SAN FRANCISCO – It’s always a newsmaking session when Brian Sabean begins to spell out his priorities for spending money over the winter.
But perhaps the most interesting thing the Giants’ longtime GM said at Friday’s news conference concerned a seven-year-old line item.
Yes, Sabean would do the Barry Zito deal all over again.
"As crazy as it might sound to you folks, if I had it to do all over again, I would've done what we did to sign Barry Zito,” said Sabean, lauding the left-hander who was paid $126 million to go 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA as a Giant.
"When we needed him the most, he helped us win the World Series. I find great satisfaction in that. He will be missed for a lot of reasons."
Those sentiments aside, Sabean and the Giants will have to maximize every penny if they hope to re-sign Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez, pursue depth in the starting rotation, find an everyday answer in left field and compete with an affluent archrival that is grabbing up resources faster than a Texas land baron.
Re-signing Pence remains the top priority in what Sabean described as the “heavy lifting” the Giants hope to accomplish before the free-agent period takes off five days after the conclusion of the World Series. Negotiations with Lincecum and Javier Lopez would “follow suit,” Sabean said.
And even if the Giants secure Lincecum on a new contract, they’ll pursue one more starting pitcher. It’s likely to be a stabilizing veteran like Bronson Arroyo, although the cost could be prohibitive. According to a source, Washington’s Dan Haren is keenly interested in pitching for the Giants.
But mostly, Sabean must figure out how to handle a situation that’s unique from his first 16 offseasons as the Giants’ general manager: Do you really rip up a roster that is one year removed from a World Series title? Or do you trust that a mostly reassembled team can bounce back from being a second-division disappointment?
It sure sounds like the former – especially after Sabean candidly admitted he was perhaps more surprised than anyone when the Giants won the World Series in 2012.
“I thought our chance to repeat was in 2011 before Buster (Posey) went down,” Sabean said. “I might have been the most surprised person in the world that we won last year, more so in the fashion we won. I didn’t go into this year blindly. We were trying to get one more year out of this group and it just didn’t happen.
“It’s safe to say the window with that group at hand is closed. We’ve got to create a new window."
However they build the window, the view includes a Dodgers team no longer emerging from bankruptcy under Frank McCourt. And the Dodgers stormed to an NL West title in part because of contributions from pricy, international free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig.
The Giants are becoming more involved in that market now, but Sabean called it “a longshot” that they would make a splash on a big-money player. According to a source, the Giants aren’t sold on Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, who profiles more as an American League DH, according to their evaluations. And while they might tap into the Japanese market for a pitcher, top name Masahiro Tanaka is likely to command more than they believe his talent warrants.
So it’s back to the domestic front, and while the Giants “got lucky” in trades for Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera two winters ago, Sabean said it’s never easy to make deals. He cautioned that the free-agent market would be restrictive as well.
Sabean said he wasn’t concerned about second baseman Marco Scutaro being able to bounce back next season and also lauded Ryan Vogelsong, who is likely to return in some form even if his $6.5 million option isn’t picked up.
“He’s a warrior,” Sabean said. “He’s forever found a way to reinvent himself.”
So what went wrong this year?
“Pretty simple,” Sabean said. “We didn’t have enough depth. … We have to get more talent.”
That lack of depth was exposed when they had holes to fill in the rotation and nobody in the upper minors was ready to step in. More than anything, though, Sabean was haunted by not doing more in the outfield – both to replace four months of incredible production from Cabrera and also to protect themselves against the potential loss of Pagan, who had played in 125 games just once in his career before the Giants signed him to a four-year, $40 million contract.
That Andres Torres-Gregor Blanco platoon wasn’t a good idea. And when both became regulars after Pagan’s hamstring surgery, the outfield turned into an offensive and defensive disaster.
And it became apparent to everyone way too soon that this roster had fatal flaws.
“For some reason June 1 seemed like August 1,” Sabean said. “The professionalism and effort never wavered, but there was a lack of execution and performance, and that probably was due to physical and mental fatigue.”
The Giants also made a miscalculation in believing they would get a healthier, more productive year from third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The World Series MVP came to camp heavy again, he landed on the disabled list and his return in early July offered no fire to an offense that was all cold ash.
“it’s up to Pablo,” Sabean said of Sandoval, who will be a free agent after next season. “We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly with him. He’s in the last year of his contract and it’s time for him to step up for the organization. It’s in his court now. We’ve done everything we could.”