseason appearances has certainly made some terrific moves. However, anyone holding the position for so long is also going to make some stinkers. No one is perfect. Hell, even Branch Rickey made some bad moves once in a while (when he was running the Cardinals, he traded away Johnny Mize for a pile of not much).

So let’s have some fun. Let’s look back at Sabean’s career with the Giants and pinpoint some gems, and also some real stinkers. Here are the five best moves that Brian Sabean has made, as well as the five worst. All in my not-so-humble opinion, of course.

One brief qualifier: I’m giving more weight to moves that had a direct effect on the team’s playoff chances, whether that effect was positive or negative. For instance, Neifi Perez as the starting shortstop in 2004 was a major reason that the Giants missed the playoffs that year, so that was a bad signing. Much worse, for example, than Dave Roberts, who wasn’t good but didn’t hurt a playoff run because the Giants were bad in 2007 and 2008 when Roberts was on the team.

I’m also staying away from moves that have been made in the past two years, because we aren’t 100 percent sure how they’ll turn out. The story hasn’t fully been told, to put it another way. The Hunter Pence trade looks terrific now, but there’s still time for Tommy Joseph to turn into a Hall of Fame catcher or something. Likewise, Madison Bumgarner’s contract extension looks like a jaw-dropping steal of a deal for the Giants right at this moment, but it isn’t out of the question that (God forbid) something will happen and Bumgarner won’t even be worth $12 million in 2018. So we’re sticking with the trades and signings in which we’re pretty sure the final chapter has been written.

Traded Steve Reed (and Jacob Cruz) to Indians for Jose Mesa, Shawon Dunston, and Alvin Mormon (1998)

An absolutely mind-boggling, pointless midseason trade that may have prevented the Giants from taking the NL Wild Card in ’98. The Giants hit a cold streak right at the trade deadline that year and Sabean made a series of trades to try to relight the fire under the players’ rear ends. He brought in Ellis Burks from Colorado and Joe Carter from Baltimore, and those deals worked out pretty well (Carter went on a tear in the season’s final two weeks). Unfortunately, he also traded his setup man with a 1.48 ERA for Jose Mesa, which was just an absolute disaster.

Reed, a side-arming righty, had been lights-out in the first half acting as the setup guy for Robb Nen. The Giants essentially replaced him with Mesa, who had worn out his welcome in Cleveland after coughing up a ninth inning lead in Game Seven of the World Series the year before. Neither Dunston nor Mormon brought anything to the table, but they were more or less net zeroes. Mesa had a flat out negative effect on the team. Within two weeks of joining the Giants, he had already walked in the winning run in two games. He was so unreliable that Dusty Baker’s unwillingness to use him led to this disastrous (and pivotal) game against the lowly Diamondbacks where Nen was forced into a two-inning save situation, and he subsequently ended up blowing the game.

There was just no reason to make this trade. It reeked of a trade made just to shake things up. Reed fell apart after joining Cleveland, but he didn’t pitch as bad as his ERA indicated there and he may not have imploded if he’s stayed in the NL. Dunston was washed up and Mormon was one of the worst pitchers I’ve ever seen. Mesa, meanwhile, was a player with all kinds of baggage and a history of blowing up in big situations (a kind of precursor to Armando Benitez, in fact). Why trade for a guy like that? This trade didn’t cost the 1998 Giants the Wild Card (which they lost in a heartbreaking tie-breaker game against the Cubs) all by itself, but it definitely played a major role in that team’s demise.

The Giants were left holding the bag when Carlos Beltran left as a free agent.

The Giants were left holding the bag when Carlos Beltran left as a free agent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traded Zack Wheeler to Mets for Carlos Beltran (2011)

This trade still has its defenders, who mostly argue that the Giants were in go-for-it mode and thus were justified in mortgaging part of their future starting rotation for Beltran. I don’t agree. With Buster Posey done for the year, the Giants just weren’t playoff material, and they were lucky to even finish above .500 (their win-loss record by run differential was 80-82). Even with Beltran, their offense was awful and I don’t know how anyone could have believed at the time that they could survive in the postseason, much less catch the Diamondbacks or Cardinals. Beltran was amazing in the 44 games that he played for the Giants, but he missed three weeks in August, which should have been a surprise to absolutely no one, as Beltran’s two previous seasons had been riddled with injuries. Even with Beltran raking, the Giants never seriously threatened for a playoff spot down the stretch.

The Giants (justifiably, in my opinion) didn’t have much intention of re-signing Beltran that offseason. One problem: a clause in Beltran’s contract stipulated that the Giants couldn’t offer him arbitration before he became a free agent, meaning that they weren’t entitled to a compensatory draft pick when Beltran signed with St. Louis. Ouch. Meanwhile, think of how spiffy the Giants’ rotation would look right now with Wheeler in it.

The trading away of Bill Mueller played a huge part in the Giants missing the playoffs in 2001.

The trading away of Bill Mueller played a huge part in the Giants missing the playoffs in 2001.

Traded Bill Mueller to Cubs for Tim Worrell (2000)

Worrell was a fine reliever for three seasons in San Francisco. He played a key role as setup man for Robb Nen for the 2002 pennant winners, then saved 38 games for the 2003 division winners. However, when the Giants traded away Mueller, their popular regular third baseman, it set off a chain reaction that directly led to the Giants missing the playoffs in 2001. That they traded him for a good, but certainly not great, reliever just stings.

The Giants felt that they could afford to trade Mueller at that point because they had a (presumably) perfectly good third baseman already on the roster in Russ Davis. Davis served as a bench guy the year before, but had hit for some pop in past years as a starter with Seattle, and Mueller lacked the kind of power generally desired out of a corner guy. I guess the Giants figured they wouldn’t lose much in the transition.

They figured wrong. Mueller later busted out with a monster 2003 season where he hit .326/.398/.540 for the Red Sox, but no one could have foreseen that, and he never would have put up those numbers playing in AT&T Park. What was shortsighted was the assumption that Davis was any kind of passable option as a regular third baseman. When the 2001 season began, Davis had a career .309 OBP, which was doubly atrocious in that era of wacky video game offense. Mueller, on the other hand, had a lifetime .370 OBP when he was traded away.

Mueller was also a very good fielder. Davis, as the Giants soon found out, was such a disaster in the field that he was more or less unplayable, which is funny, because come June of 2001, Davis wasn’t playing anymore; he was released after the Giants finally tired of his fielding atrocities. The Giants then settled for a combo of Ramon Martinez and Pedro Feliz to play third base over the rest of the season. Martinez wasn’t much of a hitter and had more value as a utility infielder, Feliz wasn’t ready for prime time at that point, and the position was basically a dead zone all year.

Why does that matter? Because the Giants missed the playoffs by two freaking games. The Giants that year got a 73-homer season from Barry Bonds, a 37-home run season from Rich Aurilia, and a typically awesome season from Jeff Kent, and yet somehow they only ranked fifth in the NL in runs scored. That’s two historically-great seasons and one All-Star season from a middle infielder, and they can’t make the playoffs. I mean, how does that even happen?

Well, it happened because third base, catcher, right field, and center field were utter black holes for most of the season. Granted, the Giants rectified the mistake by trading for David Bell the following season, and they actually got Mueller back at the end of 2002. Is it unreasonable to think, though, that Mueller’s glove and his .370 OBP hitting in front of Bonds, Aurilia, etc. would have added two more wins to the 2001 Giants? Probably not.

Signed Armando Benitez to three-year, $21 million deal (2005)

Following the 2004 season it didn’t seem even remotely possible that a player could ever be more hated in San Francisco than A.J. Pierzynski, but somehow Benitez pulled it off. One other underrated and awful side effect of the Pierzynski trade is that it led directly to the Benitez signing, which was a flaming disaster before the ink was dry on the contract.

To get Pierzynski, the Giants traded away Joe Nathan (for more on this, see below), a perfectly good closer candidate (for just how good, again, see below). As a result, the bullpen in 2004 was a now-legendary clusterfuck, and it was the reason the Giants missed out on October baseball that year (well, that and Neifi Perez). This led Sabean to panic-sign Benitez, who had just posted an obviously flukey 1.29 ERA with the Marlins the previous year. Benitez had been run out of New York on a rail for repeatedly choking in big moments, but apparently Brian Sabean forgot all about that.

Benitez blew lots and lots of saves with the Giants (here’s a good rundown of the gory details), and his general belligerence and tendency to shift blame to teammates after his blown saves didn’t help his cause from a PR standpoint. The fans just hated him, and with good reason. He’ll go down in the books as one of the most despised Giants ever, even moreso than Pierzynski, which is really an Olympian-level feat. By the time the Giants mercifully dumped him back on the Marlins halfway through 2007, Benitez had racked up a 4.10 ERA with the team (and a 5.18 FIP!) and fourteen blown saves in less than three seasons. Not exactly Mariano Rivera. To quote a regular commenter of the era on McCovey Chronicles: “In Soviet Russia, save blows Benitez.”

So we've come to this inevitable end.

So we’ve come to this inevitable end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to Twins for A.J. Pierzynski. (2003)

Well, we’ve finally arrived at this one. There was a period of time where this terrible trade was viewed as one that would set the Giants’ franchise back a decade. As I wrote in an article for Bay Sports Net last year, that obviously wasn’t the case. Still… Nathan went on to save 375 major league games, and was one of the best closers in baseball from 2004 to about 2009. Liriano, like so many young pitchers, fell victim to arm problems, but he still had a couple of All-Star level seasons in him. So, yeah, the trade sucked for the Giants.

As I concluded in that referenced article, this trade did clearly cost the Giants a playoff berth in 2004, but that’s probably it. They weren’t making the playoffs as constructed, even with Nathan, from 2005 to 2008, and you can even circuitously argue (enough to make your head spin) that they would have been just good enough with Nathan in those years to not draft Tim Lincecum or Buster Posey, and thus no rings.

Which of course doesn’t make this any less of a silly, stupid trade. The Giants thought they were getting a .300-hitting catcher in his prime. Instead they got a card-playing, crotch-kicking malcontent who wore out his welcome in a month. For an All-Star closer and a borderline All-Star starter (on his good days), the Giants got one year of league average production at catcher, which could have come from Yorvit Torrealba for free.

Honorable Mention: Traded Jerome Williams and David Aardsma to the Cubs for LaTroy Hawkins (2005)

To this day, I don’t get it. I hated this trade when it was made, and it’s long been sort of a Captain Ahab-style of obsession of mine, even though Aardsma and Williams didn’t exactly go on to light the world on fire. The thing is, Williams and Aardsma both still had some upside, so to trade both of them for a middle reliever who contributed very little for half a season was beyond ridiculous. The results of the trade didn’t turn out to be too terrible, which is why this only merits an honorable mention, but the thought process behind the trade was mind-boggling. It’s the kind of thinking that gets Jeff Bagwell traded for Larry Andersen.

Aardsma did save 69 games in 2009-10, so he could have been a functional reliever for a few years, or at least a decent closer when the Giants were fucking about with Brad Hennessey in the ninth inning. Williams was only 23 when they traded him. Maybe there was some behind-the-scenes stuff going on with the Big Pooka (he did have conditioning issues), but I can’t believe the Giants just gave up on him that early. Granted, he never turned into anything worthwhile, but sticking with Williams for another year and trying to iron out whatever problems he was having seems like a more worthwhile endeavor than watching Hawkins give you middle relief work that you could get on the waiver wire.

So that was fun. I mean, those were some pretty bad moves. I don’t know why it’s so fun to tear down baseball executives for awful moves they make, but it’s always entertaining, in a sick way, even if it’s happening on our own team. I guess three World Series wins are a powerful antiseptic. Anyway, here are Brian Sabean’s five best moves in the 18 years at the helm of the Giants. Ahhhh, good moves. So refreshing.

Traded Shawn Estes to Mets for Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Desi Relaford, then traded Relaford to Mariners for David Bell (2002)

For those who haven’t fallen asleep in the meantime, remember a few paragraphs up where I mentioned that the 2001 Giants missed the playoffs because they had holes all over the diamond? Well, these two trades effectively patched two of those holes and played a large part in helping the Giants get to the World Series.

Bell wasn’t an All-Star by any means, but he was a great fielder and he hit 20 home runs. He was a godsend compared to the dreck the Giants had to deal with at third base the previous year. Shinjo couldn’t really hit at all but he was an elite-level fielder in center, probably the best the Giants have seen since the opening of AT&T Park. Kirk Rueter probably has Shinjo to thank for his career-best 3.23 ERA that season. The Giants later went for offense by trading for Kenny Lofton at midseason, but Shinjo (along with free agent signee Reggie Sanders) played a big role in solidifying the team’s outfield defense, which wasn’t great in ’01.

Meanwhile, Estes never ironed out his control problems and completely imploded after leaving the Giants, posting a 5.37 ERA in 2002 and beyond. Hilariously, Dusty Baker’s love affair with him very nearly derailed the Cubs’ division title hopes in 2003 (Baker was the Cubs’ manager at that point, and his insistence on keeping Estes in the rotation, despite an ERA near 6.00, was baffling, to say the least). Relaford spent a few more years in the big leagues as an interchangeable utility guy on bad teams, so Sabean basically got two key pieces of a World Series team for table scraps.

As an aside, I think a lot of Giants fans fail to truly appreciate exactly how good that 2002 team was. I would argue that it was the best team of the Sabean era (at least so far). They won 95 games, which is more than any of the three World Series-winning teams won in those seasons. They had the run differential of a 98-win team, which was the best of any of the four playoff teams that year. They led the National League with a 110 OPS+, were tied for third with a 109 ERA+, and by the time the playoffs rolled around it was pretty clear they were the best team in the National League.

I think that the general lack of recognition of this team’s greatness is the result of A) the team winning the Wild Card instead of the division, B) the fact that they never led the division, at any point, after the middle of May, and C) a general perception, then and now, that this was Barry Bonds and the seven dwarfs, but they were a much more complete team than that*

*For a truly Bonds-centric team, you only need to fast-forward one year, to the 100-win 2003 team. That team was basically a mediocre lineup and not-so-great pitching staff anchored by Bonds and an all-world season from Jason Schmidt. In contrast to the 2002 team, their Pythagorean win total was much worse than their actual win total (93 expected wins, 100 actual wins).

That's Mr. Nen to you.

That’s Mr. Nen to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traded Joe Fontenot, Mike Pageler, and Mike Villano to Marlins for Robb Nen (1997)

What is the combined major league pitching line for Mike Pageler, Mike Villano, and Joe Fontenot? Zero wins, seven losses, 6.33 ERA. That was all Fontenot, in eight starts with the gawdawful 1998 Marlins. The other two guys washed out of the minors. This was during the Great Wayne Huizenga Fire Sale of 1998, of course, when the Marlins were giving away star players like kittens, but give me a break. They couldn’t have netted at least one quality major leaguer for their closer?

Nen turned into arguably the best closer in Giants history, saving 206 games in five seasons, with a 169 ERA+ and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He had the coolest hop/skip/jump motion to the plate ever, and his slider was something out of a Lovecraft short story. He also shagged his arm trying to get the Giants a title in the 2002 postseason, an act of self-sacrifice that makes him an inner circle Good Giant.

Savior of stray bat boys.

Savior of stray bat boys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traded Allen Watson and Fausto Macey to Angels for J.T. Snow (1996)

J.T. Snow’s best year as a major league came in his first season with the Giants, when he hit .281/.387/.510 with 28 home runs, 104 RBIs, and 96 walks. While his power fell off a cliff following the 2000 season, he had an .807 OPS in nine seasons as the Giants’ regular first baseman. He had his bumps in the road, like when Andres Galarraga was brought in to platoon with him…twice…because he wasn’t hitting. However, everybody loved his glovework at first base, and he was one of the more popular players with the press and the fans.

Macey never amounted to anything and in fact he was back in the Giants’ organization just one year later. Watson went from interchangeable back-end starter to interchangeable LOOGY, so no big loss there, either. Snow’s acquisition was the second-most-important move (behind the Jeff Kent trade) that started the late-90’s Giants renaissance.

For what it’s worth, Snow ditched switch-hitting before the 1999 season and became left-handed-only (he really was useless as a right-handed hitter). To this day, without looking it up, I can still remember the two pitchers Snow hit a home run off of right-handed as a Giant: Lance Painter and Carlos Perez. I can name the first left-handed pitcher he homered off of as a left-handed batter: Scott Sauerbeck. Yet I can’t remember the names of half of my co-workers. I don’t know why this is, but it is.

Traded Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios to the Pirates for Jason Schmidt and John Vanderwal (2001)

Sabean should have been put on house arrest for this utterly criminal steal, where he yanked an ace right out from under the Pirates’ noses. This was smack in the middle of the Cam Bonifay/David Littlefield years, when the Pirates were making more bad decisions than a drunk college freshman on Bourbon Street, but in fairness to them, Schmidt had never shown any indication that he was going to break through and become an ace. Only when he started working with Dave Righetti and perfected his killer changeup did he become a dominant starter; he never would have become an ace with Pittsburgh. That’s certainly an indictment of the Pirates’ organization at the time, but it’s also an early example of the Giants’ strong work developing pitchers.

Schmidt is one of my all-time favorite Giants. In 2003 he was unhittable all year and probably should have won the Cy Young. He started the All-Star game and was the first Giants pitcher seemingly in eons not to mess himself pitching in the Mid-Summer Classic. When he left and signed a four-year deal with the Dodgers, he immediately shagged his arm, turning the contract into one of the worst in baseball history. So he was still helping the Giants as a sleeper agent even when he was wearing a rival uniform. Brilliant!

As for the guys the Giants gave up in the deal…well, you know all about Ryan Vogelsong. He eventually became a good pitcher, but not for another ten years, and not until he had wandered in the wilderness for years before signing a minor league deal to return to the Giants. Rios blew his knee out in his second game with the Pirates and his power evaporated the following year. Among the many, many terrible moves the Pirates made from about 1993 to 2007, this trade ranks among the worst.

Not. Right.

Not. Right.

Traded Matt Williams (and Trenidad Hubbard) to Indians for Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino, and Julian Tavarez (and Joe Roa) (1996)

A franchise-altering trade if there ever was one, except none of us thought so at the time it was consummated. Not by a long shot. Sabean was famously raked over the coals by fans and the press when he made this trade in his first offseason as GM, but we really should have known better. Williams was due $7 million (a lot back then) in 1997 and was due to become a free agent after the season. He was pretty good for about three more seasons after the trade but got old quick and was basically done as a feasible regular by 2000.

Kent, of course, turned into a borderline Hall of Famer and won the 2000 MVP award, but forget about that for a second. Here are the 1997 WAR totals (Baseball Reference WAR, that is) of the players involved in the deal (uh, except for Trenidad Hubbard and Joe Roa, who were eminently forgettable):

Williams: 4.2

Kent: 4.1
Vizcaino: 2.5
Tavarez: 0.2

That’s 6.8 WAR for the Giants players, for those who don’t feel like mathing. The Giants would have come out ahead on this trade even if it had been just for Kent straight up, but the fact that they also got two other very useful parts makes the trade Sabean’s masterpiece. Vizcaino played good defense and solidified shortstop for a year before joining the dark side and signing with the Dodgers. Tavarez had two solid years as a rubber-armed, groundball-happy reliever before going on to become a world-renowned asshole. The trade propelled the Giants to the 1997 division title and kicked off the Bonds/Kent glory days that saw the team make the postseason three times from 1997-2002 and come damn close again in 1998.

Honorable mention: Signing Ryan Vogelsong to a minor league deal (2011)

It’s that man again. Ten years after the Giants traded him away for Jason Schmidt, they threw Vogelsong a “why not?” spring training invite and it paid huge dividends. Vogelsong was slotted into the rotation when Barry Zito got hurt in April of 2011 and never left. He won 27 games in his first two seasons back with the Giants and played an instrumental role in the 2012 World Series run. In fact, he probably saved the Giants’ season with his performance against the Reds in Game Three of that year’s NLDS. Even in 2014, when he wasn’t nearly as effective, he munched 184 innings of league-average ball, which generally costs $8-$10 million these days. As a free find, it’s hard to do much better than this.

                                                                                                                                                            

Addendum: Why the Barry Zito signing is not one of Brian Sabean’s five worst moves.

I might as well head this off at the pass. When comprising a list of Sabean’s worst player transactions, his signing of Barry Zito to a seven-year, $126 million deal would probably be ranked right at the top by a whole lot of people. Not me. Why? Is it because I’ve just decided to be a contrarian dick?

Well, to me it’s hard to see what exactly the Zito contract cost the Giants (well, other than a whole lot of cash). In 2007 and 2008, even if Zito had pitched like Clayton Kershaw, the Giants were still going to be bad. In 2009, Zito was actually pretty good, even though nobody realized it, but the Giants were sunk that year by a terrible offense. It wasn’t Zito’s fault, or the fault of the $18.5 million in Zito’s pocket.

In 2010 the Giants won the World Series (though Zito was left off the playoff roster). In 2011, Zito missed most of the year with injuries but, as you might recall, a much larger problem was that Buster Posey had his knee blown up and missed most of the season. In 2012, the Giants won the Series again, with Zito beating Justin Verlander in Game One. In 2013, they were going to be terrible regardless of what Zito did.

The Giants definitely didn’t get full value for their money in this, but I still don’t think signing Zito was one of Sabean’s five worst moves. The Giants didn’t mortgage any part of their future with the signing, they didn’t miss out on a playoff spot because of Zito, and the signing obviously didn’t have any long term negative effects on the franchise’s championship hopes. Hell, they may not have won it all in 2012 if Zito doesn’t inexplicably shut down the Cardinals in Game Five of the NLCS. Zito threw roughly 185 innings with an average-ish ERA in most years of the deal. I can think of a few big dollar pitchers who couldn’t even manage that. The signing gets pilloried because Zito wasn’t a star, but the Giants were hardly throwing money into a sinkhole. It wasn’t a good move, obviously, but the Zito contract wasn’t nearly the albatross many fans and sportswriters make it out to be.

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