Aaron Rowand

No Beltran for the Giants because Sabean didn’t want to get burned (again)

When the Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran to a 2-year, $26 million deal (with a no trade clause), the majority of fans and bloggers reacted as if the Giants announced a new alternate uniform in the Dodgers’ color scheme.

While I was somewhat surprised at the relatively short length and low dollar amount required to lure the Scott Boras client to St. Louis — and in our “Do you want the Giants to sign Carlos Beltran” poll I actually submitted that I’d be fine with the Giants signing him for two years at $12 million per — I’m not exactly crying about the Giants letting Beltran go.

Not to say there aren’t several reasons why intelligent, reasonable people wanted the Giants to re-sign Beltran, especially people who appreciate a hitter with good knowledge of the strike zone and power. After Buster Posey went down with a serious ankle injury, Beltran was the only Giants hitter who displayed those two skills at the same time. An OPS over .900 isn’t exactly common, and the Giants gave up a pitcher in Zack Wheeler who’ll be sorely missed — even more so if the Giants fail to lock up Matt Cain and/or Tim Lincecum.

Speaking of Posey…

If Beltran signed with the Red Sox for four or five years, most Giants fans would probably shrug, mutter something about $10 beers and panda hats and go about their business. But the relatively short duration of Beltran’s new contract and the team that signed him (which admittedly had some Pujols money to spare, but still) makes it easy to look back to the Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt splurges and wonder what the Giants are thinking.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist, I think the Giants’ rationale was simple … but not as simplistic as saying, “It’s the money, stupid.”

After a year when Giants players languished on the disabled list over 20 times due to nearly every injury imaginable, they weren’t interested in Beltran regardless of the cost. They may have been interested in turning Wheeler into a longer-term Beltran investment when they made the trade. However, when Beltran joined the rest of the boys on the DL with a mysterious hand/wrist/whatever injury (a DL move that was delayed as the Giants hoped and prayed he’d come back earlier), the decision was  probably already made.

Fans want runs, and they want guarantees. They don’t want to hear that if Posey and Freddy Sanchez comes back, everything will be sunshine and Tootsie Pops. They want proven hitters and evidence that the team isn’t stashing their money away in preparation for precipitation.

Giants GM: Gun-shy

Brian Sabean is interested in flexibility, something he didn’t have much of last year with the Giants’ injury woes and problems of his own making (namely: contracts offered to and signed by Aaron Rowand, Aubrey Huff and Miguel Tejada). That’s why they’re trading for players like Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, two players who haven’t hit their mid-30s yet. Sabean isn’t looking for another career year like Cabrera’s 2011; he’s looking for an outfielder who can play multiple positions and — most importantly — play 150 games. Pagan dealt with injuries last year, but to Sabean he’s like a younger Andres Torres who’s been healthier over the last two seasons.

Last year was a nightmare for Sabean, one he doesn’t want to experience again. While the Barry Zito contract will be talked about 50 years from now (or at least it would seem), that deal is a strange aberration — one that wasn’t even Sabean’s decision. The Rowand deal is the main awful contract that Sabean was actually behind, and cutting Rowand and Tejada at the end of August added up to a mortifying day that Sabean never wants to repeat. And that was mere months after Sabean rewarded Huff for playing so well in 2010 by giving him a contract with an average annual value over $10 million, which led to Sabean getting burned again after Huff went on permanent vacation.

That’s why you see a total fear of contracts to position players in that range now. Who’s to say Beltran, nearing the end, won’t coast in his years with the Cardinals? What if the Giants signed Beltran to the same 2-year deal and he only played in 145 games over the course of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, like he did over 2009 and 2010?

Sabean was surprisingly quiet when it came to veteran shortstops like Jimmy Rollins and Rafael Furcal, too. Perhaps that’s another example of avoiding history after Edgar Renteria (World Series hero, sure, but the rest of his time in San Francisco wasn’t so peachy), Tejada and Orlando Cabrera (and don’t forget Omar!) made Sabean the patron saint of old shortstops.

Most of all, Sabean has NEVER had success signing a free agent to big dollars. Partly because expensive free agents are always risky, and also because Sabean has spent years evaluating older players as if drug testing was never implemented.

Sabean’s World Series ring comes from waiting in the weeds until the offseason was over for most teams, then pouncing on bargains — which is why this Giants offseason is probably far from over. With skyrocketing ticket prices and an offense that wasn’t worth a counterfeit penny, Giants fans have a reason to bitch, and bitch they have. But Beltran wasn’t the answer to the Giants’ problems (which we saw last year, when Beltran produced and the Giants were still staler than an AT&T Park pretzel in the 12th inning), and there’s still time to salvage what has been an admittedly drab hot stove period.

I did a podcast COBcast with David Schubert of Curse of Benitez today, where we talked about all things Giants, including if they would ever — gasp — trade Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito’s recipe for success: all eephus, all the time. 

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