It’s been a common, if not overused, refrain this offseason: the Giants overpaid for relief pitching. Early on, before the market really started to develop, the Giants picked up Jeremy Affeldt’s $5M option for 2012 without hesitation, and then turned around and signed a LOOGY, Javier Lopez, to a two-year, $8.5M deal. Both deals were, at the time, somewhat panned — or at least questioned.
Should the Giants be spending upwards of $9M per season between two relievers? Is it ever a good idea to pay $4M for a LOOGY? Should the team have saved its money and went in another direction?
In my opinion, those are all legitimate questions. I’m not going to rehash them, or my feelings on this specific topic — they’ve been covered here quite well, and in other spaces — but rather I would like to look at the reliever market and how it’s played out thus far. What’s been the going rate for relief pitching and did the Giants act too quickly when they brought back Affeldt and Lopez.
What I decided to do was take a grouping of relievers that have signed contracts this offseason, created a 5/4/3 weighted average WAR from the past three seasons, add in a slight aging adjustment to create a “projected” 2012 WAR, and then divide that total by the average annual value of their new deal to see how much per WAR each reliever is being paid.
Technically, Jeremy Affeldt wasn’t a free agent (the Giants chose to pick up his option), but I wanted to add him to our group for comparison’s sake.
Some reactions from the table…
- Brad Lidge is set to earn a piddly $1M with the Nationals on his new deal and despite his somewhat wacky WAR$ figure, I like the deal for the Nationals. Lidge is far from a sure thing, but he does possess upside — he never stopped striking out batters last year (10.7 strikeouts per nine); however, his walk rate (6.1 per nine) was high. He is incredibly cheap and if he can reign in his command a little, the Nats could do well. It’s a nice deal without any risk, really.
- Has Darren Oliver been the most underrated reliever in recent memory? It seems that year after year he posts solid to very good seasons, and yet the Blue Jays are paying him approximately $3.3M per win, the cheapest of any of our relievers. That’s a very nice bargain for the Jays. It’s possible that Oliver’s age (41 in 2012) had something to do with it, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and at a one-year deal the risk is minimal. Another solid deal.
- Among this group, once you remove the Lidge and Capps outliers, teams are paying approximately $7M per win on FA relievers.
- I also like Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton’s deals. Saito has been a pretty good pitcher when healthy. Much like Lidge, his commitment is extremely minimal at $1.75M in salary for 2012. He projects as approximately a half-win pitcher, so he looks fairly paid. Broxton is something else entirely. He battled elbow injuries last year while only pitching 12.2 innings. His velocity and strikeouts have been down-trending, but it’s also hard to overlook from 2006-2009 he was one of the most dominant relievers in the National League. He projects at .84 wins on the strength of his previous work.
- I’m not a fan of Jonathan Papelbon’s deal with the Phillies — four years, $50 million — but he looks better than what I would have imagined. He posted a three win season last year with the Red Sox which is nearly unheard of from a reliever.
- Matt Capps is going to earn $4.75M to pitch for the Twins this year. It’s an overpay, the worst on our list, because Capps looks more like a replacement level pitcher than one that is above replacement level. His recent track record is mixed, too.
Now, to delve into the Giants’ portion of the list: Affeldt and Lopez. My main problem with Affeldt is that while he is a good pitcher, he only projects at .23 wins in 2012. That’s a solid bullpen guy, but it’s more back-end than late inning dominance. The Giants are going to pay him close to $22M per win added. That’s hugely out of whack with the average $7M per win that teams have paid out for this group. I think if the Giants don’t pick up Affeldt’s option, he signs for something like $2-3M on the market.
Paying Lopez $4.25M per year, in my opinion, is almost unforgivable. I love what Lopez has done for the Giants, but you just can’t pay your LOOGY $4M per year. The Giants will pay Lopez right around $11.5M per win — again, out of line with what we’ve seen in this group.
In the end, I think we can say that the Giants are paying a ‘premium’ for Affeldt and Lopez. Though, as I’ve previously written in other posts, it’s not overly surprising; Brian Sabean obviously likes stability in his bullpen. In Affeldt and Lopez the Giants surely have a sense of what they’ll be getting. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the team paid for a Lexus and instead got a Ford Fiesta. The Giants acted quickly to pick up Affeldt’s option and sign Lopez’s deal, but one has to wonder what would have happened if they waited a little longer for the market to develop.