Draft and develop: Giants set example for all
Club reaps rewards from strong homegrown core, and a little luck
Yankees great Lefty Gomez famously said "I'd rather be lucky than good." Better still, though, is if you can be both.
Some of what the Giants did in building San Francisco's first World Series champion not only can, but should be emulated. Some of it most assuredly should not. And some of it, well, good luck trying. But a significant portion of the Giants' roster was acquired in ways that nearly any club could emulate.
The Giants' core is homegrown and superb. Catcher Buster Posey, starting pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner and closer Brian Wilson are all Giants draftees. Lincecum, Bumgarner and Posey were first-rounders in consecutive First-Year Player Drafts.
And it's that fact that should provide hope to every club throughout baseball -- if you draft and develop well, look at the rewards you can reap. The same can be seen from the Rays. A string of high Draft picks, if you make smart picks, can build an outstanding foundation for a winning ballclub.
But let's be honest here: it's not just skill. You have to get a little lucky. Cain, a 2002 late first-round pick, came out of a Tennessee high school as practically the prototype power pitching prospect. Lincecum, on the other hand, was regarded as a risk from the day he was drafted due to his slight build and unusual mechanics.
Whereas Bumgarner, a big, hard-throwing lefty, was the kind of pitcher every team covets, Sanchez was a 27th-round pick out of Ohio Dominican University. So, yes, the Giants drafted beautifully. But they also had some luck mixed in with scouting smarts.
"San Francisco did a great job of building a roster," said Indians general manager Chris Antonetti. "They drafted very well and made the most of their selections. Those guys have become great players. They've done a great job maximizing the impact of their Draft picks. ... What the Giants did is a credit to their scouting and development. They did an exceptional job in developing and transitioning players to the Major League level."
If there's one part of the Giants' story that should inspire also-rans, then, it's the Draft -- and, subsequently, developing those Draft picks. The Pirates, the Royals, the Orioles, these teams have high Draft opportunities. Pick right, develop right, and get lucky and you're on your way.
"It's a little bit of all of it," said John Vuch, who was recently promoted to be the Cardinals' farm director. "It's good scouting. In the case of Lincecum, he was sort of an unconventional type pitcher, so there was some element of risk there in taking him where they took him. But he ended up developing pretty quickly. ... It's really good work all the way around, but also it does take picking high enough in the Draft to get those guys."
Part of what surrounded that homegrown core, meanwhile, was an assortment of opportunistic pickups. Andres Torres, Santiago Casilla and Guillermo Mota signed as Minor League free agents. Pat Burrell had been released and was there for anyone to sign for the league minimum. Juan Uribe and Aubrey Huff were relatively low-cost, late-winter signings.
These are also moves that second-division clubs can follow. After all, if you don't spend too much on a player like Uribe or Huff, and he's not blocking anyone, then why not? Sign him, and if it doesn't work out, you can always flip him at the deadline. It's hard to find a bad one-year contract.
But, speaking of bad contracts, that brings us to the one element of this Giants team that cannot and should not be emulated -- by just about anyone. There's no getting around it, this team entered the 2010 season with some contracts on the books that did not look so hot.
World Series MVP Edgar Renteria obviously starred in late October, but his two-year deal was not, overall, a good one for the Giants. Barry Zito, signed for three more years after '10 with another $64.5 million still guaranteed to him, didn't even make the roster in any of the three playoff rounds. Aaron Rowand, reduced to part-time duty, has two more years and $24 million remaining.
On one hand, it's very much to manager Bruce Bochy's credit that he didn't let contract status determine October playing time. It's a dangerous trap, one that other clubs have been known to fall into. On the other, many clubs simply can't afford the kind of mistakes the Giants have made. They're not the Yankees by any means, but they're doing all right financially.
In short, it helps an awful lot if your team can withstand the hit of $30 million per year in questionable contracts.
And then there's luck of another sort, in the form of timing. At some point, before too terribly long, these homegrown players will start to get expensive themselves. The window can be relatively short for a drafted-and-developed team. You have to take advantage of your opportunities, because they can be gone before you know it.
Still, the blueprint is there, or at least part of it. You have to get lucky. You have to have good timing. You have to keep guys healthy. But drafting and developing matter. Do that right, and you've at least got a good start.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.