When the Giants gave general manager Brian Sabean a two-year contract extension back in July, they suggested that they might drop their "win now" approach in favor of greater emphasis on developing their own players.
"I think the emphasis has been more on winning than developing," said Giants owner Peter Magowan at the time. "It's a balance, and the balance is always in flux because you might feel you're just a player or two players away. If you're several players away, you put more emphasis on developing."
Well, so much for that.
By signing the 30-year old Rowand to a 5-year, $60 million contract to play centerfield until after he turns 36, the Giants tied themselves to three outfielders all 30 or over through at least the 2009 season. Randy Winn will be 34 next June and will make $8 million this year and $8.25 in '09 when he will be 35. Dave Roberts will be 36 next May and will earn $6.5 million in each of the next two seasons. Combined with Rowand's $12 million per year average annual salary, the three should make somewhere in the neighborhood of $26 million over the next two years. That's roughly ¼ of the team's projected $90 million payroll.
On top of that, Rowand is known to play with heart and reckless abandon which can be both good and bad. Fans in Philadelphia will remember Rowand for face planting into the centerfield wall and breaking his nose and left eye. Can the Giants be sure they'll get the 161-game player from 2007, or will they get the 109-games-played version from '06 as he continues "laying it all out there" as he put it yesterday? Isn't his style of play conducive to Jim Edmonds-type injuries and aging in the latter years of this deal (and likely without the Jim Edmonds type of production)? The biggest risk to this deal is the length.
Meanwhile, Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz and Eugenio Velez will be hard pressed to find playing time in San Francisco. Davis and Lewis will be 27 next year, Velez will be 26, and Schierholtz turns 24 in February. With this sudden logjam, all four now find themselves as possible trade bait, while 25-year old Clay Timpner, who was added to the club's 40-man roster in November, now finds his path in CF blocked for the next five years.
Is that the emphasis on developing that Magowan was talking about? Were the Giants suddenly just a player or two away from going all the way and I missed it? Doesn't signing Rowand, who will bat fifth for manager Bruce Bochy in 2008, still leave the Giants needing a first and third baseman, not to mention someone to bat cleanup other than Bengie Molina? Does employing Winn as a three-hole hitter really foreshadow a potent lineup?
When he re-signed Sabean in early July instead of waiting until after the trading deadline and assessing his performance then, Magowan told reporters, "It puts Brian in a much better position to do what he feels he needs to do, in terms of making trades and whatever assessments are necessary to make, than would be the case if we were to wait until the October or November time frame. We can get a running start on the '08 season by making these moves now."
Perhaps Magowan heard my call for Sabean to blow up the roster nine days before the deal was announced. All things considered, after watching the Giants assemble aging rosters the previous couple years in an ill-advised decision to surround Bonds with veteran players in an effort to win it all now, the idea of putting more emphasis on younger, homegrown talent was kind of exciting.
That July 31st, the Giants traded Matt Morris and his entire salary to Pittsburgh for the promising and speedy Davis and minor league pitcher Stephen MacFarland. Not a bad move by any means, but as it was Sabean's only deadline deal, it was hardly the "running start on the '08 season" that I was hoping for.
The Giants' only other significant roster move this winter so far has been to re-sign shortstop Omar Vizquel, who will turn 41 next year, for up to two more seasons ($5.3 million this year and he has a vesting option for 2009 should he play in 140 games). And if the season started today, Ray Durham, 36 next season and due to make $7.5 million, would likely be playing second base instead of 26-year old Kevin Frandsen. Catcher Bengie Molina will turn 34 next July and make $6 million.
But don't worry, instead of going into 2008 faced with the prospect of having 36-year old Rich Aurilia playing third, Sabean indicated Wednesday that he would continue to negotiate with free agent Pedro Feliz (33 next April), who is seeking a three-year deal. Sabean asked reporters if Feliz did indeed have a three-year deal on the table, "why hasn't he signed it?" This indicates that the GM is strongly contemplating bringing back my favorite target. My prediction is a compromise that will ensure the Giants' secret weapon continues to drive me insane for the next two seasons (likely for something in the neighborhood of $12-14 million).
Well, maybe Dan Ortmeier, 27 next May, will beat out Richie for the first base job and the Giants can say they gave development a chance. Of course, Ortmeier, with just 10 walks in 205 career PA, isn't exactly the high on-base percentage kind of guy the Giants need. At least he's south of 30-years old (then again, maybe they can trade Lewis and Schierholtz for some 30+ declining veteran).
My problem isn't so much with Rowand, but the fact that the Giants continue to push younger players to the back burner in an attempt to satisfy the impatient but seat-filling lunatic fringe who shudder at the very mention of the word rebuilding. At least this means the Giants will no longer contemplate trading 23-year old pitching studs Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, nor will they make an even more foolish move such as trading for 33-year old Hideki Matsui (and his $13 million salary).
Given the rapidly rising cost of free agency, teams are locking up their good players before they reach their peak free agency years more often than before. Subsequently, teams have increasingly turned to the trade market, but this increased demand combined with lack of quality supply in the free agent market has also vastly increased the price of making trades. For a team in the state the Giants find themselves, unloading the farm to acquire Miguel Cabrera wouldn't have made sense. They simply are not a player or two away from getting there.
These two factors should have made focusing on getting younger and developing their own priority #1. Sometimes the best move is to stand pat and focus on that dirty word, rebuilding. Instead, the Giants hit the overpriced free agent market for another ill-advised free agent signing and look likely to open the season with eight starting position players over the age of 30. That is not what I call getting significantly younger or changing the way they are doing business.
I have long supported Sabean, noting his long and successful track record. Some would say he's been successful because of Bonds. Well, the Giants were in last place with Bonds for two straight seasons when Sabean took over and immediately traded Matt Williams to the Indians for Jeff Kent to begin to laying the groundwork for turning a last place team into a first place team. If there is a knock on him, it's that he hasn't made very good decisions on free agent acquisitions, but I'll argue that there aren't many GMs that are better when it comes to swinging a trade, A.J. Pierzynski and Shea Hillenbrand notwithstanding. Nevertheless, my own patience begins to run thin.
It's only December 13th, however, and the off-season still has a long way to go before pitchers and catchers report. A lot of change can happen between now and then, and I am loathe to jump to a premature conclusion, but halfway to spring training, I haven't liked what I've seen and heard so far. My impatience is different that that of the fringe, those who can't stand the idea of sacrificing the short term for the betterment of the long term. Losing to them is not an option. To me, a change of direction is desperately needed.
Even if the Giants get the Rowand of 2004 and 2007 instead of the Rowand of '05 and '06, the Giants will not compete in 2008 without significant offensive additions. After committing $60 million to Rowand, they still haven't done anything to upgrade the corner infield positions. Instead of considering trading Winn and relegating Roberts to a fourth outfielder and allowing Schierholtz, Lewis and Davis to develop, the Giants have committed themselves to another couple of years of business as usual.
To Rowand, I say it's nothing personal. You may have just rebounded from two tough years to break out. Being in your prime, you could be about to put up a string of very good years. In three years that $12 price tag could look like a bargain. It's difficult to imagine that you'll continue to hit at Willie Mays Field the way you did at Citizens Bank Park in '07 (.557 home slugging), but if you can stay healthy, the Giants may have indeed just bought stability in centerfield for the next five years.
The problem is that this is not the right move for the Giants to right this ship. The Giants continue to favor veteran experience over the potential of youth at the expense of the long term outlook for the club.
Come on Brian, I want to see my faith in you rewarded. I need to see you change focus and direction. This was not the kind of move Giants fans should have been hoping for. A deal more in the lines of Edwin Encarnacion (25 with OBPs of .356 and .359 the last two years and rumored to be available) to fill that hole at third base would have the kind of deal that lends credence to the notion that the Giants are truly emphasizing development.
Read more from Richard at BaseballEvolution.com
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