In the previous article, I outlined how the Giants could improve upon their league worst outfield without becoming repeat luxury tax offenders. While improving upon an outfield that is lacks athleticism, speed, and power is an obvious first step towards improving the roster as a whole, there are other areas of the team that will also need to be addressed if the Giants are going to go from being the 2nd worst team in the MLB to a playoff contender in 2018.
After the proposed signings and trades I discussed in the previous article, I came to the conclusion that the Giants will be left with roughly 15 million dollars of cap space for the 2018 season. So what other areas of the team need the most work? The most obvious answer is the bullpen, who ranked towards the bottom of the league the past two seasons in both ERA and K%. However, with quality bullpen arms routinely signing for average annual salaries of 7.5 million dollars this offseason, the market for bullpen arms is too steep relative to the marginal returns they offer.
Besides, the Giants bullpen is actually much better on paper than some may realize. Not only do they get a full year of closer Mark Melancon, who had a down year largely due to injuries, but they also return left hander Will Smith, who has proven to be a reliable lefty in his career prior to being sidelined last season with Tommy John surgery. Add in a full season of Sam Dyson, (who returned to his All-Star form with the Giants after a dreadful start with the Rangers lead to him being released) and hard throwing right handers Hunter Strickland and converted starter Kyle Crick, and the Giants bullpen doesn’t appear to be the weakness it was in years passed. Could this relief corps use a few more hard throwing, high leverage arms? Sure. But with limited financial resources and the relative minor impact of an additional reliever compared to the value of a quality starting pitcher, its a no-brainer that adding a back-of-the-rotation starter should be prioritized.
It is no mystery that the cost of starting pitching is astronomically high, but there are a few diamonds in the rough out there that the Giants should explore adding.
After dealing Matt Moore to the Texas Rangers, the Giants rotation is left with only three starting pitchers. The Giants rotation currently consists of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, with the fourth and fifth spots completely up for grabs. If the Giants stayed put, the frontrunners to occupy the back two slots would be soft throwing left hander Ty Blach and Chris Stratton.
At this point, we know what Ty Blach is. A contact-oriented lefty who lacks the pure stuff to ever be an impact starter at the major league level. If Brian Sabean or Bruce Bochy were given truth serum, I would guess they would tell you that they would prefer that Ty Blach was more of a long reliever who could eat innings when the starting pitcher had to exit early. On the other hand, Chris Stratton is a former first round pick who posted a 3.68 ERA across ten starts last season. While Stratton doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, his repertoire of pitches is enough to hold down a rotation spot.
Even if Stratton can adequately occupy the fifth spot in the rotation, the lack of organizational depth coupled with the volatility of the players currently on the roster suggest that the Giants will need to scour the free agent market for an affordable, back-of-the-rotation innings eater to round out the rotation. Fortunately for the Giants, free agent pitchers are drawn to the pitcher friendly confines of AT&T Park, so finding a suitor should not prove to be difficult.
The first starting pitcher that would fit perfectly at the back end of the Giants rotation is Jaime Garcia. Mlbtraderumors currently projects Garcia to get a 2 year, 16 million dollar contract, which is a figure the Giants could afford while staying under the luxury tax.
From a statistical standpoint, Garcia makes a ton of sense for the Giants. First off, the Giants need durability and Garcia is a guy who can toe the slab every fifth day and provide quality innings. Over the last two seasons, the southpaw has started an average of 29 starts. Garcia also has extreme groundball tendencies, which plays right into the Giants strengths as a defense. With former Gold Glovers at 3B, SS, and 2B, and a plus defender in Brandon Belt at first base, Garcia could see more batted balls converted into outs if pitching in front of the Giants infield. For what it’s worth, Garcia has also pitched well at AT&T park in a limited sample. In 5 starts, he has a 2.62 ERA with an opponent’s wOBA of just .283.
While Garcia represents the most reliable free agent option available to bolster the back end of the Giants rotation, there are a number of other low-cost free agent starting pitchers coming off down years that the Giants could take on a reclamation projects.
There is a seemingly endless list of low cost reclamation projects the Giants could sign for one year “prove it” deals without breaking the bank. Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Miley, Miguel Gonzalez, Edinson Volquez, Clay Buchholz, Trevor Cahill, Derek Holland … the list goes on. While all of these pitchers have enjoyed success in the past, they have also all fell on rough times lately. One team’s trash is another team’s treasure and perhaps with wishful thinking and a change of scenery, the Giants could transform one of these starting pitchers into a serviceable back-of-the-rotation innings eater. The tough part, however, is choosing which of these guys has the highest likelihood of returning to form.
When looking at each of these guys peripheral statistics, the hope that one of these guys were just the subject of bad luck quickly evaporated as it become increasingly evident that the sharp decline each of these veterans experienced was well deserved. Wade Miley completely lost his command of the zone. Miguel Gonzalez had a career low in K% and SwStr% (evidence of a decline in his stuff), Clay Buchholz and Derek Holland battled (probable) age related injuries. The story was different with each guy, but the search for evidence that might have provided a glimmer of hope in any of these starters failed almost entirely. However, there was an exception. His name is Trevor Cahill.
For whatever reason, Cahill is always lumped into the same trash heap, despite his performance consistently exceeding his reputation. Despite pitching in the big leagues since he broke through with the A’s back in 2008, Cahill is still only 29 years old and the numbers would suggest he still has something left in the tank. Despite finishing the season with an unsightly 4.93 ERA, his peripherals suggest that he is a much better pitcher than the surface level statistics would indicate.
First, Cahill started the season with a 3.06 ERA and a 30.1 K% from the beginning of the season until mid-May when he was sidelined with a back injury. Prior to getting hurt, Cahill was not only missing bats, but was doing so by dramatically changing his pitch tendencies. At the start of 2017, Cahill was using his curveball at a career-high rate of 21.6%. Not coincidentally, his curve was also his most effective pitch, ranking in the top 20 amongst starters according to pitch value. After his injury and subsequent trade to the Royals, Cahill was not the same pitcher, which is why his season totals are a bit misleading.
The fact that Cahill’s number misrepresent his true value could benefit the Giants as his poor second half performance will surely suppress his bargaining power. With that said, a two year, 10 million dollar pact with Cahill would not be out of the question. This move, coupled with the potential signing of Jaime Garcia would give the Giants five solid starters, with youngsters Chris Stratton and top prospect Tyler Beede waiting in the wings when the inevitable arm injury occurs.
If the Giants are able to acquire both Garcia and Cahill to the figures I outlined above, it would add 13 million to their total salary commitments, putting them at 193 million total, which puts them just under the luxury tax.
Being so close to the luxury tax leaves little room for the Giants to complete any other moves this offseason, even if it merely a second rate left-handed specialist. It also complicates the non-roster spring training invitations that the Giants will be able to extend to high ceiling, high risk players. Since non-roster invitees generally earn 1.25 million if they make the Opening Day Roster, it is likely that with only two million dollars of financial wiggle room, the Giants will only be able to add one non-roster invitee to their Opening Day Roster.
The other option the Giants have when negotiating these contracts is offering more years to players (which means more total money), but with less annual salary. Since the luxury tax is determined by each player’s average salary, this could be a clever way for the front office to create more wiggle room in the short term.
For example, if the Giants decided to sign Jaime Garcia to a three year, 20 million dollar deal instead of the previously discussed two year 16 million dollar deal, then only 6.67 million would be counted against their luxury tax figure, instead of 8 million.
Ultimately, there are a number of ways to keep total financial commitments under the luxury tax in order to get the player that you want, but each of these moves is a compromise that can have minor ramifications in subsequent years.
Whatever the case, the back end of the Giants rotation is undoubtedly an area of concern for the club, but if the Giants are able to target the best value bargains, the back of their rotation could be patched up for a relatively low cost.
If the Giants decide to go the route that I have outlined above, their pitching staff would look something like this:
- Madison Bumgarner (LHP)
- Johnny Cueto (RHP)
- Jaime Garcia (LHP)
- Jeff Samardzija (RHP)
- Trevor Cahill (RHP)
LR: Chris Stratton ( R )
LR: Ty Blach ( L )
MR: Kyle Crick ( R )
MR: Josh Osich (L)
MR: Cory Gearrin ( R )
MR; Hunter Strickland ( R )
LOOGY: Will Smith (L)
SU: Sam Dyson ( R )
CL: Mark Melancon ( R )
In the next article, I will outline the guys who will be battling for the remaining roster spots in Spring Training. These utility infielders, backup catchers, and mop-up relievers are usually afterthoughts, the unexpected contributions from the guys in the complementary roles can pay huge dividends for a team that will likely need production from unexpected sources if they are going to return to playoff glory in 2018.