Mike Fontenot agrees to one-year deal with the Giants

According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors, Mike Fontenot and the Giants have agreed to a one-year deal for 2012. This almost certainly guarantees that Jeff Keppinger will be non-tendered, as Brian Sabean had said that it would be one or the other. The Giants definitely made the right decision here: Fontenot is a solid defender at second, and he can play a passable third base/shortstop. His bat, though not particularly special, is pretty useful as well: he’s hit .263/.332/.406 (91 wRC+) over his career, and is coming off a decent season at the plate (.227/.304/.377, 87 wRC+). It might not seem like much, but he was worth one win above replacement in 85 games this year. Not bad for a bench guy. Additionally, as a left-handed hitter, he seems to complement Freddy Sanchez pretty well. Keppinger just wasn’t a good fit.

UPDATE: Confirmation — Fontenot has agreed to a one-year deal; Jeff Keppinger and Eli Whiteside have been non-tendered. The deal is for $1.05MM – very reasonable, and slightly less than I had anticipated.

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?

The Freddy Sanchez Extension – Eight Months Later

About eight months ago — April 1st — the Giants extended Freddy Sanchez through 2012 for $6MM. The timing of the move was a bit peculiar, but it ultimately seemed like a prudent deal. The 2B free agent market would be somewhat thin in the upcoming offseason, and the Giants were looking ahead to ensure that second base would not be a void for them entering 2012. Sanchez had proven to be a bit injury-prone (appearing in 111 games in each of 2009 and 2010), but when he was on the field, he was producing at a rate of roughly 2 WAR/600 PAs. 2012 would be his age 34-season, but it wasn’t much of a stretch at all to think he could be put up $6MM-worth of production.

2011 wasn’t exactly Freddy’s year, as he appeared in just 60 games before incurring a season-ending injury (that would eventually require surgery). Nevertheless, when he was playing, he was the player anybody would’ve reasonably expected him to be. He hit .289/.332/.397 (99 wRC+), almost perfectly in line with his career numbers, and he was okay with the glove as well (though his skills in the field do appear to be gradually fading).

In the context of this offseason, given how the market’s shaped up, how does the extension look? Not too good, really. His skills are eroding, quite obviously. He’s 34 years old, and the reasonable expectation is that he’ll see a decline in his numbers at the plate this season. In addition, his defense, as mentioned, is gradually getting worse. He’s probably good for only league-average defense at this point — or perhaps even worse. Taking into account his lack of durability, the deal doesn’t look so solid anymore.

Let’s examine how this extension compares to two of the middle-infield deals this offseason: Jamey Carroll (two years, $6.75MM) and Mark Ellis (two years, $8.75MM).

Carroll, entering his age-38 season, is obviously a bit older than Freddy, but he’s got an edge in terms of health. Despite his age, he’s not nearly as injury-prone as Freddy — in fact, only once in his career has he hit the 15-day DL, and he’s lost just three days to injuries over the past two seasons. In terms of defense, Carroll is quite possibly the better of the two; at the very least, he’s as good as Freddy with the glove. The Minnesota Twins, of course, think enough of Carroll’s range to make him their everyday shortstop in 2012. With the bat, Carroll has not been quite as good as Freddy over his career (90 wRC+ v. 96 wRC+), mainly due to an utter lack of power. Freddy himself doesn’t hit the ball with much authority, but he has four times as many career home runs as Carroll. Anyway, Carroll has — in recent seasons — caught up to Freddy in terms of hitting. He posted respective OBPs of .379 and .359 in 2010 and 2011, enabling him to be a slightly above-average force on offense.

Funny how this all works out: Bill James projects Sanchez and Carroll to have identical wOBAs in 2012: .307.

So Carroll’s better than Freddy Sanchez (though you could argue otherwise), and his contract is more friendly as well. He’s guaranteed $6.75MM (with a $2MM team option for 2014), and he’ll be in a Twins uniform for an extra year (at least). Think of it like this: the Twins are paying $750K more to get an extra year of Carroll. Their plans for Carroll (he’s their everyday shortstop, at age 38) are questionable, but the contract is quite good and in comparison, the Sanchez deal simply isn’t.

Mark Ellis’ deal isn’t quite as friendly as Carroll’s; in fact, Ellis is worse than Carroll, but he’ll make more money (guaranteed $8.75MM). Ellis is even less durable than Sanchez, having spent three separate stints on each of the 15-day DL and 60-day DL throughout his career, and the last time he accrued 500+ plate appearances in a season was 2008. He’s about a year older than Sanchez, but his defense is considerably better (I’d estimate a difference of five to ten runs). Additionally, he’s been the same quality hitter as Freddy over his career: .266/.331/.397 (95 wRC+). His offense has dropped off in recent years, and as such, Bill James projects him for a .299 wOBA. Pretty mediocre, but it’s not much worse than Sanchez’s projection — and the defense certainly makes up for it.

So the Dodgers are paying an extra $2.75MM guaranteed for an extra year of Ellis (who — when he’s healthy — is just as good as Sanchez). It’s a worse contract than the Sanchez extension, especially considering Ellis’ health (or lack thereof), but it’s really not all that much worse.

The middle infield market has been a little odd this offseason, with mediocre players getting decent cuts of money. Freddy most certainly would have gotten 2+ years on the open market, but instead the Giants pay him $6MM through 2012. It may not seem like much, but that’s a higher average annual value than Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, Aaron Hill, et al. The Freddy deal just doesn’t hold up well to these other signings. Not a terrible extension, but it seems evident that the Giants are paying him more than he’s worth — even in light of how well guys are getting paid this offseason. What looked like a solid deal eight months ago is now just “meh.”

A Madison Bumgarner Retrospective

Yesterday, Julian wrote a piece on Madison Bumgarner getting a Cy Young vote and talked about how good Bumgarner is at such a young age.  To further drive home that point, he has already thrown 325 innings in the Major Leagues. This is the first year that players from his draft class are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. He is a very good pitcher and we may be watching the development of a future Cy Young award winner right before our eyes. However, his success was not always pre-destined.

Bumgarner was drafted in 2007 out of South Caldwell High School in Hudson, North Carolina. The Giants gave him a $2 Million dollar signing bonus to get him to forego a North Carolina commitment. He was seen as a legitimate first round talent as he threw a mid 90′s fastball from the leftside, but he lacked a consistent secondary pitch, which gave some teams and draft experts pause. He spent the 2008 season in the South Atlantic League, and surprisingly was dominant. He posted a 10.1 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 and a 1.46 ERA, in 140 innings. After that he was rated as the #9 prospect in baseball by Baseball America heading into 2009.

Bumgarner started 2009 in San Jose along with fellow 2007 1st round draft pick Tim Alderson (who the year before had won an ERA title in that same league) and made just 5 starts and they were both promoted to AA once the weather warmed up. Bumgarner posted a 1.93 ERA at AA but his peripheral stats took a turn for the worse as his strikeout rate dropped to just 5.8 per 9, and his walk rate — while still good — went up to 2.5 per 9.  He got a cup of coffee in the majors that year, throwing 10 innings and allowing just 2 runs. He also struck out 10 and walked 3. There was some concern though. Alderson was traded to Pittsburgh for second baseman Freddy Sanchez and there were rumblings that both of them had lost velocity on their fastball. Alderson’s velocity has never returned and he has yet to reach AAA.

He started 2010 in AAA as a legitimate prospect but one with a lot of risk. He struggled out of the gate, and got briefly suspended after getting memorably ejected (including chucking a baseball into CF). He ended up recovering and while his K/9 was still not great (6.4) he was still good at limiting walks and he looked like he could be a back of the rotation starter. He then was called up to the majors for good after 14 starts replacing the injured and ineffective Todd Wellemeyer. He then pitched incredibly well down the strecth, posting a 3.00 ERA, raising his K rate from his time in AAA (to 7.0) and lowering his BB/9 to 2.1. His most memorable start came on Halloween-roughly two months after he was able to legally drink-where he posted 8 shutout innings against the strong Rangers line up in their ballpark, coming off the Giants first loss of the World Series.

Before 2011 there was still concern though. Combined with the postseason he had thrown 70 innings more than the previous season which made a “Verducci effect” candidate. While the Verducci effect has been basically proven to be wrong, that is still a major jump in innings. Bumgarner though, had a fantastic season, once again increasing his K rate and (slightly) decreasing his walk rate.

Bumgarner has been a fantastic pitcher and given his age it’s likely that he’ll just get better. And if I was a betting man, I’d wager that over the next five years Bumgarner will be the best pitcher currently in the Giants rotation.

Arbitration Eligible: Jeff Keppinger

Yesterday, I looked at Mike Fontenot, who’s entering his third year of arbitration eligibility this offseason. Now we’ll examine Jeff Keppinger – one of a few Giants infielders up for arbitration this year. Like Fontenot, Keppinger is up for his third year of arbitration eligibility (though this is also Keppinger’s final year; Fontenot, on the other hand, is a Super Two). Oddly enough, the two have been similarly productive at the plate over their careers (both share a 92 OPS+).

In any event, Keppinger was acquired midseason in exchange for Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel, and while the Giants didn’t give up a whole lot in the trade, the move didn’t exactly pan out. Keppinger, who lacks both patience and power at the plate, hit .255/.285/.333 in 230 plate appearances with the Giants (56 games), and .277/.300/.377 on the season as a whole. His hitting was quite underwhelming, and his defense was just as bad. He showed an incredible lack of range at second base in those 56 games, and actually managed a major-league worst -12 defensive runs saved in 791 innings in 2011.

Keppinger made $1.15MM a couple offseasons ago, and that amount doubled in his second go-around of arb-eligiblity. He’s set to again earn a pay increase — he’ll probably make nearly $3MM — which makes him a legitimate non-tender candidate; Brian Sabean has even referred to Keppinger as “maybe a luxury item.” Given that he’s not much of a hitter — the prototypical empty batting average guy — and that he’s not versatile defensively (even his defense at second base leaves a lot to be desired), the Giants are probably best off non-tendering him. Or there’s another option…

Middle infielders are getting paid this offseason — guys like Mark Ellis, John McDonald, Aaron Hill, etc. are signing for good money. As Josh has speculated, the way the market’s shaping up, the Giants might be able to trade Keppinger for a decent return. As a high-contact hitter — career 6.2% K rate — it’s easy to see how he could generate some interest on the trade market.

Anyway, Keppinger’s not really a good fit for the 2012 San Francisco Giants (even as Freddy Sanchez insurance), and whether it’s via trade or non-tender, the organization should part ways with him.

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.

Larry Baer on Chronicle Live: “Keep the Pitching Intact”

Giants president Larry Baer just appeared on Chronicle Live (on CSN Bay Area), discussing the offseason to come. A lot of it was old stuff — stuff we’ve been hearing again and again. The organization has made it quite clear that their philosophy is “pitching, pitching, pitching.” That’s their priority this offseason, and it seems that pursuing a top free agent hitter (someone like Jose Reyes) is not a reality.

The organization will try to sign Tim Lincecum to a long-term deal, and if it doesn’t happen, they’ll try again next offseason. If again he doesn’t sign a long-term deal, the Giants will make a third attempt (as Lincecum becomes a free agent) to sign him to a long-term deal. As Baer puts it, the Giants have three tries with him.

Similarly, signing Cain long-term is a priority for the organization, but a more pressing need — as he hits free agency sooner. Baer said something to the effect of — “it’s equally important to sign Cain and Lincecum” long-term.

When asked if the Giants could afford to sign them both, Baer said they could. What he doesn’t know is if they can afford to sign a top free agent hitter (a $20-30MM per year guy, as he puts it) in addition to Cain/Lincecum.

Lastly, he said that successful teams, of late, have been winning by virtue of deep bullpens, strong pitching, and “the ability to adjust as you go along.” My takeaway from this is that Baer is emphasizing a pitching and only pitching philosophy with the team. It sounds almost as though he doesn’t care at all about the offense, and is completely oblivious to the fact that their issues extend far beyond the injuries to Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez. Additionally, the “adjustment” line implies that the Giants will continue to be active before the trade deadline.

Anyway, please do note that this is all paraphrased, and simply what I’ve inferred from it. I’m sure the video of the interview will be posted eventually, at which point you can go check it out. In any event, I’m a bit concerned about the organizational view on the importance of offense.

Update: here’s the video of Baer’s interview.