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?

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?

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.

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).

Giants unlikely to pursue Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins

Jose Reyes has been out of the offseason picture for quite some time now, as he simply doesn’t fit within the Giants’ budget, but it looks like Jimmy Rollins is unofficially off the table as well (h/t MLB Trade Rumors):

The Giants are another team where Reyes would seem to be a perfect fit, but the word in baseball is that at this point, they are unlikely to pursue him (or to pursue free-agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins, either).

When I wrote about Rollins a month ago, he was looking for a five-year deal (and, well, probably still is). He’ll turn 33 this month, and simply isn’t good enough to justify such a long-term commitment — especially considering his injury history. In the short-term, he’d provide some much-needed stability at shortstop. A few years from now though, a (somewhat)-lucrative contract would likely end up a mess…even the three-year $40MM deal I suggested seems quite generous in retrospect. So it’s not such a bad thing that he’s off the Giants’ radar, especially if he actually happens to command the kind of money he’s looking for.

The other interesting thing Knobler notes — or rather, confirms — is that the Giants have some serious interest in Coco Crisp:

After committing money to keep the pitching staff together for another year, it’s believed that the Giants have just about $10 million to spend for 2012, and that they intend to spend the bulk of it on a center fielder (very possibly Coco Crisp).

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote today about how Crisp could fit in well with the Giants’ plans:

Crisp, who tied for the league lead in stolen bases, could be a good fit for the Giants, who need a center fielder and leadoff hitter. “Covelli has made it clear that he would like to play for a team that is determined to compete, and he’d also like to stay on the West Coast,” Comte said, using Crisp’s first name. “I think the Giants would be a viable option for him and vice versa.”

Like Rollins, Crisp’s injury history is a bit concerning (as he enters his mid-30s), but he’s attractive for a few reasons: he can still handle centerfield, he’s quite a prolific basestealer, and he’s good for average-ish production at the plate — which is nice to have from an up-the-middle position. A weak CF market could drive up his price, but at a reasonable cost, Crisp would be a solid addition — and hopefully help the Giants transition smoothly into the Gary Brown era.

 

Let the Offseason Begin

And with that, the Giants are no longer reigning world champions. The Giants failed to defend their title, failed even to make the playoffs, and didn’t even come close to winning their division. But 2011 was quite a ride nonetheless, and one of the best baseball seasons ever, culminating in a particularly exciting World Series.

Now, focus turns to the future. The Giants have an immensely flawed offense, and it’s not going to be easy to fix. That said, the NL West does appear to be somewhat wide-open, and with the right moves, the Giants can put themselves in good position to do what they failed to do this year: make the playoffs.

Over at the Chronicle’s Giants blog, Henry Schulman has some interesting information (and speculation) on the offseason to come:

Oh yeah, and the Indians are expected to decline Grady Sizemore‘s option.

Anyway, the free agency period doesn’t begin until 12:01 AM ET on October 30th, as it has been delayed 24 hours. Via Troy Renck, the MLBPA will release the list of Free Agents and potential Free Agents on Sunday, October 30,” and “Players can sign with new teams on Nov. 3.”

This should prove to be a much more interesting offseason than the last one (remember when Miguel Tejada was the Giants’ biggest new addition?). Until then, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans on a fine season, and well-deserved championship.