Bobby Evans

Giants decline options on Aoki and Byrd, and that money probably won’t go to a top outfielder

norinori

We all knew the Giants were going to decline the option on Marlon Byrd, because at the end of the season they stopped playing him every day. (That had to be a little awkward, one would think.) The Nori Aoki decision was more in doubt, but when Bobby Evans said it’d be a “close call,” it didn’t seem like the vote of confidence required to shell out an extra $4.8 million for a slap-hitting left fielder with a bad arm and odd baserunning tendencies, who unfortunately is also a bit of a ball-magnet.

Still, the Giants’ decision was a bit of a surprise. Just check out Fangraphs’ rankings of the top 82 free agents.

fangraphs nori aoki

Their “Yes” percentage was a little high, but as you can see, the Giants could’ve kept Aoki for $5.5 million, but instead they’ll buy him out for $700,000 and see if he comes back cheaper. And there’s the rub for Giants fans hoping they’ll go after Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, or some other premium-priced outfielder.

For all of his faults — mostly related to on-field judgment in the outfield or on the basepaths — Aoki was the team’s best leadoff hitter last year. It wasn’t even close. The guy is a slap-hitting savant and a pain in the ass for opposing pitchers. And other than Gregor Blanco or (sigh) Angel Pagan, there’s no one in the organization who really makes sense to slide into that spot, either. An extra $4.8 million for a true leadoff man, a player who really helped make the Giants’ offense go in the first half of the season, doesn’t seem like much in 2016. Especially with the Giants’ current outfield situation currently unsettled.

Evans mentioned Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence, “but that’s only three outfielders. In a perfect world you’d like (Mac) Williamson and (Jarrett) Parker to show up in the spring and give you a reason to put them on the club. You don’t necessarily build your plans around them (doing that). So we’re going to need that depth.”

Andrew Baggarly mentioned an “especially high volume of conversations between executives” possibly leading to the Giants solving their outfield needs via the trade market, and Evans didn’t shut the door on Aoki coming back. But Evans mentioned “depth,” not “another starter.” Plus, Evans went out of his way to mention that Blanco had enjoyed his best offensive season when he was asked about Aoki at the team’s end-of-season postmortem press conference.

Meanwhile, the Giants have two holes to fill in their starting rotation. And despite claims out there that they have $50 million to spend this offseason, even with the extra $12.8 available with the Aoki/Byrd decisions that unknown figure is probably closer to $45 million.

Why?

Because the Giants do not want to pay the Competitive Balance Tax for a second straight year, and I don’t see what Measure D (Mission Rock) passing has to do with anything in regard to their 2016 expenditures. The Giants didn’t immediately profit from that vote, and even though they’ll profit from the long-term results of that vote, they still need to invest all of the condo complexes, restaurants and whatever else they’re planning. Remember, this is a team that referenced the debt service they had to pay on AT&T every year, even though they were selling out the park … until they started winning World Series and fans stopped complaining. They knew Measure D would pass based on polling numbers, and their plan has always been to increase their payroll slightly each year. That didn’t change on Tuesday.

If the Giants are going to go after one of the top free agent starting pitchers, there is no way they can add another pitcher AND a guy like Cespedes/Heyward/Upton/Gordon, and hope to fill out the rest of their roster. They might hope to dump Pagan’s salary, but he was one of the worst starting position players in the game last year thanks to his low on-base percentage and awful defense. Other GMs know this.

I’ll play along and allow that the decisions on Aoki and Byrd increase the chances that the Giants will go after a top-four starter (which I thought were infinitesimally small before, when I assumed they’d exercise Aoki’s option). But the loss of Aoki to injury didn’t break the 2015 Giants. It was the losses of Pence and Joe Panik, along with a very mediocre starting staff, that sunk the 2015 Giants. I would expect the Giants to be in play for every expensive starter, then end up with a good second-tier starter without a qualifying offer attached and an old starter who won’t want too many years (like Mike Leake or Scott Kazmir and say, Doug Fister or Mark Buehrle, who still hasn’t announced his retirement yet), and wait out the outfield market for someone who gets passed over and comes relatively cheap. Which could end up being Aoki.

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