Bryce Harper

The hot rumor from yesterday is that the Giants are likely to make a run at Bryce Harper next off-season.

First, let’s temper any enthusiasm this might engender.

  • Several teams are going to go after Harper next winter.
  • All the big $ teams will be in play to some degree.
  • The frontrunner is currently the Cubs with the Nationals a close second.
  • This contract is going to be absolutely insane (I’m going with somewhere between 10 years, $350 million, and 12 years, $500 million. Insane).
  • Finally, John Heyman is not a Giants’ beat writer, comes from the national perspective, seems to enjoy linking the Giants to every free agent, and almost is never right (or always right because of his widely thrown nets).

Which raises an interesting question for me: do the Giants seem to fail at signing the big names because they aren’t really that interested (and the interest is manufactured by national writers like Heyman looking to fill column space and get some clicks), or is there a real issue here with not being able to close these deals?

That’s a question for another post. For now, let’s indulge some sweet, sweet Bryce Harper fantasies.


Could/Should/Would this happen?

Let’s start here: the Giants have worked really hard this offseason to get under the competitive balance tax (the “cap”). If they stick to this plan it will prove to be a very wise move when it comes to signing a Bryce Harper type mega-contract. The reset will allow them to go over the threshold again, but with a fresh start. The CBA will be redone in a few years and who knows what that will look like. At least the Giants will be in good shape for a couple of years, and potentially really good shape depending on how the next negotiation goes.

While much has been made of the amount of money the Giants already have tied up in future contracts, they might actually be in decent shape to do this deal and extend Bumgarner, and, here comes the real crazy part, continue to get younger! This is where this off seasons moves really begin to make sense.

Next winter the Giants will say goodbye to Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen. That’s almost $33 million in AAV (average annual value) contracts gone right there. They also will likely say goodbye to Nick Hundly, and a few other small contracts, so let’s say that’s another $3-5 million off right there.

So, saying goodbye to those 3-5 players more or less creates room for Bryce Harper. Since this is an entirely optimistic post, let’s say he signs for the 10 year/$350 million deal.

But then, the Giants also extend Madison Bumgarner for, say, 10 years, $300 million. The press conference would champion how the team has the most expensive player and pitcher together for the next decade!

If going $30 million into the tax is too much for the Giants to handle, they will be in a much better position to trade a couple of players next offseason.

If this is your preferred vision of the future, you need to root for Brandon Belt to be healthy and have a good year. Brandon Belt for 3 years and $45 million might look pretty good to a few teams after the winter of 2018 dust settles.

Also, root for Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon. They will both have 2 years left on their current deals, and again, those deals may look pretty good to some teams come January of 2019.

I’m going to say the Giants move Samardzija and Belt next offseason (thanks to the emergence of Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede), which would mean that they would still have flexibility to add a few other pieces if need be.

Now, here’s where I really want to go with this post. The Giants always get slammed for going after veterans and this offseason is no exception. But, if Harper is the long play, this offseason’s moves are quite brilliant in their ability to stabilize the franchise and make the team competitive in the short-term (and it is very important to the long con that the Giants have a good 2018…Harper is not coming to a non-contendor/rebuild), while enabling them the flexibility to go big and kick open another decade long window of competitiveness by getting better and younger at the same time.

For the sake of example: the 2018 opening day lineup vs 2019 opening day lineup by age:

  • Panik 2B…27                        Duggar CF…25
  • McCutchen RF…31              Posey C….32
  • Posey C…31                          Harper RF…26
  • Belt 1B…29                           Longoria 3B…33
  • Longoria 3B…32                 Shaw 1B…25
  • Crawford SS…31                 Slater LF…25
  • Pence LF…34                       Crawford SS…32
  • Jackson CF…31                    Panik 2B…28

Average age of 2018 starting lineup: 30.8 years old
Average age of 2019 starting lineup: 28.3 years old

Then there’s the potential, come 2020, for that lineup to get even younger with the addition of Heliot Ramos, who would be 20 years old for that season’s opening day.

Furthermore the pitching staff would get younger, most likely, with the subtraction of Jeff Samardzija.

This is obviously looking too far ahead, because who knows what will happen, but the main reason this rumor is interesting to me is not because I love Bryce Harper so much, but because if the Giants pull this off, it sheds a whole new light on the moves they’ve made in the past couple months.

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Some Thoughts on Trades

Major League Baseball in 2013 is a different beast than a decade ago. It used to be, poor teams said goodbye to their best players and rich teams signed them up to fat contracts and then won a bunch of baseball games. But free agency has turned into an incredibly inefficient system. Over the past couple of years you can rattle off several names that came at steep prices for minimal returns (and that’s just the Angels, boom!).

This is partly why the Giants are either mad-geniuses or simply mad for jumping the gun and locking up Pence and Lincecum. It’s also why I’m not super excited about the list of potential free agents out there (see yesterdays post).

What this means is that trades have become THE way to exploit inefficiencies and improve your team quickly. The Red Sox are an extreme example but their mega-trade with the Dodgers in August of 2012 is the reason they were able to construct the roster that just won them the world series.

The Atlanta Braves are a great example of all these points: brilliant trade to land an impact bat in Justin Upton, and poor free agent decision in signing his brother, BJ, to an expensive deal.

All of this to say: should the Giants explore trades instead of simply adding players through free agency?

My bold answer: probably.

One of the things that makes off-season trade ideas difficult is determining who is actually available. So, far though, we’ve heard rumors of several players placed on the block by their teams. The quick list:

1) David Price: Price is the prize of the trade rumor mill this winter. The Dodgers are already hatching evil plans, and just about anyone who has any kind of decent prospect is going to be floated because Price is good and cheap for another year or so. He would look great in orange and black and go a LONG way to restoring order. The price (pun intended) will be STEEP.

2) Brandon Phillips: Andrew Baggarly’s been pushing this for a couple of weeks, mainly because he wants an all-Brandon infield, but there are things to like here. He’d be a big defensive upgrade over Scutaro, and he’d allow Scutaro to take on a utility role that he might be better suited to at this stage in his career. I think his power would play well at AT&T and his inside-out swing could pound triples ally. He won’t come cheap either but certainly less than Price.

3) Mark Trumbo: Trumbo is not a complete player by any stretch of the imagination but he can hit home runs. He’s an Adam Dunn/all or nothing type who could decline pretty quickly, but the home runs will be tempting.

4) Daniel Murphy: Murphy is the kind of guy that Brian Sabean loves. He is scrappy. He doesn’t walk a ton, doesn’t strike out a ton, doesn’t hit for a ton of power, and has a decent average. He’ll fit right in. On a less sarcastic note, Murphy is lefty swinger who has played 2nd, 1st, 3rd, and the outfield making him an ideal platoon partner with Scutaro at 2nd and a right-handed power hitter in left. I find it nearly impossible to believe this deal doesn’t get done.

5) Dark Horse: no idea who this might be, but I hope the Giants remember the Sanchez for Melky trade. I love the idea of buying low on a young player that someone else is frustrated with.

I have no idea what the Giants would/could/should offer for these guys. Perhaps another post for another time. I would like to offer the following suggestions:

Don’t Trade These Guys:

  • Pablo Sandoval: The Panda would probably fetch the biggest (once again, pun intended) return of anyone on the Giants roster. However, it is my belief that a highly motivated Panda is going to have a huge 2014 season as he heads into free agency. I totally understand the school of thought that says “turn that potential into gold,” but the Giants want to win now and I believe the best way to do that is keep the Panda and let him mash away in their lineup.
  • Brandon Belt: Belt could also be a great chip, although not as bountiful as the Panda. I feel the Giants should keep Belt for much of the same reasons: he’s really starting to put it together and unless someone backs up the truck for BB keep him and reap the benefits of patience.
  • Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton, Heath Hembree, and Edwin Escobar: I am no prospect expert. I try to keep my eye on things but this is not a place I can really claim to know what I am talking about. So, my completely gut-based assessment of our system is that these 4 are untouchable (plus anyone drafted this year). This means I would be ok trading Clayton Blackburn and Gary Brown and others. I might be wrong about Blackburn but he seems the least likely of our top arms to develop into a top-notch starter. I might be eating my words on this, but if we need to move a prospect to make a good deal happen I’d be ok with this one. The other 4, not so much.

My offseason predictions: trade for Daniel Murphy, sign Bronson Arroyo, add a piece to the bench and bullpen. My dream: Carlos Beltran. Let’s do this Sabes.

(-SB)

What the Cardinals and Red Sox Can Teach the Giants

It’s been fascinating living in Boston this year, watching people react to the Red Sox. At first, it was apathetic (Napoli who?), than it was resignation (we’re going to suck again), then it was mild interest and excitement (we don’t suck), than it was sentimental (Boston  strong and cute beards), then it got serious (playoffs!), and then it got out of control (the city nearly threw the parade after the game victory).

Now it’s back to worrying about curses, and can a team without stars actually win a world series (um, yes).

Anyway, those are just some thoughts, and now for the real heart of the matter: what this world series teaches our beloved SF Giants.

  • The Red Sox Way:

We’ll begin here because their situation most closely resembles where the Giants are at right now. Last year everything fell apart for the Sox, which led to a major, house cleaning, trade with the Dodgers. In the wake of all that transition the Red Sox did two things: (a) take short term gambles on players who could potentially produce what the needed most (power, defense, and character). (b) they hoped and prayed their starting pitchers who used to be good, got good again.

This is applicable to the Giants because they do not have tons of money to spend on free agents. And there aren’t any big name free agents that really get your blood pumping. And recent history suggests it is very unwise to go all in on name brand free agents anyway (just ask the Angels).

In fact, the Red Sox stole strategy A from the Giants (Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Gregor Blanco, Marco Scutaro, etc). The Giants are going to need to replicate this success somehow this offseason.

And it sure looks like strategy B is where we are headed as well. The resign of Tim Lincecum follows the same kind of logic the Red Sox have employed with John Lackey and Jon Lester. Hope the magic comes back. And it has. I have no idea how, but it has. I’d be shocked if Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t in the rotation to start 2014. Same strategy.

Employing these two strategies together seems foolish (more on this later), but it worked for the Red Sox (and aren’t the Giants the Red Sox to the Dodgers Yankee’s in this crazy new baseball world?).

  • The Cardinals Way:

The Cardinals are in the World Series (and are the best organization in baseball) because they produce their own quality players year in and year out. And there are more on the way. It’s actually quite scary and hard to fathom.

For a while this was the Giants‘ strategy. The core of the two championship teams includes a long list of home grown talent (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford, even Jonathan Sanchez and Nate Schierholz helped with their play and by getting traded for good things).

And there is another wave coming, especially in the pitching department. But, not much help for 2014.

  • And what about Moneyball?

This might seem like a non-sequitur, but hear me out. Let us all remember that Moneyball is not about on-base percentage, it is about market inefficiencies and exploiting resources other teams neglect.

Over the past couple of years, the Giants have (to the surprise of many around baseball) been on the front edge of a couple of trends: (a) run-prevention (i.e. pitching and defense), (b) minor-league free agent gold (like Juan Uribe or Santiago Casilla or Ryan Vogelsong), (c) dramatically undervalued veterans (like Aubrey Huff and Marco Scutaro), and (d) creating a contact heavy, low strikeout lineup.

[a quick aside about D. recent post-season history has borne out the reality that high contact teams are much better suited for playoff success than low contact/high power teams…the last 3 world series bear this out, as does the on-going frustrations of the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, two teams that strikeout way too much. the current world series matchup is, perhaps, the greatest test of this to date: the Cardinals should win this series because they strike out dramatically less than the Red Sox. so far, games 1 and 2 hold true: whoever strikes out the most at the plate loses.]

All of which leads us to the Giants strategy this offseason: last year they pretty much brought everyone back and it didn’t work. So far, the are doubling down on that strategy and paying a steep price for it. Most pundits have been very critical of both contracts, seeing them as overpays and pre-reactions to a yet-to-be-determined market.

Are the Giants crazy, lazy, or are they on to something? 

Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals are testament to the importance of doing hard things. Many, many people in Cardinal nation thought the world was coming to an end when Albert Pujols left. That turned out fairly well.

No one thought there was any way the Red Sox could really get out from underneath the mess they had made with bad contracts and bad hires. They did it (thanks to the Dodgers), and they went deep into the unknown and came out of it with a pennant.

The Giants, though, like to return to what they know. The did it with Barry Bonds, they did it with guys from the 2010 team and with the 2012 team. They are doing it again now.

I’d love to see them be bit less sentimental and more imaginative. However, the Giants have proven to be able to see things that others have not been able to see, and so maybe we’ll never regret paying Hunter Pence so much and maybe Tim Lincecum will pull a John Lackey.

In sum, every pennant winning team is a strange combination of design and great fortune, and if the Giants return to the heights in 2014 this will no doubt be true of them.

In a strange way they reflect both of these “ways” of team building. Here’s to hoping they do know what they are doing.

(-SB)