In conjunction with the series on the franchises that just don’t seem to get it, I’m going to write three posts on teams that really do seem to understand how to develop a winning team. I don’t mean that they have been able to just win a World Series. I don’t even necessarily mean that they’ve been able to win more than one lately (though, that does help). Because the Florida/Miami Marlins have won two World Series titles, but I would hardly qualify what they do as “getting it.” Especially considering that outside their two championship runs, they have never even made it into the playoffs, and have only finished as high as 2nd in their division one other time in the team’s 22-year history. So, winning a championship here or there only gets you so far in my book (that goes for you, too, Phillies, White Sox, and Angels).
I’m looking at the teams that have built a consistently winning team. Organizations that have been able to build something impressive, with timely trades, shrewd free agent acquisitions, and quality player development in their minor league system. I don’t believe that any of my three choices will surprise you, because they are teams that we constantly see in October. But, at minimum, I hope we will all gain a greater appreciation for what the front office has been doing with these teams.
So, the first team that really gets it is . . .
San Francisco Giants
Like I said – this should be a shock to no one. Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand the last 5 years, it’s been impossible to miss the almost clockwork success of the Giants. Three World Series titles in five years. That’s a feat that only four other franchises in the history of baseball have been able to accomplish – Athletics (1910, ’11 & ’13; ’72-’74), Red Sox (1915, ’16, & ’18), Cardinals (1942, ’44, & ’46), and, of course, the Yankees (4 times – ’36-’39; ’49-’53; ’58, ’61 & ’62; and ’96 & ’98-2000). Even in the years between championships, you can see specific reasons why they weren’t especially competitive (2013 – practically their entire starting rotation tanked in the same year!; 2011 – Buster Posey‘s gone for the whole season, and they finished just 4 games out of the playoff picture).
But, the success of the Giants goes further back than just their recent run of championships. In the last 18 years, this is a team with 7 postseason appearances, 4 National League pennants, and 3 titles. And, they were 6 outs away from winning all 4 World Series appearances, if the bullpen had been able to hold up in game 6 in 2002. But, in this same period of time, the Giants have just one last-place finish (2007), and have finished in either first or second place in their division 12 times. And, my favorite part about the success the Giants have had, is the way they have built it – which is the primary reason they’re featured in this series.
Madison Bumgarner isn’t an “out of nowhere” phenomenon. He was the Giants’ #1 draft pick in 2007, and was a highly-touted prospect leading up to his debut in 2010. But, that’s just the beginning. Buster Posey was their #1 pick in 2008, Tim Lincecum was their #1 pick in 2006, Matt Cain was their #1 pick in 2002 – all of whom have made major contributions to the Giants’ success of late. Then there’s 2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval (signed as an amateur free agent in 2003), Brian Wilson (drafted in 2003), Sergio Romo (drafted in 2005), Nate Schierholtz (2nd round pick in ’03), Russ Ortiz (4th round pick in ’95), and even Joe Nathan (6th round pick in ’95) – all of whom have contributed to winning seasons in San Francisco.
Why does all of this matter? While the Giants do reside within the 6th largest U.S. television market, they also share it with another MLB team (Oakland). Which means they aren’t going to generate the revenue of a Boston, Atlanta or Dallas. And, that’s been born out most years by the amount of money they have been spending on their payroll. The 2014 championship team was, by far, their most expensive – $140 million (6th in MLB) – while they were much more average spenders in other years – $117 million in 2012 & $98 million in 2010. Other than making Barry Bonds the highest paid player in baseball in ’92, when was the last time you remember the Giants going out and spending huge money on a single player? Barry Zito, I guess? (And, they almost immediately regretted that decision) No, the Giants spend their money in the right places – developing their own talent, and adding key pieces to help them win.
Speaking of key additions, how could we ignore the important players the Giants front office has signed (or traded for) that have been invaluable pieces of their winning seasons? Edgar Renteria was the 2010 World Series MVP in one of just two seasons he played in San Fran. Cody Ross was the NLCS MVP that same year, and he was a late-season pick up from the Marlins. Other mid-season trades brought in Marco Scutaro (2012 NLCS MVP) and Travis Ishikawa (hit the HR to win the NLCS in game 5 in 2014). And, we can’t ignore Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence – the only two players on the team that will make 8-figure salaries over the next couple years that aren’t home-grown talent. And, considering their contributions to the Giants over the last few years, they are well worth what the Giants are paying them.
While they may have gone through a lull in their success from 2005-2008 (4 of their 5 losing seasons out of the last 18), they certainly seem to have figured out how to win consistently, and how to build a champion by the Bay.