Maybe you were ready to move on from Joe Panik, but I wasn’t, and apparently, neither were the Giants. Tonight was the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Giants had five such players: Panik, Will Smith, Sam Dyson, Gorkys Hernandez, and Hunter Strickland. The headline gives it all away, so what does it mean?
Farhan Zaidi has made some minor league free agent moves already (follow giantsprospects on Twitter to get the latest news), but the non-tender deadline was the first public declaration of the team’s direction. If you thought he was just going to be an algorithm-driven hatchet man, then you might’ve been disappointed by the results. He didn’t purge more of the roster nor did he trade a valuable pitcher in Will Smith.
Instead, what we got was logical, deliberate action. Gorkys Hernandez had himself a heck of a first half (.778 OPS) in 283 plate appearances) and then a second half that was worse than Hunter Pence’s (.506 OPS vs. .658 OPS). Hunter Strickland’s fastball velocity dropped quite a bit following his return from the disabled list after getting mad at a door he must’ve seen Lewis Brinson’s face in. Despite Gorkys’ 15 home runs and Strickland’s 14 saves and their relatively minor salary figures, both were expendable because their rosters spots could easily go to better players.
Gorkys Hernandez was a helluva story. Do you remember the McDeep Dive series? He has a great story. He might actually be baseball’s Forrest Gump. But he’s also a 31-year old 4th outfielder coming off a career year and who posted an 82 OPS+ in 856 plate appearances across three seasons. If Zaidi can’t replace that performance for the minimum and with a greater upside player, then reports of his skills have been greatly exaggerated. It shouldn’t be that hard, though... a number of interesting players hit free agency after being non-tendered today. To wit:
His .367 OBP (465 PA) would’ve been the highest on the 2018 Giants. https://t.co/chsy2jThEK— McCovey Chronicles (@McCoveyChron) November 30, 2018
Meanwhile, Hunter Strickland’s best days as a Giant are far behind him, and after a few public blowups, moving on was the rational call to make. Do the Giants suddenly have a huge hole in the bullpen? Probably not. A combination of Ray Black and Reyes Moronta could easily pick up the slack — as they did for a good stretch in 2018 — and the Giants have been pretty good at finding hidden bullpen gems in most offseasons. Also, his departure clears the brush for Bryce Harper... should the Giants decide to go down that path (oh, they won’t, but I can’t mention Strickland and not mention Harper).
For a waiver claim, though, Strickland was great. A 138 OPS+ in 226 regular season innings with an 8.4 strikeouts per 9 innings rate across five seasons is great! He, uh, also got lit up in the 2014 postseason, embarrassed himself three years later because of it, and helped end Michael Morse’s career — but still! Tremendous surplus value off the waiver wire.
The $4.1 million saved by the Giants (projection-wise) got rolled right into a 1-year, $3.85 million contract with the mercurial Joe Panik. Look, I’m glad he’s back. He’s Joe Panik, the last of the homegrown talent from a magical run and I wasn’t emotionally ready to see him go — at least, not as a non-tender. He deserved better and he got it.
He still had a 91% contact rate in 2018, even if all his other numbers were career worsts. He hasn’t been the same since returning from his back injury and maybe he doesn’t have another 2014 or even 2017 season in him, but it makes perfect sense for the Giants to take the gamble. The other second base option to hit the market today thanks to being non-tendered — Jonathan Schoop — will be 27 on Opening Day and he, like the Phillies Caesar Hernandez, whom they’re open to trading, will command double Joe Panik’s salary.
Sam Dyson signed a 1-year, $5 million deal and now the Giants have another interesting relief pitcher to dangle for competing teams at the trade deadline... once again. Go look at Sam Dyson’s 2018 season and realize how good it really was. In 70.1 innings, he had a 1.08 WHIP and 3.47 FIP. Compare that to the Angels’ closer, Blake Parker, whom they non-tendered tonight: 66.1 innings, 1.236 WHIP, 4.47 FIP.
One of the most immediate changes we’ll see with a Farhan Zaidi-led front office is a lack of shyness when it comes to dealing productive players to get back younger, upside players when it’s clear the team isn’t in a position to contend. The Giants have kept their options open and in the meantime, if Dyson continues to put up solid numbers, they’ll maintain their solid bullpen, which Zaidi identified as one of the team’s strengths in his opening press conference.
Will Smith was tendered a contract but no deal was made. All this means is that the Giants retain control of his rights until the financial terms of a contract can be settled, either through team-to-agent negotiation or via an actual arbitration hearing. Smith is projected to earn $4.1 million through arbitration.
With Panik and Dyson’s deals and Bumgarner’s option picked up, the Giants now have 2019 commitments totaling $146.178 million (per Cot’s MLB Contracts) and are $49.957 million away from the Definitely Not A Salary Cap Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $206 million. Tonight’s moves didn’t make the team better, but they didn’t make it worse, either.