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What do recent moves suggest about the team’s short term process?

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Farhan Zaidi won’t tell us his plans for the franchise, but what can we glean from his recent moves?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Farhan Zaidi was very open in his introductory press conference about how he’s not going to divulge the team’s plans for remaking itself.

This veil of mystery isn’t a new thing for the Giants or even for most franchises — Brian Sabean was opaque about his thought process when it came to acquisitions until well after the fact. He won three world titles. Bobby Evans was very open about his plans and in doing so lit the organization on fire. Farhan Zaidi has a track record of success stretching back to Oakland, with a litany of head-scratching yet bold moves that paid off handsomely.

So, we have a tiny bit of an idea as to how Farhan might proceed before he really even rolls up his sleeves and does the heavy lifting of a post-Bumgarner and post-Buster world. We had years upon years of Brian Sabean transactions to basically script the last 10 years of moves or at the very least not be too surprised. Virtually everything Farhan Zaidi figures to do will be surprising just because it will necessarily go against the team’s longstanding status quo.

Giants’ payroll is very “top heavy” and there’s no real “depth” in the system. We’re not just talking warm bodies who can play major league average baseball, we’re also talking talented young players who perform above the league average (if even only slightly) and earn far less than average. You can’t trade your way out of bad contracts when the 29 other teams think about roster management and cost efficiency in the exact same way that you do, so Farhan Zaidi has to work with what he’s got.

Yangervis Solarte and all the non-roster invitees signal that the Giants are trying not to spend much on major league average production. Their additional outfield adds of Cameron Maybin and Craig Gentry signal the same idea: front offices are betting on their intelligence and analytical scouting to grab that first win above replacement for free. Or, you know, free as in “major league minimum” or $2 million or less.

There’s a saying in project management that goes, “You can have only two out of three: cheap, good, or fast.” You can pay someone to making something good and make it fast, but it won’t come cheap. You can make good things cheaply, but it won’t come out fast. You can make things fast for cheap but they won’t be good. The baseball smarties replaced good with control. Control is important because it reduces uncertainty. Uncertainty is just another word for risk. Financial management is mainly risk management, and by viewing baseball players as just another set of numbers, that’s really all this is. Good doesn’t factor into the equation because “good” is based on the idea that “well, all players in professional baseball are good to some degree and our front office is smart enough to figure out how best to use those talents”. Good is a given.

Therefore, the three tenets of player acquisition in the 21st century are:

  • young
  • cheap
  • controllable

So, how does 32-year old Cameron Maybin and 35-year old Craig Gentry fit into this? Are Cameron Maybin and Craig Gentry good? You might not think so given their track records, but a slightly closer look tells us just how the Giants see their potential utility: as solid right-handed platoon mates with Steven Duggar. They hit left-handed pitchers pretty okay. Craig Gentry, in particular, is very platoony (.268 / .343 / .368 against LHP in his 10-year career), but he just turned 35 and injuries have limited him to 279 games over the past five seasons.

In Maybin’s case, he has a reverse platoon split (.702 OPS vs RHP, .660 vs LHP), and Farhan Zaidi knows this, so why am I trying to make this point? Let’s ignore the entirety of Maybin’s career and just focus on what he did last year (384 PA with Miami and Seattle) — specifically, how he did in terms of on base percentage, walk rate, and strikeout rate. In 2018, the league averages for right handed batters versus left-handed pitchers were .323 OBP / 9% walk rate and 21.9% strikeout rate. Maybin was .321, 9.5%, and 14.3%. Basically league average.

Combine a league average Maybin and/or healthy Gentry and/or Drew Ferguson with a full season of Steven Duggar, and the Giants might have a 2-win player for the cost of about $2.5 million, give or take. To put that in perspective: last year’s top 5 hitters by fWAR were:

  1. Brandon Belt (2.1)
  2. Buster Posey (2.0)
  3. Brandon Crawford (1.9)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (1.9)
  5. Nick Hundley (0.8)

Total fWAR: 8.7

Total Cost: $69.328 million, or about $7.96 million a win. The average major league salary is about $4.5 million and average major league player is worth about 2-WAR, so you see how the Giants’ current setup is unsustainable, in addition to expecting those first three players to improve very much over the next couple of years given their ages and injury history.

But, again... 32 and 35 in 2019. They’re not young or controllable, which means that the Giants’ recent signings TOTALLY DISPROVE MY POINT ABOUT TENETS, right? Well, out of all the things that a financial planner like a baseball GM would absolutely have to have if he could only have one of the three tenets, you’d say it would have to be “cheap”. At the end of the day, baseball is a money-making business, and if you’re not good at making money, then your value as a President of Baseball Operations is diminished.

Because they’re so top heavy, the Giants can’t really do anything to get out from under their 71-75-win projection (depending on the system you check). Even adding Bryce Harper (lol) won’t improve that much. The Giants are what they are until Farhan Zaidi can reformat their development system. In the meantime, he’s figuring that since he can’t bust them out of that projection, he might as well let it play out on the cheap.