Daniel Leroux. 2nd August, 2011 - 2:11 pm
Brian Sabean is exactly who we thought he was, for better or for worse. The decision to trade six years of Zach Wheeler for 60 days of Carlos Beltran fits clearly in the recent history of moves by the Giants, particularly the last two seasons. For a decade and a half, it has been abundantly clear when the organization is in win now mode because of the moves that Sabean makes, particularly those at the trade deadline. Not surprisingly, this long-lasting pattern has had its share of triumphs, disappoints, and straight up disasters. Sadly, my read on the Carlos Beltran move is that it fits more firmly in the misguided overpay column than the home run one.
No one can criticize Brian Sabean for his blandness or wandering eyes when it comes to identifying and securing talent. This led to moves like the Damian Moss and Kurt Ainsworth for Sidney Ponson and Jeremy Accardo for Shea Hillenbrand trades in the earlier part of his tenure as well as a small portion of the blame for the heinosity that is deal of Barry Zito (like many, I do not put most of that on his doorstep, yet he still gets some).
Sometimes it seems that the need is more of a niche than a specific player, with Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez appearing to fit this bill last season. In the case of Carlos Beltran, it seems like he fits both groups since he was the only player on the market who filled the niche (gettable middle of the order hitter) that the Giants brass identified as their primary need.
Clearly, Carlos Beltran will help the Giants win games this season. Since Wheeler would not have contributed to the success of the big league club in 2011, he provides a net benefit over that short term. However, the lingering issue with both the Beltran deal and the deadline swap of Thomas Neal for Orlando Cabrera is that they are excessively short-sighted for no legitimate reason. While the Giants are in championship contention this year, the team is far better poised for a run in 2012 since their best position player is on the shelf for the entire season (Buster Posey) and another valued contributor in Freddy Sanchez is out for the indeterminate future while all of the other positive pieces are under team control for next year. Furthermore, adding Beltran makes the team better in the short term but still does not fix the gaping offensive hole at catcher while the Cabrera move does not do a ton to improve even a Freddy-less middle infield since his range and offensive capabilities are largely fading with age.
What makes these combined decisions even more egregious is that neither provides any value for 2012- both are future assets for 2011-only guys. While either could stay around beyond this season, the Giants gain zero meaningful advantage by being the team Beltran and Cabrera finish the season on, particularly for Beltran since he will have plenty of suitors and will likely be overpaid. Moves like these would make sense if San Francisco was a team looking for one last shot at glory instead of the young team with plenty of room to improve both with time and improved cost control. Trading away two pieces in Wheeler and Neal that could have provided value to future teams with plenty of years of low cost necessitates either finding other young, cheap players to fill that void or spending money lower on the roster pecking order which takes money away from the rest of the organization. That money could be used to retain or extend better talents or even developing and signing younger talents.
Beyond those issues, it is unclear how much these moves shift the balance of power in the National League (or MLB as a whole) for this season. The overall trades made the Giants better for 2011, though I do not see them as a better team than the Phillies in either the regular season or the playoffs with the addition of Cliff Lee to their rotation. The Giants can absolutely win a playoff series despite not being the better team (some could argue this last year, though I see the talent gap, being larger in 2011 than 2010), but it begs the question: Why now? I get that a pitcher-centric team is inherently less reliable, but that does not change the fact that Buster Posey will not be walking through that door this season. Giving up meaningful future assets (either for the team or a future trade that has more long-term impact) for a slightly better roll of the dice in a structurally brutal year for the Gigates makes very little sense, especially for a fan base that understands what this team does and where they could be when players like Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Brandon Belt get healthy and more experienced. This was not the time to reload, not that it required any retreat.
Brian Sabean deserves plenty of credit for being the clear-cut architect of the reigning World Champions, though it looks like his nature got the best of him again this trade deadline.
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