(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group Archives) San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean chats with Giants manager Bruce Bochy before the start of the Oakland Athletics vs. San Francisco Giants game on Friday, May 21, 2010 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)
SAN FRANCISCO — In a wide-ranging interview, Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean reflected on the worst half of Giants baseball in the club’s six decades on the West Coast and sketched out the team’s strategy as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
You can find the news story here. What follows is the full transcript of our interview:
Q: As emotionally invested as you are, what has the experience of watching these games been like?
A: To be honest it’s something you have a difficult time coping with, not only from a baseball perspective but from a life perspective. It’s a life lesson. The game mirrors what goes on as you soldier on through life. It’s such a day to day proposition. All of us are scratching our heads at how we’ve flatlined like this and fallen off the map. It’s beyond frustrating. The break couldn’t have come at a better time. Now having said that, I’ve been around this game a long time with two organizations and I don’t know what to expect to start the second half. I really don’t have a good handle on what our trajectory is, if any.
Q: It’s not as if everyone in the industry saw this coming. What aspect stands out as particularly surprising or disappointing?
A: Well, it’ll show you how fallible the roster can be. Any season is unto its own, and getting out of the gate so poorly and having three teams playing so far in front of us, we got buried so early, I’m sure it had a cumulative effect mentally on the folks in uniform as well as the injuries we’ve had. And I guess (with) the lack of a suitable second line of defense, we’ve been too vulnerable in every series we’ve played. You couldn’t have foreseen that, and you couple that with the poor performance, and perhaps even beyond (poor) in some cases, and then you look at each department of the team and we’ve had our trials and tribulations everywhere. It’s like for some reason, we can’t have two weeks of sanity. And that’s taken its toll. Some of it we knew was predictable. We knew we could have some growing pains with the bullpen because of its relative lack of experience, or knowing it was a different skill set coming into the year versus the folks who had left the ball club. And then quite frankly, the starting pitching has been a huge disappointment. And we knew we’d be challenged if we didn’t have all the links in the chain in the lineup, especially knowing the left field situation was a work in progress. But each week to 10 days we kept taking a hit somewhere, specifically in the lineup. Almost everybody has had some time off, let’s say, due to being banged up. And our strength has always been in the sum-of-its-parts type of theory, and when we miss links in the chain, we’re going to be challenged. But to watch us literally hope to win one game in a series … I mean, I can’t remember a season, and I’ve been here since ’93, whether it’s home or road, that we’ve been swept so many times. I mean, that to me is a sign of our total ineptitude.
Q: You haven’t gotten more than one guy hot in the lineup at any one time, and you’ve scored the third fewest runs in the NL. But it seems to be an even bigger surprise that your pitching and defense has allowed the third most. Would you agree?
A: I would tend to agree. And then you get to these last three games of the first half (against the Marlins) where we were competitive offensively but fell off the map with our pitching. In any given season when you don’t have that confidence or that home park advantage, which we don’t now for some reason, then that takes its toll. No matter what your record is or where you are in the standings, in any given year, you’re expected to win at home. That’s just the nature of sports.
Q: Does this half, combined with last year’s rough second half, hint at deeper roster issues that must be addressed? Does 98 losses in your last 162 games force you to conclude this season hasn’t been a fluke?
A: Oh, I think so. You have to add it in a total sense, and that’s when we sit down on a daily basis or we kind of noodle what the best tact is going forward. You do have to take into account last year’s second half because we do have a lot of the same personnel. And as fate would have it, if we hadn’t won seven of the last 10 games (last September), we probably wouldn’t have even gotten in (to the postseason). Maybe there was a false positive in having beaten the Mets (in the NL Wild Card game) and perhaps being so competitive against the Cubs. So there’s a lot of soul searching going on, to your point. We have to get a road map to not only have a good second half, and to be well planned out from a roster standpoint, but we’ve got to get back to business as soon as we can next year. This is not similar in regards to the total meltdown in ‘13, when we had our challenges. That team finished only 10 games under .500. But when you’re 22 games under at the break, there’s more than head scratching. I mean, it goes from frustration to embarrassment to asking how or why did we lose our edge. One of the things we did over time here, culture wise, as much as we liked to win, we hated to lose that much more. Now, I’m not saying we’ve accepted losing, because I still see professionalism, I still see fight and I know these guys care, but it’s almost like we’ve forgotten how to win.
Q: You’ve been outscored 59-32 in the first inning, which usually means you’re trying to come back against front-end relievers. And even though your lineup is often rallying against them, you still end up on the losing end. Can you figure why those competitive at-bats you get in the eighth and ninth aren’t there in the first five innings?
A: We’ve always been a situation short, whether it’s knocking in a run or extending an inning or something as simple as getting a two-out hit. We’ve had a lot of innings, whether it’s the starting pitcher or the reliever, who can’t do damage control. This game to me still comes down to what you do in traffic — as a starting pitcher or reliever, how you nail down a third out, how you don’t have an inning get away from you. I’m still a big proponent, the saber thought aside, that you make your living as a team individually and collectively with what you do with runners in scoring position, and we’ve been inept in that fashion on both sides of the ball, whether it’s stopping an inning or keeping an inning going.
Q: We know this is not a market that can permit a multiyear rebuild. How do you begin to tackle the challenge of refurbishing this roster so it can confidently contend next season?
A: Under duress, you’ve already seen it in play. I don’t want to say it’s a tryout camp of sorts, but it’s incumbent upon us to take a look at some of these kids, and while they might not be ready, find out how they might factor into the rest of this season and into the future. I know Bobby and Jeremy are way ahead of schedule as to their preparation for trade deadline. Needless to say, we’re going to be strategic. We’re not going to be buyers unless it would be an investment into the future, which rules out Reynolds. I would doubt that, given our current payroll situation, we would be willing to take on more payroll, but within that, I would think we can be as creative as any team that we’ll have players available at the deadline, and I think we’ll be a lot more open minded to more names than we have been in the past.
Q: Including players that you considered part of your core and signed to multiyear contracts?
A: Again, I think you have to be a real good listener and strategic as to how or when you make a move. It’s funny. From this point forward, leverage on either side of a deal changes almost daily and that’s because people’s roster needs change daily or from series to series or week to week. There’s a lot of time between now and the deadline. Some of your better deals can be done later than sooner. I think needless to say, we’re open for business. I think we have to be.
Q: One report characterized you as willing to discuss anyone besides Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Crawford. Is that an accurate assessment?
A: That’s a logical deduction. You’ve got a franchise pitcher, a franchise catcher and one of the best shortstops no matter what he’s going through this year. Those three animals are divine. And again, as I’m intimating, we can’t gut this team and say, `Hey, we’ll see you in three years.’ Or, `We’re going to flatline to get the draft picks.’ Make no mistake, the ownership has been very patient and understanding. Larry has been great through this whole thing and really has helped our mindset and helped us to keep our sanity. But we know the task at hand. We’ve got to get this turned around to the point where when we start next year’s season, we’ve got the expectation to get back to the playoffs.
Q: As you strategize for the trade deadline, how does Johnny Cueto’s opt-out affect your thinking with him?
A: You know, I’m not sure yet because I don’t know if we or Bobby is at the point that he’s getting teams asking for specific names. Usually in this early phase, during and after the All-Star break, (teams) will identify what they’re looking for without naming names. But having said that, you know our minor leagues, and if we’re not pitching this year and we don’t have the messiah coming from below, or know yet how Beede or Suarez could be plugged in next year, you still have to have enough pitching to compete. I’m still a firm believer in the National League, especially, your fortunes start with your starting pitching. So you have to somehow get the innings, and you have to map out who’s going to do that.
Q: In the larger context of this season, the unmistakable trend is that teams are scoring with the home run. Understanding that your home ballpark is no small factor when it comes to suppressing power, to what extent are you talking about the need to refashion an offense that is more keeping with the times?
A: Well it’s easier said than done, for two reasons. We’re still playing 81 games at home. We’re not going to change the dimensions. And unless you trade for a hitter, as we’ve seen in the past, it’s very difficult to compete to bring a hitter here as a free agent. So thus your fallback is how long does it take to develop a proficient hitter from the minor leagues, and more so somebody with power? Part of our issue is compounded by, while you have a lack of power, we’re not as athletic or have as much team speed as we should to be able to manufacture runs. And this is so redundant it’s ridiculous, but it applies to what we’re taking about: the magic number is four. When we figure out how to score four or more, in most years, if the starting pitching is in check, and the bullpen is competent enough, you should win your share of games. It’s uncanny. The stats don’t lie in that regard.
Q: You’re obviously not in the market for rental players this time. Do you expect to be aggressive sellers, or might there be ways to add pieces that could be part of a winning club next season, such as the deal that brought Randy Winn in 2005?
A: And even before that. I think we traded for Livan Hernandez in ’99, and that was somebody with less service time, or a contract into the future. To these questions, I think we have to be pretty nimble as to what we can do to make this team not only stronger to finish the year but more so to start next year. But having said that, it’s got to fold into a budget that was over the top this year. Maybe that’s the most frustrating thing: as long as we’ve all done this, we treat the money like it’s our own and try to spend it that way. It’s very embarrassing for all of us that we have this kind of payroll and this kind of season going on. And I‘ll give players credit, too, you know, because they are professionals and they do want to win and they do want to represent the uniform and the city. It’s taken a toll on them, too. They’re all well read and in the know to what our fortunes were supposed to be.
Q: How do you evaluate Bruce Bochy through all this, especially given some of the health challenges he’s had?
A: I think he’s doing great. When you watch him navigate a 17-inning win and a 14-inning win – and as bad as we’ve been, when we get on a little roll and things fall into place — I’m sure in his mind it’s fun again. Because it might not be too much fun as a manager on a daily basis, given your shortcomings as a game plays out, or your lack of ability to keep up with the opposition in more ways than one. But the funny thing that people forget is, when you’re grinding out and you’re winning, that’s not easy on the manager, either.
Q: GM Bobby Evans is receiving much the same fan/media criticism that you did when things didn’t break the team’s way, which we all know is part of the job description. How do you think he’s handled it, and how would you evaluate the job he’s done managing the day-to-day?
A: You guys know Bobby, dealing with him now since ’15. He’s got a gentlemanly way and he’s pretty buttoned up and doesn’t show his cards. How he does the job on a day to day basis serves his personality. He doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. I think given the circumstances, including going back to what we went through last year, I think he’s doing extremely well. But as we all know, and as I grew to know over time, when the crap stats to fly, they start at the top and they work their way down. And he’s aware of that. But by the same token, it pains me, too. I said this to a friend the other night: I’m probably sleeping less and worrying more than when I was involved in the day to day. Because we’ve all been part of this organization for a long time and have personal relationships and loyalties to each other and mutual respect. So when one part of that family hurts or is getting attacked, we all try to hunker down and relieve that pressure.
Q: As much as you relished stepping back and taking on special projects in the baseball ops restructuring, do the current circumstances compel you to be a little more hands on again in the day to day, or has that already happened?
A: I think given what we’re going through, obviously I’ll be involved in how we map this out or paint the picture going forward to a greater extent. But as my title infers, and how I report to Larry and ownership, it’s really up to them to direct me in the best fashion for the organization, and also in due respect to Bobby, because Bobby is the GM. I don’t want to impose my will, but yet I’m not here as a mentor or a senior advisor. I took this position for the greater good, and I’m really responsible for the quality control throughout the organization, starting with the major league club. So I’m here to serve and however that’s best put forth by the people above me, I’m prepared to do that.
Q: At least getting Madison Bumgarner back on Saturday will help from a practical and mental standpoint.
A: Well again, I’ll take two weeks. I’ll take two weeks of sanity including having him back, and see how it plays out for our guys. All of the sudden it is about pride and professionalism, as well as, in some cases, adding to their baseball card or their payday. They’re still highly skilled and highly paid athletes and they have a lot of pride. We can wreak a lot of havoc on the people we play against as far as how this thing turns out, and play spoiler. But we also need to win to get that culture back and more so have it carry over into next year.