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Does Dusty Baker Play the Youngsters?

By sweaver Founding Member
Published Apr 8, 2009
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Hometown: Ravenswood, WV
Date joined: Mar 3, 2009
On a blog response, I believe on Trent Rosecrans' blog, I saw someone raise the point, "Did the Giants or Cubs really have any good prospects that Dusty Baker didn't play?" That's a valid point. Was there really some hotshot that Dusty was keeping out of the lineup? Luckily, now that has minor league stats, we can investigate this question.

Baker first became manager of the Giants in 1993. He took over a team that had lost 90 games for Roger Craig the year before, and won 103 games, one game short of the West division title. The biggest change in the big-league team's lineup was adding Barry Bonds as a free agent, and as he replaced Mike Felder that was a pretty big step up that didn't have much to do with Baker. Otherwise, Baker stayed with the same lineup, including 23-year old Royce Clayton at shortstop and 25-year old Darren Lewis in center field, both easily categorized as defensive specialists and speed guys. Baker also got 20-win seasons out of holdover starters Bill Swift and John Burkett. Burkett was lucky with run support, and also had some arm troubles the next year, though he would come through them. For Swift, that was far more than he had ever pitched before, and he was never the same pitcher afterward. But, Swift was 31, and there's no way to know what his arm had left anyway. Baker also focused on 24-year old Rod Beck as the closer, and got a big year.

The Giants' high minor league teams in 1993 showed no hot prospects. The best player for AAA Phoenix was probably OF Steve Hosey, but he was not burning up the PCL or anything. The most interesting pitcher was probably 21-year old Salomon Torres, 14-8 with a 3.16 ERA split between AA and AAA. Torres also got eight major league starts, going 3-5. Torres never was really able to establish himself as a major league pitcher until going to the bullpen in his early 30s with Pittsburgh. AA Shreveport didn't really have anyone of note.

In 1994, the Giants dropped below .500. Will Clark left as a free agent, and was replaced by Todd Benzinger. 2B Robby Thompson had injury troubles, and was replaced by John Patterson. Dave Martinez started edging out Willie McGee. The pitching struggled, as Burkett faded, Swift got hurt, and Torres struggled, although youngster William Van Landingham was 8-2. Van Landingham had followed up a good 1993 in Class A ball with a strong start in AA in 1994, and got promoted quickly to fill the rotation holes.

Phoenix's best player was probably 1B J.R. Phillips, who hit 27 homers and batted .300, but the Giants stayed with the .265-hitting Benzinger. Catcher Brent Cookson hit .324 in 62 games for Shreveport, but didn't get a big league call.

The 1995 Giants were below .500 again. Mark Carreon took over 1B, Robby Thompson was back at 2B, and Glenallen Hill took over RF. J.R. Phillips got 231 AB, but hit .195. The pitching struggled again, and the bullpen fell apart. Phoenix' best player was OF Mark Leonard, but he was 30. Better prospects were Marvin Benard, a 25-year old OF who hit .301, and Rich Aurilia, 23, who hit .279 at Phoenix after batting .327 at Shreveport. Bill Mueller, 24-year old third baseman, hit .309 for Shreveport and .297 for Phoenix, though with no power. The pitching was pretty barren. Shreveport had a strong season, and besides Mueller and Aurilia in the first half boasted Jacob Cruz, a 22-year old OF who hit .297 with 13 HR. 2B Jay Canizaro, 21, batted .293. Some pitchers had success, but none stood out.

The Giants lost 94 games in 1996, but Aurilia got worked in as starting shortstop, and Mueller started getting playing time as well, edging in for Matt Williams at third. Shawon Dunston also came on board, mostly this year as a shortstop. Marvin Benard took over the CF job. Steve Scarsone, at 30 not young but a minor league veteran, got a shot at the 2B job. Finding pitching was still a challenge, but some young arms were getting a shot.

At this point we can fairly say that any young player who deserved a chance to play was getting it. Rich Aurilia was getting playing time, Bill Mueller was getting some chances, young pitchers were pitching. Two promising arms appeared in AA: Keith Foulke and Bobby Howry, at this point both starters.

The Giants started dealing in November, with new GM Brian Sabean, promoted from head of player personnel, given a mandate to build up the team. With plans to build a new ballpark, privately financed, the ownership wanted a team to match. So Sabean took some chances. He signed free agent pitcher Mark Gardner, coming off three seasons of struggle. He dealt popular third baseman Matt Williams to Cleveland to get infielders Jose Vizcaino and Jeff Kent, and pitcher Julian Tavarez. At the end of November, Sabean sent two pitchers to the Angels to get J.T. Snow.

Vizcaino was given the shortstop job, pushing Rich Aurilia to the background. Kent, who had been bouncing between second and third, was installed as the second baseman. Bill Mueller, now 26, was given the third base job. The Giants also signed Darryl Hamilton to take over center field.

The deals worked. Barry Bonds had another fantastic season, Snow shook off to bad years and had his best year, and Kent emerged, giving the Giants three 100-RBI guys. Hamilton and Mueller got on base, and Vizcaino held down the shortstop position. Glenallen Hill was lousy, but Stan Javier helped in spelling Hill and Hamilton. Catcher was a black hole, but at least Brian Johnson showed power. On the staff, Shawn Estes won 19 games at age 24, and 26-year old Kirk Rueter won 13, while Gardner won 12. Rod Beck was the relief ace. Tavarez pitched in 89 games as a setup guy. But, the pitching still had holes.

To fill those holes, Sabean made what Chicago South Siders referred to as "the White Flag Trade" at the trade deadline at the end of July. Sabean traded SF's two good pitching prospects, Bobby Howry and Keith Foulke, plus four other young players, to get veteran pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, and Danny Darwin. Alvarez steadied the rotation, and gave it a third lefty, while Hernandez moved into the setup role pushing Tavarez to middle relief. It deepened the pitching for the stretch drive as the Giants won 90 games and a division crown. They were then swept by the Marlins in the division series, but had made a bold step forward.

Young players? Mueller was a regular, with Aurilia on the big team as a backup. Jacob Cruz had a good year at Phoenix and could have been given a shot at filling the job of Hill, but wasn't. Foulke and Howry, the best young pitchers, were traded for veterans. Russ Ortiz was emerging at age 24.

In 1998, the Giants won 89 games, 2nd in the West and one game short of the Cubs for the Wild Card. Vizcaino was gone from the team and shortstop, and Aurilia moved in to the job, but had to fight off veteran ping-hitter Rey Sanchez. Charlie Hayes was brought in to platoon with Snow at 1B, and sometimes spell Mueller at third. Stan Javier, 34, moved in as the right fielder but Marvin Benard hit .322 in part-time play. Veteran OF Ellis Burks and Joe Carter were brought in during the season.

The Giants went heavy with veteran pitchers, bringing in 39-year old Orel Hershiser to go with 36-year old Mark Gardner and 42-year old Danny Darwin in the rotation. Kirk Rueter won 16 to top the staff, but Shawn Estes fell from 19 wins to 7. Russ Ortiz got 14 starts and was 4-4. Wilson Alvarez had left as a free agent, as did closer Rod Beck. In answer, the Giants sent three young players to Florida to get Robb Nen. That worked, as Nen saved 40 with a 1.52 ERA.

With Phoenix now housing the expansion Diamondbacks, the Giants' AAA franchise moved to Fresno. Armando Rios, now 26, had a solid season with 100 RBI but did not much time in the majors. IF Ramon Martinez also did well, and OF Jacob Cruz had another solid season. Calls were not forthcoming. Pedro Feliz, 21, broke through at AA, and P Scott Linebrink was on a fast track.

The 1999 Giants gave Marvin Benard the CF job, at age 29. but with Bonds missing time with injuries finished second again. Ellis Burks took over in RF. Rich Aurilia now had a firm hold on the SS job. Armando Rios got backup work, and hit .327. Ramon Martinez also filled a role on the bench. Russ Ortiz became the top starter and won 18 games. Rueter won 15 and Estes 11. 24-year olds Joe Nathan and Livan Hernandez got some starts, Hernandez after coming from Florida in a trade. Robb Nen continued as closer, and Felix Rodriguez, at 27, got some work in middle relief.

The Giants had no young standout players at Fresno, as most were 26-28. Ryan Jensen won 11 games at age 23, and Jason Grilli was 22 and 7-5 when traded to Florida for Hernandez. At AA, Pedro Feliz batted .253 at age 22, and Yorvit Torrealba batted .244 at age 20. Not much pitching to excite.

In 2000, the Giants won 97 games and the division as Jeff Kent had his MVP season and Bonds returned to full-time duty. The Giants lost in the Division Series again, this time to the Mets. 25-year old Bobby Estalella did most of the catching after being acquired in the offseason for P Chris Brock. Livan Hernandez took over as the top pitcher, with 17 wins. He tossed 240 innings.

Pedro Feliz moved up to AAA and hit .298 with 33 HR and 105 RBI at age 22. Damon Minor, at 26, had a good season at 1B. The pitching wasn't impressive. In AA Shreveport, no hitters impressed, while 21-year old Kurt Ainsworth was 10-9.

The 2001 Giants got 73 home runs from Barry Bonds, but could only finish second. For that matter, they got a .324 average and 37 homers from Rich Aurilia, and 106 RBI from Jeff Kent, and finished second. That may be a record: 213 RBI from a double-play combination without winning at least a division. Bill Mueller had been traded to make room for others at third, but Pedro Feliz' lack of walks hurt him, and light-hitting Ramon Martinez ended up with a lot of time at third. Benito Santiago, 36, was brought in to catch but posted a .295 on-base average. Armando Rios was finally given the right field job and did fine, but was traded at the trade deadline to get ace pitcher Jason Schmidt. Calvin Murray and Marvin Benard did not provide adequate offense. Neither did veteran first baseman J.T. Snow. Shawon Dunston was brought back to help the bench, and hit for some power in 186 AB but walked twice. That's 2.

Schmidt went 7-1 down the stretch but it wasn't enough. Russ Ortiz won 17, Robb Nen and Felix Rodriguez anchored the bullpen, but otherwise the pitching struggled. Ryan Jensen, Ryan Vogelsong (before being traded with Rios) and Kurt Ainsworth got some innings.

Fresno had no spectacular young players, but C Yorvit Torrealba and SS Cody Ransom looked interesting. Ainsworth and Jensen were the best pitchers. At AA, there were no offensive standout, but 19-year old P Jerome Williams was 9-7. Joe Nathan, age 26, had a terrible year.

In 2002, Dusty Baker's final year in San Francisco, the Giants won 95 games and the Wild Card and went all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before bowing. The team depended again on imported veterans: 3B David Bell, 29; RF Reggie Sanders, 34; CF Tsuyoshi Shinjo, 30. This was not a team bringing along young players. It was also a team where Baker famously used Shawon Dunston, 40 and a .231 hitter for the season, as a DH.

What young players were there to use? Well, pitchers Ainsworth and Williams, as well as Nathan. Not really any other hot prospects.

After the season, Baker was allowed to take a contract from the Cubs even though the team had gotten to the Series. How did the second part of his Giants' tenure go?

Certainly, there was a lack of commitment to young players. You could argue about whether that was more Baker, or more Brian Sabean, who kept trading off any promising youngsters to get veterans to fuel pennant aspirations. The Giants' minor league system also wasn't kicking out any can't-miss prospects, just some hopefuls. I think, based on his work in San Francisco, we'd have to give Dusty Baker a "C" at bringing along youngsters. He made a regular of Rich Aurilia, although it took time. He gave Bill Mueller a job. But he was slow to bring in replacements for 1B and the OF even when he had some options for both. He gave opportunities to some young pitchers, but not others with good track records.

Now, the Giants had gotten all the way to Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, but after the Series ended Baker was allowed to leave San Francisco and become manager of the Chicago Cubs. We can assume such plans were brewing over the season (much as plans to make Baker the Cincinnati manager had been brewing since June prior to the event, according to some sources) and came to fruition at the end of the season. After the success, Baker might have been persuaded to stay in SF, but the Giants elected not to do so, going with Felipe Alou as manager instead.

In Chicago, Baker essentially replaced Don Baylor, although Baylor had been relieved of duty during the season and Rene Lachemann and Bruce Kimm had finished out the season. The Cubs lost 95 games in 2002, after winning 88 in 2001. They had been bouncing back and forth like that, with a Wild Card playoff berth in 1998 followed by two 90-loss seasons, then the 88 wins. Baker took over, and the Cubs returned to 88 wins again and took the Central division. They won the division series matchup with the Braves, then lost to the Marlins in the NLCS.

During the offseason, the Cubs let veteran 1B Fred McGriff go as a free agent, traded struggling catcher Todd Hundley to the Dodgers for 1B Eric Karros and 2B Mark Grudzielanek, signed pitchers Mike Remlinger and Shawn Estes as free agents, also picked up backup IF Ramon Martinez and Lenny Harris. Baker also made a point of calling out RF Sammy Sosa in the media, saying that a greater effort would be required. Sosa did not react well.

The 2003 Cubs started the year with a very veteran lineup, with the exceptions of 23-year old CF Corey Patterson and 24-year old Hee Seop Choi, who platooned at 1B with Karros. Grudzielanek handed second base, with last year's holder of the keystone job, Mark Bellhorn, taking third base. Alex Gonzalez, formerly of the Blue Jays, was in his second year as Cubs shortstop. Moises Alou and Sosa flanked Patterson in the outfield, insuring the kid lots of exercise. Damian Miller did the catching. Choi got off to a slow start, batting just .218 for the season although he drew walks and showed good power. Karros took over all of the first base job in early June.

In late July, the Cubs swung a deadline deal, getting a steal from the Pirates on third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez was just 25, but was a veteran nonetheless, and he came with OF Kenny Lofton. All it cost the Cubs was backup Jose Hernandez and IF Bobby Hill. Lofton took over CF from Patterson, and Ramirez took over 3B from Bellhorn, with the end effect of making the Cubs a bit older. But they won.

For the rotation, the catchword was young. Matt Clement (28) won 14, Kerry Wood (26) did also, Carlos Zambrano (22) won 13, and Mark Prior won 18 games at the tender age of 22. The veteran, 30-year old Shawn Estes, posted a 5.73 ERA and 8-11 record. 32-year old Joe Borowski was the closer, and 37-year olds Mike Remlinger and Mark Guthrie did most of the middle relief. Kyle Farnsworth, 27, was the setup guy. Antonio Alfonseca, 31, was the other most-used arm.

So, the team went heavily for veterans, but largely that was the squad Baker was handed. He did give up on the youngster Choi, who was providing offense but had a low batting average. Baker went instead for the veteran Karros, who was playing well, and later Randall Simon. The Cubs swapped out young Patterson for veteran Lofton, but at the same time also went with young Ramirez. Baker rode his young starting rotation, however. Some whispered he pitched them too much, but the team won.

These Cubs didn't need much help from the minors, but didn't have a lot even if they had. Hill, the AAA second baseman, went to acquire Ramirez and Lofton. OFs David Kelton and Nic Jackson were just 23, but didn't look that impressive for Iowa. The pitching wasn't great, either. At AA was OF Jason Dubois, 24, selected by Toronto in the Rule 5 draft but returned. There were other young players, but no standouts. 22-year old pitcher Mike Nannini was interesting, with a 10-9 record and 3.62 ERA, but not a sure thing.

For 2004, the Cubs sent Nannini and Choi to Florida for Derrek Lee, a 28-year old first baseman. Mark Grudzielanek was re-signed. Catcher Damian Miller was swapped to Oakland for catcher Michael Barrett. Barrett was allowed to become a free agent and then re-signed, a puzzling move. At the end of spring training, veteran Greg Maddux was signed.

The Cubs got slightly younger, with Barrett and Lee assuming regular positions. Patterson also returned to CF with the departure of Lofton. 31-year old Todd Walker pushed 35-year old Mark Grudzielanek into a platoon situation. On the other hand, when Sosa went down in late May and early June, the Cubs went to veteran backup Todd Hollandsworth as a replacement rather than calling up hotshot Jason Dubois, who had a big AAA season. For the most part, though, the lineup was set. 23-year old 2B Brendan Harris didn't get a call either.

Veteran Maddux and young Zambrano fronted the 2004 rotation with 16 wins apiece as Wood and Prior missed playing time. Matt Clement was 9-13. 23-year old Sergio Mitre and 29-year old Glendon Rusch picked up the other starts. Joe Borowski collapsed, and LaTroy Hawkins took over as closer. Farnsworth and veterans Kent Mercker and Mike Remlinger got most of the relief calls, although some went to youngsters like 24-year old Francis Beltran. Beltran and young 2B prospect Brendan Harris went with shortstop Gonzalez in a deadline deal to get Nomar Garciaparra. Again, Dusty Baker's team was trading its prospects to get veterans. The Cubs won 89 games and were three games short of the Wild Card.

The 2005 Cubs fell below .500 even with a monster season by Derrek Lee. Alou left as a free agent, and Sosa was traded to the Orioles after the steroid scandal hit. The Cubs also dealt Kyle Farnsworth to the Tigers for not much. They re-signed Garciaparra. The Cubs bled talent. Later in the season, Hawkins was sent to the Giants for two young pitchers. The Cubs went through an interesting if painful trade sequence where they traded Jason Dubois to the Indians for Jody Gerut, then sent Gerut to the Pirates two weeks later for Matt Lawton, then a month after that sent Lawton to the Yankees for a minor leaguer who has yet to surface. It was a team treading water.

Neifi Perez played shortstop everyday, and Todd Hollandsworth and Jeromy Burnitz played the outfield flanks. No room seemed to be available to play 26-year old Dubois before he was traded, nor 23-year old Matt Murton. This is a true indictment of the manager's play of younger players, that he couldn't find room for these promising young outfielders.

Meantime, young pitchers ruled the day. Greg Maddux and Mike Remlinger were the only over-30s regularly employed after Hawkins was traded. Ryan Dempster was given the closer job. Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior were in the regular rotation. Other youngsters got opportunities.

Two 22-year olds popped up in AAA: C Geovany Soto, and SS Ronny Cedeno. Both looked like comers. John Koronka, Rich Hill, and Sergio Mitre made pitching noise. There was talent here.

In 2006, the bottom fell out for the Cubs and they lost 96 games. The biggest problem was Derrek Lee playing but 50 games. Ronny Cedeno took over the SS job, and Matt Murton moved into LF. The Cubs gave up on talented CF Corey Patterson, and picked up Juan Pierre for CF and Jacque Jones for RF. The team brought in more young pitchers, with Sean Marshall (23), Rich Hill (26), and Carlos Marmol (23) leading the way. Of that group, only Hill pitched well.

The Cubs did not use the injury of Lee to find a way to get minor league veteran Mike Restovich (27) into the lineup, going instead with Todd Walker or John Mabry at 1B and using Neifi Perez at 2B while Walker was not there. At the end of the season, Dusty Baker was fired.

So, what lessons should we take from examining Dusty Baker's record with young players?

Baker has shown some aversion to working young players into the lineup. This is not uncommon among major league managers, who as a group tend to favor the safer, known quantities of established major leaguers. Baker is not averse to young players of obvious talents, or to using youngsters who have established themselves elsewhere (Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee), but many players who came up through the minor leagues took an extended period of time to establish themselves as major leaguer regulars under Baker (Rich Aurilia, Bill Mueller, Matt Murton). Now, it is true that no real blue-chip prospects came up to his teams while he was managing, certainly no prospect of the level of Jay Bruce. But, given a choice between a faltering veteran and a youngster with some ability, Dusty Baker will by and large stay with the veteran.

Baker has shown more of a tendency to use young pitchers. He does not just use young power pitchers, such as Mark Prior or Kerry Wood, but has also deployed soft tossers, including Shawn Estes and Kirk Rueter, giving them rotation spots. He tends to favor closers who have experience in that role, and likes veterans for the bullpen, but will use young pitchers there as well. Some say he likes young pitchers too well, and lets them throw too many pitches, as young pitchers have more of a tendency to walk batters and throw more pitches. But that's another subject.

One thing Dusty Baker's teams often showed a tendency to do was to trade young prospects for veterans. How much this was Baker's influence, and how much was organzational and GM philosophy is unknown. Certainly, most of Baker's teams saw themselves as contenders, and such teams often take a "win-now" approach, dealing youngsters for veterans. The Giants, in particular, took this tack, but more so during the Brian Sabean era. So, how much was the manager and how much the GM? We'll never know.

Under Dusty Baker, I expect Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey will get their chances. So, don't be surprised to see a few young Reds packaged off for veterans this offseason. As always, time will tell.
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Apr 08, 2009
rohebliusFanbase staffwrote:
That was an awesome ride back through the Baker years. Like you said, he may have had an aversion to playing younger guys, I don't think anyone that he didn't play in San Francisco, really became anything. Plus, Sabean made sure that team was a veteran club, and able to play with someone like Bonds.
Apr 08, 2009
sweaverFounding Memberwrote:
I don't think his record with younger players is stellar, but it is better than is usually reported.
Apr 08, 2009
Eric wrote:
I think most Giants fans would say that Dusty did an alright job with the young guys, although Mueller and Aurilia probably should have been given the full-time jobs a bit earlier. The bigger issue was an organizational philosophy that didn't care much for developing young players. Most of the prospects were just downright bad.

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