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Projected salaries for the arbitration-eligible Giants

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For the fourth consecutive season, the Giants have six eligible players.

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

This time every year, MLB Trade Rumors puts out its remarkably accurate salary arbitration figures. For the fourth straight year, the Giants have six arbitration-eligible players. For what figures to be the third straight year, the economics of baseball are experience labor-busting changes. This means obvious arbitration and extension candidates don’t exist. I’m sure we’ll see the MLBTR team incorporate this into their arbitration model next offseason.

This means the Giants might not try to extend a guy to avoid arbitration and grab a year of his free agency or even tender a player who was useful this past season. The trend appears to be to non-tender players to take them out of the arbitration cycle and deflate their salaries with lower-dollar free agent offers or Spring Training invites with low guarantees. Basically, anything to knock out a bunch of that arbitration value.

Take, for example, these 10 non-tendered players from last year, with their rights-holding team and MLBTR projected arb figures in parenthesis:

  1. Jonathan Schoop, Brewers ($10.1 million)
  2. Avisail Garcia, White Sox ($8.0 million)
  3. Billy Hamilton, Reds ($5.9 million)
  4. Wilmer Flores, Mets ($4.7 million)
  5. Shelby Miller, Diamondbacks ($4.9 million)
  6. Yangervis Solartem Blue Jays ($5.9 million)
  7. Robbie Grossman, Twins ($4.0 million)
  8. Hunter Strickland, Giants ($2.5 million)
  9. Mike Fiers, A’s ($9.7 million)
  10. James McCann, Tigers ($3.5 million)

Here’s how this bunch fared:

  1. Jonathan Schoop, Twins ($7.5 million with incentives)
  2. Avisail Garcia, Rays ($3.5 million with up to $3.5 million in incentives)
  3. Billy Hamilton, Royals ($5.25 million with up to $1 million in incentives)
  4. Wilmer Flores, Diamondbacks ($3.75 million w/2020 option of $6 million or $500k buyout)
  5. Shelby Miller, Rangers ($2 million with up to $3 million in incentives)
  6. Yangervis Solarte, Giants (minor league deal with ST invite, $1.75 million w/incentives)
  7. Robbie Grossman, A’s ($2 million with incentives)
  8. Hunter Strickland, Mariners ($1.3 million)
  9. Mike Fiers, A’s (2-year, $14.1 million | 2019: $6 million 2020: $8.1 million)
  10. James McCann, White Sox ($2.5 million)

That’s a difference of $15.5 million in guarantees, with the two 2-year deals being outliers of a sort. Figure the Giants to partake in this trend, up to and including doing what the A’s did with Mike Fiers: non-tendering him to get out of the arbitration status and then signing him to an extension anyway. They haven’t had an arbitration hearing for 15 years, and the new front office seems setup to continue the trend.

Last year, the Giants non-tendered three (Chase d’Arnaud, Hunter Strickland, and Gorkys Hernandez) and offered contracts to three (Sam Dyson, Will Smith, Joe Panik). The arbitration projections for the signed trio:

  • Dyson -$5.4 million
  • Panik - $4.2 million
  • Smith - $4.1 million

Actual:

So, they saved about $675,000. Let’s take a look at this year’s group, but within the context of what we’ve seen the past few offseasons and the Giants having plenty of money and “cap space” to re-sign all these guys at these figures.

Wandy Peralta

Projected arbitration award
$800,000

Good deal, non-tender, or extend?
Good deal. Remember: Peralta had logged 152 major league innings before the Giants claimed him. He never quite managed to harness his fastball or slider and was only occasionally effective, but with 5 strikeouts and just 1 walk in 5.2 innings, the Giants might want to hang onto a potential replacement for Tony Watson. His fastball averaged 95.8 mph, 82nd percentile in baseball. A power reliever who’s 28 and projects to make less than a million dollars? Seems like an easy call.

Joey Rickard

Projected arbitration award
$1.1 million

Good deal, non-tender, or extend?
Non-tender. Rickard was the second Orioles outfield castoff to get some at bats with the Giants this year, and while he was nowhere near as impressive as Mike Yastrzemski he did okay against lefties and provided a little bit of speed in the outfield. Still, he’ll turn 29 in May and there’s nothing about his skill set that a data-driven team wouldn’t seek in a younger player who might be available via org depth trade, minor league free agency, or even major league free agency via the non-tender.

From a common sense analytics perspective, too, it doesn’t make sense to pay a backup player who had a 91 OPS+ in 54 plate appearances more than the league minimum.

Donovan Solano

Projected arbitration award
$1.2 million

Good deal, non-tender, or extend?
Good deal. Cringe at the 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio, nod enthusiastically at the .339/.382/.461 line against lefties (123 PA). His overall line was good, too. A 117 OPS+ in 228 plate appearances by the backup middle infielder can play. FanGraphs rated his defense at +2.1 Defensive Runs Above Average, too.

The middle infield talent pool in the organization is thin, and outside of Mauricio Dubon and Brandon Crawford, the in-house options are of the Abiatal Avelino/Ryan Howard/Levi Michael variety. Solano was on Zaidi’s radar as he took the job. He’ll be 32 next year, but unlike the other 30+ year old players on the roster, he demonstrated an ability to hit major league pitching in 2019. Doesn’t mean the Giants will offer him a contract, of course, but there are plenty of reasons why they should.

Alex Dickerson

Projected arbitration award
$1.2 million

Good deal, non-tender, or extend?
Dickerson was a lucid dream: Farhan Zaidi churned his way to a superstar as we had all hoped he would do when he took the job, but then we came crashing back to reality and the injury bug that has plagued Dickerson’s career ate into what was a really stellar rush out of the gate with his new team.

That arbitration figure based on what he did is more than fair, but this is Major League Baseball we’re dealing with. It’s not about fair, it’s about efficiency, and in that case, tendering a contract to an outfielder coming off an oblique strain and with an extensive injury history and who will turn 30 Memorial Day weekend doesn’t seem like an input that will please the algorithm.

Like Solano, there’s no harm in tendering him a contract, though. If Farhan Zaidi really is looking for power to fill out Oracle Park, then keeping one he already has the rights to and has the opportunity to run through his team’s offseason training and guidance program makes sense. If it doesn’t work out, they can always cut him. But he’s already shown the team a little bit of what he can do.

Kyle Barraclough

Projected arbitration award
$2.1 million

Good deal, non-tender, or extend?
The Giants’ bullpen situation for 2020 looks sketchy, even if they do somehow re-sign Will Smith and Tony Watson opts in. Reyes Moronta is out indefinitely. Who knows what they’ll get from Trevor Gott. Jandel Gustave’s numbers suggest a frightening regression to the mean over a full season. Tyler Rogers seems cool, though. He can stay.

Barraclough’s eight innings featured 10 strikeouts, but also nine walks. A 5.71 FIP against a 2.25 ERA. That’s, uh . . . alarming? But you can see why the Giants wanted him. Every bullpen needs high velocity. Just because of the low figure, somewhat intriguing upside, and desperate need for bullpen arms, this looks like a good deal. In this case, I think the Giants would tender him a contract, too, because the chances of him getting a major league deal offer from multiple teams seems realistic.

[12/2 update: The Giants released Kyle Barraclough on October 30th.]

Kevin Pillar

Projected arbitration award
$9.7 million

Good deal, non-tender, or extend?
Here’s the big kahuna. Let’s work backwards from this idea: who are the three best defensive center fielders in the Giants’ system?

Answer: Steven Duggar, Kevin Pillar, and Brandon Crawford when he has to race behind the bag at second base to grab a weird popup/flyball hybrid.

Theoretically, Heliot Ramos, Hunter Bishop, and Alexander Canarios are all center fielders, but they’re all varying levels of prospect and shouldn’t factor into this discussion. The reasons for the Giants keeping him one more year are the same as those they used to finally trade for him a week into the season: desperate need.

Beyond that, he was good! Oh sure, a 93 OPS+ and 1.4 bWAR aren’t actually that good, but he was an improvement over what was already on the roster when he joined the team. If they hang onto him for 2020 and at $9 million or so, it will be a good deal and he won’t be the worst player on the team.

Following that same line, would a two-year extension be a terrible idea? Over the past three seasons, Kevin Pillar has an 89 OPS+ and +13.5 Defensive Runs Above average (better than Mike Trout!). As a glove first player who doesn’t have Steven Duggar’s injury history, he would seem to have a lot of value for a team in desperate need of quality play in center on a regular basis.

There have been just 16 players since 2000 to play at least 60% of their games in center field during the age 31 and 32 seasons (the next two seasons for Pillar) and average an OPS+ of 85 or greater, but just five since 2010:

  • Adam Jones
  • Lorenzo Cain
  • Denard Span
  • Angel Pagan
  • Coco Crisp

All of these hitters averaged an OPS+ of 100 or greater in their 31-32 seasons, a feat Kevin Pillar has yet to accomplish.

History and the underlying analytics do not trend in Pillar’s favor. And this isn’t just about on base percentage (though it’s not good). His average exit velocity on balls in play (86 mph) was just 10th percentile in baseball, and his 30.7% hard hit rate was just 14th percentile. The quality of contact and overall ability to get on base suggested a career-worst wOBA of .295. As it stands, his actual .301 wOBA (the league average is .322) was just the second-worst performance by him in the Statcast era (since 2015).

So, a 2-year deal would appear to be out of line. Heck, a contract tender would seem to be as well. And like Barraclough, a non-tender in hopes of re-signing him to something less than what he would get might just cause him to sign with another team.

They could also offer him a deal that’s less than the projected figure but still a good raise above his 2019 salary of $5.9 million. The midpoint between his 2019 salary and projected 2020 salary is $7.8 million. Somewhere in that $7.5-$8.5 million range might be the magic number that satisfies both sides of the negotiation.

We know the Giants won’t sign a premium free agent this offseason (and, possibly, ever again) but there are no good free agent center fielders out there anyway. Might as well keep the decent one you have.