The news that the San Francisco Giants, the reigning world champs, have extended their contract with front office honcho Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy through 2019 should elicit very little surprise. After three World Series wins in five seasons, they already deserve consideration among baseball's great management tandems, up there with Buzzie Bavasi and Walter Alston, George Weiss and Casey Stengel or Jon Schuerholz and Bobby Cox. Keeping them together is common sense. You just don't mess with synergistic success, not when these two have been more successful together than ever they were apart.
The deals will take Sabean through his 63rd birthday and 28 years with the organization, and Bochy will turn 64 and have 13 seasons in the Giants' dugout. But there’s some job-title shuffling involved as well -- hints of the future as well as additional, almost muted, recognition of work done. With Sabean becoming an executive VP of baseball operations, middle management is sharing in the rewards. Assistant general manager Bobby Evans bumped to GM in his 22nd year in the organization; Evans has been on point for major contract negotiations, most recently those with Pablo Sandoval. That promotion creates an opportunity to reward Jeremy Shelley -- head of the Giants’ under-heralded in-house sabermetrics crew -- with a bump up to AGM in his 22nd year.
It all seems classic Giants as far as organizational operations: Good performances are rewarded with very little fanfare and stability. Bochy’s chief lieutenants, pitching coach Dave Righetti and bench coach Ron Wotus, also have been in the organization for decades. The Giants’ unwillingness to tout what they do and how they do it might never the deserved fanfare on bookshelves and movie screens.
The result? Nobody’s going to be borrowing much from the Giants’ playbook any time soon. While there was a point in time when that might have led to derision, especially among statheads, those days are best forgotten. Results matter.
It seems worth noting that these promotions come while the Giants have endured an ugly spring. The Giants’ veteran rotation beyond ace Madison Bumgarner hasn’t look strong in Cactus League action, with Matt Cain's comeback from injury going slowly while Tim Lincecum's comeback attempt has been hampered by a neck injury. The offense will be handicapped by Hunter Pence's absence for the first month of regular-season action, while he recovers from a broken bone in his left forearm. The good news might well be limited to first baseman Brandon Belt looking like he’s ready to bust out, or maybe that Jake Peavy's experiment to add a changeup this spring might help make him a stronger piece of the Giants’ rotation puzzle once the season starts.
But the Giants, panicking over current events? As if. After last year’s wild card-enabled title demonstrated, the Giants represent a danger; sudden death or short-series, they’re a threat to anybody in October as long as they are close. Bochy is a big part of the reason why, because in today’s parity-plighted game, a smart tactician in the dugout makes a difference. Adapting to circumstance and using his personnel to get optimum results in both the regular and the postseason is one of Bochy’s great strengths. He’s won punting defense to add a bat in an outfield corner, with examples ranging from former DH Aubrey Huff to last year’s improbable October star emergence from journeyman Travis Ishikawa. He’s won with quick hooks and slow hooks, adapting to changes in pitcher performance in his rotation and his pen.
Bochy’s hard-earned reputation for excellent tactical acumen was already a demonstrable fact from his days managing the Padres; as historian and sabermetrician Chris Jaffe noted in his book, “Evaluating Baseball Managers,” through 2008 Bochy was already demonstrably the best manager with a below-.500 career record in the history of the game. That still strikes me as a great observation after three titles and a record well north of .500 -- one that Sabean and Co. understood well when they snagged Bochy.
Among this spring’s stack of new baseball books I need to read (and want to, of course) is a copy of “In Pursuit of Pennants: Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball” by old friends Mark Armour and Dan Levitt. As part of their effort to promote the book, Armour and Levitt generated a wonderfully detailed top 25 list for the best general managers in baseball history. It’s a great starting point for conversations or arguments, and they rank Sabean 14th all-time among all GMs ever. That is high praise indeed, even if he ranks behind contemporaries or near-contemporaries such as Pat Gillick, John Schuerholz, Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski and Billy Beane.
I’m inclined to be even more generous on Sabean’s behalf, but that’s because I think the management challenge in today’s tight, competitive environment deserves higher consideration than, say, George Weiss shaking down the Kansas City A’s during the 1950s. But they’re quick to say we’re in a golden age for baseball ops, and to give their arguments their due, I’d say dive in on their site or buy the book.
You won’t regret it because, right now -- even with a successful title defense from the Giants in 2015 looking tough -- there’s one thing I’d bet on: That a franchise led by Sabean and Bochy -- along with the leadership cadre they represent -- for the next five years is far from done.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.