For Leake, the recent deals for Happ and Zimmerman helps set some boundaries for Leake (plus Estrada and now Price), though still not enough for a deal to come to fruition yet. But it should be close, only Cueto and Greinke are clearly better starters, and Greinke says he's deciding within a week. It is my belief that the reason the Giants and Leake could not come to a deal beforehand is because they felt the market was lower, whereas Leake's agent thought that it should be higher, perhaps because of the money hitting the MLB in the coming years from TV deals.
The deals that has been predicted for Leake shows some of that range, as well: MLBTR predicted $16M AAV for 5 years as did FG, and FG's crowdsourcing had him at $14M AAV for 4 years, which is similar to CBS' $14M AAV but for 5 years. So the projections has him at 5 years for $14-16M AAV or $70-80M total contract value.
Beyond the Box Score had a recent post that compared Happ to Leake and found that they were similar in performance over the past couple of years, and that Happ was slightly better by fWAR (BB-Reference bWAR had them equal at 4.4). Key differences I would note is that Happ is 33 YO next season while Leake is only 28 YO, and that Happ only has the two years of good performance (unless you want to count his good first full-ish season in 2006, and ignore all his struggles in-between), whereas Leake has been about average or better in 4 of his past 5 seasons. Thus, in my view, while Happ has been roughly equal to Leake in the past two years, Leake will get more years as well as more AAV.
Per the projections, the experts viewed Happ to be a much lesser pitcher, as MLBTR predicted only $10M AAV for 3 years and FG only $8M AAV for 3 years. They both missed badly as Happ signed for $12M AAV for 3 years, which is basically what the FG Crowdsourcing project saw, predicting $11M AAV for 3 years, while the CBS prediction was the closest AAV at $12.5M (but only predicted 2 years).
I found his deal to be strange: Marco Estrada got the QO, which is a guaranteed $15.8M for 2016, but he signed a 2 year, $26M contract, which gets him only $10.2M for 2017. I guess the security of that 2017 money - which, after all, equals the amount of money he has earned so far in baseball - was worth it to him. But unless he knows something about his health that suggests that, besides age (he's 32 for next season), he will decline, not sure why he would do that and not take a risk by accepting the QO, as he has basically been around average over the past four seasons, and pitchers like that are in the next tier and getting $14-16M AAV predictions. But everyone has their financial security threshold, congrats to him on attaining it.
Had he not had a bad season in 2014 and then regressed to the mean by having a great 2015, he most likely would be put in the same grouping as Leake et al, or just short thereof. One more year to prove that he's closer to 2015 and not to his career would get him into that grouping of 4-5 years, $13-16M AAV contracts. Perhaps he really likes it there, having made some friends there, or appreciate that the Blue Jays are going to be battling for the playoffs, or maybe the coaches there got him to take that next step up in production. Also, perhaps the QO loss of draft pick made the choice easier, as lower range guys like him could end up looking for a job on the cheap in Jan/Feb, and the security of 2 years and not having to look for a job had he took the QO appealed to him. In any case, between these two deals, clearly $14M is the floor for the tier of pitchers that Leake is in.
Anytime I hear the word "zimmer", I'll always think of the classic routine with Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, when he's trying to get a "ruem". Anyway, Zimmerman is clearly better starter than Leake (career ERA of 3.32, better K/9, much better K/BB), so it's not surprising that he got a 5 year contract at $22M AAV. The predictions were much closer, with MLBTR at 6 years at $21M AAV, FG at 7 years at $20M AAV, FG Crowdsourcing at 6 years at $21M AAV, and CBS at 5 years at $23M AAV. CBS was the closest guess, as Heyman got the number of years right, as well as being within $1M of the AAV.
The Price is Wealthy
David Price signed for a reported 7 years and $217M or $31M AAV. Greinke wants more than that, reportedly. This was exactly what MLBTR predicted, and pretty close to what FG predicted ($215M/7 years/$30.7M AAV). CBS was off some, $210M/7 years/$30M AAV, and the Crowdsourcing was the most off at $196M/7 years/$28M. Still, all got the years right and most were pretty close to the final AAV.
Free Agent Pricing Conclusion: Leake
Here is what I get out of these deals for Leake:
- From the Happ-Estrada deals, looks like the floor for Leake is roughly $12-14M. By some measures, Leake looks similar to them, by other, above. Plus, he's much younger, as next season is only his 28 YO season, which means that he can get a longer deal.
- From the Zimmerman deal, while that is not a ceiling for Leake, given that the predictions for Zimmerman is pretty close to the final 5 year, $22M AAV, that suggests that the predictions were in the ballpark. Estrada's predictions where also in the ballpark as well.
- From the Price deal, while that is definitely not a ceiling for Leake, most of the predictions were pretty close, spot on for years, pretty close to AAV.
- Looking at the predictions for Leake, the predictions coalesce around 5 years, and $14-16M AAV, from $70-80M total contract value.
The way I'm seeing the situation, given that both sides claim to want to sign a contract, and the Giants generally can close the deal then, as I noted above, there must be a significant difference between bid and ask. I would guess that the Giants are trying to get a contract in the $14-15M AAV range, whereas his agent is probably trying to get something in the $16M plus range. For a five year contract, that could be $10M+ difference in total contract size.
Given the Giants tend to meet in the middle, I think a 5 year contract around $15M AAV or roughly $75M is what he will end up with, if no bidding war starts up and the bids are in line with the market pricing set above so far. And given how the Giants tend to throw a little more money on top, I would not be surprised if the $80M/5 year prediction turns out to be right.
But with the expectations of big money coming in and lots of teams looking for aces but might be willing to settle for Leake, plus the fact that he won't cost the signing team a draft pick, that could push contracts offers for him upward. However, the fact that there are so many pitchers considered above him (Price, Greinke, Cueto, and Zimmerman) as well as in his tier (Samardzija, Chen, Kazmir, Gallardo, Lackey - whom rumors have tied to Giants interest - and Iwakuma) plus guys who were near or near-enough (like Happ, Latos, and Fister), could dilute interest in his services, particularly if teams are looking at him as a backup should the team fail to sign one of the top tier pitchers. So there are strong market forces going both ways. And it could have been worse if a couple of QO's didn't sign and stayed with their team (Anderson, Estrada).
Given he wants to sign early, and the Giants like to sign early, I think he's just doing the Sabean thing of "kicking tires" and getting bids from teams, then, unless he's blown out, negotiate with the Giants as to the final terms, as I have to think that his preference is to return to the Giants as long as he gets a fair market value contract.
Rumors are swirling. Supposedly down to Giants and Dodgers. Rumor says that he want 6 years but will take 5 years if AAV is upped, plus he wants more than Price's $31M AAV. So it looks like he's getting at least 5 years and $32M AAV, for a $160M contract, and probably closer to $175M for 5 years ($35M AAV), and if its 6 years, at least $192M ($32M AAV) and probably in the close vicinity of $200M ($33.3M AAV).
These numbers are around the high end of the estimates for Greinke. FG predicted 5 years at $32M AAV ($160M) and CBS 5 years at $33M AAV. The others were way off, at around $26M AAV, but, because it was low (relatively), had him at 6 years. If he does end up with the above ranges, he would be getting the high end of his estimates, and Leake's high end was $16M, which at 5 years would be an $80M contract, right in line with the high end of his estimates.
Also, it seems like the Dodgers will not let him go easily, their owner is now involved with the negotiations, showing how important this signing is to them. That to me is a sign that there is no way the Giants can win the negotiations, because if the owner is involved, it means that he really wants the deal to happen, for it would be easy for him to tell his GM or VP what the spending parameters he's comfortable with, and let them go to work. He's not going to waste time negotiating if he's going into this OK with losing Greinke, he has to be pursuing Greinke hard and usually that wins the free agent.
And I'm fine with that. As much as I would salivate about having Greinke and Bumgarner, signing him would pretty much exhaust all the payroll money available if the Giants do end up not paying the luxury tax, per my calculations. That means no money left for anyone else, just Greinke, at best cheap free agents in the $1-2M range, even Vogelsong's 2015 contract would push them into the luxury tax, so that means any deals made mid-season 2016 would have to be huge prospect overpays to get the other team to pay for that player's salary (and that's assuming that the CBA rules allows a team to skirt the luxury tax in this fashion; the rules are in legalese and I've never seen a good explanation of the tax regarding this situation; but I do know enough that backloading will not help with the penalty tax, only with the payroll budget for 2016).
Hopefully, if the Giants do end up signing Greinke, they make the decision that it's better to go over than to hold back, as signing Greinke would be a huge statement and to blunt that statement by not going after other players you need would just be a huge let down after such a big win as signing Greinke away from the Dodgers. Or perhaps they pull off some trades (Pagan?) to clear off salary off the roster for other moves. But they cannot let Greinke be the only significant pick up during the off-season, ideally, they also get Leake in addition, for a great 1-2 signing punch.
Bud-ding Contract for Lincecum
Bud Norris signed with the Braves for $2.5M. His numbers since 2012 are very similar to Lincecum, and better in some key aspects:
- Bud: 4.52 ERA, 1.392 WHIP, 1.1 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 7.9 BB/9, 2.42 K/BB, 127 games, 593.1 IP
- Tim: 4.68 ERA, 1.402 WHIP, 1.0 HR/9, 3.9 BB/9, 8.6 BB/9, 2.15 K/BB, 113 games, 615.2 IP
Ay, dar be the rub, Lincecum is fresh from hip surgery. He plans to have a showcase in January to show off what he can do, and see what offers he gets from teams. Sounds like he wants to start, and, based on the predictions by the FG Crowdsourcing and CBS ($6M and $5M+ incentives, respectively), seems like people think that some team somewhere will offer him #5 starter type money to either start for them or to battle for the #5 starter's spot. So this showcase is very important to his free agency, obviously, as the velocity he shows there will greatly affect his offers.
Wheel of Velocity
If he can show that he has the velocity that he had before, as some interpreted from the surgeon's statement, I would not be surprised to see deals double those predictions (no way he's getting more than one year, no way he will take more than one year, as he would like a season to build on his value, healthy) with a clear starting spot offered.
If his velocity is closer to 2015's version of Tim than the 2011 version of Timmy implied by the Doctor, then $5-6M seems reasonable as well, with offers to compete for a rotation spot, and perhaps one team will pull the trigger and even give him a spot. The Giants may or may not get him in this case, this is where he'll be taking the Vogelsong 2015 role.
And if there is no improvement in velocity, I don't see him getting much more than Norris got, and given the timing in January for his showcase, probably would have to take a spring training invite as part of a minor league deal, and probably ends up with SF, as I think they would definitely take him back under those terms.
Lincecum Line: Giants
Lincecum has probably the widest dichotomy of feelings towards retaining any Giants free agent as I can remember. There are those who still fawn over him like he's still the same goofy guy who won two Cy Youngs. Then there are those who only look at the overall results for the past four seasons and bitch and moan about money down the drain. As usual, I see both sides of the argument, but, as always, am focused on whether he can help the Giants going forward or not.
There are parallels here to what Zito went through, in that many fans only focus on the negatives and did not realize the positives that were there in the situation. In Zito's case, the contract was done, the money gone in monthly payments every season for seven seasons plus a buyout, so jettisoning him away was a foolish reaction by many fans, unable to understand that Zito provided value by throwing a lot of innings at a roughly average rate. Yes, wildly overpaid for that averageness, but better to keep that average production at zero net additional dollars to the payroll than foolishly DFA him and replace him with either a veteran who will cost more money (which just more than doubles the money going out) or a rookie prospect who is not ready, because during that period, we had nobody ready to take over even a #5 starter's role.
Lincecum has actually been dominant over long periods of time the past two seasons. From mid-April to his save in August in 2014, for the first 6-8 weeks in the 2015 season, he had the best ERA on the staff and kept the team afloat when others (like Bumgarner, among others) were not doing all that well. It is clear now that his effectiveness ended because of his hip issue, which a noted hip surgeon declared that he should be as good as new.
Now the fans will read that and think that he's back to Cy Young goodness. I acknowledge that such an outcome is possible, with time, but I think the more realistic route is to see what he had done in 2013 and 2014, and extrapolate that out under the assumption that the downturn in production was due to his hip condition worsening. He was relatively healthy for parts of each season, and yet still did not have a lot of velocity. Perhaps he was dealing with the pain and thus, would gain some velocity back after this surgery. But right now, I think it is better to assume not much velocity returned, as that sets up the scenarios where his velocity did return.
Because he was actually pretty good the past two seasons during extended stretches of time. In 2014, he was able to keep his ERA below 4 until late in July, roughly 4 months, on the back of an 18 game stretch where he had a 3.11 ERA. And as badly overall that he did, the Giants were still over able to go 15-11 in his starts, he contributed to their being able to make the playoffs. In 2015, he was able to keep his ERA under 4.00 until his next to last start before he was placed on the DL and eventually had to get surgery. In his first 13 starts, he had a 3.31 ERA, and the team went 8-7 in his starts overall. Of course, he can't be good all the time, but you have to believe that the down times won't be as bad now that he's healthy.
So when he's relatively healthy, he's been a pretty good starting pitcher, even with diminished velocity. That's not Cy Young good, but that's pretty good to get out of the #5 starter position, which is what he would hold if he rejoined the Giants healthy. Then, in the scenarios where he has some velocity returned, I think there can be some hope that he can 1) be a regularly good starting pitcher and 2) might even be a co-ace if he can get his velocity up higher, as the doctor predicted.
I would not pay him based on these hopes, but if he's healthy and throwing OK in his January showcase, I would match any deal up to $8M, as I think that he should be able to produce 1 WAR, if not as a starter, then certainly as a reliever, if he's healthy. This is a potential high reward (ERA in the 3's for the 5th starter is gold) for relatively low risk. I'm not paying him because of his past triumphs, I'm paying him because his recent performance and improved hip health should allow him to be relatively productive as a pitcher.
But, of course, with this said, I'm sure someone will accuse me of homerism. Sigh...