Although management demonstrated its desire to field a younger team by announcing on Sept. 21 that Bonds would not be re-signed, Sabean indicated that the Giants still would try to build a contender even while nurturing less-experienced players.
"The fans are still our customers, and [given] our past success, we're going to have to try to find a way to win and develop at the same time," he said. "The good thing is, there's so much parity that it's not a real high bar or an uphill battle like it's been some other years."
Particularly in the National League, where the gulf between the haves and have-nots is narrower than in the American League.
"You get a chance to turn it around much faster, if not in a year," Sabean said. "It sounds ridiculous, but really, I don't think we performed or competed or took the field like a last-place team."
That's largely because the Giants remained competitive, playing more games decided by two runs or fewer (94) than any team in the Major Leagues. But they were 39-55 in those games. Although the Giants ranked next-to-last in the NL in scoring, Sabean echoed Bochy in saying that these collapses could be attributed more to pitching than hitting: "In some ways, we scored enough runs," said Sabean, who noted that he'll try to add at least one proven reliever to the bullpen.
Reversing the Giants' 71-91 record will require more than just statistical improvement. Bochy wants his players to perform with ardor. As an example, he cited an instance from one of last weekend's games at Los Angeles, where the fleet Davis was reluctant to attempt a stolen base.
"I don't know for sure if we quite had the warrior spirit at times that I would like," he said. "That's a mentality I'd like to change, make sure that we're all going out there playing to win. It's not that the guys aren't trying, but there is a difference between going out there playing to win versus trying to survive or not make a mistake."
Sabean likened the challenge he faces this offseason to the predicament he confronted after the 1996 campaign, which happened to mark the last time the Giants lost more than 90 games (68-94) and finished last in the West. Although few realized it at the time, Sabean turned the Giants into winners largely on the strength of one trade: The deal that sent Matt Williams and Trenidad Hubbard to Cleveland for Jeff Kent, Joe Roa, Julian Tavarez and Jose Vizcaino. Kent formed an outstanding hitting tandem with Bonds for six years, while Tavarez and Vizcaino contributed significantly to the '97 team, which won the division.
This time, Sabean has no All-Stars like Williams to trade. Citing the industry-wide reluctance to trade marquee players or even up-and-coming ones, Sabean noted that any deal for a serviceable position player probably would require San Francisco to offer a multi-player package. But the Giants do have a surplus of capable starting pitching -- most of which Sabean will make available, though he said "I would think" that Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are off-limits.
"We're smart enough to realize how thin the free-agent market is and what our strengths are, being pitching. So we'll probably be in a position to deal from our strength," Sabean said.
The Giants have identified about six teams with position-player depth who could be pitching-hungry, although no talks are current. Last winter, the Giants explored trades for Boston's Manny Ramirez and Cincinnati's Adam Dunn. Ramirez might become available this year, but Dunn's likely to stay with the Reds.
Seeking a quick fix through free agency, as the Giants have done numerous times, will be more difficult given the paucity of attractive candidates. The very short list includes center fielders Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand, along with third baseman Alex Rodriguez if he opts out of his contract with the New York Yankees. Sabean didn't promise a big-name replacement for Bonds, though he did say of free agency, "Not to explore that would be ridiculous. We are going to have to delve in some of those conversations."
Sabean and Bochy also addressed the status of various 2007 Giants, including:
Vizquel and Feliz. Sabean said that he will focus more sharply on the pros and cons of re-signing either player in the next couple of weeks. The Giants will have 15 days after the end of the World Series to negotiate exclusively with them. The club's increased emphasis on pitching and defense might lead them to retain both. "Say what you want about Pedro and Omar -- I don't know where we would have been in a lot of innings in a lot of games in a lot of weeks without the type of defensive play we had from the left side of the infield," Sabean said.
Kevin Frandsen. He'll enter Spring Training with no worse than an even chance to start at second base after hitting .370 in September. Bochy said that Frandsen would be in a "competitive" situation with Ray Durham. But Bochy also said of Frandsen, "I think he showed he can play up here. It's pretty impressive what he did the last three, four weeks. He was swinging the bat as well as anybody. Not just his bat, but his [defense] -- you could see it getting better and better."
Daniel Ortmeier, who seems to have a fair shot at making the 2008 Opening Day roster. Bochy spoke appreciatively of the switch-hitter's power and ability to play both first base and the outfield, and Sabean called him a "quick study" at first.
Durham and Rich Aurilia, veterans who lost their everyday roles but are signed for 2008. Durham and Aurilia will make $7.5 million and $4.5 million next year, respectively. "They're going to be given a chance to see if they can rebound, because it's not like we're going to eat those salaries," Sabean said.