Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dusty-ing Off an Old Script

Jim's recent preview of the San Francisco Giants' season jogged some long-dormant brain cells into life with this comment:

Giants management pursued a scorched earth policy in the farm system for the past decade, trading prospects for veterans trying to win a World Series championship while Barry Bonds was the greatest player on earth.

That's a perfectly valid critique of the Giants' wheeling and dealing over the years. But it's a very recent development in the pundits' assessment of Brian Sabean's efforts. Up until about...oh, let's say 2005, the scripts used to explain the dearth of useful prospects turning up in the City by the Bay was quite different.

Readers of a certain age may remember it: Dusty Baker hates young players.

I first noticed the trend in the late 1990's, when the youngest guy in the Giants' lineup was Bill Mueller and people were wondering why Baker didn't give that nice Marcus Jensen a chance to play. One fantasy guide I read flat-out said that it was because Dusty done hates him some young players, rejecting the distinct possibility that maybe perhaps Mr. Jensen wasn't really all that good to begin with.

After Baker was fired/quit/allowed to file for free agency after the 2002 season, there was some gab in the baseball press about how Giants Fan could look forward to a new era of youngsters getting a fair shake under Felipe Alou. Except that didn't happen. The youngest guys to get close to landing everyday jobs during the Alou years were Jason Ellison in 2005 and Eliezer Alfonzo in 2006. Would it be rude to say that these guys weren't all that good, either?

Meanwhile, Sabean was trading marginally-useful guyw in his system -- guys like Jeremy Accardo, David Aardsma, Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert -- for flotsam and jetsam like Randy Winn and LaTroy Hawkins. And the less said about the Saint A.J. trade the better (for Giants Fans, if not Twins Fans).

It was around this time, when Sabean was bringing in Ray Durham and Omar Vizquel and Moises Alou and Marquis Grissom, that the "Giants need to bring in Proven Veterans™ because they need to Win Now™" became the new standard. And it was around this time that some people grudgingly allowed that perhaps both sides have had their aversions to young players.

And while the media ran to cover Sabean's butt with this minty-fresh Win Now™ script, no one cut Baker any such slack.

Almost from the moment he landed in Chicago, Baker was under attack for "hating" those young players. In 2003, there was worry that he'd bury Corey Patterson and Hee Seop Choi. In 2006, people wailed and gnashed their teeth at the thought that someone other than Ronnie Cedeno would man shortstop for my heroes. And why won't Dusty give Matt Murton a break?

In between, of course, there was the Wood/Prior drama. Oh, the irony -- Dusty Baker, hater of young players, using his young pitchers way too much. But I digress...

The idiocy following Baker's youngster-hating reached a fever pitch in '04 with this bit of crackpot analysis from Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan. This is from May 2004, and the link has long since been lost in the internet tubes. My apologies...

[Hee Seop] Choi, by the way, is at .277/.405/.692 so far. Derrek Lee is a good player, but the Cubs could have had Ivan Rodriguez and Choi for what they're paying Lee and Michael Barrett. That they don't is a cost of employing Dusty Baker.

I commented on this bizarre statement in real time at our old site. The years have not added any new insight.

At the time, I tried to parse what Sheehan meant. The Choi/Pudge combo made slightly less cash in 2004 than the D-Lee/Barrett duo. But Rodriguez had just signed a four-year, $40 million contract, which was a helluva lot more than Lee's $22.5 mil deal (over three years).

The only other possibility I could tease out was the Dusty hates young players argument (hinted at as a "cost of employing" Baker). At the time, Lee was three years older than Choi -- a decrepit 28-year-old man on his last legs. Rodriguez was 32, while Barrett checked in at 27.

So there you go -- the Cubs picked up a twenty-eight year old and a twenty-seven year old. When they could have had the twenty-five year old and the over-thirty catcher. Damn Dusty's young-player-hating ways!

Why did Sabean get a pass, while Baker took heat for his GM's acquisition of a twenty-seven year old catcher? I'm not a mind reader, or a psychiatrist, so I can't say for sure. Let's just chalk it up to the lasting power of scripts...

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