Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Mar 15, 12 Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Previously: San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates

2011 RECORD: 72-90

PRESIDENT: Frank Coonelly GM: Neal Huntington

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Clint Barmes, Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, A.J. Burnett, Nate McClouth, Casey McGehee, Doug Slaten

KEY DEPARTURES: Derrek Lee, Ryan Ludwick, Paul Maholm, Joe Beimel, Ryan Doumit, Nelson Figueroa, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Snyder, Jose Veras

1992 was the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record – the club posted a 96-66 record. It is possible that the Pirates snap that streak in 2012.

The highlight of the offseason was undoubtedly Andrew McCutchen‘s 6-year $51.5MM extension with a 7th year club option. I won’t analyze the brilliance of this deal too much and instead will hand it off to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs who explains why this deal is a major win for the Bucs.

The fact is that the Pirates locked up McCutchen to essentially the same contract that Juston Upton signed two years prior and Jay Bruce signed 15 months prior – and McCutchen is a far more statistically achieved player than either Upton or Bruce from the time they signed extensions. It’s not even close.

Length Value Date Signed Age MLB Service Career WAR
Andrew McCutchen 6 + 1/club $51.5MM 3/6/2012 25 2.123 12.9
Jay Bruce 6 + 1/club $51.25MM 12/10/2010 23 2.125 8
Justin Upton 6 $51.25MM 3/4/2010 22 2.060 5.2

 

This table graphically depicts the brilliance in the Pirates extension of McCutchen. When comparing McCutchen to his counterparts (at the time each signed their respective extension): McCutchen is slightly older and more experienced  than both Bruce and Upton. He also has provided nearly five more wins above replacement than Jay Bruce and more than doubles Upton’s WAR. WOW!

McCutchen is THE stereotypical 5-tool player. He hits for average and power, gets on base, steals bases, and he even drastically improved his defense in 2011. His career line is .276/.365/.458 with a stellar .363 wOBA – he has also stolen 78 bases.

The 7th year club option at $15.75MM is the real winner in this deal. Assuming McCutchen keeps at his pace (or close), he will be worth for more than $15.75MM in 2018, thus; with the option, the Pirates get McCutchen from ages 25-31 for $64MM.  Let’s be real, this is one of the best moves the franchise could possibly do.

Clint Barmes will be the new man at shortstop and Rod Barajas will hold down the backstop. These are two guys that will struggle significantly at the plate, however; Barmes is a plus defender. Barajas is a bland move; he brings a veteran presence and some pop but he rarely gets on base and sports a career .299 wOBA. The 7,8,9 spots in the lineup should be a breeze for opposing pitchers.

Two moves I liked by the Pirates: 1) Bringing aboard Erik Bedard and 2) Trading for A.J. Burnett

Both moves are great strategies for a small-cap team as Bedard is cheap because of his injury issues and Burnett is actually undervalued at the 2-year $13MM rate he comes at. Eric Seidman of FanGraphs explains the Burnett move.

Short story on Burnett: His xFIP was 3.86 last year and one of the main reasons for his struggles is he gets torched by lefties in Yankee stadium, where almost any fly ball seems to get over the right-field wall. It’s unfortunate that Burnett is out a 2-3 months after injuring himself while trying to bunt in practice. Otherwise, his presence brings stability to a shaky Pirates rotation.

Bedard is coming off a solid year in which he posted a 3.64 FIP in 129.1 innings, right in line with his career numbers. The catch on Bedard is that he has only thrown 293.1 innings in the last four years combined. But that is exactly why he comes at a low-cost-low-risk one-year deal. I wouldn’t expect more than 120 innings out of him this year. Here is the intuition: If Bedard has another good first-half of the season and 1) the Pirates are in contention – keep him and ride his arm out till it falls;or 2) if the club is not in contention, you move him to a desperate club and receive a low-mid level prospect in return. As I mentioned before, with the changes to the CBA, there will be more buyers at the trade deadline.

2012 PAYROLL

The Pirates are expected to have a league-low $46MM payroll. This is a talented roster and to be at just $46MM is impressive. If the Bucs are hot as mid-season approaches, expect Huntington to make the moves necessary to push hard for a postseason birth — even if it means expanding the payroll constraints.

2012 OUTLOOK

I was definitely buying in for the Pirates to end their losing seasons streak until Burnett was set back with his injury. It will be tough but here is how the Pirates can crack an 82 win season.

1) McCutchen needs to take another giant stride forward and put up a 7 WAR season. He is definitely capable of it.

2) Pedro Alvarez must bounce back and live up to the slugging persona he is expected to have. Alvarez hit below the Mendoza line last year and consequently lost his job (and MLB roster spot) at the hot corner, however; this kid has pop and he has showed it along with patience at the plate in the minor leagues. If Alvarez can post a full season of .365 wOBA, the Pirates will be able to overlook the offensive inabilities of Barmes and Barajas.

Given those two scenarios, I have enough faith in the Pirates working with a patch-up rotation while making moves at the trade deadline to make a serious push for the post season.

Worst case, none of the above happens, and the Pirates get to add another stud prospect to their minor league system next draft.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Pittsburgh has one of the top minor league systems in terms of talent. They are top heavy, led by big-name guys: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell. Couple that with McCutchen locked in for 6-7 years, Tabata locked in long term, and Alex Presley budding as a speedy lead-off hitter – the Pirates can have a low-payroll contending team relatively soon.

Don’t be surprised to see the Bucs in the playoffs within the next four or five years (I know sounds like a long time, but remember that 1992 was the last winning season).

read more

Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

Mar 12, 12 Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves

2011 RECORD: 89-73

PRESIDENT:  John Schuerholz GM: Frank Wren

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Chris Jones, Robert Fish (via Rule 5),  MiLB contracts: Adam Russell, Drew Sutton, Luis Durango

KEY DEPARTURES: Derek Lowe, Alex Gonzalez, Nate McLouth, Brooks Conrad, Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill

Atlanta decided not to overreact after coming off a heartbreaking collapse at the end of 2011. That’s actually an understatement: the club traded Derek Lowe for salary relief, let five significant players walk in free agency, and spent a total of  $2.5 million in guaranteed money on major league signings (Eric Hinske and Jack Wilson). This is a classic Atlanta Braves maneuver as the club has a knack for winning by consistently building from within.

Trading Derek Lowe to Cleveland was the highlight of Atlanta’s offseason. Given the rotation depth and emergence of young arms, Lowe likely would have been demoted to a middle relief role. Instead, Atlanta was able to move him and save $5MM on payroll.

Trade rumors were the next hot topic for Atlanta’s winter. The club entertained offers for both Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens but ultimately decided to retain both players (mostly due to diminished trade values coupled with a high asking price). Prado is coming off a down year in which he posted a .296 wOBA after back-to-back seasons of .350+ wOBA. Jurrjens bounced back to post a solid 3.99 FIP while bringing his walk rate down to a career best 2.61 BB/9, however; durability is a big question as Jurrjens has only pitched a combined 268.1 innings in the past two seasons.

Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill are sizable losses to what was the best bullpen in 2011. Atlanta can afford losing the two and not replacing them through free agency because of the great depth they boast in the ‘pen. Anthony Varvarro and Kris Medlen are expected to replace the two veteran losses in a bullpen that consists of three of the best in the game: Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, and Eric O’Flaherty.

The Braves failed to lockup star catcher Brian McCann before St. Louis inked a $75MM deal to keep catcher Yadier Molina a redbird. This is going to come back to hurt Atlanta since McCann has statistically proved to be a significantly more valuable catcher than Molina (and McCann is nearly two years younger). Check out the career comparisons below – I added Joe Mauer‘s numbers at the time of his 8-year $184MM deal for comparisons sake. Note: WAR/year begins with the players’ first full season in the big leagues.

Comparison Age Games Career wOBA Career CS% WAR/year
Brian McCann 28 882 .361 24% 4.37
Yadier Molina 29.5 944 .310 44% 2.63
Joe Mauer 26 699 .384 38% 5.4

McCann has a good 51 points on Molina’s career wOBA but Molina is far better at throwing out base-runners, that said; McCann is a year and a half younger and boasts nearly two additional wins per year over Yadier Molina. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no way to statistically value the importance of a catcher’s ability to “control” or manage a pitching staff.

2012 PAYROLL

Payroll is expected to be at $90MM which is a norm for Atlanta. The club has been in the $90MM ballpark for the past decade. Don’t expect any blockbuster mid-season acquisitions as the club looks to keep payroll at a manageable level.

2012 OUTLOOK

Two big items to look out for:

1) Only one starting pitcher in the 2012 rotation threw more than 152 innings last season and it was Tim Hudson, who will be out for at least the first month of the season. While the rotation is very talented, it is just as inexperienced and raises the question if trading Lowe will come back to haunt the Braves. Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Jurrjens will need to step up during Hudson’s absence.

2) Can Jason Heyward bounce back from his ridiculous sophomore slump? Heyward is a stud with freakish athletic ability at the plate. While his overall numbers tanked last year, one stat that held relatively steady was his ISO which dipped just 17 points while his wOBA crashed 62 points. What’s good is that Heyward maintained his power and patience (with a solid 11.2% BB rate) while some of his decline in output can be attributed to his BABIP which dropped to .260.

The Braves may not be the division favorite, but expect them to compete and stay in the race until the end.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Long-term this club is in a solid position as it almost always is. This is because Atlanta is one of the best scouting clubs in the business – the scouting and player development departments are phenomenal at bringing players through the system.

The future from a payroll perspective is looking good as well. Lowe’s remaining salary comes off the books after this year, Chipper Jones‘ $14MM is off the books after the year (but if he plays 124 games a $9MM option kicks in), and much of the club’s top talent will be controlled through arbitration.

What happens with McCann? I don’t expect McCann to stay in Atlanta because he wants to test out free agency and he will eventually be courted by an AL club that will give him the option to DH later in his career.

Dan Uggla has $52.8MM remaining on his deal – will that come back to haunt them?

read more

Offseason Overview – New York Yankees

Mar 08, 12 Offseason Overview – New York Yankees
New York Yankees

2011 RECORD: 97-65

PRESIDENT: Randy Levine GM: Brian Cashman

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Raul Ibanez, Bill Hall (MiLB), Russell Branyan (MiLB), David Aardsma, Manny Delcarmen (MiLB)

KEY DEPARTURES: Jorge Posada, Jesus Montero, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Aaron Laffey, Hector Noesi

Dealing Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for the right-handed stud Michael Pineda was the Yankees highlight this past winter. Furthermore, the club inked veteran Hiroki Kuroda to a friendly one-year deal and shipped out A.J. Burnett’s contract to Pittsburgh in order to tack-on Raul Ibanez as a DH platoon-man.

The most important aspect of the Yankees offseason was the club’s decision not to spend big on free-agents and instead to improve through trades and strategic short-term contracts. This is derived from ownership’s persistence to cut payroll from its current $210 million figure to below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014. Whether that is feasible, we will get to later in the post, but for now let’s analyze the effects of Cashman’s recent moves.

The Montero for Pineda swap made headlines and sparked great debates. On one side, fans were upset that they just lost a potential perennial all-star bat (who may or may not be able to play the field) but on the other hand, the club received an absolute beast on the hill who is… wait for it… actually proven himself.

Pineda is 6-5/260 and averaged 94.7 mph on his fastball in 171 innings last season. He finished the year with a 24.9% strikeout rate and a league-high 11.8% SwStr% (Swinging Strike %). Overall Pineda posted a 3.42 FIP and 3.4 WAR.

In exchange for this beast, the Yankees were forced to part with a beast of their own in Montero. In 69 plate appearances last year, Montero hit .328/.406/.590 with a .421 wOBA. Granted it is a small sample size, Montero combined to showed great patience at the plate with a 10.1% walk rate while boasting a .262 ISO.

The biggest knock on Montero is his apparent inability to play the field. If he settles in as a DH, his value definitely tanks; keep an eye out for him at first base.

To me, this trade is a no-brainer for the Yankees and a head-scratcher for the Mariners. It reminds me of 2007-2008 when the Giants were rumored to have entertained a Tim Lincecum – Alex Rios swap (I know it still scares me to hear that now). A starting pitcher with Pineda’s tools and stature is far more valuable and rare than a premier hitter who struggles at defense.

Joining Pineda in the Yankee rotation is veteran Hiroki Kuroda who inked a one-year $10 million deal. This could be one of the top steals of the offseason: Kuroda comes to NY with a career 3.55 FIP, 12.2 WAR, and 699 IP over four years of work with the Dodgers. Kuroda’s strikeout rate has been increasing over the years but in 2011 he saw his groundball rate dip to 43.2% after being above 50% in his career previously. This is a concern since Kuroda will be more susceptible to giving up homeruns in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium if he is unable to keep balls on the ground.

 What did Kuroda do differently in 2011?

1)       Threw his fastball 39.9% more in 2011 than in 2010 and his sinker 16.18% less in 2011 than in 2010.

2)      Kept his fastball high in the zone, resulting in less groundballs and more fly-balls.

Hiroki Kuroda Fastball% Sinker% Slider% Splitter% Curve%
2010 16.3% 44.5% 21.4% 13.2% 3.4%
2011 22.8% 37.3% 18.9% 14.2% 5.3%

 


Kuroda Heat Chart (Fastballs) 2011 - from FanGraphs.com

More fastballs high in the zone explain the dip in Kuroda’s groundball rate and therefore his career-high 11.3% HR/FB.

2012 PAYROLL

A cool $210 million. Ownership is definitely altering its philosophy on shelling out multi-year multi-million-dollar contracts each offseason. Moving A.J. Burnett gives NY some breathing room for minor midseason adjustments (possibly at DH).

2012 OUTLOOK

If all goes well, the Yankees will be in the World Series come the end of the year. The rotation is solid with the additions of Pineda and Kuroda under ace CC Sabathia. If Ivan Nova can provide a solid 180 innings and a Freddy Garcia/Phil Hughes 5-spot holds up, the Yankees will be dangerous.

We know what this club is able to do offensively – there isn’t much to question on that realm. Keeping Alex Rodriguez healthy in 2012 will be easier with him spending time at DH (and the same goes for Derek Jeter).

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Big question: Can the Yankees drop payroll to $189 million and stay competitive through 2014?

Getting to $189MM will be a task in itself since A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia will eat $75.125 million combined in 2014. That leaves $113 million for the remaining 40-man roster which faces two key free-agencies in 2013: Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Cano will surely receive $20+ million per year and Granderson may command close to that if he stays anywhere near his current pace of 7 WAR seasons.

Essentially, $189 million means no more A-Rod types of big-name free-agent splashes. I am ecstatic about this because now we shall truly be able to see and appreciate Brian Cashman’s talent as a General Manager.




read more

Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

Mar 07, 12 Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 RECORD: 94-68
PRESIDENT: Derrick Hall GM: Kevin Towers
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Trevor Cahill, Craig Breslow, Jason Kubel, Takashi Saito
KEY DEPARTURES: Jason Marquis, Xavier Nady, Kam Mickolio, Jarrod Parker

Coming off a 94-win season and the NL-West division title, Towers made some key additions to bolster the rotation and bullpen at a minimal cost to the teams low payroll. Shipping out the minor league system for Trevor Cahill was definitely the highlight of the D-backs offseason. Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito will add depth to the bullpen while Jason Kubel will take over LF in what is a questionable move by the organization.

Cahill joins Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter to form a deadly rotation which rivals their NL-West counterparts in San Francisco. Kennedy comes off a stellar season in which he posted a 3.22 FIP. While Hudson’s numbers don’t look as great as Kennedy’s, he was just as efficient with a 3.28 FIP on 222 IP.

I see Cahill settling in as a solid #3 rather than the 1-2 type that some project. The biggest worry is control: his career BB% is 8.8% (quite high), however; his strikeout rate has increased in each of his first three seasons and was 16.3% last season – which is impressive for a groundball pitcher. But don’t expect Cahill to bounce back to his 2010 numbers (18-8, 2.97 ERA) even with the pitcher-friendly transition to the NL. Cahill’s adjusted numbers were actually better last year as he posted a 4.10 FIP, down .09 from 2010. What changed was his BABIP which normalized to .302 in 2011 after being .236 the year prior. Also, Cahill is moving from a spacious Oakland Colosseum to the hitter-friendly Chase Field where he will be liable to giving up more home runs.

Take a look at the heat-charts below which compare the location of sinkers thrown by Cahill and sinkerball-extraordinaire Derek Lowe in 2011. Lowe is notorious for posting league-high ground-ball rates because of his ability to consistently keep his sinker low in the zone. The heat graphs highlight Lowe’s ability to keep his sinker low and away in the zone. Cahill will have to do just that otherwise he risks giving up more homeruns in Chase Field.

Trevor Cahill (top) and Derek Lowe Heat Maps – Sinkers (From FanGraphs.com) AB vs L on left – vs R on right

The bullpen should again be strong in 2012 with J.J. Putz, Brad Ziegler, Joe Paterson, and David Hernandez coming back after great years. Added to the mix will be veteran Takashi Saito who is 42 years old but holds a career 2.65 FIP. Health is the concern; the club opted not to give Saito a physical after signing him since they knew he would fail it. Instead, they will be cautious with him and will have him on a specialized work-out and training program throughout spring.

Bringing in Jason Kubel was the move that turned heads around the league. Kubel inked a 2-year $15M deal to make him the starting LF, sending Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra to a minimized bench-role. Let’s first look at Parra and then dive into what Kubel brings to the table.

The 24-year-old Parra broke-out with a stellar defensive season while putting up solid numbers at the plate. Parra finished with a slash of .292/.357/.427 and stole 15 bases in 16 attempts. While he managed a .357 OBP on a 8.7% walk rate, Parra’s lack of power comes to light with his career.316 wOBA. It is reasonable to be skeptical of Parra’s ability to match or outperform his 2011 production since he is coming of a .342 BABIP. Parra does have a career .338 BABIP but in 2010, when his BABIP dipped to .322, his BA tanked to .261 with a wOBA of just .291. Furthermore, his OBP is generously high because of free passes granted to Parra in the 8-hole with the pitcher on-deck.

The case to keep Parra as the starter is more about his defensive presence than anything else: he is able to man all three spots in the OF and covers a lot of ground. Teamed with Chris Young in center and Justin Upton in right, the D-backs have a strong case for the best defensive outfield in the league – which is deadly coupled with the club’s stellar rotation.

Kubel joins the club with a track record of hitting home runs. The intuition is that he will add a veteran presence and be a middle-of-the-order bat from the left side. Kubel is coming off a mediocre season in which his wOBA was just .332 while also spending time on the DL. 2010 was actually a worse year for Kubel – .326 wOBA. The back-to-back down years made him affordable and available on just a two-year contract – the hope is he will bounce back to his 2009 stellar season in which Kubel posted a .239 ISO and .383 wOBA.

Kubel’s fly ball rate is quite high and has been increasing over the years – the hope is that he will be able to convert more fly balls into home runs in Chase Field, something he failed to do during the last two years in Minnesota. For Arizona, this will come at the expense of having a top defensive outfielder replaced by a poor defender who spent 1/3 of his starts as a DH last season.

According to Bill James’ and ZiPS projections, at best Kubel is projected to provide between 5-8 additional offensive runs over Parra, however; over the past three years, Parra has saved on average, 10 more runs per year than Kubel [based off FanGraphs Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)].

The reliability of defensive metrics has been questioned but Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one defensive measure that correlates as well as wOBA (which is one of the most reliable and highly regarded sabermetric statistics). So lets compare Kubel and Parra in terms of UZR/150 (per 150 innings). Parra has a career 9.5 UZR/150 (in three seasons) while Kubel has a career -17 UZR/150 which is atrocious.

Based on metrics, Kubel actually detracts from the team as a full time replacement for Parra, however; Parra should be able to get in at least 300 plate appearances by playing on off days for each of the three starters, starting in interleague road games, and coming in as a late inning defense replacement for Kubel. Also, bringing on Kubel gives the club injury insurance in the outfield.

OTHER NOTES

Towers was questioned after giving two veteran utility players, John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist (who have played sparingly in the past few years) two-year deals when many agreed that the two wouldn’t have garnered anything more than one year plus an option in the open market.

The club signed Mike Jacobs to a minor league deal. Jacobs was last relevant in 2008 when he hit 32 home runs in Florida. He will face a 50-game suspension for substance-abuse before he is able to play.

2012 PAYROLL

2011’s payroll was just over the $56M mark. The 2012 payroll  is expected to be around $75M which is a significant increase, showing the club’s seriousness to compete in 2012. At the same time, the D-backs will be in a tough situation if Kubel doesn’t pan out and they are forced to eat his $15M and trade for a bat mid-season.

2012 OUTLOOK

The NL West is going to be competitive in 2012. The D-Backs success in 2012 will again be largely determined by the repeat success of their rotation. We know the team can hit (3rd best slugging team in NL last year) and will continue to put up solid offensive numbers with Justin Upton yet to reach his prime and Miguel Montero developing into a premier hitter behind the plate. The question-mark is Stephen Drew, who is expected to be back by opening day. If he stays healthy and hits around his career average, the D-backs will be in great shape.

Arizona made the right move to further bolster their rotation and bullpen with the likes of Cahill, Breslow, and Saito. Kennedy and Hudson should be able to anchor the rotation as they did last year. If Cahill can provide a solid 200 innings of sub 4 FIP, this club will roll through the NL West.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Arizona is one of few clubs that does not have any bad contracts bogging them down. Upton’s contract is the largest the team has on the books and keeps him in Arizona until the end of 2015 at a reasonable price. Kennedy, Hudson, and Roberts are all under control for the next four years while Parra is under team control for the next five seasons. Given the club’s desire to keep the payroll low, if the team doesn’t win in the next two years, expect to see some of the young talent moved prior to their contracts blowing up in arbitration.

For the foreseeable future, expect Arizona to milk their young talent while adding talent through trades and short-term deals for veteran free agents.

read more

Offseason Overview – San Francisco Giants

Mar 07, 12 Offseason Overview – San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants
2011 RECORD: 86-76
PRESIDENT: Larry Baer GM: Brian Sabean
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Ryan Theriot, Gregor BlancoRamon Ortiz (Minor League contract)
KEY DEPARTURES: Carlos Beltran, Pat Burrell, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Jeff Keppinger, Ramon Ramirez

The Giants’ front office made some questionable moves (and “non-moves”) this offseason, highlighted by a couple trades for outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan and the free-agency departure of 2011 mid-year acquisition Carlos Beltran.

Trading the young southpaw Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera was nothing short of mind boggling.

Jonathan Sanchez Fastball Heat Chart - Photo from FanGraphs.com

What I see in Sanchez is untapped potential: A guy who ranked 4th in strikeout rate over the last three years; has a no-hitter (perfect game minus Uribe’s error) on his resume; but is coming off an injury-ridden down year after posting a FIP of 4.0 in 2010 and 3.85 in 2008. His down side is his consistent league-high walk rate which can be attributed to his propensity to pitch high in the zone where it is tough to make contact but also tough to get called strikes.

On the other hand, Sanchez has started to become less reliant on his fastball and instead throws more changeups. There is potential for him to develop better command of his CH to place it low in the zone where even if more contact is made, it is likely to be on the ground.

Jonathan Sanchez Pitch Type - From FanGraphs.com

Melky is an interesting player to look at. He has a bad rep for distinct struggles in 2008 and 2010 while also having his character and work ethic questioned. On the plus-side, he heads to the bay in his prime (27 years old) and is coming off a career-best season. Let’s take an in-depth look at his career best performance.

On the surface, Melky’s slash looks good at .305/.339/.470 but his BABIP was a significant career high at .332 which we should not expect to hold up. He also posted a career low walk rate (5%) and career high strike out rate (13.3%). Furthermore, looking at his power, Cabrera’s career-high ISO of .164 last year likely will not be hold up in pitcher-friendly AT&T park. It is very reasonable to expect Melky’s numbers to regress to around .280/.315/.415 considering he is walking at a career low rate and he is not an Ichiro-type to live off consistently high BABIP.  Now 280/.315/.415 is still a decent slash considering the Giants were the second worst offense in the league last year but the issue comes in when we look at Melky’s defense.

Metrics place Cabrera as a below-average defender and even with that aside, his size and speed makes him a question to cover the vast CF area in San Francisco. He will probably end up spending a lot of time in LF which significantly decreases his value since he takes up what should be a offense-heavy position. All-in-all, this points to Sanchez being a more valuable asset than Melky and this next piece will prove why.

Just days after the trade was completed, I spoke to a Major League Scout who told me in confidence that Brian Cashman was willing to part with Brett Gardner in exchange for Sanchez. Doesn’t that make you wonder? Did the Giants not do their due diligence in shopping Sanchez or does Sabean see something in Melky that I don’t?

Angel Pagan is the other outfielder Sabean acquired through a trade which shipped out Andres Torres and right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Mets. This move gives the Giants a defensive option in CF as well as a “true” lead-off hitter. Pagan is coming off a down year where he saw is BABIP tank from .331 to .285 and consequently, his slash to drop to .262/.322/.372. Before last year, he was living off high BABIP, partly due to his speed. That number should normalize to around .300 making it reasonable to expect Pagan to bounce back a bit from last year. The loss of Ramirez is not too damaging given the Giants exceptional depth in the bullpen, however; you can never have enough arms in the ‘pen.

The biggest issue of the Giants offseason was letting Carlos Beltran go without making a strong push to resign the slugger. Beltran ended up in St. Louis on a very friendly two-year $26M deal. I understand losing him to a three-year deal, but at two-year $26M, it is tough to comprehend. He is too valuable of a bat at that price, especially considering the Giants gave up Zach Wheeler for a few months of Beltran.

Shortstop left in the hands of Brandon Crawford
The Giants felt no need to invest in a starting SS and instead opted to leave the position in the hands of the 25 year old Crawford who hit four points above the Mendoza line last year. This looks poor on the surface but Crawford is a stellar defensive player and is coming off a BABIP of just .228 which should normalize up this year. The Giants did pick up utility-man Ryan Theriot who could see time at SS.

OTHER NOTES
The club avoided an arbitration hearing with Lincecum by inking the ace to a two-year deal worth $40.5M, buying out his remaining arbitration years.

Ryan Vogelsong also received a two year deal worth $8.3M with a third-year club option.

Pablo Sandoval agreed to a three-year extension buying out his arbitration years for $17.15M.

Speedy CF Gregor Blanco will battle for the final outfield spot. Blanco boasts a career walk rate of 12.8% but severely lacks power.

2012 PAYROLL
Giants are looking at a payroll of around $135M for 2012 which is high and may be a factor in the club’s ability to add offense at the trade deadline, especially considering the change in CEO from Bill Neukom to Larry Baer last season.

2012 OUTLOOK
We know what the Giants strength is: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito make up one of the top rotations in baseball. Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson highlight what is also one of the top bullpens in the league. Manager Bruce Bochy recently stated that Zito, firmly, will be the 5th starter heading into the season; however, look for Eric Surkamp to make a push for the 5th spot as the season progresses.

Everything comes back to creating offense, and the Giants are depending on a healthy Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, a bounce-back year from Aubrey Huff, and the development of prospect Brandon Belt into a middle-of-the-order threat. Reports say Buster is definitely not 100% meaning he may see extensive time at 1B which would crowd the outfield with Huff, Melky, Pagan, Nate Schierholtz, and Belt.

The only for-sure spots are 3B with the Panda and 2B with Sanchez (as long as he stays off the DL). Brandon Crawford will be fun to watch at SS – if the Giants’ offensive struggles continue to affect the club’s ability to contend, expect the team to find an offensive upgrade at short.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

The Giants have been known for their ability to draft and develop star pitching talent but recently their system has been somewhat depleted, most notably with the Zach Wheeler trade. The team does have some offensive talent about to break into the league: top prospect OF Gary Brown will start the year in Double-A after spending a full season in Class-A, posting a .336/.407/.519 slash. Expect him in the big-league by 2013. Catcher Hector Sanchez is the other highlight budding in the minors. Sanchez was a late call-up last season and may be back this year if Posey establishes himself at 1B.

Bumgarner should get signed long-term soon so the Giants can avoid redoing a Lincy-type scenario. The southpaw has been stellar in his young career, posting a 2.67 FIP in 204+ innings last year. So far the club has yet to begin extension discussions.

The most intriguing factor for Giants is their payroll situation, which is blown up with notoriously bad contracts to Zito and Aaron Rowand. The good thing is that Rowand’s $13.5M is off the books after this year, along with the $10M Huff will get this year.  2013 will be Zito’s final guaranteed year and assuming his 2014 option does not vest (200+ innings in ‘13 or 400+ innings in ‘12 + ’13) he will be off the books with a $7M buyout.

This leaves the Giants with NO contract obligations in 2015 and beyond (just one of 9 teams with such situation) – quite impressive. That should allow them to sign both Cain and Lincecum to monstrous contracts while also locking up Posey and Sandoval before they hit FA in the next few years. While this is the likely route for the Giants brass, they actually have many options given such flexibility, including; shopping Lincecum or Cain and/or making a FA splash on a hitter in 2014.

read more