Giants Rumors: Priority is Extending Tim Lincecum

MLB Players and Owners Could Soon Reach Agreement on New Labor Deal

Players and owners are close to finalizing a new labor deal that would bring significant changes to MLB, particularly when it comes to the draft. The deal is expected to have “significant restraints” on draft spending, as well as significant changes to the current system of draft pick compensation. The general reaction is not positive, and for good reason.

In other news…

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.

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.

NL Awards Voting

As a member of the BBA, and a contributor to Beyond the Box Score, I’ve taken part in a couple end-of-year award votes thus far. Here’s my NL ballot:

NL MVP

Matt Kemp: After a dismal showing in 2010, Kemp bounced back in remarkable fashion; in 161 games (he appeared in every single Dodgers game this year), he posted a .324/.399/.586 line and nearly joined the elusive 40/40 club (39 homers, 40 steals). That kind of offensive production from an up-the-middle position is quite special, and while his defense is no asset, he managed to lead the National League in wins above replacement by a pretty significant margin.

The rest:
2. Ryan Braun
3. Roy Halladay
4. Troy Tulowitzki
5. Justin Upton

 

NL Cy Young

Roy Halladay: It’s close between the trio of Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Clayton Kershaw, but I give Halladay the edge. They all had nearly identical innings counts, and vary when it comes to their fielding-independent numbers (Halladay, for example, is third in the NL in xFIP and SIERA, and first in tERA). However, he leads in FIP- (56) by a lot (Kershaw is at 66, Lee is at 67).

The rest:
2. Clayton Kershaw
3. Cliff Lee
4. Madison Bumgarner
5. Matt Cain

 

NL Rookie of the Year

Wilson Ramos: I doubt he’ll win it, but he really deserves strong consideration. Above-average offensive production (.267/.334/.445, 109 wRC+) from the catching position, combined with something most people probably didn’t notice: outstanding defense behind the plate. His ability to cut down would-be base-stealers, block pitches in the dirt, and frame borderline strikes accounted for an estimated +1.5 wins in value. All in all, that’s enough to put him over the top in my mind.

The rest:
2. Danny Espinosa
3. Craig Kimbrel

Matt Cain is not going anywhere

Via Joel Sherman:

For those on the Matt Cain bandwagon, I heard the Giants have made it so clear they are not trading him that the Yankees have not asked about the righty in “years.”

h/t TYA

It’s pretty evident, at this point, that the Giants intend to sign Matt Cain to an extension. It seems, in fact, as though it’s their top offseason priority, and I expect they’ll get a deal done in the near future. I looked at the prospect of a Cain extension a week ago.

Pondering a Matt Cain extension

A week ago, Larry Baer sent out a letter to San Francisco Giants fans that was ultimately an apology of sorts, in which he mused about 2011 and the Giants’ commitment to the future. One paragraph in the letter details the means through which the organization is striving to maintain a contending team, and the last item particularly stands out:

That remarkable send-off still reverberates through the hallways and offices here at AT&T Park. We already are deep into the challenging, strategic work of building a championship-caliber team for 2012 and beyond. That means pushing innovation, whether in baseball analytics, physical training or video technology. It means thorough scouting and smart coaching; drafting and developing young players; deepening the talent pool up and down the roster; studying every possible deal; and securing and protecting the best pitching staff in baseball.

When it comes to securing the rotation, the priority is Matt Cain. For a number of reasons, extending Cain is more important than extending Lincecum: he’s younger, he becomes a free agent in 2013 (a year before Lincecum), he’ll be cheaper, he’s the longest-tenured Giant, and he’s shown a more promising trend over the past several seasons. In addition, Lincecum has said that he prefers short-term deals, and at the annual post-season press conference, Sabean acknowledged that Cain’s situation is more “pressing.”

Given how young Cain is (2011 was his age-26 season) and the durability he’s shown over his career thus far (1271 innings over his first six full seasons), the target contract length for Cain could be as high as five years. Believe it or not, deals of that kind of length are pretty rare for starting pitchers, but Cain’s case is a little unusual: having debuted in the majors when he was 20 years old, he reaches free agency at a younger age than most guys (2012 would have been his first year of free agency had he not signed an extension in 2010).

Cain currently sits at 24.2 career fWAR, though that mark pretty clearly undervalues him. He’s maintained a batting average on balls in play of .265 over his career, and is a notorious DIPS outlier. Because of this, fWAR, which is an FIP-based metric, isn’t exactly the best WAR implementation to use here. Looking at rWAR (based on runs allowed, with a minor adjustment for defense), he’s been worth 25 wins above replacement to date. rWAR uses a lower replacement level than fWAR, so my preference is to adjust it (the standard is to multiply it by 118%, which puts it on the same scale as fWAR). Anyway, adjusting for replacement level, he’s averaged 4.6 WAR/season over the last six years, and 5.2 WAR/season over the last three years.

On the open market, a win is worth roughly $4.5MM, so assuming Cain replicates his three-year average over the life of an extension, that’s an average annual value of $23MM — not accounting for inflation. Over five years, that’s $115MM in value.

A couple model contracts stand out in particular for a Cain extension: first and foremost — John Lackey‘s five-year $82.5M deal with the Red Sox, which will keep him in Boston until 2014. Lackey’s performance prior to the signing was fairly similar to that of Cain in recent years: over 2007-2009, ages 28-30, he averaged 4.3 rWAR per season, or an adjusted 5 rWAR per season. The second is Cliff Lee, who consistently performed at an elite level (adjusted 6.5 rWAR per season from 2008 to 2010) before signing a monster five-year $120MM deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Lee’s deal covers his age-32 through age-36 seasons, while Lackey’s deal takes him from ages 31 to 35. It’s thus understandable that Cain, while not quite the elite pitcher that Lee is, would likely fall in the middle range between Lackey and Lee — especially considering age. Something in the range of five years at $90MM perhaps, covering Cain through 2017.

Such a contract is inherently risk-laden, but also has the potential to be very rewarding in terms of surplus value. Tacking on five years to Cain’s current contract would conceivably keep him in a San Francisco Giants uniform for the entirety of his prime; assuming he stays healthy under such a contract, he could anchor the Giants’ rotation for years to come.