Sabean at the 2010 San Francisco Giants World Series parade.
July 1, 1956 |
Concord, New Hampshire
|Occupation||General Manager, Senior Vice President|
|Employer||San Francisco Giants|
|Term||1996 — present|
|Awards||Executive of the Year, 2003 Commissioner's Trophy, 2010, 2012, 2014 World Series|
Brian R. Sabean (born July 1, 1956), as of 2015, is the executive vice president of baseball operations of the San Francisco Giants. He served as the team's general manager from 1997 to 2015. He succeeded general manager Bob Quinn. The Giants had a winning record in thirteen of the eighteen seasons in which Sabean served as general manager. Prior to his tenure, the team had suffered losing seasons in five out of six years. He is a native of Concord, New Hampshire.
Sabean's 18 years as the Giants' general manager is the longest run by a general manager in the club's history, surpassing Spec Richardson (seven seasons, 1975–81), Al Rosen (seven seasons, 1986–92) and Tom Haller (five seasons, 1981–85). Sabean had the longest tenure with the same club among active general managers. During his tenure, the Giants won three World Series (2010, 2012, and 2014), four National League pennants (2002, 2010, 2012, and 2014), five National League West Division flags (1997, 2000, 2003, 2010, and 2012), two National League Wild Cards (2002, 2014), and forced a National League Wild Card tie-breaker game with Chicago in 1998. On two other occasions, the club was eliminated from post season contention on the last day of the season. He has guided the club to seven post season berths—the club's most since it made eight appearances in a 14-season span from 1911 to 1924. From 1997 to 2014, the Giants recorded the third-best winning percentage in the National League (.534, 1,556–1,358), behind only the Braves and Cardinals. His .534 career winning percentage ranks 10th all-time among all general managers since 1950 who served at least 10 years.
Sabean attended Concord High School and Eckerd College (of St. Petersburg, Florida), playing with former major leaguer Joe Lefebvre on both schools' baseball teams. Prior to starting his scouting career, Sabean coached the University of Tampa (D-II) to the NCAA Regional Tournament. He held the job of head coach with UT from 1983 to 1984 - following serving as assistant coach from 1980 to 1982. Then coached at Saint Leo for years Sabean began his involvement in Major League Baseball as a scout, and previously worked in the New York Yankees organization. With the Yankees, he drafted or signed as amateurs the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, J. T. Snow, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Prior to his appointment to GM in 1996, Sabean served one season as the Giants' senior vice president, player personnel in 1995 after a three-year stint as an assistant to the general manager and vice president of scouting/player personnel.
The 1997 Turnaround
When Sabean replaced Quinn in 1996, the team was in disarray. The Giants lost 94 games in a dismal season. Sabean is often credited for the team's turn around. Sabean made a very controversial trade at the time, trading fan favorite Matt Williams to the Indians for José Vizcaíno, Joe Roa, Julián Tavárez and Jeff Kent. Brian Sabean was highly ridiculed in San Francisco at the time of the trade, so much so that Sabean had to defend himself in the media, declaring "I am not an idiot."
Winning Seasons: 1997–2004
This eight-year stretch was one of the more successful in Giants franchise history. Sabean seemed to be the perfect puller of the personnel lever. During these years, Sabean's strategy of trading away young prospects for veteran position players while developing the organization's pitching talent, was working. Sabean traded away many prospects that never materialized into major leaguers for top major leaguers for a late season push to the playoffs. These trades have included All-Stars Jeff Kent, Jason Schmidt, Robb Nen, Kenny Lofton, Andrés Galarraga, Ellis Burks, Joe Carter, Roberto Hernández, Wilson Álvarez, and José Mesa.
After the Giants narrowly lost the 2002 World Series, Sabean was forced to dramatically retool. The Giants lost several key players, including Jeff Kent, Reggie Sanders, Jay Witasick, David Bell, and Aaron Fultz to free agency. Sabean signed veterans José Cruz, Jr., Neifi Pérez, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Ray Durham to replace some of the free agents the Giants lost. He also traded away fan favorite Russ Ortiz (to the Braves for Damian Moss) and Liván Hernández, the losing pitcher of Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. Sabean hired Felipe Alou to replace fan favorite Dusty Baker who became the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Despite these major roster moves, the Giants won 100 games in 2003. Sabean was named Executive of the Year by the Sporting News in 2003, the first time a member of the Giants organization had received that award since Al Rosen in 1987.
The trade of Moss and Kurt Ainsworth for Sidney Ponson, which Sabean arranged late in the 2003 season, was criticized by some Giants fans and columnists. Ponson returned to the Orioles after only a few months on the Giants. He was 3–6 with the Giants and posted a 3.71 E.R.A. in the regular season. He went 5 innings and yielded 4 earned runs in his one postseason start, in game 2 of the division series against the Florida Marlins.
Prior to the 2004 season, Sabean faced some criticism for his offseason moves, especially for not signing a closer to replace the injured Robb Nen and the departing Tim Worrell, and for not signing a power hitter to protect Barry Bonds in the lineup. At least one sports writer, John Shea, and numerous callers on Giants talk radio believed the Giants needed to sign Vladimir Guerrero in 2003 to remain at the top of their division.
Still, the 1997–2004 stretch was still a very successful time in Giants history with eight straight winning seasons. That time period overlapped with the Giants moving into Pacific Bell Park in downtown San Francisco. The business strategy for Giants in this time was that winning was good for business. Because Pacific Bell Park was privately financed, the Giants were dependent on high attendance rates to pay their mortgage. During this eight-year stretch, Sabean delivered on that strategy.
Losing Seasons: End of 2004–2008
The Giants narrowly missed the playoffs in 2004. Many fans began to criticize Sabean for his player personnel moves. Sabean continued to build a team of veterans around Barry Bonds but some of the veterans Sabean was acquiring began to achieve below expectations. Edgardo Alfonzo did not put up the same offensive numbers as he did when he was with the New York Mets. Second baseman Ray Durham spent more time on the disabled list than he had previously in his career. In 2004, the Giants had not developed a homegrown position player since 2000.
Sabean defended himself in a press conference, dismissing his critics as a "lunatic fringe". Some fans, took up "lunatic fringe" as a rallying cry, printing up T-shirts with the phrase and wearing them to the ballpark. Although the Giants missed the playoffs by only a few games in 2004, some of the critics' concerns were borne out. Matt Herges struggled in the closer role, and without protection, Barry Bonds set single-season records with 232 walks and 120 intentional walks. Following the season, Sabean attempted to address both of these problems, signing Armando Benítez as the team's new closer and Moisés Alou to protect Bonds. However, both players spent significant time on the Disabled List, and the 2005 was the first losing season of Sabean's tenure.
Sabean has also drawn criticism for fielding old teams. The Hardball Times measured the average age of all Major League Baseball teams relative to how much each player contributed to his team. That is, a 39-year-old bench player had significantly less weight on the team's average age than did an everyday player. The contribution of each player was measured by win shares, so the average age has been termed "Win Share Age." In 2004, the Giants had the second-highest Win Share Age at 33.0, and it has consistently placed in the top five over the past several seasons, usually only rivaled by other veteran-laden teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. In addition to Barry Bonds, Sabean has contracted the services of aging veterans such as Reggie Sanders, Marquis Grissom, Michael Tucker, Omar Vizquel, Moisés Alou, Mike Matheny, Steve Finley (via trade), Randy Winn, J. T. Snow, Matt Morris, Armando Benítez, and Tim Worrell during his tenure. One Hardball Times writer predicted that the Giants' old players would stop producing in the future. In summer 2006, Giants manager Felipe Alou criticized Sabean's strategy of signing older players when he told the media that "I don't believe one manager enjoys having players die in their hands" in reference to several older players that were designated for assignment. Sabean has been unwilling to invest in high draft picks. In prior years, Sabean signing of veteran players before the arbitration deadline cost the team several draft picks. In 2004, Sabean forfeited the team's number one pick to sign Michael Tucker. In 2005, the Collective Bargaining Agreement prevented the team from losing any further draft picks in 2006.
Sabean has claimed that the large signing bonuses and unproven quality of draft picks has led to him not focusing on the draft. Sabean was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, "Quite frankly, we're very reluctant to overspend in the draft. We're cautious in that regard because it's so fallible. Our focus is spending as much as we can and being as wise as we can at the major-league level and using the minor leagues as a supplement and not necessarily leaning on it totally. Teams that are allowed to have a three-to- five-year plan and allowed to lose or explain to their fans they're in a rebuilding mode have a greater latitude than we do. We always have to be in a reloading mode".
In 2004, the Giants ranked 22nd in baseball on money spent in the draft and internationally between 2000 and 2004. San Francisco did draft and sign first-round pitcher Tim Lincecum in the 2006 draft. Among early draft picks the Giants have used in Sabean's tenure, the majority have been on pitching talent (also see: Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth, Jerome Williams, Matt Cain, and Noah Lowry).
As time went on, one of Sabean's trades began to be seen more negatively. Sabean's trade of Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and Joe Nathan for A. J. Pierzynski at the end of the 2003 season has drawn some criticism. Pierzynski remained on the Giants for one year, while Nathan developed into one of baseball's premier closers. Liriano became an All-Star in 2006, his rookie season, though he suffered injury later that year and would not be a productive starter until 2010. Bonser began his major-league career by ascending to a solid back-rotation starter in 2006, but lost productivity in 2007 with a 5.10 ERA, missed significant time to injury in 2008, and didn't play in 2009.
Following losing seasons in 2005 and 2006 and his signing of Barry Zito to a controversial record setting contract, many fans and media commentators speculated that Sabean's job could be in jeopardy if the team did not improve in 2007. Team owner Peter Magowan declared before the start of 2007 season that all Giants employees were on the "hot seat". However, the Giants rewarded Sabean with a two-year contract extension through the 2009 season following the All-Star break despite the Giants being in last place in the National League West. In previous years, Sabean had been under some pressure to put a team that could "win now" around Barry Bonds instead of rebuilding. Consequently, some critics have blamed Giants ownership and Peter Magowan for the Giants' losing seasons instead of Sabean 
2010, 2012, & 2014 World Series Championship Seasons
In 2010, several key trades and free agent signings by Sabean such as Aubrey Huff, as well as Sabean's trade of starting catcher and fan favorite Bengie Molina to the Texas Rangers in May to open up the catcher's spot for rookie Buster Posey, paid off as the Giants won the National League West for the first time since 2003 with a 92–70 record. Despite being heavy underdogs in the NLCS and World Series, the Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves in four games in the National League Division Series, and the two time defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games in the National League Championship Series. They then defeated the Texas Rangers in five games in the World Series for the team's first title in San Francisco, and the first title for the organization since 1954.
In late 2007 and early 2008, Sabean and Giants owner Peter Magowan drew some criticism in the Mitchell Report when it was revealed Giants trainer Stan Conte came to Sabean and told him he suspected Bonds trainer Greg Anderson was distributing steroids and Giants management didn't investigate or tell Major League Baseball. Conte had been approached by a player. In the January 2007 Congressional hearings on performance enhancing drugs, Congressman Henry Waxman asked Commissioner Bud Selig to discipline Sabean and Magowan for their culpability. Some sports insiders argued that Magowan and Sabean actions on steroids was not any different from other clubs at the time.
In June 2011, Sabean was the subject of controversy over comments he made regarding Scott Cousins after Cousins' collision with Giants catcher Buster Posey, which resulted in season-ending injuries for Posey.
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