Dickey: If Giants don't win, Sabean will lose 

Brian Sabean is on the hot seat. The Giants’ general manager shares responsibility for the team’s game plan only with owner Peter Magowan, but he’ll be the scapegoat if the Giants have another dismal season.

In Sabean’s first four years, he did a brilliant job. Trades brought in key players such as Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow and a pitcher, Jason Schmidt, who became an overpowering staff leader. The Giants’ plan of opening their new park in China Basin with a strong, exciting team worked to perfection.

After the 2000 season, the Giants’ plan morphed into Bonds Uber Alles, as Sabean filled in with veteran players around Barry Bonds, hoping to have a consistently contending team and possibly a World Series winner.

It was much like the 49ers’ strategy in the post-Joe Montana years of the 1990s, to build around Steve Young and Jerry Rice. That worked to perfection in the ’94 season, when they won their fifth Super Bowl decisively, but in the years that followed, the 49ers fell back and then collapsed when Young suffered a career-ending concussion in 1999.

The pattern has been similar for the Giants. They nearly won the World Series in 2002 but when Bonds missed almost the entire 2005 season because of knee surgery, they collapsed. He returned last season, but was not the dominating hitter he’d been earlier in the decade.

Sabean’s chief failure in this period has been his continued neglect of the farm system. That didn’t have to happen. Even with the game plan of veteran players, it would have been possible to plug in players from the farm system — if they had them. They didn’t, of course. The Giants haven’t gotten a star player out of their farm system since Will Clark and Matt Williams in the ’80s.

Sabean has concentrated on pitching in the draft, which makes sense, but he hasn’t been terribly successful there, either. Since 1993, when he was player personnel director, Sabean has drafted 10 pitchers with their top pick. Only Matt Cain is in theGiants’ starting rotation. Boof Bonser is starting for Minnesota. Last year’s top selection, Tim Lincecum, has drawn rave reviews. Even if Lincecum makes it, that’s not much to show for 14 years.

The failure of the farm system left Sabean with no serious trading chips in the offseason — the talk of getting Manny Ramirez, even in a three-way trade, was ludicrous — so Sabean had to turn to the free-agent market. He badly misjudged the market and lost out on Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee because he didn’t offer enough.

In desperation, Sabean filled in with past-their-prime veterans Ray Durham, Dave Roberts, Ryan Klesko and Rich Aurilia. Be still, my beating heart.

Then, he seriously overpaid for Barry Zito, who has a contract that could net him a total of $137 million. In his prime, Schmidt gave the Giants the feeling they would win every time he started. That’s what a team should get from a pitcher who gets a Zito-type contract. Except for his Cy Young season in 2002, Zito has not been that kind of pitcher.

The Giants are headed for their third straight under-.500 season, possibly even the NL West cellar. If that happens, somebody will have to take the blame — and Magowan won’t fire himself.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

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