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The Ryan Vogelsong contract in context

Thearon W. Henderson

I'm so danged confused by this offseason.

The Giants had serious pitching problems last year. They finished with the worst adjusted ERA in the National League for the first time since 1996, the days of VanLandingham and Osvaldo. Yet their OPS last year was .702, just one point below the league average. So after adding in the park effects, you might even conclude the Giants were rather good at the plate last year. Adjusted OPS thinks so. Which means you can blame the pitching for almost everything.

There was room for upgrades, though. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner were sturdy pillars, and 60 percent of the rotation was wide open. If you had known the Giants were willing to commit $63 million to the rotation this offseason, you probably would have been cautiously optimistic. You probably would have figured they could buy a couple quality pitchers for that kind of scratch. They needed three. That left a lot of opportunity for exciting acquisitions.

Instead, the 2013 Giants are the 2014 Giants, Now With Tim Hudson. There's still time for them to get a left fielder. There are still hilarious ways to acquire middle relievers. The Winter Meetings are just around the corner, too. But when 80 percent of the rotation is the same, and 89 percent of the lineup is the same, the team is basically the same. That's assuming they get another outfielder, too.

I guess 89 percent of the same lineup plus Mike Trout would make a substantial difference. Don't rule anything out.

But it's like that Einstein quote: "The definition of insanity is to bring back all of the players from a bad team and hope you were right the first time, you arrogant bastard." This is why Ryan Vogelsong's new contract was so disappointing. It's not different. At least different wouldn't have been automatically associated with the bad feelings of last season.

Scott Kazmir just got two years and $22 million from the A's, though. He had a very nice second half, but like Ubaldo Jimenez, he got fat on some truly awful lineups, like the Astros, Twins, and Mets. When he faced real teams, he looked like a pitcher with an ERA over 4.00 and an ERA+ worse than the average starter, which is what he was last year. Then factor in the recent history, where Kazmir was on the Sugarland Skeeters in 2012 because no one wanted him. Even Vogelsong looks at Kazmir and thinks, "Damn. That guy's had a weird career path."

Ricky Nolasco got four years and $48 million. He also had a very nice second half, but he'd been consistently awful for years before that. His own manager pulled in the third inning of a playoff game after allowing one home run, mostly because he's Ricky Nolasco and not to be trusted. Four years and … goodness, that's almost halfway to Kevin Brown.

This is what pitching costs right now. The worst-looking deal of the bunch is still Tim Lincecum's guaranteed $35 million, mind you, but it looks like Brian Sabean had a good idea of what the salaries for pitchers on the open market were going to be.

I would have preferred Josh Johnson to Vogelsong. Sounds like the Giants might have, too. I would have preferred Dan Haren to Vogelsong. Sounds like the Giants might have, too. Those two free agents had a mix of upside and relative youth that Vogelsong couldn't really compete with, even if I know which player I'll still remember fondly in 20 years.

Those two also cost roughly twice as much, even though Vogelsong has had an excellent season as recently as either of them. I'd argue that if you're looking for anything approaching a bargain in the starting-pitcher market so far, Vogelsong is the only one that comes close, even after factoring in his age, reduced velocity, and miserable season.

He was quite excellent just a short while ago, you know. I guess if one year's enough to forget that Scott Kazmir was metaphorically living under a bridge, it's enough to forget just how much of an asset Vogelsong was to the Giants.

If I'm ranking bargains and risks/rewards in the starting-pitcher market, maybe I'm happier with Vogelsong. But I'm less concerned with bargains, more concerned with wins and losses. We're in not-my-money territory. I'm not going to give the Giants bonus points for spending half as much on an equally risky pitcher, not when I don't give a rip what the payroll is. Not my money.

I want to see how they attack the outfield, bullpen, and bench with the extra $5 million or so they were willing to give to Haren or Johnson. I want to see if it changes the Giants' ability to trade for a player at the deadline. There's still a lot of offseason left.

It's not unreasonable to think Ryan Vogelsong, who had a lousy year after two effective ones, still has one more season of effectiveness left. But it's discouraging to think the entire offseason comes down to hoping the underperforming players from last year perform better. Really, I think missed opportunity wasn't with the Vogelsong deal. It's the buyer's remorse for Lincecum's deal that's impossible to shake. That combination of money and opportunity cost really ...


But it's Lincecum. Can't be angry that he's still around. Look at the little feller.


But they could have done so much with that money. They could have ...


Well, i guess they could have spent even more on Ricky Nolasco or Bronson Arroyo. It's not like that would make us all feel hyper-confident. It's just that ...


Ugh. I don't really think the Giants were as bad as their record last year. But I wasn't a Tim Hudson away from being convinced. This offseason is so danged confusing. The correct answer is to pitch better, gentlemen. Pitch better, and we'll all have a good laugh about this later.