If you missed the big Giants Twitter controversy this afternoon…well, it probably means you had way better things to do than scan social media sites for the latest beat writer battle with Internet trolls. If that’s the case, then I envy you, good sir.
Tomorrow marks the non-tender deadline for MLB teams, meaning that clubs have until tomorrow to dump their arbitration-eligible players if they don’t feel like handing them the rather sizable pay raise that the process inevitably results in. Teams can either non-tender eligible players (which is basically releasing them), or they can offer them salary arbitration, which of course means the two sides propose salary figures for the oncoming season and an arbitrator decides which side wins. These days, when arbitration is offered, the player and the club almost always come to an agreement beforehand simply to avoid the often-acrimonious process. The last time the Giants actually went to arbitration with a player was way back in 2004, when they lost to A.J. Pierzynski.
The Giants have seven such players to make a decision on by tomorrow. They are: Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Yusmeiro Petit, Gregor Blanco, Travis Ishikawa, Ryan Vogelsong, and Hector Sanchez. Belt, Crawford, and Petit are unquestionably going to be offered arbitration, and MLB.com’s Chris Haft appears convinced that the Giants won’t let Sanchez go. Vogelsong is highly doubtful and Ishikawa is on the bubble; the Giants could probably non-tender both and try to bring one or both of them back on cheaper deals if they really wanted to.
As for Blanco, who has been a valuable bench player/spot starter for three seasons, you’d think retaining him for a few million dollars would be a no-brainer. Well…here’s what SF Chronicle beat writer Henry Schulman had to say about the situation earlier today:
.@mlbtraderumors estimates Blanco’s arb value at $3.5 million. Big chunk for a guy they hope to be 4th OF. Non-tender candidate? Maybe.
— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) December 1, 2014
This seemingly harmless, speculative comment ignited a mini-shitstorm on Twitter, or at least as much of a shitstorm as talk of a fourth outfielder can possibly evoke. A bunch of fans piled on Schulman for daring to question whether Blanco may not be worth $3.5 million, and it touched off a mildly contentious back-and-forth that provided some decent mid-afternoon entertainment to break up a busy post-Thanksgiving Monday at work.
It got me kind of wondering, though: is there any chance in hell the Giants wouldn’t want to give Blanco the (estimated) $3.5 mil he’d probably command in arbitration? The crux of Schulman’s argument (it was really more of a throwaway exercise in rosterbating than an argument, but whatever) is that the Giants have been good at turning dirt-cheap scrap heap finds into solid role players in recent years, so why not go to that well again? Why pay Blanco a few million bucks when Gregor Blanco v.2 is out there somewhere for the price of a spring training invite? It’s a reasonable enough question to ponder, at least.
I guess the most immediate question is: is Gregor Blanco v.2 actually out there, for free? I’m not so sure. Yes, the Giants got Blanco for basically nothing, but Blanco isn’t “just” a solid bench guy. He’s one of the best fourth outfielders in the major leagues. The fact that the Giants could plug him in as a starter for the stretch run after losing key players in two different years, and still roll to a World Championship not once, but twice, is a testament to that.
There is a segment of the Twitter population (again with the Twitter) that just hates Blanco. I know because the anti-Blanco sentiment floods my Twitter feed during each and every Giants game. That derision probably stems from the fact that he’s basically a .250 hitter (which is generally unsexy to many in the Twitterverse), he doesn’t hit home runs, and he strikes out a little too often for a singles-hitting speed guy.
Of course, Blanco is a good baserunner, he’s a very good fielder at all three outfield positions, and he draws walks. That more than makes up for his inability to hit for a gaudy batting average, especially the part where he can play center field and play it well. The average National League center fielder hit .268/.326/.400 in 2014. Blanco hit .260/.333/.374 in 2014, logging most of his innings in center field while covering for the injured Angel Pagan. He’s not going to blow you away as a starter, but he won’t kill you, and the Giants obviously did just fine with him manning center in the postseason.
Blanco is a practically perfect fourth outfielder, and the Giants likely view him as their practically perfect fourth outfielder in 2015. The fact that he’s been stretched a little bit beyond his ideal role the past three seasons has, I think, underrated him a bit in fans’ eyes. You probably don’t want him logging 500 plate appearances, but every team would kill to have a sub like Blanco who could fill in as a leadoff hitter and defensive replacement and do it as deftly as he can. Since Angel Pagan has become a perennial injury risk and left field right now is an unsolved mystery, Blanco’s versatility becomes that much more important.
Some fans were pointing out to Schulman today that Fangraphs has had Blanco worth as much as $13 million per season over the past three years (here are the figures). I love Blanco as much as anybody, but that simply doesn’t pass the stink test, and Schulman rightfully shot those fans down for it.
What does pass the stink test, however, is the idea that the Giants correctly realize that (roughly) $3.5 million is a small price to pay for a fourth outfielder with Blanco’s ability. A player like Blanco, even if he is a bench player, doesn’t grow on trees. Yes, the Giants are good at turning dog doo doo into diamonds, and have been for a number of years. However, is $3.5 million really such an onerous amount that makes it worth the trouble for the Giants to go gambling on the waiver wire that they can find another player of Blanco’s caliber on the cheap? I really doubt it.