Since taking over for Bob Quinn in 1997, Brian Sabean has been anointed one of the best General Managers in Major League Baseball. He got off to a strong start making several savvy trades and enjoying early success, but at this point the Giants are one of the oldest, least talented teams in the league and the farm system has had a decade long drought. His legacy will be that of a GM who failed to build championship level team around perhaps the greatest offensive player in the history of the game.
Under Sabean the Giants made the playoffs in 1997, 2000, 2002, and 2003. On it's face this is not too shabby, but when taken into the context of Bonds' ridiculous production over that span, it's hard to believe that Sabean could not slap together a supporting cast good enough to get Bonds into the playoffs every year. Once in the playoffs, I fully understand that a lot of luck is involved and the best team does not always win- you need look only to last year's Cardinals teams as the best example of this theory. The playoffs are a small sample size and teams and players can easily go through hot/cold streaks over a five or seven game series that are not indicative of their true performance ability. Bonds, for example, was brutal in both the 1997 and 2000 NLDS (posting an OPS of under .700 in 7 games) but was out of his gourd awesome in the entire 2002 playoffs before falling somewhere in between in the 2003 NLDS.
While playoff performance variance is understandable, what is egregious is Sabean's failure to surround Bonds with enough talent to make the playoffs every year. Any GM in the league would savor the opportunity to build around the best offensive player of our era. I'm not going to post up Bonds' stats from 1997 on, but if don't want to take my word for it, you can check them out click here. Outside of Sabean's first major deal which landed Jeff Kent for Matt Williams, Sabean has constantly acquired aging talent who are either at the end of their prime or whose prime coincided with the first Gulf War.
Before I get into the misguided acquisitions I must give credit where credit is due and pat Sabean on the back for some nice nice pick ups. He landed Jeff Kent and several other productive players for Matt Williams. This was Sabean's first and best major move as he actually acquired a player entering his prime, which as you will see is rarer than steak tartar. He also got some very productive years out of Ellis Burks and Jason Schmidt, but those good moves have been largely offset by Sabean's penchant for picking up players who are only a few years from wearing Oops I Crapped My Pants. Sabean must be taken to task for acquiring the corpses of Joe Carter, Andres Galarraga, Wilson Alvarez and Edgardo Alfonso as well as signing or trading for never weres like Jose Cruz Jr., David Bell, and Neifi Perez.
Sabean also got the John Cangelosi end of the stick on his most high profile trade of recent years. Sabean sent Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and Joe Nathan to the Twins for perennial douchebag AJ Pierzynski. Pierzynski played one lackluster season for the Giants, while Nathan has been a lights out closer, Bonser is a solid back of the rotation guy, and Liriano was poised to be a star before having Tommy John surgery. Today not a single GM would trade any of those aforementioned players for Pierzynski let alone all three of them.
This past offseason, Sabean made another boner by signing Barry Zito for $126M. Just because he was the best pitcher on the market doesn't mean he had to be the best paid pitcher in baseball. Sabean would have been better off waiting a year to make a run at Carlos Zambrano, a true ace, but instead he overvalued Zito, who had lost several mph on his fastball over the past few years and benefitted greatly by playing the one of the friendliest pitchers parks in Major League Baseball. The Zito signing is going to be one of those gifts that keep on giving year after year as the Giants will have to pass on better pitching options down the road thanks to that albatross of a contract.
To make matters worse, the Giants are going to be absolutely miserable for the next several years. Besides Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain there are no young future stars (or even contributors) on the roster nor is there much hope growing down on the farm. Under Sabean the Giants farm system has produced one, count it one, offensive starter and that's the OBP allergic Pedro Feliz. In fact Sabean has demonstrated over the past two drafts that he has no clue how to cultivate position players by drafting almost identical no pop, decent speed, lead off hitting outfielders. One need only to look at the failed Jason Tyner experiment to realize that these are not the type of players worth spending a first round pick on.
Now, I realize that the Giants were a blown save away from winning the 2002 World Series, but a world championship would not necessarily change my view of the Sabean era. With Bonds, the Giants should have been in a position to win the Series every year- there is simply no excuse to squander the career of the best player of the last twenty years. Instead Sabean built a intermittent contender that was very shallow on talent and has the organized poised for some of the darkest days in its history.
(Note: Of course most of this is moot if the Giants take the money they will save by losing Bonds and put it towards Arod)