Keeping a championship team together can be a difficult endeavor, but San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean is doing all he can to bring back his World Series champions next season.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweeted that the Giants reached an agreement on a new contract with free-agent center fielder Angel Pagan. Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown followed up with details of a four-year, $40 million package.
With this move, the Giants don't need to replace their leadoff hitter or center fielder. More importantly, they don't have to pay big for a player like Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton to take over one or both of those roles next season.
Rather than pay Bourn $15 million or Hamilton $25 million next year, the Giants will pay Pagan $10 million per season and presumably have more resources available to re-sign second baseman Marco Scutaro or sign someone to play left field.
Actually, San Francisco may even have a bit more available to spend. According to CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly, the contract breaks down as follows: $5 million signing bonus, $7 million next season, $9 million in both 2014 and 2015, and $10 million in the final year of the deal.
Yet again, Pagan represents a savvy move by Sabean. Besides paying at least $5 million less per season (or for an inferior player, which is apparently how the Giants viewed Shane Victorino) in a new contract, the San Francisco GM got the far better end of the deal that brought Pagan to the Bay Area to begin with.
Pagan was acquired from the New York Mets a year ago for center fielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez. Torres was non-tendered by the Mets on Friday and Ramirez is a free agent after posting a 4.24 ERA this season. What an absolute steal of a deal.
This year, Pagan hit .288 with a .338 on-base percentage and .778 OPS. That included 38 doubles, 15 triples and 29 stolen bases for the Giants, providing the lineup a presence in the leadoff spot.
The Philadelphia Phillies were reportedly interested in Pagan. He was probably the best "lower-cost" option left below the upper free-agent tier of Bourn and Hamilton. As a switch-hitter, he could give the lineup a right-handed bat when needed against lefties as well.
As Baggarly reports, Pagan wanted a fifth year on a contract with the Phillies. When Philadelphia didn't offer that, the center fielder apparently went back to a familiar setting, one in which he's already won a championship.
The market for Pagan looked to be shrinking, too. With the Atlanta Braves signing B.J. Upton and the Washington Nationals trading for Denard Span, Pagan didn't have as many options to explore or leverage against the Giants as he did a week ago.
Originally, it was believed that the Giants and Pagan were having trouble working out an agreement. First, it was the number of years in the deal. Then, San Francisco was apparently offering less per season than Pagan wanted. But that's how negotiations work, right?
With the Braves and Nationals out of the market for a center fielder, the demand for Pagan from a team like the Phillies surely increased. That boosted the urgency for the Giants to get their man before they were stuck, as mentioned above, with having to go for a more expensive or less effective alternative.
However, San Francisco is on the verge of bringing back three key players that became free agents at the end of the season.
Left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt was re-signed to a three-year, $18 million deal in mid-November. Now, Pagan is back in the fold. All that remains is second baseman and NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro.
Even better, Sabean isn't overpaying for a one-year fluke in the afterglow of a championship as he did with Aubrey Huff. Huff had an impressive 2010 season, hitting .290 with an .891 OPS, 26 home runs and 86 RBI, as the Giants went on to win a World Series title. The first baseman then signed a two-year, $20 million deal through 2012 and never came anywhere close to that level of production again.
Some might say San Francisco is taking that sort of risk with Pagan, who had a strong season in his last season before free agency.
But his 2012 season wasn't a one-year spike. His numbers were rather consistent with his career norms of a .281 average, .333 on-base percentage and .757 OPS.
Pagan's 38 doubles and MLB-leading 15 triples were career highs. Though AT&T Park wasn't a good ballpark for hitting doubles and triples, according to ESPN.com's Park Factors, it was a better environment for extra-base hits than Pagan's former home of Citi Field. Perhaps that aided Pagan's .329 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Every little bit helps.
That obviously applies to putting together a championship contender (or keeping it intact, in the Giants' case). Every little bit helps. Bringing back key players obviously helps, but maintaining enough payroll flexibility to make improvements, if needed, is important too.
So far this offseason, Sabean has done both with the moves he's made. San Francisco's NL West rivals and the rest of MLB should take note of that, as the Giants attempt to defend their second World Series championship in three seasons.
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