Saturday, February 17, 2018

Your 2018 Giants: Signs FA Tony Watson for $9M

The Giants have agreed to sign free agent Tony Watson, former teammate and buddy of closer Mark Melancon (he apparently tried hard to recruit him even when he was briefly with the Dodgers;  he pitched very well for them in the playoffs).  Two years at $9M, plus games played escalators that easily push the contract to $14M, but all in 2019, none in 2018, plus a player's option for 2020.

To stay under the CBT penalty, his agent, Scott Boras (of course, he was the sneak that cost us a Top 10 pick in Matt White, when he found a loophole that made him a free agent; I won't fully forgive him unless Bryce Harper signs with us next off-season :^) ), helped figure out a way for the Giants to sign him, given their interest in him once the news that Will Smith would miss at least the first month of the season in his recovery from TJS.  Apparently for the CBT, because it is a two year contract with a third year player option, for AAV purposes, it counts as 3 years, but because only $9M is guaranteed over the first two years of the contract, you divide the $9M by the 3 years.

Boras' financial accountant earned his salary with that move, and this might break the log jam of free agents, as other teams try to do similar contractual gymnastics to sign other free agents.

ogc thoughts

Exciting move today.  As I've been noting, the Giants under Bochy likes having lefties in the pen, and hence all my talk about Blach and then Snelten taking one of the opening day spots, especially after Smith was declared out at least for the month of April.  This essentially replaced Smith with similar abilities, and then when he returns, he won't need to be as good as hoped, he could just be a loogy for this season, as Watson has strong experience and performances being a setup reliever.

This also means that all the estimates I've seen about how much the Giants had below the threshold to spend were incorrect, because most had $4M when the Giants signed A-Jax, which would mean nothing much left.  However, even after Watson, the talk is that the Giants have enough to take on the major league vets who are currently on minor league deals with the team, and still stays under.

Furthermore, adding Watson probably adds another win, roughly, to the WAR projections, which pushes them out of a tie for the second wild card.  Of course, as we saw last season, projections can go horribly wrong, but you got to start somewhere.  Add in the lowered projections for Bumgarner and others due to injuries not likely to repeat, and the Giants are pretty close to the Dodgers for the NL West Division Title.  I'll take that right now given how bad 2017 was.

In addition, this means that the Giants could have signed Jarrod Dyson instead of AJax and Watson.  As much as I was rooting for signing Dyson, I prefer having Watson in the bullpen, we need that more than we need another OF (albeit, great defensive OF).  We have a lot of decent OF prospects in Parker, Williamson, Slater, who can step in and stem the loss of a Pence or McCutchen, so that all hell don't break loose if there is an extended injury.

Bullpen Outlook:  Looking Good!

Now we have Melancon, Dyson, Watson, Strickland, Gearrin set in the bullpen, with all the young prospects battling for the last bullpen spot (also Derek Holland, but I think he'll either be the last starter after Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, and Stratton, or the long reliever).   Also, given that it's early in the season, the Giants could select another short reliever instead of a long reliever, and just have a bullpen game to fill in, should a disaster start happens.

I think Holland will win the last starter spot (I'm assuming Stratton delivers a strong enough spring) because he showed off great talent early in the 2017 season.  So it is a matter of the Giants getting him going again, like they did with Dyson.  I don't expect him to be low 3-ERA immediately (or ever), but I expect the Giants to make enough progress that they would rather keep him up with the team and work out the final kinks, since they can option Blach to the minors, and recall him back and forth.   Depending on how good he shows off, either last starter or long relief.  But my bet is on starter.

I also bet that with Julian Fernandez and Derek Law around, the former because of his triple-digit stuff, Law because of how well he has done previously, they will want to go with them in the final two bullpen spots, and go without a long reliever initially, in order to hold onto Fernandez.  It is a lot to expect an A-ball pitcher without great numbers to jump to the majors the next year and do okay, but the last time they did something close to this, they brought up Jonathan Sanchez quickly through the minors before planting him in the majors.  I expect him to do well enough that the Giants are very intrigued and would keep him in hopes of keeping him later.

I can see the Giants trying to work out a trade with the Rockies, but I assume that they would not give up such a good asset that easily and would force the Giants to hold onto Fernandez at least for a couple of months.   By then, if he's good, the Giants are keeping him, and if he's bad, the Rockies might be willing to take another player in trade.  If he's only okay, I think that's an impasse then, as both teams see that he could still develop more.

Overall, our bullpen looks pretty good now.  Melancon, Dyson, Watson, and Strickland is a pretty good foursome.  If Smith can return to his prior goodness, then we have an awesome quintent, plus Gearrin has elite spin rates himself, so I wonder if he's underrated by most.  Add in either Law or Fernandez providing good middle relief, and the Giants got an awesome bullpen.  Even just those first six would be pretty awesome, most of them have experience and success in closing and setup, going an inning at a time, meaning Bochy won't need to mix and match as often as he had to the past few seasons after the Core Four retired.


  1. I'm getting more excited about Watson.

    I checked out Baseball Savant, the stats I used for Stratton, and found out that his sinker, which he throws the majority of the time has one of the top spin rates in the majors, as well as one of the lowest xwOBA. His changeup, while not as good overall as his sinker, is pretty good still.

    These are the results for 200 pitches, 100 results.

    His sinker has xwOBA of 0.277, which places him 10th among all pitchers with 200 pitches and 100 results. Out of 103 pitchers, which is excellent. He is 19th out of these pitchers in terms of spin rate.

    His changeup has xwOBA of 0.292, but only 119th out of 235. However, I would focus on the fact that 0.292 is essentially the same as his sinker, which is pretty good, not the fact that there are so many who are better. And perhaps there is more that can be worked out here, his spin rate is 5th out of the 235, gives an area that the Giants could improve him in.

    For another view into how good his xwOBA for each pitch is, wOBA is scaled to be similar to OBP, and the average OBP in the majors in 2017 was .324, so .292 is very good compared to the majors average.

    Age is an issue since 2018 is his 33 YO season, and we basically have him for 3 seasons, 33-34-35 YO seasons. It is the age range where careers decline, particularly due to injury, especially for pitchers.

    But his spin rate and results were still elite and good last season, and he does not rely on velocity, and thus aging should not affect his results as much. And he has been healthy for the six full seasons that he has pitched, averaging over 70 appearances a season, so no history of missing time due to injuries. That's a better situation than signing a ton of injury laden pitchers and betting on the odds that enough of them will be healthy enough to play well for you.

    He gives us the lefty setup man we lacked since Affeldt retired, plus we could have two of them once Smith returns, which should make Bochy happy.

    1. I discovered that there is another stat that is interesting for Watson: xwOBA - wOBA. This shows how much better his results should have been.

      Tony Watson had a bit of down year for him, but looking at his BABIP of .317, which was much higher than his career .265, suggests that 2017 was an outlier season. This xwOBA metric also shows how badly the season went for Watson versus what he should have experienced, with a -0.037 for his Sinker (30th worse out of 103) and -0.097 for his Changeup (15th worse out of 235).

      His results should have been much better, based on his bad BABIP and xwOBA. However, that's also when pitchers lose effectiveness, their BABIP goes way up. The StatCast data is not plentiful enough to show how aging pitchers lose it, but since Watson's spin rate was elite, I have to think that he still has the skills to pitch well, and that 2017 was just a bad bounce type of year that will hit pitchers now and again. Especially if you look at his results with the Dodgers vs. what he did with the Pirates, his Dodger ERA was much closer to his career numbers.

      FYI, Derek Holland was 20th worse out of 103 with a -0.044 with his sinker. That was actually a good pitch, and his main one, but his two other main pitches, four-seamer fastball and knuckle curve were beaten like a drum. Eliminating them out of his repertoire looks like a good start to fixing him up. Perhaps relief is his best role, if he don't have enough pitches to be a starter. Or need a better sequencing, so that those two pitches are more effective. We'll see.


      This article noted Watson's great record with strikeouts and exit velocity.

    3. Now that J. Dyson has signed with Arizona for $3.5M/yr, one can guess that the Giants MIGHT have been able to do Dyson + Watson rather than Jackson + Watson, using some creative accounting. I’m going to speculate that they think Duggar is far enough advanced that they could afford to sacrifice Dyson’s great glove in favor of Jackson’s better bat vs both RHP and LHP, and let Jackson back up all 3 OF positions. If Jackson rather than Dyson is a vote of confidence in Duggar, maybe with Slater and Blanco filling in till Duggar is ready, I’d take that as good news.

      I share your enthusiasm about Watson.

    4. That's a great point, campanari, I did not see that! Thanks!

      And you are right, there are implications with such a move, another great observation!

      What you say makes a lot of sense. But I see Slater getting regular starts in AAA, to get him ready to start in 2019, plus, given that both Pence and McCutchen are only have one year left on their contracts, the Giants could start Slater over one of them, should they Rowand the season.

      I just don't see the Giants giving up on Parker yet, as he has no options left, and would have to be removed from the 25/40-man if he don't make the team. He has shown power and defense, and his hitting has not been that bad. So I expect him to win one of the two OF positions. If they DFA him I expect that he will be picked up quickly by a rebuilding team or even one who is close to competing, as he has produced 1.3 bWAR/1.4 fWAR in 382 PA, that's roughly a 2.0 WAR season (based on 600 PA), he could be a Gregor Blanco for someone, why not the Giants?

      That leaves one other OF spot, and Blanco, I agree, looks like the guy for that spot. Assuming Duggar not win the starting spot, Blanco looks like he would be a good platoon partner with Jackson. Neither are great defensively in CF anymore, but provides a similar bat but much better defense still than what Span provided last season, so that they are an upgrade over Span's 2017, as well as a positive contributor in 2018.

      That probably means goodbye to Gorkys, as he is out of options too.

      So I see the following for the OF: Pence, Jackson/Blanco, McCutchen, Parker on 25-man. Slater, Duggar, Williamson starting in AAA. Gorkys DFA or sent to AAA if he passes through. His stats were not compelling last season, though reportedly he improved during the season; but at 30 YO season, Parker > Gorkys right now, due to power bat off bench, plus good defense, though Parker 29 YO season himself.

      Unless Duggar comes out hitting hot, I don't see the Giants starting him on Opening Day. And as much as I was enthused about his AFL performance, he likewise wasn't that elite either. I think the Giants will follow the Posey path, let him further develop in AAA, which he hasn't even played a full season at yet, and in the brief time he was there, didn't do all that well, he probably needs to get above .900 OPS to push the Giants to move him up, and you know they won't do that rashly, so that means he has to be there in mid-to-late May for the Giants to finally make the move.

  2. DrB asked a great question on his website: if Watson has a similar season for the Giants as he did during the regular season in 2017, would that be viewed as a successful acquisition. My answer:

    Yes, for a number of reasons. First of all, any manager today needs a lefty they can rely on in their bullpen. For the last two seasons, Bochy has not really had such a lefty. Osich and Okert showed some signs of success, but mostly he didn't have a lefty.

    Second of all, Smith being out to May is just an estimate. Somebody estimated opening day originally, at worse one week. And there was no setback mentioned either! So, what if there is a setback? Watson covers Smith being out by taking Smith's role.

    Third of all, Smith's return from TJS is not a fait accompli. While many come back, and some do even better, Smith might not return to his prior performance level. The good news on that is that he was so good that even if he returns at, say, 80% of before, that's still good, just not great. But without Watson, there is the risk that we again don't have a reliable lefty in the bullpen.

    Fourthly, having Watson to rely on in the bullpen means that the Giants would not be forced to consider Blach in the bullpen only. Our need for a lefty was that dire. Blach can know focus more on starting, and finding whatever was missing in those latter starts where he was pummeled.

    Lastly, if Smith comes back as a reliable enough lefty, he teams up with Watson, giving Bochy the ability to mix and match, LRL, when necessary, while giving him the ability to throw both of them out there for a full inning, when possible.

  3. Also, got more details about the deal, some of my info was incorrect, below is what I posted on DrB:

    It is actually a complicated deal that Boras structured to utilize loopholes in the CBA that allows the Giants to sign Watson. The gist is that the loophole allows the AAV to include the third year in the divisor, even though the money in that year is not guaranteed; apparently it only counts the money in the first two years, then divide by three. I expect other teams to copy that structure to fit in players. In addition, performance escalators could easily boost his salary in 2019 so that he's making more than the $6M he got last season.

    He will earn $3MM in 2018 and $3.5MM in 2019 before considering a $2.5MM player option ($500K buyout) for 2020, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, hence the range we saw in the news: $7M guaranteed, but up to $9M contract.

    In addition, the contract is structured so that based on appearances levels being reached (easy levels if he is reasonably healthy) in 2018, that would boost his 2019 contract (i.e. not affect the 2018 CBT penalty threshold) greatly. The report is that it can get as high as $14M over two years and $21M over three years. So it looks like his 2019 contract can be boosted to as high as $11M, and his 2020 contract to as high as $7M.



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