Nate Schierholtz Avoids Arbitration, Tim Lincecum and the Giants Exchange Figures

Some more arbitration updates…

According to Baggs, the Giants reached agreement with Nate Schierholtz on a one-year deal worth $1.3M and $150K in incentives. Meanwhile, Tim Lincecum and the Giants have filed arbitration figures which, as expected, break the records that were held by Derek Jeter and the Yankees (from back in 2001).

Giants Rumors: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran

Very busy day for rumors. Here’s the latest on Hiroyuki Nakajima, Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran, and more:

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.

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.

Thinking about Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins is 32 years old, and he’ll turn 33 in November. Along with Jose Reyes, he represents the cream of the crop of this year’s shortstop free agent market. Reyes is out of the question — this has been established by now. Rollins, on the other hand, is not. C.C. Sabathia even recently predicted Rollins would end up here, per Jon Heyman. The Giants have to fit some payroll restraints, but Rollins certainly remains a possibility for San Francisco, especially considering their dire need for some stability at shortstop. In a recent blog post on the SF Gate Splash Blog, Henry Schulman noted that payroll could be stretched in order for the Giants to sign a specific target.

That would make it extremely difficult to keep all the free agents and arb-eligible players they want, take care of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and go after new free agents. However, Sabean did note that he could go to ownership and ask for more money based on a specific player they are targeting.

The only problem: Jimmy wants a five-year deal. And that’s not going to cut it.

On offense, Rollins is decent — especially for a shortstop. Over the last few years, he’s declined to where he is now — more or less a league-average hitter.

Jimmy Rollins wOBA

…though he does have a standout skill, something I really like about him: plate discipline. His plate discipline is excellent, and in recent years, it’s really started to develop.

Granted, as a guy approaching his mid-30s, the reasonable expectation is that he’ll really start to decline over the next few years. As a player with above-average speed, perhaps he’ll age somewhat-gracefully, but he’s even lost a little zip in the past couple of years. By EqBRR, he’s racked up -0.2 runs in value on the basepaths in the past two seasons. He’s stolen 47 bases over that time (SBs are, of course, a component of EqBRR), yet still rated out as a below-average baserunner. It’s quite baffling.

I haven’t watched enough of his baserunning to judge myself — perhaps he just has poor baserunning instincts, or his speed has eroded some, or maybe a little of both. But Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley (the excellent ESPN SweetSpot affiliate Phillies blog) confirmed that he hasn’t been the same as he was in prior years.

The big question mark with Rollins, however, is his defense. Over his career, he’s — for the most part — rated as a solid defender by most metrics: UZR has him at +47.4 (5.1 UZR/150), and DRS has him at an astounding +70 runs. FRAA, however, is not a fan of Rollins’ defense (-45.6). That’s the nature of defensive metrics, I suppose. They disagree.

In any event, Rollins was at -2 DRS this year, representing a career-low. His UZR, +2.9, is the lowest mark he’s posted since 2007, and the range component (-3.9 RngR), is the lowest he’s posted since 2002.

This is all fairly intuitive stuff: players age, and Rollins, like most players entering their mid-30s, has shown signs of aging — on defense, on the basepaths, and at the plate.

I think a nice — if not overly optimistic — estimate of Rollins’ production over the next three seasons would be 2.5 WAR/600 PA. If he stays healthy, and shows some gradual decline with respect to his offense and defense, I think that’s the player he is. Not elite, but slightly above-average. And that would be a very nice thing to have.

But I don’t dare guess what kind of player he’ll be in 2015 or 2016. I’d hate to see the Giants go out this offseason and pay him to play in San Francisco ’til he’s 37 years old. Given his injury history, it would obviously be foolish to sign him to the five-year deal he’s looking for. He’s simply not good enough, at the ripe age of 32-going-on-33, to justify that kind of long-term financial commitment.

So here’s where I’d go with Rollins: three years, $40MM. I’d imagine there’s a good chance it’s an overpay — especially if he can’t stay healthy. There’s also a very good chance he would settle for no such deal. But that’s where I’d go to get him. As much as I’d hate to see the Giants put another decrepit stopgap at shortstop, I’d also very much hate to be complaining about the “Rollins contract” a few years from now.