Sergio Romo reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with the Giants for $15 million, pending a physical. This brings back a fan favorite, but it comes at market prices. Here are big, important thoughts:
1. Sergio Romo is still a good reliever
There are words below that opening sentence, but feel free to ignore them. Feel free to add a comma and an "and we already had the bobblehead, so this all works out just fine," but the important part is the first clause. Sergio Romo is still a good reliever. He might not be the same pitcher he once was, but then no one is. No one is as good as Romo was in 2011.
More to the point, Romo is probably better than he was last year. The Giants believe that, too, considering that relievers with a 94 ERA+ 3.74 ERA, and 0.3 WAR (-0.3, according to FanGraphs) generally don't get multi-year deals for over $7 million a year. This isn't a feel-good, bring-the-band-back-together deal, though. Romo would have picked up a similar contract somewhere else. Because he's still a good reliever.
2. Bullpens are a bad way to spend money
This is true when you use statistical measures. Take Andrew Miller, for example. He just picked up a four-year deal, the largest ever given to a middle reliever. By WAR, though, he was worth roughly as much as Chris Stewart was to the Giants in 2011.
This is true when you use your common sense. They tend to appear in tiny fractions of the total innings in a given season, often in situations that Brad Penny or a Brad Penny cover band could escape.
Relievers are something teams can buy when their other needs are met. I spend the extra money and get better whiskey than Old Crow because my mortgage and utilities are caught up, but that doesn't mean it's really worth the extra $10 every time. I mean, that's $3,650 every year. Yet I do it.
The Giants, in case you're just joining us, have other holes on the roster. Their offseason has been quiet. If they can't fill it with the players they want because of what they're paying their relievers, that's a problem. That's a huge problem.
The last time they did this, there were opinions:
Because there's no guarantee they'll be the best. Even if pitchers are inherently unreliable, I'd put a lot of money on Justin Verlander doing what he does before I'd put a dime on any bullpen in the league being good or bad. One year's Jeremy Affeldt is the next year's Jeremy Affeldt, if you want to look at 2010 vs. 2011.
Oh, the delicious irony of that specific example.
3. The Giants don't win the World Series without their most expensive relievers
The four pricey relievers (Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla) in the 2014 postseason: 29⅔ innings, 1 earned run.
I know, I know. ERA for relievers is hinky, but it's easy to calculate. Eyeballing the other stats, like WPA and inherited runners, it's not like they were awful in some sort of hidden way. Relievers acquired on the fly, like Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland, struggled. The four relievers the Giants paid well are the ones who did well.
I don't get it either.
Of course, I'm less than confident that modern baseball is properly quantifying the cumulative effect of a dynamite bullpen. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to invoke a cliche. Take the big three of the Royals bullpen (Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera) this postseason. They threw a combined 30⅓ innings in the postseason -- about 200 fewer than you were led to believe. They had a combined ERA of 1.50.
That's almost exactly what Buddy Carlyle did for the Mets last season. He was worth about a win over replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.
Do you really think the difference between what those three pitchers did for the Royals and what three random Triple-A castoffs would have done in the same 15 games was just one win? That's what the math suggests. Having all three of them in the same 'pen at the same time seemed a lot more important than that.
Maybe the Giants are onto something when they spend money on the relievers they love-not-like. Maybe there is a reliever-based formula to the postseason that we're not seeing because we're focused on everything else.
Or maybe the Giants just got lucky those three postseasons. You think that's a gag, a joke. It is not.
4. It's hard to complain about the difference between $4 million and $7 million
Not unless you know exactly what it's preventing the Giants from doing. Is it the difference between Chris Young (the pitcher) and Max Scherzer? Booooo. Boooooooo. Poor allocation of resources.
Is it the difference in dividend checks next year, considering the budget might be slightly flexible at the top end, depending on what Brian Sabean says the team needs? If so, yay. I like it when games aren't blown all to hell after 2.5 hours watching them.
Is it something that affects how the Giants draft? How they pursue international free agents? Midseason trades? Extension talks?
Dunno. Overpaying a middle reliever can't help, but until I know exactly how it's the end of the world, it's probably not the end of the world. It's an awful move to sign Michael Tucker before the non-tender deadline, specifically because you want to punt a draft pick and save the money spent on Tucker. Without a clear flowchart of how the monetary difference between Romo and the next guy down, it's hard to get irate about overpaying a reliever.
It's not like Barry Zito, where you knew he was solely preventing the Giants from being in on any free agent who wanted more than $8 million year.
It's also still not the smartest way to allocate resources, though. Bullpens are so fickle. How long can the Giants keep getting away with it?
Say, how did they get away with it in 2014?
What just happened? Where am I? Did the Giants really ... well, I'll be.
5. I like Sergio Romo
Yeah. This seems like a frivolous point, but I get more enjoyment watching him pitch than I did with ... I don't know ... Doug Henry. Tim Worrell. Joe Nathan. Dustin Hermanson. Jose Mesa. Steve Reed, though that one's close. Romo, when he's on, is more fun to watch than almost any reliever I've ever watched -- a totally unique bullpen specimen.
And I watch baseball to be entertained. Weird, I know.
It's not a massive deal. It might be an ill-advised deal, sabermetrically, and it's probably better to wait until the offseason is over to see how the Giants patched their other holes before judging the financial effects of the Romo contract.
For now, though, I'm tickled that I get to watch one of my favorite Giants continue to pitch for the team I root for. It reminds me of the way the last Tim Lincecum deal made me feel.