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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The Legacy of Beau Mills

sabes

 

 

 

 

 

When Brian Sabean took over as the Giants’ General Manager back in 1996, he almost immediately became public enemy number one by the Bay by trading away the beloved Matt Williams for a trio of perceived nobodies (one of those perceived nobodies, of course, was Jeff Kent). When those nobodies played key roles in the Giants’ division title the very next year, and after Sabean heisted Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez from the White Sox at the trade deadline, he was hailed as a genius.

From that point forward, Sabean rode an endlessly turbulent wave of public opinion, rising to great heights in the 2002 World Series, bottoming out in the unwatchable 2007 season, and cresting in the 2010 World Championship year. One year fans and writers would consider him one of the shrewder front office minds in baseball, the next they’d accuse him of being an antiquated hack riding the coattails of Barry Bonds. Sabean is currently the longest-tenured GM in the game. When you’ve been around for close to 20 years, you’re going to make some stinker moves. Once upon a time, Sabean was maybe the most despised front office person in baseball, at least by his own fanbase. For a few years, it seemed (to Giants fans, at least) that all of his moves were stinkers.

Oh, how things have changed. Sabean is now almost certainly going to waltz into the Hall of Fame, with a body of work and a success record that most general managers would kill for. And it’s funny, because in an alternate timeline that came very close to being the real timeline, his future place in Cooperstown was derailed by a left-handed collegiate hitter from Idaho.

Let me take you back to a very dark time in Giants history, back to the year 2007. The Giants had just come off of a second straight losing season, having finished 2006 at 76-85 (shockingly, Shea Hillenbrand wasn’t the hero we deserved, or needed). The team’s strategy of surrounding the almost-finished Barry Bonds with veterans in their mid- to late-30’s was proving to be a dubious one. By the time the 2007 amateur draft rolled around in June, it was clear that the 2007 season was going to be another lost cause, and the team’s third straight sub-.500 finish (it turned out Dave Roberts wasn’t the hero we deserved, or needed, either).

In 2004 and 2005, the Giants intentionally punted their first round picks, electing to spend money, again, on veterans to complement a Bonds-centric lineup rather than on signing bonuses to unproven high schoolers or collegians. The players whom the Giants gave up said draft picks to sign? Michael Tucker and Armando Benitez. Tucker was all right, and generally inoffensive. Benitez…well, he didn’t work out so well. As it turned out, giving away the rights to potentially high-upside youngsters in order to sign one vanilla corner outfielder and one belligerent clubhouse cancer wasn’t the best way to build a competitive team.*

*In the 2005 draft, because of the awful Benitez signing, the Giants had to surrender their pick at number 22 to the Marlins. The Red Sox picked 23rd and took…Jacoby Ellsbury. D’oh! In 2004, the Giants’ pick at number 29 went to Kansas City as compensation for Michael Tucker (ugh). The Giants theoretically could have had Gio Gonzalez or Huston Street, both of whom got taken just a few picks later. Yeah.

The man behind all of this was the team’s General Manager Brian Sabean. At this point in time, Sabean may have been the most-maligned GM in baseball, especially by the stathead community, who considered him something of a luddite. Fans were sick of the veteran-centric method of team-building and wanted some damned youth injected into the franchise. From about 2006 to 2008, the “Fire Sabean” screeching rose to ear-shattering decibels. It was clear that surrounding Bonds with washed up Rich Aurilia and washed up Ryan Klesko wasn’t going to get the team to the World Series, and fans were getting sick of wags yucking it up that the Giants should be sponsored by Fixodent. To make matters worse, Sabean’s reputation as an anti-stats guy was directly at odds with the “saber-revolution” then in full swing, and fans were clamoring for a more progressive-thinking GM to come in for a rebuild. I should know. I was there, and I was on the front lines of the legions of fans who wanted Sabean out.

In 2006, the Giants finally ditched their questionable draft strategy (or non-draft strategy) and took Tim Lincecum, a tiny pitcher with a violent, totally unorthodox delivery and hellacious stuff, with the 10th pick. It was a prototypical high-risk, high-reward pick (which obviously turned out extremely well). It was an outside-the-box-type of move that was not at all typical of the decisions that the Giants’ brain trust was making back then, and fans liked it.

When the 2007 draft rolled around, the Giants again had the 10th overall pick. This time, though, fans wanted a hitter. The team hadn’t developed an All-Star-caliber bat since Matt Williams, and fans in the Bay were sick of watching Pedro Feliz and a lineup full of geriatrics struggle to plate runs at AT&T Park. They wanted a hitter, a true franchise cornerstone. No more Tony Torcato or Lance Niekro. We wanted the real thing.

What hitter did they want, specifically? That’s right, Beau Mills, the lefty-hitting slugger from Visalia who had destroyed opposing pitching at Fresno State. Judging from the numbers, he certainly looked like the type of high-power, high-OBP guy that the Giants so desperately needed in the middle of their lineup as the team transitioned out of the Bonds era. There was a general buzz of excitement about Beau Mills: Future Giants All-Star.

Oh, what could have been.

Oh, what could have been.

So with the 10th pick in the draft the Giants took…some high school pitcher from South Carolina named Madison Bumgarner. Wait, what? Yeah fans were outraged. Just check out some of the comments here, as a starting point. Believe me, the sentiment in that thread is just the tip of the iceberg. No one in Giants-land really knew who Bumgarner was, and at that point I don’t think they cared. The not-so-lovingly dubbed “lunatic fringe” wanted Mills, dammit. Instead they got yet another pitcher, and how many damn pitchers do you need anyway?

Keep in mind also that Moneyball was still very fresh in everybody’s minds, so whenever a team took a high school pitcher with an early pick, it was generally shat on by a large segment of the Internet. “TINSTAAP!” was shouted every time there was even a hint of a rumor that some team was going to take a high school pitcher with a top ten pick. With this pick, the anti-Sabean sentiment was about to escalate to levels unseen since the Williams/Kent trade. Flash forward to 2014, and I think it’s safe to say this pick turned out okay.

I guess the point of this little 700-word trip down memory lane is that, about 98 percent of the time, fans just don’t know what in the hell they’re talking about. Mills was a good college hitter who would most likely have been limited to first base in the majors. He basically would have had to hit like Prince Fielder to justify taking him with the tenth pick. He didn’t; he’s been out of professional baseball since 2012 and he never sniffed the majors after being taken 13th in that draft by Cleveland. Even with hindsight being 20/20 and all, we probably should have known better.

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Bumgarner, as you may have seen or heard, just completed one of the greatest postseason pitching performances in the history of baseball, and basically won last year’s World Series by himself (he had a central role in three of the Giants’ four World Series victories, which is practically unheard of for a pitcher these days). Wrap your brain around this: Without Bummy, the Giants absolutely don’t win the World Series in 2014, they very likely don’t win it in 2012, and they maybe don’t even win it in 2010 (Bumgarner saved the team at midseason from the ten-car pileup that was Todd Wellemeyer).

And to think it could have been Beau Mills. For shame.

What Giants fans (and many others, really) failed to realize was that Bumgarner was a high-upside, projectable pitcher with a big frame and who, perhaps most importantly, hadn’t had his arm stretched to the limit by some jerkoff college coach with no accountability. Here’s a pre-draft scouting report on him. Notice the term “strong-bodied” and “good poise” in there and then recall again what he did in the playoffs after throwing 217 innings in the regular season. It’s like that report was written by Nostradamus.

So fans are dumb, yours truly included (or make that, yours truly especially). What’s the point of all this? Oh, yeah…that Brian Sabean is the 14th-greatest GM of all time. Authors Mark Armour and Dan Levitt are revealing, one-by-one, their ranking of the top 20 general managers of all time as a preview to their upcoming book (if Branch Rickey isn’t number one, it’ll be a ’69 Mets-style upset). Last week Sabean showed up sitting pretty at number fourteen. All. Time. If that statement were to have been made on this exact date in 2008 it would have been dismissed as utterly ridiculous, and the authors would have been accused of blasphemy or excessive drug abuse.

That’s what three World Championships will do, of course. The Giants successfully rebuilt their franchise with some truly great draft picks and amateur free agent signings (don’t forget Panda!), and they became competitive faster than anyone would have expected. At the end of 2007, pundits were talking about something like a four-year rebuild plan, and only after a complete teardown. Just two years later, though, the Giants won 88 games and had shed their pretender status for good. The architect of this (as it turned out) incredibly successful stealth rebuild effort was initially regarded as the absolute wrong man for the job. Yet here we are in 2014, and Brian Sabean is the man at the helm of the most successful period in San Francisco Giants history.

Not all of the credit for the three championships falls squarely on him, of course. The team’s scouting department has proven to be one of the best in the biz. The Giants have generally been able to keep their pitchers healthy, which is probably a ringing endorsement of their player development strategy and minor league coaching staffs. Bruce Bochy, of course, was nearly flawless in the team’s three World Series trips. It also helps that Buster Posey looks like he’ll turn into the decade’s best catcher.

From 2005-ish to 2011, I (somewhat intermittently) ran a blog called Give ‘Em Some Stankeye (look, it’s still there!). The reason I started the blog was because I was really, really pissed when the Giants blew the 2004 season and I needed some mouthpiece with which I could vent my outrage. I said a lot of pretty nasty things about Sabean back then. Hell, I even had a tag designated just for my rantings about some of his moves that I hated.

A lot of the invective lobbed Sabean’s way from my direction was pretty mean-spirited but it was hardly exclusive to my little blog. In fact, by Internet standards and in terms of the torrent of shit Sabean was getting from other Giants blogs at the time, it was pretty tame. Still, I kind of read that old stuff and cringe. When Sabean was a scout with the Yankees in the early-90’s, he played a large part in drafting or signing Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. Those guys were pretty good. They played on some Yankee teams that were pretty good, too. So, naturally, as a drunken 22-year-old college student ranting on the Internets in my underwear in between watching reruns of Ren and Stimpy, I felt that I was qualified to write over and over again that the man didn’t know what the hell he was doing.

Maybe you want to argue Sabean isn’t one of the 20 greatest general managers in the history of baseball, and that might be fair. What we can all agree on though is that he didn’t deserve the amount of scorn heaped upon him by writers, fans, pundits, and drunk KNBR callers (and one KNBR host, in particular, who one year decided to pepper his Sabean criticism with some misguided, racially-tinged remarks) back in the mid-aughts. He’ll get the last laugh, though, because after three championships in five years, his ticket to Cooperstown has basically been punched. And I can’t help but laugh at the fact that, if all of us angry Giants fans (definitely me included) had had our way back in 2007, Beau Mills would be curse words and we’d still be waiting for that first San Francisco championship.

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Stray Rantings on the Aoki Signing

 

The Giants finalized their deal with Nori Aoki yesterday, and the specifics were exactly as reported. Aoki will get $4 million in 2015 and then the team holds a $5.5 million option on him for 2016, so this could essentially turn into a two-year deal if Aoki performs well. I wrote about the signing for Bay Sports Net over the weekend, and the more I think about the signing, the more I like it. So as a follow up, here are a couple of stray thoughts on the newest Giant, because my opinion on the matter is in such high demand.

In that BSN write-up, I had linked to an article that Jeff Sullivan wrote for Fangraphs lauding the signing. Well, here it is again. In the article, Sullivan mentions that in a world where Nick Markakis gets a four-year, $44 million deal, nabbing Aoki for just one year, at a piddling $4 million, is a steal. And he’s absolutely right. Here’s what both Aoki and Markakis have slashed over the past three seasons:

Aoki 2012-2014: .287/.353/.387

Markakis 2012-2014: .279/.342/.396

Markakis will be 31 in 2015; Aoki will be 33. Markakis spent those three seasons at Camden Yards, a pretty neutral park that sways a little towards hitters. Aoki spent 2012 and 2013 in hitter-friendly Miller Park before going to the more pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium last season. Neither of these guys are great fielders, but neither could really be considered altogether poor, either. You can probably still make the argument that Markakis is the better player, but does he look like a player who is worth $40 million more than Aoki?

Of course not. The fact that the Braves made an idiotic signing doesn’t mean Aoki is some kind of Hall-of-Famer, obviously, but it underlines yet again why the Giants have been so successful this decade. They spend their big money on retaining stars like Buster Posey or good regulars like Angel Pagan, and then sign solid complimentary players for below-market prices. In 2010, instead of blowing a lot of money on Adam Laroche or some other free agent first baseman, they took a chance on Aubrey Huff and it paid off. Last year, they signed Mike Morse for dirt cheap in lieu of a more expensive name and then watched him knock in the game-winning run in Game Seven of the World Series. Now they get Aoki when teams like the Mets are handing away draft picks for the honor of signing Michael Cuddyer.

These relatively minor signings aren’t too sexy to those knee-jerk, drunken fans who want a star imported every season, but it illustrates how the Giants have been generally wise over the past few seasons about how they’re spending their money. Getting burned by a Barry Zito contract certainly has a way of forcing a major league front office to rethink things.

I also thought this move gave some interesting insight into how the gears turn in the Giants’ front office. There had been a lot of talk over the past month or so about the Giants being in talks with Ben Zobrist. Those talks for Zobrist appeared to be gaining serious steam at one point and Mike Krukow was even singing his praises like a Zorilla Bay invasion was a foregone conclusion. Then, out of nowhere, the A’s came in and stole the utility man out from everybody’s nose. This right after Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans made some nebulous comments about being “realistic” in acquiring Zobrist.

Rumor has it that the Rays wanted both Kyle Crick and Andrew Susac for Zorilla. Crick and Susac rate as two of the top five prospects in the Giants’ system. Crick has an electric arm and could be a solid major league starter if he irons out his control problems, or a knockout reliever at worst. Susac could start in the major leagues right now and be an above average regular, but he’s stuck behind Posey. If the Giants balked at that price, it’s totally understandable.

Here’s what the Giants almost certainly concluded: Zobrist is a free agent after this season, so if they want him that much, why trade away two of their best prospects when they could just wait a year and sign him without giving anybody away? After the A’s got him, it made the decision to sign a one-year stopgap like Aoki even easier, because the A’s almost certainly won’t re-sign Zobrist and the Giants could potentially have him next season if they want him badly enough.

So the Giants’ 2015 lineup is more or less set, and it projects to look like this:

CF Pagan
2B Panik
C Posey
RF Pence
1B Belt
3B McGehee
LF Aoki
SS Crawford

Or something. Count me as one who still wants to see Brandon Belt hitting third, and I really think Pagan should be hitting down more in the order and Aoki leading off. Hell, here’s the batting order if one Paul Rice were manager:

LF Aoki
2B Panik
1B Belt
C Posey
RF Pence
CF Pagan
3B McGehee
SS Crawford
Util Brock Holt (whom the Giants have traded for because he’s awesome and he’s a living Arrested Development reference. Make it happen, Sabes!)

Keep in mind that manager Rice would lose control of the team in two weeks and most likely get choked Sprewell-style by Jake Peavy after pulling him from a game early. So perhaps it’s better off if we just go with whatever Bochy has in mind.

Still, Aoki’s extreme-contact ability and willingness to work the count combine to make him kind of the prototypical leadoff hitter. Plus, when Pagan batted fifth for a stretch of 45 games in 2012, he hit .314/.362/402. He can more than hold his own in a more traditional “run-producer” spot in the lineup. It would just be a shame if Aoki’s skills weren’t utilized to their full potential.

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The Best (and Worst) Baseball Free Agent Contract of the Offseason (So Far)

A couple of days ago, I talked a little about how a few of the baseball free agent contracts signed this offseason might seem completely insane at first glance, but might not be so nutty when you look deeper, and when you look at where the signing team stands to finish the following season. In short, if a team is a move or two away from having a legit playoff contender, with the way small sample size can make champs of relative chumps, it’s probably worth it to shell out extra years (and money) for a player just to get to the playoffs. It’s worth it even when the team knows said player will probably be useless in those last years. Call it the Flags Fly Forever paradigm, if you will.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that teams can’t go out and find a major bargain on the free agent market, a good and possibly underrated player to snap up for a below-market rate. I loved the White Sox’s signing of Adam Laroche, a player who has averaged 26 home runs a season the past three years. They got him for just two years, and he hasn’t shown any signs of falling off a cliff. I thought the Pirates got a nice one-year steal on A.J. Burnett, a still-good pitcher who suffered for an abysmal Phillies team with a horrid outfield defense. There are still good deals to be had.

By that same extension, there are, naturally, still some real stinkers that get dished out as well. Sometimes teams just can’t help themselves and commit way too much money to players who don’t deserve it. The Royals handing Edinson Volquez two years when he’s had exactly two decent seasons, ever, seems questionable. The Tigers raised some eyebrows by handing 35-year-old Victor Martinez a four-year deal when they’re already bogged down by several other onerous contracts. A lot of people questioned when the normally spendthrift A’s signed Billy Butler to a three-year contract, and the Mets blowing a draft pick on Michael Cuddyer was just…confusing.

So never fear, snarky Internet lurkers and sarcastic message board denizens. There are still plenty of stupid free agent deals for us to pillory as we sit in our boxers and throw Honey Nut Cheerios at our laptop screens. There are also plenty of smart free agent deals to remind us that there is indeed sanity within the walls of baseball front offices everywhere.

I’ve decided to pick out what I feel are the best and the worst baseball free agent contracts so far this offseason. The offseason is only half over, so we may yet get a deal that blows these two away either on sheer brilliance or on a “my oh my, that whole front office needs to be prosecuted for war crimes” level of incompetence. Until that happens, this is what we’ve got. We’ll start with the worst.

As of January 5, 2015, the worst free agent contract of the baseball offseason goes to…(drumroll)…

New York Yankees sign Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36 million deal

 

 

 

 

Just in general, I hate multi-year contracts to relief pitchers. I don’t understand why they keep happening. We’ve watched reliever after reliever and bullpenite after bullpenite explode in a pile of frayed elbows for 25 years now, and still we get teams handing out multi-year deals to relievers like they’re the safest bets in the world. They just rarely work out, ever. There are exactly two things relievers do consistently: strike out ten batters per nine innings and implode randomly.

Look at Kansas City’s brilliant relief trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Those guys were unhittable last year, insanely so. Herrera and Davis gave up zero home runs in 140 combined innings and Holland was basically just as dominant. They were the best bullpen three-headed monster in baseball, but the chances are very, very good that, two years from now, one or two or all three of them won’t be any good.

Why? It’s because they’re relievers. It’s just what they do. They get hurt, they lose velocity, they start to blow leads inexplicably, and yet inevitably every offseason some dumb front office hands a three-year deal to a relief pitcher, as if we hadn’t just seen a dozen formerly brilliant middle relievers and closers fall by the wayside the previous year.

Remember when Eric Gagne was chewing through the league in 2003 and he looked like he was on the fast train to a ten-year stretch as a Hall of Fame closer? Well, two years later he was done as an effective pitcher. Done. Brian Wilson and The Beard in 2010? Done as a good pitcher by 2012. Jim Johnson saving 50 games in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and’13? Ask any A’s fan where Jim Johnson is now. I dare you. Those are just a couple of examples off of the top of my head. The number of bloodied relievers inexplicably finished after one or two great years is legion.

So, four years for Andrew Miller. Don’t get me wrong, Miller is a damned good pitcher. He struck out 103 batters in 62.1 innings last year. He was initially dismissed as a bust after washing out as a starter for three different franchises, but he’s reinvented himself as a reliever, one who can get both righty and lefty hitters out with aplomb. You’ve just got to love a guy like that, a former top prospect who persevered after being written off.

Miller is a very good reliever, one of the very best, in fact…but four years? Was that really necessary? Miller has been lights out ever since converting to the bullpen in 2012. In that time (with the Red Sox and in half a season with Baltimore last year), he has contributed a grand total of 3.0 WAR. That may underrate him a bit, but you’re still going to have a hard time convincing me that 50-60 relief innings is worth $9 million a year for four years. The Yankees will be lucky if Miller contributes five wins over the course of this contract.

It might still be okay. Remember, we’ve got to take these things in context. If Miller is a player who can push the Yankees over the edge and into an assured playoff spot in 2015 (and maybe 2016), then the extra years might be a necessary burden to carry if Miller drastically increases the team’s shot at an immediate championship. So is Miller the player the Yankees need to get over that playoff hump for the first time since 2012?

Heck no! The Yankees won 84 games and finished second in the AL East last year, but they were totally lucky to win even that many games. They had the run differential of a 77-win team. This team revamped their bullpen, which is all well and good. Unfortunately, their expensive, enfeebled lineup will still struggle to score runs, their starting rotation is full of injury question marks, and, on top of all of that, they have the Alex Rodriguez sideshow to look forward to.

In short, this team is a mess, and the Miller signing doesn’t really do a whole lot, in the big picture, to bring them even with the Orioles, Blue Jays, and the retooled Red Sox. If Miller were the final bullpen piece in an otherwise complete, championship-caliber team, then I’d be okay with this signing, even though I despise lengthy reliever contracts. The Yankees aren’t a championship-caliber team, though. They’re a team that, with a ton of things breaking the right way, could possibly win the AL East. Crazier things have happened. Way, waaaaay more likely, they’ll struggle to break .500 and Alex Rodriguez kills team morale with his mere presence, Barry Bonds 2007 Giants-style. A team in this spot shouldn’t be retooling with ludicrous reliever contracts.

So that was the worst. Now, the absolute best free agent contract (so far) of the offseason is…(drumroll)…

Dodgers sign Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million deal.

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I absolutely love this deal, a low-risk, potentially huge-upside signing by LA. I was really hoping the Giants would make a run at Anderson, and sign him to a cheap deal just like this one on the chance that he might have a healthy year in him. Unfortunately, I think I was overestimating the willingness of the Giants’ front office to think outside the box. The Giants instead decided to re-up Jake Peavy for two years and go to the Tim Lincecum well again, so here I am, just sitting here praising the Dodgers.

Anderson has been an injury wreck ever since he stepped onto to major league field in 2009. You name the malady, he’s probably had it. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011, which knocked out most of that season and pretty much all of 2012. He pitched in only 16 games in 2013 due to a broken foot. Then, last season, just when it appeared that he was hitting his stride with the Rockies, he messed up his back and was done for the season. I’ve had him on my fantasy keeper league for the past two seasons after making an ill-advised trade for him (just…don’t ask). Every time he motions in discomfort on the mound has to be pulled early from a game, a part of my soul dies.

So Anderson hurts himself crawling out of bed in the morning. That much is clear. What’s also clear is that, if he can stay healthy for any stretch this season, the Dodgers have themselves a legit number three-caliber starter. He isn’t a sure thing to eat innings like Dan Haren, the guy he’s basically replacing, but his ceiling is so much higher.

Anderson was great even in the high altitude last season, posting a 2.91 ERA in eight starts between injuries. In his career as a starter, he own a 3.69 ERA, and he showed flashes of brilliance with the A’s, especially in 2010 and 2012. He makes a living limiting home runs, and it’s easy to see him having a big year in Dodger Stadium.

Anderson has a 200-inning season in him one of these years, and when it finally comes, he’s going to be a playoff-caliber starting pitcher. The Dodgers are gambling that that year will come in 2015, and for the relative pittance of $10 million (the Dodgers can, uh…easily afford it), that’s just a great gamble to make on a pitcher with this much upside. Why couldn’t the Giants have taken the chance? Why????

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Fearlessly the Idiot Faced the Crowd: Ranking the Pink Floyd Albums

floyd

This is a concept I’ve been toying with for a couple of months now. Pink Floyd is the absolute, unequivocal number one on my list of all-time favorite bands, and David Gilmour is the absolute, unequivocal number one on my personal favorite all-time guitarist list. I love the Floyd. If you asked me to go on about their more iconic albums like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, I’d happily oblige you, and then some. If you want to discuss insanely obscure non-album material like “Embryo“, then I’ll gladly wax on about that, possibly while you call in the men with white coats to take me away. I can riff about Pink Floyd for days.* They’re the greatest progressive rock band of all time, and my choice for greatest rock band ever.

*One exception: I will not riff about the song “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered In a Cave and Grooving With a Pict”. ‘Cause that shit sucks.

Last November, David Gilmour packaged and released what was intended to be the final Pink Floyd album, called The Endless River. Endless River is a collection of stuff that the band recorded in 1994 while making The Division Bell but which never saw the light of day. Gilmour recut the material and turned it into a new album, intending it as both a sign-off on Pink Floyd’s long career and also as a tribute to late band member Richard Wright, who died in 2008.

No matter what the quality of Endless River was going to be, it was certainly going to do one thing: get me back in the Pink Floyd mood. Sure enough, once I downloaded the album and gave it a few listens, I was back in Floyd mode, listening to all their albums, both classic and lesser-known, and I started re-reading the old Floyd articles and books that littered my collection. It doesn’t take much to set my controls for the heart of Pink Floyd obsessiveness.

I also decided to do a ranking, a ranking of all of Pink Floyd’s albums, from worst to first. It seems only appropriate, since the book is now officially closed on the Floyd library. The following is my personal ranking of all fifteen Pink Floyd albums, starting with the worst, from Piper at the Gates of Dawn all the way to Endless River. A long, prolific career that spanned nearly 50 years. Not bad for a band whose original creative leader was kicked out after one album for being perpetually drugged out of his mind.

(Note: This ranking only includes actual original studio albums. There are no compilations like Works or, God forbid, the horrendous A Collection of Great Dance Songs. There are also no live albums like Pulse, although you should really listen to Pulse, because it’s joyous.)

15. Ummagumma (1969)

Ummagumma is a two-disc set that is one part live album, and one part original studio content. The live concert side is a worthwhile insight into the band’s early live performances; the studio portion is best used as tinder to light a campfire. The studio side is a collection of tracks developed solo by each individual band member independent of the others. For example, David Gilmour wrote and recorded three tracks himself, Rick Wright contributed one thirteen minute-long song done on his own, and so on. The tracks were intended mostly to be experimental, and boy does it show. Only “Grantchester Meadows”, a simple acoustic song by Roger Waters, passes the test of time. Waters and Gilmour later dismissed the whole thing as basically a disaster.

14. Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

I know I’ll get a lot of disagreement about ranking this so low, but I’m just not a big fan of this album, at all. I understand its importance in the Floyd catalog, but judging it purely on the quality of the music, I’m sorry to say that, to me, Piper is barely distinguishable from and little better than anything from the mass of interchangeable psychedelic albums to come out of the 1960’s. As much as we all love Syd Barrett, you’ll never be able to convince me that, if he had retained creative control of the band past the first album, they would have turned into anything more than a forgettable ’60’s curio. At least there’s “Astronomy Domine”, an enduring rocker that opens the album and is easily the best thing on it.

13. Atom Heart Mother (1970)

Atom Heart Mother is, strangely enough, much more famous for the cow on the album’s cover than any song contained within. In fact, I would bet that if you asked any casual Floyd fan, they wouldn’t be able to name even one of the album’s five tracks besides maybe the title track. The most enduring song is Gilmour’s “Fat Old Sun” (which featured prominently in his 2000’s-era solo tours), but Waters’s “If” and Rick Wright’s “Summer ’68” are solid, if not exactly wholly memorable, compositions. Unfortunately, the title track and “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”, the two songs that bookend the album and comprise the vast majority of its running time, are basically jumbles of unlistenable crap.

12. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

The first post-Waters album is an inconsistent effort put together by Gilmour. “Learning to Fly” and the ominous, beautifully dark anthem “Sorrow” are the highlights, but a lot of the tracks come across as somewhat mechanical and cold, and the album as a whole now seems like a substandard relic of the ’80’s. It’s like Gilmour was trying to retain the darker aspects of the Waters era, but without the lyrical flair or far-reaching concepts that made that era so successful. The result is a generally flat, forgettable effort. The song “A New Machine” (both parts) is maybe the most gawdawful thing to ever appear on a Floyd album.

11. The Final Cut (1983)

The final Pink Floyd album to feature Roger Waters, The Final Cut is essentially a Waters solo effort, a long and heartfelt anti-war polemic that serves as a kind of lead-in to his later solo work. While the lyrics are undoubtedly poignant (as usual for Waters), many of the songs are turgid and gloomy, and trying to listen to the album in one sitting can turn into an exercise in wrist-slashing. It comes as no surprise that the best tracks on the album are those in which Gilmour’s guitar figures prominently, especially “The Fletcher Memorial Home”, which features one of the most beautiful solos of Gilmour’s career. If taken as a Roger Waters solo work, I’d say the album compares favorably to his Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and Radio KAOS albums. It’s not a bad album by any means, but it doesn’t really feel like a true Pink Floyd work, even though Gilmour and Waters both figure on it.

10. The Endless River (2014)

The album which closes the book on the Pink Floyd saga, and one that was 20 years in the making. David Gilmour crafted this almost solely-instrumental album from cutting room floor material from the band’s Division Bell sessions. Fans of Gilmour certainly won’t find anything to quibble about here, but as a whole, it’s not a whole lot more than pretty background music.

9. A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

Syd Barrett had begun to really lose his mind by the time the band started recording this album, and he ended up only contributing one song to the entire effort (the weird and, frankly, frightening, “Jugband Blues”). David Gilmour was brought in to replace Barrett, and Pink Floyd would never be the same again. Freed from the erratic behavior of their former band leader, the other Floyds began to explore the more elaborate, expansive sound that would later become their hallmark (most notably the 12-minute-long title track). The dark, serpentine “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is my favorite track on the album, and one of my all-time Floyd favorites. The anti-war theme that would saturate Waters’s later songwriting first manifests itself here on “Corporal Clegg”, and fans of Rick Wright should get a kick out of the fact that he handles lead vocal duties on the majority of the album. My pick for most underrated Floyd album.

8. Obscured By Clouds (1972)

This album sadly gets overlooked a lot because (I think) many fans simply see it as a throwaway album because it was composed for a soundtrack for some crappy movie from the early-70’s. That’s unfortunate, because there are some truly terrific songs contained in this album.  “Childhood’s End” is just a supremely, supremely underrated Floyd song, a David Gilmour rocker and one of the last song (if not the last song) he contributed lyrics to. As a matter of fact, there are no stinkers on this album (at least of the non-instrumental tracks). “Wot’s…Uh the Deal?”, “Free Four”, “Burning Bridges”, and “Stay” are all solid contributions to an album that, while it doesn’t have a whole lot of historical importance for the band, is just a flat out great listen.

7. More (1969)

Another soundtrack album, this time for a shitty 1969 Barbet Schroeder movie about a bunch of hippies killing themselves with heroin, and, yet again, one of Floyd’s most overlooked early works. The album features an eclectic assortment of tracks, mixing several different styles of music, not exactly what many music fans would associate with the Floyd. This variance in styles is never more evident than in the album’s two best songs: the metal rocker “The Nile Song”, with Gilmour screaming out the lyrics over thunderous power chords; and “Green Is the Colour”, a gorgeous and simple acoustic song sung by Gilmour to Waters’s bittersweet lyrics. The album is an early window into the band’s versatility as musicians, laying to rest the claim that they were nothing but drug-addled “space rockers”.

For completists: the film includes the long-lost song “Seabirds“, which didn’t make the soundtrack album was never released on any album or compilation, ever.

6. The Division Bell (1994)

The second post-Waters Floyd album, this one gets unfairly shat on in some circles for not being “true Floyd”, but come on. This album kicks ass. All of the blandness from Momentary Lapse of Reason is gone; this is a much more polished album that flows cohesively from beginning to end, without any of the clunkiness of its predecessor. Gilmour’s guitar tears it up on almost every track (especially “What Do You Want From Me?” and “A Great Day For Freedom”), and it features the long-awaited return of Rick Wright on vocal lead (on “Wearing the Inside Out”)! This is a great album, and with the moody lyrics and themes of lack of communication and isolation, it’s about as close to a real Pink Floyd album as you can get without actually having Roger Waters included. My personal highlight: the album’s tearful closing track, “High Hopes”, which is stunningly beautiful and sad, a perfect way to end what we all thought was going to be Floyd’s final album.

5. Animals (1977)

Due to the length of the songs (three of the album’s five tracks clock in at over ten minutes), and the album’s relentlessly bleak subject matter, Animals is the Floyd’s least-listener-friendly and least-accessible album. Understandably, it kind of got lost in the shuffle because none of these songs could ever really be played on the radio without depressed music fans racing in hordes to burn down the local affiliate. Ambitious in concept, Animals is Waters’s vicious Orwellian commentary on the British social and political climate at the time. It is perhaps more famous for it’s catastrophic album cover shoot than any of the music it contains. It was also blatantly referenced in the movie Children of Men, for those scoring at home.

Despite its status as sort of the black sheep (no pun intended) of Pink Floyd’s brilliant 1970’s string of records, Animals features some of David Gilmour’s most intricate and powerful guitar work, and the 17-minute-long “Dogs” is an absolute guitar tour-de-force, a must-listen for any fan of Gilmour’s playing. Live versions of the material (which can be heard on bootlegs from the time) are some of the most epic in Floyd’s storied concert history. A classic example of an album that became better understood and appreciated with the passage of time.

4. Meddle (1971)

Meddle is often overlooked because it came right before the band’s Dark Side of the Moon-era superstardom, but it’s a legitimately great album nonetheless, a definite foreshadowing of the musical brilliance that would follow. One whole side of the album is made up of the 23-minute-long epic “Echoes”, a masterwork of electronic studio tricks (which the band would later perfect on Dark Side) that builds slowly from a simple raindrop sound and crescendos into an orgasmic guitar cacophony that should induce goosebumps on anybody with a pulse. The other side of the album is fleshed out with the lap guitar masterpiece “One of These Days” and the catchy (and underrated) “Fearless”. The album’s an overlooked classic, but it does get minus points for “San Tropez”, which is one of the worst songs to come out of the Floyd catalog.

3. The Wall (1979)

The concept album to end all concept albums, Roger Waters’s mammoth tale of a rock star’s mental breakdown and subsequent descent into a self-imposed nightmarish fantasyland has become one of the most iconic records in rock history. The record is bogged down a bit in the second half by some incredibly dreary songs, but the first half is brilliant and the album includes such classics as “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt.2)”, “Comfortably Numb”, and “Run Like Hell”.

The main highlight, for me, is some truly amazing guitar work by Gilmour throughout the entire album. “Comfortably Numb” obviously features Gilmour’s most popular and iconic guitar solo, but his stunning work on songs like “The Thin Ice”, “Young Lust”, and “Hey You” deserve equal plaudits. The album is, largely, a Waters-dominated project, but the Gilmour guitar stamp of approval is what solidifies this as a legendary record.

2. Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

This is it. This is the monster. Not just a great album, but one of the greatest and most influential rock albums of all time. Dark Side turned Pink Floyd into legends and changed the landscape of what bands could do in the studio and what they could do with sound on a record. Suddenly, in addition to music you had insane cackling reverberating from one ear to the other, alarm clocks blaring out of nowhere, footsteps clomping in one ear and out the other, and ominous voices perpetuating the hour-long run time and enhancing any 1970’s-era stoner’s drug trip. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen or heard at that point. Many a joint was lit up in celebration.

Of course, none of this would matter a wit if the music weren’t so damned good. You can have all the sound tricks and studio tomfoolery in the world, but if the music sucks, no one is going to remember your record in the long run. “Time”, “Money”, the anti-war anthem “Us and Them”, “Breathe”, and “The Great Gig in the Sky” (maybe the prettiest song about death, ever!) have become classics of the genre. Dark Side is a tremendous, one-of-a-kind achievement, an album that flows perfectly both musically and thematically, and it rightfully holds its place as one of the titans in rock history.

1. Wish You Were Here (1975)

No one will agree with me on this, but not only do I consider Wish You Were Here my favorite Floyd album, but I consider it Floyd’s best album even over Dark Side. It’s my favorite for the simple fact that it’s Pink Floyd’s most grounded album, at least of their classics from the 1970’s. The band, in an attempt to pay tribute to Syd Barrett, focused a bit less on experimentation and cut a bunch of simple, bloody good songs. Simplicity like Gilmour’s blues-inspired riff and Dick Parry’s snazzy saxophone solo on “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond”. Simple like the easy acoustic melody of “Wish You Were Here”. Simple like the desolate, haunting, two-chord acoustic melody that punctuates “Welcome to the Machine” and makes the song so desperate and menacing. The album’s theme of absence and loss and, specifically, loss of humanity resonates through one of the most haunting, lyrically poignant, and melancholy records to ever be produced. It’s a work of genius, musically and conceptually, and I rank it as one of my two or three favorite albums of all time, right next to High Violet, by The National, and Achtung Baby!, by U2.

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