In the spirit of the offseason and finding new ways to evaluate talent, I was wondering if any of you know whether management consults players when scouting free agents. It seems to me that the best people to provide perspective on how good a particular player is would be the people who play against him, but I've never heard anything about GMs doing this. For example, if Sabean asked Lincecum who the toughest FA he faced last year was it seems like that evaluation would hold value; Lincecum's obviously a fantastic pitcher, and he should know when a batter is performing well against him, independent of his statistical performance. The same should be true of hitters; Sandoval, Rowand, et al. should have considerable insight into which pitchers have filthy stuff but are overlooked and which pitchers are really mediocre but have good stats.
Obviously this comes with significant caveats; it wouldn't necessarily be a better method than advanced metrics, for example. The more reliable FIP and xFIP are better tools for evaluating pitchers than ERA, and many pitchers who have significant disparities between their FIP and ERA can be identified as bargains or overpriced using this method. The same is true of wOBA vs. triple-slash/RBI/BA. Similarly, the coaching staff is trained to evaluate pitchers and hitters for both teams, not just ours, and therefore make valuable consultants; I would imagine that Righetti and Lansford/Meulens are consulted on free agents, and I'm sure Bochy is (though whether that's valuable is debatable).
But there are some exceptions. Jonathan Sanchez is a good example; Sanchez posted a 4.24 ERA and 4.17 FIP last year. However, Sanchez' upside is far better than that; if he can learn some semblance of control, his multitude of pitches and good velocity make him an excellent starter. Were he a FA, Sanchez would carry high upside with little risk, as his career to date has not been stellar. Yet the stats alone do not show how good Sanchez can be, just how good he was, and GMs are learning more and more than future performance is just as important as past performance when handing out contracts.
Obviously, some of this can be done by talking to coaches, which I'm sure is done. Righetti would be able to tell you that Sanchez is a high-upside guy who needs some work, and therefore a good #5 (in our fantasy world, Sanchez is a FA from a different team, because he works in this example and I'm lazy). But wouldn't Sandoval be able to make a better evaluation there? Righetti has the training, sure, but Sandoval's spent plenty of time watching Sanchez and hitting against him; doesn't that count significantly? We can look at Duchscherer, Sheets, Bedard, Harden, etc. and say, "Well, these are high-upside guys with problems in the past, so they're good low-cost options." But none of us is more qualified to evaluate exactly how good Sheets' fastball is to the opposing hitter, how deceptive Bedard's changeup is, or how much the break on Harden's curve screws with you than the people who try to hit the snot out of those pitches.
Furthermore, the "clubhouse cancer" issue would be much better resolved by the players than the management; are they willing to put up with a superstar who has a bad attitude? What makes winning easier: the right environment, or the right pieces? Along the same lines, given otherwise mostly equal free agents, which is the better one to have on your team, so that you don't have to face them and make other teams do so? Is a particular pitcher extremely frustrating to hit against? Maybe one of the hitters likes to prolong at-bats and drive up pitch counts, which poses a mental problem for Cain or Sanchez or Wilson or Medders.
Yes, a lot of these things can be mostly evaluated through sabermetrics; we can attach values to individual pitches or swings, we have coaches to study hours of tape regarding the player in question, but it seems that when you're handing out multimillion-dollar contracts, you need all the information you can get. And not once have I heard about Lincecum being called into Sabean's office, shown a list of free agent targets, and asked which ones we should pursue. I'd like to know why, because it seems like it would be in everyone's best interest; the players get more valuable teammates (however they define value), the management gets more information and can therefore make a better decision, and everyone gets a better team. Is there a conflict of interest issue (maybe players would be encouraged to push their agents' other players)? Are the players simply too lazy, or consider it someone else's problem? Does management think there's nothing to gain there, it's just a big waste of time?
The more I think about this, the more I think it should be routine. There seems to be little to no downside; worst case scenario, you know nothing more than when you began. And as fairly important members of the organization, I value the input players can provide, input only they have.