Why I am actually fairly pleased with offseason 2012

Disclaimer: This is long winded, sorry about that. Skip to the bottom for TL;DR discussion points.

It is my belief that the San Francisco Giants 2011-2012 offseason was actually pretty good, looking back. Of course, it is not over, and certain things could happen/not happen to change that belief (eg, Giants cannot come to terms with a contract for Tim Lincecum and flip him to the Mariners for Jesus Montero, who (the Mariners) have a bad case of "what the hell was I thinking taking those last two shots of Jameson?"). Most of these scenarios are highly unlikely and so I feel comfortable saying that the roster is pretty much set +/- a few MiL contract and Spring Training invitees that will vie for the last couple spots on the team.

In retrospect, it is easy to resent how things turned out. The Giants, on the surface, did little to improve a league-worst offense. You are aware of this, and have likely discussed it ad nauseum here and elsewhere. The Giants also did not seriously pursue Carlos Beltran, who signed a bowl-wrenchingly reasonable deal with a team that will likely outscore the Giants by orders of magnitude next season. You are also aware of this. The point I want to make is that, after accepting these facts, one sees that the team is actually fairly well constructed, capable of competing for not only the division but for the NL pennant, and are not invested in any risky long-term contracts that could seriously hamper future competition.

It's not the players themselves that I want to discuss, as you have already likely browsed their fangraphs pages (or page, if things like BABIP and ISO and Oswing% and SIERA give you indigestion). I would rather draw attention to the contracts themselves (or likely arbitration awards), comparing them with past/projected WAR to get a rough sense of the overall value of certain players whose salaries represent money spent by the Giants in 2012.

The Contracts:

The Giants retained three free agents, all relief pitchers. Affeldt signed a one year deal for 5mil, Lopez signed a 2 year deal for 4.25 each year, and Mota signed for 1 year and 1 mil. Obviously, Affeldt and Lopez' contracts were not well received by a vocal percentage of the community, since they came early and the money given to them basically precluded any serious pursuit of a free agent hitter, specifically one previously-named Beltran.

The Giants have so far come to terms on contracts with two arb-eligible players, Ryan Vogelsong, for 2 years and paying out 3/5mil respectively, and Mike Fontenot, for 1 year/1mil.

These moves, looked at as a whole, reinforce management's stated opinion that pitching is the first priority, and that their vision for this team includes keeping a top-flight pitching staff together. I won't get into the Lopez/Affeldt contracts other than to say they represented a safe if unexciting choice by management to spend the $10mil on a known quantity, rather than wait and hope that a good player could be got for the price they were capable of paying. I do, however, like the Vogelsong and Fontenot deals quite a bit, and so I will attempt to explain my view.

While I could not find an article type analysis on the rough market value of 1 WAR in dollars for the 2011/12 offseason, I believe that, in years past, the figure has ranged from 5-7mil. I will be generous and say that 1 WAR is worth about 5mil on the open market. If this is the case, both Fontenot and Vogelsong being paid as sub 1 WAR players. Looking at Bill James and ZiPS projections for Fontenot, he's likely to produce .650-700 OPS over 200-300 PA, the latter number being more likely given that he will be the primary backup for both Freddy Sanchez and Brandon Crawford. Fontenot was worth exactly 1 WAR last year while having the worst offensive season of his career, so it's a safe bet he will be worth at least 1 WAR again. Vogelsong is an unknown quantity, but if you believe he is capable of replicating at least some of his 2011 success, it's reasonable to assume he can produce upwards of 2 WAR. Both players seem likely to provide surplus value, and their contracts indicate money well spent by the team.

Looking Ahead:

The Giants have a serious tonnage of arbitration cases to work out, including both new acquisitions, Melky and Pagan. Let's assume, for the purposes of discussion, that none of these players work out contracts, and are each given out arbitration rewards according to these projections. Starting with the new acquisitions:

Melky Cabrera projects to receive 4.4mil, or the value of slightly less than one win. Taking the 2012 ZiPS projections, along with Fangraph's FANS, Melky Cabrera seems more or less a league average hitter (106 proj 2012 OPS+, career .320 wOBA) with average/below average defense in right field, worth somewhere in the range of 1.5-2 WAR. While these are not the numbers of an impressive, offense saving player, he is more than likely to be worth the money given to him in 2012. If he does produce something similar to his 2011 (unlikely), the Giants have received impressive surplus value. If he does not perform, there is no long term commitment to an ineffective player.

Angel Pagan, coming off a down year, projects to receive 4.7mil, so basically the same as Cabrera. His numbers are also similar (97 proj 2012 OPS+, career .331 wOBA), but with better defense and speed. The defense and speed bolsters a league average bat and gives him (roughly) a slightly above average profile, worth 3 WAR, according to FANS. This seems reasonable, as it is more or less the midpoint between his last two seasons of 5.5 WAR and .9 WAR, respectively. A 3 WAR player for 4.7mil is almost a sure bet to provide surplus value, and, like Melky, if he does not, the team is not committed to continue paying him.

Both these acquisitions strike me as prudent, low-risk/high-reward decisions in terms of value. Given that Jonathan Sanchez and Torres/Ramirez are projected to receive 11mil between them for 2012, the trades also seem to be an economical cost-cutting decision, moving WAR from the pitcher's mound to the outfield. They appear additionally savvy when you consider that Sanchez' and Ramirez' production are more easily replaced in-house or with minor league contracts than whatever WAR is gained by Pagan/Melky (meaning, back end rotation and RHP bullpen types are often found on the scrap heap, whereas productive outfielders gotten for cheap are 1 Burrell in a thousand, so to speak).

Looking at some other Giants' projected arbitration awards:

Pablo Sandoval: 3.2mil - This is simply beautiful. Pablo is projected to be one of the better hitters in the NL in 2012, agreed upon by just about every projection system. Taken with above average defense (some may say gold-glove caliber, as though gold gloves had anything to do with defense) at third base, Pablo is likely worth about as many war as Prince Fielder (they were both worth 5.5 last year, and FANS has them both worth 5.6 in 2012). When you consider the payday Fielder is in for, Pablo Sandoval looks like a golden god, paid to be worth less than 1 WAR on the open market.

Sergio Romo: 1.3mil - Sergio is projected to be worth about as many wins as jonathan sanchez, in about 60 high leverage innings of work. He may not actually pitch 60 innings, but the kind of production he is likely capable of is worth a hell of a lot more than 1.3mil on the open market.

Nate Schierholtz: 1.2mil - In the highly likely scenario that Melky and Pagan do not both have career years, Nate is a safe bet to get around 300 league average ABs, providing Nate Schierholtz defense in right. Another safe bet for surplus value.

Guys who will make the league minimum in 2012:

Buster Posey

Madison Bumgarner

Brandon Belt

Brandon Crawford

Just...marvel over that for a minute.

Quick analysis of expense, using COT'S pretty neat spreadsheet:

The Giants have about 87 million currently committed to the 2012 payroll. Assuming each arb eligible player receives what MLBTR projects them to receive, they will owe 37.8mil in arb salary, bringing total payroll to 124.8million, leaving 5 million or so for doling out league minimum and minor league contracts to various role players/long shot gambles to reach their target payroll of $130mil. The team is currently committed to only $31mil in payroll in 2013, leaving 100mil for long-term contracts to players like Tim, Matt and Pablo and arbitration salary for Posey. The team owes virtually nothing in 2014, when Bumgarner becomes arb-eligible and Gary Brown and Joe Panik are likely ready for MLB. In short, there is tremendous financial flexibility in the coming years, so much so that the team could probably bring in a high-profile free agent on a long-term contract sometime in the next 2-3.

TL;DR Version:

While there were no actions taken to significantly improve the offense over the next 1 or 2 years, the Giants spent money carefully and made wise trades, both improving the team slightly and retaining financial flexibility for the foreseeable future. The team, as currently constructed, is likely to receive surplus value from the majority of the roster, which is an enviable position for franchises interested in long term viability. The team, while perhaps not among the elite of 2012, remains a cost-effective contender for the NL West, and so I submit that it was a rather successful offseason.

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