Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thoughts on Pablo Sandoval and the Future of Third Base for the Giants Part I

 A small dust storm blew up today in Arizona as Pablo Sandoval's agent responded to a lukewarm Brian Sabean comment in regards to the likelihood that a contract extension for Pablo would get done before the end of Spring Training which is the usual time for such things to occur.  Baggs may have goaded Pablo's agent into a statement by reporting that Pablo is asking for a contract "well north" of the 5 yrs/$90 M that Hunter Pence signed for.  Pablo's agent countered by confirming that Pence's contract was the "starting point" for negotiations, adding that the Giants offer was a comparatively paltry 3 years/$40+ M.  The happy news is that both sides appear to be willing to keep talking until at least the All-Star Break.  The unhappy news is that they are a very long way apart on numbers.

A big part of the difficulty in working out a contract in the absence of a free market is that Pablo's career so far has fluctuated widely.  He had a 5.5 fWAR season in 2009, followed by just 1.4 in 2010, a season marred by an extreme lack of conditioning and overweightness.  He rebounded to 5.1 in 2011 despite missing time with a hamate injury.  He suffered another hamate break in 2012 putting up a WAR of 2.5 but winning the World Series MVP Award.  Pablo was once again out of shape to start the 2013 season, missed time with plantar fasciitis and finished with a WAR of 2.3.  Part way through the season, word got out that Pablo was finally serious about losing weight and getting in better shape.  He hired a personal trainer and hired his brother, who graduated from culinary school to be his personal chef and cook healthy for him.  There was also a comment, possibly apocryphal, about waiting for his contract year to get in shape which raised some hackles among fans and questions about how long term his commitment was.

Brian Sabean, for one, was still obviously not convinced and sounded annoyed with Pablo at his postseason press conference.  Sabes did say that he would be open to an extension if Pablo came to Spring Training in shape.  What he didn't say was how long of an extension he would consider or for how many dollars.  Obviously, Sabes and Pablo's camps had very different ideas of just what he meant by and extension.

Baseball salaries are determined by a rather strange combination of past performance, anticipated future performance, anticipated team needs and market forces.  It is not unlike investing in a stock.  As such, you have to weigh not just past performance of the stock, but also growth potential and stability, quality of company management and the anticipated future performance of the overall economy.  Let's take a look at these factors as they relate to investing in Pablo Sandoval:

Past Performance:  One problem with evaluating Pablo is that his past performance has been so inconsistent.  Is he a 5+ WAR player or a 2.5 WAR player?   If you just look at the numbers in a vacuum, it certainly looks like Pablo has settled into a 2.5 WAR/season performance level.  On the other hand, it certainly seems possible that he is capable of putting up another 5+ season, especially with his newfound health consciousness.   Hunter Pence has had a remarkably consistent career and both sides had a clear idea of what his value was and what it is likely to be going forward.  With Pablo, it is much less clear what his historical value has been.

Growth Potential/Stability:  When you invest in a stock, especially one that has a maturity several years down the road, you want to know not only the growth potential of the company, but the risk of financial collapse.  In Pablo's case we've seen his likely ceiling and it's around 5+ WAR.  We've also seen the risk and it's not something that is pleasant to contemplate.  Again, this makes it difficult to place a value on Pablo going forward.

Personal Management:  Again, it's a mixed bag here.  Pablo certainly brings added value to his on-field performance.  He is a unique talent and character who plays the game with obvious enthusiasm.  The fans are drawn to him.  There is little doubt that tickets have been sold to people who were more interested in experiencing Pandamonium first hand than in seeing the Giants.  He certainly has been a boon to merchandise sales.  On the other hand, he has shown a disturbing tendency to return to bad eating and conditioning habits and had at least one other incident involving poor judgement in his private life.  We've seen Pablo get in shape before, only to balloon in weight again.  His alleged comments about getting in shape for his contract year do not create a swell of confidence going forward.

Future Performance of the Economy:  MLB is flush with money right now, but there are a few small clouds on the horizon which temper confidence that the good times will continue forever.  The Giants have historically been a cautious organization and are undoubtedly more aware of those clouds, no matter how small, than many other organizations.  The Giants are already something like 3'rd in all of MLB in future salary commitments and it is quite possible that ownership is pumping the brakes on getting in any deeper.  They have shown remarkable generosity with their homegrown players up to this point, but every organization has its limits, except maybe the Dodgers.

The Giants extension offer is probably a lowball, some might even say insulting, designed more to make good on Sabes' promise to consider an extension if Pablo came to camp in shape.  It is, however, based on his performance in WAR over the past 2 seasons and tempered by his uneven health history.  Pablo's camp has to believe that there is a much bigger pot of gold awaiting him at the end of the season and the Giants offer is his absolute floor in free agency.  In that light, gambling on another 5+ WAR, season which would almost surely result in a huge payday, is an easy decision.  The distance between those 2 calculations is why it is unlikely Pablo will sign a contract extension and will most likely become a free agent at the end of the season.

Part II will address the Giants future at third base with or without Pablo Sandoval.


  1. Lowball...might even say insulting...

    He's still a Giant, not sure why they would do that or why people would, perhaps each to his own, call one of their own players fat boy. And every fan is entitled to his opinion, no doubt.

    If conditioning is a concern, why not a weight-contingent offer a bit less than, but at least close to, Pence's? That focuses the real concern of the management.

    1. I would say the offer is a PR move so Sabes can say he made good on his promise to consider an extension. The problem with Pablo is how much do you trust his conditioning going forward. If the past is what he's going to continue to be, then you do not offer anything close to 5/$90 M. If you are convinced that his newfound dedication to diet and conditioning is real and he can get back to those 5+ WAR seasons, then 5/$90 is probably a reasonable starting point.

  2. Ryan Zimmerman is sitting on 11 yrs/$135M (09-19) & 20 team option. David Wright is at 14 yrs/$192M (07-20). Evan Longoria is 15 yrs/$144.5M (08-22) & 23 team option. Adrian Beltre is a crazy bargain at 5 yrs/$80M (11-15) & 16 vesting option. (All #s cut/paste from B/R)

    Chase Headley will most likely also be a FA, making it a two horse race jobby. If the Dodgers don't re-sign Hanley he would join them.

    There are only 6 hitters in their 20s hitting FA: Billy Butler, Asdrubal Cabrera, Delmon Young, Tyler Colvin are 29. Pablo and Colby Rasmus are 28.

    3B is a relative wasteland right now. Some of the SS prospects who are hot top 10 guys will shift there though, and a few teams have lockups. A team like the Red Sox has heavy interest in Pablo, its been floated by their beat guys enough. But will they blow the doors off?

    Pablo's agent is a pretty small time player. ( He gave out a team friendly contract to Salvador Perez. He has a lot to gain by getting a big contract for Pablo, but that need to win a deal might push him to a bad place.

    Unfortunately we have to watch this as interested fans instead of it being another teams problem.

    Just remember, if he slips back, you've got an overpaid fat guy clogging the bases hitting singles, with an OPS+ in the 80s. You can find a lot of those via the Giants Way Dumpster Dives. Giving big money to Pablo is big time risk.

    But he's so damn loveable and good when he's on its easy to flirt with it. Tough decision for the Greybeards. And the RDF.

    1. And lest I make it sound like Sabes is the Panda Hater in all this, Sabes seems to be the one who would like to get a deal done, even if it's on Pablo's terms. He did not have to point out that he is just one vote of many, but he did.

  3. Pay the Panda. Nice analysis DocB, but the market is setting Panda's price, period.

    Weight = non-issue, WAR roller coaster = non-issue, Bad behavior = non-issue.

    Age 27 = value, 3B shortage = value, WS MVP = value, Disruptive, Switch Hitter = value.

    You may not like it, want to give Pablo some tough love negotiations (see Bacci). He's been a bad Panda. The Giants can do it without him. Really? Ask Justin Verlander (who the A's can't beat) about that one.

    You pay the homegrown players you develop. The Giants got no one else to dance with at 3B. No not Adam Duval. And no, they are not moving Posey. Interesting fan idea but happening.

    Bottom line, the Panda may or may not perform, but the Panda IS getting paid. Better with the Giants than some other team.

    Pay the Panda!

    P.S. The billionaire owners of the Giants have plenty of cash, please if they want to win another ring it is not a budget issue.

    1. Oh,and I'm paying the Panda, The Pence plus $20M. That's what billionaire's money is for.

    2. The weight is an issue. He's not exactly thin even now. I do not trust the body for the longterm. I have always said I would not give Sandoval a contract longer than 3 years. I'm sticking to that. Let it be somebody else's expensive headache! We'll take a look at other options in Part II. It's not a great list, but there are always options.

    3. "And no, they are not moving Posey. Interesting fan idea but [not] happening."

      Here's the thing, I wouldn't count this out from happening. Yeah, it's just a fan thing, but let's consider it from the internal prospective as well: The Giants, as mentioned, have the 3rd highest committed future salaries, and with Belt and Pablo, they're not going away any time soon. Add to that this central point: What hitting prospects do the Giants have? CATCHERS. Both La Hector and Susac are knocking hard on the door to be starting catchers, and both possess above-average offensive tools and high ceilings.

      Buster Posey is not Bengie Molina back there. Buster has a mobile frame, and if he didn't have to work as hard at bulking up for the catcher's position, he'd probably gain in agility. He's got the soft hands of a top collegiate SS, and he has the mental aptitude to make the change. From a financial standpoint, the Giants get a whole heck of a lot more value from utilizing their top prospects internally, rather than through trade. In on-the-field value, I believe Buster would be an extremely high value player at 2B, and above average value at 3B. I'd guess he'd be a better defensive fit at 2B since 3B is difficult if you haven't spent a decade of your life acclimating to the higher velocity of balls coming your way.

      Either way, there's both significant financial and on-the-field incentive for the FO to strongly consider this shift among their many options.

      Now, will Posey be moving into the infield in 2015? Unlikely!, since he's probably got another 2 good, solid-legged years at catcher. However, after that, how cautiously do you approach degrading one of your greatest assets, particularly one whom you've got signed for another 8 years.

    4. This is exactly how I feel RainBall... The Giants are all about internal options. If they had the chance to get Susac, Posey, and Sanchez' bats in the lineup, wouldn't you find a way to make it work? Maybe Susac moves to 3rd? I don't know, but if the Giants do end up losing Pablo, it'd be a little ridiculous and short-sighted for them not to explore all of their options.

    5. "And no, they are not moving Posey. Interesting fan idea but [not] happening."

      It's not a fan idea: Bochy is the one who offered it, when asked by the beat writers where Posey might play if moved off C. And remember, Posey once played all 9 positions in a game in college. Not that he can handle SS or CF in the majors, but that speaks to his athleticism before his injury. Still, to be able to catch as he does, you still need to be pretty athletic, injury or no injury.

      Still, you don't want your best hitter at catcher forever, you should want him to move to another position, one, that's safer for him, and two, so that he can play 150+ games instead of settling for 130-140 starts per season. On the other hand, it's useless to talk about moving him until there's someone ready to replace him. All the talk before was when the Giants didn't have any viable catching prospect high in the system or who looked like a sure thing in the draft, so why talk about moving Posey off catching, that's not going to happen anytime soon given what we had in the minors. Even now, as nicely as Susac did in AA and AFL, AAA is a whole another hurdle, as well as the majors, and it wasn't like he killed offensively in AA, like Sandoval and Belt did, or even Bowker. He was pretty good but not necessarily MLB good.

      And Posey is a smart guy. He knows the catcher's position now, that's why he said he wouldn't allow his children to become catchers when they grow up. But he also knows his team needs him to be the catcher for now, until they find a replacement, so he mans up and catches, in the best interests of the team. They are all warriors and ready to compete.

      And I can't imagine that Bochy would share that Posey might make a good 3B unless they have had internal discussions already and Posey had OKed that as a future or even preferred position change. Else, Bochy would have either kept quiet (he didn't have to offer a position) or noted another position in addition, to keep it open. But he chose to mention 3B, and given how carefully Bochy chooses his words, I have to think that there was something behind his statement.

  4. I agree with your analysis, DrB. But I fear that the organization will give in and overpay.

    1. It's an interesting dilemma. Signing Pablo to a longterm contract is only a problem if it prevents the acquisition of other, better, players in the future. There will be extension issues for Belt, Crawford and Romo coming up soon, but since we don't anticipate any large FA signings from outside the organization a big contract for Pablo would probably not be a millstone. It sounds like there are influential people in the organization who are strongly opposed to anything over 3 years for Pablo, though.

  5. Great analysis. Very interested to see what you have for a look at the future. It would certainly be nice to continue the evaluation of Adam Duvall before making a big decision on Sandoval. Is Buster Posey at third pretty much dead before arrival?

    1. I don't think so. See my comment above....yours hadn't posted yet when I replied to Monterey.

    2. It was likely just a passing thought, but Bruce Bochy is on record as saying he thinks Buster might make a good 3B.

  6. "The Giants have the third highest committed money in future salaries." So?

    What's wrong with investing your dollars into home grown players? I love it that the Giants have stepped up and paid their homies. So why the bitching about investing in Posey, Cain, MadBum, etc?

    I have news for you, the dollar is not backed by gold, the government runs a deficit, and the Panda is getting paid.

    If someone can please explain what is bad about this, then please do so. And no budget excuses, please, the Giants are owned by billionaires who can spend whatever they want to have a winning club.

    Pay the Panda.

    1. I never said there was anything wrong with the money committed to future salaries. I think the Posey contract was for way too long and they grossly overpaid for Timmy the next 2 years, but hey, like you say, it ain't my money!

      You can go on bitching and whining about the billionaire owners all you want. It's like bitching and whining about the weather. Ain't gonna change a thing! The Giants ownership has shown over and over that they are not going to run this team deeply in the red. That is just the reality. Go ahead and call that cheap if you want, but when they have the third highest future salary commitment in all of MLB, it really is ridiculous to call them cheap.

      I agree, Sandoval is going to get paid a lot. I'm just not sold that it's best for the Giants to be the ones paying him a lot.