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SF Giants' Foolish Free Agency Strategy Has Sunken Team's Title Hopes

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants throws a pitch during the first inning against New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 20, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2013

It's hard to believe we are just one year removed from the San Francisco Giants winning a second World Series title in three seasons. 

Brian Sabean, the longest-tenured general manager in baseball having led the Giants since 1996, was the architect of those title teams and certainly deserves a lot of credit for them. 

However, looking at the things that have happened in the last 12 months, it is clear that whatever the 57-year-old had working for him isn't there anymore. 

The latest strange move in an offseason filled with unusual signings has the Giants "close" to a three-year, $13 million extension with left-handed reliever Javier Lopez. 

Lopez is 36 years old and coming off two consecutive seasons with fewer than 40 innings pitched, so by all means, let's pay more than $4 million per season for his age 36-38 seasons. 

At this point in his career, Lopez is a left-handed specialist. He held lefties to a minuscule .431 OPS in 2013, but righties tagged him for an .805 OPS. That's not the kind of player you want to invest multiple years in, let alone millions of dollars. 

As puzzling as the Lopez signing is, it actually fits in perfectly with what Sabean has done the last two years. 

Here are all the notable moves the Giants have made recently, either in free agency or to keep their own players from hitting free agency. 

San Francisco Giants' Contracts
PlayerTerms
Hunter Pence, OF5 yrs, $90 mil
Tim Lincecum, SP2 yrs, $35 mil
Tim Hudson, SP2 yrs, $23 mil
Javier Lopez, RP3 yrs, $13 mil
Angel Pagan, OF4 yrs, $40 mil
Marco Scutaro, 2B3 yrs, $20 mil
Jeremy Affeldt, RP3 yrs, $15 mil
Baseball Reference

You can rationalize the Pagan and Scutaro signings last year because they were key parts of the 2012 championship team. They may have overpaid both players, but at least Scutaro rewarded them with an All-Star appearance in 2013. 

Yet even with Scutaro's appearance in the Midsummer Classic, he still had a paltry .369 slugging percentage. 

Pagan came back to earth during an injury-plagued 2013. He only played 71 games, but his .282/.334/.414 line is in line with his career mark (.281/.333/.421). 

Hudson represents good value as a league-average starter on a low risk two-year contract in a market where that kind of pitcher could probably command four years at $12-14 million per season.

"Tim, you haven't been very good for two years, but we remember when you were aces!"
"Tim, you haven't been very good for two years, but we remember when you were aces!"Jeff Gross/Getty Images

A big part of Sabean's problem is a blind, undying loyalty to players who were part of championship teams.  

The two most puzzling deals, even more than Lopez's, were given to Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum. 

Pence is coming off one of the best years of his career at the age of 30. He hit .283/.339/.483 with 27 home runs and 22 stolen bases. He's always been a solid player, but the Giants are paying star-level money for his age 31-35 seasons. 

His on-base percentage also dropped from a career-high .370 in 2011 to .319 in 2012 before rebounding slightly last year. 

Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle noted after the team's press conference announcing the Pence deal that they wanted to get it done early as a way to "send a message" to everyone that they were serious about getting back into contention.  

With respect to Pence's baseball acumen, I doubt the rest of the league is going to take notice because he got $90 million. A lot of them were probably laughing at the lunacy of the deal. 

Lincecum used to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning consecutive Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, but those days are long gone. He's been worth a total of 2.5 Fangraphs wins above replacement since the start of 2012 and posted well below-average ERA+ totals of 68 and 76 in that span. 

You don't pay a clearly declining pitcher nearly $18 million per season unless you have a limitless supply of money to throw away—or an insane loyalty that can't be stated in words. 

This was supposed to be a banner offseason for the Giants because they were finally getting out from under the disastrous Barry Zito contract. Unfortunately, they have taken his money and put it into equally useless assets. 

On top of that, Sabean has done nothing to address the biggest problems facing the Giants moving forward: shortstop and left field. 

Brandon Crawford, an excellent defensive shortstop, posted a .674 OPS in 2013. Gregor Blanco masqueraded as a starting left fielder last season, but a .690 OPS at a corner outfield spot is embarrassing. 

Offense has never been a strong suit for the Giants, though they've been able to hide it at times thanks to an MVP performance from Buster Posey, occasional spurts of greatness from Pablo Sandoval and the slow emergence of Brandon Belt. 

Even last year, during their run to the World Series, the Giants finished 12th in runs scored with 718. 

Unfortunately, having three spots in the lineup capable of producing is not enough to push you into the upper tier of offenses in baseball, especially when you have two dead spots in a lineup before you even include the pitcher's spot. 

Trades have been Sabean's forte in the past. Players like Lopez, Scutaro, Pagan, Freddy Sanchez, Carlos Beltran and Melky Cabrera all had moments of brilliance with the Giants. 

Of course, the Beltran deal looks disastrous now because Wheeler has developed into a great prospect with a tremendous future for the Mets. Those trades have also sapped the farm system of virtually any impact talent. 

The Giants don't have the kind of depth needed to withstand a serious injury to a starter because no one is ready to come up. 

Everything was going smoothly for the Giants until the bottom fell out in 2013. Sabean has lost whatever he had going for him. He's hindered this team's ability to get back in the title mix soon, especially with a deep Los Angeles Dodgers team being the class of the National League West. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. 

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. 

 

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