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.