Everything… everything… has risk in it....and this is perhaps the most important thing to know about baseball—the majority of things that people try in baseball don’t work. But you can’t judge something based on whether or not it worked, or whether or not it has a good chance of working. You have to judge it based on whether it has the best chance of all the available options, even if that’s only a 30 percent chance. We don’t have a name for “the guy whom the team could have signed to a long-term deal a few years ago, but they chickened out and now are stuck with a boringly average guy instead.” You don’t want an albatross, but you also don’t want to have a vengrette. People worry about potential albatrosses, because they know what those are. If only they knew how to counterweight that by worrying about a potential vengrette.If the majority of things people tried in baseball worked, snarky bloggers like me would not exist. Luckily, baseball is an endless series of failures, so I can criticize from my Ivory Tower without having any skin in the game. Of course, I'm not qualified to have any skin in the actual game.
But let's look at the Giants offseason with the benefit of hindsight anyway, with the knowledge that general manager Brian Sabean was operating in a world of constraints.
According to Forbes, the Giants are the fourth most valuable franchise in baseball, worth $2 billion now. Last season, they had an operating income of $68.4 million on revenues of $387 million. Be that as it may, Sabean cannot spend more than ownership allows him to spend.
This winter, ownership apparently told Sabean that he could open the season with a payroll $20 million higher than last year ($170 to $149). Assuming Sabean spent the full amount allotted by ownership this winter, he was given $30.8 million to play with after factoring in free-agent defectors and raises to players already contract.
Sabean spent that money as follows: Casey McGehee ($4.8 million), Nori Aoki ($4 million), Jake Peavy ($11 million), Sergio Romo ($7 million), and Ryan Vogelsong ($4 million). The Giants have a club option on Aoki for next season, they owe Peavy $13 million next year, and they owe Romo $8 million in 2016. There were no long-term contracts distributed, and no crazy overpays as Peavy, Romo, and Aoki all reportedly had competitive offers elsewhere.
Of course, before settling on those five players--the Giants traded for McGehee's final year of club control--Sabean chased three big fish: Pablo Sandoval, Jon Lester, and James Shields. Sandoval spurned a similar offer to go to Boston where he apparently thinks he won't have to deal with an organization worrying about his weight, Lester chose to reunite with his first boss, Theo Epstein, in Chicago, and Shields decided to wait the market out, which caused the Giants to rescind their offer. Any contracts for Sandoval, Lester, or Shields would've been significantly back-loaded. Thus, Sabean would've borrowed from future payrolls in order to add additional pieces for 2015.
My feeling is that the Giants dodged long-term bullets in getting left at the altar by Sandoval, Lester, and Shields. Regardless of his weight issues, Sandoval just hasn't been a star player with the bat since 2011. He's remained above-average when you factor in the unfriendly confines of AT&T Park, but he's also been declining. Would you want to pay an overweight, declining player $100 million for five of his post-peak seasons? I'd rather pocket the draft pick, trade for a season of McGehee, and save the excess funds for a rainy day.
Lester, or Jonny Facking Lestaaaaah as he's affectionately called in Boston, is a 31-year-old pitcher. That's all I really need to know about him to say no thanks. Pitchers like Lester and Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia and Barry Zito and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are effective and durable until, shockingly, they suddenly are not. It's good to get them while the getting is good, and that tends to be when their prices are controlled by the MLB cartel via three seasons of league minimum service time followed by three years of below-market arbitration costs. If you're lucky, you might get them to sacrifice some free-agent years with a long-term contract extension at below-market prices, as the Giants wisely did with Madison Bumgarner. Pitchers break, and if anyone knows why, they aren't saying. Even the cyborg Matt Cain finally broke down. If there is a general area to be extremely conservative, it's with long-term contracts to pitchers on the wrong side of 30.
Sabey-Sabes, as he's called in Moneyball, got a compensation pick for losing out on Sandoval, and he got to keep his first-round pick when Big Game James Shields decided not to come to San Francisco. Lester was traded mid-season, so the signing club would not forfeit a draft choice for acquiring him. The Giants pick moved up to 18th when the Padres, Mets, Blue Jays, and Mariners signed players who were offered the qualifying offer. By getting spurned on the free-agent market, the Giants added or kept valuable draft choices while saving money on all future payrolls beyond 2016.
If I had been in Sabean's shoes, I wouldn't have negotiated with Sandoval, Lester, Shields, or any free agent on this year's market that was attached to draft-pick compensation. Draft picks have value, as seen by the core of this team: Cain (2002 1st rounder), Bumgarner (2007 1st rounder), Posey (2008 1st rounder), Romo (2005 28th rounder, Tim Lincecum (2006 1st rounder), Brandon Crawford (2008 4th rounder), Brandon Belt (2009 5th rounder), Joe Panik (2011 1st rounder), Andrew Susac (2011 2nd rounder), Matt Duffy (2012 18th rounder) and Hunter Pence (acquired for 2009 2nd rounder Tommy Joseph). Okay, so Duffy is not a core piece but I love him and believe he's going to hit .330 in the big leagues and make several All-Star teams and we all have our dreams so fuck off.
Now, we don't know what other options Sabean had to acquire a third baseman. What would the Yankees have needed from San Francisco for Martin Prado? When we analyze these transactions from the outside, we're always operating without, well, just about all of the information. Was signing Aoki necessary with Gregor Blanco already in tow? Was signing Vogelsong necessary with Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Hudson, Peavy, and Petit already on the roster? Was signing Romo necessary given the existing depth in the bullpen?
Aoki, or another outfielder, was necessary because of Angel Pagan's injury history and Blanco's inconsistency. I probably wouldn't have re-signed Romo or Vogelsong, however. Or maybe I'd have re-signed Vogelsong instead of Peavy given that Jake is 33 with one major shoulder operation already on his resume. Then again, I fucking love Jake Peavy.
In the end, I like the Giants winter as it was a lot more than if they'd signed Sandoval and added little else; signed Shields, lost their first-round pick, and added little else; or signed Lester to a huge deal. Then again, if Sandoval hits .300/.350/.550 with 25 home runs, I'll be all, what the fuck, Sabey-Sabes? Should have locked that dude up before he hit the market cuz once dudes hit the market, they tend to leave. It's like breaking up with cha girl: once she's out there, she ain't coming back, bruh. Duh.
So, baseball is complicated and hard. Buster Posey has failed to reach base in 62.6 percent of his plate appearances, for example. Tim Lincecum was great until he was terrible. Matt Cain was durable until his elbow stopped being durable. Even a three-time champion GM like Sabean is going to make more wrong moves than right ones. All that is good for the blogging business, but the baseball gods are unlikely to make the game any easier in the near future. They're a conservative lot up in heaven, living the good life and getting to talk to Jesus face-to-face whenever they want.
But one good thing working in our favor is this: when Cain, Sandoval, Posey, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Belt, and Panik were deemed ready, Sabean brought them up regardless of service time. That hurt the club's bottom line, as Belt and Lincecum reached arbitration status a year early. Sabean called up Posey in September 2009, even though he hardly played. Meanwhile, the big-market Cubs wouldn't let Kris Bryant sniff the big leagues last September, and they almost certainly won't bring him up to start the season in 2015. For shame, Cubbies. Give credit where credit is due: when a guy is ready, Sabean pulls him up without regard to long-term financial considerations.