Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BP 2008 Free Agent Bargain Hunting

If there's one thing I like to do, it would be bargain hunting. The Giants are probably doing similarly as while they have a lot of money available, they have too many holes to fill, so they will need to be economical if they want to maximize spending. Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan wrote an article going over free agents that he thinks would be undervalued in one way or another. I thought I would cover some here, with a Giants twist:

  • Bobby Abreu: Like we need another OF. Giants should pass.
  • Derek Lowe: El Lefty Malo has been making multiple pitches for the Giants to sign him (latest here). As I noted on his site, I would rather improve the bullpen so that Lincecum and Cain win the games they should have won instead of having the bullpen lose them, than get a starter and improve the #5 starting spot. I like Lowe as a starter, if we could get him, the relievers and a hitter then I would be OK with it, but economics says that the Giants realistically can only get a hitter and either two relievers or one starter. I would rather have two relievers.
  • Kerry Wood: Speaking of relievers, I would love him but he probably wants to close, so he probably wouldn't want to come here. And with his stats, I don't see why another team won't sign him as closer. But if he's still available after New Year's, maybe he'll be amenable to being our righty set-up man.
  • Randy Johnson: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs.
  • Juan Cruz: This article makes him sound like ROOGY; if so, pass, we need a righty set-up reliever instead.
  • Mike Mussina: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs.
  • Jason Giambi: He really should be a DH, pass.
  • John Smoltz: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs. Or if he's willing to be our righty set-up reliever for the going market price for one of those.
  • Cesar Izturis: Sounds like a great defensive SS and his bat couldn't have been worse than what we had last season, probably an upgrade over the poor hitting Bocock and Vizquel showed much of the season, even as poorly as Izturis hits. And I would assume that he would not make that much money, in the $3-5M range, and Sabean loves good defense.
  • Russell Branyan: Lots of Giants fans like him and he's free again and could play 3B for us. I would rather play Sandoval there mostly full-time and give some of our prospects starting time at 1B, but Branyan could be a nice proven pickup, though I'm not sure how he would fit in, as both Ishikawa and Bowker are also lefties and Sandoval switch-hits, so the only combo that would work is Branyan at 3B, Ishi/Bow at 1B, and Sandoval at C, and that's against RHP. Molina would not be happy losing a lot of starts that way, so this combo would used not very often. More likely would be Branyan at 3B and Sandoval at 1B against RHP, maybe Frandsen at 3B and Sandoval at 1B against LHP. Basically it's Branyan vs. Ish/Bow. I think I would rather see what they can do, particularly Ishikawa, but the Giants are looking for experience. However, given Sabean's statements, I don't see the Giants getting him, he is not really a big acquisition, very complementary, won't be that big a boost to the lineup necessarily.
Giants Thoughts

First, I'll note again that I would rather play the hand we are dealt with than add free agents. But the Giants have to sell tickets so they need to get a few free agents, one to "prove" to ticket buyers that they are serious about winning, two to hopefully win enough to be respectable in the division, which they were not that far from in 2008. If Roberts would have went on the DL at the start of the season, the Giants probably wouldn't have lost those 6 games he started and produced very little. That would have put them more around 74-75 win level in 2008, which is not that far from .500 or 81 wins.

Out of this group of free agents, the one who sticks out as attractive to the Giants is Cesar Izturis. Unfortunately, the best comparison is Neifi Perez, but if we can get him at a cheap enough contract, a la what we've been paying Vizquel, I think it could work out. His overall career stats have been hurt by playing in LA for home, .652 OPS away vs. .606 OPS at home, and he has hit .663 OPS in 157 PA at AT&T Park. Giants SS collectively hit .228/.295/.281/.576, so he could be a huge improvement offensively, as poorly as he has hit during his career. And the article notes his +21 Plus/Minus rating for 2008, which is great fielding in that rating system. He got $2.85M last year from the Cards and $3-4M in 2006-2007. That would not be too bad and he would still improve the offense.

Two others I like but doubt we would get are Kerry Wood and John Smoltz. I assume they will get better contracts and roles with other teams. But if not, they could be very interesting additions for a good price (assuming it goes down with the lack of demand), Wood as set-up, Smoltz either as setup or possibly even starter. There is risk with both that they could come up lame at some point during their contract, but when they are healthy, they are lights out.

Benefit of Lights Out Relievers

And that's what we need, lights out relievers. People forget already, but the Giants bullpen was actually pretty good early on. Valdez and Taschner were shutting things down then handing off to Wilson, and the Giants outside of the losses that Dave Roberts gave us by trying to play with his injury were around .500. Then Valdez was lost for what turned out to be the season, which pushed Walker into that role, and things went downhill from there, plus along the way Taschner wasn't effective anymore either, perhaps he was pushed into a role where he couldn't succeed in. That's when the team started going downhill in terms of losing, helped by the loss of Durham from the offense. Then when we got Romo and Hinshaw going well for us at the end, plus some offense back, we played .500 ball again.

Those are reasons why I think the Giants are not that far away from playing .500 ball. A season is not static, a one snapshot captures all type of phenomenon, you have to look at the parts and see what's there and why they were successful in parts and not successful in other parts, and see which represent the team going forward, the successful or the unsuccessful parts. What I see is a team capable of .500 as is.

.500 Team

Here is what I see for the Giants in 2009 right now:

Starting Rotation: Lincecum should continue to do well, his 2009 was foretold by his 2008 after he adjusted to the league. It should only get better, as scary a proposition that sounds for opposing batters. Cain had his first season where he actually pitched well overall on the road, showing progress, development, and maturity. With a stronger bullpen, the wins he had but lost should boost his W/L and get Giants fans off his back about him being a "loser"; he's no loser, he's a gamer.

Next, we have Zito and Sanchez combine to be the 3/4 starters. Zito showed great improvement late in the season, showing that his fastball was back to early career velocity when he was most successful, plus he was striking out batters in a volume that he hadn't done in 4-5 seasons, again, back early in his career. However, even if he falters, he has pitched about that of a #4 starter most of this time as a Giant. Sanchez, meanwhile, pitched like a top of rotation starter for most of 2008 before horrible starts ruined his season. He and Zito might falter, but I expect one or the other to be able to pitch like a #3 or better while the other one would be a #4 starter for 2009.

People worry about the #5 starter, and if we were trying to win the division, that would be a worry, but most teams have a crappy #5 anyway, so whether Lowry, Misch, Pucetas or whoever ends up there, no matter how badly he pitches, it would be no worse than other team's #5. And our #5 starter problems should be over in 2010 when either Bumgarner or Alderson or both join the rotation.

Bullpen: We now have a core group of Wilson, Affeldt, Romo, and Hinshaw. Wilson is the closer and did very well when put into save situations and very NOT well when put into non-save situations, so the simple solution is to not use him in non-save situations much. Affeldt and Romo both have closer-like characteristics, so set-up should be good, plus Hinshaw was pretty good pitching in against both LHP and RHP. Affeldt probably anchors the 8th while Romo and Hinshaw got the 7th covered, plus contribute regularly to 8th.

If the Giants are able to obtain a vet righty reliever to be the set-up guy, even better. An improved bullpen could add up to 10 wins to Lincecum and Cain together. Lincecum lost 5 wins himself in 2008 and I would think that Cain had lost at least that many. That right there would bring us to over .500 if nothing else is changed.

Offense: Biggest question mark on the team now, which is not a surprise to any Giants fan, it's like saying the sky is blue and moon circles the Earth. As much crap that Rowand took from fans, his OPS+ was 94, not worth $12M but an average CF gets around $9-10M today anyway, so he wasn't that big a drag on the offense overall. His problem was hitting great in April/May then hitting crappy the rest of the season. You don't lose hitting ability suddenly like that unless you are injured, so I think if he's healthy in 2009, you will see great stuff. Ay, matey, dar be the catch: he's often injured.

But Molina was good, as well as Lewis, Winn, and Sandoval. And I would expect Schierholtz to do well if he was given the chance in 2009. Frandsen and Burriss both look like they can hit in the majors as well, their strikeout rate is very good thus far in the majors, small samples, but still they are doing what they were doing in the minors, so that's a good sign. Velez, as well, showed some sign of life in his bat late in the year as well, and his strikeout rate was good too, though not as good as Frandsen or Burriss. So we should be set for middle infielders for 2009 as well, barring any huge setbacks for the trio, plus the Giants are looking to add a SS it seems, which should solidify that even further.

It is the corner infield where the last question mark is, whichever one that Sandoval isn't playing. Again, we all know that. We just don't know what Sabean is going to do about it, if anything. Just because you plan on filling a position does not mean that you do that no matter what, sometimes you have to change your plans to fit reality. I think the Giants should just go with Ishikawa and see what happens, then give others a chance if he falters. 2009 should be for learning stuff like that with prospects we already have and not for spending big money on free agents.

Yet, even with all the questions marks, the Giants were able to win at a .500 rate for much of the season. The key, obviously, is to keep it going throughout the season and end up closer to .500 than in 2008. I think that relief was an area of great leverage where an upgrade there would pay larger dividends than anywhere else on the roster. As much as I would like to see the Giants get another hitter, I'm not convinced that we should spend big money on another hitter, I don't see us getting the value for the money given our needs, we should save the money to get this hitter next off-season once it is clearer what we have and don't have in order to be contenders in 2010.

3 comments:

  1. Cesar Izturis = DO NOT WANT!!! Why would you waste $3-5M on this bum who could not hit his way out of a wet paper bag? No thanks, but I'd rather have Burriss.....bad defense and all.

    What the Giants really need to do is trade Molina. It solves a lot of problems. He's only got one more year on his contract and they will not be resigning Molina. It clears a spot for Sandoval to be the catcher, a position that he can be a plus hitter at. They should be able to get something decent for Molina, whether it is a prospect or bullpen help.

    Obviously, if the Giants could rid themselves of Rowand and/or Winn.....in that order....it would free up spots and money to go after one or more impact players. Of course, it would require that Sabean would have to acknowledge that the Rowand signing was a mistake, which is not going to happen.

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  2. Agree with Boof!

    I would rather resign Richie to a friendly contract and try to back up Burriss.

    I also think Bengie gets traded during midseason or is offered arbitration at the end of the season. We really don't know how fast Buster will move up the system; considering he had a ton of pass balls this summer.

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  3. First, as I noted, I would prefer to not sign any free agent hitters. I am with you that I would prefer to see Burriss in that position. I would prefer to see all our prospects starting and that has been my position since the season ended.

    However, if the Giants do pursue free agents and feel the need to get a SS (which, based on all the rumors percolating upward from agents, appears to be true), I think Izturis is better to get than committing 4 years at $40M for Furcal or something up there for Orlando Cabrera or Edgar Renteria. I don't want to commit big bucks long-term to a so-so to average hitter. If we are going to commit big bucks, I would rather they do that with a big hitter.

    And the reality is that we don't control what the Giants do, they do, so I feel the need to comment on what I would want done by the Giants, given their apparent tactics and strategies.

    I still like Rowand and think it was a good signing, and I am hoping he shows it this season. He still has 4 more years to prove whether this signing was a mistake or not.

    And not too long ago, everyone was treating Randy Winn the way they are treating Aaron Rowand now, and Rowand is a better hitter than Winn.

    I think it would be a mistake to trade Molina and start Sandoval there. The thing is Sandoval is not good defensively at any position at the moment. So we need to choose a position for him now so that when we are hoping to be competitive in 2010, he can be average defensively there or at least be given a lot of practice there in 2009.

    3B is the best fit long term. Villalona right now appears able to play 1B or 3B, but his size probably means 1B is his eventual home if he has a long career. Buster Posey is most probably our long-term solution at C. The only 3B on the radar as doable is Gillaspie and he will probably not be the hitter that Sandoval looks like he could be.

    So play Sandoval mostly at 3B in 2009, give Ishikawa (and if he fails, Bowker and others) a chance at 1B, then we got Frandsen and Burriss up the middle, plus maybe Velez in the mix.

    That's what I would do.

    But the Giants appear set on getting a SS. I would rather they commit smaller dollars and less years to get Izturis if they must get a SS. He might not be able to hit out of a wet paper bag, he at least can hit better than any of our SS in 2008, which means he is still an upgrade offensively.

    Winn is the only player I want to trade, and not because he would not be useful or good, but because I want to open a spot for Schierholtz to start. We need to see if he is ready to take over in 2010 and be the starting RF for us, and 2009 should be the year for experimentation to find that out. Trading Winn would do that.

    I think, like Anon, that the Giants should keep Molina for 2009 and based on how they feel about Posey's defense and hitting (I assume he'll be a September call-up), decide whether he's ready for 2010 or not.

    However, frankly, I think Molina would be pissed and not accept arbitration and would move on to the best offer, as I doubt the Giants would offer more than a one year contract to Molina. The Giants would probably have to find a catcher willing to take a 1 year contract, maybe with an option, should Posey not be ready.

    But if Mike Piazza was able to play so long in the majors with his poor defense, I cannot imagine that Posey could be any worse defensively than Piazza, given all the positive comments I've seen from scouts about Posey's abilities.

    I like Aurilia, but I like the Giants stance that if they sign him, it would be later, which means he's probably willing to take $1M or so to be a backup for us in 2009. He is not critical to our team in 2009, but would be a great backup for the corners if available for the right price.

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