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.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.