This isn't an article I've written before for this site, but it's one that I should have. Here be dragons. These are the players that will ruin the Giants. They will keep them from winning next year and for years to come. Remember the Barry Zito contract? That financial obligation crushed the Giants' ability to build winning baseball teams, and they never made the postseason again.
Last year's do-not-want free agent was Nelson Cruz. Old, coming off an implausibly good season, not adept defensively. Why, if he signed with the Giants, I would have gnashed my teeth for weeks. "This is going to look worse than the Aaron Rowand deal when it's over," this website would read until I went back and edited it after the season. "Cruz is the wrong player at the wrong time."
Which is all to say ... maybe we should keep some perspective.
Ha ha, just kidding. There's nothing worse than perspective in the offseason. We're looking for the wrong players at the wrong time. Here are the players who will make me grumble if they sign with the Giants.
3. Ian Kennedy
Really, he's number one in my heart, but I'm not convinced the Giants are interested. These aren't the Michael Tucker-era Giants, punting draft picks willy-nilly. These are the Cain-Panik Giants, who can dig the idea that picks can still be valuable after the top-10. They haven't given away a first-round pick since the Benitez/Matheny/Vizquel draftpocalypse of 2005.
They aren't going to give the pick away for Kennedy, who hasn't had an above-average season since 2012, according to adjusted ERA. Who allowed 31 homers in just 168⅓ innings while pitching in Petco Park. Who just isn't very good these days, and we've tested him out in the big-ballpark scenario, just to make sure.
There's a scenario where the Giants throw up their hands after losing out on Greinke, Price, Chen, Gallardo, Samardzija, Maeda, Cueto, Lackey, Iwakuma, Kazmir, Leake, Fister, and even Bartolo freaking Colon, and look at their rotation without any additions at all. They can't swing a trade without giving up Matt Duffy or something else ridiculous.
In this scenario, they might prefer to give up a draft pick and an unfortunate amount of millions to Ian Kennedy.
Their job is to avoid that scenario. I'm optimistic that they will, which is why Kennedy is only third here.
2. Jeff Samardzija
I love this quote that Ken Rosenthal got about Samardzija:
Samardzija’s medical records are so clean, his arm looks like it is "right out of the womb," one executive told me in September.
So it's pink and covered in goo? That might help with his breaking stuff, at least.
But it's a common theme with executives, apparently:
As FA process moves along, Jeff Samardzija gaining increased notice because teams are confident about this:Less mileage than other starters.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 1, 2015
He wasn't used as a starter until he was 27, and he didn't crack 200 innings until he was 28. Considering that he'll get a four- or five-year deal from someone, that's important. He's still throwing just as hard. The stuff is just as crisp. It's like he's right out of the womb, as the old baseball expression goes.
My concern is that he just might not be that good. Like Kennedy, he'll cost a pick, but I'm not as worried about that. It's the overall ability to help a team. Here are the seasons of his career as a starter, ranked:
2014 - All-Star, 125 ERA+ split between two teams. Improved command and control.
2012 - Pretty okay. 107 ERA+ in 174⅔ innings, which is basically Jake Peavy in 2015. He frustrated, he impressed, and he generally helped the Cubs.
2013 - Not so hot, but the FIP indicates maybe he was unlucky? The 4.34 ERA and 89 ERA+ didn't impress, but the strikeout-to-walk ratio did.
2015 - Actively bad. Literally led the American League in earned runs and home runs allowed. Literally. Not figuratively. He will actually get more than $50 million, maybe closer to $100 million, after literally leading the AL in earned runs.
That 2014 season was a peach. His last season was a dud. There are extenuating circumstances, of course. U.S. Cellular is a lousy place to pitch, which helps explain why he led the AL in home runs allowed. And the defense of the 2015 White Sox was a debacle. Here are FanGraphs' defensive rankings. The Giants are right at the top. That's neat! Scroll to the bottom. Keep scrolling. Keeeeeeep scrolling. Past the Padres. Past the Red Sox. All the way at the bottom, you'll find the White Sox. That is not a small part of Samardzija's disappointing season.
He's a do-not-want player because the Giants can't mess around with maybes for that kind of money. I suppose if he costs the same as Mike Leake, I wouldn't mind the upside of Samardzija, but I think he's going to cost more. More than some of the other acceptable pitchers with a moderate amount of upside, at least.
Maybe I'm laying it on thick. I'll bet I could justify a Samardzija signing if it came with another pitcher or an improvement in left. But the idea of the Giants coming away from this offseason with a raffle ticket scares me. Plus, he looks like a genetic splice of Tim Lincecum and Randy Johnson, which freaks me out.
1. Johnny Cueto
Not sure if you've noticed, but when I've talked about the Giants going big on a pitcher, it's been Price or Greinke, Greinke or Price. Before the season started, there were supposed to be three of those ace-types. As late as July, there were supposed to be three. Now there are two, and a guy who's expecting to get paid like the other two. Cueto is my biggest fear.
This is the biggest boondoggle of the offseason. The Royals gave up a fantastic package for Cueto, but they were closing their eyes in his postseason starts (two great, one dreadful, one meh) because he was so bad for them after coming over from the Reds. He's been outstanding over his career -- really, one of the better pitchers in baseball since 2011 -- but after a shoulder problem in 2013 limited him to 60⅔ innings, he came back in 2014 and threw 243⅔ innings. That's a huge, freaky jump coming off a shoulder strain, so it was almost predictable that he started strong before fading down the stretch.
During that strong start last year, he got an MRI on his elbow. Everything looked fine. Maybe that makes you feel better, maybe it makes you feel worse. It makes me feel worse.
He might be fine, and by "fine", I mean he might follow the same pattern that we should expect expensive free agents to follow. He'll be good for two to three years, acceptable for a year or two after that, and a drag for the rest of the deal. Teams are banking on that.
I'm just not sure enough that the Giants will get those two to three years. And a deal for Cueto is it. That's the Giants' big splash for the next few years. After Barry Zito, the Giants were mostly done. They weren't much of a mystery team, save for the Rowand deal. They took their shot, and it was a dud.
That's my worry with Cueto. All pitchers get hurt, but I'm side-eying Cueto more than most. Though I'm sure I could talk myself into him by March, if needed. Unlike Kennedy. Which means Kennedy should probably my real #1 on this list, but we're nitpicking.
There are my do-not-wants. You might be cuckoo for Cueto, and I wouldn't blame you. He's been fantastic for years. My spidey-sense is tingling on this one.