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Monday, February 24, 2014

Grading the Giants Offseason

Full squad workouts have begun in Scottsdale, Barry Bonds is putting back on his #25 Giants uni (as a Spring Training hitting coordinator), and Giants fans everywhere are debating whether or not the Giants were smart to largely bring back the same group that lost 86 games last year.  But just like pretty much every other team's fans (except the Astros), more than anything, Giants fans are hopeful 2014 will be a playoff season.  My predictions for 2014 are coming soon but for now, let's evaluate the Giants offseason...

Additions:

SP Tim Hudson
1B/OF Mike Morse
RP David Huff
OF Tyler Colvin
RP Erik Cordier

Subtractions:

SP Barry Zito
OF Andres Torres
1B Brett Pill
SP Eric Surkamp
OF Francisco Peguero
C Johnny Monell

Re-Signings:

SP Tim Lincecum
SP Ryan Vogelsong
RP Javier Lopez
OF Hunter Pence

Review:

The Giants quietly spent just under $200M (179M) this offseason on putting together their 2014 roster. By looking at their free agent signings, casual fans might be baffled.  Only Tim Hudson and Mike Morse are legitimate MLB players that the Giants signed away as free agents.  David Huff is a fringy MLB starter and may serve the team better as a long reliever.  Mostly, Huff's signing was for depth in case injuries become an issue in the rotation again (crossing fingers that it doesn't).  So how did the Giants spend 200 million on two free agents?  Well, of course, they didn't.  Most of the team's dollars went to re-signing their own free agents (and buying out Barry Zito) and much of that was done prior to free agency.  Pence and Lincecum were locked up before hitting the open market.  Vogelsong and Lopez both reached free agency and both flirted with other teams but the Giants swooped in and re-signed both pretty quickly, not allowing their courtship with others to last too long.

Pence was the big move.  It was a move the Giants had to make.  With very little outfield depth, the Giants were going to have a hard enough time filling one outfield slot, let alone two.  Pence was arguably the Giants MVP in 2013 and his clubhouse reputation is stuff of legend already.  The Giants absolutely could not let him go.  I am still shocked Pence re-signed prior to seeing how much he was worth in free agency and as a Giants fan, thank the baseball gods that he did.  Seeing as Shin-Soo Choo (a very good player but really a glorified platoon outfielder) netted 130M over 7 years and an oft-injured 5 tools guy got 153M over 7 years, Pence's 5yr/90M contract looks modest.  Pence isn't a superstar but he steals bases effectively and is ridiculously consistent.  You can pretty much pencil him in for a .280 average, 20+ homers, and 80+ RBI every single season and you won't be far off  in any category by season's end.  Not to mention Pence played in all 162 games in 2013 and has played 150+ games in EVERY season since being a big leaguer aside from his rookie campaign where he played in 108 ballgames.  He would have been a top 5 outfielder on the market and a top 10 hitter in general. When the Giants first signed him, I thought the AAV was a bit high but not extraordinarily so but once the market established itself, Pence's deal looked like a bargain.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said about Lincecum's contract.  The Giants had 3 holes to fill in their rotation and they took the approach of "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't" and honestly, the Giants typically seem to operate this way.  The Giants seem willing to open up their pocked books for their own guys but very rarely do so for other team's free agents (Zito not withstanding).  I'm perfectly fine with this strategy as long as the Giants churn out above average players consistently.  In Lincecum's case, the hope is he'll be a much better pitcher than he's been the past 2 seasons.  They are banking on continued maturity from Timmy and an understanding of who he is now as a pitcher so that he'll cultivate a new pitching persona and be a successful pitcher without a blow-it-past-you fastball.  He's saying all the right things in camp and early reports are encouraging but the truth is the Giants overpaid to keep one of their fan favorites with only hopes that he can become one of the league's better pitchers.  As you can see from my previous post about this offseason (link here) the pitching market was relatively tame this offseason.  There were quality arms available at decent prices.  Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ricky Nolasco, and many others all signed contracts that were not outrageous.  In retrospect, Timmy's contract looks bad.  The Giants are paying 17.5M for a guy that had a cumulative 4.80 ERA the past 2 seasons.  One could argue that the Giants paid more for a shorter term (2 years) but that's really not the case.  AJ Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Scott Kazmir, Hiroki Kuroda, Dan Haren, Bronson Arroyo, and even new Giant Tim Hudson all took 2 years or less at substantially less dollars.  In the end, the Giants were afraid to go into free agency with 3 holes in the rotation and overpaid one of their own to make sure that wasn't the case.  It didn't hurt that Timmy still was considered a fan favorite and the move generally received applause from Giants fans, even if they were shocked at the price it cost to retain him.

Vogelsong was another convenient re-sign.  Just when I thought he was out, they drew him back in. Vogelsong's re-signing can be summed up by that one word: convenience.  The Giants no doubt looked around, saw a bunch of better pitchers that would cost more and require more years, and decided, eh, might as well bring back Vogey on a cheap one year make good deal.  The thought process no doubt was layered:  Vogey only will require a one year commitment.   Edwin Escobar is on the rise and could be ready to step in immediately if Vogelsong sucks.  And hey, that Yusmeiro Petit guy almost threw a perfect game last year so if Escobar isn't ready, well hey, there's that guy.  Plus, Vogelsong comes relatively cheap, so not a lot of risk.  If he's 2011 or 2012 Vogelsong, fantastic.  If he's not quite as good but serviceable, no problem.  If he tanks, we get to see Petit or Escobar (or David Huff) get a shot.  I've mentioned in other entries that Sabean seems to be all in on Escobar.  There's no doubt in my mind that the Giants envision Escobar taking Vogey's rotation slot in 2015 anyways and that Crick will take someone else's in 2016 (Lincecum or Hudson's).

That being said, the Vogelsong re-sign has not gone over as smoothly as the Lincecum re-sign.  Part of that is because Vogelsong looked SO BAD last year.  The other is that some Giants fans think that just because the Dodgers payroll seems to know no bounds, that means the Giants should up their payroll substantially as well.  Let's be clear, the Giants are not cheap.  But they're not wild spenders either. They have a budget.  They make it a hardline.  And they don't go over it unless something ridiculous drops in their laps.  They pigeonhole some funds for the trade deadline, but not too much.  Enough for a reliever or two.  Maybe a bench guy.  Recently they've showed a willingness to get some difference makers (Beltran in 2011, Pence in 2012) but those deals are few and far between.  Most of the time they bargain hunt. They're not going to keep up with the Dodgers no matter how many sellouts AT&T has in a row.  And this ruffles some Giants fans.  The fact is the Giants are a top 10 payroll team.  Could they be a Top 5 payroll team?  Probably.  But they're run as a business.  And as long as the Giants can stay competitive and be in the playoff hunt every year and continue to pack the park, the powers that be really don't have any motivation to go into the red or go all out like that.  Especially since they got 2 World Series rings in 3 years.  But that's another topic for another time.  Essentially, the Giants re-signed Vogelsong because it was a low risk, cheap, and convenient move that doesn't impede on the rapid progression of Edwin Escobar and/or Kyle Crick.

The Giants wrapped up their offseason by re-signing Javier Lopez (another well received move), signing Tim Hudson to replace Barry Zito (a fantastic upgrade that most MLB experts are citing as one of the best signings of the winter), and filling left field with Fred Lewis, er, Mike Morse.  Morse's deal is perfectly fine.  Another low-risk, convenient move: a one year deal for 6M.  It's for a guy that's allegedly a butcher in left field (hence the Lewis allusion) but, when healthy, can mash 30+ homers. He's had an impressive power display in spring training already and SF fans can fantasize that maybe Morse can be a better clone of 2010 Giants Pat Burrell than Jeff Francoeur was in 2013.  To clarify, by being a Pat the Bat clone, I don't mean by going out and terrorizing the Marina.  I mean by going out to left field, not completely looking like a fool, and hitting some big homers.

And that was the Giants offseason.  Sure, they snagged Tyler Colvin who hit a bunch of homers in Coors Field that one time.  They invited Barry Bonds back to camp.  But in regards to the signings, they kept it simple.  Re-sign pretty much everyone and then fill in the two gaps leftover (LF and SP) with guys with nice looking track records.  I, for one, am stoked to see Tim Hudson in a Giants uniform and will look forward to see what he brings to the AT&T Park mound.  Hopefully, with the Giants, he'll realize his dream of seeing past the first round of the playoffs.  Perhaps even a World Series ring!

Overall Grade for the Giants off-season:  B+





  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Wild and Wacky 2014 Offseason

It has been a weird offseason.  Not really specifically for the Giants, but just for baseball.  Here it is, mid February, and there are still a lot of quality free agents available.  I can't remember an offseason quite like this.  Pitchers and catchers have ALREADY REPORTED and here's just a quick list of some readily available free agents along with their 2013 stats:

Stephen Drew (SS): .253 AVG, .777 OPS, 13 HR, 67 RBI, 6 SB
Nelson Cruz (OF):  .266 AVG, .833 OPS, 27 HR, 76 RBI
Kendrys Morales (1B/DH):  .277 AVG, .785 OPS, 23 HR, 80 RBI
Ubaldo Jimenez (SP):  13 WINS,  3.30 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 194 K's
Ervin Santana (SP):  9 WINS, 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 161 K's
Oliver Perez (RP):  3.74 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 74 K's (in 53 IP)
Andrew Bailey (RP):  8 SAVES, 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 39 K's (in 28.2 IP)

Those are some legit major league baseball players.  Stephen Drew seems to be playing cat and mouse with the New York Mets.  I can't for the life of me understand why the Mets don't just step up and sign him.  Now, they very well may lose him to the Red Sox who just "found" some money when Ryan Dempster decided to not play in 2014.  Regardless, Drew remains on the market.  He plays a position where his offense and defense are above average yet he lingers in free agency.  Odd.  Nelson Cruz comes with question marks as he was a PED user but the guy got a shade over 400 AB's in 2013 and look at his numbers.  Those are the type of numbers you take a risk on.  You extrapolate those numbers over a full season and he's still an offensive machine in the outfield.  Yet he remains unsigned. Kendrys Morales?  You're telling me an AL team couldn't use his pop at the DH position?  It's ridiculous that these guys are still available.

Then there's the pitching.  There's no doubt that Masahiro Tanaka's prolonged posting drama caused teams to wait on signing any notable MLB free agents.  But even so, the fact that Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, two of the markets best starters, are still available when pitchers are throwing from Arizona and Florida mounds is pretty amazing.  We've seen cases like this before, where some unlucky free agent who has draft pick compensation attached to him, has to wait until the spring to get signed. Kyle Lohse was the pitching culprit last season while Michael Bourn was the positional guy.  But to see these quality guys still available now is pretty crazy.

This offseason as a whole has been somewhat wacky.  Even discounting the slow developing free agent market, teams chose to splurge on position players while staying relatively disciplined when it came to pitchers.  Let's take a look at how the top 15 position player contracts contrast sharply to the top 15 pitcher contracts.

Positional Players

Robinson Cano (SEA):         10yrs/240M (AAV = 24M)
Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY):         7yrs/153M (AAV = 22M)
Shin-Soo Choo (TEX):           7yrs/130M (AAV = 18.5M)
Brian McCann (NYY):           5yrs/85M (AAV = 17M)
Mike Napoli   (BOS):             2yrs/32M (AAV = 16M)
Curtis Granderson (NYM):     4yrs/60M (AAV = 15M)
Carlos Beltran (NYY):            3yrs/45M (AAV = 15M)
Jhonny Peralta (STL):             4yrs/53M (AAV = 13M)
Derek Jeter (NYY):                 1yr/12M (AAV = 12M)
Carlos Ruiz  (PHI):                 3yrs/26M (AAV = 8.5M)
AJ Pierzynski (BOS):             1yr/8.25M (AAV = 8.25M)
Marlon Byrd (PHI):                2yrs/16M (AAV = 8M)
Omar Infante (KAN):             4yrs/30M (AAV = 7.5M)
Juan Uribe (LAD):                  2yrs/15M (AAV = 7.5M)
Alexander Guerrero (LAD):     4yrs/28M AAV = 7M)

Pitchers 

Masahiro Tanaka (NYY):      7yrs/155M (AAV = 22M)
Tim Lincecum (SF):               2yrs/35M (AAV = 17.5M)
AJ Burnett (PHI):                   1yr/16M (AAV = 16M)
Hiroki Kuroda (NYY):          1yr/16M (AAV = 16M)
Matt Garza (MIL):                  4yrs/50M (AAV = 12.5M)
Ricky Nolasco (MIN):            4yrs/49M (AAV = 12.25M)
Bronson Arroyo (AZ):           2yrs/23.5M (AAV = 11.75M)
Tim Hudson (SF):                  2yrs/23.0M (AAV = 11.5M)
Scott Kazmir (OAK):             2yrs/22M (AAV = 11M)
Dan Haren (LAD):                1yr/10M (AAV = 10M)
Bartolo Colon (NYM):           2yrs/20M (AAV = 10M)
Joe Nathan (DET):                 2yrs/20M (AAV = 10M)
Brian Wilson (LAD):             1yr/10M (AAV = 10M)
Scott Feldman (HOU):           3yrs/30M (AAV = 10M)
Josh Johnson (SD):                 1yr/8M (AAV = 8M)

With Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana still available, the pitching market still has a chance to get heated but for the most part teams didn't extend themselves too much with pitchers.  Tanaka was the only pitcher to get anything over 4 years (so far) and while some of the annual average values seem high, it is clear teams decided to spend more for less commitment.  Also, as a Giants fan, it's pretty jarring to see that Tim Lincecum is thus far the 2nd highest paid free agent on this list.  If Timmy had gone to free agency, he probably wouldn't be a Giant.  But he also probably wouldn't be making 17.5M.  Had the Giants known the market would play out the way it has with pitchers, they may have very well let Timmy test it.  That being said, I'm glad we have him over, let's say, Arroyo. 

So again, an overall weird offseason.  There was a good amount of spending but aside from the mega deals to Cano, Tanaka, Choo, and Ellsbury teams didn't really commit long term to players.  As teams have locked up stars and young promising players earlier and earlier, the free agent market has seen less attractive pieces becomes available.  That's part of the reason we don't see quite the feeding frenzy as before.  Yet still, it's impressive to see teams be responsible despite the influx of new cash from TV deals and revenue sharing... aside from the Dodgers and Yankees of course.  

Given what players have received on the open market, it's fair to say that Brian Sabean did a pretty good job at getting value.  Pence's deal (5yrs/90M) now looks like a steal compared to what Ellsbury and Choo received.  Javier Lopez was retained at what seemingly was the going rate for impact relievers.  And Sabean got Morse and Vogey on 1-year deals for roughly 6M each.  That's a LF bat with a career .281 AVG and an .808 OPS and a starting pitcher that was an All-Star in 2011 (and could have / should have been in 2012) for a total of 12M.  He also nabbed Tim Hudson, the active MLB win leader, for 2yrs/23.5M.  That's a solid deal as well.  Really, the only deal that appears cringeworthy is Lincecum's 17.5M overpay.  But again, had the Giants not overpaid prior to Timmy reaching free agency, they would have likely had to sign another free agent pitcher to replace him anyways.  Not a bad offseason Sabes.  Especially given how weird an offseason it has been....