According to multiple reports, the San Francisco Giants and reliever Javier Lopez have agreed to a 2-year, $8.5MM contract extension. Lopez has been a solid and at times outstanding lefty specialist since the Giants traded for him at the 2010 deadline. Lopez was almost perfect in the 2010 postseason, pitching 5.2 innings and allowing only one hit, one walk and one earned run.
However, paying Lopez in excess of $4MM per year is a move that is surprising for four reasons.
1. The timing: with so many arbitration-eligible guys and one of the worst offenses in franchise history, locking up Lopez didn’t seem to be a top priority for the Giants, but indeed it was.
2. The money: Buster Olney’s reaction was, “Good deal for Javier Lopez, and the Giants — $4 million per year seems to be the range for established set-up men.” But the Giants have made it clear they don’t want their payroll to jump substantially in 2012 from the $124MM+ they spent in 2011 and there’s a lot of roster spots left to cement.
3. Jeremy Affeldt: “I expect him to be in uniform next year,” said Brian Sabean at the postmortem press conference about Affeldt, who is due a $500K buyout if they don’t exercise a $5MM option for 2012. If $4MM is the going rate for a year from a setup guy, and Affeldt arguably had a better year than Lopez in 2011, does that mean Affeldt will be brought back at $5MM? Or is his recovery from the right-hand surgery following the infamous frozen burger patty incident going slower than the Giants were comfortable banking on?
Update: about 20 minutes after running this post, Henry Schulman reported that the Giants have also picked up Affeldt’s $5MM option. This means a couple things. First, the Giants hear you screaming to forget about the pitching for a minute and improve the offense and remain unconvinced. Second, they are not especially confident in the young(er) relievers in their system.
Translation: they aren’t counting on Dan Runzler to help them next year. At all.
4. Lopez’s late-season role: Lopez’s control was shaky all season (although his 4.4 BB/9 wasn’t very far off his career mark of 4.0), and he seemed to fall out of favor with Bruce Bochy a bit late in the season (to the point where at one point in August, Bochy was asked if Lopez was dealing with an injury after a long period of nonuse; Bochy said he was fine). After averaging 13 appearances per month from April-July, Lopez only amassed 21 appearances in the season’s last two months, which was especially odd considering the injuries suffered by Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson late in the year.
Time will tell what this means in terms of the Giants’ overall plan this off-season. Clearly they want to keep their pitching staff at the top of the NL West from top to bottom. They also might not be as opposed to spending money as some thought.
But questions remain. If they do re-sign Affeldt, how much money are they going to save to upgrade their offense with the budgetary constrictions they so often cite? Are they beefing up their bullpen depth because they’re worried about the long-term health of Brian Wilson? And perhaps the most fun question to ponder — after signing Lopez, who’s next?