Wait a minute. Let's just back up.

Last week, we discussed the two rational approaches that were available to the Niners in this free-agency period. One was what I'll now call the "outsider's approach," so named because a GM who'd been hired from elsewhere almost certainly would've taken it. He'd have looked at this roster and simply said, "Anyone I can get rid of is gone." I think the way I put it was, he'd have "taken one look at this 6-and-10 team and gutted the roster, importing a new, more talented core."

This, I strongly implied, was the approach I liked best.

Trent Baalke, however, professed his belief in the "insider's approach." With a natural tendency to overrate a roster he'd helped assemble, he vowed to hold on to "the players that have been under [our] tutelage." Jed York affirmed our commitment to "re-sign our own guys," and he went so far as to say, "We think Jim [Harbaugh] can [win] with this roster."

And so evolved the Niners' plan. Instead of cutting bait and installing new talent all over the field, we'd "re-sign our own guys" and then merely dabble, upgrading at just a position or two.

THIS approach, as I said, "wasn't bad." Despite the questions about our roster, any large-scale changes could wait, at least 'til we saw what Harbaugh could do with it.

This was the Niners' vision for 2011. This was what Baalke said he would do. And he indisputably didn't do it.

Despite having plenty of money to spend, he let nearly all of our "Big Six" go, re-signing only a promoted back-up. He took shot after shot at significant upgrades, and came away empty time after time.

In other words, he set out a plan, and he failed to execute it.

In recent days, I've been accused of "jumping the gun," of failing to "wait for the facts to unfold." But my central point was simply this: he didn't do what he said he would do. On THAT point, at least, no gun could be jumped, no facts could unfold.

He set out a plan, and he failed to execute it.

Now I did assume--reasonably, I think--that Baalke's failure would mean we were done. Would mean that our roster would drop to near zero. Would mean we'd rebuild, "no matter which of the remaining free-agent scraps we pick up."

And HERE'S where things got interesting.

Baalke didn't think it was too late to try the outsider's approach, to go for "a new, more talented core." Impossible, right? By the free-agency period's second wave, the true headliners of course were gone. And, indeed, Baalke's first signing didn't look like much, and maybe his second and third didn't either. They seemed like mere patchwork, lipstick on the proverbial pig. But after his fourth, his fifth, and the rest, they all added up to become something more.

Attempting to quantify it, I consulted a respectable list of the top 100 free agents. Take it with a grain of salt, of course, but Baalke signed #24 (the #3 UFA wideout), #28 (the #5 UFA corner), #43 (the #4 UFA safety), #72 (the #1 UFA kicker), and #89 (the #3 UFA center, and no, David Baas was not on the list). He even added #91, the #3 UFA quarterback: yeah, you guessed it--Alex Smith. (Okay, so maybe we shouldn't celebrate THAT one.) It wasn't exactly the Eagles' haul, and it didn't cure our every need. (Indeed, to be fair, these gains were offset by the losses of #20, #46, and maybe #42.) But for an average team due for a healthy injection of new, talented blood, Baalke didn't do badly at all.

In their inevitable I-told-you-so's, my personal lynch-mob insisted that Baalke had acted "exactly according to what appears to be a well-formulated plan." Sounds great, but there's a bit of revisionist history there. It's easy to say, as he actually did, that his plan all along was "patience," that he chose to wait 'til the second wave. Easy, that is, if you merely ignore his pursuit of, say, Nnamdi Asomugha. C'mon, gang. You can't go for the biggest fish in the free-agent sea and then say, when that fish gets away, your plan was patience all along.

So no. This late flurry had a distinctive flavor of Plan B. Nevertheless, at least on paper--more on that below--Baalke did his basic job. He gave this roster a shot in the arm.

I know that many of you are waiting for me to make some admissions. Okay, here goes. I admit that I didn't expect the "remaining free-agent scraps" to include such talent, and I admit that I didn't expect that Baalke would seize it. And I further admit--with tremendous relief--I was just a bit hasty in saying this season was dead on arrival. (I might even say, at least with THAT, I might've jumped the gun.)

But those of you who are declaring Baalke some kind of genius, you YOURSELVES are jumping the gun. All these guys were "scraps" for a reason; none of 'em were the league's most wanted. (Braylon Edwards might be "most wanted," though not in THAT way.) When your "well-formulated plan" is to wait until the desirables are gone, and then to pay bargain rates for guys who, though talented, are wanted by few if anyone else, executing the plan shouldn't be a big deal. And it certainly doesn't guarantee long-term success; indeed, it's just as likely the thing could implode.

I'm still not sure I trust Trent Baalke. But I can't deny it: I'm excited to see what Harbaugh will do. I'm excited for this season again.

Which leads me to one final admission.

Less than a week after I'd mourned the loss of "all the excitement of Harbaugh's arrival," Baalke did just enough to restore it. Enough to restore it, as strong as before.