Good to be back from a couple of weeks away while the Mariners went about their annual ritual of hiring a new manager. We’ll know soon enough whether Eric Wedge is any different than Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman, Don Wakamatsu or Daren Brown. Never mind the “seven managers in seven seasons” line I keep hearing. Wedge is the sixth manager in 3 1/2 years so, the M’s should be under some added pressure to finally get it right.
Along those lines, as we prepare to enter Year No. 3 of the Jack Zduriencik plan, I keep hearing additional talk about how the team is going through its “rebuilding” the “right” way. That, if all the pieces fall into place within five or six years, it will have been mission accomplished.
Well, it is true. Teams do attempt five-year rebuilding plans. And six-year plans. Seven-year plans as well. And when they work out, they get lauded for it. When they fail, we rarely hear about it.
But is it the “correct” way? I’d argue no. There is no real “correct” way to do things in baseball. Yes, you like to have a decent farm system to supplement your MLB club. But the goal is a major league winner.
Let’s take a look at the San Francisco Giants, now just a win away from the World Series.
Yes, the Giants do have a playoff quartet of homegrown starters. Three of them — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner — were first-round picks.
But when it comes to position players, there is almost nothing homegrown at all about the potential NL champs.
Photo Credit: Wilfredo Lee/AP
Yes, they have catcher Buster Posey, a fifth overall first rounder from 2008. Guys drafted fifth overall are supposed to be good. Not this quick, but hey, the Giants caught a break there, unlike the M’s with first-round bust Jeff Clement.
The other “homegrown” talent the Giants have position-wise? The “Kung Fu Panda” himself, Pablo Sandoval, looking more and more like Bengie Molina and not in a good way. Sandoval barely plays anymore. His name even came up in Jose Lopez trade rumors this past summer, which says a lot.
Yes, closer Brian Wilson is also homegrown, though that’s not all that unusual. The M’s have a string of potential closers in their farm system and had Mark Lowe in the majors before trading him to go younger and cheaper.
After that for the Giants? It’s a free agent and deadline acquisition bonanza.
Aubrey Huff was a free-agent signing last winter.
Pat Burrell was picked up this season after the Rays put him on waivers.
Cody Ross, this year’s playoff home run hero (pictured on opposite page), was claimed off waivers from the Marlins on Aug. 22.
Andres Torres signed as a free agent in 2009.
Freddy Sanchez was picked up from the Pirates via trade during their fire sale a year ago, around the time the M’s landed Jack Wilson and Ian Snell.
Aaron Rowand was a free-agent signing after the 2007 season.
Edgar Renteria another veteran free-agent pickup.
Mike Fontenot was acquired in an August trade with the Cubs after he’d cleared waivers.
Jose Guilllen was supposed to get the playing time now given Ross. But Guillen, acquired in a deadline deal from the Royals, got hurt.
Juan Uribe was a free-agent signing after 2008 and 2009.
So, no, the Giants didn’t really build their offense, so much as pay for it. Nate Schierholtz? Yeah, he’s homegrown, but hardly plays.
Anyhow, Renteria should be used to a team like this, since he played for one when he won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997 on a Florida squad built much the same way. Yeah, that one was dismantled in a hurry. The Giants? Who knows? Not like these free agents are costing them all that much.
Is this a blueprint to follow? I don’t know. The Giants fans don’t seem to mind it. They didn’t have to wait six years. This was a losing team in 2008. Then, after one 88-win season (sound familliar, M’s fans?) it decided to go the free agent supplement route to a playoff berth.
No, I’m not discounting the impact that a Lincecum-Cain combo has had. And yeah, Sanchez is a pretty good pitcher too. Bumgarner was supposed to be. We’ll know more after his sophomore season next year. He didn’t look like anything special in failing to go five innings yesterday. You could have gotten any starter to do what he did.
The point is, yes, you can take a 1-2 punch of starters, as the Giants did with Lincecum and Cain, and ride it to a title if you spend your free agent money wisely. And as good a trio as the Giants have with Sanchez thrown in, this is hardly the Oakland A’s Big Three reincarnated. Lincecum-Cain are no better than Felix Hernandez-Cliff Lee.
Or even Felix Hernandez-Erik Bedard when the latter is healthy.
The reason the Giants are winning is because they spent their free agent dollars on the right hitters and traded for the correct players to fill out the rest of their roster after their big starting pitchers. You could suggest they used the “plan” the Mariners hoped to employ this past season and would be partially correct.
San Francisco does not have a juggernaut offense. It scores just enough to win on most nights behind stellar pitching.
The difference is, the Mariners backed their pitching up with one of the worst offenses of all-time and did little to supplement it after the month of December.
Does that mean you blow it all up and sacrifice the next two or three years in the name of going young and “rebuilding” to a title?
Well, that’s one way of doing things.
The Giants are now showing you there’s more than one way to go about it, especially when you’ve already got some pitching to start with.
There is no “correct” way to do things, despite the oft-repeated mantra. And in the end, no guarantee that the wait will be worth it. Ask the Cleveland Indians, with one playoff appearance going on a decade since their rebuild. Ask the Royals. Or the Blue Jays. Or the Baltimore Orioles. How many playoffs have the Tigers been to outside of 2006? What year did their rebuild start?
Waiting could still turn out to be the “right” thing to do. But M’s fans should be aware of all the risks associated with the wait beforehand. I’ve seen a lot of pie-in-the-sky forecasting so far, but very little public debate about the downside of long-term rebuilding. Because there is no single way to build a winner. And M’s fans should be prepared to watch other teams win the “wrong” way in the interim, if indeed the five, or six-year rebuild is truly the plan in store for Seattle’s squad.