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December 21, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

Giants Among Men?

by Christina Kahrl

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Almost two months later and still basking in the afterglow of having gotten to the game's pinnacle, there isn't a lot of controversy or second-guessing—the Giants are world champs, after all. But now's the time to start dialing in on what, if anything, they should have done and should be doing. How has Brian Sabean responded to life on the other side of the ultimate? More importantly, what, if anything, has Sabean done to guarantee his team's future as a contender? No time to rest on one's laurels, after all—there ain't no rest for the wicked.

In this, unlike a lot of contenders, the Giants are in the strange and happy position where you can accept a certain amount of passivity, because so much of this team's key components were already locked in, and because so much did not work out entirely according to any nefarious master plan. Perhaps, just as the money spent on a moon laser might not generate quite the same kind of money as you'd expect to get a result, Sabean has spent the winter generally telling his peers, “don't answer me.” Why bother with the chit-chat, when you're already on top of the world?

Already armed with a veteran team, saying thanks for all the fish—or Rangers—wasn't really a choice. The team's single strongest asset, its rotation, was already nailed down, with Tim Lincecum under control through 2013, as well as former free agent Barry Zito, while Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are Giants property for the next two seasons. And Madison Bumgarner only just got here, so he'll belong to the team beyond any of them. Closer Brian Wilson has already been inked to an extension through 2012, and set-up man Jeremy Affeldt's deal runs through this next season, while relievers Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez, and Javier Lopez are all under club control. And with a staff-wide strikeout rate that led the majors with getting 21.6 percent of its outs at home plate, it isn't like pitching was a major source of concern anyway. Sabean can gun for a few depth-minded add-ons, perhaps a veteran swingman to issue a non-roster invite to, because the system's short on big league-ready upper-level options for starting ballgames. But that's what January is for.

In the meantime, Sabean did act with some celerity to nail down a few things in the department that needed the attention—his club's offense, which finished ninth in the NL and 18th overall in team True Average. The major action item was sorting out his lineup's power slots for 2011, but rather than go bargain hunting, the Giants' GM nailed most everything down before the Winter Meetings, and long before anyone might start shopping in earnest. Before turkey was served, he had already rewarded Aubrey Huff with a two-year, $20 million deal, with a $10 million club option for 2013 that can be bought out for $2 million. To some extent, you can consider this an over-reward for Huff's delivering a top-20 season in the National League in terms of WARP for just $3 million in 2010.

However, if you wanted to contrast the decision with market behavior, signing Huff for his age-34 and -35 seasons doesn't seem quite so terrible when it's happening at the same time that the Cubs were paying Carlos Pena with $10 million for his age-33 campaign after three straight less-valuable campaigns than Huff had just delivered. Lest you think that comparison's unfair, give Huff credit—he delivered a 4.6 WARP season in 2008, only slightly less valuable than Pena's 4.9 that year, his best in the last three, so just between those two 2010 free agents, Huff has had two of the three best seasons in the last three. Those were also better than any Adam Dunn or Adam LaRoche season in the last three, and only Paul Konerko's 2010 from among the last three rates ahead of Huff's 2008, while still being rooted behind Huff's 2010.

So, strangely enough, Sabean deserves some credit for thriftiness. Compared to Huff and his $22 million over two years or $30 million over three, keep in mind that Konerko is slightly older and getting $37.5 million guaranteed over three years, while Dunn is younger and getting $56 million over four. Compared to the way the rest of the market was acting, Sabean signed his man early for less and for less time, and while Huff's track record has zig-zagged back and forth between valuable and awful, you can understand a willingness to reward performance over, say, going to the open market and giving LaRoche or the like a few million less for certainty—and certain mediocrity, where Huff has done better than that in his finer seasons.

As for the outfield corners, the initial experiment with John Bowker and Nate Schierholtz and the like had long since failed, and Bowker has already banished to Piracy for his failures. Aaron Rowand makes for an unmovable expense on the bench, but with Andres Torres in center, that wasn't really a problem. However, Sabean sensibly sorted his in-season fixes, ditching the reliably unpleasant and unproductive Jose Guillen to the curb while retaining post-season hero Cody Ross as a reward for all sorts of things: five post-season homers, or because Ross can play a corner well where Guillen is a DH, or because the chances that the arbitration panel blows a decision with a guy making $4.45 million in 2010 are a lot less expensive than trying to set Guillen straight on why he isn't, wasn't, and won't be worth the $12 million per year Dayton Moore was paying him. Sabean also worked out a remarkably cheap, $1 million, friction-free happy deal with Pat Burrell to keep the slow slugger in-house in the role he was born for—top-shelf second fiddle. After last season's four-month spin with the Giants as a retreaded discard and producing a .304 TAv for the club, suddenly all of that quailing in Tampa Bay about everything that was wrong with him physically seems like a bollocks sammich with extra mustard, entirely unappetizing and somewhat implausible as scapegoating goes now that it's long since gone cold.

All told, that's fairly cheap as solutions go. Huff drew a $7 million raise, Torres seems likely to get a well-earned raise via arbitration, and Ross will cost much more than Schierholtz or Bowker did, but since Edgar Renteria's $10 million, Bengie Molina's $4.5 million, Juan Uribe's $3.25 million, and the cool mill chucked at Todd Wellemeyer were all coming off the payroll, Sabean could afford some reallocation of resources within a budget that isn't that different from last year's. But bringing up Uribe and Renteria does bring up the other major action item beyond the power slots of first base and the outfield corner—the left side of the infield.

To some extent, this problem was already going to get some benefit from Mark DeRosa's anticipated reappearance. Not that DeRosa can play short, but if Pablo Sandoval's transmogrification from animated action hero to flabby faded fad comes to a squalid end next year, somebody has to play third base, and DeRosa is the best available asset to apply to the problem. If he produces a .270-.280 TAv while proving much more mobile than the planted panda at the hot corner, the Giants might get something for their $6 million. Unfortunately, there's the problem of Freddy Sanchez's latest breakdown, a shoulder this time, so if his brand of league-average adequacy at second is MIA in March, the Giants may have to apply DeRosa toward that problem.

Sabean's other solution to his infield's left side needs seems to have taken its cue from a division rival. Last August, the Padres plugged Miguel Tejada in at short after trading for him, and found him entirely adequate (endorsed metrically by both nFRAA and Plus/Minus). Since the Pads, like the Giants, have a strikeout-dependent staff, they were able to risk an older man at short. The Giants, having already gotten by with thirtysomething shortstops in Renteria and Uribe, were willing to pay less for Tejada ($6.5 million) than Renteria's $10 million option or than Uribe got in a fit of Nedster largesse (three years and $21 million). However, among the three, Tejada's full-season TAv was the lowest last year, .254 to Uribe's .266 and Renteria's .261, and it's consistent with what he did in 2008 (.254), against his 2009 mark (.284). Given that Tejada will be in his age-37 season next year, it's safe to say he'll be closer to those .250 marks and his defense to trend back toward the performance level that got him moved to third base in the first place.

Happily, Tejada is only inked to the one season, but the only prophylactic against the kind of likely performance slump to come if he were going to have to play short regularly would be someone he could share time with there. Finding that somebody would free Tejada to also spot at third base, and ease up a decision-tree cascade, letting DeRosa play some second, and/or create a role for Sandoval (or even Mike Fontenot). But the plain need is for someone who can play shortstop. If that's a return engagement for Renteria, lovely, but if not, there aren't a lot of options left on the market—you're basically down to Orlando Cabrera or Nick Punto. In the abstract, this might be the place where Emmanuel Burriss fits in, but that requires more faith in Burriss than he's earned at any point of his career.

All in all, it has been a reasonable collection of moves. What's left undone as yet might be working out whatever details it takes to get Renteria to stick around, and finding the right non-roster veteran swing dude or two for the Fresno shuttle in case any of the rotation's front five break down. As laundry lists go this close to Christmas, that's fairly short. If Sabean did not take a page from Whitey Herzog or George Weiss and use victory as a free pass to remake the roster, you can credit him with leaving the major pieces in place, not getting silly and overpaying Uribe, and not exercising Renteria's option. You can fidget over whether he wouldn't have been better off taking arbitration out of the equation and simply negotiating with Ross directly, but that's a fairly minor quibble. Thanks mostly to the strength of that rotation, it should also make for a team still quite capable of 85 wins or more, enough to keep themselves in both the NL West and wild-card races.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Giants Outfield,  Reward

19 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Chomsky
(103)

Sabean tried to overpay Uribe (3/$20M offer), but the Nedster outbid him by $1M - so let's not be too hasty in crediting Sabean for that.

Dec 21, 2010 04:32 AM
rating: 0
 
drmorris

"A reasonable collection of moves," granted...but I can't help but be disappointed by the Giants' offseason. The division is so (re)winnable, and the offense so obviously screaming for a one more serious bat, that I can't help but wonder whether hitters' paranoia about AT&T Park prevented the signing of a Dunn/Lee type for a mid-lineup upgrade. (Though I suppose Lee might still be on the way, and would be a welcome sight.)

Dec 21, 2010 09:39 AM
rating: 0
 
69wildcat

Not to pick nits, but wouldn't signing Lee force Huff into an outfield corner? I'm not so sure that Lee has much left anyway; from what I could see last season (small sample size for sure) it appeared that his bat had really slowed down.

Dec 21, 2010 10:29 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

There's also Brandon Belt to consider either at 1B, or LF

Dec 21, 2010 10:37 AM
rating: 3
 
yekkel

I've read recently that Lee was battling injuries last year and is now healthier. Whether that's true or not, I watched most of his at-bats last season and he looked completely cooked.

Dec 21, 2010 13:33 PM
rating: 0
 
drmorris

In any case, I don't mind Huff in RF -- he acquitted himself pretty well in his time out there. I'd gladly take the risk if it cleared way for anyone resembling a thumper at 1B.

Given SF's notoriously poor track record for graduating hitters to the bigs, I'm filing Belt in the "hopefully please maybe" category.

Dec 21, 2010 14:45 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Exactly. With all due deference to prospect mongers, when it comes to Giants position players, I'm definitely inclined towards my late-adopter, late-endorser instincts.

Dec 21, 2010 20:01 PM
 
rweiler

Sabean has the luxury of having Brandon Belt waiting in the wings as a mid-lineup upgrade if one is needed - assuming of course that last year wasn't a fluke and that he can hit major league breaking balls. And just having Sandoval revert to 2009 form would be an offensive upgrade.

Dec 21, 2010 10:49 AM
rating: 0
 
bbienk01

Thanks for this fair evaluation, Christina. While I would have loved to see a major move to upgrade the offense, I don't see that there were better options out there than what Sabean did short of signing Carl Crawford or trading for Adrian Gonzalez.

I prefer Aubrey Huff to any of the 1B options in this market except for Adam Dunn (even ignoring that he's one of the most entertaining personalities in the game), and the hometown discount from Pat Burrell is ridiculous. Not a fan of the Miguel Tejada signing, but at least its only a one year deal, and in this lineup he should hit 8th.

The offense should be much improved in 2011 simply by virtue of full seasons from Buster Posey, Cody Ross, and Pat Burrell, each of whom replaced black holes in the lineup. If Ross can replicate his 2008-2009 production rather than his career-worst 2010, all the better. While I expect them to be worse at SS and at 1B/CF (due to some regression from Huff and Torres), in addition to the major improvement at catcher and the outfield corners, there is at least the possibility of improvement at 3B (either a return to health from De Rosa or a return to form from Sandoval). Plus Brandon Belt.

Even without an impact bat, this should be at least an average offense, which is more than enough to win with this pitching staff.

Dec 21, 2010 16:13 PM
rating: 1
 
bbienk01

I should add, I'm no apologist for Brian Sabean . . . this is the first off-season I can remember that I wasn't calling for his head. Maybe the World Series has mellowed me.

Dec 21, 2010 16:24 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

It can do that. Depending on your market and your standards... When it comes to field or staff management, I still think the most surprising managerial firing of my lifetime was Don Zimmer's execution at the hands of the Cubs in '91, because I figured the improbable run of '89 would give him a fairly long rope to be a local hero. (Non-previous winner of anything as a skipper, non-Steinbrenner category, I think you have to rank Tony Perez's ridiculously early firing in '93 by the Reds as the most unfair decision, at least of my lifetime.)

Dec 21, 2010 20:06 PM
 
Gregjitsu

The G's offseason was pretty boring, but that's because the needs were fairly simple. My one disappointment is signing Tejada. I thought it was an unfortunate but excusable reaction to a thin market. But Hardy and Ryan were traded for essentially nothing. I would much rather have either of those guys than Tejada. Miggy doesn't have a lot left in his bat, and both those guys play a much better shortstop than Tejada does.

Other than that, I really have nothing to say. I would have loved for us to snag Werth, but not at the price he commanded.

Dec 21, 2010 17:54 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I think you're right to complain about Tejada vs. the broader field of alternatives outside of Renteria and Uribe, because the Giants did have and do have better stuff they might have thrown at Bartlett or Hardy than what it took to land either, talent they could afford to contend without in 2011.

Dec 21, 2010 20:08 PM
 
Cyborgology

This, exactly. I thought that signing Tejada instead of trying to beat the trade offers for Bartlett or Hardy was just a poor, poor decision. If I'm not mistaken, Hardy/Bartlett won't be any more expensive than Tejada and are not in the twilight of their respective careers (ie they could've be a longer term answer at SS for the Giants)

Dec 22, 2010 14:33 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

And both are significantly less dodgy defensive propositions. As much as I like the Giants (like the Padres and Yankees) effectively deciding they can get by with a bit more bat than glove at short because of a strikeout-generating staff, that wasn't absolutely necessary. This was much too much like re-signing Sanchez--it didn't matter that many better options were available, this was an ex-famous person in a hurry to sign, and for better *and* worse, the Giants do like'm ex-famous.

Dec 22, 2010 14:50 PM
 
rweiler

I complained about this is another thread; Sabean allowed Joe Paterson to get away via the rule 5 draft, and Paterson was at least as good as either of the guys that the Twins got for Hardy. Toss in a guy like Jason Stoffel or Steve Edliefsen, and that's a much better package than what the Twins got, and the Giants wouldn't have missed them in 2011.

Dec 22, 2010 09:47 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Do you base your opinion on scouting reports, or minor league stats/equivalences?

Dec 22, 2010 15:03 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

Pure stats - and age. How much value does a 27 yro minor league reliever with an injury history and control issues really have? Because that's 1/2 of the package that the Twins got for Hardy. Granted, he did strike out a lot of guys in the minors, but strikeouts aren't everything (see: Hinshaw, Alex) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=hoey--001jam

Dec 22, 2010 15:27 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

You are skipping a few important factors that would likely negate your theory. First one would be combined service time - how much club control would the Twins have on Hoey and Jacobson versus how much on Paterson and Player X? Second one would be scouting reports - what tools do all four pitchers have?

Dec 22, 2010 15:46 PM
rating: 0
 
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