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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Sabean
by Hubert Huang on Jun 03, 2005
Eight years have passed since Giants' owner Peter Magowan handed the checkbook to Brian Sabean and told him to build a world championship team. But while Sabean has failed to realize that goal, he deserves at least passing recognition for managing to reach 86 wins in every season since then -- though that streak is in serious jeopardy this year.
During his tenure, no one denies that he has engineered some truly masterful strokes. He acquired Jeff Kent from the Cleveland Indians for not much more than a bag of potatoes and some warm bodies, and did the same to the Pirates in pilfering Jason Schmidt. And despite a disturbing predilection toward players firmly entrenched in the twilight of their professional careers, he's managed to make some shrewd free-agent signings, including Ray Durham and of course re-signing Barry Bonds. It's led to praise from the media and even begrudging respect from the ever-critical disciples of sabrmetrics, who have to concede that most of Sabean's moves, shortsighted as they seem, have worked out.
Of course, he's had his share of missteps along the way.
Giants' fans that don't worship at the shrine of John Kruk and Harold Reynolds were appalled by the off season multi-year deals given to Omar Vizquel -- which forfeited a first round pick in the process -- and Moises Alou. And combining them with the core group of 38-year-olds that the Giants already employed made it look as if Sabean was putting together a middle-aged support group for himself as opposed to a competitive baseball team. But optimists could still claim that trading for players, not signing them, had always been Sabean's strong suit.
Well, some chinks in his armor may be starting to show.
Not every trade Sabean has ever made has worked out in the Giants' favor, but he's had the good fortune of a few successful exchanges that have been prominent enough for critics to overlook the mistakes. Remember, he did trade Kevin Foulke and some other prospects for Roberto Hernandez. And Sabean will need his good fortune to continue if he hopes to maintain the sheen on his sterling reputation, because he's just made a colossal blunder in trading away two legitimate prospects in Jerome Williams and David Aardsma for a middling relief pitcher.
As a rule, good middle relievers become good closers given the chance, but if anyone proves that an exception exists, LaTroy Hawkins is that someone. After flaming out as the Twins' closer, Hawkins was relegated to the setup role and became one of the premier middle relievers for two years. Then after signing with the Cubs in 2004, he did the exact same thing for the first half of the year.
With the struggles of then-closer Joe Borowski, Chicagoans clamored for Hawkins to assume the closing duties until the Cubs handed him the ball. Now fans in Chicago wish they had kept their god damn mouths shut.
Quite simply, Hawkins imploded. Forced into the role once again in 2005, he continued his habit of excruciating ninth inning collapses. Chicago had found its best scapegoat since Steve Bartman.
Yet instead of sending the Cubs a one-way ticket from O'Hare to SFO -- which is about what the Cubs would have asked -- Sabean decided to give the Cubs two of their five best pitching prospects.
Jerome Williams has struggled mightily this year, but he is still just a few years removed from being one of the top-10 prospects in the game and has a career ERA in the majors of 3.93. At 23 with two plus-pitches, why would you trade this guy when his stock is at its absolute nadir?
Dealing David Aardsma is even more bewildering, if that's possible. He's just two years removed from being the Giants' first round choice, and has shown more potential this season than ever before. Initially, the Giants' intended to groom Aardsma for the closer role, but have since decided to try him as a starter. Up to this point, he's been a rousing success. In the first nine starts of his career at Double-A, Aardsma's record stands at 7-2 with an ERA at 2.82.
Some believe the trade was the Cubs response to Mark Prior's freak arm injury. That may or might not be true. But if it is, and Prior comes back healthy in a couple weeks, this might be the best thing to happen to the Cubs all year.
Many people say that there's no such thing as a pitching prospect, because so many hurlers never fail to realize even a small percentage of their potential. Sure, it's not quite true, but there's still wisdom in the point it makes.
Here's another saying that fits in that category. There's no such thing as a valuable middle reliever.
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by Hubert Huang on Jun 03, 2005