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Brian Hamilton: Beane still best GM in Bay Area

Driving to work Friday afternoon, I couldn’t help but scratch my head when I heard the news of the San Francisco Giants signing Brian Sabean to a two-year contract extension as the team’s general manager.

After all, unless you’ve been too entranced by the Barry Bonds watch to notice, the Giants are the current cellar dwellers of the National League West.

But the signing isn’t troublesome just because San Francisco has slid into last place this summer. As most Giants fans would attest, the team has been a slide for the past few years.



And Sabean, who certainly did a great job in building a Bay Area title contender in the early part of the decade, has responded with Band-Aids in the form of signing players long in the tooth, short in skills, high in salary and low in production.

It got me thinking.




Outside the size of the contract to which Sabean signed him, few argued against the genius of signing Barry Zito away from Oakland in the offseason. But seeing how that deal has turned out so far this summer (See The Union’s “Sunday Express” for more on that story), I’d suggest that San Francisco should have instead tried to land another talent away from the A’s.

It stands to be said, of course, the general manager on the opposite end of the Zito deal is once again looking like one shrewd son of a gun.

But what’s new? Ever since he took over for Sandy Alderson as the Athletics’ general manager, Billy Beane has got Oakland more bang for its buck and more wins for its tight-fisted franchise than Sabean has for the Giants.

Both GMs have fine track records, but when stacked up side by side over the past 10 years, Sabean’s performance pales in comparison to that of the man whose philosophy, appropriately enough, will likely always be known as “Moneyball.”

Since 1998, Beane’s first season at the helm of the A’s, both franchises have posted impressive records. In the last 10 years, Sabean has led the Giants to an 837-705 record, while Beane’s Athletics own an 869-677 mark.

In that span, San Francisco went to the World Series in 2002, has won two NL West titles and finished second in the division five times. On the opposite shore of the Bay, Oakland owns four AL West crowns and three runner-up finishes.

Those are resumes any GM would love to take into salary negotiations with the team owner. But taking a closer look at what they’ve done with the resources available (See: “Cash”) and it’s clear that Sabean has long been playing second fiddle to Beane in terms of getting the most for his money.

Over the past 10 years, according to http://www.USAToday.com, the Giants have spent a whopping $716.5 million on team salary ” much of it spent on retaining the likes of high-priced veterans such as Bonds. Over in Oakland, Beane and company spent $456.5 million in the same stretch and ended up with more “Ws” in the win column, despite the $260 million less spent than in San Francisco.

Though she’s not a big baseball fan, my wife would certainly suggest that Beane’s the better shopper of talent, just as she sets me straight after the damage I’ve done to the family budget in daring to venture into the grocery store.

Of course, both A’s and Giants were downright frugal when compared to George Steinbrenner’s Yankees ” who employ a general manager named, appropriately enough, Brian Cashman ” which spent $1.4 billion on players since 1998.

Think about that just a second.

Billion.

Excuse the tangent, but just think about how many of our country’s economic woes ” whether it’s the lack of health care for the poor or the lack of resources for schools ” that we could take care of with that kind of money.

What if, for example, all Major Leaguers ” most of whom were paid a million-plus last summer ” deferred their salaries for 2007 to address such shortcomings across the country. According to USA Today, the total salaries of all 30 Major League baseball teams amounts to $2.7 billion for this summer alone.

Making a difference with that kind of dough would be the kind of fantasy baseball I could get behind.

But back to the matter at hand: whether the Giants are making a smart investment in signing Sabean through 2010.

Apparently, Giants owner Peter Magowan doesn’t think it matters much in the short term, as he suggested the franchise is likely to need a few more years to return to the competitive ranks of baseball. Perhaps that was the key reason they brought Bonds back this summer, steroids controversy and all.

If the product on the field was going to fall short, then they might as well make the most of the home run chase to make sure all those seats at AT&T Park were filled this summer.

Of course, those who believe in karma might suggest the downward spiral in winning percentage over the past three seasons might be the Giants just reward for selling their soul to the devil in left field (a topic for another day).

Unless Sabean is allowed to unload Bonds and his big contract in the offseason, it’s likely that he won’t be able to right the ship in San Francisco by the end of his new extension. And while Magowan said he’s not suggesting the Giants won’t be competitive in ’08 (See “xxx,” Page B1), it’s pretty clear that he’s ready to scrap this season at the expense of four more home runs.

Meanwhile, across the Bay, Beane’s A’s entered Friday night one game under .500 and are standing in third place in the division. But, considering the likes of Mike Piazza, Rich Harden, Esteban Loaiza and Huston Street have all spent substantial time on the disabled list in the first half ” and Beane’s 184-97 record after the trade deadline over the past five seasons ” who really believes Oakland’s out of the postseason picture?

Seeing as though he hasn’t had a losing season since he took over, I wouldn’t bet against him.

And, although he’s signed to stay in Oakland through 2012, don’t you think he might consider commuting over the Bay Bridge if the money was right?

Maybe if Sabean hadn’t spent $260 million more than Beane over the past decade, the Giants might actually be able to lure him out of the East Bay.

ooo

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column is published Saturdays. Contact him via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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