The Giants have been among the handful of teams said to be most interested in Cabrera, the four-time All-Star who hit .320 with 34 home runs and 119 RBIs last season. But the Giants have been reluctant to part with prized right-handers Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain, either of whom the Marlins certainly would insist on -- along with two or three other promising performers.
Sabean spoke candidly when asked about Cabrera and the Marlins' exorbitant trade demands.
"I hate to speak to somebody else's business, but you wonder if they really do want to trade the player or if they absolutely, positively have to win the deal in such a one-sided fashion. Maybe they're not going to get something done, I don't know," Sabean said.
He added that Cabrera will command huge salaries in arbitration in each of the next two seasons and might not agree to discussions about a contract extension beyond 2009, when he becomes eligible for free agency -- two factors that make the 24-year-old a risk to obtain.
Later during a conference call with reporters, Sabean referred to the widespread belief within the industry that the Marlins might lose bargaining leverage as the offseason progresses. Asked whether he thought he could acquire an impact hitter without parting with Cain or Lincecum, Sabean said, without naming Cabrera, "Whatever somebody's asking price is now may not be the case in the Winter Meetings or after the Winter Meetings, as illustrated by the one player we talked about earlier. There's a reason that player hasn't been traded yet."
Sabean acknowledged that the Giants would prefer to make the type of trade that Minnesota engineered in obtaining outfielder Delmon Young for Tampa Bay -- trading pitching (Matt Garza, in the Twins' case) for a young, developing hitter. Noting that the Giants approached the Rays about Young, Sabean said, "At the end of the day, we didn't have a match because of their asking price. But we are exploring those types of deals ... It'd be nice to find a younger third baseman out there if we could trade pitching. Right now, that opportunity hasn't presented itself."
Although Sabean hasn't completely ruled out trading Cain or Lincecum, their status as Giants appears increasingly safe. Sabean said, "I would think" they're untouchable, and added that he "would be in shock" if either was dealt.
"As I said before, we have to listen. That's our job, especially after finishing in last place," Sabean said. "But ... there's too much chatter around the industry about these guys."
Sabean continued to anticipate that the Meetings will return to "old-fashioned mode," in which trade discussions are more prominent than free-agent negotiations. Having told MLB.com recently that 70 to 75 percent of his conversations involved trades -- a 3-to-1 ratio -- Sabean revised that estimate Thursday.
"It might be 4-to-1 now," he said, noting that he's in earnest trade talks with about six teams.
The Giants are still considering some free-agent options. Sabean said they're "on the fringe" of the bidding for prominent center fielders such as Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand and Mike Cameron.
"We're still exploring whether it's viable or possible," Sabean said.
However, Sabean doubted that he'll plunge into the market for free-agent third basemen if he can't trade for one. He said that the Giants have maintained talks with their own free agent, Pedro Feliz, and his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson.
"Their pie-in-the-sky is a three-year deal, which we'll never get to," Sabean said.
If all of the Giants' efforts fall short, Sabean said, they're likely to try Kevin Frandsen at third base, backed up by Rich Aurilia.
Relying on the likes of Frandsen, who's also a candidate to start at second base, or outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who impressed Sabean by batting .348 in the Arizona Fall League ("He's going to be in the mix for playing time next year"), is as integral to the Giants' plan as their Winter Meetings hopes for upgrading their roster. This is the post-Barry Bonds era. Quick-fix solutions for vacant positions won't suffice.
"I think we've all figured out where we are, including giving our young people a chance to play," Sabean said. "We're just not going to fill holes with veterans as we've done in the past. We're going to play our kids more."