Rowand: 5 years, $60M
The Giants signed free agent Aaron Rowand to a 5 year, $60M contract today (link there to press conference). They want him for his hustle and clubhouse attitude, as much as his offense and defense in CF. He's the big bat that the Giants were looking for, ending their flirtation with Rios and Matsui. They are still looking for a starting 3B, support at 1B, and relievers. They are still pursuing Feliz, 3 year is out of the question, but apparently 2 years is not.
The Merc's newspaper account (so no link) has more info on the contract. Rowand gets an $8M signing bonus, $4M in 2008, $4M in 2009. For salary, he gets $8M in 2008-2009 and $12M in 2010-2012. He has full no-trade protection in 2008 and partial for the rest of the contract.
We Are Keeping Cain and Lincecum for 2008
Most importantly, they will not listen to any more offers for Cain or Lincecum. He only listened because when you are in last place, you have to listen to every proposal brought to you. But he felt the exercise was good, saying "We know the value of both individuals, believe me, and maybe more so after we've gone through this exercise. These might be the hottest two names in baseball."
No More OF
They also will not pursue any other OF, in fact, probably have a surplus that they can trade off. Not expecting anything good to come out of the non-tenders either. They are looking for 3B, support for 1B (suggesting that Ortmeier will get an extended chance to play there), and relief pitchers.
They know that they are a team in transition and expect to improve their offense by doing more hit and run, more SB, more first to third, by playing solid fundamental baseball. Because they cannot rely on one guy anymore, they will expect (and need) every one to contribute, top to bottom. They want to win the 3-2 and 4-3 games that they didn't win in 2007.
The most important result of this deal, for me, is that the Rios-Lincecum deal is officially dead. I still don't think that it was going to happen, but the uncertainty killed me. Sometimes bad situations make you do the wrong thing, so I don't blame them for even thinking about it, I'm just glad Lincecum is here for 2008 (and that has nothing to do with me recently buying my first t-shirt with a player's name on it - Lincecum - since I bought a Bonds t-shirt). Sabean, in fact, noted in the press conference (Baggarly's account):
"I did my job, I listened. I said before that's what we have to do as a last-place team. I never put either pitcher on the market or said I would trade either pitcher. We know the value of both individuals, believe me, moreso now that we've gone through this exercise. They may be the two hottest names in baseball."I wish he would have cleared this up earlier, but I guess he needed to keep Toronto hanging there just in case they had to go back to them. This also clarifies that it was Toronto who asked the Giants for Lincecum, though it might have been Sabean who called them and inquired about Rios. And given Sabean reticience to trade Lincecum away, I think that gives more credence to my theory that the owners were the ones keeping this deal alive.
Another CF for 5 years?
I understand other fan's consternation over Rowand's signing though. "What, another CF with some power, some speed? And for 5 years?" According to the book, the Graphical Player, the early 30's are when CF starts to thin out, assuming there's an average amount of CF by age, so I suppose there should be some concern about that. Plus his hard play reminds me of Ken Griffey Jr. and how he was reduced from a great player to merely good because of his injuries, so I guess that would be my greater fear right now, that he injures himself along the way early in the contract playing this way.
But injuries aside, it appears that worries about his reliability are a bit overblown. Ron Shandler's 2007 Baseball Forecaster had a study on reliability of batters as they age and what he found was that typically hitters peak at age 29-30 (Rowand will be 30 the first year of the contract), then go into a minor decline for four years. At age 35 is when players appear to cross the chasm between aged wonder and retirement home, where there is a secondary peak in performance in their mid-to-late 30's for those who make it over.
But Rowand is only signed to his 34th year season, he would become a free agent for his age 35 season. So while there is no 100% guarantee, at least a study has shown that players are pretty steady in performance in their early 30's, though at a slight decline. The study's author concluded: "to maximize your upside from both a skills and reliability standpoint, you might consider limiting the pool of draftable players to 29-34 year-old batters..." (Note: the book is devoted to fantasy baseball, but most of the findings apply to real life as well)
Rowand Good Hitter
I took a look through Rowand's stats and here is what I've found. Because he has played at parks that skew towards hitters, I looked only at his Away stats at certain peripherals that pertain to his batting skills. His key BB/K ratio has been pretty steady while a full time player, he had a low in 2005 in BB but a high in 2007, but his second half 2007 reverted to his career rate, so he's pretty much around 0.28 BB/K but had a nice peak in 2007. That is a very low ratio, but he's proven that he can hit like this. Since there is no sign of regression there in 2007, it looks like his skills are not declining at all, based on this indicator.
His away bat control is pretty good too, though not great. His contact rate (which is one minus his K%) has been very steady at 80-81% during his four full seasons. The best hitters have it over 85%, but as I noted, he's been successful at what he does, so I would only be concerned if his K-rate took a turn for the worse and similarly for his BB%. He is still going strong with this indicator as well.
His away BABIP has been pretty consistent as well. It has been basically around the low .340's, which is excellent. He had a poor BABIP in 2006 of .293, so that would explain his poor year in 2006. Over his career, his peripherals have been pretty steady so I don't think there should be much concern that he is on the verge of decline, he probably should continue hitting well for at least a year or two if not more.
Another stat I thought I would examine was his extra base hit percentage (XH%) for both home and away. Obviously, playing at two parks that increased homers might skew things, and it did in Chicago but not much in Philly. His XH% in Chicago was a full 5 percentage points higher at home than on the road, whereas they were pretty much equal in Philly. The good thing to note is that his XH% has been pretty steady over the year except for a bad year in 2005 (also the year his BB% took a dive; looks like it was just an anomalous bad year). It has basically been in the high 30's, which is pretty good, and which we need in the middle of the lineup.
I also used the MLB.com's Hit Chart and printed out Rowand's hits in Philly and compared it with AT&T to see where the balls he hit there would do in SF. Being a right-handed hitter, most of his homers were pulled to LF, and he might lose one or two out of 17. He had one to CF - homer in SF still - and three to RF, where I am not sure how they would have done since the brick wall goes up so high. However, he is most definitely a gap hitter, he hit 9 balls into the area we call Death Valley in right-CF, 8 for doubles, and I would expect at least half or 4 of them to be turned into triples.
So I don't expect that moving to SF will affect his hitting all that much in our park, the question is how his Away numbers will turn out since he will now hit in severe pitchers parks in LA and SD. That I don't know but as long as he can hit like he has - and I see no reason why not - he should be fine batting 5th for us, doubles at that lineup position is good there too for driving in runs.
And I view his hitting in 2004 and 2007 to be more the norm for him than 2005 and 2006, because the injury might have affected his play in 2006 - in fact, he had OPS in the 800-900 range to start the season, then settled for low 700 and poor overall BABIP after attacking the fence with his hard-nose attitude - and he just had a bad year in 2005, his XB% was way down, which obviously affected his SLG greatly (28% in 2005 vs. 40% in 2004 for away; 34% vs. 45% for home) and his BB% was more than halved, reducing his BB/K from 0.28 in 2004 to 0.12 in 2005, which obviously killed his OBP that year (FYI, 0.29 in 2006, 0.48 in 2007, but 0.28 in the second half of 2007, so that was a fluke, kind of like Feliz's heightened walk rate in the first half of 2007).
If he can hit for a high OPS and OBP, like he did in 2004 and 2007, he probably should be our clean up hitter, much in the mode of Stan the Man Musial, who hit for a lot of doubles and some homerun power. That spot requires someone with a high OBP and Molina hitting there would just cripple our offense. And Rowand has hit for much higher OPS than I expected, I just thought he was more of a defensive guy, he's actually been a .900 OPS hitter twice, legitimately, in the past four years, and his down years are the ones that appear to be the flukes.
All in all, I like the signing. Beyond the happiness knowing that Lincecum stays a Giant, Rowand is a good addition to the team, in terms of bat, glove, and clubhouse presence (nice interview that shows his personality and demeanor here).
Yes, another CF, but as Sabean likes to say, the roster is a work in progress, so I will worry more the logjam there if it still exists in spring training. Meanwhile, he gives us a legitimately plus bat in the OF, not just average or worse like the others. Some question his bat and whether he can be a middle of the lineup presence, but he hit 5th most of last season and had 89 RBI and his extra basehit percentage is up in the high 30's, which is pretty good, and his OPS was .889. And hitting in AT&T won't really affect his power much, him being a righty, as the homers he may lose in RF will still be doubles at least, and he is more a gap hitter in right-CF, so he should get back the bases by stretching a few doubles into triples.
The contract is long, but that's the price of players like Rowand today. His comparables in terms of length last off-season were the signings of Gary Matthews Jr, Juan Pierre, and Carlos Lee, who all got 5 years or more. He is definitely better than either Matthews and Pierre, being their equals or better in terms of defense and offense, and while he doesn't have the offensive history of Carlos Lee, he did hit as well as Carlos Lee in 2007 whereas Lee is a statue in the OF.
The salary is not that bad either. Lee got $16.7M per season average vs. Rowand's $12M per, making Rowand a bargain relatively to him. Both Matthews and Pierre got about $9-10M per season, and I think Rowand is easily 20% better (plus it's a year later now so the Matthews and Pierres would get $10-11M this offseason, based on the typical 10% inflation on salaries assumption). Andruw Jones got $18M per for two seasons, and if you got the old Jones, then that's a bargain, but if you got the 2007 version, you are totally screwed, so I like the risk-reward for Rowand much better, he's a much lower risk overall and his reward is pretty good still.
But, yes, this is a high risk/high reward type of contract. However, any free agent contract today of a good player will be high risk. Will Rowand be this good for the whole contract? Probably not. Luckily, he appears to be a plus hitter and thus he probably should continue to be for at least 2 years of that 5 year contract. And according to the study in Shandler's book, players typically peak at age 29-30 (Rowand's first season with us he will be 30) then have a small decline the next four seasons (rest of Rowand's contract) so the odds favor Rowand being good for us during the life of his contract (pretty being OPS over 800).
He is also the CF that the Giants have been searching for, in terms of defense. He is a gold glove CF, though his PMR rating is only average for the past two seasons, slightly above in 2006, slightly below in 2007. That appears to be confirmed per his defensive stats on baseball-reference.com, his fielding percentage, zone range, and zone range per 9 innings are all about average for his career. However, in 2007, he was much higher in fielding percentage and zone range than the league average so there was some growth there over his career. And with our centerfield and Death Valley, we need a good defensive player there.
For all the reasons above, I like the Rowand signing. I have no idea what impact he will have in the clubhouse - I thought Morris would have done something for the team too - but he has that "warrior attitude" that Bochy said was lacking in the Giants clubhouse in 2007, and matches what I would call the attitude of both Cain and Lincecum, definitely Cain for sure, but Lincecum has a pretty big chip on his shoulder that probably drives him to "warrior"-like behavior. At the very least, he will lead by example, with his hard-nosed play and desire to play everyday and play through the aches and pain of a full season.
Impact on OF
I'm not happy that Schierholtz won't get a chance to start in RF, but I prefer that over losing Lincecum for Rios. In fact, this might work out better because Rios would have been the RF, whereas now it is Randy Winn and he could be traded away to open up space for Schierholtz and Lewis to start there.
Between Winn and Roberts, Winn is the more likely to be traded, he hit better last season plus plays the whole season whereas Roberts needs to be platooned, he can play all the OF positions, and their contracts are comparable. Also, Sabean noted that Roberts probably needs to be kept around since he's the team's only prototypical leadoff hitter, though he also noted that some of the young hitters will get a chance there (which I presume refers to Davis and Lewis).