A common defense of A's general manager Billy Beane's techniques, as laid out in Moneyball, is that he was never interested in, say, fat catchers. Rather, Beane was going after bargains—players other teams didn't value properly. Inadvertently, in his blind faith in the power of 33-year-olds with middling power and plate discipline, Sabean seems to have chanced on a Beane-esque arbitrage opportunity. Today's trend-chasing general managers can think of nothing more absurd than building a team around unimpressive veterans. Assuming, reasonably, that bargains are to be found among players no one else wants, Sabean has his pick.
Let other teams hold open roster spots for developing young prospects and undervalued glove men. Sabean will happily suffer through ungodly bad hitting from the likes of DeRosa and Bengie Molina if it increases his chances of landing a player like Huff, who somehow transformed from a horrid performer into a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate. And given the depressed value of such players, he can land a guy like Huff for a lot less money than he might've cost four years ago.
While Sabean is the most advanced practitioner of the veteran presence ploy, a look at this year's playoff teams will show that he isn't alone. The Minnesota Twins, for example, might have been sunk without their investments in Thome, second baseman Orlando Hudson, and starter Carl Pavano, who came in for a combined total of less than $14 million. The Phillies, in turn, have enjoyed the work of iffy signees Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez. Take these as small proofs that when everyone is turning left, a right turn is a good plan.
The nature of the baseball market is such that if lame veterans really are being undervalued, their prices will soon enough come up. The nature of Brian Sabean is such that he'll pay for these veterans no matter the cost, instantly eliminating a temporary competitive advantage. (This is, after all, a man who once defended a trade by declaring, "I am not an idiot.") If his Giants win the pennant, most of his fans won't care. The unsporting among them might even mock their friends across the Bay. Billy Beane has the accolades. Sabean is a win away from the World Series, a place Beane's Moneyball-era A's have never been.