Devil’s Advocate

The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran today to a two-year $25MM deal. It’s an extremely reasonable contract, and one that has the potential to be a bargain if Beltran manages to stay healthy. But even if he doesn’t (which is obviously the more likely scenario), even if he misses 100+ games over the next two years, it’s a pretty solid contract. The Giants had talks with Beltran but they didn’t pursue him very hard, which is naturally frustrating — considering that the Giants had a historically weak offense in 2011, and that they have the resources to facilitate such a signing: It’s Aubrey Huff money, not Prince Fielder money. The organization gave up its top pitching prospect for Beltran, still fell eight games short of winning the division, then made no kind of serious effort to re-sign him.

As it stands now, this offseason looks like somewhat of a mess; Wendy Thurm discussed this at length in a recent Fangraphs article. The Giants entered the offseason with one major need: hitting, hitting, hitting. And while the Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera acquisitions do a little bit to address this, they’re hardly solutions. The team has spent little this winter, and what little they’ve spent has mostly gone to the pair of Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. The vast majority of their free agent spending has gone to a pair of relievers.

But let’s focus on what this is all about: Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. As of this moment in time, it’s hard to conceive why Cain wouldn’t want to test the free agent market. Worse pitchers have been cashing in on lucrative long-term contracts of late, and Cain is a special case in that he becomes a free agent at a relatively young age. Why wouldn’t he want to maximize his potential earnings (and sign with a team that would provide better run support, for that matter)? The same goes for Lincecum, who is set to hit the free agent market a year after Cain. However, this is an area where the Giants know better than anyone else what their odds are of retaining the two. They are, after all, basing their future plans on securing the rotation.

The storyline today is something like this:

The Giants, who sold out every single home game this season, weren’t willing to shell out an extra $10MM for 2012 in order to retain a hitter that would have substantially improved their offense — a hitter for whom they gave up their top pitching prospect. Instead, they chose to allocate most of their funds toward retaining a pair of LOOGYs. 

This is a gross oversimplification, but that’s largely how it’s been perceived. Maybe that’ll be the case once Opening Day comes around. Maybe it won’t. If the Giants extend both Lincecum and Cain, they effectively extend their window of opportunity. Huff and Aaron Rowand come off the books in 2013, and the Giants will conceivably have a solid hitting core formed by that point in Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Gary Brown. Again, it’s hard to see both Lincecum and Cain settling on extensions before hitting free agency, but the team seems to have structured their plans on retaining the two, so they must feel confident in their abilities to do so. For the time being, I’m willing to give the organization the benefit of the doubt.

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28 thoughts on “Devil’s Advocate

  1. Sabean is the longest tendered GM around! He’s done this with signings like Tejada, Rowand, Zito, Renteria, Cabrera, DeRosa. He is constantly paying much too much for aging veterans and hoping for some huge bounce-back to days of yore. And where are his aging veterans who came through? Huff did one year (so he got overpaid the next). Sanchez, when healthy has been nice but he was a trade and not a free agent. Sabean mostly has a legacy of paying WAY too much for a little name recognition and hoping for the best. How about just NOT getting those guys and investing in some real players who are proven? SF is getting sold out every game and has an excellent tv contract and while others sign Pujols, Reyes, Beltran… the Giants sign Whitside, Burris, and Burres

    • Sabean has a legacy of winning; do not confuse how he decides to build a team with his macro-legacy of two world series & 1 championship with completely different rosters

    • The Giants have also assembled one of the best cores of young homegrown players in baseball with more on the way. Does Sabean get any credit for that? You also fail to mention several notable successes he’s had with signing veterans: Ellis Burks, Omar Vizquel, Pat the Bat, Juan Uribe, Benito Santiago to name a few. Seems like Renteria had that one AB that totally justified every penny he got paid.

      How many championships has Arte Moreno won while signing all those high priced FA’s down in Anaheim? The Angels team that won in 2002 was almost entirely homegrown with a few low priced guys thrown into the mix. Then, Arte bought the team from Disney and started throwing money around, including the they guy Giants fans love to blame Sabes for not signing. It all got him exactly 0 Championships.

    • Great Responses. My initial statement wasn’t that Sabean was useless. It was that he has paid a LOT for mediocre, aging talent. JUST THAT…. if you combine the money he’s paid over the last few years for .250 hitters who have been around the block a dozen times, he could have signed a couple really GOOD free agents! Like Pujols good!
      With Cain and Lincecum…. I LOVE THE GIANTS… but if I’m Matt Cain, I’d like a team who could give me run support AND maybe win. If he started with the Yankees, he’d be mentioned as Hall of Fame bound. Currently, he has a lifetime losing record. A decent lineup would be important to most pitchers. Winning seems much more fun than not winning.
      I think the best thing for the Giants is that Matt and Tim are not ones to want much spotlight. I can’t see either of them liking playing in NY or CHI or Philly as much as here.

  2. I think the brass just wanted to cut their losses on Beltran. Wheeler was enough (30ish million surplus value on a prospect like him?). The high risk move didn’t pan out. Why take on further risk with 25+million that would ultimately cut into Brandon Belt’s opportunities?

    I thought the risk to take was to go after Rollins. A move that would have totally legitimized the entire lineup (power notwithstanding) and sapped the Phillies of a team leader.

    Crawford will be a big concern. Can he hit above .200? At least,the Giants won’t have to worry about the inevitable stay-cation Beltran makes to the DL.

    • Crawford is probably the most underrated young talent the Giants have on the team and you can’t count him out. In the AFL this season he hit fantastic numbers. I see him hitting well over .200. Along with the blossoming Nate Schierholtz, Gary Brown, Joe Panik, Brett Pill, Hector Sanchez, the young talent is definitely something to keep an eye on next season.

  3. Lets see now…..Beltran is gone now so Sabean will announce some more of his block busters like re-signing Orlando Crabrera, Bill Hall,and Pat Burrell to multi year contracts….too bad he just missed Eugenio Velez.

  4. The root problem for the Giants is that they signed Zito and Rowand to long-term contracts and they have not provide a fifth of the value of their contracts. That is on Sabean (along with a long list of other bad free agent deals). I am not that much against not adding Beltran to the list. If they did that, they may as well have traded Belt because he would not have gotten much playing time unless Huff bombs again (or an outfielder gets injured). The Giants need to develop good hitters from their organization (as they have done with woefully few players), e.g., Posey and Sandoval. The people in their organization seem to be able to develop pitchers, but not hitters. The hitting development area needs work. Long term free agent contracts with players in their prime, and two or three contracts with aging veteran free agents, rarely pan out. In the end, pitching is the key to winning the World Series and the Giants have excellent pitching that is likely to get somewhat better.

    • If you haven’t noticed, Sabean has been pretty stellar in deciding which prospect to keep and which to let go. I think that they have plans for Belt, at least until he proves that he can’t do it in the majors. My bet is that he has done enough, but that they are waiting for him to get it all together. Why have a Dave Kingman type when you can further develop him and get one who can also hit for average as well?

      And I like Posey and Sandoval, thank you very much, and Belt, Brown, and Panik look to join them soon. I also like Schierholtz.

      • You can’t count out Crawford or Pill. Sure last season for Crawford wasn’t the best but go look at the numbers he put up in the AFL, they are up there. Some of the best, competitive with other prospects like Harper and Brown. Very impressive after last year’s disappointing .200 average he put up.

  5. Think about it. Next year Sanchez, Huff and Rowand are not payed. That’s 28 million off the books and enough to start paying a Cain extension. the next year Zito is off the books and anothe 20 million for Timny extension. If Brown, Pihl, Belt, Sanchez, Panik can give us 2 hitters we’re in good enough shape to find a hitter to go with Pablo, Belt and Posey and have pitching. And really. Cain should have some loyalty since his last extension was 2 years of raises over his prior contract. Go Giants!!

  6. I think that Once ZITO and ROWAND are off the books we will have a bit more Money, Paying Posey Belt Sandoval Madbum cain and lincecum is going to be hard to pay them, but we need to keep them ALL!!!!

  7. Giants fans talk like Belt did anything last year and Gary Brown…come on man, a single A player, you just don’t know yet. Great point on Beltran and Huff.

  8. I don’t see why it is hard to see the extensions happening. The Giants are Cain’s favorite team. He didn’t grow up rooting for a team. The Giants are that team. He lives in SF, he’s married to someone from the Bay Area, and his child is growing up here near relatives.

    He’s never been a money type of guy. He’s been very easy for the most part to sign, both his first long-term deal, then the extension.

    Just because fans are frustrated with the lack of scoring does not mean he is. People are projecting that on him.

    Lincecum is another matter. He has been money hungry. He could have been an Indian for $1M. He held out for an additional $200K on his draft bonus. They were sitting waiting for the arbitration hearing when they worked out a deal for basically what they were asking for, just a year removed, which was still a lot of money.

    Four plus years is huge when you are talking at $15M per and over. An injury could take all that away, so even though people say that he could hold out and just accept arbitration for the next two years and pick up a lot of money, as Noah Lowry showed, it can all come crashing down fast.

    Mostly like he would win $15-18M in arbitration this year. Versus a multi-year contract for $50-100M, that is a lot to leave on the table, a lot of risk, he will want the money than risk losing it all on a spring training injury.

    • I don’t see why it is hard to see the extensions happening.

      Not exactly what I said. I said it’s hard to conceive why they wouldn’t want to test the free agent market. The reasons you cite — that the Giants are Cain’s “favorite team,” that he lives in SF, etc. Those aren’t terribly compelling reasons. Just think of the connections Albert Pujols had with St. Louis. He still left. I see the Giants extending Cain, but there’s good reason to think he’d want to test the free agent market. That’s what players do.

      But yeah, this isn’t just about Cain. It’s about Lincecum two. The Giants’ plans are structured around retaining the two of them. As a pair, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to lock them both up. But again, for the time being, I’m willing to give the organization the benefit of the doubt here. They know better than anyone else where they are in terms of their talks with Lincecum/Cain.

      • I agree it is not a slam dunk that Cain and Timmy sign multi-year contracts. I can live with losing one or both. The tricky part is knowing when you’ve lost them. The moment Sabes realizes that it’s more likely he’s going to lose them than keep them, he needs to be looking for trades along the lines of what Billy Beane is doing this offseason in Oakland. A comparable haul for Cain and/or Timmy would be just fine with me. The one thing that would be disastrous, IMO, is if they were allowed to leave via FA with only draft picks coming back. Much as I have supported Brian Sabean. I’m not sure he’s the guy to pull something like that off.

      • Matt Cain is my favorite Giant. If he isn’t locked up by the end of January, you need to trade him away. That is so painful to say. Sabean may not be the best guy for the job, but I’m sure the Yankees/Sox will salivate enough we’ll get something of interest.

  9. I don’t really think the Giants can afford to let either Lincecum or Cain leave. Combined with Bumgarner, they are the backbone of that team’s future. Several people have already commented on the fact that pitching is generally what wins championships and I couln’t agree more. With Rowand, Huff, and eventually Zito coming off the books in the next couple of years, they should be able to make it work…they may just have to suck it up for one season and treat Zito a purely a sunk cost and not factor him into the payrol. The revenue is definitely there.

  10. I think locking both Lincecum and Cain into long term contracts would be a huge mistake. Two long term contracts on pitchers is too much risk for a team that can’t just outspend it’s mistake contracts.

    • In a way, I agree with this. Both have been innings-eaters, and you always worry about such things with long contracts.

      On the flip side, this is baseball. There is risk in anything. Lincecum is a stud, and Cain is every bit the same, just underrated by the mainstream. It would be a shame to let them go, especially considering Bumgarner’s development and the fact that Zito will be gone in 2 years time. The hitting corps (Posey/Sandoval/Belt) will continue to be solid, IMHO, and we’ve got several guys in the wings who look promising as well (Pill, H. Sanchez) for when the opportunities present themselves.

      I never wanted the Giants to sacrifice the incredible pitching talent they have. I still maintain that Jonathan Sanchez would have brought sooooo much more if here were traded after the World Series victory. And it’s a crying shame, as Julian points out, that our #1 pitching prospect went to NYM for a rent-a-player that we very well could have kept for a decent salary.

      I do have a theory on the hitting for the coming season, concerning Sabean’s favor of mid season swaps: Brian Wilson may very well be going elsewhere, in a package deal, for some substantial hitting. What and who he would fetch, along with some of our prospects, is a subject I cannot predict. Suffice it to say that in the money aspect of the game, he will be commanding a big salary very soon, and closers are always needed in MLB. He’s also in top form, save for the arm issues last season…..another pretty good indicator that he might be on the move. We’ll see how it plays out…..

      • Crying shame: when the Giants got Beltran they were well ahead in their division, and with good reason expected to win it, and to proceed into the post-season with a decided increase in their revenue. They then could have re-signed Beltran, if they so chose. This was a good gamble, but as we know, a gamble that did not pay off, and that turned Beltran into a rental, given the Giants’ financial instability until the A’s San Jose situation is better resolved. Call the results a crying shame, if you like, but they are not a reproach to the Giants.

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  12. Root problem: I see it just now as certain financial uncertainty. At such time as the A’s take San Jose from us we will have an unstable, probably reduced revenue stream. Whatever compensation the Giants get, at whatever rate they get it, isn’t known, but what is known is that keeping the players they want to keep will be very expensive. The Giants’ response to this situation has been extremely prudent, in maintaining what Baer calls a rainy day fund. They have let Sabean improve the offense within affordable limits, while not eroding the defense, including the level of pitching. Their cautious budget cap has kept them very solvent no matter what the timetable or short-to-medium-term repercussions of the A’s depriving them of a lucrative body of fans.

    Perhaps because I haven’t searched sufficiently, I haven’t seen this matter seriously addressed, but I suggest that till the situation is better resolved, it will–and it should–stall the Giants from taking the more dramatic actions that disappointed fans might prefer.

  13. Things like the “Rainy Day Fund” are what really hurt. How ’bout the “Win Right Now Fund” where you spend like crazy while you still have the two soon to be free agent stud pitchers. The opportunity to win it all is not a yearly proposition. I love the team an its characters, but if we invest NOW to win NOW, I think the fans would understand that we’ll not be able to sign somebody down the road. So you COULD choose to win and then sell off prior to free agency. I believe that teams now days win more championships by spending big, then selling off big, then spending big rather than always trying to win 88 games and hoping for the best.
    Of course, to play my own devil’s advocate, the recent contracts for stars have been six years or longer and the above course of action may have run out as possible. It’s hard to believe though that MIAMI could be such a bad historical fan base and build a stadium and buy some of the best players out there, when SF has a full stadium, good tv/radio contracts, and can’t sign any free agent to bring a horrible scoring team up to par. (yes, I know Posey is back and two new decent OFs and Huff is in a good year cycle…and Belt is going to be the next Babe Ruth…. abd….. we could win 88 games and see what happens!) But with even signing Beltran and Reyes you wouldn’t have broken the bank and would have a much better shot at winning 100 and going all the way!

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