Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Grading the Offseason

Pitchers and catchers reported this week, so despite the bitter cold back east, it's time to shut down the Hot Stove and count the cards from the winter long poker game.  A couple of closers, Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano, are still out there, but it's definitely time to declare the 2014/2015 offseason over.  When grading the offseason for Future Hall of Fame General Manager Brian Sabean and the San Francisco Giants, it's important to define what we are grading.  While the Giants offseason was solid from a baseball standpoint, it was a near-disaster from a public relations perspective.

The offseason started with another parade, and flags fly forever.  This parade had just a bit of foreboding attached in that one of the Giants homegrown core players and postseason heroes, Pablo Sandoval, was entering free agency and didn't seem particularly set on returning to the field where he accomplished so much and was so loved by the fan base.  Brian Sabean may have a great baseball mind, but he is not one to mince words and talk smoothly.  The Giants had issues at several positions, but Sabes held a postseason press conference and basically refused to discuss anything but how essential it was to re-sign Pablo.  Now, part of by brain thinks that this was just Sabes being Sabes with no clue how to handle the PR side of being a GM.  The other part of my brain suspects this may have been a smokescreen to to help the fan base accept Pablo leaving and even like it.  I mean, if signing one player is your one and only offseason priority, and you know at least one big spending team is also involved, you better come in with an offer you know is going to beat all other offers.  In the end, the Giants complained that they never made their final offer.  Well, why didn't you make your final offer if you wanted him back that bad?  By the time Pablo actually signed with Boston, a lot of fans were fed up and just as happy to move on.  Pictures of a very large Panda in front of Dunkin Donuts wallpaper did a lot to ease the pain.

The Giants moved on to pursue first Yasmany Tomas then Jon Lester with similar results as the Pablo pursuit.  By the time Lester signed with the Cubs, the Giants were looking like Jimmy Carter trapped in the White House during the Iran Hostage Crisis or King Henry waiting in the snow for an audience with the Pope.  It was awful!  The postseason looked like a huge bomb had gone off in the middle of the Hot Stove with debris littered everywhere with members of the Giants front office wounded and bleeding.  Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom to start moving up.  The Giants offseason hit rock bottom with the Lester debacle.  From that point on, Sabes rolled up his sleeves, went to work and produced a very solid, if unspectacular offseason.

First came the trade for Casey McGehee.  Sabes gave up Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo, a couple of minor league pitchers who may or may not develop into something.  McGehee won't replace Pablo on his good days, but will field the position and keep the line moving on offense.  The market for starting pitchers got a bit ridiculous with the Dodgers 4 year contract for Brandon McCarthy.  By comparison, Jake Peavy was a steal.  Peaves seemed to be out of gas by the end of the postseason, but without him, the Giants wouldn't have been there in the first place.  Sergio Romo seemed to be possibly dealing with some personal issues last year that may have contributed to his up and down season, but he showed how valuable he is in the postseason.  Getting him back at that price when relievers with less proven track records were getting $40 M contracts was also a great deal for the Giants.  The last piece was Nori Aoki who took a look at what the Giants had from across the field in the World Series and told himself he wanted to be part of that.  Aoki struggled in limited playing time in the World Series but had been great in the postseason up to that point.  He is not the power hitter fans were hoping for and he is not graceful in the OF, but he will field the position and get on base a lot.  Some fans, including Willie McCovey, thought Aoki was a little too much like Gregor Blanco.  I agree, but I think Gregor Blanco is a pretty darn good ballplayer, so I am not unhappy to have two of him on the team.  I do think Aoki is a better suited to lead off, which would free up Angel Pagan to move down in the order where his gap power can do more damage.  We'll see how that shakes out, but Bochy has already hinted that he may be thinking along those lines too.  With several physical question marks in the staring rotation, the Giants needed some depth there and Ryan Vogelsong was the best depth option on the market.  He came back on another 1 year deal, much to Nicole's joy.

If you block out the PR disaster that was the early offseason pursuits of Pablo, Tomas and Lester and look at the offseason from purely a baseball standpoint, it was a solid offseason.  Not spectacular, but solid.

1.  The Giants avoided getting locked into more bad, long term contracts that might become limiting in the future.

2.  They ended up with a team that is not worse than what they won a championship with last year and is possibly a bit better, particularly in the OF.

3.  They kept their first round draft pick and even moved up 4 slots from #22 to #18 which should produce a talented prospect.

4.  They gained a supplemental first round draft pick, #31 overall, which should also produce a solid prospect.

5.  They kept most of their farm system intact, a system that gets scoffed at way too much, but is underrated and much better than it is generally give credit for.

I am going to split Brian Sabean's offseason grade this year.  He gets an F for PR and a B for baseball decision making, although I am still at a loss to explain why he got involved in the public big name pursuits in the first place, which is very un-Sabes-like.


  1. Just posted up about the offer for Shields, they offered 4/80MM in December, Shields wanted to shop the offer basically.

    That seems like a good place to hold the line, 4 years. I wouldn't have been psyched about that deal, but you need innings eaters. Tough call. Sabes doesn't like having his offers shopped, so he moved onto Peavy. That was a better call than Shields I think, they're the same age, same profile. One of them costs 2/24MM and no loss of the draft pick to boot.

    Most of Sabean's success has been among the margins. The best big trade is definitely Pence. His trades from the 97-02 era were awesome, but most were last editions for runs at the postseason. As he's done with each championship year. The big name FAs or trades have some tarnish: Zito, Rowand, Beltran.

    The thing people miss is the Giants core is strong. Belt, Pence and of course Posey is a great trio. They have the best postseason pitcher on the planet, I've been watching a WS film that proves it this morning.

    But it is frustrating to see the Giants be left at the alter again and again. Especially because there is a ton of money being made. But you go look at the role players and its a lot of under cover: Casilla, Uribe, Huff, Blanco, Vogelsong, etc. Posey and Pence are two superstars. Keep the flow going, we'll see if Aoki/McG are the next great names or a Keppinger/Cabrera/Tejada bump in the road. They are easily replaced if that is the case. And that's the underrated part of Sabean's style.

    1. What WS film was that, Shankbone?

    2. I had the 14 version fired up today Rainball.

    3. Man...which run was the best?? Can't Decide!! Can't Decide, Brain Aneurism!!

      (Tenacious D reference...ftw)

  2. Things I liked:

    1. Making the effort but losing out on Sandoval. His career Defensive Runs scored is 0. He had ONE good year, the one year he was in shape, as a defender so I think his DRS issue is simply weight & conditioning. Also, while Sandoval had a great WS, he's declined as a hitter 3 years straight and if you're not winning by hitting in the regular season, you don't go to the playoffs to hit.

    I think it's a shame, btw. I really believe that Sandoval has the ability to play 3B at a gold-glove, possibly HOF, level if he kept himself in good shape. And I will miss him as a Giant. But as a 'Fan-GM,' there was just too much downside (big contract with crap production) for me to be upset that he signed somewhere else.

    2. Aoki is a better OF than Morse and I think he may actually increase the Runs Scored/Runs Surrendered differential if he plays to his 'average.' He's did not have good year last year, with a -8 DRS for the year, but he's more 'positive' in his career than 'constant negative' like Morse and I wouldn't be surprised to see a +5 to +10 DRS out of Aoki for the year. Morse, who is pretty much 'Mr. -DRS' only played about 1/3 the season in the OF and had a -9 DRS for his work in LF, which really cut down the benefit of his 'power boost' to the offense (10HR (if I remember right) as the LF)

    3. I view McGehee as stop-gap. He's a marginal defender, averaging -2.5 DRS the past three MLB seasons and it's hard know if he's going to hit based on his past. But the price was right, two decent, but not ++, prospects that have some chance, but are anything but guaranteed to succeed.

    4. Not mortgaging the future. I really don't like 'win now, regardless of cost' GMs after years of being a frustrated 49er, Warrior and Giants fan and seeing it blow-up in my face decade-after-decade. Though I have to say Sabean is better than his predecessors by a long shot.

    5. Resigning Vogelsong. I think the Giants could use a 6th man insurance contract. Peavy and Hudson are old enough that skipping a start and giving them some rest could be a very good thing. Plus he's insurance if Lincecum's early 'fixed mechanics' are just an illusion or if Hudson's recovery drags out.

    As for grade, I'll give him a B+. I think not signing Headley was a mistake. Other than that, I think staying pat was a good strategy. Over-all I think the Giants are a better team today than the one that won the WS last year:

    A) I think the OF/3B player swap is pretty close to a net 0 WAR plus Aoki could easily be a lead-off man if Pagan goes down again.

    B) Starting pitching is a net plus because they've got Cain back.

    C) The bull-pen has it's core intact and Vogelsong has been resigned as a long-relief/spot-starter as insurance.

    D) The farm is pretty much intact and we didn't trade Susac, or any of the top prospects, for some marginal help that may not pan out.

  3. It will be interesting to see if Sabean's Plan B of loading up on starting pitchers that are good for 5 to 6 innings vs the workhorse types like
    Lester and Shields works and even catches on as the top tier guys get more expensive and want longer terms. It continues the theme of specialization in the pitching aspect of the game that has been evolving the last few years.

    It is important to remember too that guys like McGhee, Aoki, and even Romo do have some risk on them so from a pure baseball view it was rather lackluster offseason so I'd give it a C. However, from a business side of baseball it was an A for the reasons you stated, no big contracts, kept our minor leagues in tact and picked up better draft picks.

    Billy Baseball

    1. If one looks at the Giants' pitchers' careers, what has happened to Lincecum and Peavy, once the best in the NL, and to Cain and (to some extent) Hudson, then the risk of projecting any 30-plus pitcher as an innings eater becomes sharply visible, and of course more so as an over-30 pitcher ages. I don't think the best strategy in this regard is in doubt, even if one doesn't foresee the movement in MLB away from the starter, then reliever(s) model toward increasing stress on specialized short-innings pitchers.

      I would have been glad to see the Giants snag Lester, nonetheless, though I was happy to see Sandoval vamoose and Shields sign elsewhere, if indeed we did make him an offer. Tomas? No one knows how useful he'll turn out to be, and no one here knows how hard the Giants tried to get him. This all makes me agree with DrB that we ended up with bad PR but pretty sound results for the 2015 season.

  4. King Henry waiting in the snow to see the pope...nice touch. Reminds me of a famous quote.

    Flags fly forever...and even sweeter when people thought Sabean should have made more splashy trades, with big name prospects perhaps, at the deadline. Instead, we got Peavy without much fanfare at the time, who then contributed down the stretch.

    If there is one lesson to be learned - don't overlook those quiet transactions, Scutaro, Peavy, et al.

  5. I pretty much have to agree with the Moses take. I will add that there is some video of Cain and Lincecum throwing in the bull pen and both look good especially Cain. I am expecting big things from Matt this year and a return to his 2012 level. I see the Cain injury as really being a blessing as I think he actually got some rest in that right arm and got to spend some time strengthening his rotator cuff during his rehab process of the elbow. He looks like he is in great shape over all as well. As far as Timmy is concerned, he states the ball is coming out of his hand really well and pitched 4-5 times a week with his dad during the off season. He thinks his mechanics are fixed. With sound mechanics he could get an increase in velocity and that means his off speed stuff would then be lethal. This year is shaping up to be pretty interesting indeed. I am pretty happy with the way things look right now and I really hope a couple of pitchers in the minors really make a huge step forward and Mac comes back and rakes.

  6. I liked how their off season turned out. They didn't lose that #1 pick which is good since it ties in to their winning formula of building their roster thru the farm system. The McGehee trade and the Peavy, Aoki signings are solid baseball moves. The front office has proven that they are good at making mid season roster additions if need be which might prove to be the better way to go.


  7. 2015 was a "Hold em" year. Sabes didn't blow it. Kept #18. Got some solid pieces.

    2016 is the "All in" year. 2016 is when the Giants need 3 starters to replace Timmy/Timmy/Voggie. They got $30+M coming off the books, so the cash is there.

    1. Gives the farm arms another year to prove out and step up. Hopefully two or three of Beede/Crick/Blackburn/Blatch/Mella, etc. grab the brass rings. This plays to Sabes real strategy, develop and sign your own. It also keeps the Giants budget under control with three young n cheap starters.

    2. If there is a year you want all in to the FA market for starters, 2016 is it. Fully loaded, flush with prime arms. Fister coming home to CA anyone? The Giants have the cash and can dive in, if necessary.

    So yeah looking at 2015 was a solid B for Sabes. He "held em" and didn't blow it.

  8. Thank you for your blog & the work you put into it.
    Couple observations: if Aoki succeeds at leadoff, it might reduce Pagan's injuries, given his all out brand of baseball.
    Just nitpicking but the team is different. Pablo willed out. He's big time [pun intended], with years of good chemistry and keeping the line mving.

    1. I don't think I ever said the team was not different and I believe I did say that McGehee would not replace Pablo on Pablo's best days.

      The problem is there was a good Pablo and a bad Pablo. His performance on the field inversely correlated with his relative weight. The good Pablo was never coming back once he had a longterm contract in his hand. The proof of that is in the pictures we are seeing out of Boston.