SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Miguel Tejada #10 of the San Francisco Giants strikes out against the Cleveland Indians at AT&T Park. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
For a season, it worked.
Brian Sabean will always be thought of as a veteranophile. It became a stereotype during the Bonds era, then a punch line, then an overplayed stereotype, and then it came right back around to being the only description possible. Since Sabean took over before the 1997 season, he's almost always signed or traded for veterans to complete his roster, almost without exception. The only time he went out of his way to acquire a hitter still in his arbitration years was when he traded for A.J. Pierzynski in 2003. You can see why he didn't go back to that store.
Bruce Bochy is even more of a veteranophile. He's the kind of manager who can make even Sabean say, "Whoa, Bruce, have you thought about giving the young guys a chance?" When Bengie Molina was hitting .257/.312/.332 with the speed and athleticism of a maple tree, Sabean had to trade him away to get Buster Posey a starting catcher's gig. Bochy was going to keep starting Molina. Without the trade Posey would have gotten his at-bats at first base, or when Molina needed a rest.
But for a season, it worked. When Aubrey Huff signed with the Giants, the great unwashed internet laughed. It was a perfect marriage of veteran and veteranophile. Huff had an amazing season. When Sabean traded for Freddy Sanchez, the cynics tittered and giggled. But Sanchez was productive offensively and defensively. And when the Giants signed Edgar Renteria to a two-year, $18 million contract, it was Sabean being Sabean. When Renteria kept playing despite being a shell of a ghost of a memory of a major-league shortstop, it was Bochy being Bochy.
For a season, though, every single veteran the two touched turned to gold. There was Cody Ross and Pat Burrell, with Juan Uribe filling in all over the place, and it all led to a World Championship. It must have seemed like a validation of an organizational philosophy to Sabean and Bochy. Everything they believed, everything they took shots for year after year, resulted in a championship. (Especially if you forget about the twenty-somethings on the world-beating pitching staff and the rookie who caught them.)
One year later, things are just a wee bit different.
The Giants signed Aaron Rowand to a $60 million, five-year deal before the 2008 season. The Giants signed Miguel Tejada for $6 million to be their shortstop this season. Both players have been designated for assignment, and will likely both be released. The reign of veterans on the Giants took a huge hit on Wednesday.
Everything the Giants loved about veterans -- their consistency, their reliability, their cost-certainty, and their maturity -- was proven wrong with Rowand and Tejada. Rowand was anything but consistent, never coming close to his career year with the Phillies, doing okay for two seasons before falling off a cliff. Tejada was even worse, never exhibiting a reliable major-league skill in his time with the Giants. Even worse, they weren't that predictable with their attitudes. Sunday, Tejada didn't run out a bunt because he was disgusted at being asked to bunt. As for Rowand:
Rowand’s complaining reached a critical level this season. "He’s doing everything possible to get out of here," one player said earlier this week.
The veteran-first philosophy has been a disaster this season. There have been a lot of injuries, partially because of bad luck, but also because older players tend to get hurt more. The older players have hit miserably, and when they played their way out of a starting role, they grumbled.
Rowand still has $14 million left on his contract. The rosters are about to expand for September. There was no logistical reason for the team to let two veterans go. There were emotional and philosophical reasons, though. For a season, it worked. For this season, it most certainly did not.
And for the future ... well, it's not likely that the Giants are going to turn into Marlins West, constantly turning over their roster to give the pre-arbitration guys jobs. But the moves on Wednesday were an admission of sorts. Experienced isn't always better. Sometimes it can be worse. Far, far, far worse. After the season the Giants had last year, it's somewhat amazing that the admission came so soon.