If you look back at MLB Trade Rumors’ offseason in review for the San Francisco Giants, you’ll recall that they had a rather quiet offseason. In fact, they only made three major-league signings (two of which retained players from the 2010 team): Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, and Miguel Tejada.
Burrell’s deal, of course, was a team-friendly one — a hometown-discount contract of 1-yr at $1MM. A fantastic no-risk signing for a guy that had been worth 2.5 wins above replacement the previous year. Prior to incurring an injury in his foot, Burrell had come to the plate roughly 200 times, amassing 0.6 wins above replacement (valued at $2.7MM). So already – and unsurprisingly — that deal has paid its dividends. Burrell’s provided decent offensive production (.233/.342/.419, 112 wRC+) for a team that has desperately needed it.
The other two signings, of course, have not panned out quite as well.
On November 23rd, the Giants re-signed Aubrey Huff to a two-year $22MM deal — one that was made, I think, under a few assumptions:
- That Brandon Belt was not major-league ready; he had only played in thirteen games in Triple-A in 2010, and the organization is generally strong when it comes to internal scouting evaluations, so this seems like a fair — albeit early — assumption.
- Aubrey Huff could fake it in the outfield. In 2010, his defense in the outfield was passable, and the Giants had strong defensive outfielders (Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz) surrounding him, so this was also (arguably) a reasonable assumption.
- Huff would be okay in 2011; again, another justifiable assumption. From 2008-2010, he had averaged ~2.5 WAR/600 PA, and the contract paid him — at market value — like an average player ($10MM/yr).
The Giants essentially had two choices: put their faith in Brandon Belt as the everyday 1B (or whatever other internal options they had — Mark DeRosa?), and hope that they could get acceptable contributions from the position; the other option — sign Aubrey Huff, have him play at first base until Brandon Belt was ready, and then slide him into left field when Belt was ready. Huff would serve as a safety net, giving the Giants an acceptable first base option if Belt would not suffice.
Of course, things did not go according to plan. Huff’s outfield defense — in 250 or so innings — was inexcusably bad, and his hitting was too. For the first four months of the season he hit .240/.295/.363, which — even in a depressed run-scoring environment — was simply unacceptable from a first baseman. The Giants, however, have given Huff a leash — perhaps too long. And perhaps he’s starting to reward them, as he’s hit .305/.359/.463 so far in the second half.
In retrospect, it looks like a bad signing (and thus far, is rightfully called a “bad signing.”) But at the time, given all the question marks the Giants faced in Pablo Sandoval, Mark DeRosa, and Brandon Belt, and assuming that Huff would have been capable of average production (again, a completely reasonable assumption), the move was defensible.
The Giants’ third signing, Miguel Tejada, was not as justifiable. On December 2nd, in what was a thin free agent shortstop market, the Giants opted to go with a stopgap solution in Miguel Tejada, signing him to a one-year $6.5MM deal. He had been worth 0.9 wins above replacement the year before, and entering his age-37 season, was on an obvious decline. He was arguably the most realistic free agent target by that time (with names like Orlando Cabrera and Derek Jeter representing the best remaining options), but even so, the contract seemed generous. As Tim Dierkes (MLBTR) wrote, “I would have estimated a contract about half that size for Tejada.” the Giants forwent a better option (two better options, actually): trade for a decent shortstop.
A week after the Tejada signing, the Orioles acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy (along with Brendan Harris) from the Twins in exchange for relievers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. In January of 2008, Jim Hoey was rated a B- prospect, and ended up missing the 2008 season after undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery. In 2009, he returned, posting a 4.50 ERA/4.39 FIP in 48 innings with the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate, and a 3.25 ERA, 12 K/9, and 5.8 BB/9 in roughly 50 innings spent in AA/AAA in 2010. At the time of the trade, he was nearly 28 years old — a reliever with strong fastball velocity and whiffing ability but mediocre control. Along with Hoey, the Orioles sent Brett Jacobson, a 24-year-old relief prospect that didn’t even end up cracking the Twins’ top 30 prospects (per Baseball America). So a couple of mediocre relief arms were enough to acquire Hardy (in addition to Harris), in a package the Giants could have easily matched. Even accounting for Hardy’s injury history, he was a strong defensive shortstop (with offensive upside) that had accumulated 8.6 WAR from 2008-2010 — easily worth that package (Hardy, like Tejada, would be a free agent after the 2011 season), and undoubtedly a more attractive option than Tejada.
A week after that, a second shortstop was acquired: Jason Bartlett. Bartlett, coming off a season in which he’d hit .254/.324/.350, was a less attractive target than Hardy, but still a step up from Tejada. Bartlett was entering his final year of arbitration-eligibility (like Hardy and Tejada, he would have been a one-year option, barring an extension), and would have probably fetched something around $6MM in the process (had he not avoided arbitration by signing a two-year deal with his new club, the Padres). So, discounting the package, he would’ve had the same cost in cash as Tejada (or thereabouts). In exchange for Bartlett, the Rays — under wiser management than the Twins — fetched a return of Brandon Gomes, Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, and Cole Figueroa. Basically, a couple relief arms who had posted mediocre K/BB numbers in 2010, a C+ middle-infield prospect, and a C+ pitching prospect (I’m assuming that’s about where they rated, as they just missed out on the Rays’ top 20 prospects of 2011). Not a bad package, but I think it would have been a fairly reasonable price for the Giants to pay (including whatever contract Bartlett would have subsequently signed with the Giants), to get some stability at the position — at least for 2011.
The Giants’ two biggest positional weaknesses this year have been at shortstop and first base, largely due to a couple major-league signings the Giants dished out this offseason (and, on another note, the organization’s handling of Brandon Belt). While there’s an argument to be made in defense of the Huff contract, the Giants had better options for shortstop in Hardy and Barlett — and based on what the Orioles and Rays fetched in return for their shortstops (respectively), the Giants probably had a good shot at acquiring either of them. Instead, the Giants have paid a price of $6.5MM plus Thomas Neal in order to fill their shortstop needs, and still have not received adequate production from the position. Signing Tejada to that one-year deal is a move that’s proven to be a big mistake for the organization.