Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Free Agency vs. Trades for acquisitions.

Let me ‘reset.’  Let’s assume nothing.

The free agency market is pretty much a flop- like an octopus on a trampoline.  Reyes and Rollins as shortstops.  Cuddyer and Crisp as outfielders.  Maybe Carlos Quentin.  So, if the free agents aren’t great, maybe we gotta look at trades.

Trades are never just about what we want.  They are always about what others want.  Or, in other words, what we can get for what we can give.  I can make some ‘bad humor’ nightclub metaphors, but I won’t.  See, I’m all grown up, I’ve matured.

I also want to take another ‘fringe element’ (oh, with the nightclub metaphors again!) of trades vs. free agent signings.  At least in trades we can assess our talent pool and ‘somewhat choose’ who we send, and to whom.  We’d probably be better off not sending Brian Wilson somewhere within our division, for instance.  We target trade acquisitions that also fulfill specific needs.

There are times when it is impossible to project what our position needs may be 3-5 years out.  And whom of our draft picks actually turn into big leaguers.  What if we pick the ‘best available’ and have no middle infielders when we need them?  What if we continue to draft pitchers because we are so good at developing them?

Free agents work a bit differently.  Let us not forget that we are relinquishing (oh, big word!) our 1st round or supplemental round draft pick when we sign a free agent.  Right now, we should be capable of building a team to endure for a 3-5 year time-horizon.  So, many of our current prospects will simply stay ‘stuck’ in our farm system.  If Adrianza has trade value, it may be well to trade him while his value is solid.  If Panik shows up on the Giants and performs, and we acquire a shortstop; we’ll have very little need for Adrianza before he turns 28.

On the other hand, those draft picks could be invaluable.  Our horizon can project that we will need some replenishments by 2015 or 2016.  By 2016, we’ll carry a full roster of near market-value contracts (Posey, Sandoval, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner) and whatever SS and OF we acquire in the mean time.  Concurrent to this; Brown, Panik, and all of our bench players would be in arbitration years.

If we draft well in 2012 and 2013, we can keep turning a balanced lineup like we have now.  Maybe one or two of our bench players have enough value to trade or release to free agency.  We get a couple more young, team-controlled prospects or a targeted ‘need based’ acquisition.

Those draft picks, I assert, can be much more valuable than the prospects we would be trading.  Even if a highly thought of prospect like Adrianza, Chris Dominguez, or Conor Gillaspie really become the real deal at the MLB level for another team.  It takes something to get something, remember?

So far, I’m talking hypothetically about position players.  I foresee a need for us to keep more of our pitching prospects.  For one, we are excellent at developing them ourselves.  Two, even if we can sign Casilla, Romo, and Lopez to three-year or four-year deals, we’ll need some new arms well before 2016.

There is also a thought we might need to unload one of our top-three starters at some point.  Otherwise, payroll could get enormous.  If guys like Fitzgerald, Westcott, Crick, or Black can really step into our rotation, we maintain a solid core to our rotation, or have trade leverage for other position needs.  And maybe a 2012 draft pick works out.

We’ve had a successful track record for draftees the last half dozen years or more.  Not with all, but with more than enough.  Nobody strikes gold with each pick, it just can’t be done.

What kinds of trade packages could we put together?
For whom?  A couple more ideas I’ll float out into the ether…

Adam Jones.

The Orioles tendered a one-year $3.25M deal for 2011 to Jones, his first arbitration year.  Do they start thinking about a long-term contract to lock him up through a couple FA years now?  Do they spend while they are still rebuilding?  Let’s try to grab him first.

Their closer, Gregg, isn’t cutting it.  Sorry for Brian, but I’d send ya to one of the losing-est teams, if I had to.  Yeah, it sucks, and it hurts me as much as it hurts you.  Well, no.  Not really.  But I don’t think Wilson deserves that for being such a great Giant.  Other than swapping B-Weezy it’s a similar trade package to others I’ve written before.  But let’s try sending Zito first.

  • LHP Barry Zito
  • RHP Ramon Ramirez
  • C   Max Ramirez
  • CF Christian, Graham, Ford, or Torres
  • $36M cash offset for Zito

For a couple years now, the Orioles have looked to complement their young pitching staff with some veteran stability.  Two words.  Not working.  Just before the 2011 trade deadline,

the Birds had a stretch of 22 consecutive games in which no starter pitched into the 7th inning.  And during that stretch, the starting pitchers’ combined ERA was 6.80.

Yeah, fer real, fo’ sho’.  They need starting pitching.
Expect the O’s to keep young Jeremy Guthrie their #1 starter, but after that?  I expect every slot from 2-5 is open for discussion.  From Guthrie’s 4.33 ERA, 95 ERA+, and 1.341 WHIP, here’s their end-of-season rotation:
  1. RHP Jeremy Guthrie: 4.33 ERA, 208.0 IP, 95 ERA+, 1.341 WHIP
  2. RHP Tommy Hunter: 5.06 ERA, 69.1 IP, 82 ERA+, 1.413 WHIP
  3. RHP Alfredo Simon: 4.90 ERA, 115.2 IP, 84 ERA+, 1.452 WHIP,
  4. LHP Brian Matusz: 10.69 ERA, 49.2 IP, 39 ERA+, 2.114 WHIP
  5. LHP Zach Britton: 4.61 ERA, 154.1 IP, 90 ERA+, 1.451 WHIP
How do these 2011 ‘bad season’ stats stack up?
LHP Jonathan Sanchez: 4.26 ERA, 101.1 IP, 84 ERA+, 1.441 WHIP
LHP Barry Zito: 5.87 ERA, 53.2 IP, 61 ERA+, 1.398 WHIP

So, we find out if they would accept Zito.  If the ‘ask’ for Jones escalates, we may have to offer Brian Wilson or LHP Jonthan Sanchez in this deal for Jones.  We make sure to inquire (with Anaheim) if the other pitcher can go to the Angels in a straight-up trade for SS Erick Aybar, or maybe with a RHP prospect I’ve mentioned before (Richards, Geltz, or Tillman).  Worse-case, we lower our LAA trade offer to Maicer Izturis to be our lead-off shortstop for a few years, instead of long-term as I’d expect Aybar would be.  Maybe Crawford has a longer ‘window’ to make our ball club then.

I like this assessment of Adam Jones and his tradeability.   It is pretty clear the Orioles have a ways to go before they MIGHT contend in the AL East.  I agree with the write-up, Jones’ value may never be higher than now.  If they don’t plan to keep/sign him through FA years, no time like the present to get value from him.  I wouldn't be willing to give up as much as I would for Andrew McCutchen.

So, let’s start with Zito in the trade package.  He’s a lefty that slots into the #5 spot easily, maybe the #4 spot in their current rotation.  He’d be a bit of a novelty as the ‘$126M arm’ in Baltimore.  He certainly can eat some innings.  Maybe he regains his form and gets below a 4.00 ERA as he is no doubt capable.  If not, they spent $10M for two years of his service.

If we have to send Sanchey?  He easily slots into the #2 or #3 spot in their rotation.  And has a lot of upside or ‘ceiling’.  He’s under team control for two more years, and cheap at $6M-ish for 2012.  I think the environment might be perfect for Jonathan.  Less pressure.  He’d have a stable role and place in their rotation.  Maybe he has a legitimate shot of winning a CY Young after he ‘relaxes’ and understands he is valued by his club.  There’s never been a doubt he has filthy stuff.  He needs a chance to harness it.  He can.  And, I believe in the right environment, he will.

Catcher: Matt Weiters is a stud, but no catcher can play every game.  He’s played 130 games in 2010 and 139 games in 2011.  You simply can’t give a back-up catcher like Craig Tatum 20-30+ games on your schedule.  Tatum doesn’t throw out nearly 40% of all base stealers (like Chris Stewart).  His slash line is far from “average”:  .195/.245/.230/.475, 33 OPS+, and -0.3 WAR.  Eight doubles and one HR in 299 PA’s.

We send Max Ramirez as part of the package.  A recent signee for the Giants, but I doubt he gets a serious ‘look’ for the big club with Hector Sanchez, Tommy Joseph, Johnny Monell, and Andrew Susac all in the system.  However, Ramirez was the #84 overall prospect pre-2009 by Baseball America.  In 45 MLB games and 140 PA’s he batted: .217/.343/.357/.699, 85 OPS+, and 0.1 WAR.  In 8 minor league seasons: .295/.389/.478/.867, with 2669 PA’s, 146 2B, 85 HR, 334 BB, 563 SO.

The fact that Max was signed ‘in desperate times’ on June 21st and not called up, being overlooked for young 21 year-old Hector Sanchez is quite telling.  If you’re wondering, Max has 2,669 PA’s in the minors.  Isn’t that ‘in the sweet spot’ of what Sabean and Bochy think you need to succeed?  What about our highly-touted 2007 draft pick Johnny Monell?  He now has 1,580 PA’s in the minors and played in community college.  Hector was drafted out of high school, but has 1,276 PA’s in the minors.  Huh.  Yeah, methinks Max Ramirez has no future in the Giants organization.  This isn’t any statement of whether I like him or not.

Outfield: The Orioles have an outstanding RF with Nick Markakis signed through 2014 on a big $66M/6-year contract.  Nolan Reimold in LF is serviceable or slightly-better.  Seeing how Reimold is still under team-control, his value is better-than-slightly-better.  Maybe they need to have a ‘flier’ for an option in CF.  Send Andres Torres, Darren Ford, Justian Christian, or Tyler Graham.  It seems clear (from Bochy, Sabean, and Baer statements), that these center fielders won’t be more than an ‘extra man’ on the 40-man roster, if they’re lucky.

Adam Jones for a #3 LHP starter (J. Sanchez) and two cheap, team-controlled prospects (C Max Ramirez and a CF: Torres, Ford, Christian, or Graham) that fill specific team needs.  They got UT players in both Andino and Fox, so I don’t think Manny Burriss has much value to them- especially since Burriss is looking at a $700k+ salary draw for 2012.

Not enough?  Maybe sign and trade Ramon Ramirez while he still has one more year or arbitration eligibility.  He’ll be cheap, and he’s a steady performer that has much more value in the Orioles pen than in our Giants pen.  He’s clearly performed in big moments.  But (IMHO), his time in SF is likely done anyways.  If we send a bullpen arm, they’re gonna ‘ask’ for Javier Lopez.  The answer is simple: “no.”  And he’s a free-agent anyways.  But we’re gonna have first-rights to bid for him in free agency (a 5-day window, if I am not mistaken).  Hopefully he wants to be here and we can pay him.  He’s worth keeping, that’s for sure.

The Orioles made a hard run at Teixeira 3 years ago.  And there is talk that owner Peter Angelos may be willing to spend this off-season.  They’ll need to sort out their front office first (take Bochy, please take Bochy!).  But the Giants could help them build cheaper and stronger if they want to part with CF Adam Jones.

Baltimore Orioles: Nick Markakis.

This gets interesting.
Markakis has a very large contract with over $43M remaining for 2012-14.  I know, any Giants fan sees a $40M-ish 3-year salary and is pre-conditioned to ask “can we trade Zito”?  ha ha.  Maybe.  But only if Zito is a small piece of the trade package, and we include a bunch of cash to offset this.
What I think gets interesting is the psychology behind this trade notion.  If we are pretty much ‘prepared to eat’ Zito’s $46M anyways, how much is it worth shaving off that plate?  Any?  As much as possible?  Only if it is over a certain percentage (like 40%)?

See here.  Markakis is a player with performance value.  Not so with Figgins, Rios, Dunn, Wells, Zito, or Lackey right now.  Let’s ask what we WOULD BE WILLING to pay for Markakis on the open FA market.  I’d say $8M on the low end, and $14 on the very,very high end; he does have a sick career .295 avg, .365 OBP , .818 OPS, and 117 OPS+; even if his slugging isn’t all that (.453).

So, I’d unbiasedly (isthataword? Lol) value him at $14M as a max/high salary.  Well, his salary is $14.3M averaged per year.  So, if we pay his salary at 100% and $0 for Zito, we saved $46M from eating Zito’s contract and ‘basically just signed Markakis’ for $1M more than I’d have his max value at. See, I’m talking psychologically.  That ain’t gonna happen.

Let’s say we ‘are willing’ to eat half of Zito’s $46 million.  That means we pay $23M to BAL.  How would Baltimore see it?  Are they rally gonna pay $10M, $11M, AND $2M for his buyout?  Nah.  They could almost sign Edwin Jackson for that kind of cheddar.

I’d say they might pay $11m total to take a chance on Zito.

That means we pay $15M, $15M, $5M.  Okay, maybe.  So.  Can we ‘pay down’ the value of Zito?  Absolutely.  Enter Ramon Ramirez, Max Ramirez, and Justin Christian.  If either of these prospects pan out, they save a heap while they are playing and still under team control.  Odds might not favor it.  But their worth is not nothing.  So that’s something.

Remember, Ramon is still under team control and a bit below market-value too.  That is a REAL value.  Maybe our hard offer is to pay $33M (14, 14, 5) so BAL pays 5, 6, 2 for Zito. Yeah.  Maybe.

Let’s now recall how Markakis’ contract is at the very tip-top of MY value scale.  Add that we are sending prospects to BALI’d make the hard offer: $31M cash offset (13.5, 13.5, 4) so BAL pays 5.5, 6.5, 3 for Zito, are losing a solid bat, and also shedding a large contract obligation.

My “psychological math” figures we save about $8M on the Zito contract.  Here’s how I figure it.

Add Markakis’ 43 + 31 (cash paid to BAL) = 74.

I’d say Markakis has a ‘realistic’ market value of $12.5M/yr for three years = 37.5.

So, take the total amount paid 74 – 37.5 (mkt value) = 36.5.

We ‘overpaid’ Markakis’ value by $36.5M.  Subtract that from Zito’s $46M contract.  That’s what we ‘saved’ from eating the whole Zito contract.  Or, in other words, what we ‘paid’ for Markakis if we had to eat Zito’s full contract anyways.  $9.5M.  Not bad.  And we got a hitter of choice, not some bat ‘just because’ they had a bad contract.

If we ate Zitos full contract at $46M anyways, we paid just $9.5M on top of that to add Markakis to our roster for three years.  Not too bad a result I’d say.

I know the reality says we spent ‘more payroll’.  After all, $74M is greater than $46M.  I get that.  But we can certainly justify that ‘at least some’ of that Zito money went towards Markakis’ salary, instead of ALL of it going into some flambé concoction in Zito’s Beverly Hills kitchen or whatever.

No matter how you slice it (oh, the puns!), we saved $8-10M on Zito’s payout.  That pays for Ramon Hernandez for two years.  Or for Javier Lopez.  Or our entire bench of prospects.  Like I said, it’s not nothing.

Shopping Zito:

If we are simply planning to eat Zito’s contract, I think we can find at least two or three teams willing to take him at a very low salary rate.  If you evaluate the ‘type’ or ‘quality’ of starting pitcher that $3-6M/year buys you on the free agent market, it is likely around a 4.30 to 5.00 ERA.  Brad Penny or maybe Joel Pinero types.  Journeymen starters that aren’t ‘locked in’ at a 3.40 or better ERA.

If a team is willing to take a flier on Zito, they may get a return to form from him, in an environment where he helps contribute and isn’t harassed at every turn by media, fans, and (maybe) even looked-at-sideways in the clubhouse.  Then again, maybe not.

But for a team with low payroll, low budget, and not any serious thoughts of contending…  Not a bad ‘get’ for a cheap price.  Let’s review, we know his salary is $46M: 19, 20 +7 = 46.  If the Giants approached the Twins, Mariners, or Orioles with an offer to send $38M cash (15, 16, 7) to offset his salary?  Really, no takers?  Add a type-B prospect?  I think you may find a team for him.  Ask other teams like Toronto or the Chi Sox too.  Houston and Pittsburgh...

My point is, I think we can find a taker and save $6-10M from his $46M total.
I was surprised we didn’t try this with Rowand to be honest.

We ate the entire $12 million.  Could we not have shopped him first and offered up to $10M cash to offset his salary and found a bottom-feeder willing to pay him just $2M as a centerfielder?  For goodness sake, IIRC Florida had 37 year old Mike Cameron starting in CF until they released him around August.  That 2-mil could’ve helped set up Romo for his first arbitration year.

Even if we save ‘only’ $3M per year on Zito, that’s a lot of paper.  That is probably enough to pay Casilla each year of his contract instead of using a young prospect.  I’d say it matters.  It’s the difference between signing Ramon Ramirez again or Javier Lopez again.  Lopez is more important, wouldn’t you say?  Yeah, I’d say it matters.

For those who want to ask Zito to restructure his contract.  I doubt that will happen.  Look at how the Mets did with that.  They had a $21M salary obligation, and they are paying it off over something like 20 years.  It is costing them around $53M (total with 8% APR interest) if I remember correctly.  I forget who the player was.  Unless we can get Scott Boras to agree to a $1 salary for a 46 million year term, I don’t think we’ll do better.  Maybe Toronto’s Alex Anthopoulos could get that deal done, but not Sabean.

Some media ‘talking heads’ are saying maybe we should ask Cain and Lincecum to allow their contracts to be structured as ‘back-loaded’ contracts to allow 2012 payroll to be ‘lighter’.  Bullisht.  Cain drew a $7.33 million salary this year.  He is the VERY LAST player the Giants have a right to ask any favors from.  He’s a great Giant and has gone about his business.  He’s conducted himself in the best ways imaginable.  He is the player rep for the team, and a clubhouse leader.  The Giants could’ve offered to restructure his contract this year or last year, to extend him.  They chose to save and pay him this $7.33M for 2011.

And you know, that is really short-sighted anyways.  Some of the talking heads have no idea what they are saying.  They are just talking to talk.  2011 and 2012 are some of the BEST years to front-load a contract to.  (Actually, by my estimates, 2013 is the best year to load up salaries).  Posey, Sandoval, and Bumgarner are all WAY LOW in salary draws.  Once Sandoval hops from 3-mil to 7-mil to 10 or 12 mil, you can’t stack another heavy $24M salary for Lincecum on TOP.  Just so you pay him $16M in 2012?  These big salary jumps all stagger together too.  So, we got big payroll jumps coming down the road already.

Ridiculous hogwash I say.  If the Giants front office is that short-sighted, they need to save up their money for Lasik surgery before spending anything on payroll.  It doesn’t matter that Huff and Zito come off the books after 2012 and 2014 respectively.  Take a look at future salary projections for our roster and you’ll understand.  Sandoval will likely make $16-18M in 2016.  Posey, maybe $12-15M.  Bumgarner, I guess $13-16.5M.  With Lincecum at $21M and Cain at $20M…  You are talking a figure around $85M for these FIVE players in 2016.  2012 guys like Belt, Pill, Otero, and Hembree (by my projected rosters) are hitting their arb-2 year.  And 2013 guys like Brown and Panik are hitting their first arbitration year.

My point is YOU CANNOT BACK-LOAD contracts from 2012.

Trying to maintain ‘an illusion’ of a $130M payroll in 2012 will mean a $150M-ish payroll by 2015 and maybe a $160M payroll in 2016 if we retain our key players all the way through.  We spend $140M-ish now for a legitimate team, and can hover at $135-140M through 2015 and maybe 2016.

Some of these same press people are estimating we can sign Beltran to a two-year deal or for $30M for 3-years.  Or that J-Roll would sign here for $30M/3-years.  *chuckle*.  If Rollins signs that cheap, there’s no way Philly passes up on him, bet on it.  If he wants five or more years, or $60M+; maybe that’s how they part ways.  Beltran would accept less salary than Cuddyer in 2012?  Really?  $30 million for Beltran or Rollins in SF?  Yeah…  And 320-pound Niners right tackle Anthony Davis wears size 32 jeans.  Uh-huh.   

Saying Lincecum will take a ‘home-team discount’ and sign for $17M per…  Based on what exactly?  Us sucking?  Has he been spotted at The Citadel or Power Exchange or something?  He loves torture?  Has Matt Cain adopted the song “Loser”by Beck as his intro for 2012 Giants games?  This isn’t ‘okay’ and I hope they demand more from the front office.

Hell, I hope Cain and Lincecum pass a ‘list’ of players to Sabean and Baer.  Kinda like Beltran furnished a ‘list’ of teams he’d waive his no-trade clause to move to.  “Get us two of these players or we're gone.  I don’t care how.  Kidnap them if you have to.”  (No, that’s me being snarky, they wouldn’t say that…  Oh, maybe Tim would…  No, no…  That’s me being snarky again…).

It would be hella funny if the list included only two names on it.

But damnWe’d be in great shape.

Or we’d be flat-out hosed.


Image credits: SF Giants fan is my own original photo, All Rights Reserved.  Adam Jones photo is from Zimbio.  Nick Markakis photo from

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