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Brian Sabean’s Giants had to lose to win

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What did these Giants have that the Yankees, Red Sox and Bay Area rival A’s didn’t? Three recent top-10 draft picks making a huge impact this season.

There was a time not too long ago that Giants GM Brian Sabean thought a first-round pick wasn’t worth what it’d cost to sign him. After the 2003 season, the Giants inked free agent Michael Tucker hours before the Royals would have declined to offer him arbitration, forfeiting the 22nd overall pick in the process. It wasn’t an accident: Sabean thought he was better off spending the $1.5 million or so it’d cost to sign a first-round pick on someone who could help him right away.

The Giants lost both their 2004 and 2005 first-round picks in signing free agents. Nevertheless, the team got worse, even with Barry Bonds shouldering a massive load. In 2005, Bonds got hurt and the team faltered, beginning a run of four straight seasons under .500.

It turned out to be a massive blessing. The Giants kept signing free agents and trying to plug holes, but since the first 15 picks in the draft are protected, they kept their first-round picks. In 2006, they drafted Tim Lincecum 10th overall. In 2007, they got Madison Bumgarner in that same spot. In 2008, they picked Buster Posey fifth.

And make no mistake, Sabean deserves a ton of credit for those choices. It looked like Lincecum might go as high as second in the 2006 draft, but concerns about his build and delivery made him too risky in the eyes of some. Posey slipped because of bonus demands, but the Giants felt he was worth the investment coming out of Florida State.

But if Sabean’s offseason moves in those years had gone the way he hoped, the truth is that he never would have been in a position to get any of them. The Giants never made a choice to rebuild. In 2007, their youngest regulars were 32-year-olds Bengie Molina and Pedro Feliz. They were trying to win the NL West; they just failed miserably.

No, there’s no blueprint for success to be followed here. The Giants won in large part because Sabean and his scouting department have a knack for knowing which young pitchers will pan out. I’d still argue that Sabean makes more mistakes than most. But a Lincecum and a Matt Cain can make up for any number of them.

Are the current Collective Bargaining Agreement talks too friendly?

Scott Boras
Associated Press
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Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1. There have been comments from both commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA director Tony Clark suggesting that progress was being made and there has been no suggestion thus far that there are sticking points which could lead to a work stoppage. Heck, even a few acrimonious rounds of negotiation before it’s all said and done seem unlikely.

That’s good news for fans, but it’s not making certain agents happy. Smooth labor sailing likely means a new CBA that is pretty close in most terms to the current CBA. Agents — especially agents who represent veterans — don’t like that because they believe that the current rules regarding free agency, draft pick compensation, luxury taxes and qualifying offers penalize the players they represent. Today Ken Rosenthal has a story about that anger, talking to both anonymous agents and super agent Scott Boras about how baseball’s middle class is disappearing and baseball’s median salary goes lower and lower.

Major League Baseball counters that while the median salary is going down, the average salary is going up. And baseball is right about that. But it’s also the case that the average is propped up by a handful of superstar contracts while the somewhat less lucrative but still nice mid-level contracts for mid-level veterans are disappearing. The financial landscape of the game is morphing into one with a small upper class with nine-figure contracts and a large lower class of pre-arbitration players and veterans on shorter, smaller deals, squeezing the old veteran middle class out of existence.

Sound familiar?

Baseball, of course, is not the American economy. There are some good reasons why those mid-level contracts have gone away. Specifically, because they tended not to be very good deals for the teams who signed them. At the same time, baseball is far better able to tweak its rules to spread the wealth than the U.S. government can, and those rules — like the qualifying offer and luxury tax — have had a harsh impact on a lot of players.

There’s not a clear answer on what the best system is for free agents, draft pick compensation, draft bonus pools and the like actually is. I tend to favor the fewest restrictions on a player’s right to negotiate freely with teams, but I’ll also acknowledge that there is a less than perfect market at play in baseball given revenue disparities between teams and the need to maximize, within reason, competitive balance. It’s not an easy trick even before you get into the B.S. team owners tend to spew about pocketbook matters.

But it’s also the case that an all-too-friendly relationship between the union and the league — one in which a given set of rules is rubberstamped from CBA to CBA — is not an ideal situation. No one wants acrimony, but the fact is that the players and the union are slicing up a pie. If the person you’re slicing up a pie with is all-too-happy to keep slicing it the same way, it probably means that they’re getting a bigger piece than you. Maybe, if it’s your job to grab a bigger piece?

The agents Rosenthal talked to, who represent a good chunk of MLBPA membership, certainly think the union should be doing some more grabbing. I wonder if their clients do too.

Four baseballs autographed by Jose Fernandez wash ashore

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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This is just . . . ugh.

WSVN-TV in Miami reports that a black bag containing Jose Fernandez’s checkbook and four baseballs signed by him washed ashore on Miami Beach. Probably a bag to keep stuff dry while out on the water.

The bag was given to a lifeguard. Hopefully the bag finds its way back to Fernandez’s family quickly.