In the aftermath of Ryan Vogelsong's new contract, a lot of valid questions about what the Giants plans were (and are) this offseason emerged. Even before that, though, there were already rumblings about a lack of activity and creativity on the part of a franchise that had won two of the last four championships. These rumblings upset at least one of the team's publicists:
Who or what is fueling this stupidity that the #sfgiants are bringing back "same team" based on moves even before winter meetings?— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) December 2, 2013
Well, I'd say it's the Giants themselves who are fueling this stupidity (the rumblings). Sure, 33 percent of their moves this offseason involved signing players from outside the organization (Tim Hudson), but a whopping 66 percent involved re-signing players from last year's 86-loss team (Javier Lopez and Vogelsong). In fact, in the past two months, 80 percent of the Giants big free-agent contracts went to players who were on the Giants' roster in 2013 (Pence in September, Lincecum in October) for a total of $42 million dollars in 2014. They've spent a grand total of $11 million of 2014's budget on a player who did not lose 86 games with the Giants in 2013.
The projected 25-man roster for 2014 is already 96% of the 2013 roster the week before the winter meetings.
So, Mr. Schulman, it's the Giants who are fueling the notion that they're bringing back the "same team".
But is that really the worst thing in the world? Is it uncommon for teams to bring back the "same team" the following year, regardless of performance? At what percentage point does it cease to be the "same team"?
We know there's going to be at least one new position player -- whomever is signed or traded for to replace Andres Torres as Gregor Blanco's platoon-mate. The Giants are looking for relief help, too, so there's the possibility of two new pitchers in there, which would bring the total to four (including Tim Hudson). That means 16 percent of the 25-man roster would be different in 2014. We want the Giants to win more games, right? We suspect that by bringing back fewer players from the team that did not win many games they will likely accomplish the task of winning more games in 2014, right?
Except, that's not usually the case. I mean, the Giants could get a lot worse! That would not be the "same team". That would be a different, worse team! 2013's sucky players could be solid performers in 2014. Meanwhile, 2013's solid performers could be 2014's liabilities. Or, the 2013 solids could be solid again and the 2013 liabilities could be solid, too! Who knows? Yes, there are projection systems, but we use projections to reduce anxiety, to bring us comfort. Projections don't take into account bad passenger van drivers or divorces or additional places hamate bones (or their equivalents) could reside.
Banking on those who "failed" a year ago, then, is why the "same team" idea is abhorrent. They've failed before, they'll fail again, and the team from a year ago will be the "same team" this year. Is our disgust with "the same" based not just on previous performance but also on our culturally instilled preference for "new?" We want the shiny new player without the intimate knowledge of his penchant for chasing sliders in a 2-strike count, who will fail a bit differently from what we're used to with the Giants! Give me a new starting pitcher who might not have a great 2014, either, but there's at least a chance that he might, whereas with Vogelsong, I know full well the season ends with him Edna Pontelliering into the performance ocean.
There's a roll-the-dice component to roster construction and, as we've seen, the Giants are willing -- perhaps with an unseemly eagerness -- to roll the dice on their own players versus unknown quantities.
Still, even I can't brush projection systems aside completely, especially when the aim here is to figure out why the Giants haven't turned over their losing 2013 roster very much. The fact is, the Giants need to get better with what they have, because whoever else they might bring in this offseason won't be signed with the intent of being a huge impact player but instead a complimentary piece.
Here's a crude, crude, foolish-in-the-attempt chart about wins above replacement and team performance designed to setup a conversation/analysis attempting to figure out how this "same team" *could* be different in 2014:
|TEAM W-L||HITTING WAR||PITCHING WAR|
The decline in the collective pitching staff's WAR is the opposite of funtimes, but you have to see how even a modest boost of 4.0 WAR gets the Giants back to respectability in a hurry. Of course, that's barring a steep decline in offense, which wouldn't be unprecedented, but is still probably unlikely given the current talent assembled. So then, with Hudson projected to put up about a win and a half, there's already a 2-win improvement for the pitching staff (Zito was an amazing -0.6 last year). If Matt Cain can bounce back a bit (even half a win), if Lincecum can hang in there following the adjustments the Giants swear he made in 2013, and if the fifth starter spot doesn't turn into a head wound, it's possible that's another win and a half right there, and the Giants are now more than halfway to closing the gap just from where they were in their last World Series year.
I know simply using WAR looks silly, but hey, it's a pretty simple illustration of what the Giants are thinking: "We don't need our guys to do much other than be just a little bit better than they were last year and we think we've really solidified the rotation by bringing in Hudson, whom we believe will make it through the entire season. We're also really good at cobbling together the back-end of the bullpen, and if we're aggressive on that front in trade or free agency, we believe we'll get guys in there that will make our pitching a strength again, making us a force in the division. Now, let's eat some sub sandwiches and think up new animal hat ideas."
The Giants want to bring back the same team because they think their team is pretty good already.