Westwood Blues

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Few More Notes on Benitez

* The dollar breakdown of the contract is as follows (including signing bonus):

2005: $4.1MM
2006: $6.6MM
2007: $7.6MM
2008: $1.6MM
2009: $1.6MM

Benitez is not actually under contract to pitch for the Giants in 2008 and 2009, but he will be paid a portion of his signing bonus in each of those years. Note that about half of his contract will be paid out AB (After Barry) in 2007-2009.

Like the Omar Vizquel contract, Benitez' 2005 salary is a bargain. $4MM for the best relief pitcher on the market? I'll take it.

* My initial reaction was that an average salary of $7MM for Benitez was a shade more than he should command on the open market. But I was using the contracts signed in the last couple of years (the market correction years) as a baseline. It's still too early in the off season to declare that the market correction of the last couple of years is over, but judging by some of the contracts handed out this winter such as 4 years/$16MM for Christian Guzman, $8.2MM for two years for Paul Wilson, (wait two years and $8.2 million and a $5.15 option for Paul Wilson? WTF? That's like paying $40 for an egg beater at Target. Maybe the Reds really are dumb enough to do a Feliz-and-prospects for Kearns swap), it looks like the days of late 90s excess are here again. I wonder if I can get my cushy dotcom job back.

Let's wait and see the dollar amounts and years of some of the free agent signings to see how the market plays out, but it could very well be that in the new new economy Benitez will be worth $7MM a year on the open market.

* Benitez was a Type A free agent, meaning that the Giants have now lost their first two picks in the June 2005 draft. I've grown tired of complaining about purposely forfeiting high draft picks, so I won't bother going through the motions again. I'll just add that I'm holding out hope that the Giants will offer arbitration to Dustin Hermanson. That way they can get a couple of picks for him if he signs elsewhere. If he accepts arbitration and returns to the Giants (which is unlikely given his stated preference for either starting or being a closer), he'd be a welcome addition as a set-up man and spot starter.

* Brian Sabean did a quick interview on KNBR this afternoon (click on Sabean's name to listen).

Of note, Sabean mentioned that the Giants are looking to have as strong of a team as possible at the beginning of the year so they won't have to make adjustments in the middle of the year. This is a different strategy than years past when the Giants would re-evaluate their needs in late July and make a deadline deal trade to bolster the team. Said strategy didn't work out last year when a number of forces (the large number of buyers at the July 31st bazaar and the Giants unwillingness to deal Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez chief among them) conspired to foist Ricky Ledee onto the team. Sabean is learning from his mistakes. I like it...

...On Magglio Ordonez, Sabean says he is "not something that we would venture," but the Giants are still looking at outfielders. Sabes said that with guys like Steve Finley it's "moving real slow." He believes the market for outfielders will take a while shake out...

...Sabean repeated the line that he needs to find ABs for Pedro Feliz. Hey, I hear the Reds need a 3B, do you think we could take one of their corner outfielders off their hands. (If I repeat this enough, maybe it will actually come true).

* After digesting all of the information out there, I pretty much like the Benitez signing. Again, the contract is a shade more than I would've given him, but maybe my sense of the market is out of whack. Also, if nothing else, at least the Giants may be overpaying for someone who is actually good. One of my biggest Sabes pet peeves is his habit of overspending for interchangable mediocrities like Jason Christiansen and Michael Tucker. Armando Benitez is most definitely not a mediocrity. Now, let's just hope that Benitez won't have any memorable meltdowns for the Giants.

Behold, the Proven Closer!

There's an old saying on Wall Street that says that investors put their money into investments that they should've bought last year. The Giants believed that not having a Proven Closer® on the 2004 roster was the main reason that they missed the playoffs last season.

As was first reported here (that thread was pointed out to me last week, but I chose not to believe it), the Giants have signed Armando Benitez to a 3 year contract worth $21 million.

Now, first things first, is Armando Benitez a good reliever? Yes, Benitez is coming off a tremendous season with the Marlins where he posted these eye-popping stats: 1.29 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, .475 OPSA, and an ERA+ of 317(!). Hell, his career numbers ain't too shabby either: 2.85 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, ERA+ of 152, although I am concerned about his declining strikeout rate.

While it is very clear that Benitez is an excellent reliever, I don't think it's necessarily a wise move for a team with a mid level payroll to commit $7 million dollars a year to someone who will throw about 5% of the team's innings next season. Ideally, the Giants early agressiveness in the free agent market this off season is a sign that they're going to increase their self-imposed payroll cap to a more reasonable number. The lunatic fringe can only hope.

But, because Benitez is such an elite reliever, I'm liking the deal with reservations. I'll look past the fact that Benitez is eating a bigger slice of the payroll pie than he should, if it means that a short-sighted cost cutting move is not on the way (other than throwing away yet another high draft pick, that is).

One other thing - Benitez has a reputation of having some pretty high profile meltdowns. This reputation isn't necessarily fair, but hey, ESPN did a top 10 list of the most memorable Benitez meltdowns in history (I love their use of the phrase "top 10," because it implies that there were dozens of Mando meltdowns to choose from, but these 10 are the most memorable of them all).

So I reserve the right to retroactively dislike this deal if October comes around and Benitez is laying on the pitching mound, smoke billowing from the caboose, as Shawn Green circles the bases, leaving Giants fans longing for the days of Felix Rodriguez.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Vizquel Postmortem

As the dust settles from the Omar Vizquel signing, I'm starting to like the deal a tiny bit more than I first did. While the deal still gets a thumbs down from me, the one thing that I do like about it is that Vizquel will probably be worth the $2.5MM that he'll earn next year. Vizquel's ZiPS projection for 2005 is .276/.335/.371, with 14 steals.

If Vizquel is platooned properly, he could probably beat that projection. His 3 year splits:

vs LHP: .262/.311/.371
vs RHP: .282/.356/.400

When the soon to be 38 year-old does need to rest, he should sit in favor of Deivi against some left-handed starters.

On the negative side, Vizquel's 2006 and 2007 guaranteed salary will probably be not be commensurate with his performance. This aspect of the deal has been beaten to death, so I won't talk about it any further. Instead, I'll focus the remainder of this post on one aspect of the signing that has been largely ignored by the mainstream sports media -- the Giants lost their first round draft pick (again!).

Responding to a reader's question about the wisdom of shitcanning late first-round picks, Jim Callis of Baseball America sums things up perfectly (emphasis added):
"Late first-rounders aren't cheap, that's for sure. The last 10 picks in the first round of the 2004 draft signed for an average bonus of $1,227,500. Teams do have finite budgets, and it's certainly easier and faster to find a productive big leaguer for that amount via the free-agent market than it is via the draft.

But looking at it from a different perspective, teams aren't going to sign many star-quality big leaguers as free agents for a contract in the very low seven figures. If they somehow do, they won't be able to control his major league rights for six years. The way to pull those feats off for that money is to take your chances in the draft.

The Giants haven't drafted well recently. Their most productive pick in the last five years has been 1999 supplemental first-rounder Jerome Williams. Previous to Williams they hadn't had much luck since taking Russ Ortiz (fourth round) and Joe Nathan (sixth) in 1995.

But San Francisco has excelled in turning its prospects, regardless of how well they would turn out, into proven major leaguers. That's a major reason the Giants have finished first or second in the National League West for eight years running. Several of the club's late first-round picks have proven very useful to that end.

Righthander Joe Fontenot (No. 16 overall, 1995) was the key player in the Robb Nen deal with the Marlins. Nate Bump (No. 25, 1999) also went to Florida, along with fellow righty Jason Grilli (No. 4 in 1997), for Livan Hernandez. Another righty, Kurt Ainsworth (No. 24, 1999), helped bring Sidney Ponson from the Orioles for the stretch drive in 2003. Righthander Boof Bonser (No. 21, 2000) was part of the A.J. Pierzynski deal with the Twins.

Righty Brad Hennessey (No. 21, 2001) and lefty Noah Lowry (No. 30, 2001) were part of San Francisco's rotation in September. Righty Matt Cain (No. 25, 2002) is clearly the Giants' top prospect and could help them as soon as next year. Righty David Aardsma (No. 22, 2003) made the Opening Day roster in 2004 and should provide bullpen help in 2005.

Though none of the traded first-rounders has accomplished much since leaving San Francisco, the Giants have gotten a lot of production out of them. By the end of 2006, their rotation could consist of Jason Schmidt and four late first-round or supplemental first-round choices. With that kind of track record, it makes no sense to just throw first-round picks away.

San Francisco signed Michael Tucker before the deadline to offer arbitration last year—if teams don't offer arbitration, they don't get compensation—so the Royals would make that offer after the fact and spare the Giants of having to spend on a first-round pick in 2004. I haven't seen any definitive statements that they signed Vizquel early to accomplish the same purpose, though that may have been part of their intent. But there was enough competition for Vizquel's services that it's also possible that San Francisco moved quickly to avoid losing him to another club."
Other Notes from the Blogosphere

1) Everyone should read The Fourth Outfielder (hat tip to Dodger Thoughts for the link) and Fogball for some stat intensive analysis on the Vizquel signing.

2) Check out the new (by "new," I mean new to me) Giants blogs - On the Waterfront and Absent-minded Ramblings.

3) Omar Vizquel posted a very gracious farewell letter to Indians fans on his web site; a classy move on his part.

Update 11/18: Studes has a must read article on Brian Sabean and the Vizquel signing over at The Hardball Times (link via Baseball Primer).

"Give Brian Sabean a little credit. He has a feel for this phenomenon, and he's taken advantage of it. In a crazy way, this is the "Moneyball" philosophy. Approach the market in a different manner, and take advantage of values that others don't recognize. Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta valued OBP before others did; Brian Sabean values really old guys."
Read the whole thing.


Monday, November 15, 2004


Congrats to Barry Bonds for winning his fourth consecutive and seventh overall MVP award. The vote total was closer than it should have been, but Bonds received 24 of the 32 first place votes.

Also of note - this marks the fifth consecutive NL MVP award for a member of the Giants.


Sunday, November 14, 2004

Sabean's Guide to Every Giants Season Ever

In the winter, the Giants make a questionable free agent signing. They overpay for a declining player on the wrong side of 30. The Lunatic Fringe goes nuts. The signing kind of ends up working out anyway. Powered by Barry Bonds, the Giants win 90 some odd games and either narrowly miss making the playoffs or get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Larry Baer declares the season to be a success because the team was "competitive" and the Giants have only played x number of meaningless games in the last few seasons. The Giants raise ticket prices and announce that they're too poor to sign any impact free agents.

True to form, the Giants started the winter with a questionable signing when they gave Omar Vizquel a three year $12.25 million contract. Signing Omar Vizquel isn't a bad move, per se. But giving a 37 year-old three years and $12.25 million while forfeiting a first round draft pick in the process is a bad move.

I'm probably not as upset over this signing as I should be. Vizquel will probably play better than most of us expect (for next year at least) and the Giants will probably have an exciting, 90 win season in 2005.

Next up -- the Giants sign Moises Alou and Troy Percival and call it an off season.


Omar Vizquel played for the Indians teams of the mid to late 90s that were annual contenders, but could never quite win it all. At the end of each disappointing season, Vizquel would return to his native Venezuela to contemplate what went wrong.

Welcome to the San Francisco Giants, Omar. Something tells me that you'll be making that trip each of the next three years.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Rumors, Rumors, Rumors

The hot stove is in full swing as the Winter GM Meetings are underway. Here are the players involved in Giants rumors:

* AJ Pierzynski

The conventional wisdom espoused by the Bay Area fishwrapocrary is that AJ is on the trading block and his days with the Giants are numbered. I disagree. The Giants braintrust emphasizes old school stats like batting average and RBI. By these conventional metrics, AJ's year with Giants was a success -- .272 average and 77 RBI.

Moreover, the Giants adhere to the advice of their scouts. Obviously, I have no way of knowing what said scouts think, but something tells me that they do not see Yorvit Torrealba as an everyday player. Why would Sabes acquire a young catcher entering his prime in the first place if they thought Yorvit would be ready to be an everyday player in 2005? I think the Giants want AJ to come back. The only potential sticking point is $$$.

* Steve Finley

In the winter of 1998 Sabean tried to sign Steve Finley. In the winter of 2002 Sabean tried to sign Steve Finley. In the summer of 2004, Sabean tried to trade for Steve Finley. Obsessive much, Sabes?

Well, Steve Finley is once again on the market, and, not surprisingly, the Giants are apparently trying to sign him.

While a possible Giants outfield of Bonds/Finley/Grissom would be subject to any number of lame geritol/social security jokes, I wouldn't mind a Finley signing. Yes, he's a gazillion years old, but he still plays like he's much younger. Finley's OPS+ in each of the last three years:

2004: 110
2003: 113
2002: 120

Declining? Slightly, but those are still solid offensive numbers for a CF.

Plus, if the Giants sign Finley before the arbitration deadline, they could burden the arch rival Dodgers with one of those bothersome first round draft picks. Take that, DePo!

* Magglio Ordonez

Ken Rosenthal reports that the Giants could be among the teams in the Magglio Sweepstakes. The feeling is that Ordonez' injury questions will bring down his asking price so that teams like the Giants will be able to afford him. Before I go any further, I want to point out that last season Rosenthal speculated that the Giants could land Richie Sexson or Alfonso Soriano. Most outside observers look at the Giants roster and conclude that the Giants are searching for a slugger to hit behind Bonds. But the Giants themselves have given no indication that they are seeking a power hitter to hit behind Bonds. The official propaganda minister of sfgiants.com has hinted that the team isn't likely to acquire a slugger to hit behind Bonds.

I would be very surprised if the Giants landed Mags.

* Nomah

Let's just say that you're a free agent who is coming off a down year. Questions about your health and your declining defensive skills abound, pressing your value on the free agent market downward. You might want to seek a one or two year deal to re-establish yourself and then try to strike it big after proving that you haven't lost it. Hey Nomar, wanna hit behind Barry?

This is the only scenario in which I would favor a Nomar signing - a short term/make good deal for a reasonable amount of money. If Arte Moreno swoops in and offers Garciaparra a 4 year/50 million dollar contract, then forget it. But if the price is right, I'd go for Nomah.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Giants may make an offer to Nomar. In addition to the theory that his asking price may be depressed, Nomar seems like just the kind of player Sabean likes. He swings at everything, he never walks, and he's a good contact hitter. Plus, he's a good character guy.

Sabes could even try to convince Magowan to spend some of the mysterious "Maddux money" on a name free agent signing like Nomar. We're not going to get an impact player this off season, but maybe we'll get a declining former star.

* Armando Benitez

Once you get past all of the hatred that Mets fans harbor toward this man, you realize that Armando Benitez is a good pitcher. Unfortunately, he is coming off a great season and is probably due a big payday.

I'll go on record as saying that I want the Hermanator back. He's a servicable closer, and by not overpaying for a Proven Closer, the Giants will have some money to make improvements in other areas. Oh yeah, the Giants should also offer Hermanson arbitration. He's not going to get a huge raise and the Giants could get draft pick compensation if Hermanson were to sign elsewhere.

* Moises Alou

Moises Alou has been quoted as saying that he would like to play for his dad again. If Moises signs with the Giants, an interesting subplot of the season will be that two sons of former SF Giants stars will try to lead SF to that elusive World Series championship. This angle alone should be good for no fewer than four Joan Ryan columns on the subject.

* Daisuke Matsuzaka

Admittedly, I don't know a whole lot about him, he may not even be posted, and the Giants probably aren't seeking another starting pitcher. More than anything, I just want to take this opportunity to mention that I don't like the Giants' apparent unwillingness to tap the international player market. While other teams are snagging Hideki Matsui, Ichiro!, Otsuka, etc. Giants management is too busy crying poverty to bother looking into signing international players. There is no reason at all that a high revenue team like the Giants shouldn't be able to tap the international talent market. I said talent market -- Osvaldo Fernandez doesn't count.

If anyone knows more about Matsuzaka or other potential international free agents, please drop by the comments section.

* Aubrey Huff

Peter Gammons reports that the D-Rays are shopping Huff. Wait, why on earth is Tampa trying to trade Aubrey Huff? Because they're the Devil Rays, I guess. Huff would be a great fit with the Giants (needless to say a 27 year old with a career OPS+ of 119 would be a "great fit" with any team). He could play RF in 2005 and then take over at 1B in 2006. If nothing else, just make sure Huff doesn't go to the Dodgers, Sabes.

* Austin Kearns

Kearns is allegedly on the trading block. He's perpetually injured, so he'd be a big risk, but with enough magical Conte dust he could be a great pickup. Unfortunately, Kearns and the Reds haven't been connected to the Giants in any published trade rumors. However, half the fun of having a blog is making up and spreading unsubstantiated rumors myself. Making up shit is fun! Hmm...the Giants need an outfielder, and according to Gammons, the Reds need a third baseman...

Numerous anonymous baseball sources have told me that the Giants and Reds are discussing a potential deal involving Austin Kearns and Pedro Feliz. The Giants will probably have to throw in a prospect or three to even things out. So spread the word -- Kearns for Feliz!


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Moves, Moves, Moves

The Giants picked up the options on JT Snow, Brett Tomko, and Marquis Grissom, while declining Jason Christiansen's option. They also signed Deivi Cruz to a one year deal. Let's look at these moves one by one:

* Brett Tomko -- $2.5MM

I'm convinced that Brett Tomko is actually two different players. The good Brett Tomko can spot his mid 90s fastball with precision, while keeping the opposition off balance with an above average off speed stuff. He's a horse who can work deep into games. On the other hand, you have the bad Brett Tomko. The bad Brett Tomko is actually Jerry Spradlin.

Fortunately for the Giants, the good Brett Tomko showed up for them big time in September and October. Tomko finished the year with a VORP of 25 and an ERA+ of 110. Good move.

* JT Snow -- $2MM

Gee, didn't see this one coming...Here's an interesting note on Snow's 2004 PECOTA projection:

2004 projection: .245/.352/.373; .255 EqA
90th percentile: .283/.406/.421: .298 EqA

I'll also point out that the number one historical player comp for Snow's 2004 was Charlie Hayes' 2001: .200/.293/.240

And of course, here are JT Snow's actual 2004 numbers: .327/.429/.529; .324 EqA

Just thought I'd point that out (Hi Nate!).

* Marquis Grissom -- $2.75MM

Proven veteran! Playoff experience! Intangibles! Count the rings, bitch! I'm still awaiting the official Giants press release, but I guarantee that the terms "veteran" and "experience" will be used at least once in connection with the Marquis St. Everhack.

All kidding aside, I have mixed feelings on bringing back Grip. Grissom has some very useful skills - he can crush lefties with the best of them and he has some pop in his bat (for a CF). But his .300ish OBP is an anchor on the offense; so much so that it offsets the benefits of his power. For example:

Grissom 95 OPS+
Mohr 113 OPS+

Ok, I don't like this move. But, the last time the Giants signed Grissom I ranted and raved that it was a bad move. Prove me wrong again, Grip.

* Jason Christiansen -- 300k buyout

For all the grief that a certain Southern California-based baseball blogger gave the Giants brass for signing the Neifarious wonder of suck to that silly contract, it's easy to forget about the Christiansen contract. Fortunately, that albatross is now behind us as Christiansen has been sent packing. I expect JC to eventually resurface at the mecca of washed up, overpaid left-handed specialists - LaRussaville. Anyway, I'm very glad that he's gone.

* Deivi Cruz -- 800k plus incentives

Whenever you re-sign your dumpster dive find from the previous season, you need to keep in mind the Jeffrey Hammonds Rule - the lesson the Giants should've learned about Hammonds' 2003 isn't that he is a good player worth a million dollar contract. The lesson they should've learned is that there are other 2003 Jeffrey Hammonds' on the waiver wire that you can sign for a tad over the minimum.

That's not a perfect analogy since a decent hitting SS is harder to find than a mediocre corner outfielder, but the general rule still applies. Cruz is signed for 800k (plus incentives), which is a shade more than I would've paid, but I won't complain. The point is that Sabean followed the Hammonds rule this time and didn't grossly overpay his dumpster dive find.

These moves leave the Giants with a great deal of flexibility. As John Schlegel suggests, they could still sign a CF and shift Grissom to RF. They could still sign a RF to replace TuckMohr. Or they could stand pat with an outfield of Bonds, Grissom, TuckMohr, Linden/Ellison/Torcato/whatever and seek improvements elsewhere. They could give Cruz the starting SS job or they could let him fill a utility/pinch hitter role and go after another SS.

So, what do the Giants do next?