Friday, October 9, 2009

The Options

If you go back a couple of years, and to last off-season, there are three options for rebuilding the Giants. Those three options have been debated, and still exist today, because the team still needs rebuilding. Call it "improving" if you want, the options still come down to the same. They are:


This is the option most favored, vociferously (can you be vociferous in print?) by MOC. Play the youngsters and hope for the best. I believe the quote is, "I'd rather lose with youth." The advantages of this option are that you don't give up any talent at all, and you get a really good chance to see whether or not the youngsters are actually major league talent. The downside is that, if you don't get a couple of budding stars out of the exercise, you wind up just as lousy a team as you had before, except that everyone now knows that your young players are busts.


This is the option that I believe that Sabean has taken. If you are a pretty good team (and in spite of all the bitching about the Giants, their record indicates that they are, overall, pretty good), you try to see if you can get better by making small additions, while not giving up too much. Here is the evidence: Garko. Renteria. Uribe. You can argue whether or not these attempts to incrementally improve the team have been successful - also, you can discuss whether or not the players have been given adequate chance (in Garko's case) to prove their worth. But the attempts have not cost the Giants a large amount of money or skill to acquire. (Again, whether they have been worth the money spent or not is another story). Freddie Sanchez is a special case. He was an attempt to incrementally improve the club, although cost a very bright prospect. For these reasons, he might be put in the final option category. But there is a mitigating factor and that is that Alderson may not have had a place to pitch on the Giants, so, it could be argued, was worth less to the Giants than to another club. Which brings us to our final option.

Lots and lots of folks really wanted and still want this option. Trade Matt Cain. Trade Jonathan Sanchez. Get a big bat! Sign Matt Holliday AND Jason Bay. Keep in mind that the Big Move has more potential in the off season than during the season, becasue you can make a Big Move in the free agent market as well as via trade. The problem with the Big Move is the Big Cost, either in dollars or skill. Much has been made of the Giants lack of willingness to pay for talent, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary. It would be foolish to assume that there is NO budget, that simply does not apply except maybe for the Yankees. Barry Zito may have been a foolish signing for his cost, but it indicates that the Giants are willing to offer serious dollars to the best free agent on the market (which he was at the time). Of course, having done so, maybe there is less cash in the till. A bigger problem is trading away skill. You lose Matt Cain, and you have to not only make up for his absence, you have to also get better. One way of doing this is to look at the WARP statistics. There are a couple with minor variations in how they are calculated. For WARP 1, Matt Cain is a 6. Albert Pujols leads the league with a value of 11.4. Troy Tulowitski - 6.4. Joe Mauer - let's say the Twins felt so bad about Pierzynski that they would trade us Joe Mauer for Matt Cain. Joe Mauer is a 9.5, worth only 3.5 wins more than Matt. Adrian Gonzales is valued at 8.9, less than 3 wins more than Matt. All those guys are older than Matt, and are so good that you have to believe that they have less upside. WARP is calculated based on what a player has done. Also, take Matt out, and you have to put someone in. If you do not have another pitcher on the plus side of a WARP statistic, you have to find one or else subtract a negative value. You can pretty quickly wind up in a zero sum game except with even more money unavailable for another player. Trading Matt Cain, or Jonathan Sanchez would be the height of folly. For Pujols, maybe, but I'm kind of thinking that he's not available.

Which leaves the free agent market, where I expect Brian Sabean to be active this winter - maybe successfully, maybe not. What I'm saying is that I think that Incrementalism has been, and is the right way to approach rebuilding. Yeah, some of the players have sucked in hindsight and maybe Sabean deserves a lot of blame for that. But most of our future personnel value is still here and the team has gone from sucky to pretty good ahead of schedule. No one really knows how much more we need to be in the post season. We know what we need - plate discipline, better on-base percentage, power, but the synergistic effects of a batting order can make the sum of the whole greater than its parts. I'm not defending Sabean's moves here, I'm defending his approach. We have had a pretty good chance to evaluate a number of players, and by the time next season rolls around, there may be some problems with individual youngsters solved that might indicate an improvement, and a better future, without doing anything. Now, however, we have a lot of youngsters that have not impressed. We will need to find some outside talent to supplement the club. I would much rather add small than do nothing or take a sledgehammer to the team.


Bob said...

That's hilarious about the Twins feeling sorry for us about Pierzynski. If only the world worked that way.
Speaking of that notorious deal, it's pretty astonishing how many player acquisitions have gone terribly wrong in the last few years. Most of them seemed like OK ideas at the time.
Let's just hope we regress to the mean (is that correct?) related to future acquisitions and that a few new faces actually turn out to be even better than we thought they would be.
I suppose we'll get a blend of all 3 of Zo's options. We're certainly overdue for a "big move" to work out well.

JC Parsons said...

Great post, Mystic One!!

I vote for HOPE!! (I'm sure my President would want me to. BTW Congrats on the Prize, well deserved.) The one guy in our front office worth spit is John Barr, the draft dude. Let him take over everything for a few years and we'll be sitting pretty. Stock pile young prospect pitchers...keep the total studs (at least for a few years) and trade some others for somebody else's prospects. This has worked very well in the last couple years, which is pretty much when it started. We need to go back and get another Angel, that's right, get right back on the horse that kicked you off. It was a good idea (which may still work out??) and we better not give up on it.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Of all prospects, pitchers have the highest failure rate. It is interesting that we chose to emphasize pitching prospects rather than 1B or slugging LFs, for example. It makes you realize why we are so ready to deal young arms--most of them don't pan out. The issue for me is how easily we toss them away and how little we get in return.

I'd normally be in favor of incrementalism, but with The Sabester at the helm we get an endless supply of over-the-hill, slightly-above-average, very expensive ballplayers. I understand that he wants to have reliable guys who he "knows what they can do." But that's the problem--we ALL know what they can do! There is no UPSIDE. Barry Zito WILL NEVER EVER EVER EVER be better than he was in 2002! Yes, he was "the best free agent" that year, but he was absurdly over-valued. We had a guy last year--his name was Kevin Corrreia--that could deliver ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME LEVEL of performance for PEANUTS. That $126 million wasted on Zito could have been spent on multiple players and filled a hell of a lot of holes. (Or could be spent on Tim Lincecum, but why do that when he's still cheap?)

Juan Uribe is proof that you don't waste money on Edgar Renteria. Guys who are barely performing above "replacement level" should not get $8 fookin million. Did you know Rajai Davis got a regular gig in Oakland? We all saw what Davis could do and couldn't do, but the Giants could not. They could not find a way to get production out of a useful player. Fred Lewis will soon hit the road and get a job somewhere else because we can't find a way to use him. Aaron Rowand takes up a spot, as did Randy Winn, and there is NO OPPORTUNITY for young talent to get developed. It sucks. It's a goddamn country club. Old, fat, unproductive "vets" get a 3-year cush gig in The City and if they hit .250 the GM praises their "clutchness."

It's a crock. We've been duped by these nickel-squeezing motherfuckers into beleiving in their "plan." Their plan is very, very simple: do the minimum it takes to keep the revenue stream flowing. Don't take risks. Don't fuck up. Absorb the sunk costs and find new revenue streams. Pay the mortgage. Be calm, courtly, stately, and supremely dull. Try to make Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina iconic figures for 12-year old preppies whose dads will buy season tickets.

Above all, do not talk about "winning the World Series." Do NOT make that an organizational goal. Keep the emphasis on telegenic Fox-worthiness and stay far, far away from talented ballplayers who might have some media "issues." Make sure the boys in French vanilla toe the line.

I say FUCK THAT. Gimme the goddamn Yankees and Alec Fucking Rodriguez hitting a game-tying 9th inning HR against Joe Nathan ANY FUCKING DAY. I don't give a shit if the guy's in the tabloids. He's a REAL TALENT. Imagine if we had a hitter like that.

I don't want piddly-ass bridesmaid attitudes any more. I want Puke and HairyB to stand up in front of all the fans and say unequivocally "on our watch the San Francisco Giants will be THE BEST TEAM IN BASEBALL."

You know something? They never will. George Steinbrenner may be an asshole, but he knows what he wants. Barry Bonds was an asshole, too, and we put up with it because he was a master of the game, and we'd do it again. Peter Magaowan at least had the cojones--when his group took over the team--to tell the fans that his goal was to bring a "World Series championship" to San Francisco. That was the closest we came. I'd like to hear Microsoft's dick-licking legal-eagle slimeball say the same.

Then I might be reasonable and talk about incrementalism in an organization that needs an entirely new approach to acquiring and developing talent. (Don't think so? Pablo Sandoval is our best hitter since WILL CLARK. That was 1986.) I love Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, too, but without Tim Lincecum being the Greatest Pitcher of Our Lifetimes we'd be a slop outfit barely above the Washington Nationals.

Bob said...

I'm scared of you, M.C.
Really good stuff, though.
Blogging is fun, huh? You can say "fuck" and "dick-licking" and get away with it. My favorite part is when you can just say things "suck" or use dumb adjectives like "manly."
Even when the Giants try to win the World Series they can't, so why pretend?

M.C. O'Connor said...

Don't be scared, I'm just an excitable boy. And I will continue to pretend.

And a hat tip to the Mystic One for uncorking my over-carbonated bottle. I'm glad the rest of you are calm and rational about the Giants. I'm becoming, as you can see, quite the opposite. I really, really, really really, really hope that the Brain Trust will do something to change my opinion of them.

Here's one way to think about the State of the Giants. Magowan said he'd win us a championship. Got us Barry. Got us a ballpark. Didn't win. So he canned Barry and stepped down as the Chairman. In other words, he had at least a modicum of ACCOUNTABILITY in his corporate soul.

Unfortunately for us, he failed to take Sabean down with him.

Ron said...

The problem with incrementalism is that, by only marginally improving the team on paper, we are exposed to a huge crash back to sucky level due to an untimely injury or two. Therefore, I am with Mark - I am sick of the philosophy he described so accurately: "do the minimum it takes to keep the revenue stream flowing". While, unlike Mark, there are a handful of players I want nothing to do with (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez to name 2), I want a splashy move to attempt to elevate this team above the mediocre mire to which we appear to be committed. If you want incrementalism, sign Russell Branyan, a nice player who gets on base, whiffs too much, & never plays for a winner, & brace yourself for another 75 to 85 win non-playoff season. If you want a real improvement, get yourself seriously into the Jason Bay fray & take some chances. And, of course, sign Tim Lincecum.

Ron said...

On an ornithological note, we all just got back from a long weekend at the Oregon Coast (Manzanita) with my Parents. On Saturday morning, Susana & I climbed to the peak of Neahkahnie Mountain - gorgeous! When we got to the summit, I heard a hoo-hoo sound, looked up at the top of a nearby tree & proclaimed "that's an Owl!" Sure enough, upon closer inspection, it was a Northern Pygmy-Owl. Very cool:

Zo said...

I'm all for signing Jason Bay. That would be incrementalism, because it would be an upgrade at one position. I am not in favor of getting shitty free agents just because they might be less expensive. The Giants have shown a willingness to go after expensive free agents in the past, although there is a new sheriff in town, so we really don't know how much they can do that in the future.

M.C. O'Connor said...

I think Holliday would be a better choice than Bay, but Bay is a good player and would certainly help our lineup. (q.v. Bay City Ball for a contrarian take on Mr. Bay )

Holliday is 30, Bay 31. Both have good years left, but signing guys like this to 4-5 year deals is probably a bad move. Aaron Rowand has set the bar at $60 M/5-years, and any agent worth a damn would want more for their guys who are clearly FAR superior talents. Maybe the Giants could do a 3-year/$40 M kind of thing, but with so much still on the books, I can't believe the ownership group would take that kind of plunge.

It's a question of whether you believe we are "one bat away" or not. In that case, take the leap, shoot for the best FA bat you can get. I think we may be in for a rude awakening next year when we discover our historically-spectacular pitching isn't necessarily repeatable. That is, we'll still be very good, but maybe not league-best. With all the holes in our lineup, I think we'll need multiple moves to give us a genuine shot at the playoffs.

Ron said...

In the Bay v. Holliday discussion, it is important to note that Holliday built up his hitting reputation in 2 great hitters' ballparks, while he his performance suffered when his home games were in a pitchers' park. Bay has hit in both Pittsburgh & Boston, so it could be argued that he has proven himself more adaptable & consistent. Neither is a fine OF, but Bay appears to be able to throw out more baserunners.

I prefer Bay, but either would be a fine addition. It would be nice to know whether the Giants are even thinking about going there.

It's a good point that the unfortunate point-of-reference is Rowand's gawdy contract. Bay or Holliday would be a shorter term deal for a higher annual salary.

M.C. O'Connor said...

An astute baseball writer named Dave Cameron (USS Mariner, Fan Graphs) wants nothing to do with Jason Bay. His point is instructive--here's a quote:

These are the types of players that make the worst free agent signings. Power is overvalued in the market, while defense is undervalued, so sluggers almost always get paid more than they’re worth. Toss in the fact that this skillset doesn’t age well, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The problem is that these guys usually want multiple years. We are already on the hook for dumb multi-year deals. It would probably, in the long run, hurt us to get either of these guys for more than 3 years. Two-plus-option would be ideal, but they won't bite on that. So, I'd guess we are out of the running already. And if you buy Mr. Cameron's argument, better off for it.

I used to think slugging 1B and LFs were a dime-a-dozen, but we haven't produced one in decades.

M.C. O'Connor said...

I'll go further and say NO ONE deserves more than a 3-year deal. Except Tim Lincecm, of course.

Tim Hudson might be a free agent--there's talk he will opt-out of Atlanta and test the waters.

Fan Graphs also has a piece on Matt Holliday's home/road splits. Suffice to say the differences are a lot less significant than they were when he was starting out.