Saturday, December 20, 2014

BASTA: Brian Sabean Quietly Having A Solid Offseason

((HT: BASTA/Ben Leonard))

Clearly, the Giants have not had the most flashy off-season. They missed out on re-signing Pablo Sandoval and picking up Yasmany Tomas and Jon Lester, while the Padres went out and acquired practically every outfielder on the market. However, standing relatively pat may not be the worst thing for the Giants. They have made three financially sound moves this winter, the first being re-signing reliever Sergio Romo to a two-year, fifteen million dollar contract. Sabean followed by signing Jake Peavy to a two-year, twenty-four million dollar deal, and then went out and acquired Casey McGehee from Miami to man the hot corner. In acquiring McGehee, the Giants gave up merely pitching prospects Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo, who apparently play baseball. Giants fans may bemoan Sabean’s seeming lack of action, but his moves may prove to be shrewd when it is all said and done.

First and foremost, McGehee will never replace Sandoval in the clubhouse or on the field. He does have a very similar portly frame, but has much less power. He was about an average major league hitter in 2014, becoming the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year and posting a wRC+ of 102. For those looking for a masher, McGehee has never been one in any resemblance, although he did launch twenty-three homers in 2011, albeit fueled in part by relatively hitter-neutral Miller Park. He also brings championship experience to the table, as he won a title in Japan with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013. Perhaps Sabean values his experience winning in odd years.

Lacking power, his success is fueled by average, a statistic that can largely be dictated by luck, as hit placement fluctuates from season to season. However, despite his inflated .335 BABIP, way above his career averages, McGehee’s line drive rate spiked almost three percent in 2014. Harder contact makes it easier for hits to fall in. Hence, McGehee’s increase in hard hits balls was likely due to an adjustment he successfully made, not luck.

In addition, McGehee has proven to be an slightly-below average defender at the big league level. He has lost twenty-four DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in his six years in the big leagues, a serviceable number. He is no Manny Machado, but he certainly isn’t the Matt Kemp of the infield. Once more, McGehee comes at virtually no cost in prospects or money, and likewise risk, commanding a salary of just over one million dollars in 2015. He is under club control for just one year, and is likely a stop-gap type piece until Sabean can find a free agent or trading partner to solidify the position for good. Essentially, the Giants gave up next to nothing for a reliable rental at third base, a player who posted a sold 2.0 WAR in 2014.

The Giants didn’t just save money at third base: they also bought from the bargain bin at starting pitcher in signing Peavy. Peavy pitched very well with the Giants in 2014, posting a 2.17 ERA after coming to the Bay Area from Boston. However, this success was largely fueled by an insanely low 3.2 HR/FB%, well below his career average of 9.5%. For this reason, Steamer pegs Peavy for a 3.67 ERA in 2015, a solid number for a bottom-of-the-rotation starter, about market value for twelve million. Bochy has a special bond with Peavy that started in their days in San Diego; he just pitches better under Bochy.

For these reasons, Peavy likely represents insurance for the Giants if they don’t sign James Shields or Max Scherzer, and could fit in nicely in the fourth spot in the rotation behind Bumgarner, Cain, and Hudson. If they do sign Shields or Scherzer, Tim Lincecum would be forced out of the rotation, leaving the Giants with considerable depth at starting pitcher, coupled with Yusmiero Petit. In either scenario, the Giants are set for 2015 with their rotation; Shields or Scherzer would just be icing on the cake. Economic savings on Peavy and McGehee give the Giants the flexibility to win a bidding war with any team competing for Scherzer or Shields’ services, namely the Detroit Tigers. The Giants are currently the favorites for Shields, with no other team clearly in the running. Shields would be markedly cheaper, and is much more likely to sign with San Francisco.

Sergio Romo’s deal was probably the worst financially for the Giants, but fifteen million over two years isn’t much of a risk in this era of baseball. However, as I mentioned in my offseason preview, Romo has been in decline every year since 2011.


2011 1.49/2.0
2012 2.61/1.0
2013 3.20/1/1
2014 3.40/-.3

Romo’s slider didn’t break as tightly in 2014, especially during a rough June stretch. However, he picked it up as the season dragged on in the setup role. Hitters seem to have adjusted to his increasingly hittable slider. However, with righty reliever Pat Neshek signing a very similar deal with Houston, the Giants did not over-spend, at least too much. Romo projects to be somewhat better in 2015, as Steamer sees him posting a 2.95 ERA.

In all, Sabean spent around twenty million on three players. Giants fans may decry Sabean as frugal, but his strategy of signing his homegrown players has certainly paid off in the last five years. Sabean has shown he was willing to spend big in offering competitive deals to Lester and Sandoval, and these smaller deals allow him to spend big on a right-handed horse. Casey McGehee and Jake Peavy aren’t quite Sandoval and Lester, but they aren’t quite Joaquin Arias and Tim Lincecum, either. This mid-tier moves may not seem significant, but they solidify two very shaky spots on the Giants’ roster. Whether Sabean uses his surplus money on a left fielder AND a top-of-the-line starter remains to be seen, but the Giants would be fine starting off 2015 with Lincecum in the fifth starter role and Blanco in left. Blanco is a perfectly competent major league left fielder, one who can handle cavernous AT&T Park very well. As I alluded to in my off-season preview in November:

Unless Sabean becomes infatuated with another veteran outfielder (See Derosa, Mark), there is no reason to believe that anyone but Gregor Blanco will be the Opening Day left fielder.

Blanco is cheap and reliable, and can handle the bat more than well enough, posting a 107 wRC+ in 2014. Sabean quietly has had a great offseason, although not moving at quite the same pace as the A’s or the Padres. His apparent frugality allows him to spend big on those who deserve the big bucks, Nick Markakis not being one of them.

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