December 10, 2014 – Jon Lester decided to snub both the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants and sign with the Chicago Cubs. Throughout the remaining free agency period leading into the 2015 season, the Giants mainly swung and missed, with their biggest signing being Nori Aoki. The one-year deal for Aoki seemed decent, until he got hurt. After the Giants had talked so much about how they were willing to “splash the cash”, they did the exact opposite. And after limping across the 2015 finish line, it was clear the Giants needed to add pieces to get back into the race.
How The Giants Won 2016 Free Agency
The Battle for Zack Greinke
After Greinke finished the 2015 season, he was instantly the top free agent, and it honestly wasn’t even close. Greinke was coming off of three seasons where his highest ERA was a 2.71 (2014), highest WHIP was a 1.152 (2014), and lowest win total was fifteen (2013). He was the top free agent in the 2016 class, but was also demanding a $30 million a year salary minimum. And for a second, he really seemed worth it.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Giants were entrenched in a NL West heavy-weight battle for his services. Then, in the middle of the ruckus, like an old western movie, the Arizona Diamondbacks kicked the door down. In less than two hours, the Diamondbacks beat the crap out of the Dodgers and Giants, and stole the girl they were fighting over to boot (figuratively, of course).
Zack Greinke’s Greed
Money is very nice. For some players, that’s all they need. For others, they need a combination of money and competitive expectations. Some players give home town discounts, some drive up the price. One can never blame a player for getting what they’re due when it comes to getting paid. For most players, though, if they want to win, they have to make a sacrifice.
Greinke operated under the assumption that Arizona could fill both needs. Boy, was he ever wrong. Eighty-one games into the season, the D’Backs are nine games under .500, and in fourth place in an extremely top-heavy NL West. So much for a big contract, while in search of a ring.
The Giants Re-Sign Brandon Crawford
Crawford came off a career year. His first season in double-digit homers, and he won a gold glove at short over the usual incumbent, Andrelton Simmons. This was a key piece going forward, and was actually done well before Greinke even signed with the D’Backs. However, this deal definitely made it look like the Giants weren’t going to get multiple big name free agents. Enter Jeff Samardzija…
Giants Get Their Man, sort of…
The next big Giants announcement came when they signed Samardzija. A five year, $90 million contract, to statistically the worst starter in the league in 2015, raised major question marks. Although, the back end of the Giants rotation was quite near his numbers, anyway. The Giants brass felt that, due to the lower number of innings on his arm, as well as earlier flashes of brilliance, he was worth an investment.
So far that investment? The returns are a 3.91 ERA, 103 innings, and a WHIP of 1.18. Not too shabby. How is the thirty million dollar a year man doing? A 3.62 ERA, 109 innings, and a 1.16 WHIP. And that’s worth an extra twelve million? But that’s not even the best signing, the Giants made.
The Giants Finally Land The Big Fish
It has been a very long time since the Giants got one of the top free agents on the market and they actually panned out. Barry Zito‘s best year was his final year in the largest contract a pitcher had ever gotten at the time. Zito will go down in Giants folklore for his postseason performance in 2012, where he played the month of his life. Still, at twenty five million a year, Zito gave them an ERA of 4.47, a sub .500 winning percentage, and a 1.404 WHIP. Not elite.
Johnny Cueto had the lowest WHIP of any pitcher not named Kershaw or Greinke from 2012 to the present. Overshadowed by average Cincinnati Reds teams behind him, and a injury-plagued stint with the Kansas City Royals, many overlooked Cueto as a top free agent. He had the best stats of any free agent in the class.
Somehow, San Francisco still had money in its pocket, and apparently it was burning a hole. The Giants signed Cueto at a little more than twenty million a year, over six years. They even gave him an opt-out after three years if he wanted to make more money, or the Giants plan for success didn’t pan out.
His main goal for his career was multiple rings, and he easily decided that a team that won three rings in six years was a great choice. Despite the fact he had just won a ring in Kansas City, the Royals tend to not give the type of contracts the Giants had offered. Cueto got the best of both worlds: a winning team and a deal above his market value. Cueto is one of the lucky few, and so are the Giants.
A Beacon of Humility
The Giants owners are not the type to come out and say they are light years ahead of everyone else in the league. They prefer to put their heads down and let their product do the talking. They find value where nobody else does and win the contract battles they feel are worth winning. They backed off on Greinke and Lester, who have yet to live up to their contract prices. Cueto? Samardzija? They have lived up to their prices.
Three championships since the turn of the decade signal that these guys know what they are doing. Despite many people writing them off, or jumping on the Cubs bandwagon, they continue to roll on with their “even-year magic.” As the the postseason draws nearer, remember what wins rings: pitching, defense, and consistent offense.
As everyone else swings for the fences, the Giants continue to do what works. Reward in-house success first, re-tool and build depth with elite pieces that fit their philosophy, and build depth at the deadline. As the Giants continue to come barreling towards the Cubs place for best record in the league, just remember how they got there.