The plan, believe it or not, wasn't bad.

Oh, sure, it SOUNDED weak. "From a philosophical standpoint," Trent Baalke said, "we're not going to be major players in free agency." He didn't rule out pursuing a "high-end free agent," but he was committed to "dealing with the known, and the known is the players that have been under your tutelage." Jed York, of course, was supportive, saying that "that's where we've always focused, [on] making sure we re-sign our own guys." He even went on to mock the big spenders, for trying to "win the Super Bowl in March." (Hey, if you doubt his expertise, just ask him to show you his Super Bowl ring. Oh wait....)

Of course, there's a certain irony in preserving "the known" when all you've ever known is losing. But that's what we get for Jed's decision to hire his GM from within. An outsider might've taken one look at this 6-and-10 team and gutted the roster, importing a new, more talented core. But Baalke, you see, helped BUILD this roster. Naturally, he'd overrate it.

Fortunately for Baalke, the weaknesses of his players were subsumed by the incompetence of their coaching. Jed's old head coach was an empty pair of lowered pants, so Baalke's roster got a free pass. Jed himself admitted as much: "I think we're close, and I think that's one of the reasons why Jim Harbaugh's our [new] head coach. We think Jim can [win] with this roster."

So the plan was in place: "re-sign our own guys" but then peek outside, for experienced guys at positions of need. And, again, the plan wasn't bad. Baalke's overrating aside, he'd do the least that a GM must do. He'd increase our talent--if only a little--and Harbaugh then would take it from there.

A good plan. Catastrophically executed.

See, first off, if your focus is "always" on your own guys, you stop 'em from reaching free agency to begin with. But if they DO hit the market, you've got no choice: you pay 'em enough to stop 'em from leaving.

Baalke couldn't do either one. But, hey, at least he was focused.

"Our own guys" were primarily six: Baas, Goldson, Franklin, Lawson, McDonald, and Spikes. Spikes was no spring chicken, but he was coming off an outstanding season as Patrick Willis's partner in mayhem. Yet Spikes was only the first to go, with Baalke only barely resisting. Baas was next, and here's where things went seriously wrong. An up-and-comer at a thin position, Baas had long been deemed our top priority. The Giants might've overpaid, but Baalke's next choice--a 13-year vet who's been to six Pro Bowls--would likely cost him even more.

If there was a bright side, though, it was that Baalke might refocus on Franklin and Lawson, the two who'd seemed most likely to leave. But in paying McDonald a starter's rate, Baalke simply gave up on Franklin, and he seems wholly uninterested in pairing the edge-setting Lawson with the pass-rushing Aldon Smith. That leaves Goldson, where Baalke's bidding against the likes of Al Davis and Jerry Jones. How do you like his chances there?

There was ONE guy, of course, whom Baalke was able to snag right away: the eternal Alex Smith. We'd known for months that he'd be back--thanks, lockout--but the official announcement was still disconcerting. Sure, he showed surprising grit in organizing the players' workouts, though he seems as qualified to teach Harbaugh's offense as he'd be to teach organic chemistry. And, sure, much of his baggage isn't his fault. But there's no escaping the ugly truth: despite all we've seen in all these years, Harbaugh will start with Mike Nolan's quarterback. The saga, incredibly, still goes on.

Please, Colin. Hurry up.

With the crucial part of his plan in flames, Baalke turned to OTHER teams' guys. He needed experience at three key positions: cornerback, especially after he cut the absurdly paid Nate Clements; quarterback, especially after he cut the absurdly bad David Carr; and wide receiver, especially after Michael Crabtree absurdly announced--with great regret, of course--he'd have to skip yet another preseason. Baalke missed on a trade for Chad Ochocinco, and then he lost out on Plaxico Burress. ("Gold stars" aren't so important now, eh?) He kicked the tires on Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Moore, but he still hasn't picked up a vet to compete with Smith (or, of course, to replace him, in the likely event of his final demise).

Corner, though, was where Baalke's failure reached epic proportions. He was truly desperate and flush with cash, having spent almost none. Yet he swung and missed, again and again. Nnamdi Asomugha. Johnathan Joseph. Chris Carr. Strike one, strike two, strike three.

Trent Baalke, you're out.

Faced with such an embarrassing defeat, Baalke might've shown some remorse, or at least some humility. Instead, he only made matters worse. "We're executing the plan," he said defiantly. "I'm not going to sit here and justify what we're doing."

Oh, I see. We were told that we would "re-sign our own guys," and we've let nearly all of 'em go. We've taken shots at a bunch of guys from other teams--including the biggest name in the free-agent field--and we've landed a kicker and nothing else. Yet Baalke says we're "executing the plan"?

Nice try there, Trent.

The loser in this, of course, is Harbaugh. He could've coached any team in the league, but he wanted the Niners. So much so, he placed his trust in a novice like Baalke, the latest of the Yorks' endless series of amateurs. Harbaugh was told that "we're close," that he would put us over the top. Instead, no matter which of the remaining free-agent scraps we pick up, Baalke's stuck him with a rebuilding project, likely the Niners' worst roster in years. (Oh, did I even mention that Gore's holding out?)

Thanks to Baalke, all the excitement of Harbaugh's arrival--that wondrous sensation of glorious rebirth--is gone, replaced by an all-too-familiar dread. That sinking feeling that no one, not even Harbaugh, can save us.

Sorry, Coach, but this is life in the Yorks' poisoned realm.

You deserve better. And so do we.