Aaron Rowand

What did Brian Sabean expect?

This isn’t the first time Brian Sabean has vented publicly about the ineptitude of his players, but it might be one of the last. Yesterday, after the Giants finished off one of their weakest offensive road trips since Candlestick Park had Astroturf, Sabean was downright ageist, courtesy of Andrew Baggarly.

“It’s not the at-bats vs. what they look like, and that teams have been successful getting him out,” Sabean said of (Kevin) Frandsen, who hit .128 in 39 at-bats. “And we’ve seen the same thing from (Travis) Ishikawa and (Fred) Lewis and Schierholtz and (John) Bowker, who hasn’t been nearly as comfortable as we thought he’d be. None of that has helped the situation.”

We all know Sabean can’t stand Frandsen, whose penchant for saying too much with a microphone in his face got him in trouble one too many times. Lewis and Bowker have obviously been disappointing in their limited chances (although Lewis did go 3-for-3 with one of the best postgame interviews of the year after Friday’s win).

However, one has to wonder what Sabean’s complaining about when it comes to Ishikawa, and especially Schierholtz. What was Sabean expecting before this season? Ishikawa’s a nice player, a great fielder with some power who’s still trying to find his way in the Majors. Did Sabes expect him to hit 20+ homers and drive in 100 runs? Schierholtz is hitting .295 and collected the team’s only homer during the road trip, but his at-bats don’t “look” good enough? I’m not sure what Sabean has against Schierholtz (and why it took so long for him to get a shot as the everyday right fielder), but the Giants’ GM looks at Schierholtz’s bat as only half-corked:

“I’m being factual, not critical,” Sabean said. “Just look at the stats. (Schierholtz) brings a lot more to the table than most folks, but given what we need — run production — it’s game-to-game as to what to expect. Boch goes through it every day — who to give at-bats to, who to go longer with or where to hit them in the lineup.”

It’s almost like Sabes expected the Giants to be near the league average this season, even though the least patient team in baseball only hit 94 homers last season and figured to hit even fewer this year. Anyone who was paying attention knew the Giants were in trouble in terms of run production for at least four reasons (the same number of bases one is awarded for hitting a home run, for anybody’s who’s forgotten):

1. Only Sabean himself was convinced Edgar Renteria was an enormous offensive upgrade at this stage of his career.

2. Fred Lewis was coming off bunion surgery, which anyone’s great-aunt will tell you is incredibly painful.

3. Even Ray Durham’s remains would have been a better offensive option at second base than anyone in the Burriss/Frandsen/Velez/Downs/Uribe group.

4. Bengie Molina, Randy Winn and Rich Aurilia are at the age where their annual drop in production could become steeper than anyone imagined (and that unfortunate reality seems to have happened for all three players this season).

In fact, the Giants’ offense is better than possibly could have been expected, because only the most optimistic baseball observers could have imagined Pablo Sandoval would be hitting .323 with 15 homers at this point in the season. If Sandoval had just a decent year (like .280 with 15 HR for the entire year) or failed miserably (a distinct possibility, since it seemed to be common knowledge that the Panda can and will swing at anything), the Giants’ offense wouldn’t just be a good deal below average, they’d probably field the worst lineup in franchise history.

Of course, here’s veteran-loving Sabes, who expects all the youngsters to hit like Fat Ichiro while the veterans steal paychecks. I know Winn’s classy and all, but I could have made a better throw than his “shockingly weak” and off-target toss from shallow centerfield on that sacrifice fly yesterday, without even warming up. Aaron Rowand has proven to be someone whose two hot streaks per year aren’t quite enough to make you forget that the rest of the time he’s a right-handed John Bowker. Oh, but not if you ask the leader of the Giants Brass, who still holds out hope that the vets will bring much-needed stability…uggh:

“If Rowand and Renteria can get back in there every day, maybe it’ll get straightened out,” Sabean said. “We’ll find out soon enough.”

Right, because the offense is so dymanic when both of those guys are healthy.

I’m not advocating Sabean go out right now and trade for Freddy Sanchez, mostly because he’s neither a leadoff nor a cleanup hitter, and I fear the Giants’ reputation as an all-arms/no-sticks squad would mean the team would have to overpay for even an average hitter, let alone Victor Martinez. A trade for a great hitter would be nice, but with Randy Johnson probably out for the rest of the season (no announcement yet, but the fact he’s getting an MRI today, so many days after the injury even occurred on July 5, isn’t a good sign) I can’t see the Giants parting with Jonathan Sanchez. If the Giants are loath to trade Sanchez, and they refuse to give up any of their best prospects, that doesn’t really leave many options for a trade, does it?

Sabean is well within his rights to use his remaining power (after he called Bill Neukom “corporate” in his interview with Ralph Barbieri and an afraid-to-speak Ted Robinson, I have my suspicions that Sabean is in the Chris Mullin zone at this point), to “light a fire” under a group of players that has woefully underperformed since the All-Star Break. And hey, it might work, as some players perform better when they’re playing for their careers.

However, it’s just about impossible to explain why Sabean is of the mind that the guys making more than $8 million per season aren’t as accountable for this team’s failures as the guys still playing out their pre-arbitration contracts. Is Sabean afraid to rattle Molina’s cage, since he’d probably pout openly? Or is he afraid to question the toughness and dedication of Renteria, who’s getting paid and doesn’t exactly have deep emotional ties to the organization?

Sabean knows his job’s on the line, and he’s been hamstrung throughout the past five years or so — it’s doubtful the guy wanted to build his team around a creaky Barry Bonds, it’s common knowledge signing Barry Zito was Peter Magowan’s idea and now it’s clear that the Giants are built on a long-term plan with a short-term GM. But Sabean had his chances. Aubrey Huff was available on more than one occasion. Nobody forced Sabean to throw gobs of money at an over-the-hill shortstop with a boiler, or a “gamer” centerfielder coming off a contract year at a hitters’ ballpark.

Now he’s frustrated at the situation he and his team find themselves in, and he turns on the young hitters, as if he had any right to expect anything more than what this offense has provided so far in 2009. Sabean has five days to convince Corporate Neukom to allow him to raid the farm system and provide an offensive boost in what will probably be his last season. Otherwise, he’ll have to play with the hand he dealt himself.

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