Monday, November 20, 2006

Plan B for the Giants: Cashing in Draft Picks, See You in 4-6 Years

I knew going with my guesses at the team would look pretty stupid, but I didn't expect it to happen so soon: Stanton has been signed by the Reds to a 2 year contract (he was looking for $2.5M and the kicker was the Reds guaranteed the second year whereas the Giants only offered an option) and Justin Speier has been signed by the Angels to a 4 year, $16M contract. Both are crazy contracts but there appears to be more where that came from: Alfonso Soriano has reportedly already been signed by the Cubs to an 8 year, $156M ($17M per year) contract by the Cubs. But basestealers don't really age that well, particularly ones not named Rickey Henderson or Lou Brock.

The Cubbies apparently made an "all-in" bet on Soriano because the owner is looking to sell the team, so the team is overspending this season (there is talk about them going to the $110-120M level when they were at $95M last season) to make the team look pretty and attractive to any potential buyers, if only for one season. Now, they have their high profile expensive new manager, Lou Piniella, retained Aramis Ramirez with his big new contract, added Mark DeRosa at 2B with a 3 years, $13M contract for a 30-something player who has never been a starter before, and re-signed a bunch of their guys, Kerry Wood, Wade Miller, and Henry Blanco, plus traded for Neal Cotts, who had his one good season in 2005 sandwiched by two very poor seasons.

What About the Giants?

But enough about the Cubbies blowing away the salary structure this off-season because they don't really care about the rest of the owners in the MLB, what about the Giants plans, in light of this feeding frenzy for players with a pulse (see Frank Catalanotto getting 3 years, $13M from the Rangers, who had just lost DeRosa). I think dipping our toes into the waters would be the equivalent of dipping our toes into a pool of pirahnas, you will find a big chunk bitten out. However, with 11 spots to fill, it will be impossible not to sign somebody.

First Things First: Sign Bonds

With all this craziness happening, I would prefer that the Giants just bite the bullet and sign Bonds. I've been pushing to play hardball with Bonds because he doesn't have much leverage but at this rate, he could be wanting Soriano type money for real and drag this into spring training, and he has no incentive to run this long either, the money is flowing fast and if he stalls too long, there might not be any money left to offer him, much like I-Rod in 2003 when the Marlins picked him up for almost nothing (most of it deferred) just before spring training was to start. He's the elephant in the room, just call a truce and get him done and move onto the rest of the team, as that move will dictate how much money the Giants will have left to spend on the rest of the team, there's probably no way to field a good team now, unless there is a great trade, so we'll just have to do best as we can and try to conserve money to spend in 2007's off-season.

Centerpiece Du Jour

Despite all the talk about not chasing a centerpiece player, apparently the Giants were in the chase for Soriano and made a good enough bid to make the second round of bidding before the Cubs made their "All-In" bet to secure his services, and now the Giants are turning to their second choice, Carlos Lee. I have been against getting Carlos Lee because his numbers for his career are nice but not superstar nice and he's looking to get that type of money this season, probably more than what Vlad got just a few years ago.

For one, he's already 30 years old, and will be 31 next season, so a five year contract (he could want more now that Soriano got 8 years) would cover ages 31-35, part of his peak but mainly post-peak years when most players who are not superstars start to degrade noticeably. For an example of that, look at Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham - the former just degraded and the latter, while hitting well, unfortunately age had made him injury prone after 6 straight years of 150+ games played and no DL time to speak of during his career prior to the Giants.

In addition, despite playing in parks that helps a hitter's offense normally - ChiSox, Brewers and Rangers - he has never had a season with an OPS above 900, though he has been close twice with two seasons of 890's in two of the past three seasons. That's nice but he wants to be paid like Vlad and Ordonez, both of whom had OPS in the high 900 and 1000 regularly in the years before they turned free agents. Even Carlos Beltran did 900+ for two straight years before going free agent - and on an upward trend - whereas Carlos Lee appears to have hit a peak/plateau in his 28 and 30 year old seasons, with only down as his way to go.

Silver Lining, I Guess

The only silver lining, and it is extremely dependent on very small samples, is that he loves hitting in NL West parks:

AT&T: .375/.444/.833/1.278 in 24 AB, 3 HR
PETCO: .333/.407/.667/1.074 in 24 AB, 2 HR
Dodger: .325/.372/.700/1.072 in 40 AB, 4 HR
Chase: .323/.400/.516/.916 in 31 AB, 2 HR
Coors: .182/.250/.364/.614 in 11 AB, 0 HR

And, over his career, in the NL (excluding his time in Miller which would skew everything much lower) he has hit .295/.348/.583/931 in 566 AB with 42 HR. If he could hit every year like that for us, then I would be on board to get him. But is that the real Carlos Lee or is it the one who hit in Miller Field, a HR home park, a relatively paltry .263/.325/.484/.809 in 494 AB albeit with 27 dingers? According to Bill James stats, Miller Park is a relatively neutral park, pushing a RHH like him, to hit worse for average (96/100) but much better for homers (112). It also adds to walks (106), which counteracts the lowering of batting average for a net neutral affect, relatively, on OBP, and runs scored (103). So which Carlos will we be signing, the .800 OPS hitter or the .900+ OPS hitter?

Risky, Risky, Risky But Risky In Any Case

Thus I think it is risky to sign Carlos Lee to a contract, but given all the dollars being flung around like toilet paper thus far, it might not be the worse thing to do from the Giants viewpoint. As I tried to show with my try at constructing a team with the available budget and free agent pool, the Giants are kind of stuck this season in terms of building the team via free agency, hampered by the fact that two positions they were suppose to be set at for next season - closer and catcher - are in need as well and by the fact that even with all that money available, they had to make compromises at positions like catcher, starting pitcher, and CF, signing much older players, just to field a competitive team, unless you want to see Ortmeier, Winn, Linden in the OF, Niekro , Frandsen, Vizquel, and 3B free agent in the infield, and Alfonzo catching and kiss the season goodbye from day one, which is what some fans have advocated. But if you sign Bonds, you owe it to him and the fans to try to put up a competitive team to try one more time to get that World Series championship for him as well as for us fans..

If they can at least sign Bonds and Lee, they have their middle of the lineup up set and can go cheap with Frandsen at 2B and sign someone like Stairs to man 1B for a season before hopefully either EME or Ishikawa are ready to move up to the majors in 2008. Better to have one bad contract than a whole bunch of them, then cross your fingers that Lee will turn out better than his career stats have shown. And choosing among the poisons that have been mentioned strongly as OF possibilities - Soriano, Lee, Pierre, and Matthews - Lee is probably the best choice out of them: Soriano's speed is a huge component of his value but he's entering his 30's when most basestealers totally lose it, Pierre has had horrible OBP plus no power the past few seasons, and Matthews was a career backup/journeyman before having his career year at age 31 (for example of what might happen when someone has a career year during the end of the peak years, see Robby Thompson stats, his contract was as responsible for the problems of the mid-1990's losing as Bonds and Williams big contracts and Williams injury streak with us).

Draft Picks Galore

Stanton's signing means the Giants get a draft pick in the supplemental round between 1st and 2nd, thus meaning that the trade now stands as Shairon Martis for a couple months of Stanton and this draft pick. Given how poorly Martis progressed, month by month, during the 2006 season while pitching for the Augusta Greenjackets, I think this trade ends up pretty fairly. In addition, it appears that the Mets are very close to signing Moises Alou, and that would bring us their 1st round pick and a supplemental round pick. That would be three additional picks plus our 9/10 pick overall for the season, meaning we would have 4 picks among the top 40 players drafted.

There could even be more coming. If Schmidt or Durham is signed before the deadline (or if they are signed after we offered arbitration, likely for either of them), then we would also receive two picks for each of them, as they both are Type A free agents as well. In addition, if we luck out and someone signs Feliz early, we would get a supplemental pick as he is a Type B as well. That is potentially another 5 picks in the top 50 or 60 draft picks for 2007, depending on how many supplemental picks are awarded.

Plan B and C and F...

If we can sign Barry and Carlos, then the top of the order will probably be Vizquel, Frandsen, Winn, Bonds, and Lee, which would not be that bad, assuming Winn returns to his pre-injury career form and that this is not an Edagardo Alfonzo redux, and Frandsen hits anywhere close to how he has been hitting in the AFL, where he recently won the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award and was batting .388/.480/.588/1.068 in 85 AB with 4 HR and 12 BB/4 K and 8 SB in 10 attempts - he clearly wants to start and it is looking more and more like he will be given that chance given the insane salaries being handed out thus far plus it appears Durham's salary demands has risen to 2 years and $20M.

Even if signed no one else that would leave Niekro at 1B, Alfonzo at C, and I Don't Know at 3B - just let the market go crazy and pick up the last 3B standing. That would mean 3B bats 6th, Niekro bats 7th (which is not that bad, if he can build on his AAA performance late last season), and Alfonzo bats 8th. That is not the greatest bottom of the lineup, but with the median OPS of .772 for 6th place hitters, .714 for 7th place hitters, and .695 for 8th place hitters, for NL teams in 2006, Lance Niekro at .719 OPS lifetime and .673 OPS in 2006 is right about there for 7th place hitters with some upside if he did learn, plus he'll be 28 next season, which is in most players peak physical years and Eliezer Alfonzo at .767 OPS in 2006 and .729 OPS for the second half of the season would be right there for 8th place hitters. That would leave trying to find a .772 hitter at 3B for 6th place, which will be problematic with this weak free agent group.

3B Junk Bin

There are not any solid choices at 3B, but that is what you get when you shop in the free agent market sometimes (a lot of the times?). Aramis Ramirez (28) was the biggest and bestest free agent, though technically he was never a free agent, he resigned with the Cubs before testing the waters. Next, according to ESPN are Aubrey Huff (29) and Rich Aurilia (35), who they ranked as the 32nd and 34th best free agents. For comparison, they rated Ray Durham as 22nd, Hillenbrand as 24th, Maddux 26th, Stanton 30th, Gary Matthews 35th, Kenny Lofton 36th, and Moises Alou 37th. Other 3B options are (alphabetically): David Bell, Geoff Blum, Aaron Boone, Vinny Castilla, Jeff Cirillo, Pedro Feliz, Tony Graffanino, Joe Randa, and Fernando Tatis; Wes Helms and Scott Spiezio have already signed, Helms for 2 years $5.45M with Phillies to start at 3B for them, and Spiezio for 2 years, $4.5M to play backup for the Cards again (Rolen is not going anywhere).

A sorry lot of 3B when Huff and Aurilia are considered the top of the class. The Giants have been rumored to be in the mix for Aurilia but he seems to be on the list of a number of teams, including the Yankees for 1B (surprisingly) and that might be attractive to him since he grew up in the New York City area, in Brooklyn. Huff is probably out of our price range, and, nevertheless, is not that good defensively at 3B. Hate to say it but we will probably end up with an old vet signed, like Castilla or Cirillo, with the silver lining that (hopefully) it is a one year deal and the money will be available next season for the better free agent crop.

Another Plan B

Even with the mad money making his salary palatable, the Phillies are probably still looking to shed Pat Burrell. I would prefer trading for him and giving up a minor prospect (Hedrick? Whitaker?) than signing Carlos Lee to a contract, since he only has 2 more years on it, though it doesn't look like we'll be able to palm Benitez onto the Phillies anymore since the Phillies blinked and let the Cubs take Soriano from them. But who knows, maybe they'll have a change of heart.

The fact is Burrell controls everything with his no-trade clause and he hasn't made any noise of opening up the list beyond the Yankees, Red Sox, and Giants. And I doubt he will, because he knows he will get a chance to play full-time with the Giants whereas the Phillies will continue to substitute for him regularly. He will get his money either way and if he has another season with the Phillies, well, that's what he was expecting anyway, may as well try to force a trade to the Giants, it was worth a shot. So if the Phillies want to save money and get someone like Carlos Lee, they better move fast, particularly since the Giants are after Lee as well, trading Burrell to them would probably take them out of the race for Lee's services.

In any case, the Giants need a legit RBI guy in the #5 spot, and with Durham's salary going from OK but swallowable, to too much for a gimpy 2B, Lee and Burrell are just as good replacement for Durham's bat and more economical due to their generally better health, though Burrell has been battling a leg problem of some sort. I would prefer them over Durham at the salaries being talked about for Durham (2, maybe now 3, years for $10M per).

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