Giants Decline, Sabean/Colletti, Jeff Tedford
by Glenn Dickey
May 21, 2008

THE DECLINE of the Giants earlier in this decade was masked for a time because the division was so weak. Then, the NL West improved dramatically last season, and wild card Colorado got to the World Series.

But the situation is back to normal so far this season. The NL West has been the worst division in baseball for the first quarter-plus. As of this morning, the division was a collective 20 games below .500 and the two teams with the worst record in baseball are the Giants and San Diego Padres.

The Giants’ record is even worse than it seems. They’ve split in 18 games against division rivals but have gone 9-20 against teams outside the division, including the Chicago White Sox in an inter-league series last weekend.

General manager Brian Sabean made a wildly optimistic assessment of his team in an interview last week, talking about the possibility that the Giants could have a shot at the postseason.

In fact, the challenge for the Giants will be to avoid their second 100-loss season in San Francisco.

This Giants team constantly lives on the edge. It has been outscored by almost 60 runs, mostly because it has so little punch, so everything has to go right for them to win. The starting rotation, expected to be the team’s strong point, has taken hits because of the problems of Matt Cain and Barry Zito (Cain’s problems are correctible, Zito’s are not) and the sidelining of Kevin Correia. The bullpen has been good much of the time, but when it blows, it goes sky-high. Even though they won Tuesday night in Colorado, the bullpen very nearly blew a three-run lead over the last two innings.

In the offseason, I wrote an Examiner column advocating that the Giants trade Cain for some top prospects. I was barraged by criticism from readers who thought I was advocating that they trade him for a position player who could provide immediate help, which I was not. The kind of trade I envisioned was one similar to what A’s general manager Billy Beane made with Dan Haren, bringing in a number of top prospects. Of course, that was unrealistic. Sabean doesn’t know how to make that kind of trade, and he doesn’t have the advantage of thorough scouting of minor league systems that Beane has available.

And, even at this point, the Giants are reluctant to fully commit to a rebuilding program. Manager Bruce Bochy is still trotting Rich Aurilia out there regularly, and Ray Durham is back at second base, now that he’s off the disabled list.

I don’t blame Bochy for this. Managers are always going to try to win as many games as they can, and Bochy figures he might be able to eke out a few more wins with the veterans.

Bochy should have been given clear instructions to play the younger players, but instead, John Bowker often sits against left-handed pitching, and Dan Ortmeier seldom plays against anybody. Bowker looks as if he’ll be a solid major league hitter, but the only way he’ll learn to hit against left-handers if by playing against them. I’m less sold on Ormeier’s potential, but he deserves a shot, now that he’s concentrating on hitting right-handed, by far his stronger side when he was switch-hitting.

The Giants are paying for their neglect of their farm system. They’ve seen the light in the last couple of years, but don’t bet against the possibility that, in the offseason, Sabean will go after more over-the-hill veterans as stopgaps. He can’t help himself.

COLLETTI DECISIONS: Sabean’s influence extends beyond his office, to his former assistant, Ned Colletti, who is making the same kind of brain-dead decisions as general manager of the Dodgers.

Though he has the advantage of a flourishing farm system that is cranking out top players, Colletti has brought in free agents who have had little positive effect but have hindered the advance of the younger players.

First, there was Juan Pierre, whose only positive is his base stealing ability. He is a singles hitter whose batting average isn’t as good as it looks because he’s a hacker who doesn’t walk often, which makes him a poor leadoff hitter. Defensively, he’s average.

Then, Colletti signed Jason Schmidt. Even Sabean knew better than that. Schmidt had given the Giants his best years and he’s been on the disabled list for most of his time with the Dodgers. He made only six starts last season and is in a minor league rehab program now.

Finally, he signed Andruw Jones, whom the Braves had given up on. Jones has been an outstanding defensive centerfielder, but when a veteran player has his worst year as he heads into free agency, it should raise a huge red flag. It didn’t for Colletti. As of this morning, Jones was hitting .167 with two homers and seven RBIs in 42 games for the Dodgers.

Yes, Colletti learned his lessons well at the foot of the master.

DIFFERENT APPROACHES: An astute reader, Tom Ryugo, notes that Sabean has probably escaped criticism from many writers because they know and like him – and don’t talk to Peter Magowan, who will be stepping down as the Giants managing partner at the end of this season.

That’s very true. Sabean is very approachable – he often sits in a chair beside the Giants dugout during pre-game drills and will talk to writers who come by – and writers are intimidated by Magowan, or any owner.

This is totally different than my approach. I’ve always tried to get information from anyone who’s willing to talk to me, and that goes right up to the owner’s office.

But then, my approach is often different from other writers. One of the most striking came in the period when Tony La Russa managed the A’s and Roger Craig the Giants.

Many writers hated La Russa because he scorned them when they would come up to him and ask questions like, “What do you think of your team, Tony?” He complained to me that, “They want me to write their stories for them.” But I loved La Russa because, if you asked specific questions, he would have very thoughtful answers. I advanced my baseball knowledge considerably while listening to him.

Conversely, writers liked Craig because he would always give them quotes for their stories, but the quotes were meaningless. He complained one time to me that “I give you one-on-one interviews but I never see what I say in print.” I told him I wasn’t going to use the cliches he gave to me. Craig was a very intelligent man but he disguised that with folksy sayings, so writers didn’t have a clue what he was really trying to do.

WEBSITE PROBLEMS: The host site for my website had a serious breakdown last weekend, which resulted in data being lost from mid-April to mid-May. That’s why the latest website column that’s been appearing on my site has been from April 15. They’ve transferred everything to another node, whatever that means, and are trying to recover the lost data, though there’s no guarantee.

JEFF TEDFORD: My column last week on my conversation with Jeff Tedford elicited a ton of comments, as I expected. One which amused me started, “Jeff Tedford must be looking at a different game than fans in the stands are.” The writer intended that to be sarcastic, but in fact, football coaches do see a different game than fans or writers can, because they know how plays are supposed to go and what every player is supposed to do. What you see from the stands or press box is an incomplete picture at best.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have coaches show me videos of past games, to demonstrate what is going on – and what is supposed to be going on. It’s been especially instructive when I’ve seen videos shot from behind a quarterback, so I could see what the quarterback is looking at and get some idea of the almost instantaneous decision-making that is necessary.

That’s why I’ve tried to sit down with coaches I respect, from Bill Walsh up through Tedford, to find out what they’re thinking, as a basis for my evaluations.

Even then, I might not agree. I definitely felt that Kevin Riley should have gotten more playing time last fall, for instance.

But talking to Tedford once again reminded me that he’s not making decisions on a whimsical or emotional basis. We all need to remember that.

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