Brian’s Songby John Perricone
August 03, 2004
In 2002, the San Francisco Giants came within six outs of a World Championship. It would have been the first for the franchise in almost 50 years, and the first since moving to the West Coast in 1962. That team was a Wild Card qualifier (although with 95 wins, it was one of the more powerful Wild Card teams ever), finishing second in the NL West to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were the defending World Champions.
Led by Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, the Giants boasted the best offense in the league, a stellar bullpen, and a solid, if unspectacular starting rotation. After the tremendously disappointing loss to the Angels, the Giants brass, led by Brian Sabean, began the process of analyzing what went right, what went wrong, and what to do about it.
First on Sabean's list was how to handle his soon-to-be free agent second baseman, Kent, who was just finishing a six-year run of production that will probably land him in the Hall of Fame one day. Part of the difficulty of dealing with Kent (other than the huge salary he was set to command) was the contentious relationship between Sabean and the moody slugger. After a short discussion between Sabean and Kent's agent, it was clear the two were far, far apart; Sabean announced that the Giants would not offer Kent a contract, effectively ending a long and successful relationship.
Little did Giants fans know that the end of Kent's tenure would mark the beginning of a two-year re-structuring effort that would completely alter the face of the team. Since the end of the 2002 World Series, the Giants have lost starters Kent, David Bell, Rich Aurilia, Reggie Sanders and Benito Santiago (the five players with the most at-bats for the team in 2002). Part-time players from that team who are also gone include Tom Goodwin, Kenny Lofton, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Shawon Dunston, Ramon Martinez, and Marvin Benard. That's 11 players who accounted for 66% of the team's at-bats in '02.
In addition to the massive overhaul of the everyday players, Sabean has presided over an equally dramatic revamping of the pitching staff. Lost from the 2002 staff are Russ Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, Robb Nen (whose career is likely over due to shoulder problems), Tim Worrell, Felix Rodriguez, Chad Zerbe, Kurt Ainsworth, Troy Brohawn, Joe Nathan, Jay Witasick, Aaron Fultz, and Manny Aybar, responsible for 72% of the innings pitched in '02.
Who could have imagined such an overwhelming turnover for a team that had won almost 300 games during the previous three seasons, and came ohsoclose to a championship? General Manager and Vice President Brian Sabean is the architect of this re-design, and it is on his shoulders that the responsibility for the success or failure of the current team falls. Regardless of cost controls, ballpark debt, and whatever else is out there, Sabean has presided over the gutting of a championship-caliber team. If the Giants do not make it back to the World Series during Barry Bonds' career, it will be Sabean who takes the blame.
As for the transformation, no one can argue that the 2002 rotation of Jason Schmidt, Ortiz, Kirk Rueter, Hernandez and Ryan Jensen isn't substantially better than the current one comprised of Schmidt, Jerome Williams, Rueter, Dustin Hermanson and Brett Tomko. Minus Schmidt, the other four starters had an ERA of 3.91 in '02; they have an alarming 4.76 ERA this year.
The bullpen has also fared much worse. In '02, the pen was perhaps the best in baseball, with a 2.49 ERA, 43 saves, 7.03 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 29-14 record. This season, the pen has been the Achilles heel of the team, with a 4.78 ERA, 28 saves, 6.02 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 20-19 record. In fact, the relievers of '04 have already allowed more home runs (43 vs. 23) and earned runs (166 vs. 139), and almost as many walks (145 vs. 157) as the '02 relievers did the entire season.
For the everyday players, I'd suggest that the team fields two positions that aren't worse than '02 -- left field (obviously) and center field. Using Runs Created Per 27 Outs, here's a look at the two teams, then and now:
2002 (RC/27) 2004 (RC/27) C Benito Santiago (4.53) A.J. Pierzynski (4.34) 1B J.T. Snow (4.43) Pedro Feliz (3.98) 2B Jeff Kent (7.20) Ray Durham (5.23) 3B David Bell (4.72) Edgardo Alfonzo (4.36) SS Rich Aurilia (4.12) Neifi Perez (2.74) LF Barry Bonds (18.69) Barry Bonds (19.29) CF Five Players (3.74) Marquis Grissom (4.50) RF Reggie Sanders (5.12) Three Players (3.07)Not unlike 2002, this Giants team is struggling post-break, falling from first-place to third-place in less than three weeks. Focusing on the Wild Card, the Giants are in a serious battle with as many as seven teams. The question is, can this team pull off a late-season run to the playoffs like the '02 team did?
I don't see it. Carried by stellar pitching, the '02 team finished the season on a 36-16 tear, came back to win the final two games against a strong Atlanta team in the Division Series (winning Game 5 in Atlanta), dispatched a terrific St. Louis Cardinals team in the NLCS, and (as I mentioned) came within six outs of a six-game World Series victory over the Anaheim Angels.
Sabean's reputation as a trade-deadline shark took a hit this season, as a lot of moves were made, and the Giants were hardly a player; point of fact, Sabean has watched as many superstar-caliber players have changed teams in the last two seasons. For Giants fans, it's simple: Sabean has Barry Bonds, and he had a championship-caliber pitching staff to help Barry and San Francisco get that title.
Does he still? It's his staff, his team. He made the moves that have changed it so dramatically in the last two seasons. Whether the Giants can get back to the World Series on the strength of those changes will almost certainly be the defining measure of his time as GM. The Giants have but 56 games to make it happen.
John J. Perricone was born in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, and now lives in Northern California. As a New York transplant, John has come to love the Giants almost as much as the Yankees, and has been running Only Baseball Matters for almost three seasons now.