According to multiple sources, the San Francisco Giants are in agreement with free-agent starter Ryan Vogelsong on a one-year contract, pending a physical. Re-signing Vogelsong is the least inspiring move the Giants have made this winter.
The club declined a $6.5 million option on Vogelsong for 2014, which was the right move. Vogelsong posted a terrible 5.73 ERA over 19 starts last season. His strikeout rate fell by nearly six percent as he lost close to two ticks off his fastball. He’ll turn 37 next July, so it’s a good bet that his missing velocity and strikeouts are never to return. Thus, buying out his option and exploring the market made sense.
In the worst case scenario, the Giants could have just turned the 5th starter spot over to incumbent right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. He’s projected to make only $1.3 million next season. The 29-year-old Petit nearly threw a perfect game last year. He posted a 3.56 ERA over eight appearances all told.
The Giants apparently decided that Vogelsong’s value had somehow increased since they declined his option after the World Series. He wasn’t worth $6.5 million, but according to the Giants, he’s worth $5 million and potentially more. According to Henry Schulman of The San Francisco Chronicle, Vogelsong can earn more than $6.5 million in 2014 via incentives.
In the end, the Giants concluded Vogelsong wasn’t worth $6.5 million after having an atrocious year in 2013. They decided he was worth potentially more!
It’s hard to see this contract as anything other than a reward for failure. Vogelsong was a big reason why the Giants rotation went from being one of the best in the National League in 2011-12 to one of the worst in 2013. Vogelsong went 27-16 with a 3.05 ERA over 61 appearances from 2011-12. He also was the best pitcher on the staff during the 2012 playoffs, going 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA over four postseason starts—all Giants wins.
Unfortunately, that version of Vogelsong isn’t likely to come back. Vogelsong’s best pitch during his run of success was his fastball. When he was throwing 90-94 mph, he was tough to hit. Last year, sitting at 85-89 mph, he couldn’t get anyone out. If the velocity doesn’t come back—and at 37 it probably won’t—it’s hard to imagine Vogelsong rediscovering his magic. Unlike Tim Lincecum—who the Giants re-signed to a two-year, $35 million deal earlier this winter—Vogelsong doesn’t have dominant secondary stuff. His curveball, changeup and cutter are all just average offerings that don’t induce many swing-throughs.
The re-signings of Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez all made sense. Lincecum has put up a high ERA over the past two seasons, but he still misses bats at an elite rate. Given his relative youth and history as a Cy Young winner and fan favorite, the Giants decision to keep him in the fold made sense. They gave Lincecum a lot of money, but perhaps that contract was necessary in order to keep him off the market and avoid damaging his pride. Pence was arguably the Giants’ best offensive player last year. They couldn’t afford to lose him, and his contract compares favorably with the one the Dodgers gave to Andre Ethier in 2012. Lopez is one of the best left-handed specialists in the game.
Signing Tim Hudson was also an excellent move to stabilize the rotation.
Instead of re-signing Vogelsong to round out the rotation, the Giants should have given the job to Petit or continued to explore the free-agent market. Scott Kazmir might be the most intriguing alternative still available. The 29-year-old lefty re-discovered his fastball velocity last year in Cleveland en route to a 4.04 ERA and 162 strikeouts over 158 innings. Signing a relatively young lefty with low-to-mid 90’s heat would have been a lot more inspiring that bringing back Vogelsong, who appeared washed up in 2013.
The Giants finished 16 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West last year. If the season started today, they’d be bringing back the exact same team with the exception of Hudson—who ostensibly replaces Barry Zito in the rotation. Hudson is a significant upgrade, but he can’t make up 16 games on the Dodgers alone.
The Giants are betting that Matt Cain, Lincecum and Vogelsong will all be significantly better in the rotation next year. They’re counting on healthy and effective seasons from Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan in the lineup. Even if everything goes to plan—and it never does—it’s still unclear if the Giants can overcome the Dodgers.
Re-signing Ryan Vogelsong after declining his option less than a month earlier was a bizarre move. The Giants initial evaluation of Vogelsong was correct; he wasn’t worth anywhere near $6.5 million based on how he looked last year.
Their change of heart reflects a desire for it to be 2012 again. Unfortunately, you can’t recreate the past. The current Giants roster looks like little more than an ode to the championship seasons of 2010 and 2012. Upgrading on Vogelsong in the rotation would’ve changed that perception.
The Giants ultimately missed their final shot to re-make a rotation that was badly in need of one more repair.