Nightengale's Notebook: Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean back in the game showing they're 'not dinosaurs'

They won three World Series championships together.

They may be going into the Hall of Fame together one day too.

Now, for the first time in 17 years after building a dynasty together in San Francisco, Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean are headed off into different directions for the start of spring training.

Bochy, 67, who wondered whether anyone would hire him to manage again, is going to Surprise, Ariz., trying to lead the Texas Rangers back into the playoffs and building toward the organization’s first World Series title.

Sabean, 66, uncertain whether a team still valued him, will be off to Tampa, Fla., trying to end the New York Yankees’ 14-year World Series championship drought in his front-office position.

“The one thing that always bothered me was that everybody said we were dinosaurs,’’ Sabean tells USA TODAY Sports. “We were not dinosaurs.

“Dinosaurs are extinct. Getting these jobs proves that we are not extinct.’’

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Sabean is one of the shrewdest executives in the sport’s history, winning three World Series titles as GM of the San Francisco Giants with seven postseason berths.

Bochy is one of the game’s greatest managers, winning the three World Series titles with Sabean, a National League pennant with the San Diego Padres and 2,003 regular-season victories along the way.

Yet, it’s almost as if all their success was forgotten.

Bochy resigned from the Giants after the 2019 season, twice turned down the San Diego Padres’ managerial position in 2020, saying that he simply wanted to take a year off.

Two years came and went, and no one ever called him again until the Rangers in October.

“Some people thought I was done,’’ Bochy said from his Nashville home. “The chances of me managing was getting slimmer each year. After awhile, I really didn’t know whether I would manage again. But maybe the great jobs that Dusty (Baker, 73) and Buck (Showalter, 66) did helped me get a call.

“But I also knew it had to be the right fit, the right situation, and this felt perfect for me.’’

Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy with San Francisco in 2011.
Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy with San Francisco in 2011.

Bochy wasn’t entirely convinced he was ready to return until Rangers GM Chris Young, who pitched for Bochy in San Diego, flew to Nashville to talk about the job. They spent seven hours talking – but Bochy was hooked in 30 minutes.

Now, here comes the long days. The late nights. The grind. And all of the fishing and hunting trips are on hold.

“I had my time off, and I enjoyed it, it was good for me to hit the pause button,’’ Bochy. “When I talked to CY, I knew I wanted to come back. I was all in. I missed it. I missed it a lot.

“And I want to win another championship.’’

Sabean, the longest-tenured GM in Giants history, no longer remained has head of baseball operations when Farhan Zaidi was hired in 2019. Sabean remained with the team, but had less and less input in the organization’s decisions as the years passed. It was nothing personal, but when his contract expired, he told the Giants it was time for a change. He was interested in a few key front-office jobs over the years, but nothing ever materialized, until Yankees GM Brian Cashman called in January, offering him to be one of his senior advisors.

“It’s not like I suddenly forgot how to do this,’’ Sabean said, “but I felt like a dummy there for awhile. People don’t give enough credit for all of the experience, intelligence and baseball acumen from people from our generation. Maybe this pendulum is swinging where it’s a valuable asset again.

“It just feels so good to be wanted again, and needed. I’ve got a whole new lease on life, personally, and professionally.’’

For Bochy, this will be his first venture into the American League. He spent 12 years with the Padres, 13 with the Giants and but spent three unforgettable Octobers beating up the American League in the World Series, including his first one in 2010 over the Rangers.

The Rangers were a power back then, going to the World Series in back-to-back seasons in 2010-2011, but have since won only two postseason games, while losing 196 games the past two seasons.

There’s some work to be done.

Bochy has immersed himself in scouting reports, videos and, yes, even the Rangers’ media guide since being hired. He invited his entire coaching staff to be with him in Nashville. He wants former Rangers greats to come around the team, and is inviting Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan this summer too.

“The hard part is just getting to know everybody,’’ Bochy said. “I’ve been doing a lot of listening. It’s like growing up with my dad in the service and it’s the first day of school in a new place when you don’t know anybody.’’

Sabean is going back to where it all began in New York. He was one of the original architects of the great Yankee dynasty in the 1990s, starting his career as a scout in 1985 before becoming their scouting director and vice president of player development. Now, he’s come full circle and is back with Cashman.

“Cash doesn’t get enough credit,’’ Sabean says. “If there was ever a Hall of Fame for executives in all of sports, he’s on top of the list. They understand what the expectations are, which are greater than everyone, and they keep on winning. There’s nothing like the Yankees with their history and culture.

“It’s nice to think that hopefully I’ll end my career with the Yankees having only worked in two organizations.’’

This will Bochy’s third, and most likely final destination too, hoping to win a fourth World Series ring before he calls it a career and is elected into the Hall of Fame.

The only difference this time, he says, is that he will not announce his retirement until after he manages his final game. He announced during 2019 spring training that he was stepping down from the Giants after the season, and regretted it every day.

“That was the dumbest thing I ever did,’’ Bochy said. “I thought I would get it out of the way, so I didn’t have to answer questions about it. It was terrible. The only good thing was that I got a bunch of great liquor out of it from other teams.

“Well, I’m out of liquor now.’’

Bruce Bochy was named the Rangers' manager in the 2022-23 offseason.
Bruce Bochy was named the Rangers' manager in the 2022-23 offseason.

Sabean is familiarizing himself with the Yankees by watching tape from all of their games last year. He’s studying minor- and major-league reports. He plans to be at all of their spring-training games this spring, evaluate their prospects, scout amateur players, help out in Latin America, and scout potential free agents for the 2024 season.

“I’m very fortunate to be a link in the chain at this stage of the game,’’ Sabean says. “I want to mentor, give back, provide a voice, and hopefully my opinions and thoughts carry a lot of weight.’’

Sabean, who lived just 20 minutes away from the Giants’ spring-training complex, confesses that he does have one huge concern keeping him awake at nights before spending the next six weeks in Florida.

“I don’t know how to pack,’’ Sabean says. “I’ve got plenty of clothes, but none of them fit. God forbid, I need a new wardrobe.’’

The Great Divide

There’s never been a greater financial gap in baseball history between the haves and have-nots, which will certainly be a hot topic when the owners get together at their meetings this week in Palm Beach, Fla.

There are six teams – led by the Mets’ $335 million –who will enter spring training with payrolls exceeding $200 million, according to Spotrac’s research.

And there are 11 teams whose payrolls are under $100 million, with the Oakland A’s once again the lowest at $40.9 million.

The Great Divide is only getting bigger judging by free-agent spending this winter.

There was $2.6 billion spent in free agency by seven teams, averaging $371 million.

The remaining 23 teams spent a combined $877 million, averaging $38.1 million.

Certainly, teams have the right to spend as much or little as they desire, but the competitive balance is a grave concern.

The six teams with payrolls of at least $200 million (Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Padres, Dodgers and Blue Jays) were all in the playoffs last year. Tampa Bay and Cleveland were the only postseason teams with payrolls under $100 million.

Sure, there can always be surprises, but in the past six years, 10 of the 12 teams in the World Series ranked in the top 10 in payroll – 83.8%.

In the previous seven years, just three of the 14 World Series teams ranked in the top 10 in payroll (21.4%).

Take a look at the projected payrolls heading into spring training and the amount each team spent in free agency (in parentheses):

  1. New York Mets: $335.3 million ($498.1 million)

  2. New York Yankees: $267.9 million ($573.5M)

  3. San Diego Padres: $237.6 million ($354M)

  4. Philadelphia Phillies: $226.4 million ($399M)

  5. Los Angeles Dodgers: $209 million ($44.5M)

  6. Toronto Blue Jays: $202 million ($89.8M)

  7. Texas Rangers: $179.3 million ($244M)

  8. Atlanta: $177.9 million ($3M)

  9. San Francisco Giants: $173 million ($174M)

  10. Los Angeles Angels: $172.6 million ($70.7M)

  11. Houston Astros: $172.1 million ($105M)

  12. Chicago White Sox: $170.4 million ($87M)

  13. Chicago Cubs: $168.8 million ($305.5M)

  14. Boston Red Sox: $166.6 million ($86.2M)

  15. Colorado Rockies: $155.5 million (8.05M)

  16. St. Louis Cardinals: $144.6 million (87.5M)

  17. Minnesota Twins: $138.5 million ($241M)

  18. Seattle Mariners: $113.7 million ($8.9M)

  19. Detroit Tigers: $105.4 million ($18.5M)

  20. Arizona Diamondbacks: $93.8 million ($18.7M)

  21. Milwaukee Brewers: $92.1 million ($4.5M)

  22. Miami Marlins: $76.5 million ($25.5M)

  23. Washington Nationals: $75.2 million ($23.2M)

  24. Cleveland Guardians: $75 million ($39M)

  25. Cincinnati Reds: $70.6 million ($13.9M)

  26. Kansas City Royals: $74 million ($32.2M)

  27. Tampa Bay Rays: $58.3 million ($40M)

  28. Pittsburgh Pirates: $56.1 million ($30.3M)

  29. Baltimore Orioles: $50.6 million ($23M)

  30. Oakland A’s: $40.9 million ($37M)

Around the basepaths

– The retirement of NFL great Tom Brady, who was drafted in 1995 in the 18th round by the Montreal Expos on the advice of legendary scout Gary Hughes, brings back the hilarious story in 2007 when Ichiro Suzuki received a text message on his cell phone that he didn’t recognize. The message said that he was friend of Alex Rodriguez and wanted to meet Ichiro to study his stretching regimen.

“What’s the guy’s name?’’ one of the Mariners coaches asked.

Ichiro: “Some guy named Tom Brady. Who the [bleep] is Tom Brady?’’

True story.

– Milwaukee Brewers Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes was heavily recruited by Team USA to pitch in the WBC, but Burnes says he will pass.

“Right now, I’m prioritizing the season,’’ Burnes says, “and I’m making sure I’m ready to go on opening day for another fully healthy season.’’

– Several teams say that Bally Sports has already missed paychecks owed to them this winter as it braces for bankruptcy.

– The baseball world lost a true scouting legend with the passing of the Minnesota Twins’ Mike Radcliff, who died after a long, courageous fight with cancer. He was told by doctors in December there simply was nothing more that could be done. Radcliff belonged on the Mount Rushmore of scouting with a work ethic that was the absolute best in the business.

– The Mariners didn’t hide their delight with ace Luis Castillo opting not to play for the Dominican Republic in the WBC.

“He’s going to be in camp with us,” Mariners president Jerry Dipoto told Seattle reporters, “and that is something we are pleased with, that he’ll be there. It’s a choice that we made together.”

The Mariners still are scarred from when newly acquired free agent Drew Smyly pitched six shutout innings for Team USA in 2017, was diagnosed with a strained elbow two weeks later, and underwent Tommy John surgery that summer.

“It’s early in the season, and these guys are playing at such a high intensity level when they haven’t been doing that for a number of months, so you’re always worried about injury,’’ Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We did not have a good experience in 2017 and it ended up hurting our season and our chances of winning that year. So you’re always concerned about it.”

– While several executives from small- and midsized market teams have been privately critical of the San Diego Padres’ expenditures, with a $251 million projected payroll, Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort was the first to publicly voice his discontent.

“What the Padres are doing, I don’t 100% agree with, though I know that our fans probably agree with it,” Monfort told Denver reporters. “We’ll see how it works out. I look at the Padres and they have a really talented team, but they have some holes, too.’’

–  Atlanta signed seven players to long-term contract extensions during Dana Brown’s four years in Atlanta while working for GM Alex Anthopoulos, and certainly Brown would love to replicate that success.

The Astros would love to tie up World Series MVP Jeremy Peña, All-Star outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitchers Framber Valez and Christian Javier. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman also are free agents in two years.

– The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are about $15 million over the luxury tax threshold with $22.5 million still owed to released pitcher Trevor Bauer, have no plans to get under the $233 million tax to reset their penalties. This will be their third consecutive year over the luxury tax after paying $32 million in penalties each of the past two seasons.

And, yes, they still plan to heavily pursue free agent Shohei Ohtani this winter.

– New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil may have just received a four-year, $50 million extension from his bosses, but he’s still awaiting a prize from his teammate.

Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor promised McNeil that he would buy him a car last summer if he won the NL batting title, and now that he did just that with his .326 average, McNeil is waiting for that sweet delivery.

“I did send Lindor a pretty good video of some very nice cars the other day,” McNeil told reporters of the Italian car collection. “Any one of those I’m sure will be up to my standards.”

– The Texas Rangers still could badly use another reliever and remain in touch with free agents Zack Britton, Andrew Chafin and Matt Moore.

– Three classy veterans retired last week in outfielder Dexter Fowler and relievers Darren O’Day and Jake McGee. They were tremendous teammates and role models, playing for 17 different teams in their combined 43-year careers.

– There have been 20,272 players in the big leagues, but only 187 have played at least 10 years with the same franchise.

The Yankees have had the most with 25 players, with the Giants leading the National League with 15 players.

– Legendary Cleveland fan John Adams, who beat on a drum for nearly 50 years at their home games, passed away at the age of 71. He was an institution.

“The beat of John’s drum was the heartbeat of baseball here in Cleveland,’’ Guardians senior vice president Bob DiBiasio told “His dedication, commitment and passion for our franchise, at both Cleveland Stadium and Progressive Field, was unmatched. John will forever remain a member of our team.”

– Royce Lewis, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, says he’s ecstatic that the Twins re-signed Carlos Correa, even though it means changing positions.

“I was just really excited that he’s back because the mentorship I got last year was so awesome,” Lewis told reporters at the TwinsFest. “I mean this is my favorite player and someone that’s taught me so much in the two months that I was able to be with him, and I was just excited to get more time with him.”

– How much will future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina be missed in St. Louis?

The Cardinals allowed the fewest stolen bases in baseball since Molina’s first full season in 2005, 424 fewer than the next-best team.

– Ralph Avila, one of the brilliant architects of the Dodgers’ success, passed away at the age of 92. He was key figure in the Dodgers’ operations in the Dominican Republic and Latin America, opening the first Dominican academy in major -league baseball.

– The Cardinals are still the team to beat in the NL Central, but of their 93 victories last year, 41% of those came against Pittsburgh (13-6), the Cubs (13-6) and Cincinnati (12-7).

This year, they won’t have the same opportunity to bash their NL Central brethren nearly as often playing 52 games in their division compared to 76 in last year’s schedule.

– Andrew Painter, 19, who could crack the Phillies’ opening-day roster as baseball’s No. 1 pitching prospect, would become only the third 19-year-old to be in a starting rotation in the last 30 years, joining Felix Hernandez of the Mariners in 2006 and Julio Urias of the Dodgers in 2016.

– Now that Zack Greinke is back with the Royals for perhaps a final ride, signing a one-year, $8.5 million contract, it should assure that he’ll represent the Royals when he’s elected into the Hall of Fame, joining George Brett.

– Center field great Fred Lynn just had double knee replacement surgery.

The reason?

“Maybe too many run-ins with the Green Monster?” he tweeted.

– Prayers continue for Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as he battles health issues.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB 2023: Rangers' Bruce Bochy, Yankees' Brian Sabean back in the game