“The timing is bad because we have a lot of things to address this winter and a lot of things we want to look at, and it’s about keeping our options open,” Evans said. “To predetermine left field today is just premature.”
“We’re definitely not closing any doors,” Evans said. “There’s certainly interest in having him back, and if we do bring him back, I want to be sure everyone is clear on his role and what he’s walking into in terms of his situation on the roster. We’ll know more about that in the next weeks or months.”
“We’re aware pitching is a concern and there are a lot of ways to address that, (but) we’ll need to look at our outfield,” Evans said. “We can’t have an offseason without ways to improve ourselves (there).”Giants have declined options on both Aoki and Byrd. Byrd was expected, but it was surprising to see Aoki let go. The Giants paid Aoki his $700K buy out instead of picking up his $5.5M option, adding $4.8M to the money it has to spend on free agents for the 2016 season.
Ironically, Evans said that it was because he wanted more options. Evans noted that they didn't want to commit to a full outfield yet (already got Pagan and Pence) but could circle back to Aoki (or Byrd) later in the process (he was signed in January last off-season, so he could possibly be still available again in January). He noted that there were interesting trade possibilities for the OF, and also noted that this gives more financial flexibility as well.
And the Giants still like Aoki and says that health was not a factor in the decision, only the desire to not limit the Giants options in LF or in pursuing players in general. And it does not necessarily tie to SP pursuit, again, just looking to be more financially flexible.
There were internal options, but no one the Giants would commit to. Belt has played some LF, but Evans said that the Giants prefer to keep him at 1B, where he's a gold glover, and in any case, the more important issue is that he's still experiencing concussion symptoms, though he's expected to be fully recovered by spring training. Tomlinson has not wowed in instructionals, “showed it’s not his natural position" but good a lot of good work in and might work on it in the Mexican League during the off-season. Ideally, Parker or Williamson would take the job like Duffy, but they can't rely on that, and thus will search for acquire someone.
Wow, did not see it happening, but after appearing like a slam dunk decision for a lot of the season, the seed for this announcement came in the first post-season presser when the Giants noted their ambivalence.
And I should have seen it coming. My Payroll accounting has the Giants at $34.150M right now, which means that with Aoki it was at $28.650M. People talk and talk and talk about there being a lot of money to spend, but when I counted up everything, using the stats on Baseball-Reference.com, a $175M payroll (vs. 2015 payroll of $170M, as released by Baer in season ending presser; I estimated modest rise, which is the words Baer used), this was all that was left. Pushing it to $180M is possible and so the range I would use is $34-39M in terms of payroll available to spend. So, clearly, the buy-out of Aoki was necessary to keep the available pot of money large enough to pursue, perhaps, a high end SP, as well as an "improvement" in the OF, which is the word Evans used.
I think this decision harkens back to his statement in the ending presser regarding Aoki and Blanco. He noted how Blanco had took a step forward in performance. It appears that this step up has caused the Giants to feel that Blanco is a good enough fall-back position should they fail at upgrading LF.
This move with Aoki and the statements made also suggests that they think that there are scenarios where Belt could be their starting LF ("preference" to keep him at 1B). That would imply that the Giants might acquire a 1B (they pursued Abreu a couple of years ago to play 1B, and that would have pushed Belt to LF), if they think it would be an improvement over having Aoki starting in LF. Based on this, it appears that Evans is casting a wide net in terms of strengthening the lineup/OF.
With roughly $35M available, there are a lot of ways the Giants could go this off-season. This is very similar to how the Giants operated last off-season, where they held off a number of their free agents while they publicly pursued a number of big contract free agents, and when they were unable to, as Evans noted, get the rose, they signed a bunch of their free agents.
The ones waiting this season are Leake, Aoki, and perhaps Vogelsong, since Evans made a point of saying that the Giants will still consider him if he's still available should they decide that they would like to sign him. Lincecum probably will sign a minor league contract in order to continue rehabbing with the team, though they probably would have allowed him to continue working with the team even if they don't. Last year, once the Giants were done playing footsie with Sandoval, Lester, Shields, and others, they sat down and signed Peavy, Romo, and eventually Aoki and Vogelsong.
That's probably the blueprint for this off-season, with roughly $35M available, that could get them one top SP, like Greinke, who just opted out, or perhaps Cueto, Price, or Zimmerman, but not much else, as these guys are seeking $30M+ per year contracts (for 5+ years). Perhaps they could backload the first year to enable another signing. This is probably why Evans noted that the speed of negotiations might not be at the pace that Leake prefers and why he said that they might revisit Aoki later. The Giants are not going to be as public about their pursuits this off-season, as they were last season (as tweeted by one of our beat writers recently), so we won't be able to follow along as well.
Then if the top guys fall to other teams, the Giants will probably try to procure a couple of pitchers from the next tier of starters, which includes Mike Leake, Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Smardzija, Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, Hisashi Iwakuma (likely to return to Seattle though), Doug Fister, John Lackey, though a number of these might get a QO, making them costly to acquire as then the Giants would lose their first round pick. I don't see the Giants wanting to lose their first round pick, I think that only happens if they really need one more starter and only QO starters are left among the better ones. They did eventually negotiate some with Shields and even made an offer, but then moved on because Boras won't play ball with his clients until teams are desperate to sign the player (didn't work last year, Shields got $5M less in contract value from SD than SF had offered). Then depending on what is left from there, then they will pursue LF options.
I still think that Leake's market value should be in the $14-15M per year range, which is what I originally estimated after the ending presser. He's been about a 2.5 WAR pitcher and that works out to roughly $17.5M per year in value (at $7M/WAR). This is one reason some thought he would get a QO from the Reds had he not been traded. His arbitration salary last season worked out to $12.2M on the open market. With my numbers, a five year contract, which is probably what he'll get, would work out to be $70-75M total contract value. MLBTR recently estimated that he would get a 5 year, $80M contract ($16M per season), so I appear to be in the ballpark.
In addition, other pitchers appear to be similarly in the same range. MLBTR estimates that Iwakuma should get something in the $13-15M range and his performance in the last two years have been about in the same range, though he's much older, 35 YO season next year, but he's been a better pitcher, per ERA+, so those will balance out some. Gallardo is a little closer, as next season is his 30 YO season, but also been better per ERA+, which accounts for park and league context, while having similar K/BB and K/9 stats in recent seasons. There is talk about him possibly getting a QO (Iwakuma and Kennedy too), these QO tweeners like Leake and them, are all close enough to the $15.8M minimum QO salary offer necessary to earn the team a draft pick compensation.
Plus last season, pitchers got right around that range. Brandon McCarthy got 4 years, $48M ($12M per), where he got discounted (rightfully so given this season) because of his long history of injury and missing chunks of almost every season he's been in the majors. Ervin Santana got 4 years, $55M ($13.75M per) and he's a bit older than Leake is. James Shield (whom the Giants reported offered $80M over 4 years) got 4 years and $75M ($18.75M per) from the Padres, and he was a bit better than Leake per ERA+.
Given interest by both sides and the lack of any talking during this exclusive period, I would guess that Leake's side asked for a lot more than what the Giants were thinking of offering. I think his agent was asking for something in the Shield per season range - what I would call the "buy now" premium. The Giants have been generous over the years, paying over what I would call market value range, but not that far above, generally. Plus it sounds like Leake really wanted to test out the free agent waters, over ensuring landing in a place he likes.
So I assume the Giants plan is to let Leake sweat out the free agent process, knowing that they like each other, and if Leake can sign quickly, great for him but the Giants are moving on. And if they both end up still looking by the GM meetings, probably will come to a deal. I would say that Leake will most likely end up with the Giants, I can't see Arizona spending that much money on someone who's not going to lead their rotation (especially in a hitter's park, AZ needs strikeout pitchers, which Leake is not), as Leake is not an ace level pitcher, but I would say that he's a good #2, which a lot of Giants fans seem to disagree with.
There are a number of reasons I like Leake as a #2. He has been an innings horse, averaging 199.2 IP per season in the last three seasons. Meanwhile, his ERA was 3.58 in spite of pitching half those games in Cincy, which is good. On top of that, his road ERA is much better than his home: 3.48 on the road vs. 4.28 at home (last 3 years, 3.30 on the road vs. 3.93 at home), which means that he should do even better away from a hitter's park and pitching in a pitcher's park like ATT. And a 2.65 K/BB is pretty good (though his 6.1 K/9 should be a tad better).
And once you get over that $15M price level, fans are expecting more of a flashier pitcher than Leake. He's coolly efficient, racks up a lot of innings but don't strike out that many, but that's OK because he doesn't walk that many either. His BABIP is roughly the mean, but his HR/FB is much lower than the 10% mean that studies say pitchers regress to, even in spite of pitching in Cincy all these years. In fact, it was worse with SF than with Cincy, which contributed to his mediocre performance with the team. Plus, he's a ground ball machine, as well as a HR preventing pitcher.
It sounds like from the media reporting that the Giants seem to have some OF trade targets. Baggarly noted that the Giants tried to trade for Cameron Maybin last season (still controlled by Braves for 2016, plus option for 2017). Schulman had also noted during the season that Dexter Fowler of the Cubs could be a nice target for the Giants, because of what he could do as a leadoff hitter. So I'm wondering if moving the needle could involve acquiring a CF while then trading Pagan away, as one of the beat writers had suggested in the off-season. Or they could sign Fowler to a long term contract, play him in LF in 2016 with the intention of making him the CF after 2016.
All in all, though, the Giants already have a good offense, so if they needed to, I think that they could put up with a cheap FA signing, picking up some previously good OF who had a down season looking for a one year contract to build some value, while having Parker and Williamson as backups. Kind of like when we picked up Huff and Burrell in 2010 on the cheap. Of course, this player probably will be good defensively, to help offset the lack of offense, and to boost the Giants outfield defense, which is lacking with Pagan in CF and Pence in RF.
At worse, the Giants could put either Blanco or Belt into LF. Either would be an improvement over Aoki, as Blanco is much better defensively while about the same offensively, and Belt is much better offensively while about the same defensively (if not perhaps better). The problem with moving Belt is that now they need a 1B: perhaps the Giants decide to go with my idea of starting Posey and Susac, with Posey deciding which days he wants to catch. Or sign a Huff 2016, who gets a prove it one year contract. Or trade for one, maybe the Pirates don't want to keep Morse, he plays 1B well enough. Lots of options for Evans to contemplate.
For all the talk about roster upgrades and changes, there are not a lot of openings on the roster. Currently the only openings are starting LF, fifth bench player, and 1-2 starting pitcher rotation spots:
- Lineup: Posey, Belt, Panik, Duffy, Crawford, LF, Pagan, Pence
- Bench: Susac, Tomlinson, Adrianza, Blanco, Bench5
- SP: Bumgarner, Cain, Peavy, maybe Heston, SP
- RP: Casilla, Romo, Lopez, Petit, Kontos, Strickland, Osich
There has been some talk that Petit's roster spot might be open. Given that MLBTR estimates $2.4M for his salary and after Aoki was bought out, a trade or DFA does seem likely, so I probably should have put a question mark after his name. But most likely, he'll be replaced by either Heston or Lincecum, relatively cheaper replacements, or replaced by a cheap vet, so I don't consider the spot open.
And there is also the possibility that they sign someone better, as the FO noted that they wanted to improve the bullpen, but as it looks like six bullpen positions are taken and not upgradeable, which leaves Petit as the spot to be upgraded upon. So the Giants will probably kick some low-end SP tires and see what they shake out of the tree. However, I think Heston would be an upgrade, and if Lincecum is healthy, he would be an upgrade as well, so I don't think it's likely the Giants will go outside for bullpen help.
Hector Sanchez is out of options and at estimated $900K, not all that expensive, so he could take that last bench spot, given that Tomlinson looks capable of playing the infield and probably will practice enough to be doable in LF while Blanco acts as the main backup for all three OF positions. While his batting line has gone down, I think part of that relates to his playing after just recovering from a concussion, we still don't really know about the effects of such injuries on something as precise as swinging a bat and hitting a small ball. This would also mostly save him from being hit as a catcher if he's the third catcher who rarely plays on the field. And he was a pretty good bat off the bench in his early years.
About the SP, I think the Giants are either going with signing an ace then giving the last rotation spot to Heston, or signing two mid-range starters similar to Leake, and pushing Heston to long relief, which kicks outs Petit, who tend probably gets traded. Depending on how much money is left, that will affect what the Giants do with LF.
But I think the Giants will end up with Leake, I think he'll be like Peavy and wait out the process PLUS I don't agree with those who think that AZ or another other team will go overboard in signing Leake, not with all these other pitchers who are not much more but who are better pitchers. By the time other teams get serious with Leake, the Giants should be ready to get serious too, and be able to sign him. I don't think the Giants will be pursuing all the top tier guys, probably just Greinke and Price.
And perhaps the Giants have only been playing the game, not seriously, but as one of the few monied teams, wanting to help drive up the contracts that our top competitors pay for top talents. I'm pretty sure that is what they did with Sandoval. I wonder if some of the other bids were also for show.
I doubt that they end up with Greinke or Price, but if they force LA to pay top money for Greinke, all the better. Though hopefully they can get serious about Greinke, because we would win two ways, us gaining and them losing, and forced to try to sign two top tier free agents that they have no link with. That would be a punch to the gut for the Dodgers.