Alex Gonzalez in talks with the Giants

So this was pretty much inevitable. Alex Gonzalez seems to carry the traits that are typical of recent Giants shortstops, namely that he’s old and can’t hit. He’s a veteran, a guy that’s been there before, but he’s also not a particularly good player. With the Giants out on Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, and a few shortstop options already off the market, there isn’t much left out there. Eventually, it gets to the point where it’s not worth it for the Giants to pursue any of these guys because they just aren’t any better than the internal option, Brandon Crawford. Gonzalez might be that point.

The Good

– The defense: As old as Gonzalez is, his defense is still top-notch. If you go by DRS, he’s saved over +30 runs with his glove in the last two seasons; if you go by FRAA, he’s still +20 since 2010. This is really the only thing that makes him a useful player. He was worth 1.3 rWAR in 2011, and 85% of that value came from his glove.

– He’s cheap: Well, presumably he is. Maybe I’m wrong here. This offseason’s been a little crazy, but I still can’t imagine any teams are willing to throw much money at him. Even his last contract only had an average annual value of ~$2.5MM.

The Bad

– He can’t hit: And that’s pretty much all there is to it. On Twitter, Scott Willis (@BAStatsGuy) spells it out pretty simply in two tweets: Gonzalez has never posted a wRC+ above 100; in other words, he’s never even been a league-average hitter. And Crawford, as ugly as his bat may seem, isn’t projected to hit much worse than Gonzalez.

– He’s old: He’ll turn 35 years old in February. He doesn’t seem like the type to age gracefully, either.

 

…at least it’s not Yuniesky Betancourt?

2012 Bill James Projections

It’s the offseason. That means hot stove rumors. That means prospect rankings. And that means projections. Bill James’ projections, which he publishes in his yearly handbook, were added to Fangraphs player pages about a week ago. As far as I know, they’re not all published in one place (besides, of course, the handbook, which I highly recommend you purchase), so it’s hard to just look at all the Giants’ projections unless you want to dig through all the individual player pages.

Anyway, do note that they are widely considered to be overly optimistic, but I think that’s overstated.

Here are the Giants hitting projections.

A few thoughts:

– The best thing on here is the Brandon Belt projection. A .363 wOBA would do wonders for this offense, and it’s right up there with Buster Posey (.363) and Carlos Beltran (.367). Belt is one of the huge keys to making next year’s offense better than it was this year.

Andres Torres (.327) is projected for a higher wOBA than Melky Cabrera (.325). This is precisely why I wasn’t a big fan of the Cabrera trade. The Giants gave up rotation depth for a worse (arguably, and I’d make that argument) centerfielder.

Nate Schierholtz is projected to hit .328 — roughly as well as he did in 2011 — confirming that there’s good reason to believe he can be a quality everyday right fielder. Fangraphs had him at 1.4 WAR in 362 plate appearances last year (.327 wOBA), and that was with negative fielding value. I’m fairly certain that he’s capable of being a 2-3 WAR player in 2012.

– There’s not much to be hopeful about with Brandon Crawford. I’ve gradually become less enthused about the prospect of him as the Giants’ starting shortstop, and this doesn’t help. He’d have to carry a lot of value with his glove to be a viable everyday option, and I just don’t know that his fielding is good enough to stomach a .282 wOBA.

Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey form a pretty respectable heart of the order, and if the rest of the lineup carries their weight (granted, a big “if”), this offense could just be good enough.

And here’s the pitching.

Thoughts:

– I’m a little disappointed by the Madison Bumgarner/Sergio Romo projections, but that’s only because I have such high expectations when it comes to those two. I’d bet they beat their projected FIPs.

– These projections only make me dislike the Javier Lopez/Jeremy Affeldt moves even more. It seems like that’s where most of the Giants’ offseason spending will have gone, when all is said and done. That doesn’t look too good.

– At first glance, the Barry Zito projection (sub-4.00 ERA!) looks quite nice, but it’s a) mostly pitching out of relief, and b) a small sample size.

Ronny Cedeno or Clint Barmes?

So the Pirates are nearing a two-year $11MM deal with Clint Barmes. That basically pays him to be a league-average shortstop over the next two years, which isn’t so bad. As @JunkStats points out, Barmes has averaged roughly 2 WAR/season since 2008, and it’s not like he’s that old. He’s 32. Had the Giants signed him for this amount, I think I would have been content. Especially considering that a) the John McDonalds and Willie Bloomquists of the world have gotten pretty friendly deals this offseason, and b) the Giants paid Miguel Tejada $6.5MM last offseason.

The Barmes deal has sparked an interesting debate: Ronny Cedeno v. Clint Barmes. Cedeno had a $3MM club option for 2012, but the Pirates chose not to pick it up — and to instead pay the $200K buyout. This is after Cedeno produced roughly 1.5 WAR this season (regardless of your metric of choice). That’s nearly league-average production, and worth about $6-7MM on the open market. In fact, there are those that believe that Cedeno (contract aside) is a better shortstop than Barmes.

Now I’m not one of those people. Cedeno’s a career .246/.286/.353 (63 wRC+) hitter, whereas Barmes is a career .252/.302/.401 (74 wRC+) hitter. Bill James projects the two for nearly a twenty-point difference in weighted on-base average. The defense is a little harder to measure, given how unreliable defensive metrics tend to be, but I’m inclined to believe that Barmes is also the better defender of the two. Go ahead and peruse their defensive ratings if you’d like (Barmes, Cedeno).

In any event, Cedeno’s not a worthless shortstop. He can’t hit, but for an above-average defensive shortstop, he’s not that bad. The Pirates very well may have set the market for Cedeno by declining his option, and if he’s getting a one-year $2MM deal this offseason…that’s pretty enticing. It kills me to say this — it honestly does. This is a guy that has batted ninth (behind the pitcher) many times in his career.

Yet at the same time, the Giants, as a team, didn’t hit much better than Cedeno in 2011. They’re out on Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, and there are very few acceptable options left. They’re not going to spend big on shortstop, so their best route is to buy low. In this case, Cedeno appears to be a solid stopgap. He’s slightly better than Brandon Crawford, but more importantly, he’d allow Crawford to develop his hitting in Triple-A this season.

Yes, I’m seriously advocating for the Giants to sign Ronny Cedeno.

Clint Barmes remains on Giants’ radar

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Giants remain involved in Clint Barmes — who will likely sign a two-year deal. Barmes, 32, has been connected to the Giants a lot lately, and for good reason — he’s a solid defensive shortstop, he’s coming off a good season, he’s much cheaper than Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes (who have long been off the Giants’ radar), and he’s a right-handed hitter (so he would evidently complement Brandon Crawford well).

On the other hand, Barmes is getting a little old, and he’s never been much of a hitter (.252/.302/.401, 74 wRC+). In particular, his plate discipline is awful: 163 BB/485 K. As I’ve said before, I’d like Barmes, but at the right price. What that means, essentially, is that if he’s generating a lot of interest (and he sure seems to be), he’s not worth pursuing.

Just a few days ago, Josh looked at Ryan Theriot as a potential platoon shortstop for the Giants. The middle infield market is going insane, and if the Giants don’t want to end up overpaying for a shortstop (as they’ve done in recent years), they’re probably best off pursuing buy-low stopgaps.

Update: Barmes is expected to sign with the Pirates for two years at $11MM. Eh.

Looking at A Potential Platoon SS Option

The Giants have had an interesting offseason, starting with committing $9.25 Million to two relievers despite having pressing needs at SS, back up catcher, and a corner Outfield spot. This likely means that the Giants will have the cut costs at one of these positions and perhaps more. Given that the Giants seem somewhat comfortable with Brandon Crawford at SS, they could look go dumpster diving to look for a cheap insurance/complementary plan. One way they could do that is with Ryan Theriot.

Theriot isn’t great offensively or defensively. Offensively he comes from the Jeff Keppinger school of not striking out but also not walking or hitting for power. Defensively, both DRS and UZR have him at about five runs below average at SS. He is also a non-tender candidate and was replaced by Rafael Furcal after an August trade. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak recently said that he “…would have no problem with [Tyler Greene] and Descalso as our middle infield.” So given that Theriot was replaced on a championship team and could be non tendered why would the Giants want him? Well for one, he’s a veteran and there is a familiarity factor. Is that a good reason? not necessarily but I do think it plays a role, especially with the Giants management. Secondly, he looks like he could be a solid part of a platoon. In 835 PA’s against Left-handed pitching Theriot has hit .301/.373/.401, whereas he has hit just .276/.334/.337 against righthanders.  Given his defensive limitations a platoon with him and Brandon Crawford could be appealing, as Theriot could play the 1st 6 innings against a LHP and Crawford could come in as a defensive sub and either replace Theriot or Theriot could shift to 2nd base where he is better suited.

While Theriot is not a glamorous option, or even an appealing one, he is also not Yuniesky Betancourt, which should count for something. And given that other mid level SS targets, like Clint Barmes are getting a lot of attention and will likely get a 2 or 3 year deal, a Theriot/Crawford platoon could be a cheap, moderately effective way to go.

 

Arbitration Eligible: Mike Fontenot

After hitting .227/.304/.377 in 252 plate appearances (85 games) this season, Mike Fontenot enters his third year of arbitration eligibility. Though the numbers — particularly the low batting average — don’t exactly jump off the page, he was quietly a solid producer at the plate. His walk rate (9.9%) was a notch above league average, and though he’s not much of a power hitter, he hit the ball with astonishing authority (44% of his hits going for extra bases). Despite missing 40+ games due to a groin strain and otherwise receiving limited playing time, Fontenot was good for roughly one win above replacement (by both rWAR and fWAR).

Oddly enough, Fontenot — primarily a second baseman — spent the majority of his time at shortstop this season. He’s nothing special defensively — whether at second, short, or third, but he did demonstrate that he’s serviceable at both middle-infield positions (and even third base in a grind). Going by FRAA, he’s mostly been an average defender over his career, and it’s reasonable to expect him to more-or-less provide that quality of fielding in the near future (though he’s clearly not an ideal defensive shortstop).

Fontenot signed a one-year $1MM deal in his first year of arbitration-eligibility, and signed for a nearly identical amount last season (one year, $1.05MM). This offseason, he projects to earn a slight increase, though he’ll still — in all likelihood — go for under $2MM. Beyond Brandon Crawford (not yet arb-eligible) and Freddy Sanchez (under contract for 2012), the Giants have little infield depth. As a left-handed hitter, Fontenot complements Sanchez (career .707 OPS v. RHPs) well, and his versatility makes him a useful bench guy.

Though the Giants are probably thinking about non-tendering him, it’s in their best interest to retain him — especially considering the cheap price tag. He’s hit .263/.332/.406 (92 wRC+) over his career, and that kind of production (particularly from a left-handed middle infielder like Fontenot) is inherently valuable.

Jon Heyman: Giants eyeing shortstops, first basemen, outfielders

According to Jon Heyman, there’s no belief that San Francisco will pursue Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins. They are, however, focused on the market for shortstop, first base, and outfield:

No belief #sfgiants will make play for reyes or rollins. They are eyeing ss as well as 1b and OF. but pitching still the focus

We’ve heard this again and again: the Giants, due to budgetary constraints, are not in on Reyes or Rollins. They’ve really embraced the pitching-first philosophy (although it’s almost like a pitching-first and pitching-second and pitching-third philosophy).

Anyway, they seem focused on finding a backup option for Brandon Crawford, and Clint Barmes seems like the obvious target (at the right price, that’s not such a bad thing). The market for middle infielders is shaping up to be pretty ugly though; bad ones, the likes of Willie Bloomquist, are making more money than they should. Hopefully the Giants don’t fall down this trap.

It’s a little odd that they’re looking at first basemen — as they have both Brandon Belt and Aubrey Huff – but they could definitely stand to add an outfielder. I’m guessing they’ll re-sign Cody Ross, who would like to return in 2012. He’ll be cheap, and seems like a good fit (if he can still play a serviceable centerfield).