Monday, February 15, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Grading the Offseason

As we all know, offseason grades don't mean a whole lot.  Last year, a lot of people thought the Red Sox and Padres were the offseason winners and look where they ended up.  As I like to say, there is a reason why they play the games.  Having said that, it's almost as fun to assign a letter grade or a score to something as it is to make a list, so I'll take a stab at grading the Giants 2016 offseason.

Offseason success means different things to different teams.  Some teams need to spend money on top players to fill needs and compete for a championship.  Some teams need to unload expensive contracts which may be preventing upgrades in multiple areas.  Other teams may need to acquire prospects with the aim of rebuilding for the long term.  This year, the Giants had a somewhat unique situation in that they had some very specific needs for dramatic upgrades in the Starting Rotation and Outfield while at the same time having the financial muscle to make it happen, a perfect storm of opportunity and resources, if you will.

Specifically, the Giants had to replace the retiring Tim Hudson in the rotation, but even after replacing Hudson, they still would have had a 3,4,5 of Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Chris Heston.  If the Giants want to seriously compete with the Dodgers in the NL West, they could not go into the season with 3 of their 5 starting pitchers with the health and performance question marks of those 3 starters.  They had to land at least 2 SP's who could reasonably be counted as at least #3 starters.  There was also the OF to  address with potential upgrades in CF where Angel Pagan was coming off a terrible, injury plagued season and while his only potential backup was also penciled in as the starting LF.  The Giants had to either land a LF who could free up Gregor Blanco to either start in CF or be available for reserve duty or else land a clear upgrade in CF.  While a lot of Giants fans were hoping for either David Price or Zack Greinke, the ultimate price for those pitchers would probably have made acquiring the other two pieces impossible.  What the Giants were able to do was take slightly more total money than Greinke or Price got and fill all 3 of their essential needs instead of just 1.

Nothing is free, though and there is a reason why the Giants were able to acquire these 3 players for just a little more than what just 1 elite players would cost.  If Johnny Cueto had not struggled after his trade to KC, he would have commanded a payday darn close to what Price and Greinke landed.  If Samardzija had not struggled after being traded to the White Sox, his price would have been closer to the $130 M that Cueto got instead of the $90 M the Giants paid.  Span, of course, was coming off hip surgery which is always an anxiety inducing situation.  The Giants appear to have done their homework in each of these cases with very reasonable theories of why they are likely to bounceback.  If the Giants are right, they got 3 absolute bargains, albeit at a very expensive total cost.  If they are wrong, it will end up being a very expensive mistake.

One big drawback to a team spending a quarter of a billion, yes, billion dollars in one offseason is it may take away payroll flexibility in the future.  Amazingly, this is not the case with the Giants as they have approximately another $25 M in expiring contracts after this season then have Matt Cain followed by Hunter Pence's contracts expiring in 2017 and 2018 respectively.  In addition, it is unlikely that the Giants will have major needs on the FA market next offseason or even after the 2017 season.

Another downside to the Giants offseason acquisitions is the loss of their 2016 first round draft choice.  I generally hate to lose any first round draft pick, but the Giants currently have a very deep farm system which can withstand 1 year of a lost first rounder.  The Giants also seem to have become more adept in recent year at finding future impact MLB players in later draft rounds, which makes keeping the first rounder less crucial.  In this case, I think it is reasonable to regard the lost draft pick as preferable to trading 2 or 3 current prospects for a veteran player, which I think we all would have been OK with.

In Summary, I will dock the Giants a half letter grade for the risk factor in the FA signings and for the lost draft pick combined for a final grade of A-.  Nice work by GM Bobby Evans and the entire Giants management team!


  1. Sports On Earth's Castrovince did another total diss on the Giants, not rating their pitching staff in the Top 10 of MLB. Top 10? We can't buy love, not even for a quarter million? I suppose if we traded the entire staff to,say, Cincinnati, they would become #5! Oh, well, it's time to earn it, AND it's an even year.

  2. IMO this has been a great offseason. Sure all of the signees may have some hair on them by coming off an off year or injury but I think they are all going to prove to be great pick ups. Barring injuries, this team is set up for not just this year but 2017 as well. One of the best group of FA's I can remember.

    Billy Baseball

    1. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs listed his top 10 moves of the offseason and the Giants did not get even an Honorable Mention. On the plus side, he did not rate any of their moves in his top 10 worst either.

      My opinion is you have to look at the whole. If you take any one move, it might not seem all that great. After all, the Giants did pay high prices for these FA's. If you look at the big picture, at their needs, available financial resources, and how they filled those needs, it all adds up to accomplishing exactly what they needed to do.

  3. There are many published rankings of the 2015-2016 free agents. For the indicated rater, the Giant picks are shown, with Cueto, Samardzija, and Span in that order unless shown otherwise.
    CBS Sports top 50 free agents: Giants signed #5, #13 and #21
    MLB Trade rumors top 50: #8, #11, and #27
    Passan: #7, #18, #19
    SB Nation: #6, #23, #31
    USA Today: #9, #10, #23
    ESPN: #9, #16, #20 (Cueto, Span, Samardzija)
    Spotrac: #6, #8, #19
    Pointafter: #6, #25 (Shark was unranked through 40. Pitchers rankeded above Shark by Pointafter: Benoit, Clippard, Leake, Kasmir, O'Day, Estrada, Fister, Lackey, Chen, Iwakumi, Gallardo, Zimmermann, Cueto, Price, and Grienke, in reverse order)
    Cueto was ranked from #5 to #9
    Samardzija was ranked from #8 to #23 (with one omission, an accident?)
    Span was ranked from #16 to #31
    Whether or not they are worth a quarter-billion dollars, this is a highly rated trio, and in the best scenario from Spotrac, the Giants got the 6th, 8th and 19th best players in the draft -- 2 top 10's and 3 top 20's.
    Which shows, if anything, as doc says, they still have to play the game to find out who's the best and who had the best FA picks.

    1. In some ways, I'm not sure it really matters whether these players are worth a quarter-billion. The Giants had needs that had to be filled, they had the money and were willing to spend it. The important thing is that with the money spent, they addressed those needs as well or better than any other options available. I cannot think of any other scenario you could point to and say it was clearly a better option. That's the cost of doing business in MLB these days.

    2. I agree. Furthermore, the Giants needed specific players for specific roles, not just generic free agents who could be comparatively ranked, and they decided on a level of risk (previous injuries and so-so 2015 performance) that might lead players to be discounted on FA lists. The listings seem largely beside the point in this context.

  4. I give it an A+. The Giants were, if the calculator I used was right, a pythagorean 89 win team that, thanks to some really erratic pitching, actually finished with 84 wins.

    1. Cueto & Samardzija upgraded the staff by +10 QS even if they do not improve or regress from last year. That alone should translate into about 7 wins over the trio of Lincecum, Hudson & Vogelsong. Add in a bit less volatility in pitching and we may pick up some, if not all, of those lost pythagorean wins.

    2. Span is a good 2-win, if not more, replacement of Pagan in CF. I also think this position switch will also make it easier for Blanco to supersede Pagan since he's been the better OFer for sometime now and probably has a better handle on the corner positions at ATT. It may not happen right away, but I suspect (wishful thinking perhaps) it will.

    I think any offseason that adds (conservatively on paper) 9 wins for to a team in the playoff hunt is an A+. Especially when everyone of those players didn't exactly have a career year. Span's defense was better than Pagan's, but not up to his standards. Samardzija had a pretty bad year with the 4th highest FIP/ERA difference of MLB qualifiers. Cueto went into a funk in Kansas City and even if we don't get the pitcher who has, arguably, been one of MLBs top-pitchers the past 5 years, I think he'll give us better a better pitching cost-benefit than anyone else we could have gotten in FA, including Greinke.