Monday, December 02, 2013

Your 2014 Giants: Vogelsong Signs for one year, $5M plus incentives

According to reports (for example, Schulman), Vogelsong will be signing for $5M plus incentives that could bring him above $6.5M.  That's on top of the $300K he got in the buyout of the team option (which was for $6.5M) in his prior contract.  It's been noted that the Giants saves $1.2M from the prior team option that they could have exercised instead of the buyout.

ogc thoughts

On a personal basis, I'm glad to have Vogie back, he seems to be a solid guy, and more importantly, a nice, down-to-earth person.  However, from a baseball standpoint, his stats on throwing strikes and gaining swinging strikes in 2013 were in the bad buckets of the percentages:  the buckets were from a Bill James study in his handbook from this year.  I recommend it to anyone:  62% for throwing strikes which puts pitchers like Vogelsong in the low 4 ERA range, 9% for swinging strikes, which is the lowest bucket, putting pitchers in the mid-4 ERA range and higher (starts at 11% on down, so he could be over 5 ERA).  So there is some risk with taking him back on the team, he did not show any useful skills in throwing strikes last season, and his ERA could be pretty bad given that skill set.

So why did the Giants buy him out only to sign him back only for $1.2M savings?  That was roughly a 20% reduction (depending on whether you include the $300K buyout or not), why not just eat the extra $1.5M at the time of the option, rather than be pennyante?  Why bring him back rather than move on to another pitcher?  I think the answer encompasses a number of factors.

First off, I think that the reason they let Vogie go in the first place was because there was two open spots and the Giants, per all their talk in interviews this off-season, wanted to upgrade the pitching rotation over what we had in 2013 in a substantive way.  While they clearly like Vogie, since they kept the lines of communication open, it appears that given that they had no idea who they might get for the last pitching rotation spot, they had to let him go and see how the process works out because they might need to upgrade on Vogelsong depending on who they get as the 4th starter.

And that ties into my second complementary thought, which is that money was not the factor in not bringing back Vogie on his option, it was the flexibility the Giants wanted in crafting the final five in the starting rotation that drove them to buy him out.  That's why they didn't save that much, as well as provide incentives (unknown at the moment) that could push him above his option, a both sides win type of deal, should he come back to what he was in 2011-2012 and prove that 2013 was more due to WBC and short off-season issues, but some protection if he really is done.

Much like the Lincecum deal, while he didn't produce enough in 2013 to warrant his 2014 salary, you can't insult the guy with a low-ball deal filled with incentives.  You never know, that could demoralize a player enough that he subconsciously fails in a self-prophesying way.   He is worth less, so he feels "worthless."   Now, it is more a reduction to reflect how poorly he did in 2013 - something he admits - but is a show of faith that he still got something left in the tank ($5M is not chicken-feed, even in the MLB) plus gives him a chance to earn back his whole salary via the option, plus make a little more.  That is typical of Sabean deals, both sides are happy but took some compromises to get the deal done.

Thirdly was Hudson appearing to be an improvement enough that the Giants were comfortable with bringing Vogelsong back on.  If they get a huge improvement in the starter they sign for #4, then Vogie becomes viable, but if there had been significant compromises in the #4 starter, then I think the Giants would have had to work more to get an improvement over Vogie.  That is, had the Giants had to settle for a second or lower tier target signed, instead of Hudson (again, at the start, we didn't know who might sign with us, heck, at that point, it was assumed that Hudson was going back to Atlanta, as that is why he ended up there, he wanted to be near his family), Vogie might not have been an option, as the ultimate goal was to improve the rotation to be like it was in 2009-2012, when it was a top team in Runs Allowed in the majors.

Keeping Vogie did not ensure an improvement.  But Hudson looks like he's capable of a mid-3 ERA, which is pretty good, period, but especially good given the free agent market availability.   And his signing set in motion the Giants kicking of tires with other free agents as well as Vogelsong beyond initial talks until he was signed to be the #5 starter, as their other options, whoever they were, balked at their terms or was not ready to sign yet.

So Vogelsong without a strong addition didn't make sense as an improvement, because of the big question marks with his 2014 performance (as well as Lincecum to some extent).  And that fits in with what the Giants said at the time they bought out Vogelsong's option. They said that they wished that they had more time to decide on the option, but at that point in time they had to bail out. And, as noted above, it makes sense because they were not sure who they would be able to get as their #4. Again, apparently, they are happy with Vogelsong as #5 since Hudson became the #4.

Then you have the question mark 5th starter. Vogelsong might be good again but if not, the rotation could be OK, like it was in 2009-2012. If Lincecum is also bad too, then they could start with other options, starting with Petit. And Escobar did really well in AA, I feel very confident that he could step up, should the Giants need him to mid-season, much like Bumgarner did in 2010, probably not at the same level, but we don't need that, we just need a good enough season, which I think he is capable of.

Fourthly, I think his willingness to accept a one year deal brought him back.   Other free agents were wanting and getting more, in terms of both years and per year salary.  For example, Phil Hughes just signed with the Twins for 3 years, $24M and Scott Kazmir signed with the A's for 2 years, $22M, plus the Twins had already signed Nolasco for 4 years, $49M.

But the Giants consistent drum beat this off-season is both that they want to improve the starting rotation - which the Hudson signing apparently fulfilled in spades - and that they want to sign short term deals that so that the young starters rising up the minors have spots to win in the rotation.  Hughes, Nolasco, and Kazmir could have been an upgrade over Vogelsong - they were strongly discussed in the places I visit - but multiple years and/or injury history put them beyond where the Giants wanted to go, which was 1-2 years, Nolasco even more so at 4 years (I think he was their backup in case they did not get a better pitcher, like Hudson).

Fifth and complementary to the fourth is the mass of good to great pitching prospects percolating upward from the lower reaches of the minors and chomping on the bit to make the majors soon.   Sabean noted that Escobar is expected to make the leap developmentally this coming season.  By mid-season, he's probably the #1 choice to replace any starter in the rotation who is struggling, injured, or otherwise not performing to expectations.  As well, Crick has been mentioned a number of times for his potential, and he should be knocking on the door soon, he did well in Advanced A and, after a poor start, ended well in the AFL, so he should be in AA next season and, as Sabean has noted a number of times, top prospects often leap-frog over AAA to the majors, so he could be ready to join the majors permanently within the next two seasons with a good performance in AA.

As well, Blackburn, Mejia, and Blach should be making the jump to AA in 2014 as well, and all three have very good performances under their belts. I really like Blackburn and I've liked his potential more than Crick as I tend to value probability of making the majors and doing well there greater than overall talent, which Crick has in spades and why a lot of prospect hounds love him.  Mejia is just as young and accomplished as Blackburn, I didn't really know about him until DrB pointed him out, but once I researched him, I was totally on board and think a lot of his potential too.  They were 20 year olds facing 23 YO on average and doing great.  And Blach had a really good season and earned the inclusion of his name into the mix as well.

Plus, then there are all the great prospects rising to San Jose from Augusta.  Stratton and Agosta might have been at a higher level in 2013 if not for all the great prospects hogging the spots ahead of them.  They did not do as well as hoped for in spite of that, particularly Stratton, which has put a big dent into the prospect status, but I still believe a lot in both of them and still believe that they were good choices by the Giants.  Gregorio also did very well, his ERA was hurt by poor bullpen support, his peripherals were very good.  Flores did very well too, as well as Kurrasch.

None are top of rotation potential starters right now, but with Cain and Bumgarner hopefully anchoring that for years, plus Crick hopefully joining them at some point, we don't need top of rotation guys, we need a lot of back of rotation guys (at minimum, of course it would be great to have a rotation of aces) as well as strong relievers to support the starters as nobody throws that many complete games anymore.   There is a huge critical mass of pitching talent that the Giants have, the best I've seen ever in following their minor league system, maybe not that many top level talents, but we luckily don't need that, we just need cheap but very useful players at the major league level, so that we can afford to keep our core players on board.  And I think a number of them - Escobar, Blackburn, Mejia, Stratton, Agosta - could make the leap to that top of rotation status with another good season under their belt at a higher level.

Consequences For Rotation

Sabean has said that he would not make Vogie battle for a rotation spot, should he sign with us, so that presumably ends the Giants involvement in the SP free agent market.  Vogie is probably considered the incumbent and expected 5th starter for 2014, unless he falls flat on his face in spring training, so barring that - and I don't expect that - he should start the 2014 season as the 5th starter.  The Giants stopping their search could also help explain the quick follow-up of Nolasco and Hughes signing Thanksgiving week too, as the Giants dropped out as possibility for them.

In addition, the Giants can take the risk with Vogie because we have some good back-up options.  Escobar I noted, but he's probably not ready until mid-season.  I know people haven't been impressed with Petit, but the Giants during the 2009-2012 period were able to have a top pitching rotation while carrying a starter who wasn't the best, in fact, pretty bad. Johnson et al in 2009. Wellemeyer in 2010. Zito and Surkamp in 2011. Lincecum in 2012.  Furthermore, Petit did well throwing strikes in 2013 (70%), as well as getting swinging strikes (19%), both things starters need to do well to be a top pitcher. He was great at both in 2013, suggesting that he won't necessarily be the worse if given the chance to start, at minimum, which again works in our top heavy in talent rotation.

So the rotation looks good on paper. Bumgarner is ready to be the ace of any staff. Cain had a down year, but basically a year after his perfecto, he started throwing dominant starts again, at the level he was at before his perfecto, he should be back to prior goodness. Lincecum's final numbers only look really bad compared to what he did before, overall he's OK. And he was again much better in the second half than the first, plus was hurt by a large number of inherited runners scoring after he left, I think it was like 7 of 8, when normally only 2 or 3 would score. He could be like the "new" Dirty, delivering something in the low 4's or high 3's, which is OK in the 3/4 slot. Then Hudson, assuming he's back to his old self, would deliver a mid-3 ERA performance, which is good anywhere in the rotation.  That's basically the formula from 2009-2012 for starting pitching dominance, so the 5th starter being a question mark is not a huge problem unless Lincecum craters like he did in 2012 or Hudson doesn't recover back to prior goodness.

Batter Up!  LF

Schulman notes that next up is LF and that this hole is more likely to be filled via a trade than by free agency.  And as Sabean has noted in his various interviews, he has basically denigrated what is available via free agency, in terms of value for what the Giants would have to give up, plus eliminated a number of viable options because the Giants want to keep their first round draft pick.  And in his recent interview, stated that trade is probably the best option right now.

I would also note that the non-tender period is coming up soon and you never know what type of talent is made available at this time.  The Giants could pick up a player, either via trade to pre-emptively pick up someone and gain control or via free agent signing once the player is out on the marketplace.  And I would note here that both 1B and LF is in play here, depending on whether they can get someone at 1B better than Blanco on an overall basis, in which case Belt moves to LF for 2014.

Speaking of which, Tony Abreu looks likely to be non-tendered, particularly since the Giants need to open a spot for Vogelsong this week once he passes his physical.  The other players up for arbitration - Belt, Arias, Blanco, and Petit - have already been pegged for roles on the 25-man roster, and should be tendered.  And Belt, probably after they exchange figures, hopefully will be talked up by the Giants regarding a long-term deal to get him covered for his arbitration years, and perhaps beyond.  Baggerly mentioned this in his post on this, plus I've been agitating for it since the season ended, I think that is a priority item for the Giants given how much Belt could cost if he continues to improve, or even if he just repeats 2013.

In addition, Sabean has noted that Blanco might be the best option available, as he was pretty valuable the last two seasons and it is hard to upgrade over him without paying a lot of money or prospects.  It is similar to the situation we had with Zito around, it was hard to upgrade significantly over him in the starting rotation, without paying for a top of rotation starter, as he was right around average for a good number of seasons.  So the Giants is more probably shopping for a right-handed platoon partner for Blanco who is better than what Perez could provide to the team (now that Peguero has been DFAed), though if a good 1B is available, they would probably at least listen, and kick the tires.

And that dovetails into a complementary issue, which is that the Giants, both Sabean and Baer, have stated that the Giants are keeping their young pitching talent and that will limit the type of trades that they are capable of.  In particular, a right-handed complement is probably all that they can afford to trade for right now, anyway, if they are planning on keeping their top prospects.  Luckily, with such depth of pitching prospects, the Giants probably can do something in terms of picking up someone useful, the key is finding the right partner, who has what we need and likewise need what we are willing to give up.

There are a number of areas where they might trade off.  I would think that any of the guys off the Augusta rotation is fair game.  They did nicely enough, but not overwhelmingly good, which given some of their ages and experience, they should have done better.  Any lower level and you would need a package of prospects to get a deal done probably.

Sabean noted in one of his interviews that he might trade off some of his young catching to get what he needs, though I think that was before Hudson was signed, so I'm not absolutely sure that applies to LF.  But that puts both Hanchez and Susac in play (Monell was just sold to the Orioles after being DFAed along with Peguero to bring on two pitchers that other teams had DFAed, RHP Erik Cordier (free agent but with Pirates last year and Braves long-term before) and LHP Jose de Paula (Padres waiver).  Cordier, according to a Pirates blog, is a hard thrower who don't have much control, but the Pirates got him to strike out a lot more.  But they decided to release him, apparently he's already a free agent.) potentially.

In addition, Kieschnick, Brown and Panik are probably available for the right hitter.  I don't think that the Giants have given up on any of them, but at minimum we need to acknowledge that their warts are big enough that they are not necessarily keepers anymore, for the right trade.  I came to this realization once it was intimated that Susac was available if necessary, as he showed off some nice improvement in 2013, and in AA, yet was still available.

They won't give any of them away, but would do it for the right pieces for 2014.  I don't expect it to happen, but won't be surprised if we should lose any of them for a good enough LF or 1B.  Personally, I would prefer to keep them, particularly Brown and Panik, as I think they have some useful future in the majors for the Giants.


  1. About the arbitration eligible players, as reported, the Giants offered contracts to five players:

    The five are Belt, Blanco, Arias, Petit, and Abreu.

    So Abreu was retained, despite media rumblings that he was probably going to be non-tendered. He was OK when he was on the roster, but that was the problem, he was injured most of the year. So it made sense that he would be let go.

    Maybe they are hoping he can be that guy they were hoping for in 2013, in 2014, but with Arias already around, that means that Adrianza will need to beat out Abreu for a roster spot, or the Giants will have to risk putting Adrianza on waivers.

    I think Adrianza has done enough in the minors to warrant keeping him on the roster and seeing what he can do in the majors. He's suppose to be a whiz defensively, and he's done nicely with avoiding strikeouts as a hitter. And if he can bring it defensively, and got the same innings playing 2B/SS that was allocated to Noonan and Arias at those positions, he could add nearly 1 WAR via his defense, plus whatever he does offensively. He had some success in AAA plus surprising power in majors.

    The Giants non-tendered Peguero and Rosario, a move not unsurprising. Peguero was already DFAed and apparently there were no teams interested in trading for him (unlike Monell). Perez appears to be higher on the depth chart now, making Peguero expendable, plus Brown looks like he's similar to Peguero in terms of what he might be able to do for a MLB team, good defense, good speed, questionable offense. And Kieschnick and Brown got OF spots in AAA, maybe the Giants want to see what Parker can do in AAA (or Herrera) and created the space by letting go of Peguero.

    Rosario was already low man on the bullpen depth chart, with Hembree and Machi expected to grab the last two spots in the bullpen (since 5 are already spoken for: Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Casilla, Petit) and there is still Kontos in the mix, and Law did so well in the season and AFL that he's got an outside but good chance of taking a spot, plus there is Dunning, who the Giants liked last season, plus they could always go with Kickham as a reliever. And Sabean has spoken of adding another reliever, as well.


    Vogelsong officially signed to new deal. Sabean confirms a number things. LF likely not to be upgrade much if at all. Looking for bullpen improvement. Suggests that the Giants don't think Hembree, Machi, Kontos, Law - as a group - will be strong enough to withstand a playoff chase, which could include problems with one of our set-up guys or our closer, Romo.

    Also, finally confirms that Belt will be playing 1B, no chance of him moving to LF this season, so that means that the Giants are not looking for 1B, they are only looking for an improvement in LF, whether better than Blanco starter (unlikely), or a nice RH platoon partner for Blanco (Cody Ross would have been nice, but he's not available). Otherwise, that would mean that Perez and Brown would be competing for that role in 2014, at the moment. I assume Giants will invite someone to their minor league camp who will compete for that role, much like how Torres and Blanco and Vogelsong got minor league invites too, and won roles, Stewart and Arias too, Casilla, wow, lots of recent guys.

  3. As the FA returns start rolling in... wow are we glad Sabes did his usual impatient act. The demand far outstrips the supply. 3/30MM for Scott Feldman? give me Timmy, Timmy and some more Timmys!

    Hunter Pence is a straight up bargain.

    Don't know how we'll kick in on some pen help, but there are a couple good arms out there. I have to think bringing Pablo's name up at the winter meetings with the crazy demand for bats might kick loose a 2-for-1 that Sabean might be interested in...

    And if the contracts getting kicked out this year don't demonstrate the importance of locking up Belt right now... It is a priority, one that has traditionally taken place near the end of ST.

  4. Before the start of the 2012 season if you would have told me that the 2014 rotation would consist of Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Hudson, and Vogelsong I would have been so excited. But with recent history I am a tad worried about everyone besides Bumgarner but none the less still excited to have this rotation and if it doesn't work out the Giants aren't on the hook for very long and with the minor league arms coming up it should be very promising. OGC what are thoughts on who may be in play for the outfield, middle infield and bullpen arm?

    1. Frankly, have not heard anything regarding any of these bench positions. Right now, it sounds like Perez will be the platoon partner with Blanco in LF, that Arias and Adrianza will be the MI on the bench, and the Giants have talked about getting another bullpen arm upgrade, and right now that's a battle between Machi, Hembree, and Kontos for two spots.

      Since the Giants went into 2013 with three lefties and kept that going for the season, I would think the edge on the free agent would be a Loogy type and the best one I'm aware of is Boone Logan, who I have a soft spot for because I had him on my keeper league long ago, and he's matured and developed nicely. Then that would leave one spot open for Machi, Hembree, and Kontos to battle for.

      I expect Hembree to win the spot, and that Kontos' poor 2013 (reportedly due to poor conditioning) ended up costing him a spot in the Giants bullpen. Too bad, I had high hopes for him, but if Hembree is ready, you need to get our probable future closer in there and learning the game at the highest level.

      I don't see how Adrianza don't get the MI spot. He's out of options, and probably is lost to another team if placed on waivers, as he has a major league glove, reports been saying that since he was in the low minors. On top of that, he's been good in avoiding strikeouts when he's nearer the age of the league, like early in his pro career, and he's been good despite being young for each league, in getting walks, which shows that he has a good eye, so he might develop further if given more time.

      Unfortunately, it would have been best to give him one more year in AAA before giving him a shot in the majors, but that's just reality. I think he'll eventually be at least an average type player - great glove, OK bat - who will get better with experience. Like Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel, or even Marco Scutaro, bad or below average to start, but will get better with experience and as his age catches up with the league. Thus I would not want to see the Giants put him on waivers.

      The Giants might be able to try one trick, which is to keep him on the 25 to start the season, but then send him down in mid-to-late April. By then, most clubs would have filled their roster with guys they want and won't want to waste a spot on someone they might lose to waivers (kind of like how Rosario got bounced around last off-season). That is how the Giants got to keep Ishikawa for another season before losing him.

      But I would prefer they not chance that and keep him on with Arias, they complement each other, Arias has a good bat, OK to so-so defense (except at 3B if I remember right), while Arianza is a whiz at defense at SS, and therefore probably just as good at 2B or 3B, but his bat probably will be Neifi-ish.

      I'm not too worried about the rotation, in spite of how poorly most did in 2013. Cain's PQS returned to normal in late season, Lincecum actually had a pretty good second half if not for the bullpen giving up 7 of 8 inherited runners, Hudson passed his physical, and Vogelsong, well, if he fails, I think Petit and Escobar is great backup.

    2. Just curious would you prefer the Giants to leave a bench spot open for adrianza or sign a veteran such as mark Ellis to help the bench depth?

    3. It's much safer to sign a vet like Mark Ellis (much like signing Theriot) as we don't know what we will get with Adrianza.

      But that's a choice made all the time in baseball, you have to chose your poison, which I don't think most fans realize. Signing Ellis means giving up, most likely, on Adrianza, or at least crossing the threshold and seeing if a certain tactic ensures he gets back to us or not.

      I think there is the potential for Adrianza to become a starter at the MLB level. His glove plays well (I would point out the deal the A's made for Gentry as an example of how superlative defensive players can generate value, among others) enough that he could provide value off the bench even without hitting too much.

      On top of that, we don't know if Sandoval will still be here in 2015. Even if Scutaro plays there, then who would play 2B? Panik? Adrianza? Arias? Duvall? None of them are sure things.

      We could always wait for a free agent, but then that takes money, and the team is already committed to a lot of money that I have to think that their preference is to fill from within. And Adrianza had a nice partial season in Fresno and did OK in the majors, though his power hits were fluky.

      Plus, the Giants under Sabean has tried to keep a good defensive team overall, as evidenced by their sabermetric uses of advanced fielding metrics, so advanced that they were one of the first teams given the chance to try out the new FieldF/X tools and data. Frankly, Pagan, Pence, Scutaro are not that great defensively, and as good as Crawford and Belt get from the fans, it's not showing up much on the advanced fielding metrics. Adrianza, in a small sample yes, showed very good skills, plus scouts have said it too, major league glove even when he was in the lower minors.

      And typically, your season should not turn on how well your bench MI player performs, if so, then your margins are too tight then.

      So for all those reasons, I would prefer the Giants keep Adrianza. But I understand that it might cost the Giants some games in 2014 to go through his learning pains, and thus why they might chose to go with a Mark Ellis instead. And I know it is a gamble to keep him around, but he's still very young and starting to show his hitting abilities, I think, so I would rather keep him around.



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