The San Francisco Giants sure do have some big decisions to make this offseason about the future of the franchise. While they’re unlikely to alter their internal systems and processes very much, they’ve signalled an interest in changing up the personnel inputs they punch into their models. Beyond the manager search, we’ve got arbitration cases to consider.
Before we speculate, let’s talk about MLB Trade Rumors’ remarkable track record when it comes to projecting arbitration awards. 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:
- Jarlin Garcia (5.114) – $2.4MM | ACTUAL: NON-TENDERED
- Scott Alexander (5.080) – $1.1MM | ACTUAL: $1.15MM
- John Brebbia (5.078) – $1.9MM | ACTUAL: $2.3MM
- Jakob Junis (5.002) – $3.3MM | ACTUAL: $2.8MM
- Austin Slater (4.147) – $2.7MM | ACTUAL: $3.2MM
- J.D. Davis (4.137) – $3.8MM | ACTUAL: $4.21MM
- Jharel Cotton (3.162) – $1.1MM | ACTUAL: OUTRIGHTED, ELECTED FREE AGENCY
- Mike Yastrzemski (3.128) – $5.7MM | ACTUAL: $6.1MM
- Zack Littell (3.067) – $900,000 | ACTUAL: OUTRIGHTED, ELECTED FREE AGENCY
- Logan Webb (3.044) – $4.8MM | ACTUAL: $4.6MM — AND THEN GOT AN EXTENSION
- LaMonte Wade Jr. (3.035) – $1.4MM | ACTUAL: $1.375MM
- Tyler Rogers (3.034) – $1.8MM | ACTUAL: $1.675MM
- Thairo Estrada (2.169) – $2.4MM | ACTUAL: $2.25MM
Knocking out the non-tenders and outrighted, that’s $28.1 million projected versus $29.66 million actual, discounting Webb’s extension. 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 $29 million total price tag for six players who were once very important to the future of the team. Is that still the case with all, some, or none of these players?
This season, let’s examine the possibilty of trading a player along with simply signing or non-tendering them. There’s an argument to be made for some of these players that they have more value as a part of a trade package to get an even better player than as a part of the team’s core, especially given their service time. So, do you see him as part of the core of 2024 or should he be shown the door or traded for more?
Austin Slater (projection: $3.6 million)
Players in their final year of arbitration probably deserve the most scrutiny because it’s when teams are compelled to pay the most for their services while having the downside risk of an almost zero chance of re-signing them for a lower cost in the event of a non-tender.
This was the situation the Dodgers faced with Cody Bellinger, who was projected to earn $19 million in the final year of arbitration eligibility, but was coming off a two-season run of .193/.256/.355 across 900 plate appearances. In no way would I suggest that 30-year old platoon guy Austin Slater is or was at any point in the same strata as Bellinger, only to point out that the team opted not to pay a premium in case their former MVP regained form.
Slater isn’t an MVP candidate but at one point he was an incredibly useful platoonman, just crushing left-handed pitchers with absolute cruelty. Check out his run of OPS against lefties:
2020 (49 PA) | .316/.469/.658 (1.127)
2021 (193 PA) | .284/.373/.521 (.894)
2022 (182 PA) | .277/.379/.445 (.824)
2023 (147 PA) | .288/.361/.439 (.800)
That’s a pretty clear overall decline, but it’s still the case that he was the team’s second-best hitter in the righty-lefty split. Compared to all major leaguers with at least 140 PA vs LHP, Slater’s 123 wRC+ was 40th, about as good as Connor Joe and... Trent Grisham... and Paul Goldschmidt? But his 27.2% strikeout rate (despite that .288 batting average) was the 16th-highest (worst) in MLB. Sure, he had a decent 8.8% walk rate (58th out of 117), but that .152 ISO just demonstrates how he wasn’t hitting the ball with authority when he made contact.
Core, Door, or More?
Core. It’s hard to see other teams assigning him much value in a trade scenario and so I don’t think he could even be the fourth or fifth guy in a trade package. Despite a declining triple slash, he still registered a 110 wRC+ in 207 PA in limited time. He didn’t hurt the team in the macro sense. He sure did have some truly bad at bats in the second half during the stretch where the team needed somebody to step up, but he wasn’t alone.
He provides a little bit of versatility in that he can basically play all three outfield positions, the cost isn’t exorbitant, he provides a bit of continuity on a roster that might see some changes — affordable depth, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s not a Tommy La Stella situation that drags on for too long. He’s scheduled to have athroscopic surgery on his right elbow October 11th, and maybe since it’s “just a cleanup” of something that’s been bothering him all season, the team has enough confidence that he can bounce back.
J.D. Davis (projection: $6.8 million)
His season was a tale of two halves: an .800 OPS before the All-Star break, .649 after. He trailed Jeimer Candelario (2.6), Nolan Arenado (2.4) in FanGraphs’ wins above replacement with 1.9, tied with Atlanta’s Austin Riley. Back in June, some lunatic stumped for him getting All-Star votes!
In the second half, he was basically a replacement player, generating just 0.3 fWAR on a .207/.290/.359 line. I feel that .207 batting average is generous. I don’t remember him getting nearly that many hits, but there’s the game log saying he had 41 of them in 60 games, incluing 7 home runs.
The one key improvement in his game this year — his defense — didn’t really slump. He was a above average there all season long. It’s a real shame what happened to his bat in the second half, but he must be considered a success story for the Giants’ coaching staff.
Core, Door, or More?
Core. Tough to get rid of the guy who had the second most home runs on the team and played above average defense at a tough position.
A refrain we’ll hear is that this year’s free agent class is barren. Jeimer Candelario (3.3 fWAR) wound up being the third-best third baseman in the NL this season, behind Austin Riley (5.2 fWAR) and Manny Machado, and he’s a free agent this offseason. He’ll get far more than J.D. Davis’s salary arbitration projection, which is ironic because he was an arbitration non-tender by Scott Harris’s Tigers last offseason. Of course, that’s because he had a 78 wRC+ in 2022. The other free agent of note is Matt Chapman. Both might be slight or outright improvements over Davis, but their price tags will be at least 2-2.5 times Davis’s arb figure.
Mike Yastrzemski (projection: $7.3 million)
Here’s a player you look at who has everything you could want in the core of your roster. Power? Yes. His .212 Isolated Slugging was 7th-best among National League outfielders, behind free-agent-to-be Cody Bellinger (.218) and ahead of Jazz Chisholm (.212). Discipline? Yes. His 11.8% walk rate was 12th-best, behind James Outman and ahead of Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. He also had some strong words about clubhouse behavior. So, discipline plus some leadership qualities.
Still, he turned 33 in August and played in just 106 games. His defensive prowess was more ambition than result, with the centerfield experiment being judged negatively by the computers. Much better at the corners.
Core, Door, or More?
More. Obviously, this is a player you tender an offer to, but does that would be a formality to retain his rights for as long as possible. With two more years of arbitration, name recognition, the qualities mentioned, and the chance to maximize his utility by limiting his playing time (he gets hurt a lot!), there’s a reasonable case to be made that he would be a great trade piece for the Giants as they seek to upgrade their roster.
LaMonte Wade Jr. (projection: $3.3 million)
In last year’s piece I wrote:
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.
LOLOLOLOL. You idiot. The Giants having something on these guys should be obvious. He was everything the Giants projected him to be this season and for a good part of the season, he was one of the top hitters in the National League. In Brandon Belt, the Giants knew they’d be getting an injury risk, too, and opted to spend less on a possible injury risk for the upside that he would approach their internal project on a minimal downside of $1.375 million. Smart.
Belt wound up having a more valuable season at the plate (138 wRC+ to Wade Jr.’s 122), but Wade was healthier than Belt.
Core, Door, or More?
Core. Obviously. What was I thinking last season?
Tyler Rogers (projection: $3.2 million)
For a lot of the season, when I went looking for Camilo Doval’s rankings compared to the league I’d find Tyler Rogers pretty close to him on the list. To wit, through the first half of the season, his 2.10 ERA was 10th-best among NL relievers. He was 26th-best in fWAR (0.7). 30th in K/BB (3.27), just behind Camilo Doval (3.35). 10th in walk rate (5.9%). His 29.4% soft contact induced rate wa the best in MLB... again, all of this through the first half. His second half was not good — mostly bad (-0.1 fWAR).
Core, Door, or More?
Core. Still, as bad as his second half was, the kooky submariner has some utility. Maybe the Giants make some moves or adjust their depth chart so that he’s not their 8th inning guy anymore — I think this would be a good thing — but time and again he’s shown that, despite “streakiness,” he’s an effective major league reliever.
Thairo Estrada (projection: $4.8 million)
Now we come to the Giants’ most valuable position player in 2023. He ends the year as just the 10th-best second baseman by fWAR (3.9), but with an incredible — and sport-leading — +16.1 Defensive Runs Above Average and +19 Outs Above Average at second base. His offense isn’t awful — .271/.315/.416, 101 wRC+ — to the point that he’d even be a bargain at twice the price. Good Giant. Really good player for next year’s team.
Core, Door, or More?
More. Having said that, wow, isn’t this the exact scenario where you sell high on a guy to get the biggest return? He won’t be a free agent until 2027. He’ll be just 28 next season. A couple of prospects plus Thairo Estrada would really make some fantasies plausible. While Farhan Zaidi talked up Tyler Fitzgerald as possibly being the best centerfielder in the organization right now, suppose they do make him into the Giants’ version of Chris Taylor and he inhabits his native second base role more often while Cody Bellinger roams center? Sure, that means the Giants are facing Thairo Estada as a Padre 13 times a year, but they’ll be countering him (and Keaton Winn!) with Juan Soto?
Of course, the Giants could just hold on to all these guys and add to the roster in other ways, but outside of Estrada, perhaps, these are complimentary pieces. If we’re talking about reinventing on the fly — and I think that’s what the general tone of the offseason has to be — in a way that works around the inconvenience of “player development isn’t linear,” then at some point, the thinking that led to these players being acquired might need to evolve to see what else the player can provide the team.