Thursday, November 05, 2015

Your 2016 Giants: Aoki Option Declined

Reported on by:
Some quotes:
“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.

ogc thoughts

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.

Blanco Effect

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.

Payroll Effect

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.

Leake Effect

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.  

Outfield Effect

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.

Roster Effect

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.

7 comments:

  1. Shankbone wrote up a nice post about contact hitting and thoughts on getting Zobrist: http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/2015/11/contact-rates-sorting-through-hype.html?showComment=1446847344908#c3433122762665882246

    Here is my comment from there:

    Yeah, I like your thoughts about the Giants pursuing Zobrist. That would make a lot of sense, and they had shown interest previously.

    Good point about it being like DeRosa. I loved the signing, too bad he had to be stupid about getting wrist surgery based on geographic convenience rather than hiring the best. I was looking forward to him contributing, as he was 1 WAR+ defensively on a seasonal basis at 2B, 3B, LF, and RF, and OK at 1B as well. And he probably would have been adequate in short spurts at SS, his original position. The big difference is that Zobrist is an even better hitter.

    Plus, maybe he could give Tomlinson some tips about how to pull this off, the Giants like to do that, bring in a vet to teach their young players how to do something, like Morris for Cain, Johnson for Lincecum and Sanchez. And a lot of the stories this season was about more experienced players giving advice to relatively newer players (I worded it carefully so that we could include Duffy/Tomlinson as an example, but there was also Affeldt and Osich, Hudson/Peavy and Heston, and I'm sure someone helping Strickland).

    I had been wondering about the Aoki buy out and wondering why, and this opportunity to get Zobrist makes a lot of sense in explaining the move now. His salary would cover about half of what it would cost to get Zobrist, so it's a good gamble to let go of Aoki in hopes of getting Zobrist, rolling the dice. At worse, we still have Blanco, Williamson and Parker backing up LF until the FO pick up someone mid-season.

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    1. And most likely Aoki will still be available in January, like he was when we picked him up in the last off-season.

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  2. Fangraphs did a payroll analysis and came up with roughly the same number I did: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/national-league-payroll-situations-ahead-of-free-agency/

    They project roughly $40M available if the Giants push their payroll up to $181.2M. Roughly within $1-2M of what I've been saying.

    While it's true that the Giants could decide to go above the threshold and pay the penalty on that, as some have been saying, I only see that happening if they happen to sign a top tier free agent and decide to add Leake to the mix.

    But I just don't see that happening. I can't imagine LAD not signing Greinke back, they have a bottomless money pit, so they can't be outbid, only forced to offer more. Similarly, Price will have Maddon as a lure, and the Cubs have a similar bottomless money pit, so they can't be outbid either, only forced to offer more.

    That leaves Cueto where other teams have a realistic chance of signing. But there are a number of other big money teams who might want in, Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, plus other teams who might want a big kahuna, Tigers, Blue Jays, and LA realistically could use someone else even if they resign Greinke, so what if they decide to double down?

    Thus my position that the most realistic scenario is that the Giants resign Leake (if no team decides to show him the love and pick him off quickly; but it's my feeling that he would approach the Giants before signing and give them a chance to counter-offer and that the Giants would rather sign him and risk going over the penalty threshold than to let him get away; as I noted somewhere before on my blog, I think Leake's agent wants a lot more than Giants thinking, and want to go into free agency to prove that they should get that much)

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    1. I've seen the analysis somewhere that Leake was not using his pitches optimally while with SF. Well, either you believe the Giants know pitching or you don't. I do, so whatever difficulties he may have had, I think they could be ironed out in spring training. And pitching in a pitchers park should do wonders for his ERA.

      And so, unlike a lot of people, I would be happy with only signing Leake to a contract this off-season. Bumgarner, Leake, Peavy, Heston, Cain, with Blackburn in reserve in AAA is not a bad position to be in.

      Cain as our #5 starter is not bad. As I've documented here on my blog, the Giants had good rotations even with a bad #5 starter over the years. So if he struggles, the rest of the rotation should cover for him, and if we need a replacement by mid-season, he would not have costed us playoff contention, we could trade for a SP to improve over him, and move him into long relief or something.

      Heston as #4, I understand the concerns over that. He was fading at the end of the season. People seem to think that you can cover all roster risks. You can't, you can only do the best you can. I understand the improvement if we sign another proven starter and move Heston to long relief, as that would give us Heston and Blackburn as one and two in replacement SP, should anything happen to the starting rotation. That's better, but it doesn't mean that not getting the SP is bad either.

      Heston was going through his first long MLB season. He's still young, heading into his prime years, and presumably the Giants training staff is working with him this offseason to build up his stamina for the 2016 season. Until he ran out of strength, he had an ERA of 3.3's. Even after that, he was able to keep his ERA in the mid-3's until his last two starts.

      Mid-3's ERA, had he been sat down for his last starts, would have placed him in the 31-40 rank for qualified SP in ERA in 2015. That's where #2 level pitchers like Leake would be, pitching in a pitchers park. Heck, Jordan Zimmerman, whom some want to give a big contract to join the Giants as an upgrade had a 3.66 ERA last season. Heston had a 3.62 ERA before the last start of the season where he got beat up. That is only a 95 ERA+ but Zimmerman had a 110 ERA+ with his 3.66 ERA, so hopefully this illustrates why I think having Heston #4 is not the worse thing in the world.

      Peavy is just injury prone. What do you expect from a blind man? :^) He's the opportunity for Blackburn to come up and see what he can do in the majors. A 2.85 ERA in AAA is amazing, and it being done by a 22 YO is even more amazing.

      Not many that age or younger excel like that. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha were 21 YO in 2013, and had 2.51 and 2.65 ERA, respectively (short stints, 13 and 15 starts). In 2012, Trevor Bauer (21) and Jake Odorizzi (22) had 2.85 and 2.93 ERA respectively in 14 and 18 starts. Blackburn did his 2.85 ERA in 20 starts at age 22.

      And that's it from 2010 to 2015, for 22 and under SP who had that low an ERA.

      Leake, meanwhile, has a 3.48 ERA on the road. As I noted above with Heston, that puts Leake as a #2 starter capability, and at only 28 next season, should be healthy for years, eating innings while performing well.

      So that's why I think that adding only Leake is would be fine if that is all the Giants did for the rotation.

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  3. Pavlovic did an interview with Baer and here is the link: http://www.csnbayarea.com/giants/baer-starting-pitchers-over-30-giants-cant-ignore-history

    This article focused on only free agency pitching, and he noted that the history of signing 30 YO plus pitchers to 5 year contracts is pretty ugly. Views it as a case by case situation (which, really, any team should do with any free agent, because otherwise you are ignoring personal history).

    All the names that have been mentioned as possible for the Giants are 30 YO and over in 2016: Cueto (30), Greinkek (32), Price (30), Zimmerman (30), Samardzija (31), Gallardo (30). Only Leake is under (28 YO).

    Of course, the vast majority of free agents should be 30 YO and older, as most teams control 7+ seasons worth of any player, before they can go FA, meaning players would have to reach the majors by age 23 or earlier, in order to be a free agent before turning 30.

    So Baer basically said what he had to say to keep the Giants as viable contenders for any free agent by saying that everyone is a case-by-case situation, but by noting that you can't ignore the history of 30+ YO pitchers and 5+ year contracts, basically says that it is unlikely that they will pursue hard any particular 30+ YO FA SP.

    I think this helps make my case that the Giants will ultimately end up with Leake signed and perhaps a pitcher who will sign a 1-2 year prove it type of contact.

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://www.csnbayarea.com/giants/offseason-preview-giants-want-re-sign-leake-add-no-2-starter

    Same site, same interview, different take. Needless to say, I prefer this one. :)

    If they want Leake back as a #3 starter, they have to be looking at a big name for the #2.

    And obviously, they're not going to use a 30th birthday as a hard line in the sand. If you sign a Grienke for 5 years and win another WS, you really don't care much if he stinks in year 5.

    It sounds like they're taking a smart approach: honestly identifying their needs, but not acting out of desperation (anyone that gives big money to Zimmerman is DESPERATE).

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    1. Thanks for the comment and link. I would be happy with a #2 starter which makes Leake #3 in our rotation. Hell, I'll be ecstatic because that's a return to the dominant rotations we had from 2009 to 2012.

      But that's not happening if the Giants stay within budget or if the Giants avoids the penalty tax for spending too much. The Giants could decide to break both, Baer did leave that opening, but the goal is to not pay the penalty and he stated that the Giants will go beyond the $170M but as an incremental step. Something in his statements will have to break in order for the Giants to sign a #2 starter and Leake as #3.

      The only way they can stay within budget and not pay the penalty with Leake as #3 is if they trade for one. I hope it happens, but don't want to lose a lot of good prospects.

      Delete

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