11 in the hand vs. Vlad in the Bush

Sabean has been quoted from many venues that signing a Vladimir Guerrero would have costed the Giants Jim Brower, Scott Eyre, Pedro Feliz, Jeff Hammonds, Matt Herges, Dustin Hermanson, Dustan Mohr, A.J. Pierzynski, J.T. Snow, Brett Tomko, Michael Tucker. Let's examine that premise given public information.

Sabean has been quoted from many venues that signing a Vlad would have costed the Giants Jim Brower, Scott Eyre, Pedro Feliz, Jeff Hammonds, Matt Herges, Dustin Hermanson, Dustan Mohr, A.J. Pierzynski, J.T. Snow, Brett Tomko, Michael Tucker. Let's examine that premise given the public information available to us.

The Salaries of the Vlad "11" vs. Vlad

First, the salaries of these eleven are not all set yet. Mohr's salary have not been set yet that I've read, so I have to assume something for him. I set Mohr's salary at $350K - he made $315K last year. If he gets more, it's OK because, as we'll see, it all evens out at the end. Assuming he gets that, this adds up for the Vlad "11" getting $13.5M from the Giants plus incentives of approximately $1M.

Vlad signed at five year contract for $70M with the Anaheim Angels. He gets a salary of $10M for 2004 plus a $5M bonus, then salaries of $11.5M, $12.5M, $13.5M, and $14.5M. One would presume that there are other bonuses and incentives but those have not been reported.

So the Vlad "11" is getting a "salary" of $13.5M while Vlad is getting a salary of $10M. In addition, there is the $5M bonus that Vlad gets and the $1M in incentives that the Vlad "11" can earn. In addition, the Giants would need to sign Vlad before the deadline to save the draft pick money just like Tucker to vend that out. Net result: a difference of $0.6M in additional salary to get Vlad but then we are missing a lot of key players, like Herges and a starting 1B. Or are we?

The Hidden "Nest Egg"

However, recent events shed light on additional budget that was previously hidden. As I had noted last June in my articles, "Giant's Post-Bonds Era Preparation: The Lowdown" and "Giants CAN Afford Vlad!", the Giants ownership should be willing to extend the budget for a player that they really wanted. Apparently the Giants owners viewed Maddux (but not Vlad) as a desirable player as they were willing to make an offer, which, however, was reportedly quickly turned down (though Boras claimed later that the offer was not quickly turned down and got serious consideration from Maddux but it could just be spin to cover this over for the Giants as thanks for getting the Cubs to bump up their offer).

However, given that Sabean recently said that the Giants were already above their target budget, at $78M, that means that they were willing to go way over budget for Maddux. The newspaper media reported that the offer was for three years at over $15M but below the potential $24M the Cubs could be on the hook for, and substantially over the $15M according to a newspaper's source. The mid-point of that would yield a per year average of $6.5M so bump that up to $7M per year so that the offer is at least over the midway point. They could have instead applied this to Vlad and still have some money left over. Net Result is now we have an extra $6.4M if the Giants had pursued Vlad instead of the eleven players plus Maddux.

The $6.4M Question: What Will $6.4M Get the Giants?

There are numerous ways to permutate the players that the Giants could retain out of the eleven but obviously we have some critical ones to sign. First and foremost, A.J. Pierzynski for his recently won $3.5M contract (what were the Giants thinking, offering only $2.25M! But that's another story...) as otherwise we lost Nathan and two good prospects for nothing. Then Eyre and Herges for $1.025M and $1.0M respectively because we need a strong bullpen in case Nen doesn't come back all the way. That's $5.6M for the three; the Giants have $0.8M left.

In addition, Tomko deferring $1M of his salary allows the Giants to sign him for $1.2M but only count $0.2M for this year, leaving the Giants with $0.6M left. That leaves the following players unsigned: Jim Brower, Pedro Feliz, Jeff Hammonds, Dustin Hermanson, Dustan Mohr, JT Snow, and Michael Tucker.

However, the Giants need a starting 1B. So the Giants sign Pedro Feliz for $0.85M and end up only $0.25M over. And as the bench is still pretty light on experienced players, we sign Dustan Mohr at $350K to get to $0.6M over, to get an experienced backup outfielder who can play all three positions on the bench on the cheap. Lastly retain Jim Brower to buoy the bullpen and insure against a starter breakdown (any of them) for only another $0.7M to end at $1.3M over. The Giants would be penny-wise and pound foolish to not sign these three.

Roster A.V. (After Vlad)

Thus, in this scenario Vlad is signed to play RF at the same contract as he signed with the Angels and the Giants can still retain Brower, Eyre, Feliz, Herges, Mohr, Pierzynski, and Tomko for just $1.3M more than they would be right now if they had Maddux accepted a three-year $21M contract with the Giants.

The 25 man roster would look like this:
Starting Lineup: Durham, Alfonzo, Bonds, Vlad, Pierzynski, Grissom, Feliz, Perez
Starting Rotation: Schmidt, Rueter, Williams, Tomko, Correia
Bench: Torrealba, Ransom, Dallimore, Ellison, Mohr
Bullpen: Nen, Herges, F-Rod, Eyre, Christensen, Zerbe, Brower

What a Difference a Vlad Makes

So how different is this roster from today? For starters, instead of Snow/Feliz at 1B and Tucker/Hammonds in RF, we have Feliz at 1B and Vlad in RF. Huge improvement in the lineup. In the starting rotation, instead of Hermanson we have Correia. For a #5 starter, we got to the World Series with Ryan Jensen as our #5 and won 100 games last year with Jesse Foppert as our #5 for most of the year, so between the two of Hermanson and Correia, it is probably not too critical (personally though, my gut feeling is that Correia would do just as well if not better than Hermanson if given the chance).

The bullpen would be unchanged in this scenario, but the bench would be vastly different, with Hammonds/Tucker (whoever's not starting) and Feliz/Snow (whoever's not starting) morphing into Jason Ellison and Brian Dallimore, both looking like lifetime AAAA players. This would be a big drop in production but should be more than covered by Vlad's extra production as a starter and a lower dropoff in production overall from plate appearances that Hammonds/Tucker and Feliz/Snow would have gotten being given to Dustan Mohr instead of the rookies. In addition, is it that much worse than starting off last year with Torrealba, Perez, Feliz, Benard, and Rivera on the bench?

Net result: lineup vastly improved, starting rotation about the same, bench weaker but buoyed by retaining Mohr at minimal cost, and the bullpen would be unchanged, for what I think is an overall improvement. Plus the basic makeup of the team would be the same as currently except now the Giants have Vlad in RF and Feliz fulltime at first. All for only $1.3M more than the Giants payroll would be right now had Maddux accepted the Giants offer.

Playoffs Versus World Series

Look at today's lineup versus with Vlad:

Today: Durham, Snow, Bonds, Alfonzo, Pierzynski, Grissom, Tucker, Perez
Get Vlad: Durham, Alfonzo, Bonds, Vlad, Pierzynski, Grissom, Feliz, Perez

Today's lineup puts no fear in anyone though I do believe that the Giants today is about the same offensively as the team from last year, as I noted in my article "Giants Are Not Bad As Is", and is in a good position to make the playoffs, as is. With Vlad, however, we are strong in the lineup from 1-5 while still getting good, if sporadic, offensive support from 6-8. And while the starting rotation does not look world beating either way, with a vastly improved offense it should have a very good chance at making the World Series, certainly as good a chance as we had in 2002 because the Schmidt we have today is vastly improved over that year's model.

Today's roster is built on the philosophy that depth is important for making the playoffs and after that it is a crapshoot and you hope for the best. That's only good for making the playoffs and not for winning the whole thing, though perhaps Sabean will do his mid-season magic and get a player similar to the one many of us were clamoring for. However, there is no guarantee that this player will sign a long-term contract with the Giants. While I thank the heavens above that Sabean is our general manager and hope he stays here until he retires, I have to say that I do not totally agree with this decision to not sign Vlad (which may not have been his to make, it could have come from the ownership).

Vlad would have given us an imposing offense in tandem with the Pierzynski signing. Plus an even better offense against lefthanders, as Grissom and Feliz hit much better against lefthanders anyhow. Maddux, who they did pursue, would not have made our rotation imposing, though obviously greatly improved. He is one of the best pitchers of almost any era, let alone this era, a fierce competitor and he is still barely a .500 pitcher in the playoffs. Of course, that is a two way street, as his 3.22 ERA in the playoffs suggest that his offense let him down, but even he could not will his team to wins in the playoffs; one of the best pitchers ever, and he is reduced to a .500 pitcher.

That said, perhaps Vlad will be a disappointment in the playoffs seeing as he has never been in a playoff situation with the Expos. But the Expos were in the race in July and August but back in the pack so the pressure was on them to produce then or fall out of the race. Vlad hit .382/.450/.735/1.185 in July in 34 AB after returning from his bad back and .349/.420/.726/1.146 in August in 106 AB, so he certainly produced. For comparison, Vlad's slugging during that period by itself as an OPS (meaning he impossibly had an on-base percentage of .000 where OPS is On-base percentage Plus Slugging percentage), would have been about the same as Aurilia's or Alfonzo's OPS in 2003. And his on-base percentage was off the charts as well, almost Bondsian.

Not Getting Vlad Was, Is, and Will Stay Bad

Getting Vlad in the manner I outlined above would have made a huge difference to the damage that our lineup is capable of without costing the rotation a lot or the bench significantly in the overall picture. And all for only $1.3M more (less if the Giants could have broken up Vlad's $5M bonus into the future by giving more overall, like $1M each year of the contract). The Giants management should have thrown caution into the winds by signing Vlad and preparing the roster for a long stay in the playoffs rather than playing it conservatively by going for depth and just focused on making the playoffs.

I understand the conservatism by the ownership over Vlad's herniated disc in his back. But Bonds is not going to hit even like he did last year, let alone the previous two years, and there were not any other good options on the marketplace to take advantage of Bonds declining but still good years in terms of premier hitters who could take a lower salary now ($10M range) via a long-term contract. And it won't be like the Giants would have huge losses, they would have took a big hit this year, but with a number of contracts coming off next year, it would have been absorbed OK. And with no player signed beyond 2006, there is a huge opportunity to totally reshape the roster for 2007, even if Vlad turned out to be not so good an acquisition. They should have took the risk, assuming that they agree that they would like to see a World Series championship during Bonds tenure as a Giants.

Lost Opportunity

Hopefully the Giants will learn from this and take on more risk next off-season when signing on the successor to Bonds. However, the odds of a great season from Bonds is decreasing exponentially each season. And while that doesn't mean he won't have a great season, it does mean that you cannot go into it thinking he will, especially as he turns 40 this season.

But, as a soon to be released article I'm writing on Bonds, the 2004 season is probably the last season that fans can reasonably expect Bonds to have a great season and the Giants appear to have lost that opportunity unless they happen to pull of a blockbuster trade in spring training, utilizing their surplus of starting catchers and multitude of hot pitching prospects to pry a premier player from another club. Unfortunately, most trades tend to fill one hole and open another somewhere else, whereas if they had signed Vlad, they would have only lost a first round draft pick. Vlad was an opportunity lost.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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