Winter report card: San Francisco Giants
With just a couple weeks before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
For all previously published report cards, click here.
San Francisco Giants
2012 Results: 94-68, 1st place in NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: OF Melky Cabrera, RHP Clay Hensley, 1B Aubrey Huff, RHP Guillermo Mota, OF Xavier Nady, RHP Brad Penny, 2B Freddy Sanchez, 2B Ryan Theriot, C Eli Whiteside, RHP Brian Wilson
Key arrivals: RHP Boof Bonser, RHP Chad Gaudin, RHP Scott Proctor, OF Andres Torres, IF Wilson Valdez
The Giants do it their way, and although general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy may drive statheads crazy with their counterintuitive personnel moves and willingness to play hackers like Hector Sanchez (.295 OBP) at the expense of Brandon Belt (.360 OBP), it has resulted in two world championships in three years. In that context, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Sabean is largely standing pat with the mix of players that won the World Series last fall, with only one player who was recently a regular — Andres Torres — added to the roster this winter, and Torres was a member of their 2010 championship squad.
Several of the Giants who have departed figure prominently in their recent history, but most of them had been reduced to bystander status by October, including the suspended Cabrera, the benched Huff and Theriot, the mop-and-bucketman Mota, and the injured Sanchez and Wilson, America’s most heavily bearded cheerleader. Meanwhile, Sabean paid handsomely to retain centerfielder Angel Pagan (four years, $40 million), second baseman Marco Scutaro (three years, $20 million) and lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt (three years, $18 million). He also awarded Santiago Casilla a three-year, $15 million deal that bought out the righty’s first two years of eligibility for free agency, and avoided arbitration with Hunter Pence by signing the rightfielder to a one-year, $13.8 million deal.
Though it’s the longest and most expensive deal, the Pagan one, which covers his age 32-35 seasons, may make the most sense. In a market where B.J. Upton received nearly twice the overall commitment and around 50 percent more per year, it’s worth noting that Pagan has been the significantly more valuable of the two players over the past four seasons on both sides of the ball. In addition to his 112 stolen bases, he has hit .285/.337/.427 with 32 homers, for a .278 True Average, while Upton has stolen 80 bases and hit .242/.316/.420 with 80 homers for a .267 True Average. Both WARP and WAR (Baseball-Reference’s version) peg Pagan as worth 3.5 wins per year over the past four years, with WARP valuing Upton at 2.5 wins a year, and WAR at 1.8 — roughly half as much. Still, the early-to-mid-30s timespan does make Pagan’s contract a risk, and if his OBP falls off much from last year’s .338 mark, he’s not a particularly great choice for a leadoff hitter.
The Scutaro deal is lower stakes but riskier given that it covers his age 37-39 seasons and that he spent the first two-thirds of this past season looking as though he was done, hitting just .271/.324/.361 in 415 PA for the Rockies. His sizzling .362/.385/.473 in his 268 PA for the Giants isn’t sustainable, but taken together, his overall performance wasn’t all that out of character; his .268 True Average and 2.6 WARP was right in line with the .264 True Average and 2.5 WARP he averaged over the previous two seasons. If he keeps that up, he’ll be well worth the money over the life of the deal.
As for Pence, his contract looks like a significant overpay in light of his 2012 showing. Though he did rack up 24 homers and 104 RBIs, he hit just .253/.319/.425 in 688 PA between Philadelphia and San Francisco, for only 0.3 WARP. That said, he has averaged 3.6 WARP over the previous five seasons, and will be only 30 years old as of April 13. If he doesn’t rebound, the Giants won’t be stuck with him for a longer period of time.
Affeldt, 33, has proven to be a reliable and durable reliever in his four years with San Francisco, with last year’s 67 appearances, 2.70 ERA and 8.1 strikeouts per nine representative of his work in that span. Though stronger against lefties, he’s able to get righties out as well, and Bochy will use him to close out a game if the occasion suits. That said, $6 million a year is a stretch for a pitcher who has only one season in the past six in which he’s been worth more than 1.0 WAR. Casilla, 32, is coming off a 2.84 ERA and 7.8 strikeouts per nine; he has averaged 1.1 WAR over the past three years, so his contract is a bit less of a stretch.
As for the newcomers, the 35-year-old Torres is a late bloomer whose 2010 season with the Giants represented the first time in his major league career he received even 200 plate appearances. He hasn’t been able to live up to that year’s .268/.343/.479 showing; last year, he slipped to .230/.327/.337 in 434 PA with the Mets. For $2 million, he’ll serve as the short half of a leftfield platoon with Gregor Blanco, which doesn’t look like a bad move if he can approach last year’s .286/.382/.381 line in 171 PA against lefties.
Valdez, Bonser, Gaudin and Proctor are among the more recognizable names from the list of players being brought to camp on minor league deals, which isn’t to say that they’ll be particularly helpful. Valdez hit just .206/.236/.227 in 208 PA last year, and owns a lifetime .236/.281/.313 line; there’s a reason his fame on the baseball field centers around an emergency pitching appearance in 2011. Bonser, 31, is a former Giants first round pick (2000) who has been limited to just 15 major league appearances since 2008 amid ongoing arm woes including 2011 Tommy John surgery, which limited him to 39 1/3 innings in the Giants’ chain last year. Gaudin, 29, spent the year with the Marlins but put up a beefy 4.54 ERA in 69 1/3 innings. He owns a career 4.63 mark and has already toiled for eight other major league teams; nine through his age 30 season might be some kind of record. Proctor, 36, is back from a year in the Korean Baseball Organization. He hasn’t been the same since Joe Torre made him pitch his arm off with the Yankees and Dodgers from 2004-2008; he was thoroughly battered (2.5 HR/9, 6.9 BB/9, 7.14 ERA) in 40 1/3 innings for the Braves and Yankees in 2011.
Unfinished business: Backing Buster Bouncing back from a season-ending ankle injury, Posey enjoyed a remarkable season in 2012, hitting .336/.408/.549 with 24 homers in 610 PA, good enough not only for a batting title but NL MVP honors. Bochy was able to get the most out of him by giving him 29 starts at first base, which kept his bat in the lineup but cost them the services of Belt and usually subjected the team to the presence of Sanchez, who hit .280/.295/.390 with an appalling 52/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 227 PA. Bochy started him batting fourth, fifth or sixth in 27 of his 49 starts, creating a significant drag on the offense, and it’s not as though his defense was much to write home about, either. In addition to pitch-framing tendencies that left much to be desired, he nabbed just 23 percent of opposing base stealers (the league average was 27 percent) and ranked fourth in the majors in missed pitches (wild pitches plus passed balls) per nine innings among all catchers with at least 400 innings behind the plate at 0.55. By comparison, Posey nailed 30 percent of runners and missed just 0.26 pitches per nine.
In addition to his major league experience, the 23-year-old Sanchez had just 50 games under his belt at Double-A and Triple-A. If the Giants are serious about developing him as a longer-term alternative to Posey, he’d be better off going back to Triple-A to work on his approach at the plate and behind it on a regular basis while a more experienced catcher wiles away time on the bench waiting for Posey’s days off. At this point, that would require Sabean to make a deal given how picked over the free agent ranks are, which isn’t to say that it should be terribly difficult to do so.
Preliminary grade: C. The Giants certainly haven’t done anything radical this offseason. The money they’ve spent has been to keep together a team that just won a world championship, and while that generally doesn’t yield high dividends — no team has repeated as World Series winners since then 1998-2000 Yankees — the largest risks they took aren’t exorbitant ones. They bypassed the easy temptation of overpaying the high-profile Wilson, didn’t overcommit to Pence and don’t have any glaring weaknesses as spring training nears. Whether that will be enough to keep up with the overhauled Dodgers and Diamondbacks remains to be seen.