The continued decline of the Times, or…

That’s one possible takeaway from this story, reporting that the Times company’s market cap is down so much, it’s now the smallest corporation in the S+P 500. And certainly, as I’ve noted, the Times is having a lot of problem, like every other big media company, adapting to the ongoing electronicization of publishing. But I think that this might not be the best takeaway. Rather, we should see this development as evidence that media is becoming so fragmented that even the best, traditionally most influential media organizations can no longer dominate the field – either as a business, or as an opinion-shaper. And whatever we think of the Times, that can’t possibly be bad.

Does Brian Sabean have a plan?

Rob Neyer thinks not. Neyer’s had it out for Sabean for a long time, like a lot of sabermetrically inclined analysts. But is Neyer right in implying that dumb luck, and before that, Barry Bonds, whom Sabean didn’t sign, have been enough to make him look good? Maybe. True, these Giants also have four quite good starters, Buster Posey, and a great bullpen, including a closer who doesn’t give up homeruns… And while Huff and Burrell have worked out, other “proven veteran”-type signings haven’t done so in the past. Also there is the fact that the Giants play in a crummy division, and faced the barely-good Braves in the first round. So maybe Neyer is right.

In defense (sort of) of Brian Sabean

Here it goes:

I wonder, though, if his strategy is really to go all in for old veterans, to the exclusion of younger players. If memory serves, he used to be the Yankees’ farm director, which would give him a certain expertise in developing young players – or at least convince him that he has that expertise. If we assume he sees himself as a player-development guy, we see that his overall strategy, as a GM, may well be a different one.

I suspect Sabean’s problem is that he puts too much faith in the position players coming up through the Giants’ system – guys like Ishikawa, Schierholtz, et al.. Acting on the assumption they’ll turn into solid regulars, he sets out to flesh out the Giants’ lineup with a few reliable veterans, of the Huff ilk. If the youngsters turn into stars, this isn’t a bad tack to take. Pat Burrell, for example, may not give you more than a .330 or so OBP, and play lousy defense, but for that you get a high probability of 20+ homeruns. Assuming Jonathan Frandsen et al – your young guys – are raking, you’re better off with a reliably mediocre old left fielder than a younger veteran who’s less predicatable. That younger veteran, after all, is a much less sure bet. He might be great, or he might OBP .190 and have Duane Kuiper power. Also, the Giants are a rich team, so blowing extra money on Burrell or whoever isn’t a big deal for them.

The problem with this perhaps alternate-universe Sabean strategy is that most of the Giants’ young position players end up sucking so bad, he has to fill the whole lineup with “proven veterans.” Which only works if they all get lucky, for an extended period, at once – as has happened this year, at least in the second half. And a team this wealthy shouldn’t have to rely this much on luck.

What’s odd is that Sabean, or someone in the Giants’ front office, is exceptionally good at picking and managing the development of young pitchers. Perhaps this success convinces him/them that they know about position players too, making it hard to change strategies or personnel in drafting and developing infielders, outfielders, and catchers – i.e. most of the players on every roster at every level.