History Repeating?

As most of you probably know by now, the Cardinals yesterday signed Carlos Beltran to a 2 year $26 Million contract. That contract is very reasonable and one that the Giants could have fit into their payroll, had they made re-signing him the top priority. They did not though, and that has angered a lot of Giants fans, myself included. Why didn’t the Giants make Beltran the top priority though? Hank Schulman of the SF Chronicle has some answers

Sabean always has believed that it makes little sense to have one or two big players if the supporting cast is weak. He would rather own a room full of toys than one Xbox 360. He was ripped for that philosophy in 1996, ripped for it again after the 2003 season when he didn’t make a move for Vlad Guerrero and is being ripped for it today. But he is not budging

The 2003 example is interesting compared to the current situation. Barry Bonds was the greatest player in baseball, but was aging and transitioning from a guy with an OPS in the mid 1000′s to a guy with an OPS in the low 1000′s. He was starting to go into the twilight of his career which, while still incredibly good did make him look closer to mortal. The Giants had also lost the Robin to Bonds’ superman after 2002 when Jeff Kent went to Houston. So the Giants had a fantastic slugger but their core was aging and could use an infusion of talent. Which brought up RF Vladimir Guerrero who was a 28 year old free agent coming off a huge year, hitting .330/.426/.586 with more walks than strikeouts. So did the Giants make an effort to sign him?

Q: Did you ever make an offer for Vladimir Guerrero?

Sabean: In a word: No. If we had signed Guerrero or [Gary] Sheffield, we would have been without [Jim] Brower, [Scott] Eyre, [Matt] Herges, [Dustin] Hermanson, [Brett] Tomko, [A.J.] Pierzynski, [Pedro] Feliz, [J.T.] Snow, [Jeffrey] Hammonds, [Dustan] Mohr and [Michael] Tucker–obviously not being able to field a competitive team, especially from an experience standpoint, given our level of spending.

 

Now this may come across as overly cynical-and I truly don’t mean it to be. But I just see some similarities to the 2003 team and this team. I think given the rising salaries of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and even Madison Bumgarner combined with the rate of attrition for pitchers the Giants window of opportunity could be shorter than most think. I do think that the Giants are in better shape for the future than they were in 2003. But I do think that given Arizona and San Diego’s strong farm systems, Los Angeles’ forthcoming ownership improvement, and Colorado’s solid balance, the time for the Giants to strike was now, but instead Sabean is again seeing a window close and not changing his methods to help extend the Giants window of opportunity.

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.

The Non-Tender Deadline

So this is the Giants’ offseason. The biggest remaining decision, Mike Fontenot or Jeff Keppinger, will be made today. And after today, the roster — give or take a spring training invitee — will just about be set.

No Jimmy Rollins. No Jose Reyes. No Carlos Beltran. Not even a Rafael Furcal.

In an effort to keep payroll down, the Giants are going the “Law of Averages” route; they’re depending on fewer injuries, better offensive performance, and more situational luck. To an extent, this makes a lot of sense. There’s really no telling what Buster Posey will look like next season, or how many games Freddy Sanchez will play, or if one of the Giants’ frontline starters will finally go down. But I suppose it’s fair to assume the Giants will be healthier in 2012, if only because the injury toll seemed so abnormally high in 2011.

And the hitting, well, it can’t get any worse. …wait, it can? Oh god.

In any event, the team posted a .561 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position. That’s 30% worse than those hitters did overall (70 tOPS+), and it’s thus a figure that’s bound to go up. As bad as the hitting was, they’re certainly due for a healthier dose of situational luck.

So a little luck in those departments, and maybe the Giants are in business. Maybe.

They missed out on Willie Bloomquist (hooray!), but in Emmanuel Burriss, they’ve got someone equally terrible. Buster Posey, coming off that season-ending injury, will be (presumably) backed up by Chris Stewart. And Brett Pill will probably be getting at-bats at the major-league level in April. That’s a thin bench. Scary thin.

The fact that it’s gotten to this point — where Jeff Keppinger v. Mike Fontenot is such an important decision for the organization, speaks volumes about the Giants’ offseason. The team scored 570 runs in 2011, but they have done little to improve upon that. It’s neither an expensive strategy nor a sound one. And it guarantees that 2012 is going to be a loooong season.

As for today, hopefully the Giants make the right decision. Keppinger is a singles hitter, and that’s about all he does. No walks, no strikeouts, no homers. He’s basically bizarro Pat Burrell. He’s not useless with the bat, and he can hit southpaws pretty well…but he only profiles as a second baseman, and it’s not a position he plays very well. Give me Fontenot.

Now, how many days until pitchers and catchers report?

Thank you, Andres Torres

Let me preface this by saying that if you have not yet read Grant’s love letter to Andres Torres over at McCovey Chronicles, go ahead and do so. And while you’re at it, watch these Torres videos.

Anyway, I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay my own tribute to Torres, as he’s a personal favorite of mine. So here goes…

Torres, at his best, could do just about everything. He could hit the ball with astounding authority; he could cover exceptional range in the outfield; he could put up patient, quality at-bats; and he was a force on the basepaths. He was not only capable of impacting the game in many different ways, but he was great at it.

In 2010, he was one of the best players in the National League. Out of nowhere. He had overcome a hell of a lot to get to where he was (surely you’ve heard his story by now), and somehow managed to realize his potential. He was, in essence, the manifestation of that beautiful aspect of unpredictability in baseball.

Without Torres, the Giants don’t win the World Series in 2010. They don’t make the playoffs, either. And they don’t even come close. In addition, without Torres, we’re all subjected to much more of Aaron Rowand’s insufferable bat-wagging than we can take.

Incredible story, incredible perseverance, and incredible talent. He was Ryan Vogelsong before Ryan Vogelsong, but times 100. He’ll always have a special place in my heart, and in the history of this great franchise.

Giants Should Have Been More Aggressive In Pursuit of Jose Reyes

As you likely know by now the Miami Marlins signed Jose Reyes to be their shortstop. Reyes, was never seriously thought to be on the Giants radar, despite the fact that he is a fantastic shortstop, a position that was a black hole last year, and has game changing speed, something else that the Giants lacked.

The main reason, the Giants were never linked to Reyes was because the Giants likely weren’t going to raise payroll enough to make him fit. However, I suggested that if the Giants backload the contract like the Nationals did with Jayson Werth, then he could have fit into the payroll. What happened? Well the Marlins really backloaded the contract as Reyes will be making slightly more than Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt next year. While a long term contract and Reyes’ injury history may prove to be risky, the Giants window of opportunity is fairly limited given that Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are near the end of their contracts and are getting expensive. Combine that with a weak farm system and it’s tough to see where the future offensive upside will come from as well as the volatility of all pitchers. The Giants should have been aggressive and attempted to add one of the most exciting players and best fits for the team to help them get closer to making another playoff appearance. Instead they basically were just treading water.

While I am not surprised, but I am disappointed. And with the Angel Pagan trade, making the outfield “set” there is basically no chance that Carlos Beltran returns, despite his market being slow to develop. Really the Giants have had opportunities to improve the offense this offseason, but the combination of their payroll limitations and trade targets have led them to acquire guys with modest upsides who aren’t clear upgrades over the in house options. Combine that with the way they handled their top offensive prospect last year and this offseason looks very underwhelming.

A Question

Why did the Giants trade for Melky Cabrera?

Originally, the trade made sense. The organization wasn’t content with the in-house options, and I can definitely understand that. I wasn’t personally a fan of the trade, mostly because the plan was supposedly to install Melky in centerfield — where his defense negates a lot of his value. I argued, in fact, that Andres Torres wasn’t a much worse option (if at all) for that role than Cabrera. In the context of when it was made, it wasn’t a bad trade — just uninspired.

But with San Francisco acquiring Angel Pagan, the Giants’ offseason plans become somewhat of a mess. Pagan slides into center, presumably moving Melky over to left. Aubrey Huff, who will inevitably assume a starting role, would then presumably become the first baseman. I like the Pagan trade. But it took me a while to realize — or for it to really sink in — that the Giants don’t plan on putting Brandon Belt in their starting lineup.

So it begs the question: Why did the Giants feel the need to acquire Cabrera? What was the rush? It seems pretty clear to me that the Giants are better off just starting Belt.

2011 Season in Review: Catchers

Buster Posey: When we look back on Posey’s 2011 season, this will inevitably be what we remember. Posey only played in 45 games before the collision, but it’s worth noting that he had quite the impact (considering how few games he played in). Despite not even tallying 200 plate appearances, he finished third on the team in wins above replacement at 1.6; we can’t take too much from his overall numbers (.284/.368/.389), but he showed an improved walk rate (and much less power) when he was healthy. Ideally, the power will come back next season, and Posey will continue to draw more walks. In any event, 2011 for Posey will always ultimately be defined by the Cousins collision.

Hector Sanchez: There’s not much to be said for Sanchez’s time in the majors because it didn’t last all that long. He appeared in a total of 13 games this year, posting a .258/.324/.323 line in 34 plate appearances. Obviously those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but as a prospect, Sanchez certainly boosted his status. I ranked him sixth in my prospect rankings (an admittedly aggressive placement).

Eli Whiteside: After taking a regular role in the wake of Posey’s injury, Whiteside was everything the Giants could have expected — which is to say that he was awful. In 236 plate appearances, he hit .197/.264/.310, posting a wRC+ of 55. His defense, too, was pretty awful. Fangraphs had him at slightly above replacement level on the season, while Baseball-Reference had him at -0.5 wins.

This was pretty awesome though. As was his hopping.

Chris Stewart: Stewart proved to be the better of the two (Whiteside/Stewart) as he was actually an asset on defense. Defensive runs saved is an oversimplified evaluation of catcher defense, but it had Stewart at +9 runs above average in ~500 innings of work behind the plate. Matt Klaasen’s more all-encompassing catcher defense ratings had Stewart at +3.2 runs (also quite good). In any event, he — like Whiteside — failed to be productive on offense, putting up a .204/.283/.309 line. For what it’s worth though, he had pretty solid plate discipline (0.89 BB/K) and good contact skills (89%); unfortunately, it just didn’t translate into success for him.