These moves are pretty recent, but I'll do my best to explain my reasoning behind the judgements if I give them.
December 1st, 2006
Signed Ray Durham to a two-year contract worth $14.5 million
This is the kind of deal that you should sign veteran players to - short term, so even if injuries strike (and with Durham, that's almost more of a when than an if) you're not on the hook for too long. Moreover, Durham is more than just a placeholder, he's an offensive threat at a position that doesn't have many of them. He's old, but is coming off one of his better seasons with the bat and doesn't have any warning signs of decline. And lastly, he's not blocking anybody, despite some bizarre assertions that Frandsen is the better player.
Verdict: Nice little deal, one of Sabean's best since signing Durham in the first place.
December 2nd, 2006
Signed Dave Roberts to a three-year contract worth $18 million
This is going to be another one I get crap for, but I'll explain why I think the Roberts signing isn't as good as it looks on the surface. The length is a little longer than I'd like for a player with a bit of an injury history, especially one with so much value in his legs, but it's not a crippling type of contract. The problem is simple: allocation of resources. With Steve Finley out of the picture (mercifully) the team already had an above-average center fielder in Randy Winn. Compared to other center fielders, Winn was a well above-average hitter with at least average defense, move him to right and while his defense is even better in comparision he's also merely an average hitter. That isn't to say that Sabean didn't try to sign a right fielder, he offered Carlos Lee a much longer-term contract than he should have and we got lucky when he turned it down (for an equally bad deal). The problem was giving up there - there were other outfielders on the market. J.D. Drew's contract was a pretty good one (though he's off to a slow start), Jose Guillen is a better hitter than Roberts, Trot Nixon fills the big half of a platoon. There were other options.
Verdict: Even, good on money vs. talent, bad in that Roberts doesn't fit in the lineup very well and it's a three-year deal to an injury-prone player.
December 4th, 2006
Signed Rich Aurilia to a two-year contract worth $8 million
Aurilia and Klesko haven't been quite average together at first base, but there weren't really any appealing first basemen on the market so I suppose Sabean did the best he could. I actually like the Klesko signing better because it's for only one year, but we can assume he actually had some competition for Aurilia and $8 million isn't much.
Verdict: Good little deal.
Signed Pedro Feliz to a one-year contract worth $5.1 million
In 2006, Pedro Feliz posted a .237 EQA. No full-time third baseman was worse than that. Even looking at more "traditional" stats, Feliz hit .244/.281/.428 in a league where the average third baseman hit .282/.354/.472. It's not like that season was a fluke either, his OPS+ over the past three seasons had been 98, 87, 79. So, you re-sign a 32-year-old coming off a three-year decline, the worst full-time hitter at his position. Unbelievable. There's no excusing that. Frandsen would outhit that, easy.
Verdict: Bad. Again, re-signing the worst hitter at a position can't be a good deal regardless of the money involved.
December 6th, 2006
Signed Bengie Molina to a three-year contract worth $16 million
This is another good veteran signing - Molina is an above-average hitting catcher and even with his declining defense the money isn't so much that it would be crippling if he ended up a backup by the end of the deal or something. There weren't many catchers on the market either.
Verdict: Good. I don't like the long-term contract to a catcher with a weight problem but so far Molina has hit well and there's as much a chance he stays the good-stick no-defense asset that he is for the duration of the contract just as there's a chance he gets hurt.
Signed Steve Kline to a two-year contract worth $3.5 million.
Kline was coming off a two-year stretch where he put together this line: 4.63 RA, 5.5 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 1.50 WHIP.
You're telling me there's nobody down on the farm or off the top of the garbage bin that could approximate that line? Kline's only real virtue at this point in his career is that he's been in the league for twelve years and he's left-handed. His performance has been even worse than could be expected so far: a WHIP over 2.00, but his bullpen spot hasn't been mentioned as being in jeopardy, for some reason. It's not like he's a LOOGY or anything either, over the last three years lefties have hit only a smidgen worse against him than righties.
Verdict: Bad - the money isn't much but Kline is an eminently replaceable quantity so it's basically money down the drain.
December 19th, 2006
Signed Ryan Klesko to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million
His power stroke may have disappeared but so far at least he's been able to get on base, and that's something. $1.75 million is barely more than a flyer, so it was a pretty low-risk move.
Verdict: Good minor deal, assuming Sabean was unable to find any adequate first sackers in a trade Klesko/Aurilia are a much better deal than, say, Sean Casey who I was terrified we'd try to get.
December 29th, 2006
Signed Barry Zito to a seven-year contract worth $126 million with a vesting option for an eighth year
Now, in most cases you'd say "oh, how can you judge a contract after only two months," but there's plenty of reasons we can see right now that this contract was bad. First of all, take a look at Zito's peripherals over the past three years (and now a month and a half into 2007):
2004: 6.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
2005: 6.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
2006: 6.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9
2007: 5.0 K/9, 4.6 BB/9 (small sample size, but if apparently these last two months can validate the Morris/Winn signings I guess they can iNvalidate this one.)
Not even taking length into account it's pretty clear that the pitcher you are getting isn't exactly dominating. He eats up a ton of innings, sure, but three years of declining peripherals doesn't exactly scream "long-term contract." Which gets us to the length. Seven years (maybe EIGHT) for a pitcher is never a good idea. The risk is too high - even an exceptional pitcher (which Zito is not) is a huge risk over the course of seven years. Don't believe me? The largest contracts ever given to a pitcher before Zito were eight years $121 million to Mike Hampton, and seven years $105 million to Kevin Brown, and we all know how those turned out. The similarity runs beyond the financial, Mike Hampton is actually Zito's most similar pitcher through age 28 according to Baseball Reference.
To summarize a bit, because I know this one is going to get some discussion, I'm not saying Zito is a bad pitcher. He's better than he has been this year, but I don't see any way that this contract is going to go down as a good one. Sure, there's a chance he'll turn into Tom Glavine or Jamie Moyer and pitch forever, but when you're talking about $126 million you can't rely too much on wishcasting - the chances are not good that this will be a good contract.
Verdict: Bad, with a chance to be merely pretty damn bad and a chance to be one of the worst ever.
January 30th, 2007
Signed Barry Bonds to a one-year contract worth $15.8 million
It's hard to say anything about this - the Giants were going to re-sign Barry Bonds and they did. It's a one-year deal so the money isn't really a huge issue and the team frankly wasn't contending without Bonds so Sabean's hands were tied even if he hadn't wanted Bonds back. Even with his May tailspin, Barry has been one of, if not the, best hitter in the league, so it looks even better. The key to free agency, in my opinion, is the short-term contract. When you have young, homegrown players that's when you lock them up long-term, but free agency is almost always a market full of players past their primes (hitters peak around 29, pitchers possibly even sooner) so you're 9 times out of 10 going to pay for production you'll never get again.
Verdict: Good, inevitable contract.
April 1st, 2007
Signed Matt Cain to a four-year contract worth $9 million
Like the Lowry deal, this one is good, and a good precedent to set, but it wasn't the fleecing some seem to have interpreted it as. I don't think Cain left money on the table - he's basically forfeiting a few million in arbitration for the guarantee that, even if his arm falls off (STOP LETTING HIM THROW 110 PITCHES BOCHY) he'll be able to retire happily. I wouldn't have wanted to give him much more guaranteed money then we did, I don't think he left any on the table.
Verdict: Good deal, with the above explanation.
Sabean clocks in for this last off-season with a superfically impressive six good contracts to three bad ones, but that doesn't really tell the story. The good contracts were all nice little deals, but the bad contracts ranged from inexcusable (Feliz) to possibly payroll-crippling (Zito). In addition, Sabean again backloaded the contracts making it even harder for the team of the future to compete. Look at it this way, would you rather have these contracts:
Zito: $18 million (7 year commitment)
Kline: $3.5 million (2 year commitment)
Roberts: $6 million (3 year commitment)
Feliz: $5 million (1 year commitment)
or these ones:
Daisuke Matzusaka: $17 million (6 year commitment with the posting fee averaged in to the contract)
Akinori Iwamura: $4 million (3 year commitment, again with the posting fee averaged into the contract)
Trot Nixon: $3 million (1 year commitment)
Jayson Werth: $1 million (1 year commitment)
And just pocket the extra $7 million - or better yet use it in the amateur draft to make a play at any signability issues that drop? Or, even if you aren't feeling adventurous, just
Ted Lilly: $10 million (4 year commitment)
Jose Guillen: $5.5 million (1 year commitment)
Jeff Cirillo: $1.5 million (1 year commitment), play him or Frandsen as you desire
And use the extra $15 million a year elsewhere? I know I would certainly prefer the latter.