The Giants’ offseason has been discussed and scrutinized ad nauseum, and the consensus seems to be somewhere between frustration and disgust. A team with hopes of contending, a steady stream of revenue, and a dire need to improve its offense passed on Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Beltran. In fact, their only offensive additions consisted of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, both of whom were acquired via trade, and both of whom are set to hit free agency after this season. Anyway, I figured I’d offer up some final thoughts on this offseason.
The left-handed relievers
First and foremost, the Giants decided to retain both Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, and they paid a pretty penny in order to do so. This was arguably their biggest mistake of the offseason. Lopez got a two-year $8.5M contract; Affeldt, meanwhile, got $5M, as the Giants chose to exercise his option. Together, the two comprised the majority of the Giants’ free agent spending (although, yes, Affeldt technically wasn’t a free agent).
Lopez’s career numbers, especially his peripherals, aren’t particularly flashy. Spanning his career, he’s averaged 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings, and four walks per nine innings. He is, however, very good at preventing home runs, especially when you consider that he’s spent much of his career in hitter-friendly parks (Coors/Fenway). He’s allowed just 0.46 home runs per nine innings throughout his career, but since joining the Giants in August of 2010, he hasn’t allowed a homer (that’s zero in 72 innings). His specialty, of course, is getting left-handed hitters out, but even his splits against lefties aren’t all that impressive: 7.47 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 0.39 HR/9, 3.42 FIP/3.63 xFIP.
While his career splits don’t stand out, he has put together two consecutive quality seasons, and at the rate he’s going, he’ll earn his contract. Baseball-Reference has Lopez at 2.8 wins above replacement over the past two years, which is worth something in the realm of $13M to $17M. So I can certainly see the justification, despite sub-par peripherals, for giving Lopez ~$9M through 2013. In fact, I like this signing, and I’m sure with Affeldt hypothetically out of the equation, many others would too.
But Affeldt isn’t “out of the equation.” Instead, he’ll be paid $5M to be the second lefty out of the Giants’ bullpen, which is quite excessive. Now, most will be quick to point out that Affeldt has been worth 0.4 WAR since 2010, which is only ever-so-slightly above replacement level. But it’s also worth noting that Affeldt has averaged 1 WAR per season since 2009 by Baseball-Reference’s implementation, and that’s pretty much what $5M production is. In 2011, Affeldt was worth 0.9 WAR, which — again — is $5M production.
What this essentially comes down to is an issue of absolute value versus relative value. In absolute terms, yes, one could make the case that Jeremy Affeldt is worth $5M, particularly when you take into account the paucity of decent left-handed relievers on the free agent market. I don’t personally think he’s worth that much, but his marginal value isn’t necessarily much lower than $5M. There’s a reason that he generated substantial interest on the trade market after the Giants exercised his option.
For reference, here’s what other left-handed relievers have commanded this offseason:
Dontrelle Willis – one year, $850K; Willis hasn’t been a quality pitcher since 2006, and though he’d probably make a useful lefty specialist, he really can’t be trusted to face right-handed hitters. They hit .305/.395/.433 against him in 2011, and they’ve hit .282/.358/.430 against him throughout his career.
George Sherrill – one year, $1.1M; I liked this signing for the Mariners, but Sherrill, like Willis, can’t be trusted at all against right-handed hitters. They absolutely destroy him.
J.C. Romero – one year, $750K; he has a 1.04 K/BB ratio over the last three seasons (117 appearances), and a 1.40 K/BB for his career. Baseball-Reference has him at 0.7 WAR since 2009. Fangraphs has him at -0.6 WAR since 2009.
Hideki Okajima – minor-league deal; he threw all of eight innings in 2011, and he wasn’t very good in 2010 either (0.1 rWAR).
All of the above left-handed relievers got less money than Affeldt, but most of them are old, have major flaws, or both. Oliver at $4M would have been preferable to Affeldt at $5M, but it’s easy to see why the market dictates this kind of money for a guy like Affeldt.
On a team entirely devoid of any decent left-handed relief options, Affeldt has plenty of value, relatively speaking. On the other hand, on a team with Javier Lopez and Dan Runzler, Affeldt doesn’t have nearly as much value; over the course of a full season, the difference between Runzler and Affeldt as the second lefty out of the ‘pen is mostly negligible.
For his career, Runzler has posted a 3.19 FIP over 68.2 innings. Affeldt, over that same span (since 2009), has posted a 3.74 FIP over 174 innings. Affeldt rates better by xFIP (3.59 to 3.74), but it’s not a significant difference. Plus, at 26 years old, Runzler has the upper hand in terms of upside. Affeldt is probably the safer bet because he’s actually had extended success in recent seasons on a runs-allowed basis, but at an extra cost of $5M, it seems evident that the Giants would have been better off just sticking with Runzler.
Anyway, on an individual basis, the moves to retain Lopez and Affeldt aren’t all that bad. As a whole, however, especially as it pertains to the Giants’ needs and budgetary constraints, this was not terribly prudent allocation of money. The $5M that went to Affeldt would have been better spent on a dire need (i.e. a hitter).
Angel and Melky
Now the Giants did bring in a couple hitters in Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera. One looks like a pretty good acquisition; one doesn’t.
As I noted a few weeks ago, I really like the Pagan acquisition, even in spite of the fact that I wanted the Giants to retain Andres Torres. The Giants didn’t give up all that much, yet they got one year of a solid centerfielder with a reasonable price tag ($4.85M). He’s not going to single-handedly fix the Giants’ offensive struggles, but he’s consistently put up above-average numbers since 2009; let’s not forget that Giants centerfielders posted a collective .283 wOBA in 2011.
The Melky Cabrera acquisition, on the other hand, might be the worst move of the offseason. The Giants are paying Melky $6M, which is a bit more than I was expecting. Jonathan Sanchez, in comparison, is getting $5.6M. Basically, the Giants didn’t save any money in making this trade. In retrospect, they essentially had the choice between $6M and Melky Cabrera, and they chose the latter.
I imagine the justification for this move is as follows: they needed a centerfielder, and they didn’t see Andres Torres as a suitable option. They otherwise would have non-tendered Jonathan Sanchez, so this way, at least they filled a position of need by ridding themselves of a wild southpaw. The problem, however, is two-fold: firstly, Cabrera was not all that more appealing an option than Andres Torres, if at all, despite a much better 2011. Secondly, the move was rendered pointless when the Giants went out and got Angel Pagan to play centerfield. Now they’re stuck with a relatively expensive player who — either directly or indirectly — is blocking Brandon Belt. In hindsight, if the team didn’t see Torres as an acceptable option, they should have at least waited longer than early November; their outlook would be better if they had Pagan but no Melky Cabrera.
Now, Melky’s not a bad player. Before his 2011 season, he had been mediocre at the plate for quite some time, but: age is on his side; he’s coming off an excellent season; and he can play all three outfield positions (kind of). At this point, he’s probably a league-average player, give or take half a win. If relegated to a bench role, he becomes a really good fourth outfielder. But did Melky Cabrera constitute the best way to spend that $6M? Certainly not.
You see, despite coming off a season in which he put up some of the worst numbers ever by a San Francisco Giants first baseman, Aubrey Huff will be an everyday player in 2012. Maybe that’s where the Giants’ really big mistake lies. He’s making $10M+ in 2012, and for better or for worse*, the Giants are committed to playing him.
*Probably for worse. As much as I’d like to believe Huff will rebound, I don’t. He’s 35 years old, coming off a season in which he OPS’d .676…maybe he’ll be a league-average hitter in 2012. But that’s not much production anyway from a first baseman.
This inevitably puts Brandon Belt in a tough situation because the outfield is now occupied: Nate Schierholtz in right field, Angel Pagan in center, and Melky Cabrera in left. Had the Giants never acquired Melky, there would be room for Belt. In fact, over a full season, Belt probably brings more value to the team than Melky. Few players on the roster have as much potential to improve the offense as he does*. So in effect, the Melky trade: cost the Giants $6M, did little or nothing to improve their team (as it pertains to how the players will likely be utilized), and blocked Brandon Belt, who was already yo-yoed between Fresno and the majors throughout 2011.
*At this point, I don’t think Belt has much of anything to gain from Triple-A. He’s had some struggles at the majors, but he hasn’t been afforded much of an opportunity to work through them. And despite this, he was ultimately average with the bat in 2011. Imagine what he could do with consistent playing time at the major-league level. There’s a reason ZiPS and are other projection systems are so high on him.
For the most part, I like how the Giants have handled their arbitration-eligible players.
Then there’s Eli Whiteside and Emmanuel Burriss; Whiteside was non-tendered, but the Giants brought him back on a minor-league (conditional) deal. As with all minor-league contracts, there’s nothing really to complain about here. Burriss got a cheap one-year major-league deal, whereas I expected him to be non-tendered. Ideally, the Giants would have a better bench player. Burriss, after all, is a career .250/.311/.281 hitter. But I suppose this is better than signing Willie Bloomquist (I’ll get to that one later…).
The Giants handed out a couple extensions to the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Vogelsong, both of which are solid contracts. Neither deal is much of a bargain, but the cost certainty that comes with these deals is nice.
In discussing the Sandoval contract (three years, $17.15M) with Matt Swartz, whose arbitration projections are generally spot-on, I’m convinced the Giants didn’t really save much money here. Swartz was kind enough to run some numbers through his arbitration projections, and if Sandoval repeats his 2011 performance across 600 plate appearances in 2012 and 2013, he’d project to earn $6.4M in 2013 and $8.5M in 2014. That’s basically in line with what his contract extension will pay him.
But Sandoval is an awesome player, and I’m perfectly content with this deal. This is a guy who, through his age-24 season, has a career line of .307/.356/.501 in nearly 2000 plate appearances. Additionally, he displayed excellent defense in 2011, and despite missing a quarter of the season, one could argue that he was among the top five position players in the National League. Ideally, the Giants would have bought out at least one of his free agent years, but there’s little reason to be unsatisfied with this.
Same goes for the Ryan Vogelsong contract. Even if he regresses some (as is inevitable), he’ll probably earn his money. And if he doesn’t regress so much? Well, the Giants potentially have a team-friendly deal on their hands.
The whole Mike Fontenot/Jeff Keppinger situation was laughable, but I was ultimately content with how it played out. The Giants presumably could have afforded to keep both of them, but the self-imposed budget prevented them from doing so.
That’s okay though, since I never wanted the Giants to tender Jeff Keppinger a contract anyway. I’ll be the first to admit I’m too harsh on Kepp. He rarely strikes out and he mashes lefties, so he has his uses. In fact, I liked the Keppinger acquisition. The fact of the matter is, however, he has some serious defensive limitations at second base that render him a mediocre overall player. His empty batting average, as decent as it is for a middle infielder, unfortunately doesn’t make up for that.
Mike Fontenot, in contrast, can hold his own at second base, shortstop, and third base. He doesn’t have any standout skills, but he can draw walks, he can hit for some power in spite of his small frame, and his left-handed bat complements Freddy Sanchez. Oh yeah, and his price tag ($1M) was a bit cheaper. The organization definitely made the right decision here.
The Giants and Tim Lincecum, meanwhile, have yet to settle on a contract. I think they’ll ultimately extend Matt Cain on a somewhat team-friendly deal, and just give Lincecum a two-year deal (eventually parting ways with him after the 2013 season). I’m fine with this.
Willie Bloomquist? Seriously?
It’s also about the moves the Giants didn’t make, though. There were rumors that they had expressed interest in Alex Gonzalez and Ryan Ludwick. While I don’t think either free agent was ever seriously pursued, the rumors were mildly irritating nonetheless.
But there was also something more substantial: the Giants offered Willie Bloomquist a two-year deal. Willie freakin’ Bloomquist. Bloomquist — the proverbial replacement level utility player. He’s worth nothing more than a minor-league contract, and he’s certainly not the kind of guy that warrants a two-year deal. He’s old and aside from his first couple seasons, he’s done nothing of value throughout his career.
I’m sure he brings some nice intangible qualities to the table; I’m also sure, especially after reading a quote like this from Brian Sabean, that his intangibles were part (or all?) of the reason that the Giants felt compelled to make him a two-year offer. But that’s a weak justification: his intangibles don’t negate the fact that he is not good at baseball. Thankfully, he rejected the Giants’ offer and signed with Arizona*.
*Arizona, by the way, hasn’t had a very productive offseason. Jason Kubel is getting $15M over two years to displace Gerardo Parra. John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist both got two-year deals from the DBacks. Joe Saunders got $6M. And what’s the difference between Trevor Cahill and Jarrod Parker over a full season?
The Giants’ biggest positional need entering the offseason was shortstop, and they didn’t do anything to address that. Given that Marco Scutaro was just acquired by the Colorado Rockies for nothing of value, this is inherently frustrating. As slick as he is with the glove, Crawford just can’t hit. And he probably never will. This is a guy who’s considered Adam Everett lite — not a terribly flattering label.
At the same time though, I guess one can take solace in the fact that the Giants didn’t throw real money at an old, mediocre stopgap, as they’ve done in the past. With strong defense and some improvement at the plate, Crawford will be an upgrade over what the Giants got from their shortstops in 2011.
So that’s it?
Between Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Melky Cabrera (or Jonathan Sanchez, if you will), the San Francisco Giants had $15M to spend, and they could have done a better job spending it. They should have done a better job spending it. Had they squeezed in an extra win or two on that budget, it would have gone a long way toward improving their chances of making the playoffs in 2012. Herein lies the frustration of this offseason. But with the direction the team is heading in right now, they still look to contend in 2012 and beyond. Their offseason, while far from perfect, has kept them in this direction, and it’s not nearly the disaster it’s been made out to be.
Now…when do pitchers and catchers report?