clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Buy or sell: arbitration figures for the *13* eligible Giants

The Giants are rational actors in the marketplace. How will that influence their decision-making in arbitration?

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Brandon Vallance/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants have thirteen players eligible for salary arbitration this winter ahead of what figures to be a “really active” offseason. That could mean the team will have a lot of tough choices to make ahead of managing payroll for bigger moves down the line or active just means “we’re signing ten of thirteen eligible players — signing ten players in any offseason is really active!”

MLB Trade Rumors has a remarkable track record when it comes to projecting arbitration awards and you can read all about how they created their model here. They put out their latest predictions earlier today. In terms of the Giants, though, let’s look at how the projections from last year fared:

  • Dominic Leone (5.168) – $1.5MM | ACTUAL: $2.25MM
  • Curt Casali (5.151) – $2.0MM | ACTUAL: $2.6MM
  • Darin Ruf (4.138) – $2.6MM | ACTUAL: $3MM + $3MM IN 2023 + $3.5MM 2024 TEAM OPT
  • Jarlin Garcia (4.114) – $1.8MM. | ACTUAL: $1.725MM
  • John Brebbia (4.078) – $1.0MM. | ACTUAL: $837,500
  • Austin Slater (3.147) – $2.0MM. | ACTUAL: $1.85MM
  • Mike Yastrzemski (2.128) – $3.1MM | ACTUAL: $3.7MM

That’s $14 million projected versus $15.963 million actually spent, discounting the additional years on Ruf’s deal. I’d say that’s close enough to get into going through the numbers this year and seeing if each player is a Buy or Sell, and it’s an activity worth doing not only because it satisfies the site’s need for content, but also because MLBTR projects a $33.3 million total cost for the thirteen eligible players this year. That’s one (1) Aaron Judge!

Obviously, the Giants could afford to bring back all these players if they wanted and still sign big name free agents and make big trades because they are a massively profitable baseball and real estate enterprise, but for various reasons, sound or otherwise, we know they won’t bring back all these players, so, let’s start the speculation there.

Zack Littell

Projected arbitration award

Buy or Sell
Sell. Are the Giants buying Zack Littell at $900,000 or selling him for $900,000? Look, it’d be easy for me to just post The Incident, and so I will...

... but part of Littell’s utility was his fungibility. He had a major league option available, meaning any downgrade in his performance gave the team the chance to take him off the roster for a time and see if they could upgrade his spot. Last year, he had a 9.2 K/9 and an ERA+ of 142 in his age-25 season. Any potential struggles this year were definitely worth the team riding out just to see if he could get it together...

But here is the part of the story where I remind the reader that relief pitchers are the most fungible baseball players on the entire planet. They are the worst players on every baseball roster, as evidenced by the fact that position players will often come in and do their job. Littell had a bad year (7.9 K/9, 4.65 FIP, 80 ERA+) and a public dustup with his manager. There is a part of me that thinks the Giants are clever enough to believe this can all be sorted out, that they alone know his value and can maximize it, and $900,000 or thereabouts is virtually table stakes (the MLB minimum in 2023 will be $720,000), but then I remember he won’t have an option next year.

Jarlín García

Projected arbitration award
$2.4 million

Buy or Sell
Sell. This second look at Garcia’s final season numbers reveals a reliever who was not terrible. I was ready to anoint him my favorite reliever after his May line: (5 baserunners in 39 plate appearances), but his entire season really was a rollercoaster. Here is his OPS against by month:

MAY - .236
JUNE - .934
JULY - .981
AUGUST - .600
SEPT/OCT - .855

That final month is glaring: 11 earned runs in 14.1 IP. Overall, a 108 ERA+, though.

It’s tough to know just how much of the Giants’ relief flop is tied to their thoroughly terrible defense this year, but batting average on balls in play does suggest it hurt him some. In his two prior years with the Giants, totaling 87 IP, his BAbip was .228. This season? .273.

He really is a lefty specialist, too, so he doesn’t give the Giants much versatility, not just in their bullpen game situations but also in late-game scenarios. And the late-season addition of Scott Alexander would seem to have reduced their need for him.

LaMonte Wade, Jr.

Projected arbitration award
$1.4 million

Sell. Will this post be my last chance to use this gif?

Wade seems like the perfect face for the Giants’ process. They found him, dusted him off, and got a nice season out of him. Injury ate into his impact this year and now the Giants find themselves in a situation where they’re looking to upgrade every spot on the roster.

The churn doesn’t just happen in-season, and the idea of turning over 50+% of the 40-man roster year over year seems more like a certainty than a pipe dream. That means an optionless player coming off a bad year following his only good year, pushing 30 with injury issues ought to be early on the cut list.

The Giants already have first base covered with Wilmer Flores and J.D. Davis and Brandon Belt if they want to bring him back on a lower 1-year deal to see if the knee is in shape. A healthy-ish Belt would still be more valuable than a healthy Wade on account of the Giants having a better sense of what they’d be getting at the plate. Improving their outfield defense would seem to preclude him from being a roster priority, too.

You can always hold in the back of your mind that the Giants have something on these players that we just don’t consider. Like, maybe Wade’s barrel rates or launch angles combined with swing decisions were elite over the final 40 games or something, the results just didn’t back it up; and, this secret figure will be the thing that gets them to hold onto the player, but by every obvious measure, LaMonte Wade Jr. seems destined for a non-tender.

Jharel Cotton

Projected arbitration award
$1.1 million

Sell. The Giants needed innings at the end of the season and Zaidi still saw flashes of what made him a good prospect in the Dodgers’ system during his tenure.

Jakob Junis

Projected arbitration award
$3.3 million

Sell. For a moment, I considered the possibility that the Giants could just get Jakob Junisean performance from a Shelby Miller-Jharel Cotton combo before recognizing that Cotton (and probably Miller) were just there to backstop the pitching staff, which had run out of arms by season’s end.

Even now, part of Junis’s utility this year, beyond his willingness to be flexible with his role (sometimes starter, sometimes follower), was that major league option, something he won’t have next season; so, it doesn’t seem like a slam dunk that they’ll retain him.

A 3.65 FIP certainly got the job done, and he lowered his walk and home run rates, too. But all told, he had just three scoreless appearances out of 23 and in six of them he allowed 4+ runs. A 20.5% strikeout rate was a contributing factor to a .318 BAbip, and if the Giants are serious about improving their roster, finding more strikeout pitchers would be helpful, even though they’ve had great success with free agent contact pictures like DeSclafani, Wood, and Cobb. Junis didn’t wind up giving them quite that level of performance (and to be clear, I’m absolutely referring to the non-Dodger parts of DeSclafani’s 2021), and with Rodon almost certainly gone and prospect Kyle Harrison likely not arriving until 40+ games into the season, they’ll need a de facto bat-misser to start the year. But I could be wrong!

Tyler Rogers

Projected arbitration award
$1.8 million

Buy. The Giants seem committed to bringing back Rogers, who followed up a stellar 2021 (3.28 FIP, 186 ERA+) with a solid 2022 (3.44 FIP, 113 ERA+). There doesn’t seem to be much controversy here, especially if he’s not penciled in as a setup guy slash sometimes closer like he was last year. Picking his late leverage spots as a ROOGY or in the 6th-7th seems to be the sweet spot, where any occasional hiccups wouldn’t necessarily bury the Giants and he’d be more likely to help than hurt them.

A side issue, perhaps unrelated to the whole arbitration process (unless the Giants have altered their internal decision-making), is that the new rule changes limiting throw-overs could make him easier to steal off of. That is not a quick delivery.

Scott Alexander

Projected arbitration award
$1.1 million

Buy. Dodger castoff picked up and dusted off to make a strong impression? Where have we... seen... that... before???? According to Statcast, his sinker had a -8 run value, which is remarkable because he threw it just 154 times over just 17.1 IP this season (coming back from injury). Those -8 runs put his sinker as the 16th-best in baseball by that measure.

A quick primer on run value:

The idea is that every base-out situation has a run potential. And after the event, the new base-out provides a new run potential. The CHANGE in those run potential is what we attribute to the event. A strikeout with bases empty and 0 outs for example turns the run expectancy from .481 runs to .254 runs. And so, the change in run expectancy, or the run value, of the strikeout is -0.227 runs. If the bases are loaded with one out, a strikeout has a run impact of a whopping -0.789 runs. So, the impact of the event is highly dependent on the circumstances.

And if you convolute the idea a bit more to Run Value per 100 pitches (RV/100), Alexander’s sinker rises higher to the 6th-best sinker in baseball (minimum just 10 PA) with a -4.9 runs.

Those ahead of that pitch:

Steven Brault - CHC (-6.4, 0.2)
Drew Carlton - DET (-6.4)
Luis Castillo - DET (-6.1)
Drew Rasmussen - TB (-5.4)
Matthew Boyd - SEA (-5.0)

Now, this list is completely misleading. These five guys together combined for 239 sinkers thrown. Alexander threw his 154 times. We’re dealing in very small samples. So, just to try to compare, Alexander’s 154 equaled 72% of his pitches thrown. If I sort by percentages, it makes the impact of those -8 runs (or -4.9 RV/100) a little more clear (I added player bWAR for a bit more context, too):

I should’ve just said, “Former Dodger. 1.1 bWAR in 17.1 IP.”

John Brebbia

Projected arbitration award
$1.9 million

Buy. The Giants used him as an opener 11 times and then used him 65 more times to relieve all over the place and all he did was deliver... until he got tired. But 24 months or so out from Tommy John surgery, he certainly regained his pre-TJ form, posting a 1.6 bWAR in 68 innings, his highest total since 72.2 IP with the Cardinals in 2019 (0.7 bWAR). They will absolutely bring back the tired-looking P.E. teacher who did nothing less than everything they asked of him.

Mike Yastrzemski

Projected arbitration award
$5.7 million

Buy... but... should they? There’s no question that Yastrzemski had more value than Joc Pederson in 2022 because he could actually field his position at an above average level. He also slugged under .400, though and had a sub-.700 OPS. As much value as Joc in 2022? He turned 32 in August.

He did end the season on a roll — .950 OPS in final 55 PA — and on the year, you could squint and see a serviceable player just against righties (.737 OPS vs. RHP, .575 OPS vs. LHP). A straight platoon with the next arb guy, paired with an upgrade or two elsewhere in the outfield could still make sense.

Austin Slater

Projected arbitration award
$1.9 million

Buy. He’s done nothing but thrive since the Zaidi Era began, and even though he wasn’t quite as automatic against left-handed pitching (.824 OPS) as he was last year (.894), he is just simply that good against the opposite hand. He has a little speed and the potential to be helped a great deal in that regard with the new limited throw-over by pitchers.

J.D. Davis

Projected arbitration award
$3.8 million

Buy. He came over in what may wind up being one of the greatest trades in San Francisco history, if either of the two prospects who came with him pan out. As it stands, Davis might be a middle of the order bat next year. By also offering him a contract, they retain his rights and could always use him in trade.

Remember: J.D. Davis ended the year with the third-highest hard hit rate in baseball (56.1%) behind Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez. Filter that measure a bit, given Davis’s small sample size compared to those two (just 198 batted ball events to their 400 and 371, respectively), and he’s still one of the ten-best power hitters in baseball, 32 barreled balls in 198 batted ball events (16.2%). That puts him just ahead of Austin Riley and 0.6% behind Shohei Ohtani.

Limited sample? Sure. But the power is there. The Giants will hold onto him and have a use for him.

Thairo Estrada

Projected arbitration award
$2.4 million

Buy. Whether or not he remains the starting second baseman will be the question as the offseason goes on. He could even, theoretically, be a trade piece if things get weird. He had nice utility this year and his speed, already such a tremendous asset, will make him valuable in the theoretically higher stolen base environment.

Logan Webb

Projected arbitration award
$4.8 million

Buy. The ace of the staff. That’d be a bargain number, too.

I have low confidence in my projection about who the Giants will keep or dump — especially when I factor in the need to make space on the 40-man ahead of the Rule 5 draft — but let’s say that this list winds up being it: coupled with MLBTR’s salary projections, that’s $23.4 million. Add in that +$2 million difference in last year’s MLBTR projection versus reality and let’s round up this year’s potential arbitration commitment to $25.5 million. Combine with all their other salaried commitments (including Longoria’s $5 million buyout), throw in that $16.5 million player benefits amount that gets tacked onto every team’s payroll and the Giants have $105.5 million on the books before free agency really gets going.

There’s enough talent on this list that $100 million worth of free agents could combine to make them a much better team in 2023.