Thursday, December 03, 2015

Love Me Tender: Arbitration Offers for Belt and Kontos; Sanchez and Petit non-tendered

As reported by the beats, Belt and Kontos were given arbitration offers and thus are being retained by the Giants.  The bigger news, though anticlimatic since the beats have been foreshadowing this for a long while now, was that Hector Sanchez and Yusmiero Petit were non-tendered.


ogc thoughts

Thinking back, should have made the call, as MoseZD did in my comments, that both would be gone.  It just made a lot of sense.

Most of all, the beat writers had been foreshadowing the move long ago.  They have noted both as potential non-tenders.  And the reasons have been clear, which Baggarly outlined in his reportage on the non-tenders.  He noted redundancy (Susac and Brown; young relievers) and performance (both had down year, or really years for Hanchez).

Penalty Tax Threshold

In addition, as I've been covering with my analysis of the actual numbers involved with the payroll, both for Giants annual budget purposes, as well as the Penalty Tax purposes (which the MLB has named "Actual Club Payroll", which I'll call ACP), the Giants did not have as much money freed up as most commenters I've seen, where I've seen figures up to $40-50M, as if that was what the Giants could spend this off-season easily.

It won't be easy because the ACP only has $42.2M before incurring the luxury penalty tax, which Baer had already said that the Giants do not want to get into again, because they surpassed it last season.   Which is roughly the amount of money remaining if the annual payroll (which is their cash basis accounting of the payroll) is targeted at $180M, leaving $41.2M in annual payroll available to spend.

And that ACP figure is actually a ceiling, as I had to made an estimate on how large the Benefits category, which is beyond the payroll, actually was.  Based on the numbers for all the players and adjusting for actual payroll effects for the traded players, benefits were at minimum $18M to get the Giants over the penalty tax threshold, for the Giants did not release how far over they were nor how much penalty tax that they paid.

But going with $42.2M, first off, the Giants like to leave some buffer so that they can make mid-season moves like they have done in previous contending seasons.  So that chops this down to around $35M roughly.   That's also roughly what Greinke is going to get per ACP AAV methodology, eating up the whole thing, basically leaving Sanchez's and Petit's projected arbitration salaries as roughly the amount of money left over to sign anyone else.

Greinke Rose Scenario

Thus, I am hoping that part of the planning around signing Greinke (and, using Evan's language from last year, getting the rose) involves paying the luxury tax.  If they are going to go for broke and sign Greinke, I would still like to see the Giants sign the reliever that they have been targeting (one of whom is rumored to be Joakim Soria) and pay the penalty.  In addition, I would hope that they commit to spending funds mid-season to pick up any help the baseball operations deem necessary.

Heck, ideally, I would still like to see the Giants re-sign Leake as well in this scenario.  I believe that Leake will prove to be an excellent pitcher for us in AT&T, his poor performance with us in 2015 notwithstanding.  A rotation of Greinke, Bumgarner, Leake, Peavy, and Cain would be a pretty monster rotation.  The tax rate is 30% for two time offenders, so if these signings pushes us over by $25M, the Giants would be paying $7.5M in taxes, which is not that much when the overall payroll is around $205M (ACP around $215).

Greinke No Rose Scenario

Now this is what I consider to be the most likely scenario.  As much as I would like to see a rotation with Bumgarner and Greinke atop it, as I noted in my last post, Greinke is most likely not joining us, mostly because the Dodger's owner is taking a hands on approach to this negotiation, which shows how important this is to them (meanwhile, no talk about any of the Giants owners stepping in), punctuating Magic Johnson's public statements that re-signing Greinke is the Dodger's #1 priority this off-season.

Reportedly, the Giants have not spoke much with Leake since the off-season began, focusing their efforts on the top tier pitchers like Greinke, Price, and perhaps Cueto too.    I have to think that they have some sort of arrangement where Leake will check around with other interested clubs and when he reaches a point where he's ready to make a decision, he'll check in with the Giants and see what their offer will be.   Both sides said that they want the other, so the main difference has to be what the market will bear on Leake, so I assume the Giants told him not to sign with anyone until they have a chance to make a counter-bid.

Unless another team outbids the Giants, I don't see Leake leaving for greener pastures.   Writers have been pushing Arizona as a probable suitor because he lives in the area, but all the rumors so far has been about the Diamondback's pursuit of Cueto, who they have already offered a 6 year, $120M contract and been turned down (reportedly he's now looking for at least Zimmerman's $22M AAV).  They have their GM Stewart, VP La Russa, and President Hall in hot pursuit of Cueto.   Plus, the usual suspects are also noted to have made contact, including the Giants.

Now it gets interesting, if the Giants could perhaps sign Cueto.   Again, hopefully the Giants are willing to break the bank and get Cueto and Leake.  I don't think it happens, given how hot and heavy the D-backs are with Cueto.  But he'll be a big sign for someone, projections ranged from $21M AAV to $24M AAV and 5 to 7 years.  I think he'll end up at Zimmerman's $22M AAV but at 6 years (or more if things get heated).  I don't see the Giants going that far, they have been gunshy about deals beyond 5 years since Zito's contract.

Probable Scenario, Part 1:  SP, probably Leake

I expect the Giants to kick a lot of tires, but to end up without any of the top tier pitchers.  As Baer noted in an interview after the season ended, the history of long-term contracts with pitchers 30 years and older is not good.   I think it is not a coincidence that the Giants have been linked to the pitchers who they might get at 5 years, and the more likely they are to end up at 5 years, like Greinke, and the more likely they are to end up healthy at 5 years, again like Greinke, the more smoke we have seen with that pitcher.  Price clearly was getting 7 years and hardly a peep about the Giants.  Zimmerman was going to get 5 years but he's already had a TJS, and thus a huge risk because a pitcher's career is basically over after he has a second TJS.

What I expect is that the Giants will make Leake their big signing.  People do not like having Bumgarner, Leake, Peavy, Cain, 5th starter (Heston or free agent) as our rotation, but I'm OK with it.  Leake, as I've been trying to show in my posts, can get his ERA into the low to mid 3's, his problems with us related to his injury.  I think 5 years, $18AAV is probably what is going to get it done.

Cain may or may not be good again, but we don't need good from him in the 4th spot, we just need good enough.  I think that once he's healthy, he can be good enough with the upside of returning to prior goodness if he can stay healthy.  We need to compare him to what we need from him in the rotation, not against how good he was previously.

Meanwhile Peavy, while capable of being good, has rarely been capable of being healthy.   That's why it's nice to have guys like Blackburn and Blach pretty much ready to come up to the majors from AAA, and then there is Beede and Mejia in AA, who could be ready by mid-season, plus Stratton could continue to do well enough to put himself into the equation, as well as Bickford could accelerate upward and put his name into play as well.  This covers Cain as well, should he have any issues.

If it is not Leake, there are a number of other possibilities.  The number one possibility is Jeff Samardzija, whose name comes up all the time from the beat writers.  The Giants reportedly tried to trade for him previously, and their name comes up in rumors a lot for him.  However, he seems closer to signing than Leake, as it has already been reported that he already has a $100M bid already in hand.  He has the stuff that GM's drool over, but, except for 2014, has never really shown that he knows how to utilize it properly for good production.  Apparently one team is betting that he does.

Others include (with roughly expected projections; signings so far has indicated a hot market, as players got nearer the high end of years and AAV):
  • Mike Leake:  5 years, $14-16M AAV (with the heat of the market, looks like he'll be at the high end of this AAV range, and could get another year). 
  • Jeff Samardzija:  5 years, $16-17M AAV (current reported bid of $100M looks like a 6 years and $16.7M AAV, based on the projections, he probably got another year because a number of articles note the lack on IP on his arm since he was used a lot as reliever early in his career, so I can see a team giving an extra year to seal the deal; rumor is that Samardzija and Leake is the Giants Plan B if Greinke don't sign with the Giants.  Also, if Shark gets a 6 year deal, Leake's probably getting one too).  
  • Wei-Yin Chen:  4-5 years, $16M AAV
  • Scott Kazmir:  3 years, $13-14M AAV
  • Yovani Gallardo:  4 years, $14-15M AAV
  • John Lackey:  2-3 years, $14-16M AAV
  • Hisashi Iwakuma:  3 years, $14-15M AAV
  • J.A. Happ:  3 years, $10-11M AAV (signed for 3 years, $12M AAV)
  • Marco Estrada:  3 years, $12-14M AAV (signed pre-FA for 2 years, $13M AAV)
Probable Scenario, Part 2:  RP

I'm now expecting the second big signing to be a relief pitcher.  The Giants appear to want a replacement for Affeldt among the Core Four.  I don't see it has not trusting Kontos, Strickland, or Osich to come through, it's about having a bulletproof bullpen.  Their interest in Soria is indicative of the level of expertise they are seeking, he's a closer and presumably would take over that role from Casilla if he is signed.  Projected for 2-3 years, $6-8M AAV (I would guess 3 years, $7-8M AAV).

Probably Scenario, Part 3:  #5 Starter/Long Relief

I think the third biggest signing to be a #5 Starter or Long Reliever.  While I would like the Giants to get at least two Leake type starters or better (Greike, Cueto), I also do not want to lose our draft pick, which currently is 19th but with so many QO's, the pick should get the Giants somewhere around #15, +/- 2 picks.  Last year they started with the 23rd pick but ended up picking 18th.  Plus other teams have been favored for the remaining top guys, almost every other Leake type has a QO attached, except for Kazmir.   So if we get two good pitchers, the odds are that one or both will cost us our first round draft pick.

So I expect to get a middling SP as another acquisition, which will get the brickbats going.  I expect this SP, whoever he may be, to most probably be in competition with Heston for the #5 Starter's position, with the loser taking the long relief role.  I'm hoping that this could be Lincecum.

I still think Lincecum can be a very good pitcher.  Mainly because, as I've tried to demonstrate in recent posts, he has been a very good pitcher, and very recently, only his body (specifically his hip) would give out.   The plus in his situation here is that 1) we do not need a lot out of the #5 starter, as every team's #5 starter is sketchy in some way, and most do not pitch the full season, the Giants have been the exception in recent years, and 2) as noted above, we have a lot of pitchers getting ready for their close-up.   Plus the long relief guy in this case is Heston, who would be the first SP to get a shot at the spot.

And he's not even as bad as people seem to characterize him as.  Let's take last year.  He had a 4.13 ERA when he went down for good on the DL.  The average SP in the NL had a 4.05 ERA, so he was basically average.  An average pitcher would make a good middle rotation guy, #3 or #4, much like what Zito was for us for many years, a roughly average pitcher, pitching in the bottom half of the rotation for us.

That would be an advantage for us.   We do not need a lot out of the final rotation spot, even his poor numbers in recent years can be an asset there for us.  It is much like I noted above for Cain, we need to see how good he is for the role he is being given, not against the standards of how good he had been before or even against the standards of how bad he has been.

It has nothing much to do with sentiment, mostly to do with a high reward/low risk gamble:  any SP you pay anywhere from $5-10M (have no idea what we will pay him, but if the Giants get another pitcher fitting under the budget, this is approximately how much they have left for him) for him has a number of risks that makes him not likely to perform the way a team hopes he can perform.   In addition, as with any starting position, this is really only a commitment for up to half a season, if he's really that bad, and the replacements don't come through, the team could trade for an upgrade at mid-season.   It's OK, every other team's #5 is struggling too, we don't lose ground with him in the rotation.

His upside is that even in the last two years, he had extended periods of low 3 ERA where we can rack up a lot of wins while he's on, and we have a ton of ready and almost ready SP waiting in the upper minors should his healthy falters.  And he showed this the past two years, he was 19-13 the past two seasons, and the team was 23-18 in his starts, even with the periods of implosion and sure losses as he continued to pitch while dealing with his health.   A healthy Lincecum pitching in the bottom of the rotation should be able to do even better.

If the Giants don't go the Lincecum route, there are others, besides the ones listed above, who could take the spot:
  • Tim Lincecum:  1 year, $5-6M AAV
  • Doug Fister:  1-2 years, $10M AAV
  • Matt Latos:  1 year, $10-12M AAV
Plus, I'm not sure how many others who are now available after getting non-tendered just now too.  

For example, Harrison Alvarez was non-tendered by the Marlins.  He was really bad last season, so there is some risk, but even with that, his career numbers are these:  3.80 ERA, 105 ERA+, 2.29 K/BB.  Major problem is his low 4.7 K/9.  It was even worse in 2015, 3.6 K/9.  But just as late as 2014, Alvarez had a 2.65 ERA even with a 5.3 K/9, because he had only a 1.6 BB/9, resulting in a very good 3.36 K/BB.  

A major issue is that he's recovering from right shoulder surgery (reason why last season was so bad) that could cost him at least one month of the season, but teams often (Giants don't, though) skip their 5th starter for the first month or so anyway, plus, in the Giants case, they could start the long reliever initially (or even Blackburn), until Alvarez, who was the Marlins Opening Day starter last season, is ready.  Plus, given the major surgery, teams aren't even sure if he can throw well enough ever again, to some extent.

Possible Alternative Scenario, Part 3:  Samardzija

As noted above, the rumor is that Samardzija and Leake are the Giants plan B if Greinke does not sign with the Giants.  I think that it is possible for the Giants to try to pull this off, but the way I view this, it's more risk mitigation on the part of Sabean and gang.  There is no guarantee that Leake will sign with us, nor The Shark.  By pursuing both of them, you improve the odds greatly of signing at least one of them.   Signing one of them would fit the scenario I noted above of a second tier SP signing, a reliever, and a 5th starter.

Now, again, I would love to get a rotation with a couple of SP like them, it would be great to have Bumgarner, Samardzija, Leake, Peavy and Cain as our rotation.  But the two of them would absorb almost all the remaining budget and getting the reliever too would probably push the team over the luxury tax threshold.  As I noted above, the tax payment would not be too much.  So hopefully the Giants will consider this option as well.  

But it could end up being a totally different scenario of signing just Samardzija and Leake (not looking forward to typing "Samardzija" repeatedly, though :^) and figuring out LF and RP with trade options or cheap veteran options next year before spring training, like how we got Aoki last season.  

Possible Alternative Scenario, Part 3:  Zobrist

The Giants name have been popping up regularly every time Zobrist is brought up, showing that the team has strong interests in signing him.   As I noted above, not a lot of payroll space available, and he's looking for a 4 year, $15M AAV ($60M) contract right now (one projection had him at 3 years, $51M).  Between Leake, a reliever and Zobrist, the Giants might just fit under the luxury tax as well as the payroll max, leaving mid-season for potentially paying the tax.   He would probably start in LF, but would see time around the infield and outfield, to give rest and to vary the lineup, as well as to give a starting spot to Belt when Posey gets to start at 1B.   He's also starting 2B insurance (he has stated a preference of being a starting 2B;  but that could be because he thinks 2B is more valuable, while the study by Matt Swarz showed that OF's actually get paid more $/WAR) in case Panik's back should go out, as well as RF, where he has mostly played in the OF before.  He could probably even stick at SS for any DL stint for Crawford, if necessary.  Should he move, the Giants could bring up Williamson or Parker.


Rosterbation

Here is the state of the roster to me right now.  There are 21 players on the roster ,and they are as expected:

  • C:  Posey, Susac
  • IF:  Belt, Panik, Duffy, Crawford, Tomlinson, Adrianza
  • OF:  Pence, Pagan, Blanco
  • SP:  Bumgarner, Cain, Peavy, Heston
  • RP:  Casilla, Romo, Lopez, Kontos, Strickland, Osich

One issue I didn't deal with in the above section on RP is where does the RP pitcher go on the roster?  We have the six guys already, and nobody should go down, plus we expect to carry a long reliever, possibly Heston, possibly Lincecum if he's re-signed, or a free agent.  You can't carry 5 bench players along with 8 relievers.

Here's where I extrapolate off one of the themes of this off-season:  making Tomlinson a super-utility guy and playing him in the OF.  If the Giants could get him playable in LF, they could start Blanco in LF (he's pretty proven as an adequate starter, especially in a lineup as deep as the Giants are, when healthy) and carry one backup OF (probably Parker, perhaps Williamson) along with Tomlinson as the 5th OF.  This would enable the Giants to carry both a long reliever as well as another RP, should they sign one.

But if Zobrist should be signed, then Blanco would be the 4th OF, Tomlinson could still be the 5th OF, plus both Zobrist and Tomlinson could play most positions on the field.   This would probably mean that Heston is in the rotation instead of long relief, depending on the Giants holding to their statement of not exceeding the threshold for the luxury tax and sticking to their payroll target.

The Giants could also decide to not go with a long reliever, instead of shortening the bench.  With Kontos, Strickland, and Osich as our middle relievers, they could go beyond 1 inning to bridge to the 7th inning.  Kontos in 73 appearances pitched more than one inning in 24 of them, roughly a third.  Strickland 9 out of 55 (16%).   Plus, if the Giants gets two innings eaters signed for the rotation, only Peavy and maybe Cain would be at risk for a short outing, so the bullpen could survive without long reliever.  And, if necessary, the Giants could send Strickland or Osich to AAA to get some rest and to bring up fresh arms, like Hall, maybe Broadway or Gearrin, and hopefully Law and Okert will be ready soon for their audition, if not by spring training.

Agile Risk Mitigation

Lots of ways the roster can still be shaped right now.  Sabean and gang has been looking to build a very flexible roster so that when we lose any starter, we can shift somebody in and not lose a lot of momentum.  I've been calling this risk mitigation, but a popular term in business nowadays is about agile operations, and a flexible roster certainly falls into that category.

They have certainly been achieving that, the Giants last season should have had a down season with all the losses they experienced in the rotation, bullpen, and starting lineup, both injuries and poor performances.  They never had their expected starting lineup much, nor their expected starting rotation even once, with Vogelsong and Heston basically pitching the whole season, and even their bullpen suffered some problems.  Yet they still were in competition until early September, fighting the good fight, when most other teams would have faltered by mid-season.

Roster Reaching Boiling Point

The team and farm system has been building up mass and talent, to the point where we soon will have an overflow of talent that will allow us to start trading experienced players for younger replacements, and get a holistic ecosystem working where the talent we trade off replenishes the lower minors and start the cycle all over again.   It is kind of like reaching a boiling point for talent.

We are reaching that in the infield already, with our great young infield, plus Tomlinson and Arroyo, plus Miller, Hinojosa, and Fox starting their climb upward, perhaps Slater and Vizcaino too.  We have a good number of catchers as well, with Posey and Susac, plus Brown and Garcia are looking good too, and are the reasons why the Giants willingly let go of Sanchez through a non-tender.  Our bullpen is similarly reaching boiling point too, as we have a good set of experienced relievers plus young guys like Strickland, Osich, Law, Okert, Black, Hall and perhaps others (Jake Smith, Gardeck, Slania, Agosta, Diaz, Gregorio, Chase Johnson) joining them soon.

We aren't there yet with starting pitching, but we got Bumgarner and Heston already up, plus Blackburn and Blach ready for their auditions, and there are Stratton, Beede, and Mejia looking ready in 2016.  In addition, there are possibles reaching the majors in a couple of years like Bickford, Crick, Coonrod, Jordan Johnson, Suarez, at some point, we could be at a boiling point within two seasons.  And some of them (Crick possibly) who will end up in the bullpen instead, adding to the talent there.

Only the outfield is not close to any sort of boil, it is not that warm right now, pretty lukewarm, if that.  Williamson is the only OF prospect who is looking like a possible starter.  And there is still Parker, who had a nice power spurt last season, plus Hunter Cole (Giants cornering the market on players named Hunter, it seems) and Slater are interesting enough OF prospects, Fargas and Duggar too, though farther down.

Given the defensive spectrum, some of the infield overflow could end up here, the Giants already tried Tomlinson in the OF, and given how poorly Freddie Lewis manned the LF defense and yet still was considered a defensive positive by the advanced metrics, I have no doubts that Tomlinson will eventually get there as well, as he seems to have a lot of baseball sense, which FLew never seemed to have.  Given Arroyo's lack of speed, I have to wonder also if Duffy might eventually be moved to the OF as well, to open 3B for Arroyo, as Duffy's speed would prove to be very useful out there as well.   It would not surprise me if Duffy could be a gold glove player in the outfield, he has a lot of good baseball instincts, he adjusted so fast to 3B, becoming very good defensively.   And Fox, when he signed with the Giants, noted that he could play anywhere on the field, so he could end up in the outfield at some point as well, he has a lot of speed as well.  Future CF?  That's been our major position problem for years now, only Gary Brown made any sort of interesting climb, but he fizzled out pretty fast.

Plus, eventually Posey is playing 1B, which would push Belt to the OF at some point.   If it were up to me, I would just move Belt to LF permanently, and we pick up a cheap strong defensive 1B (Ishikawa would be the model for who to pick up, OK offensively vs. RHP) to start there when Posey don't need a rest there.   Our lineup is strong enough to absorb that kind of an offensive hole at 1B, plus if he is good defensively, he's adding value in another way.  And basically, he's not replacing Belt's bat, but the LF production, which was .722 OPS in 2015.   Travis has a career .727 OPS against RHP.   And I'm sure there are other good glove platoon lefty 1B out there who would be a cheap pickup.

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