Making Sense of the Giants’ Off-Season Moves

I can’t. Make sense of the Giants’ off-season moves, that is.

Last season, the Giants were 28th in the majors in wOBA (.294), 29th in wRC+ (83) and 29th in runs scored (570). Yes, the Giants lost Buster Posey at the end of May and Freddy Sanchez in June to season-ending injuries, and they lost Pablo Sandoval — their most effective hitter — for six weeks in the early part of the season. But the Giants added Carlos Beltran at the end of July, and after a slow start due to a wrist injury, Beltran posted a .404 wOBA over his final 161 plate appearances. The Giants simply couldn’t overcome career-worst seasons from Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada, who were released at the end of August, and poor offensive performances from Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres.

The only other teams with sub-.300 wOBAs in 2011 were the Mariners, Padres, Twins and Pirates, all of whom ended the season with losing records. The Giants finished 86-76 on the strength of their pitching. Obviously. So heading into 2012, the Giants were sure to focus on significantly upgrading the offense, right?

Not really.

When the season ended, the Giants were committed to just over $72 million in existing contracts, with $42 million of that amount owed to just three players: Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand and Aubrey Huff. Rowand is gone, but the Giants remain on the hook for $13.6 million. Another $15.3 million is owed to Matt Cain, $8.5 million to Brian Wilson and $6 million to Freddy Sanchez.

General Manager Brian Sabean is reportedly working with a $130 million payroll for 2012. With a $72 million starting point, that leaves almost $60 million for upgrades, right? Wrong. A big chunk of that $60 million will go to Tim Lincecum, either through a contract or arbitration. How much? Not clear, but the Giants are likely planning on at least $20 million for Lincecum in 2012.

Now we’re down to $40 million.

Pablo Sandoval, Nate Schierholtz, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla were all certain to return and were all arbitration-eligible and due raises. Let’s be generous and budget $7 million total for those four players in 2012.

Now there’s $33 million left.

Surprising starter Ryan Vogelsong needs a new contract. He made $1 million last season on a minor-league deal and will surely get a raise. Again, let’s be generous and budget $5 million for Vogelsong in 2012.

That leaves the Giants with $28 million in payroll flexibility.  Well, it left the Giants with flexibility, which they promptly gave away early in the off-season by spending $9.25 million for lefty relievers Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt.  Five million for Affeldt after the Giants picked up his option for 2012; $4.25 million for Lopez on a two-year deal worth $8.5 million.

Both pitchers are classic LOOGYs; they excel against left-handed hitters but have mediocre results against righties. Against lefties, Affeldt had a BABIP of .185 and a FIP of 2.47 in 2011. Against righties, a .280 BABIP and a 4.54 FIP. Lopez’s K/BB ratio against lefties was 2.78; against righties it was .88. Same for BABIP: .217 against left-handed hitters; .321 against right handers.

The bullpen is one of the Giants’ strengths, and Lopez and Affeldt were certainly two of the best left-handed relievers on the market. But a combined $9.25 million for the two is too much, given the payroll constraints. By contrast, fellow LOOGY George Sherrill just signed with the Mariners for $1.1 million for 2012. Sherrill and Lopez will both be in their age-35 seasons next year. And while Lopez outperformed Sherrill in 2011, paying Lopez $3 million more than Sherrill makes no sense.

It also makes no sense to spend one-third of your payroll flexibility on two lefty relievers when offensive upgrades are still on the market and many offensive holes need to be filled. Indeed, once those deals were done, GM Brian Sabean made it clear that the Giants wouldn’t pursue any “big-ticket” free agents. Not even Carlos Beltran, who the Giants obtained from the Mets last summer in exchange for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.

Instead, the Giants made two trades with the hope of upgrading the offense just enough. They traded Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera and got Angel Pagan in exchange for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. Cabrera had a career-year with the Royals in 2011 but as Jack Moore wrote after the trade, there a good reasons to believe Cabrera will regress in 2012. Jack was more optimistic about Pagan’s contribution at the plate and on the bases for San Francisco, but there are questions about his glove. Will they make the Giants better? Probably. Will it be enough? That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran is still available.

The Giants have stated repeatedly that they are focused on signing Lincecum and Cain to long-term deals. They couldn’t be in on Pujols or Fielder or Reyes because those players would require long-term contracts and the Giants wanted flexibility in negotiations with their top two pitchers. But there’s no indication that Lincecum and Cain are committed to staying in San Francisco long term; indeed, Lincecum has shown a preference for one and two-year deals. And if you’re Lincecum or Cain, why commit to the Giants long term without a commitment from the Giants to significantly upgrade the offense? Sure, pitcher wins don’t matter, unless you’re the pitcher and you’d have many more wins with a league-average offense to support you.

The Giants seem wedded to the “just enough offense” strategy in 2012. That’s what a World Series Championship with a “just enough” offense will do — make you believe you can replicate that success.  But with a $130 million payroll, the Giants could have done more.

Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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Uncle Randy
12 years ago

I just want to say, I like literally all of your articles and I wish your work ran here more often.

12 years ago
Reply to  Wendy Thurm

Anyway you slice it or dice it, the Giants will be better in 2012.