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Thinking through why the Giants didn’t sign Adam Jones

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The Dbacks are rebuilding too, but why did they land the outfielder the Giants kinda-sorted needed and even wanted?

Houston Astros v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Former Baltimore Oriole and All-Star centerfielder Adam Jones agreed to a 1-year $3 million deal (and another $2 million in incentives) with the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier today. After that report, Buster Olney mentioned:

In other words, the Giants could’ve had him if they really wanted him.

Last week, Farhan Zaidi mentioned that the team was on the lookout for a right-handed outfielder. Adam Jones (who turned 33 in August) would seem to fit the bill on a 1-year deal, but he clearly wasn’t someone the Giants had on their radar at that point last week because an unsigned player this late into Spring Training was unlikely to provide much value once the season started.

That’s a fair enough point, but it seems clear that the reason why a lot of useful players remain unsigned at this point in the offseason is because teams are low-balling them. The Diamondbacks gave away Paul Goldschmidt and let Patrick Corbin walk and were reported to be open to moving Zack Greinke, so it’s clear they’re rebuilding, too. We know that Arizona taxes are better than California’s, so that’s probably why Jones went with their similar bid to what the Giants are rumored to have offered, but why were the Giants so unwilling to go beyond $2-$3 million?

This isn’t going to be some exploration of Farhan Zaidi’s glorious Machiavellian play here. The Giants need a right-handed outfielder, they’re well under the salary cap (lol Players Union), and adding Jones for, say, $4-$5 million wouldn’t have cost them anything in terms of prospects or signing bonus money and if they had just made that deal earlier, then they could’ve avoided the pitfalls of adding a free agent late in Spring Training.

Why is Farhan Zaidi willing to give up trade pieces when the same type of player could’ve been added (relatively) on the cheap without losing an players? Here are some possibilities:

The Giants have their own internal price for a “win”

Adam Jones is projected to be about a 1-win player this season. If you read Shayna Rubin’s article in The Athletic this morning (subscription required) about the value of having veterans in the clubhouse, then that 1 win might also include some fringe benefits like a better clubhouse and maybe a few more kids have a cool interaction with a baseball player during batting practice. In the FanGraphs / keyboard jockey view of baseball analytics, the cost of a “win” is anywhere from $7-$8 million.

It’s clear that teams have worked hard the past couple of offseasons to drive down that perceived cost and it seems that in just a few short months, Farhan Zaidi has similarly tried to move the Giants’ “Overton window” on player spending. I won’t try to ascribe nefarious purposes to the behavior, because I don’t know the man personally and we simply don’t have a generation of public comments and transactions like we did with Brian Sabean & Co. to make “educated” guesses, so I’ll just say that it makes sense to try to force a team that has the bulk of its payroll committed to only a handful of 2-4 win players to be as efficient as possible in every transaction until the big salaries start coming off the books.

The Giants could’ve probably offered $5-$6 million and had the player and saved some of their trade chips for something bigger down the road — or still added the player for $5-$6 million and still made a trade for another outfielder and improved that way. But their discipline seems to be entirely tied up in cost. The Giants, presumably, value a 1-win player in the neighborhood of $2-$3 million. That’s just one possibility.

Adam Jones is not good

Let’s start with this: playing the outfield at AT&T Park is difficult. In fact, all the outfields in the NL West have some above average degree of difficulty to them. Even on a corner, Jones doesn’t project to be great.

If you look at something like Statcast’s outs above average —

Outs Above Average (OAA) is the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them. For example, a fielder who catches a 25% Catch Probability play gets +.75; one who fails to make the play gets -.25.

— Jones rated as the third worst defender in all of Major League Baseball last year. Here were the 11 worst:

Jones apparently made the switch from center field to right field midway through last season, so there’s an argument to be made that with a full offseason of prep and full Spring Training he could be just fine out there. I might agree, but consider the second part of the “Adam Jones is not good argument” — his offense can’t account for his defense. Here are the ages, HR totals, and OPSeseseseses of this top 11:

11. Nomar Mazara - age: 23, HR: 20, OPS: .753
10. Nick Williams - age: 24, HR: 17, OPS: .749
9. Kyle Schwarber - age: 25, HR: 26, OPS: 823
8. Charlie Blackmon - age: 31, HR: 29, OPS: 860
7. Andrew McCutchen - age: 31, HR: 20, OPS: 792
6. Derek Dietrich - age: 28, HR: 16, OPS: 751
5. Trey Mancini - age: 26, HR: 24, OPS: .715
4. Bryce Harper - age: 25, HR: 34, OPS: .889
3. Adam Jones - age: 32, HR: 15, OPS: 732
2. Rhys Hoskins - age: 25, HR: 34, OPS: .850
1. Nicholas Castellanos - age: 26, HR: 23, OPS: .854

As you can see, he was just slightly better on offense than his Orioles teammate, Trey Mancini, and they both played for an historically awful team, but Jones is six years older than Mancini and if you look at one last Statcast metric — sprint speed (running the bases) — the age difference rears its ugly head.

Reminder:

Sprint Speed is Statcast’s foot speed metric, defined as “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window” on individual plays. [...]

The Major League average on a “competitive” play is 27 ft/sec, and the competitive range is roughly from 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite). A Bolt is any run above 30ft/sec. A player must have at least 10 competitive runs to qualify for this leaderboard.

Mancini was league average (27 ft/sec, good for 309th in MLB), while Jones was beneath him at 340th place, and below league average with a 26.7 ft/sec average for the season.

They have plenty of “good human” veteran players on the roster

Adam Jones has been a standout member of the Baltimore community in his time with the Orioles and he will no doubt make a gruff team like the Diamondbacks seem a little more friendly, but the Giants have plenty of those guys — at least, they should think that they do.

Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Bruce Bochy are all friendly ties to the team’s past successes and are still worth watching on a nightly basis. Adding Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria into the mix last season didn’t do much to change the public’s perception of the team in the face of all the losing and, ultimately, we didn’t hear about or read too many stories about new guys revitalizing a losing clubhouse.

The Giants are saving their money for some reason

Maybe they’re trying to maintain payroll flexibility to engage in some sort of bad contract swap — Jeff Samardzija has allowed just one run in 8.1 Spring Training innings! — or maybe after multiple years of going over the luxury threshold and spending to just beneath it last season, the team’s many faceless investors want to get back to the 10%+ returns on their investment, especially now that the stadium debt service has ended and investors are enjoying the lowest tax rates, regulations, and scrutiny in several generations.

We’ll find out soon enough if Farhan’s plan to wait out the market to land a 1.5-2 win outfielder via trade without giving up very much works, In the meantime, it’s not surprising the Giants didn’t go to a higher number to land a league average player, but there’s still the possibility that the decision against signing him winds up being a headscratcher.