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.

Four teams are in on Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas
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Free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas is drawing interest from at least four clubs, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Friday. The Brewers are the presumed frontrunners to land the infielder, but Heyman adds that the Angels may take the inside edge as Moustakas hails from the San Fernando Valley and has invested in charity efforts in California over the last year. The Phillies and Padres, on the other hand, have been involved to a lesser degree as they’re both thought to be in hot pursuit of fellow free agent third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado, though their interest in the veteran Moustakas could ramp right back up should they lose out on Machado in the weeks to come.

Moustakas, 30, declined a $15 million mutual option with the Brewers at the end of the 2018 season, and like many others left on the market, has yet to find a landing spot in advance of spring training. While he’s several years removed from his last All-Star performance, he ran a decent campaign with the Royals and Brewers last year, slashing a combined .251/.315/.459 with 28 home runs, a .774 OPS, and 2.4 fWAR across 635 plate appearances.

He certainly appears to be a fit in Anaheim, where he could supplant Zack Cozart at the hot corner and balance out the Angels’ right-heavy lineup alongside Kole Calhoun, Justin Bour, and Tommy La Stella. Even if the Angels have serious interest in the third baseman, however, they’re likely to wait and see what kind of contract Machado (and the as-yet unsigned Bryce Harper) fetches before extending any serious offers of their own. They’re far from the only club to use the four-time All-Star as a litmus test this offseason, which has only fueled a growing unrest among MLB players who believe that more serious action — such as a midseason walk-out or a league-wide strike — will need to be taken over the next few months.