Brian Sabean has no excuse not to lock up Matt Cain long-term

San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain celebrates after winning the 2010 World Series after defeating the Texas Rangers 3-1 in game 5 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on November 1, 2010. The Giants won the series 4 games to 1. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

“But he won the Giants a World Series.”

That’s the response I get whenever I criticize San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean. As if his one improbable World Series victory erases the blunders that the man has made before, after, and even during the Giants’ title season.

Yes, the Giants won a championship in 2010. But what does it say about Sabean when four of the top five players on his payroll were Barry Zito (who didn’t even make the postseason roster), Aaron Rowand (who shouldn’t have made the postseason roster), Edgar Renteria and Mark DeRosa (who didn’t make the postseason roster because of his wrist, which was held together by Elmer’s Glue when Sabean signed him in the offseason)? Sure, Renteria wound up being worth every penny of his $10,000,000 salary that year when he hit the eventual game-winning home run off Cliff Lee in Game 5 of the Series. But thanks to injuries and poor play, he was largely a non-factor in two seasons before that memorable home run.

Remember Cody Ross? Phillies fans sure do. Ross hit two home runs off of Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the 2010 NCLS and also hit a solo shot off Roy Oswalt in Game 2. If it weren’t for his bat, the Giants may not have reached the World Series that year, nevertheless won the whole shebang.

And Ross would have never made the postseason roster had Major League Baseball not conducted an investigation into Jose Guillen’s potential use of performance-enhancing drugs. Sabean acquired Ross that year in efforts to block any semi-productive player from going to the Padres, who at the time were leading the Giants in the NL West race. The fact that Ross wound up turning into “Ross the Boss” was more a product of luck than Sabean’s shrewd maneuvering. At one point, the Giants were thinking about putting Guillen (who ran like he had Oakland tied around his legs) on the postseason roster instead of Ross.

That spectacular pitching staff that the Giants currently boast wasn’t exactly all Sabean either. It was scouting director Dick Tidrow that gave such glowing reports on Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. (Not to mention closer Brian Wilson and former top prospect Zach Wheeler, whom we’ll get to in a moment.) Granted, Sabean deserves praise for pulling the trigger on this players during the draft, but too often he receives credit for “finding” the talented arms that the Giants currently have in their starting rotation.

Which leads me back to Cain. It’s embarrassing to read some of the reports out of ‘Frisco these days about Cain’s contract situation. The 27-year-old right-hander is set to become a free agent after the 2012 season unless the Giants can hammer out a long-term deal, which apparently is more difficult than correctly picking every winner in the NCAA tournament. It was only recently that Cain suggested that he’s considering testing the market. Before then, he stated how he wanted to remain a Giant but Sebean has yet to come to terms with the soft-spoken starter, who has meant as much to the Giants as Lincecum. (Had Cain received more run support from that putrid thing Sabean calls a lineup every year, maybe he too would have challenged for a Cy Young by now.)

There’s simply no good reason for Sabean not to lock Cain up to a long-term deal. If the righty wants $100 million, then the Giants should oblige. I mean, why not? Sabean had no problem overpaying Zito, Rowand, DeRosa, Renteria and Miguel Tejada, but he’s going to balk at signing a productive player? Are you kidding me? If Cain doesn’t get $100 million from the Giants, he’ll find it on the open market next winter. Thus, if he truly wants to stay, then all Sabean needs to figure out is if he wants to see Cain in a Giants’ uniform next season, or in Yankee pinstripes. And while there’s plenty of time to hammer out a deal before now and November, players usually don’t like discussing their contract situation during the season. Thus, Sabean’s window to sign Cain is closing.

Let’s not forget that Sabean was also the professor who traded Wheeler to the Mets at the trade deadline last year for a two-month rental named Carlos Beltran. Then Sabean didn’t even attempt to re-sign Beltran this past winter, even though the Giants had the second-worst offense in terms of runs scored last season.

Granted, not every decision Sabean makes turns to sulfur and he does have to worry about surpasing Cain’s deal when Lincecum because a free agent after the 2013 season. But the philosophies behind some of his moves are absolutely mind-boggling. It’s almost like the guy wakes up and says, “What’s the least logical thing I can do today while running this baseball team? Trade Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for one miserable year of A.J. Pierzynski? Yes. Yes that sounds good.”

If Sabean loses Cain in November after already dealing Wheeler for what amounted to nothing in return, then Lincecum turns around and heads to Seattle to play for his hometown Mariners (which is a distinct possibility), maybe then people will drop the whole “But he won the Giants a World Series” bit.

Because if Cain isn’t in a San Francisco uniform next season, there will only be one man to blame.

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Burrell to make debut on Friday, Giants renew commitment to crusty old vets

It didn’t take long for the Giants to purchase the contract of Pat Burrell, who will make his debut tonight in Pittsburgh just days after San Francisco signed him to a minor league deal. After all, he’s old, and the organization is committed to old and halting their youth movement as much as possible. (See the signings or re-signings of Rich Aurilia, Edgardo Alfonzo, Bengie Molina, Dave Roberts, Omar Vizquel, Ryan Klesko, Jose Vizcaino and Neifi Perez – just to name a few – in previous seasons.)

In calling up Burrell, the Giants had to make a roster move in the process, meaning 26-year-old John Bowker had to be optioned to Triple-A Fresno. Granted, Bowker was only hitting .207 at the time of the demotion, but the Giants, in all of their infinite wisdom, have decided that 82 at bats were enough to close the book on the outfielder for now.

I have nothing against Burrell, per se. He could turn out to be a solid pinch hitter and I would much rather see him wasting away on the bench than Bowker. But it’s the Giants’ continued philosophy (if that’s what you want to call it) towards judging hitters that infuriates me. They never really gave Fred Lewis a chance and now he’s hitting .304 as the Blue Jays’ leadoff hitter. For as good as a Giant as Randy Winn was over the years, they stuck with him too long last year while a younger, more talented Nate Schierholtz rotted away on the bench. (Speaking of Schierholtz, where does he fit in with the addition of Burrell?) And I’m still not sure who Kevin Frandsen killed to have never been given a legitimate shot at sticking with the big league club either, yet Edgar Renteria is in his second year of wasting everyone’s time in the “City by the Bay.”

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Is Matt Holliday the answer to the Giants’ offensive woes?

It’s been five years since the San Francisco Giants have made a postseason appearance, so you’ll have to pardon their fans if they’re overly optimistic about the chances of their club possibly making the playoffs this year despite a lineup that often employs Edgar Renteria as its two-hole hitter.

The G-Men are currently 8.5 games back of the Dodgers in the NL West and with the PED Predator coming back from his suspension soon, L.A. is surely to stay well ahead of San Fran in the division. But the Giants are currently one game up on the Brewers for the NL Wild Card and if GM Brian Sabean could add a player or two before the July 31 trade deadline to help mask San Fran’s biggest flaw, then the five-year playoff drought could end.

What’s the Giants’ biggest flaw you ask? Well if anyone can look at their lineup without doubling over in side-splitting laughter, then some kind of award is deserved.

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Twins, Giants interested in Pudge Rodriguez

The Twins and Giants have emerged as potential candidates for free agent Pudge Rodriguez.

The new possibilities, Minnesota and San Francisco, were identified by a source with a National League team in the bidding.

The Twins’ interest may depend on the health of star catcher Joe Mauer, who’s had a back issue early in camp. The Giants have Bengie Molina to catch, and he’s even penciled in as their cleanup hitter, but Pudge could get games at first base and third base in San Francisco, which is planning to employ youngsters Travis Ishikawa and Pablo Sandoval at those positions, respectively.

The Marlins play only 15 minutes from Rodriguez’s home, but they also like their young catcher, John Baker. The Astros’ catchers are struggling this spring, but they haven’t been very aggressive so far in their pursuit of Pudge, who’s played superbly for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, hitting .545 with two home runs.

The Twins make sense because Mauer’s health is a concern. But the Giants’ interest in Pudge for anything more than a backup catcher would be asinine. He’s never played third base and has limited experience at first. He obviously can still hit (he went 4 for 4 with two dingers the other night while playing for Puerto Rico in the WBC), but it doesn’t make any sense for the Giants to sign another crusty old vet to take at bats away from Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa and John Bowker at the corners. They already have one of those in Rich Aurillia.

Giants still a candidate for Manny?

According to Buster Olney’s latest column, the Giants might still be interested in free agent Manny Ramirez. (If they were even interested in the first place, that is.)

Manny RamirezLo and behold, the Giants have emerged as a player in this bidding. But it remains to be seen whether they are going to be shoving big chips at Ramirez, or if they’re just hanging in the thing to position themselves in the event Ramirez gets so frustrated with the Dodgers that he’ll walk away from L.A., at any price. It’s possible the Giants are not really bidding up Ramirez, but just hoping that a Hall of Fame bargain with a chip on his shoulder drops in their lap.

Executives with other teams do not believe the Giants are serious players in the Manny bidding. They think San Francisco’s real intent is to keep the Dodgers honest, to force them to give Ramirez at least a two-year deal. And if somehow Ramirez gets angered by the Dodgers’ level of interest and decides to deliver himself to their division rival, well, all the better for the Giants.

So basically, we know now what we knew three weeks ago about the Giants: they might be interested…but they might not be interested. Sweet.

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