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The Giants might have gotten lucky by missing out on James Shields

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Sour grapes can make some sweet whine, alright, but there are advantages to not paying a 33-year-old pitcher $20 million for each of the next four seasons.

Also, he's Aaron Rowand's cousin. Don't forget that part.
Also, he's Aaron Rowand's cousin. Don't forget that part.
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants' offseason so far:

Shhhhh. Don't wake them. They seem so comfortable.

Of course, that's not really fair. The Giants have been active, just in a sleepy kind of way:

Casey McGehee (~ $5 million)
Norichika Aoki ($4.7 million)
Jake Peavy ($9 million)
Ryan Vogelsong ($4 million)
Sergio Romo ($6 million)

Total: $28.7 million.

Romo and Peavy get raises next year, but that's the total for this year. They lost Pablo Sandoval ($8.25 million) and Michael Morse ($6 million), so before you factor in the raises for players like Brandons Crawford and Belt, the Giants already bumped their payroll by about $14 million. If you're looking for where the World Series bonus dollars went, that's a good place to start.

The Giants spread their money around quietly this offseason, and they did it in the most boring fashion possible. If the Giants signed Edinson Volquez, Gavin Floyd, and Pat Neshek instead of Peavy, Vogelsong, and Romo, the offseason would seem more interesting, but I don't know if the team would be better. Instead, it's easy to get disgruntled because there's no thrill of the unknown. Three of the free agents helped the Giants win the World Series, but they haven't done that in months. What have they done for us lately?

This comes up now because the combination of Peavy and Vogelsong adds up to about one James Shields. The Giants probably would have had to pay a little more to get him away from his hometown, but they're going to pay two starting pitchers -- one of whom might not even be in the rotation -- about the same as Shields. They went for quantity, not quality.

At first glance, this would seem like the Vladimir Guerrero Theorem, which posits:

If we had signed Guerrero or [Gary] Sheffield, we would have been without [Jim] Brower, [Scott] Eyre, [Matt] Herges, [Dustin] Hermanson, [Brett] Tomko, [A.J.] Pierzynski, [Pedro] Feliz, [J.T.] Snow, [Jeffrey] Hammonds, [Dustan] Mohr and [Michael] Tucker--obviously not being able to field a competitive team, especially from an experience standpoint, given our level of spending.

Combined WAR for those 11 Giants players in 2004: 10.9.
Vladimir Guerrero's WAR in 2004: 5.6.

See, twice as valuable! Just don't think about the 10 other roster spots that could have made up the difference. With the benefit of hindsight, the Giants probably should have gone for the one player instead of the value package. That was the opinion back then with the benefit of foresight, too. One really good player is always better than 11 meh-to-okay ones, so it almost looks like the Giants got burned by the Vladimir Guerrero Theorem again.

Except there's an interesting wrinkle in the Shields news. According to Jeff Passan, the Giants were interested in James Shields, alright, and they were reportedly willing to pay more than the Padres did:

A simple move – lowering the expectations on the deal to four years – would have sparked the market. The San Francisco Giants originally were interested at around $80 million over four years.

This matches up with what Buster Olney heard earlier:

They weren't being cheap. They just didn't want to wait around. So you have three scenarios.

Scenario #1 has the Giants doing exactly what they did, spreading the wealth, acquiring rotation depth, and bringing back players we're mostly familiar with. The rotation is Bumgarner/Cain/Hudson/Peavy/Vogelsong, with Lincecum and Petit in a glass case. You live in Scenario #1. We all do. It's cold in Scenario #1, and it smells a little weird, too. Not bad, just ... off. Can't place it. We should probably leave the windows in Scenario #1 open for a bit, see if it gets better.

Scenario #2 has the Giants going after Shields hyper-aggressively and ignoring other pitchers. They stick to their valuation and never give up. Pretend the Giants get him for around $18 million or $20 million per year in this scenario. The rotation is now Bumgarner/Shields/Cain/Hudson/Lincecum.

Scenario #3 has the Giants holding out for Shields, having him jerk them around for a bit, and the Padres signing him anyway. The Giants are sent scrambling back to the free agent market. Peavy's gone, as is Vogelsong. The best pitcher on the market is Chris Young. Possibly Kevin Correia. The rotation is Bumgarner/Cain/Hudson/Lincecum/Petit, with a strong chance of Joe Saunders. The Giants are probably looking at ways to trade Andrew Susac for a pitcher in this scenario.

The question, then, is this: Is the rotation in Scenario #2 worth the risk of Scenario #3?  A rotation with Shields in it sure seems less dicey, but the risk of Scenario #3 seems daunting. There's no safety net for Lincecum in that one, for example, and you know I'm not kidding about Joe Saunders.

We'll ask the computers, then.

Scenario #1 combined 2015 WAR projection, via Steamer: 7.0
Scenario #2 projection: 8.4
Scenario #3 projection: 6.8

(Steamer projects Petit as a reliever and gives him a half-win, so I rounded that up to a full win in the last one to account for the extra innings.)

It turns out that #3, considering it was the cheapest scenario, might have been the best play of all. The Giants would have had money to ... well, there's not much to do at this point. Get Hector Olivera, maybe? But they would have had more money and received similar projected production. The #2 scenario costs about $80 million and a draft pick, and the projected gains aren't that great. You can adjust upward if you think (like I do) that Steamer is underrating Shields, but I'm not sure how many extra wins he's really going to be worth. Unless the Giants desperately need that win at the end of the season -- possible -- the #2 scenario is almost certainly the worst one.

The world the Giants live in isn't so bad, then. They get to keep the draft pick. Perhaps as important, they have the depth to survive an injury or two, which wouldn't have been the case in either of the alternate realities. I was annoyed this morning, but I think I've calmed down. Shields isn't Jon Lester, and unless the Giants miss the postseason by a win or two, he probably wasn't the difference in the 2015 season, and now the team has free agent options for next year.

They can finish second for all kinds of free agents next year. At the risk of seeming sour-grapey, it might be a good thing that the Shields market was so slow to develop and less active than the Giants anticipated.