Thursday, November 03, 2011

On Your Mark: 2011 Free Agent Season

With the World Series over, after a inspiring Cards win, showing you should never give up (or an agonizing Rangers loss, coming within a strike, twice, of winning it all), free agency has officially begun in earnest.  The Giants started things out by signing Javier Lopez to a two year, $8.5M contract and picking up Jeremy Affeldt's $5M option (nice DrB discussion and commenting here, including moi).

The Chronicle's John Shea wrote an article on "SF Giants Need to Sign Carlos Beltran".  While I love getting offense, I don't see that the Giants NEED to sign Beltran.  What they need to do this off-season is get Lincecum and Cain signed to long-term deals, buying out their free agent years.  Next level of priority is signing Posey and Sandoval to long-term deals.  And it would be nice to sign Madison Bumgarner to a long-term contract as well.

But if Giants ownership do open up their pursestrings and sign Beltran (which would be ironic since apparently that is part of the reason why Neukom was forced out, his eagerness to spend the windfall money that came out of the World Championship), I would have to think that the Giants become the presumptive team to beat for the 2012 season, assuming that Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez return to the lineup doing what we think they can do for us.

But even if we do not, with our great pitching, returning such good hitters to our lineup will do wonders for our offense, particularly paired up with a slugging Sandoval.  We can win with that.  Any nice hitting by Aubrey Huff would then be the whip cream on top (hate those cheeries...).  We can still win with our offense as is as long as our pitcher is as good as it has been, though, like 2011, it would not be a sure thing (but few things are in life).

Of course, we still need a CF and SS.  I think Brandon Crawford is ready enough for us to go with him as the starter at SS.  His defense, while not UZR friendly (he was only 8.2 UZR/150; most fans think he's at least worth 2 wins or 20 UZR/150), is still pretty good, and batting 8th, he doesn't have to hit for much to be valuable to the Giants in the lineup.  His nice run in September, and now in AFL, suggests that he can get a good streak going sometimes; now he has to do it over a full season.  Because of the tight payroll, and particularly if the Giants do sign Beltran, I think it is a no-brainer to start Crawford at SS, first, because he should be good enough to start, and almost just as important, he's majorly cheap to pay.  Wouldn't mind getting Rollins, but not at the 5 years he wants or the big money he wants (more than Renteria got from us).

For CF, while not ideal, I think either Coco Crisp or David DeJesus would be OK for us atop our lineup.  Crisp is the more classic leadoff hitter except that he can't get on base, DeJesus has a great OBP but not enough speed to steal bases with, though enough to play CF in prior seasons.  1 season, 2 tops, no more than
$5M per, particularly Crisp who is injured so often.

Ideally, if Beltran could still play CF, that would be best for us, at least in 2012.  Unfortunately, his defense was pretty bad there the last two seasons he played there.  However, he was even worse in RF in 2011, so given his great offensive performance is worth even more in CF while he provides "better" (relative to RF) defense in CF, maybe he can play CF for us, with Nate Schierholtz perhaps helping him in the RF alley.

Then we would not need to sign a CF free agent, let Andres Torres and Brandon Belt fight it out for LF.  Whoever wins can be the leadoff hitter, as Belt actually ran well in the minors and typically gets on base a lot too.  His power would be a little wasted there, but that is where we need him in 2012 should he win LF.  Also, I would probably put Belt in AAA should Torres win, better to give him regular starts than sit on the bench, at least in early 2012.

Sabean also hinted at an upgrade at backup C for 2012, with the thought that Posey probably will not be able to play a full season at catcher due to his recovery, so he might sign a vet there.  I lobbied for Jose Molina previously because he's an excellent defensive catcher who knows how to handle pitchers really well (Fielding Bible II metric had him best during study period) but he's not much of a hitter.  Not sure who else is available, not really something to worry about either, though I would lobby for Stewart to keep the backup job, his batting discipline is actually pretty good, he could be one of those late developing catchers who figures out how to hit in his 30's (I think he was 29 last season).

I was also hoping that the Giants could somehow fit Mark DeRosa on the bench and sign him.  He can play so many positions (and well defensively) and he should finally be healthy in 2012.  He hit well for us at the end too.  But he wants to be back near home so if anyone on the east coast and particularly south offers him a job, he will probably take it.

Even if we don't get him, we probably only have two spots open for MI on the bench (backup catcher, probably Brett Pill, and backup OF, Torres if Belt wins).  The Giants probably have to have a reliable vet as backup SS, so Mike Fontenot probably got one position, unless the Giants can pick off a better SS for cheap in January.  That leaves only one spot and we have two players who we will lose if they don't win a spot, Emmanuel Burriss and Conor Gillaspie.  I think Burris has the best chance of winning that spot, since Gillaspie can't really play defense at any position (he's probably going to get traded to an AL team or released) and Burriss can play SS and can play 2B really well.  But if we lose both it won't be a huge loss either, if the Giants can pick up a nice backup SS free agent who got left without a spot on another team.

10 comments:

  1. Crisp's career OBP is .349 which isn't half bad for a leadoff type hitter.

    As rough as Belt's season was, he did hit 9 HR's in around 200 AB. That projects to about 25 HR's over a full season of being in the starting lineup. My mean projection for him next year(I do the old eyeball test) is a .240 BA with 25 HR's. I say put him in LF and let his bat develop at the MLB level.

    Crawford put up a .5 WAR in 500 innings last year. Projected to 1300 innings(140 games), it's about a 1.3 WAR. All he needs is a modest improvement in offense, say, to a .235 BA and he's 2+ WAR player. Short of signing Reyes or Rollins, they are going to get that kind of production on the FA market.

    So, my offseason plan is not dissimilar to yours:

    1. Keep the pitching intact.
    2. Sign Crisp to play CF and lead off.
    3. Belt is the starting LF
    4. Crawford is the starting SS.

    Lineup:

    CF Coco Crisp
    2B Freddy Sanchez
    RF Nate Schierholtz
    3B Pablo Sandoval
    C Buster Posey
    1B Aubrey Huff
    LF Brandon Belt
    SS Brandon Crawford

    DeRosa would be a RH bat you could sub in at several positions to break up the LH hitters against LHP's.

    Batting Nate 3'rd might raise some eyebrows, but I like his LH bat and speed in the 3 hole to stay out of those DP's that kill first inning rallies.

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  2. The only other offseason plan which makes any sense to me is the "nuclear option" of trading one of the increasingly expensive young pitchers, which means either Timmy or Cainer. I'd try to trade Timmy because he's more expensive, I don't think he will hold up in the future as well and I think he's going to be harder to sign long term. His value is at it's peak right now because he still has 2 years before he hits FA.

    The Giants would have to get a massive package in return, and it would have to include young, cheap pitching.

    I'm thinking something along the lines of Montero, Banuelos and Betances with either Chamberlain or Hughes thrown in. Not sure where Montero would fit in but he could be flipped to an AL team for another package led by a young CF.

    Other options could include Ellsbury and Ranaudo from Boston or maybe a package from the Angels led by Mike Trout plus some pitching prospects.

    I highly doubt the Giants are looking to trade either Timmy or Cainer, but I think it is a viable possibility.

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  3. Brett Pill might be a nice platoon partner with Huff at 1B to help tilt the lineup a bit more to the right against LHP's. My projected starting lineup has an awful lot of LH bats in it.

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  4. OGC - Rollins/Reyes are definitely in the rear view mirror at this point - the years and dollar amounts will be scary with Reyes (more than half the national league alone bidding? Its gonna go to Zito/Werth/Wells territory, yup, 7/126) and Rollins will either get poached as a consolation or the Phils will blink at around 4/48. So the 2 last great aging hammy offensive shortstops will be quite expensive. So Crawford and possibly a cheap right handed utility guy to back up 2B/SS with Fontenot so you have some coverage for Freddy Sanchez seems to be a logical and cheap middle infield plan.

    I don't really like him, but if Sabean can work his Sabes Special of 2/12 for Coco Crisp I promise not to bitch about it. I would prefer trading a reliever to the Mets for Pagan, or waiting to see if they waive him, but it does seem inevitable. I would love a one year deal, but that doesn't seem likely.

    Andres Torres made a run scoring grab in the MLB all-stars tour yesterday, walked twice and threw down a sac bunt. (The Panda looked very heavy, but raked a couple hits and took a walk) I really hope they are keeping Torres for 4th OF and injury insurance.

    For kicks I re-read your nov posts from last year OGC - I was right with you on Huff signing a Sabes special as well as justifying the overpay. I think all the analysis of Huff could still count now. It all boils down to what work he puts in right now. I'm glad they addressed him and I liked his response. (BTW - the predictions on Uribe cratering at Doyer Stadium were beyond right)

    I like CStew more than most, his defense was pretty stellar. I wouldn't mind them staying with that, but there are a couple options that look good - Doumit if we can take the defensive hit, Kelly Stoppach is the opposite - great d, not a ton of hitting but some power. I hope they have "a grand plan" with Posey and his catcher ABs this year (little wink to our previous chat)

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  5. Like DrB just noted, the Giants are left handed heavy with Schierholtz, Huff Belt and Crawford (plus Fontenot in the backup roll, and Torres splits are to the point he's essentially a LH as well). So a RH to sprinkle in with those guys would be a nice balance. Pill could be that guy, we definitely need a RH power threat off the bench that can take a walk late in the game. Pill fills half that need. Maybe DeRosa can be the walk/singles hitter part of that equation.

    While I maintain we really need a power righty bat in left, if the Giants deem Belt that guy I'll be OK with it. If they don't it will be one of the sliding scale of Beltran, Willingham, Cuddyer, etc, and that's been discussed. I would like some more right handedness though to play to the strength of pacbell and balance the lineup.

    But like you have noted, the Giants are actually running out of roster space quickly. So Sabean has to decide whether to basically stay pat with some marginal tweaking, do a semi-big trade for a hitter or blow up the rotation like DrB noted.

    You have Huff, Sanchez and the Rowand dead weight coming off next year, that frees up 28MM give or take. The following year you have Zito and his 20MM (well with the buyout only 13MM "coming off" that first year). While a lot of this money goes to current player raises, I can really see a justification to throw 2/30 for Beltran into the mix to be that bridge to Gary Brown/Joe Panik and whomever else comes along as far as cheap help. You have a blip this year, but the next year salary relief covers it, and then 2014 you are sitting pretty, hopefully maintaining the sell outs and playoff berths.

    The Giants do have the money, no doubt. I don't begrudge them making money or keeping to a budget. But the real money to be made is from being competitive every year. We have the only frenzied crowd in the NL besides Philly. I imagine in a playoff season they are looking at 200MM in income minus staffing and payroll. I don't think they flirt with losing money ever during the season. Maybe during the post Bonds years, which generated the ill fated PR signing of Mr. Zito, when fans were getting tepid. But as long as there are butts in the seats, they are tremendously profitable.

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  6. If I had to nitpick, I will say I don't think Beltran can manage CF anymore. I don't think DeJesus is a CF either. (All these ex-royals!) Crisp, Torres or Ross can handle CF all year. You can tolerate a stopgap of DeJesus a bit better than me, he really doesn't impress me. And I am skeptical that Sabean can keep it to 2 years 12MM total, but if he can, I'll be OK with Crisp. As long as there is a plan for when he gets hurt.

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  7. Thanks for the comments, don't have a lot of time to reply.

    First, Crisp's career OBP is .330 and for the past three seasons, .326. That is very borderline to me, and he just had his worse season as a starter, .314 in 2011, his first relatively full season played since 2007.

    At this point, I would prefer to start Belt in LF and take our chances. Yes, I saw your analysis on his power before, I thought that was good to point out. But I know he has power, I am just worried about all the strikeouts. He was improved at the end, so I would not mind seeing him start in LF.

    However, I think the Giants are serious about getting Beltran, and as Shankbone notes, he's not really a CF and Schierholtz is the starting RF, so LF seems like the most logical spot for Beltran should he sign.

    Yeah, I'm much more sold on Crawford than I am on Belt.

    I think Crisp is the most logical one to sign, but I fear signing him because of his injury history.

    I like Nate batting 3rd, he normally does not have a high batting line, and the lineup calculator values the batting line less than other hitting positions. I think he is perfect there.

    But I don't see Bochy batting Posey 5th, he's our 4th hitter as long as Bochy is manager, I think.

    I view 1B to be a platoon between Belt/Huff and Posey, to get his bat in the lineup when he is not catching.

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  8. Shankbone, thanks for your comments.

    I don't think that Reyes was ever on the map, but, yeah, I think Rollins is fading fast as Crawford continues to hit well in the AFL and as he holds firm to his conviction that he deserves 5 years. I think could end up like Aurilia, taking whatever he can get in January, in which case we might pick him up then, though I suspect that in this scenario, the Phillies will get him for whatever they offered.

    The bad on Crawford, I would warn, is that he's striking out a lot in AFL, not walking much, so his BABIP is around .380, which is not sustainable.

    But as DrB has been noting, Crawford does not have to hit for much for him to provide good value for us at SS, so the above is not necessarily bad, just that we should not expect him to hit that well if he becomes the starter. I think it is better to have lower expectations with him and to be happily surprised should it finally click in for him.

    About Torres, I think that he's going to be given the chance to win LF in competition with Belt, unless they end up signing Beltran to play LF, in which case he would be the 4th OF/insurance.

    Given Wilson and Romo's health issues in 2011, one, I don't see the Giants trading any relievers, and two, I don't see other teams liking up to give up someone good enough like Pagan for any of them. Are the Mets that desperate for relievers? This is Alderson, after all, who trained Beane, and I think they are firmly in the camp that relievers are fungible assets that can be easily and cheaply picked up.

    Actually, Kelly Stoppach was known mostly as an offensive catcher until this season. He seems to be taking the opposite path of catchers: he got the offense, but is now settling into the defense, when it is usually the other way around. Him I would take a chance on.

    Doumit, I don't have time to look at his splits again, but from what I recall complaining somewhere, his hitting is more a creation of the good hitting environment in Pitts, though he is still not bad on the road, it is just that he probably wants money commensurable to his overall good hitting even though it is boosted by playing in PNC. I say pass, I would rather have Stoppach.

    The Giants appear to have a grand plan for Posey, they have made the point of stating the need to not overtax him at catcher in 2012 because of his recovery from the devastating injury, and thus their statement in the post-season presser that they will seek a backup catcher who can handle more than a backup role, who can contribute more than the usual backup.

    However, that is a tough role to fill as those guys would be hoping to get a starting role somewhere, or at least the chance. We probably will end up with someone who has no job in January and desperate for a position, anywhere.

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  9. Yeah, the lineup doesn't look that strong against LHP, so some good RHP would be good. I think Sandoval is OK there and Posey should be good. Stewart was actually pretty good in 2011 against LHP, so if the plan is to play Posey at 1B and Stewart start at C, that could add another good enough bat vs. LHP in the lineup while taking out a bad one in Huff. Pill in there playing somewhere (1B, LF) would also help, but he wasn't that good either.

    Getting Beltran seems to be the best solution, but like you, I agree that Beltran in CF would be a problem defensively. But the Giants have made that choice before (Tejada at SS), so they could do that again. Particularly if that keeps LF open for Belt.

    DeRosa would be a nice asset on the bench too in these cases, though he didn't do that well in 2011.

    I think the Giants realize that keeping the team competitive is the main way of keeping the money flowing. That has been their mantra since opening PBP/AT&T, that because of the mortgage, they need to keep the team as competitive and marketable as they can.

    That is why they went with the mediocre route instead of trying to get Vlad, that is why they signed all those vets in Bonds' declining years, in an attempt to stay competitive.

    The issue now is that Giants fans think that they need offense in order to be competitive, while the Giants might feel that they are competitive without the offense that Beltran can provide.

    As I've been trying to show with my Pythagorean analysis, with pitching so good, it does not take that much offense to win with that. I have readily admitted that this is dependent on Pythagorean working the way it is designed, which others have done and this is an accepted way in sabermetrics to calculate how many games a team should win given RS and RA.

    Assuming the return of Posey and Sanchez, and conservative estimates on what the rest of the lineup should produce, the lineup should be good enough without Beltran to win 90+ games without Beltran.

    Adding Beltran would be gilding the lily of ensuring winning, which I have no problem with as long as it does not cost the Giants the opportunity to sign their younger players long-term. My only issue has been if this costs the team in retaining Lincecum and Cain, first, Posey and Sandoval next.

    Looking at the Forbes estimates of operating income, it looks like the Giants have been pulling in enough profits (people should realize that these are OPERATING profits and not NET profits, which removes income taxes, amortization, and depreciation) to splurge on a Beltran for a few seasons.

    Yeah, Beltran and DeJesus in CF are probably hits to our defense there, though looking at DeJesus's numbers, he's just slightly below average in CF defensively according to UZR/150.

    And Beltran's poor CF in 2009 and 2010 is also affected by his injuries to his right knee, he probably wasn't 100%, and if his knee is healed enough, he might be able to handle CF again.

    He was excellent in previous years there. And Cody Ross and David DeJesus had slightly negative UZR's there in recent seasons in CF. Assuming a bounce back healthwise to his knee, plus his familiarity with CF (I think his poor RF defense is related to the newness and unfamiliarity), he might not be that huge a drop in defense from what Ross or DeJesus has done before, while being a huge upgrade offensively.

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  10. And Sabean throws the curve! Initial gut reaction: don't like giving up Verdugo in the trade. Sanchez is not signing a long term contract with the Giants, they almost had to trade him now. Melky is only 26! Young! Switch hitter, career year going into his prime 27-30 years could be good. Had a lot of doubles last year. I have a soft spot for Sanchez, so its tough, but overall I think its a neutral trade depending on what happens with Andres Torres.

    It definitely reshuffles the deck some though. Cabrera is not known for great D, and has poor UZR numbers. He did get traded from the Yanks because of drinking. Maybe new training and focus really has done something. See, I can be optimistic! Also, if this means no Coco Crisp for 2-3 years, I'm ecstatic.

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