Much Ado About Nothing - Analysis of Sabean Press

Translation and significance to Giants fans of what Sabean was saying.

Sabean's annual post-mortem of the Giants season and a peak at the future raised a lot of hackles, mainly over the news that the payroll will drop from south of $85M to mid-$70M. However, any Giants fan who have been reading my articles assiduously would have already known that the Giants were going to be in a bit of a budget pickle going into the offseason. Unfortunately, I was off a little, thinking the budget was $80M but instead it was put at mid-$70M. I forgot that the $80M range would be their mid-season goal and that their spring training goal would therefore be mid-$70M range.

In any case, I thought I would provide Giants fan a service by transcribing the Question and Answer session that Sabean did with reporters - for those not inclined to listen to it - plus provide my take on Sabean's answers to the reporters' questions. If you would like to listen to it anyway, it is currently posted on the Giants official website but for how long I don't know.

Conference Call

I'm not a good transcriber nor do I have time to listen to it over and over again so I took quick notes. Please don't consider the below to be verbatim, though I tried to keep the meaning and intent there. It is in a Question by Reporter (Q), Answer by Sabean (A), Martin's Comment (M) format. There will not be comment for every answer. Also, I skipped one question that showed that the reporter either came late to the call or totally forgot the answer given earlier.

Q: Heading into off-season, what are the priorities and needs?
A: Lots of decisions - free agents, options, arbitration - as big a task as last year. Lots will be returning as well as young guys coming up, there will be a makeover. Can't guarantee who's coming back or what free agents can bring. Not sure Giants can clear enough money to go into market.
M: Basically says what I wrote up earlier this year - there's little money to sign even our own free agents, let alone any other free agents, given the Giants budget. Most probably the Giants will lose all of their free agents - Aurilia, Benard, Eyre, Galarraga, Hammonds, Hermanson, Ponson, Santiago, and Worrell - unless they accept a salary in the vet's minimum ($500K) range. Apparently he has some tricks up his sleeve as far as freeing up money to go into the free agent market. Most probably it involves offering restructured extensions to players with current contracts with the Giants, offering more years and dollars in exchange for backloading current salary to future years. But we will see.

Q: When are the options decisions due, the time table?
A: 3, 5, 10, 15 days after World Series.
M: Within two weeks of the last game of the World Series we will definitively know the fates of all the players with options. They include Snow, who has a $6.5M team option or $750K buyout, F-Rod, who has a $5M team option and $3.05M player option, Eric Young, who has a $3M team option or $1M buyout (which is being paid by Milwaukee) and Cruz, who has a $4M mutual option or $250K team buyout. Most probably all four team options will not be taken, resulting in three buyouts and F-Rod exercising his player option. The Giants may pursue Snow at a lower contract but Cruz and Young is probably gone. Snow is too if he continues to think he is still a full-time player and doesn't need to be platooned. In a newspaper interview, F-Rod's agent said that they are going to talk with the Giants about a long term contract. But since he has two years of $3.05M player options, that means that they are probably talking about a 4-6 year contract that would give F-Rod more security in exchange, presumably, for more flexibility for the Giants, i.e. salary is backloaded which would clear up salary space in 2004-2005.

For example, they could offer him a 5 year contract for $11M ($5M extra above current obligations, working out to $1.67M per year over the additional years) with salaries of $1M, $1M, $3M, $3M, $3M. In addition, there are current clauses, which would double F-Rod's salary if he became a closer which gives the Giants a reason NOT to make him the closer. He probably will drop that in a renegotiation so that they won't feel like they can't use him in that role and then perhaps they will, though I think that Nathan and Herges will give him a good run for the money right now.

Q: Have decisions been made yet?
A: Some have been made in mind already, firm thoughts, but not sure how quickly Giants will act.
M: Sabean is going to wait to see what develops in the market this year because, as he notes later, he doesn't know if the market will have a correction or not and wants to wait and see how the market is moving.

Q: Do you like flexibility and decisions or do you like things set?
A: Both. Generally, the gravy train we've been riding where the budget is extended is over. It is not the case now as the Giants will now have to rein in spending. In a perfect world, maybe there's a way to get a nest egg to attack the market.
M: Just referring to the fact that last year's budget was surpassed by actual payroll and that the owners are not allowing it this offseason. As a result, he needs everything to go perfectly in terms of freeing up enough budget space internally to pursue free agents.

Q: Has the budget number been set yet? What was the number this year?
A: Mid $70M range. It was south of $85M this year.
M: Just remember that this could mean anywhere from $73M to $77M. A newspaper reported the final budget figure for 2003 as $83M. So the drop is not $10M but a potential range from $6M to $10M.

Q: Have you talked with any agents of the players with options to look into doing something?
A: No.

Q: During organizational meetings, who are the Giants considering for the rotation, perhaps Nathan or Brower?
A: Correia and Brower more of an option to start than Nathan
M: This is a no brainer for us Giants fans. With Nen a big question mark and Worrell most probably gone, we will need relievers who can set-up and/or closer. Nathan, F-Rod, and Herges will make up our core set-up men if Nen comes back and one of them will probably be the closer or perhaps all three in rotation if Nen does not come back. So Nathan is needed as, at minimum, a set-up guy, while Brower is relatively free to be a starter as he is the long relief/swing guy.

Q: Are the Giants going to resign Ponson?
A: We have an open mind but don't know what his thoughts are. Also, Giants eyes are open to other possibilities especially if there's a nest egg created by freeing up some money. M: About as non-commital as possible. But that is Sabean, he rarely if ever allows any one to leverage him. Rod Beck and Dusty Baker tried and you saw what happened to them (ironically both ended up with the Cubs): Sabean traded for Nen, shutting out Shooter, and he closed negotiations with Baker and promptly hired Alou. But one would think he would have shown more interest if he was truly interested in Ponson coming back. Ponson is probably gone, if only because the budget is tight and there are greater needs elsewhere.


A: Tip hat to him and players for winning 100 games. He came into this organization cold, not knowing anyone, with half old, returning players, half new players.
M: Here, here, to this one! Alou performed miracles getting the team to win 100 games and running away with the division while his closer was out from the first day of the season, multiple players were lost to bereavement, even more players were lost to injuries, some to re-injuries of earlier injuries, and including rare ones like a dry-eye condition, a team-wide flu outbreak, a broken shoulder blade, a broken pinkie, torn ligament requiring "Tommy John" surgery and an appendectomy. Imagine if he had his regular starting lineup for the whole season instead of perhaps a third of the season and a healthy rotation year-round.

Q: Talk about the recent problems with communication lines.
A: Revisionist history, though haven't seen or heard any of them. If that was a big problem, then it would have surfaced earlier in the season, not after the end. Alou is an old-time baseball manager, you earn your way in, you earn your way out. Because this is all after the fact, it is petty, and he doesn't put much stock in it.
M: It is a little troubling but basically all the players complaining are players who likely will not be on the team next year except for Schmidt. I agreed with all the moves that were complained about for the most part. And whether Schmidt admits it or not, his response essentially said that he was not ready to go without injuring himself. And I especially like the fact that Alou makes players earn their playing time.

Q: Minors have any major impact next year?
A: Possible. Linden has the overall ability, we'll see how he does in Fall League, he could surprise us. But that said, the Giants are long in the tooth in pitching, Bonser will pitch for us in spring training, Valdez, the pitcher we got in the Ortiz deal, will be on the roster. Our young pitchers will press the issue.
M: No surprise here again, as the Giants have few position prospects but have an abundance of pitching prospects. What is interesting is that he named Bonser (I believe, the recording was garbled a little there) and Valdez as being possible factors next year. They have been strongly on Giants' fans radar. This means that they are giving Valdez a chance at making the opening day roster. If he doesn't make it, he will probably play in AA or AAA-ball and hopefully prepare for a mid-season call-up as needed. And this is good news about Boof Bonser, who has been known as a head-case, as this indicates that perhaps Boof has matured.

Q: How would you characterize the protection that Bonds get in lineup?
A: Gone one step further, even if we sign a name guy on the market, don't know how people will do, play staight up or go to another level, each year. Getting a bit absurd, scratch your head, will another guy make a difference. Has such a reputation, become so infamous for losing out to him, pitching to him, don't know if King Kong would make a difference.
M: I had believed that the best way to get opposing teams to pitch to Bonds is to load the bases ahead of him. That's why I loved the Durham acquisition as he has a high career on-base percentage (OBP) and the move of Snow to bat second as he has a high OBP too. However, teams seem, as Sabean noted, to have taken it to another level, so now it looks like we need both high OBP ahead of him and good RBI guys behind him. That's why I've advocated getting Vlad - by "continuing the gravy train", using Sabean's vernacular - so that he can bat behind Bonds and drive him in.

Q: Any frustrations?
A: Confounding because general rule is not to do business that way, no other player is worried about like that today, but we won all season with Barry walking, and we lost with Barry walking, it was just there were no hitting with runners in scoring position, and at end of the day, had nothing to do with Barry being walked.
M: Again, no one was hitting behind Bonds (except Alfonzo of course) so we need to pick up an RBI machine to bat behind Bonds. It would also help to move Bonds up in the batting order as well so that more rallies can start in the first inning of the game and put more pressure on the opposing team. With Durham on-base 35-40 percent of the time and Bonds 50-55 percent of the time, there should always be at least one man on base in the first inning of every game, who could then steal second base so that Alfonzo or the RBI guy we acquire can drive them in.

Q: Any moves for this year influenced by the playoffs?
A: No. We evaluate players throughout the year so there were no surprises.

Q: What's missing for the Giants?
A: Baseball is about parity, especially in the National League. Everyone except for the Yankees have their own cross to bear, figure out things as you go along. We just didn't play like 100-game winners.
M: Sabean's quote in another interview captured the entire picture: "They played like the veterans while we played like the young players."

Q: More active role for Pedro Feliz? 1B?
A: Playing time is academic, where remains to be seen. Can't have that much production, with few at-bats, at different positions, consistently, and not be considered to play more.
M: Most probably this means that he will see a lot of time at 1B then and, if Galarraga is re-signed, maybe LF when Bonds is off, allowing Big Cat an occasional start. Also, the Giants could shift Alfonzo to 2B, Durham to CF, and Grissom to RF, in order to open up 3B for Feliz, assuming they sign or trade for a starting 1B RBI guy. But I think this would be a last resort. Not sure how else he can be guaranteed more playing time.

Q: Want to get younger with the lineup?
A: Always want to get younger as you go along but can't guarantee will happen because you need experience. Can't fill Pac Bell Park by playing rookies and hope for best with strong pitching staff or good defense. Will need to mix and match. Yeah, each year want to get younger.
M: Dumb reporter question. "No, we want to get as old as possible. Maybe throw Willie Mays back in CF?"

Q: Does Nen's situation affect how you handle Worrell?
A: Don't know if they are tied together. Know in spring training with Robbie, either or. Return to form or will be scrambling again.
M: Totally skipped over discussing Worrell. Reporter missed that and didn't follow up. Too bad, wanted to get a feel for what they are thinking with him. I have been assuming that he will leave to get a closer job with another team plus get closer money. Who knows, he might be going across the bay to Oakland if Foulke proves too expensive or even go back to the Cubs and rejoin Dusty.

Q: More highly regarded, possibility of losing Dick Tidrow to a higher position?
A: Don't know that he will leave unless general manager position. Organization is not prepared to let him go and don't think he'll leave for a similar position. One year contract. He hasn't been as visible, not as recognized, but both he and Ned Colletti are general manager material.
M: Most probably Tidrow won't leave. He is a Bay Area native and it appears that he made a conscious choice to come back here to work. I have to give him a lot of the credit for all the good pitchers the Giants have developed over the Sabean era so I hope the organization does keep him.

Q: Todd Linden did well, thoughts of him playing right field?
A: A bit of a stretch, don't know if he's ready, want to let him surprise us in spring training. He still has some adjustments to make still and only more at-bats in the minors will allow him to adjust, as we don't want to over-expose him. Remember, he's still just out of college, he's up as fast Foppert, Correia, and Williams. Position players have it tougher, it weighs heavier on you playing every day.
M: Basically says that he's not going to be starting in 2004 because Sabean most probably will not go into spring training with RF as a big question mark. He would have had at least signed someone who could fill the position by then. Plus his comments about needing at-bats pretty much shuts the door. However, if there are any outfield needs during the season, expect him to be the first player called up.

Q: Rely on rookie pitchers greatly in 2003, has that changed any of your thoughts of how to handle them?
A: Maybe more ready than we thought, defense helped them, ballpark helped them, Righetti helped them. It takes a big heart and tough stomach and they all showed it.
M: Our rookies came up big for us - Ainsworth, Foppert, Williams, Correia, Lowry. Hopefully this is a start of bigger things to come.

Q: Assuming Santiago and Aurilia are not back, how ready are Neifi Perez and Torrealba to start?
A: They have both showed that they can play the game, they could be starters elsewhere.
M: While I believe Torrealba will be an improvement over Santiago overall because of his defense (plus I think he'll be better offensively than others think he will), Perez most probably will be a downgrade. The saving grace on this is Aurilia was mis-used last year batting third, negating the offensive advantage he normally provided at shortstop as his stats were last in the National League for third place hitters, whereas Perez would be a perfectly adequate number 8 hitter, which is where he drifted down to by the end of the season. Richie really should have batted either 2nd or 6th.

Q: Willing to sign Galarraga for one more time? Snow appears to be up in the air too? Is 1B a critical area?
A: Something we'll need to address with the cards in hand or on the market. Like rightfield, we'll need to address.
M: Not as positive as I thought it would be. Makes me think more that Feliz is being slotted for firstbase next year or at least is the backup if the moves Sabean is looking to do don't materialize in terms of his "nest egg."

Q: Chance of Bonds playing 1B?
A: No, not here, not in a pickup softball game.
M: No big surprise here, Bonds has made it very clear in interviews.

Q: How much of the Giants' fates rest on Bonds? Is there a backup plan if he's injured?
A: In a perfect world, you would love to dovetail him, and have somebody on board to take over, but having said that he's a rare bird, but I don't know he can be replaced. By same token, even if we have someone behind him, no guarantee the other teams change their strategy with Bonds. One of those things where you keep your fingers crossed. Obviously, Barry's taken us to the Promised Land, with his presence, he's still the best player in the game, in so many ways, so it is fragile, it is nerve-wracking.
M: Bonds cannot be replaced but that doesn't mean the Giants cannot pick up a player who will become the big stick in the future. I agree that other teams probably wouldn't change their strategy with Bonds but at least Bonds will probably set some sort of scoring record with another big stick behind him.

Q: Can the Giants contend without him?
A: Yes, in certain ways. Didn't expect to win by 15 and half games, finished second best pitching this year, played well defensively, pitchers ball park, other ways to score runs, stay in games if pitching and defense, win one run games. Have to have confidence but won't know until he's not here.
M: I think with Linden waiting in the wings, the Giants are covered if Bonds were to gone for an extended period. Obviously he cannot replace Bonds but if he can produce the 15 homers and 15 steals with good averages that the scouts have been touting him for, the Giants would at least be competitive while Bonds is away.

Q: How will the Giants fill rightfield, any thoughts of marquee free agents like Vladimir Guererro or Gary Sheffield, especially with payroll mid-$70M?
A: Pool as good as has been in a while, in terms of profile of players having impact. Varies by position. Having said that, if we were lucky enough to free up enough money it might not be specific to 1B or RF, may be somewhere else on diamond have an impact on lineup. M: Have no strong idea what other position could have an impact on the lineup. Obviously shortstop and catcher are open positions and, by shifting players, perhaps secondbase and thirdbase also. It can go in so many ways, which is what Sabean planned last year and said publicly about flexibility. But it doesn't seem likely that the Giants can fulfill the impact player requirement outside of 1B or RF without a trade.

Q: Do you prefer a player already in National League?
A: Looking for best guy, more interested in being a Giant, at right contract, could make the big impact on our options.
M: Basically announcing to the market that any free agent looking to join the Giants would have to work with them in terms of contract flexibility so that the Giants will have the right contract. Sabean is very careful about what he says. Like his earlier pronouncement on the dropping of the budget, this could be a form of pre-negotiation where he is laying out where the Giants stand, their philosophy, and what they are capable of doing, which leaves the ball in the hands of the free agents. These pronouncements by the Giants will definitely scare away any free agents looking just for money.

Q: How far ahead has upper management thought about replacing Bonds, are they prepared to sign a long term contract to do this?
A: We've already discussed, Barry has a hefty contract, very delicate situation. Can't presume a discount, don't know if there's a market correction, don't know what the market will bear. Sometimes a guy may have already made their money, maybe looking for right situation versus a first time free agent looking for a big contract, big money. Easier to attract someone with Barry in uniform though. Again, depends on how much we can free up against that mid-$70M payroll target.
M: As I've been hoping, the Giants have been looking into Bonds successor, which means that they must have Vlad in their radar in terms as one who could be a successor. They cannot miss that Alou and Pujols have a strong relationship with Vlad. Again, I assume this is a form of pre-negotiations with the agent of any player looking to join the Giants this season that if money is a big consideration then don't look here.

However, his point that the player might be looking for the right situation would fit Vlad as he has made more money than he ever could have expected or that he needs as he lives relatively modestly for a multi-millionaire and he is definitely looking for the right situation if he has narrowed down the teams to five and the Giants is one of them, according to one reporter.

It may also fit Gary Sheffield as he is good friends with Barry Bonds and may decide that he wants to help his old buddy win a ring since he already got one. And he definitely has made his money as a free agent before, though I cannot see him going for anything other than a one year deal if he does take less money. However, I do not see this as a strong possibility, though it does seem possible.

Q: Some second guessing has occurred on keeping 12 pitchers on the playoff roster, any regrets?
A: No, really used that number throughout course of the season, some guys banged up, can't replace during the series. But that wasn't the factor in why we lost, we didn't make the plays, we didn't extend the innings. No, no regrets.
M: Given Schmidt's tenuous situation, they had to keep 12 on because the roster could not change during the playoffs if he became injured. Plus if any batter not named Bonds or Alfonzo would have had one clutch hit, the Giants might still be playing right now.

Q: Who are arbitration eligible?
A: Eyre, Brower, Herges, Nathan, don't believe Feliz is.
M: I believe Feliz is too, he has three full years under his belt now.

Q: Are the Giants eyeballing the non-tenders that will be available? The market correction may lead to more non-tenders.
A: It's a big pool that's getting bigger. More teams are apt to non-tender borderline players versus their arbitration salary. Have to be ready for second pool players. The Giants scout everybody as to their talent, what they can do for the organization, and their availability.
M: Because of all the changes and the tight budget, I expect the Giants to fill some key reserve positions via this group of players plus the free agents still unsigned. Right now they are probably going with a bunch of minor leaguers as reserves - Ransom as utility middle infielder and Lunsford or Castillo as reserve catcher and perhaps Torcato as reserve outfielder. Perhaps the Giants can find a vet or two in the $500K range, which is not far from these players $300K minimum salary.

Overall Implications

The Giants budget will be in the mid-$70M range in 2004, which is what it was suppose to be in 2003 except that this year they say that they are sticking to it. There is very little budget room even if most open positions are taken by minor leaguers, perhaps enough right now to sign someone in the $3-5M range. Given that, this probably means that the Giants will not and cannot re-sign any of their free agents or bought out option players unless they are willing to accept $500K-$1M contracts (more towards the lower end), which is not likely except for Galarraga who signed a $500K contract last year.

However, Sabean is trying to work out more salary budget space in order to enter into the free agent market and perhaps obtain an impact player but that is not a certainty. And it probably won't take much more - maybe $4-6M more - to allow the Giants to pursue an impact player. The only question, as Sabean noted, is figuring out which player is willing to accept the right contract for the Giants in order to get into the right situation for the player. If he cannot find such an impact player, I assume he will dip into the pool of non-tenders and remaining free agents with his "nest egg" and fill more holes on the cheap.

No minor leaguer is expected to come up and take a prominent role next year, which means that the Giants are not re-building, as some naysayers have suggested the Giants do. However, minor leaguers will probably fill many reserve positions - middle infield utility, reserve catcher, utility outfielder - unless the Giants are able to find veterans willing to play for the $500K minimum for veterans.

In addition, it appears that Bonser has matured enough to be considered in spring training and that Valdez has done well enough to make the roster for next year. So the Giants may be seeing fresh young blood coming up by mid-season among Bonser, Valdez, and Lowry, should there be any needs on the pitching staff, and maybe Aardsma might be contributing too, by late season. At minimum, they would all be the coveted tradeable players we can dangle if we need to trade for a top pitcher by the trade deadline, perhaps Javier Vasquez?

The big news for Giants fans is that the upper management has had discussions about the transition from Barry to another superstar to carry the team. This means that this has been big enough concern to be on their radar and that they have definitely been proactively thinking about who might fit the bill. In addition, this should mean that they should be more flexible with the payroll budget if the "right" contract can be worked out with the "annointed" one.

I would be incredulous if Vlad did not cross their minds at some point, especially with the Felipe Alou and Luis Pujols connection and Vlad's possibly special needs for low media pressure and a reduced level of fame, both of which is doable here. I have been advocating obtaining Vladimir Guerrero as the answer, both to having another big RBI guy and as a successor to Bonds. Plus given his need for a low profile, I don't think that he needs top dollar in order to be happy with the contract. I believe that he is looking for the right situation.

And while I still think he is the ideal choice, we just need someone else to provide a high RBI bat behind Bonds. Apparently managers are getting so afraid of him that they now routinely walk him in almost all men on base situations, not just first base open situations. That means we need cold blooded killers like Alfonzo hitting behind Bonds so that they can take advantage of Bonds being on-base so often. So if Vlad doesn't work out, hopefully they will continue to look for an impact RBI guy.

That has to be our highest priority, I believe, of the off-season, because our rotation is good enough to get us through the season, we have a stellar bullpen overall and even better if Nen can come back, and a good starting eight position players. The only weaknesses is another big RBI guy to hit behind Bonds and having rookies playing most of the reserve positions. But if there is a large non-tender pool, the Giants should be able to pick up a veteran or two who can fit the bill in the reserves, especially for a chance to make the playoffs and perhaps beyond.



Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@yahoo.com if you have a question or comment.

The views expressed in the columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the site's publisher, writers, or other staff members. The content on this site may not be redistributed without the expressed consent of SFDugout.com.


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