The San Francisco Giants organization is planning on big changes happening in 2018. Without actually doing very much.
Following the team’s historically horrific 2017 season, the highest executive levels of the Giants’ front office are confident of a big turnaround in 2018.
So, is San Francisco about to hire a brilliant new General Manager? Perhaps a dynamic and creative executive who will be tasked with changing the organization’s failed old school mentality?
Or will the Giants’ bottom-rated farm system and poor amateur player drafting be put in the hands of a talented administrator tasked with melding cutting edge analytics with traditional scouting?
Uh, no. This is a different kind of change.
In two recent interviews, the current priorities of the San Francisco Giants front office were put into perfect focus. It was a confused, contradictory focus, but that’s completely beside the point.
Larry Baer: We’re just Like the Arizona Diamondbacks
First up is Giants Chief Operating Officer Larry Baer, who was recently interviewed by Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News.
This is where Larry Baer formally introduced what we’ll call “the Arizona Diamond Backs rationale” to explain why the Giants had a catastrophically terrible 2017, and why that could all magically change in 2018.
COO Baer made a number of statements about the D’Backs that are completely untrue, but will be happily lapped up and regurgitated by Giant fans eager to rationalize 2017:
“I was talking to Matt Williams, and he’s talking about how last year, Arizona was a 90-loss team. They’re going to be the mirror reverse of what they were last year, and they didn’t change their personnel much. They had a few tweaks here and there, but not a ton of changes.”
That’s kind of true—Arizona didn’t make “a ton of changes” after their 69-93 record in 2016. No, they made a “a massively huge, enormous ton” of critical changes to that 93-loss team.
After the 2016 season, the Diamondbacks fired their entire bumbling, anti-analytic front office, including inept GM Dave Stewart, strategically-challenged Manager Chip Hale, and virtually the entire coaching staff.
Which included, coincidentally, D’Backs third base coach Matt Williams. The guy who tipped Larry Baer off about how 2017 Arizona Diamondbacks only made “a few tweaks” after their disastrous 2016 season.
As part of not making “a ton” of changes, Arizona’s ownership brought in Red Sox executive Mike Hazen as GM with a mandate to bring the franchise into the 21st century. Also on board were new Manager Torey Lovullo and a slew of new coaches.
And that’s not all. Other dramatic changes were made to the 2016 D’Backs.
New GM Mike Hazen’s first move was to make the biggest baseball trade of the 2016 off-season. A five-player deal with the Seattle Mariners that sent infielder Jean Segura (who led the NL with 203 hits in 2016) to the Mariners for young RHP Taijuan Walker.
Walker helped solidify Arizona’s 2017 starting rotation on their way to grabbing the top NL Wild Card slot.
Were there any more “tweaks” to the 2016 Diamondbacks?
Why yes. GM Hazen made the most impactful mid-season deadline trade in recent MLB history, getting slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez from Detroit.
All Martinez has done since he came to Arizona is put up a 1.134 OPS in 59 games (so far), batting .306 with 29 home runs.
So if you believe Larry Baer’s fairy tale about the 2016 Arizona D’Backs, you’re welcome to join him and pretend that the Giants really don’t have to do much of anything in preparation for the 2018 season.
Other than show up at Spring Training with pretty much the same team from this season. Because baseball has nothing to do with being smart and making smart moves; it’s all about “magic”.
I get on my knees and pray that the Giants make the exact same “tweaks” this off season that Arizona made last season. Because then they might actually have a chance to do better in 2018.
COO Larry Baer also insisted that there will not be a lot of player changes from the 2017 Giants roster in 2018. Because of that Arizona thing.
Reporter Baggarly asked Baer, “The narrative that seems to be solidifying among the front office, coaches and players is that your fortunes in 2018 will largely rest on your core guys turning it around. Is that the way you would characterize it?”
To which Larry Baer responded, “The core guys, obviously, we do have to get better performances out of the core guys.”
Brian Sabean: “We still believe in our core players. But we have to put a fresh look on things.”
In two recent interviews with San Francisco Chronicle sports reporter Bruce Jenkins, Giants Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Brian Sabean tried to be calm and insightful about the Giants.
But he quickly went from his usual bland, unnecessarily secretive, comments to screaming about how wrong advanced analytics are.
First came Brian Sabean’s assessment of Giants General Manager Bobby Evans, who has presided over San Francisco’s three-year nose-dive.
Evans is also the guy who added several additional bad free agent contracts to the Giants’ already long list of bad free agent and extension contracts.
Did Sabean describe Evans has a hard-nosed, creative, and brilliant GM, working at the game’s cutting edge? Well, no that didn’t come up.
Sabean’s closing quote about Evans: “I like the gentlemanly way in which he goes about his business.”
Perhaps Bobby Evans would do better as a maître d’ at one of San Francisco’s posh restaurants.
Then, despite the Giants’ desperate need for power and home run bats this off-season, Brian Sabean graciously listed the top reasons why any free agent slugger would be a complete idiot to play in AT&T Park.
“We’ve never been known as a big power team, unless you go back to 2000, when we were almost like an American League team (finishing with 226 homers).
“And let’s face it,” Sabean added helpfully, “how many free agents are going to come here? They’re not. For two reasons: the ballpark and the California taxes. That’s just a fact.”
Sabean’s final comments in this particular interview were like a scene from the film “The Caine Mutiny”. Reasonable at first, but quickly collapsing into scary rage.
When asked if advanced baseball analytics fit in to the Giants’ plans, Sabean said, “We’ve always paid attention to the numbers. You’d be crazy not to. But you’ve got to have a balance.”
So far so good. Who doesn’t like having a balance?
Then things got squirrelly.
“Whatever the SABR people believe, I’ll go to my grave believing that when you come right down to it, as a pitcher, it’s what you do in traffic. Can you get that ground ball to the infield? Can you strike somebody out with the bases loaded?”
I wasn’t present during the interview, but I’m just guessing this is where Sabean got up from his chair and started waving his arms.
“And if you’re at the plate, I’ll kiss your ass on Main Street,” he generously offered, “if you tell me certain hitters don’t have a nose for an RBI, the big clutch hit. To the SABR people it’s random circumstance, and I just can’t rationalize that. It’s an art form, a higher level of talent.”
OK, sir, we’ll get off your front lawn. Don’t stress out, we’re just getting our baseball.
I’m betting the interview was terminated at this point and Brian Sabean was led away by security staff to a quiet room.
It’s funny, normally I like the gentlemanly way in which Sabean goes about his business…