How Flawed Free Agents, Poor Trades, and Cheap Player Signings Helped Derail the San Francisco Giants

Precious Resources: Money vs IP and ABs

Bad multi-year Major League Baseball player contracts are easy to spot several years after they’re signed.

With 162 games in the books each season, it only takes a year or two of evidence before public pontificators declare the winners and losers.

When we discuss long-term player contracts that went south, it’s usually all about the money. But for Major League Baseball teams, money is a renewable resource— and virtually every year they make more of it than they did the previous year.

What Major League teams don’t make more of every year are increases in the number of players allowed on their 25-man rosters. It’s always, like, twenty-five.

The moral is, a Major League franchise can waste money and then simply print and spend more.

But when you place less than league average players on your 25-man roster for any length of time, you have wasted precious, non-retrievable resources: at-bats, innings pitched, and infield/outfield defense.

Over the past four years the San Francisco Giants have shown a remarkable ability to hit the super trifecta of baseball mismanagement: signing free agents using flawed old school measurements; making brain-dead, “cross your fingers” player trades; and continually degrading their 25-man roster with inexpensive, less than league average players.

Credit San Francisco’s front office management with their ability to deodorize all this poor decision-making for the team’s slap-happy fanbase.

A couple of cute player stories (scootering to the ballpark, funny nicknames, etc.), coupled with an increase in ex-Giants players touting the party line on local TV and radio broadcasts, and (just like that!) everything is A-OK in Giants-land.

Signing Free Agents Like it’s 1999

Giants fans are confused about starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. He’s got a cool nickname and they were told he was a great pitcher.

The Giants signed the free agent human home run machine for $90 million over 5 years in the 2015-16 off-season.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

And since Samardzija rejected the White Sox qualifying offer, San Francisco also lost their  first-round draft pick (18th overall) in the 2016 amateur player draft.

At the time, General Manager Bobby Evans and the Giants front office were high-fiving each other and popping bottles of (likely off-vintage) champagne.

“This guy is a horse”, enthused Evans at the time, using the animal analogy so popular with San Francisco Giant GMs. “… we focused on him,” Evans happily stated, “as one of our top priorities.”

The question is why.

Here’s what Samardzija did as a member of the Chicago White Sox the season before San Francisco breathlessly signed him: he led all American League pitchers with 228 hits allowed; in earned runs allowed (118); and home runs allowed (29). His 2015 ERA was an eye-catching 4.96.

Naturally the Giants were like, “Where can I get me some of that?”

In his 58 starts as a Giant, Samardzija has a 4.20 ERA (4.67 so far in 2017), a 1.21 WHIP, and has allowed 1.2 HR/9. Which is potentially 4 HRs allowed every three starts, 39 HRs over 30 starts.

All of which has created the lame “Don’t look at Samardzija’s results, look at his ‘peripherals’.” (Which I thought only a doctor was allowed to do.)

By the way, the definition of “peripheral” is: “not relating to the most important part of something.” For pitchers, that most important part is referred to as “run prevention”.

One amusing sidebar to all this is watching the SF Chronicle’s luddite baseball writers as they desperately cling to baseball’s most discredited statistics (pitcher wins, saves, RBIs, etc.).

To rationalize Jeff Samardzija’s 8-12 win/loss record, they have to briefly join the 21st century and ignore their beloved, old timey “pitcher wins” stat.

San Francisco Giants pitcher Mark Melancon,  CEO Larry Baer, and smitten Giants GM Bobby Evans (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

I will only briefly mention one-dimensional free agent “closer” Mark Melancon, signed by the Giants in December 2016 for $62 million over four years.

At the time, Melancon made it clear to potential bidders that he had no interest in getting more than three outs, working any time other than the 9th inning, or coming into a non-save situation.

Which was exactly the 1990s version of a closer Giants GM Bobby Evans was looking for. So the Giants happily signed Melancon despite the list of things he wouldn’t do to help his team win.

Melancon has had several stints on the DL in 2017, and the Giants are easing him back into the bullpen by using him in non-save situations. Which must thrill him to death.

Trading Like it’s 1899

When the Giants picked up starter Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays at the July 31, 2016 non-waiver trade deadline it was all about the money.

Moore would be under Giants team control through 2019 for a mere $26 million. If he could just manage to start every 5th day, San Francisco could declare victory in the deal.

Unfortunately, two things in the Matt Moore deal prevented front office high fives.

(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

First, as part of the Tampa deal the Giants gave up their 4th best prospect, infielder Lucius Fox.

The Giants signed Fox, an international player from the Bahamas, for a record $6 million in 2015. Also going to Tampa was fan favorite 3B Matt Duffy (but no doubt he’ll be back).

Currently Lucius Fox, 20, is Tampa Bay’s 11th top prospect (Baseball America rates Tampa’s farm system 11th best in the Majors; the Giants are 24th).

The second setback in the money-driven signing of Matt Moore has been his performance.

In 38 starts as a Giant, Moore has a 1.45 WHIP, a 4.97 ERA, and a paltry 8.2 SO/9 in 217.1 IP. As with Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore’s 4-12 record this season has the local baseball print media tip-toeing around their favorite useless pitching stat.

And his year and a half stint with San Francisco isn’t an anomaly: in his seven-year MLB career Moore has put up a 4.19 ERA.

To get full value from the remaining $19 million the Giants will potentially pay Moore over the next two seasons, they will have to watch him trot to the mound for another 60-68 more starts.

Now where’s that champagne?

Less Than League Average, Thy Name is Giants

San Francisco Giant fans inexplicably cheer and congratulate each other whenever their team signs dramatically inexpensive (and less-talented) players to the team’s 25-man roster.

And I think it’s great that the fanbase is looking out for the richest MLB ownership group in all of baseball (the Giants group is wealthier than the Yankees and Dodgers ownership groups combined,

The idea goes something like this: “Hey, we’ve got nothing to lose putting Pablo Sandoval at 3rd base, because the Boston Red Sox are paying him and the Giants save money by only paying the league minimum” [currently $535,000].

Actually, to paraphrase Javier Bardem from the film “No Country for Old Men”, you have everything to lose.

Because, as noted above, money comes and goes (mostly for MLB owners it comes in ginormous waves). But every spot on a 25-man roster is like gold and every at-bat taken, or inning pitched, by a player on the 25-man roster is critically important.

At least, that’s the way winning organizations look at it.

As of August 25, 2017, Pablo Sandoval (.705 OPS), Gorkys Hernandez (.685 OPS), Brandon Crawford (.669 OPS), Jarrett Parker (.717 OPS) Ryder Jones (.590 OPS), Carlos Moncrief (.598 OPS), and Orlando Calixte (.443 OPS) are all on the 25-man roster and playing virtually every day.

And if the Giants had their way, re-tread Michael Morse (24 games, .556 OPS) would have been part of this team all season.

Are the Giants saving money putting these players on the field in 2017? Absolutely.

Here’s what San Francisco’s front office and their devoted fanbase are also getting. Out of 30 MLB teams, the Giants are:

  • 28th in runs scored (520);
  • 29th in on-base percentage (.310);
  • 30th in slugging percentage (.379); and,
  • 30th in OPS (.688)

But there is one thing that the Giants executive management group and I totally agree on.

Since they seem unable to be smart, and seem unwilling to leave the 1990s and join the baseball revolution that has dramatically elevated the game over the past fifteen years, it absolutely will take some magic for them to turn this mess around.