Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Your 2018 Giants: The Options and the Opt-In

Per news reports, Cueto chose not to use his opt-out, opting in to stay with the Giants.  In addition, today, it was announced that the Giants picked up the options on Bumgarner, Moore, and Sandoval.

In addition, in the press conference, they announced the hires of Curt Young as new pitching coach and Alonzo Powell as new hitting coach.  Both were astonishingly recommended by their predecessors, Righetti and Meulens, respectively.

They also announced that their top areas for improvement are starting CF, starting 3B (Sandoval looking like a backup utility player at the moment), and the bullpen.

ogc thoughts

Cueto Declines to Opt-Out

Cueto opted to stay with the team and basically this aligns with what he had said that he felt, that he liked the team, and decided it was better business to stay.  Given that Tanaka opted to stay with the Yankees already, that was a sign that there was not a lot of market beyond the $67M and 3 years that Tanaka has with the Yankees, for a pitcher on the older side with a strong injury history and a poor season performance.   That is roughly what Cueto has with the Giants, 4 years at $89M (4 years @ $21M plus $5M buyout of $22M option year).

As long time readers may remember, long term deals make me uneasy, usually.  For every great deal like Barry Bonds, you get deals like Benitez, Durham, Alfonzo, Rowand, Zito, Renteria, Huff.  But I liked the Cueto deal when it was signed because odds were that he would have opted out after two years (who knew blisters caused by a new baseball would happen!), but that even if he were to stay, since his effectiveness was not tied to velocity, but to deception, he would be able to sustain his good performances longer than other free agent starting pitchers.  Of course, arm issues can happen at any time (TINSTAAPP), but that's just part of the risk in the game, you can't avoid or mitigate all risk, nor do you want to, as you end up going nowhere.

If anything, this was better than what anyone could have expected at the time of the signing.  He had an outstanding 2016 for us, a return to his norms for production, and given that his decline in 2017 was mostly not talent related (though there was a mild arm injury, similar to the one he had in 2015), but externally (new ball causing blisters) related, it is reasonable to assume that he is following the typical aging pattern.  The general saber rule on aging is a loss of half a win per season for each year of the contract.

He produced 5.6 WAR in 2016, and if we assume 5.0 expected in 2017 (which he did not meet, but even in his down year, extrapolated to 32 starts, he produced 2.2 WAR, to show how good he was in 2017) and that he continues on his original path (assuming the balls don't affect him going forward), that's 4.5 WAR in 2018, 4.0 in 2019, 3.5 in 2020, and 3.0 in 2021, for a total of 15.0 WAR expected production.  At $21M per seasons, and assuming average of $10.5M per WAR for the period (currently at $8M/WAR and 10% inflation assumption, that's roughly $9M in 2018, $10M in 2019, $11M in 2020, and $12M in 2021, for an average of $10.5M/WAR), the expected production is 2.0 WAR per season, or a total of 8.0 WAR, vs. the expectation of 15.0 WAR produced.

So the expectation is that he should produce twice the WAR that the contract had priced into it, meaning that he would have to have a serious decline in production for him not to pay back the contract value.  In addition, if he can provide just two seasons of normal production (roughly 4.0 WAR) over the next two years, and then zero WAR the following two (one slightly above 0, last below 0), he would still pay off, only front loaded.  The odds greatly favor the Giants that the contract will pay off in some way over the life of the contract, barring another ball fiasco or a sudden turn for the worse in production.

And that is a serious concern, as it would be for any 32 year old starting pitcher with a history of injuries (shortened years in 2011, 2013, 2017) as well as a lot of innings.   The early 30's is a dangerous period for pitchers (see Lincecum and Cain).  And Cueto's contract cover his years 32-35, when a pitcher's health reliability (per Baseball Forecaster research) starts to decline.

Still, the good news is that it is the pitchers who rely on high velocity for their ability to disrupt the hitter who tend to fade out faster as they age and lose their velocity.  Guys who are pitchers, who can work hitters with off-speed pitches, or pitch to location with pin-point accuracy, tends to have longer shelf life than high velocity hurlers.  I see Cueto as more as one of these pitchers (like the way he varies how to throws the ball to the plate) than a hurler (though he did have a 95 MPH not that long ago, or so I recall).

Giants Pick Up Options

It was a no-brainer for the Giants to pick up the options for Bumgarner, Moore, and Sandoval.  Obvious for Bumgarner, but some fans were not sure about Moore and Sandoval.

A pitcher who can pitch a full season and with some level of average performance is not easy to find.  And there is some good chance that he can be good, if they can find a way to keep him consistent with his pitching.  That the option was only $9M, or roughly 1 WAR, made the decision even easier.   Moore is all of those.

He might not seem like it, based on his 2017 performance, but he is at least an average starting pitcher.  He did that in 2016, generating 2.1 bWAR between the Rays and Giants.  Which was not bad for his first full season back from TJS that he rehabbed from in 2014-2015.  Delivering that from the middle of the rotation, 3-4, is good.  Unfortunately, the pitch the Giants taught him caused him to lose his mechanics, and so he had to start back from zero, it seems, with the basics.  He was pretty good at the end until that last start that left a bad taste, but hopefully that will not sit well with him during the off-season and he makes sure he don't have that feeling often in 2018.

Sandoval is making the veteran's minimum, roughly $550K and change, from us, with the rest of his bloated contract being paid by the Red Sox.  If he can just be a bench player and provide some backup play behind 3B and 1B, with occasional starts and a nice bat off the bench, that is worth holding him.  His numbers are not all that bad from the bench, giving us some power off the bench.  He replaces Gillaspie's spot from the past two seasons, and pairs nicely with Tomlinson as infield backup.

Meanwhile, if he ever gets himself back into playing shape, he could force his way into the lineup and take some 3B starts, and if no 3B is picked up before opening day, take the starting 3B spot.  And if the Giants need to send him down, waiver him, and wish him luck if another team takes him or send him to minors if nobody bites, a really great no risk contract to see what he can still do on the major league field with proper conditioning.  At that salary, it's the equivalent of buying a $1 lottery ticket, who knows, he might work out, maybe he truly appreciates coming back and will work for it, and he was pretty good when he worked for it.

Defensive Starting CF

Centerfield is a clear upgrade need, particularly for defensive, so that he can cover for slower corner outfielders.   Span has already had the talk, and he would move to LF if the Giant do make a move.  though Bochy tempered that by noting that Span did some work to improve defensively in the back half of the season (leaving us to wonder why Bochy didn't have him doing that in spring training first thing, or why Span took him that long to figure that out, it was not like he was that great defensively in 2016 either.

A tweeter by the handle DarrylZero suggests Jarrod Dyson as a great pickup for CF, where he can platoon with Slater there, as he can steal a lot of bases and thus brings great speed to CF, but would not cost that much, perhaps $4-5M per year.  MLBTR has him at 2 years, $12M, a bit higher, but noted that with his baserunning and defense, he can generate 2 WAR, though he needs to be platooned as he's bad against lefties.  That sounds pretty good.

A name coming up often among fans as a trade target is the Reds Billy Hamilton.  A speedster who don't hit for much (and strikes out a lot), he delivers 1 WAR just from his defense.   Maybe our hitting coaches can help him figure some things out.  I would expect that he's looking for $4M this year, as second year arb, and $7M in 2019.  With the Reds just as bad as the Giants in 2017, at 68-94, they might be looking to dump salary and trade for prospects.

Bullpen

I'm not sure what Sabean meant by this.  Melancon, Dyson, Smith, Strickland, Crick, Gearrin, seems to be a good group to have.  In any case, to add another, say, good lefty reliever, like a free agent Boone Logan, who I've loved for a long time, we would have to get rid of one of those six relievers.  Crick is staying, as well as the first three, leaving Strickland and Gearrin, I suppose, as trade bait (perhaps for that CF they are looking for;  some like Billy Hamilson of the Reds as a trade target).

We also have a fast rising lefty in DJ Snelten, a 6' 7" pitcher who appears to be finally getting comfortable with his height (he was only 5' 8" when he was a freshman in high school), as well as two MLB veterans in Okert and Osich who has been good in stretches (as well as bad).

Lefties available in free agency include:  Mike Minor, Jake McGee, both would greatly improve our bullpen, and make me more bullet-proof.  They would be in the same price range as Affeldt was.  This would probably push Crick to AAA, where the Giants can stash him for 2018 until a righty needs a rest or the injury bug hits, though perhaps they then trade one of the right-handers to get prospects.

Starting 3B

Picture looks worse after Moustakas got the qualifying offer from his team, so it would cost the Giants both their 2nd round pick, as well as a fifth round pick, to sign him.  And that 2nd round pick, by being the 2nd pick overall in the second round, should be able to select some of the potential first rounders who fell, making it essentially the same as the type of pick we normally get when we are competitive, in the 20's.

Sandoval is a backup option, but the Giants want an upgrade here.  I don't see the Giants going into 2018 without some viable 3B option, and given they used the word "creative" often, I expect some move being made, perhaps signing Nunez to be our starter at 3B again, but who will be moving around and be more of a super-utility guy, like he was before.

Todd Frazier appears to be a nice free agent 3B.  MLBTR has him at 3 years, $33M, and the Giants could backload that.  Notes that he's above-average defensively and as a hitter, and has some power.  Seems like a reasonable option, perhaps he's Plan A and Nunez is Plan B for the Giants?

Coaching Musical Chairs Nearly Over

With these two officially introduced, the only coach left is assistant hitting coach, per beat reports.  Personally, unless company officials are saying that's still a position being filled, I don't see this position necessarily being filled.  This is because the role did not exist before, it was only added last season, seemingly in order to allow the team to add Steve Decker onto the coaching team without firing someone.

Though I suppose that could be a new trend in baseball given that Powell was the assistant hitting coach with Houston.   And perhaps he has someone in mind for the position.  But given that Powell is new, if it were me, I would not want another voice diluting the message I'm providing the players, unless that person is someone I trust would promulgate the same message.

So it appears the Giants fulfilled their objective of getting more analytical, as well as widening their knowledge base, with this massive infusion of knowledge from other teams with advanced analytics on their resume.  Powell from the Astros (who got their knowledge from the Cards;  and the guy who did heads their analytics was someone from the Bay Area!), Young from the A's (though I've never been impressed with their pitchers), Herges from the Dodgers (but from their minor leagues).

It appears that I'm wrong about Bochy's influence on the hiring process.  While it was mentioned that Powell and Young were recommendations from Meulens and Righetti, Bochy was not mentioned at all by the beats' reportage on the announcement.

4 comments:

  1. Todd Frazier will be 32 when the new season starts, with a poor BA the last couple of years and lots of strikeouts. Isn’t he an example of the wrong direction for the team to be going?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As we have all seen with the Giants, when there is a need, and not a lot of money to be spent, the team compromises. But yeah, age, strikeouts and low BA is not something they actively look for. However, they accept negative factors like this when the overall package is positive.

      Yes, low BA and lots of strikeouts. But also lots of walks, for a great OBP of .344 and OPS of .772 in 2017, and .781 OPS since becoming a starter.

      And that's becoming more analytically driven, as BA has been shown to not be the best indicator (though I would still argue, a good indicator still, which many/most sabers denigrate loudly against), that OBP is a better indicator of his abilities as a hitter. Sure, lots of strikeouts is bad, but when he's hitting about 30 homers per season, most teams overlook the strikeouts. He would be perfect for the #5 batting spot.

      Sprinkle the good defense on top, that's a profile the Giants will like for the team.

      Age is always a problem, but that's true of any free agent you sign, almost. The good news is that his walk rate is rising, while his strikeout rate is relatively static, so there is no signs in his peripherals that he'll be bad in the next year or two. except that his XBH% has fallen over the past couple of seasons. And steadily.

      I'll admit, though, that I didn't dig this deeply when I suggested him, I based it on the description of him in the article I read about him.

      But he adds about 1 WAR in defense each season, plus is a good power hittter, that would fit the Giants needs for offense and defense.

      However, as I'm writing up my post on the season ending press conference, the team actually don't have that much money before reaching the CBT penalty threshold, maybe $7-8M, which they are hoping to stay under to reset penalties.

      Is Frazier worth going over for? The Giants might have to try to trade someone to get under, in order to get a Frazier level (that is, $10M-ish contract) signing done.

      They could probably save $6M by trading Span with enough money to get his salary that low for another team to accept, for example. Not much else tradeable, to save that much money.

      I only see the Giants going past the penalty in order to pick up someone huge, like a Stanton level type of trade, if they ever can figure out how to work that (doubtful, I'll believe it when I see it, rumors or not that they have been very interested and active).

      Delete
  2. It would pay to spend a bit, as opposed to start having the seats sales start to dwindle and all the goodies that get sold at the games will decline also. It pays to contend. I don't think the giants were as bad as their recond, and should improve a lot by making a few reasonable moves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment (and to campanari, should have mentioned above too).

      As I'll dig into in my post mortem, I think the team can improve a lot just by being healthy and producing what they had done before. Then with a few reasonable moves, help to raise the floor of what they can produce.

      It would pay to spend a bit, but I don't want the team to just go crazy and make things harder in the future, which large long-term contracts could do if they become albatrosses. I would understand paying a lot to get a Stanton. I would not understand doing that to get a Lorenzo Cain, who got a QO, is already 32 YO for next season, and probably gets a contract covering years 32-35.

      Delete

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