Dave Cameron laid out the methodology behind the rankings. Remember that the grading scale for each category is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York NL
#19 – Los Angeles
#18 – Colorado
#17 – Miami
#16 – Arizona
#15 – Cincinnati
#14 – Chicago NL
#13 – Milwaukee
San Francisco’s 2011 Organizational Ranking – #12
2012 Outlook: 54 (14th)
Last season, the Giants were the defending World Series Champions. This season, they’re trying to get back to the playoffs.
Since Barry Bonds‘ last year with the Giants in 2007, San Francisco has been all about pitching, pitching, pitching. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have been an outstanding 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Madison Bumgarner, just 22 years told, was pivotal in the 2010 playoffs and is poised to have a huge season. Ryan Vogelsong is back after his “comeback from out of the blue” year in 2011. And then there’s the $126 million man: Barry Zito, fifth starter.
Yesterday, Cain signed a contract extension with the Giants through 2017 with a club option for 2018. (Details on Cain’s extension can be found here and here). A few months back, Lincecum signed a two-year contract with the Giants, taking him through the end of the 2013 season when. That is also, mercifully, the last year of Zito’s contract, although the Giants will have to pay him another $7 million to go away in 2014.
With Cain’s extension, and the emergence of Bumgarner, the Giants just cracked open their window of opportunity to win with their superb pitching. San Francisco missed out on that in 2011 by failing to upgrade the offense after winning the World Series. Indeed, the pitching (rotation and bullpen) was actually better last season than in 2010, but the offense was historically bad.
The Giants didn’t pursue any free agents this winter, saying they were saving money to re-sign Lincecum and Cain. Instead, they traded for Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan to replace Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross and Andres Torres in the outfield. They also touted the return of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez — two important offensive pieces during the 2010 title run — both of whom missed more than half of 2011 with season-ending injuries. Posey’s had a positive and productive spring training. Sanchez, on the other hand, will start the season on the disabled list.
To get back to the playoffs in 2012, the Giants need the pitching to be as great as it’s been, and they need big seasons at the plate from Posey, Pablo Sandoval and whoever plays first base (more on that in a minute). Sandoval hit with authority in 2011, and despite missing six weeks with a broken hamate bone in his right hand last season, accumulated 5.5 WAR, the same as Prince Fielder.
Who will play first? Aubrey Huff or Brandon Belt? Just the mention of Belt’s name — or the infamous #FreeBrandonBelt hashtag — stirs deep emotions in Giants fans. Belt was a Top 25 Prospect heading into 2011. He made the Opening Day lineup due to injuries to Cody Ross and Andres Torres, but when he didn’t immediately perform, he was sent back to Triple-A. Then back to the majors. Then a broken wrist. Back to Triple-A. Back to the majors. And so on. In the meantime, Aubrey Huff, signed to a two-year/$20 million contract in the glow of the World Series victory, struggled to find his swing. He never did.
ZIPS projects Belt to have the 17th highest OBP in the majors this season. Yet, he’s fighting for a roster spot while Huff is penciled in as the everyday first baseman. For a team like the Giants, which scratches and claws for every run, keeping Belt in Triple-A makes absolutely no sense.
The Giants head into 2012 with a razor-thin margin for error. The pitching needs to be just as good as it’s been the last two seasons. The offense needs to kick it up a notch from last year. If either of those two things don’t happen, the Giants will likely be sitting on the sidelines during the playoffs in 2012.
2013+ Outlook: 47 (20th)
The young players the Giants have already promoted to the majors form a solid core going forward: Bumgarner, Posey, Sandoval, and Belt. And even with Cain’s $100+ million contract extension, the Giants should have good payroll flexibility after 2013, when the Zito contract expires. They’ll need that flexibility to trade or sign other pitchers and position players, however, because the Giants’ farm system is pretty thin.
Our own Marc Hulet ranks the Giants’ minor-league talent twenty-third out of thirty teams. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law at ESPN give the Giants even lower grades. Goldstein ranks San Francisco twenty-fifth; Law ranks them twenty-sixth.
Gary Brown is considered the Giants’ top prospect. The speedy center fielder could see action in the majors as early as this season, particularly if the Giants fall out of playoff contention. Joe Panik is also well-regarded. He was drafted as a shortstop, but will likely be moved to second base as he makes his way through the minors. The Giants also have several notable catching prospects, including Hector Sanchez, Tommy Joseph, and Andrew Susac, all of whom could become important if Buster Posey is eventually moved to first base.
But the strength of the Giants’ farm system for years — the pitching — is now a weakness, particularly with starters. Erik Surkamp and Kyle Crick are the highest-ranked starters, but neither is expected to replicate the success of Lincecum, Cain or Bumgarner. Heath Hembree, a righty with a mid-90s fastball and a deceptive slider, is being groomed as the new closer once Brian Wilson becomes a free agent after the 2013 season. There’s not much pitching depth after that.
Financial Resources: 56 (8th)
The Giants payroll will hit $130 million this season, putting the team in the top 10 in player salaries. That’s comfortably above the league-wide average of $92 million and below the trend-setting Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies. With new TV deals in place, the Rangers and Angels are quickly moving into the upper echelon of spending, with the newly-sold Dodgers and the Cubs not far behind.
For the last several seasons, more than 3 million fans have filled the seats game after game at AT&T Park. That’s a lot of tickets sold in a metropolitan area with a population of just over 4.3 million people. The Giants, of course, “share” the area with the Oakland A’s, but it’s not an even split. Indeed, the Giants claim they need to sell 3 million-plus tickets to just to “break even” on their $130 million payroll. That’s one reason the Giants are steadfastly opposed to the A’s proposed move to San Jose, itself a larger city than San Francisco, and in the center of booming Silicon Valley. The Giants claim that 30-35% of their tickets are sold to fans who live in and near San Jose.
The Giants play in their own privately-financed ballpark on which they pay $20 million in annual debt service. But the mortgage on AT&T Park will paid off by the end of 2017, giving the Giants an extraordinarily valuable asset, debt-free.
The Giants are locked into a twenty-five year broadcast agreement with Comcast SportsNet, a deal signed in 2008. But the Giants aren’t paid a set sum every year. Instead, according to Giants beat writer Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, Comcast pays the Giants a percentage of total revenue, likely in the range of 30-33 percent. Whether that kind of deal will enable the Giants to keep up with the new TV deals around the league remains to be seen.
Overall, the Giants are in good financial shape. The team claims to be very worried that an A’s move to San Jose would significantly cut into its revenue but the true numbers are not public. And in five years, the Giants will have paid off the expensive mortgage on AT&T Park, considered the crown-jewel of major league ballparks.
Baseball Operations: 40 (27th)
This is the Giants’ Achilles heel.
Brian Sabean has been the Giants’ general manager since 1997, making him the longest-tenured GM in the majors. The Giants have enjoyed success under Sabean, particularly in the years when Barry Bonds was hitting home runs into McCovey Cove on a regular basis. And of course, Sabean put together the 2010 team that won San Francisco’s first World Series.
But Sabean’s penchant for signing veteran free agents has led the Giants to overpay (and in some cases substantially overpay) for players way past their prime. These include contracts for Edgardo Alfonzo, Dave Roberts, Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria, Mark DeRosa, Miguel Tejada and the contract extension for Huff signed after the World Series victory. Yes, Edgar Renteria hit the game-winning home run for the Giants in the clinching game of the World Series. But he produced very little value to the team the first 23 months of the 24-month contract. And yes, I’ve left Barry Zito’s contract off this list because, by all accounts, that deal was made by Peter Magowan, the former managing general partner of the Giants.
We know very little about the Giants’ use of advanced metrics. We know the Giants employ at least a few smart, young analysts. We just don’t have a sense of what they do or how the information they generate is incorporated in the Giants’ decision-making process. We do know that Sabean rarely mentions analytics and doesn’t seem particularly comfortable talking about them when asked. Overall, it’s puzzling that a team that plays so close to Silicon Valley (and that relies on Silicon Valley money in the form of corporate sponsorships), seems so detached from the technological and statistical advances taking place in the game.
Overall: 51 (12th)
The Giants likely will be in the thick of the race in the National League West in 2012, in part because the West isn’t a particularly strong division, and in part because good pitching will keep the Giants competitive, at least for a while. A healthy Buster Posey, a productive Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt in the majors and not in Fresno, should give the Giants a better offense than they had last season.
The future is promising, but murky. The five-year deal for Cain is a good first step in solidifying the rotation but Lincecum’s future with the club is a big open question. The Giants will need to add to the solid core of Posey, Sandoval and Belt, only some of which is likely to come from their depleted farm system.
The Giants appear strong financially and fairly well-positioned to withstand the competition from the new Dodgers ownership. But they will have to make better strategic use of their resources. More investment in drafting and developing young players, and less investment in veteran free agents on the downside of the aging curve. More investment in advanced analytical tools, and less investment in marketing gimmicks. It can be done. Whether it will be done remains to be seen.