Giants Claim Jose Mijares Off Waivers

Earlier today, the Giants acquired left-handed reliever Jose Mijares from the Kansas City Royals via waivers. The Giants simply claimed him off waivers and didn’t have to give up anything in return, so they basically got him for free. Mijares, 27, doesn’t hit free agency until 2015, and he’s actually having a very good season: he’s tossed 38.2 innings across 51 appearances, posting a 163 ERA+ with fairly strong peripherals (8.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9). His FIP currently sits at a solid 3.50. And he is, of course, especially tough on left-handed hitters. For his career, he’s held lefties to a .606 OPS, which is right in line with what he’s done this season (.601 OPS).

He’s a flyball-heavy pitcher, having induced one groundball for every two flyballs over his career. But he’s consistently managed to keep his home run rate in check, which — at least in part — appears to be a sustainable skill. It’s worth noting that 20% of his career flyballs have been infield flies, which is very good relative to the league average rate over that span (13%).

For reasons beyond my knowledge, more than 20 teams passed on the opportunity to grab Mijares. It’s peculiar, and I’m not the only one that thinks so. In any event, it worked out perfectly for the Giants, and you have to hand it to them for this acquisition. They just bolstered their bullpen at zero cost, and they’ll now have a cheap lefty specialist for the foreseeable future. Mijares is essentially insurance against future overspending on LOOGYs.

Now comes a pretty important question: who goes? The Giants will have to make room for Mijares in the bullpen, and there’s some sentiment that George Kontos (given his minor-league options) could be sent back down to Fresno. Kontos (2.42 ERA/2.99 FIP/3.28 xFIP) has been outstanding thus far, so needless to say, that would be foolish. Alex Pavlovic writes that Brad Penny and Shane Loux, not Kontos, are the most likely candidates to go — and hopefully that’s the case.

Giants Acquire Hunter Pence

After days of rumors and speculation, the Giants have finally acquired outfielder Hunter Pence. Heading to Philadelphia are Nate Schierholtz and a pair of prospects — Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin. Hunter Pence, 29, is under team control through the end of 2013, but is set to make nearly $15M next season.

The Giants certainly improved today, but Pence isn’t some kind of big upgrade. He’s having somewhat of a down season, hitting .271/.336/.447 (111 wRC+), and yet that’s not much worse than what he’s done over his career: .290/.342/.481, 118 wRC+. The safe bet is that he’ll continue to perform as he has so far this season, providing good — not great — production at the plate. And that’s ignoring his defensive skills, which have rapidly faded. All of the defensive metrics (UZR, DRS, FRAA) seem to agree that he’s a mediocre fielder at this point (and with Angel Pagan patrolling center field, that’s cause for concern).

Even in spite of his recent struggles, Gregor Blanco has been average with the bat (101 wRC+) and spectacular with the glove this season. So it’s not as though Pence is filling a major void here. He’s an upgrade — make no mistake — but not a significant one.

Yesterday, I tweeted the following:

And that’s where the impact of this sort of deal can be felt. The one thing I was hoping the Giants would accomplish in trading for an outfielder: push Justin Christian off the roster. Even if Pence wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over Blanco, the Giants would have a markedly better bench with Blanco taking over Justin Christian’s spot. With Nate Schierholtz gone though, that unfortunately won’t be the case. Nate probably isn’t an everyday caliber player, but he’s a very good fourth outfielder: he’s held his own against righties and lefties throughout his career (94 wRC+ and 95 wRC+, respectively), he can handle right field at AT&T Park like so few others, and he’s a good late-inning pinch running option. So it’s easy to downplay what the Giants gave up in Schierholtz, especially considering that he’s still under team control for another couple years after this.

As for Tommy Joseph, the centerpiece of this trade, I’ve always been relatively low on him as a prospect; one of the main reasons I wasn’t too optimistic about Joseph was his defense, something that is of paramount importance when it comes to catchers. But he’s reportedly shown dramatic improvement in that regard. And, of course, that power-heavy bat is what makes him special: he’s put up league-average numbers in Double-A Richmond as a 21-year-old catcher — quite the promising sign. From the Giants’ standpoint, they can afford to give up catching depth with Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, and Andrew Susac already in the organization, but as an advanced hitter at the most demanding position in baseball, Joseph is a pretty valuable piece. As John Sickels put it: “Joseph isn’t a sure thing by any means and catchers often have unusual development curves, but there aren’t that many potential regular catchers in the minors.”

The final piece headed to Philadelphia, Seth Rosin, could pan out as a solid middle reliever. The 23-year-old pitcher has put up strong peripherals in High-A this season, although he’s a little old for his level.

Ultimately, at the risk of this seeming like a cop-out, I’m neutral on the deal. The Giants acquired an above-average outfielder, and he’s not just a rental. But their starting lineup only got slightly better, and the deal comes at a considerable expense: the three players headed east, as well as the money owed to Pence throughout the next season and a half.

Giants Acquire Marco Scutaro

Tonight the Giants finalized a deal to bolster their middle infield, acquiring veteran infielder Marco Scutaro in exchange for Charlie Culberson, first reported by Troy Renck of the Denver Post. Both teams announced the deal on their twitter account.

Scutaro is in the final year of his contract, and has hit .271/.324/.359 with a 27:35 BB:K. For his career he has hit .270/.337/.386 while spending time at 2B, SS, and 3B.

Culberson came into the year ranked as the Giants #11 prospect by Baseball America. He got his first cup of coffee in the majors this year, and went for 3/22. He was initially drafted in 2007, the final year before John Barr took over. He is the third member of that draft class to be traded, as Tim Alderson and Daniel Turpen were traded in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Like Culberson, Alderson was traded for a middle infielder in the final year of his contract (though Freddy Sanchez had a clup option), while Turpen was traded for Ramon Ramirez.

After being drafted, Culberson hit .286/.374/.416 in the AZL. He then spent the next two years in the SAL struggling both offensively and defensively. Then in 2010 as a 21 year old, he broke out in the California League, hitting .290/.340/.457 while settling in at 2B. Last year he moved up to the more difficult offensive environment in Richmond and hit .259/.293/.382. After being added to the 40 man roster this offseason, he has hit .236/.281/.396 this year in Fresno.

All in all this deal helps the Giants who needed help on the infield, while giving up an interesting, but not elite prospect.

Giants, Madison Bumgarner Agree to Five-Year Contract Extension

Earlier today, the Giants announced that they have agreed to a five-year contract extension with Madison Bumgarner. He’ll be under contract with San Francisco through 2017, and the team also has options for 2018 and 2019 (2018’s a club/vesting option, and 2019 is just a club option). He’s guaranteed $35M, though in the unlikely event that he reaches Super Two status, he’ll make $40M. Buster Olney broke down some of the other contract details.

Bumgarner would have been eligible for free agency in 2017, meaning the Giants essentially get three more years of Bumgarner than they otherwise would have had (two of them, of course, on options). That’s where the real potential reward for the contract lies: those post-arb-eligible years. If Bumgarner continues on this excellent career trajectory, the Giants save some money, but not a significant amount — at least not considering the risk they’re taking (again, these are years over which they already had team control).

The incentive here comes in 2017, 2018, and 2019. If Bumgarner keeps doing his thing and hits the open market in 2017, he’s in store for a lot of money. The cost of retaining him (as we saw with Matt Cain) could be sky-high at that point. But the Giants have him locked up for that year at roughly $12M, which — down the road — is potentially a steal. And the club options, 2018 and 2019, could be even more rewarding — they give the Giants the option to hold onto Bumgarner for another couple years without the risk that comes with guaranteed contract years.

Madison Bumgarner is four months away from turning 23, and he’s already achieved quite a lot. Specifically, this: 337 innings, 119 ERA+, 3.7 K/BB. Based on what he’s accomplished thus far, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he can be among the premier pitchers in baseball over the next decade. There’s considerable risk, as with any long-term extension to a young pitcher, but the potential reward — having him under contract at a reasonable cost until he’s approaching his 30s — seems to outweigh that cost.

I liked the Cain extension a lot. But I love this deal. This is an excellent, forward-thinking move by the Giants’ front office, and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of watching Bumgarner pitch in a Giants uni’ for the better part of the next decade.

Giants Sign Ramon Ortiz

The Giants signed right-hander Ramon Ortiz to a minor-league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Ortiz will turn 39 in a month. The last time he maintained an ERA+ over 100 in the major leagues was eight years ago. In 1423 career innings, he’s amassed all of 3.1 wins above replacement. The best season of Ramon Ortiz’s career was also the year he led the league in home runs allowed. For pitchers with 1000+ career major-league innings, he’s arguably among the 50 worst of all time. Anyhow, he pitched in Fresno in 2009, and was surprisingly decent (3.05 ERA in 129 innings).

I don’t think he’ll pitch for the Giants this year. If he does, he probably won’t pitch all that much. Probably. This is just another minor-league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Speaking of which, pitchers and catchers report soon!

 

Justin Christian Designated For Assignment

The Giants designated Justin Christian for assignment today to make room on the 40 man roster for Guillermo Mota and Ryan Theriot, per Andrew Baggarly.

I had thought that Christian may have had the inside track to be the team’s 25th man due to the fact that he bats righty, and most of the team’s OFs are either switch hitters or left handed hitters, but this move makes it seem less likely. If he clears waivers he will likely receive an invitation to Spring Training.