If you go back a couple of years, and to last off-season, there are three options for rebuilding the Giants. Those three options have been debated, and still exist today, because the team still needs rebuilding. Call it "improving" if you want, the options still come down to the same. They are:
This is the option most favored, vociferously (can you be vociferous in print?) by MOC. Play the youngsters and hope for the best. I believe the quote is, "I'd rather lose with youth." The advantages of this option are that you don't give up any talent at all, and you get a really good chance to see whether or not the youngsters are actually major league talent. The downside is that, if you don't get a couple of budding stars out of the exercise, you wind up just as lousy a team as you had before, except that everyone now knows that your young players are busts.
This is the option that I believe that Sabean has taken. If you are a pretty good team (and in spite of all the bitching about the Giants, their record indicates that they are, overall, pretty good), you try to see if you can get better by making small additions, while not giving up too much. Here is the evidence: Garko. Renteria. Uribe. You can argue whether or not these attempts to incrementally improve the team have been successful - also, you can discuss whether or not the players have been given adequate chance (in Garko's case) to prove their worth. But the attempts have not cost the Giants a large amount of money or skill to acquire. (Again, whether they have been worth the money spent or not is another story). Freddie Sanchez is a special case. He was an attempt to incrementally improve the club, although cost a very bright prospect. For these reasons, he might be put in the final option category. But there is a mitigating factor and that is that Alderson may not have had a place to pitch on the Giants, so, it could be argued, was worth less to the Giants than to another club. Which brings us to our final option.
THE BIG MOVE
Lots and lots of folks really wanted and still want this option. Trade Matt Cain. Trade Jonathan Sanchez. Get a big bat! Sign Matt Holliday AND Jason Bay. Keep in mind that the Big Move has more potential in the off season than during the season, becasue you can make a Big Move in the free agent market as well as via trade. The problem with the Big Move is the Big Cost, either in dollars or skill. Much has been made of the Giants lack of willingness to pay for talent, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary. It would be foolish to assume that there is NO budget, that simply does not apply except maybe for the Yankees. Barry Zito may have been a foolish signing for his cost, but it indicates that the Giants are willing to offer serious dollars to the best free agent on the market (which he was at the time). Of course, having done so, maybe there is less cash in the till. A bigger problem is trading away skill. You lose Matt Cain, and you have to not only make up for his absence, you have to also get better. One way of doing this is to look at the WARP statistics. There are a couple with minor variations in how they are calculated. For WARP 1, Matt Cain is a 6. Albert Pujols leads the league with a value of 11.4. Troy Tulowitski - 6.4. Joe Mauer - let's say the Twins felt so bad about Pierzynski that they would trade us Joe Mauer for Matt Cain. Joe Mauer is a 9.5, worth only 3.5 wins more than Matt. Adrian Gonzales is valued at 8.9, less than 3 wins more than Matt. All those guys are older than Matt, and are so good that you have to believe that they have less upside. WARP is calculated based on what a player has done. Also, take Matt out, and you have to put someone in. If you do not have another pitcher on the plus side of a WARP statistic, you have to find one or else subtract a negative value. You can pretty quickly wind up in a zero sum game except with even more money unavailable for another player. Trading Matt Cain, or Jonathan Sanchez would be the height of folly. For Pujols, maybe, but I'm kind of thinking that he's not available.
Which leaves the free agent market, where I expect Brian Sabean to be active this winter - maybe successfully, maybe not. What I'm saying is that I think that Incrementalism has been, and is the right way to approach rebuilding. Yeah, some of the players have sucked in hindsight and maybe Sabean deserves a lot of blame for that. But most of our future personnel value is still here and the team has gone from sucky to pretty good ahead of schedule. No one really knows how much more we need to be in the post season. We know what we need - plate discipline, better on-base percentage, power, but the synergistic effects of a batting order can make the sum of the whole greater than its parts. I'm not defending Sabean's moves here, I'm defending his approach. We have had a pretty good chance to evaluate a number of players, and by the time next season rolls around, there may be some problems with individual youngsters solved that might indicate an improvement, and a better future, without doing anything. Now, however, we have a lot of youngsters that have not impressed. We will need to find some outside talent to supplement the club. I would much rather add small than do nothing or take a sledgehammer to the team.