The Jeremy Affeldt Contract Was a Mistake for Giants

Jeremy Affeldt

This isn’t a case of hindsight being 20/20. I was adamantly against the contract the San Francisco Giants gave to Jeremy Affeldt over the winter at the time of the transaction.

I was against the contract because I didn’t feel the Brandon League deal actually set the market for setup relievers, Affeldt had lost velocity on his fastball – he had an inconsistent history against opposite-handed hitters, he was injury prone, and his contract was a waste of resources for a team that needed to upgrade in left field.

At the time of the deal, I wrote:

The argument has been made that the 3-year, $22.5 million contract that the Los Angeles Dodgers gave to set-up man Brandon League created a new market for relievers this winter.

However, the 2-year, $6 million contract that the Tampa Bay Rays gave to set-up man Joel Peralta provides evidence to the contrary…Affeldt will turn 34 years old next year, so an age-related decline is one risk factor inherent in this contract. He has also had to go on the disabled list in each of the last two seasons due to freak injuries suffered away from the field. Those injuries are likely just flukes, but his risk for injury will continue to increase as he ages. Affeldt had a very good season against right-handed batters last season, but he allowed a .764 OPS against them in 2011, and a .784 OPS to them in 2010. His fastball velocity peaked at an average of 94.6 MPH in 2008 and dipped down to a career-low 91.4 MPH last season. He pitched effectively at that speed last season, but he could lose even more velocity going forward…despite having a $130 million payroll last season, they still could not find room in the budget to retain Carlos Beltran. Even with a large and growing payroll, every penny still counts for the Giants.

Later in the offseason, other setup men signed for less money than Affeldt. Jason Grilli, who is much better than Affeldt, signed for just two years and $6.75 million. Mike Adams got two years and $12 million with a club option from the Phillies. Sean Burnett got $8 million over two years plus an option from the Angels.

Beyond the money, my argument that Affeldt was a health risk has proved to be prescient. He’s gone on the disabled list twice this season, most recently with a groin injury suffered on Saturday night.

His velocity hasn’t come back, either. His fastball is down to an average of 91.1 mph this season from a high of 94.6 mph in 2008. It was 93.9 mph in his first year with the Giants in 2009, but just 91.4 in 2012.

His success against righties has proved to be unsustainable as well. Opposite-handed hitters are batting .250/.377/.375 against the left-handed Affeldt in 2013. He’s allowed several big hits to righties including a game-winning three-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt on June 7, a game-winning two-run single to Marcel Ozuna on June 22, and a game-winning single to Nolan Arenado on June 29.

The Giants are paying Affeldt a $5 million base salary this season with a $3 million signing bonus. Those funds would have been better served going to a legitimate late-inning reliever like Grilli, or towards a left fielder.

San Francisco left fielders have combined to hit .270/.319/.357 with just two home runs this year. They have the fourth-worst OPS in baseball from the position. They’re currently platooning minor league free agent second baseman Kensuke Tanaka and waiver wire pickup Jeff Francoeur there.

I argued that the Giants should have signed Nick Swisher to play left field. Swisher is making $11 million in the first year of a four-year, $56 million contract this season. While it looks like I was right on Affeldt, I was wrong on Swish. He’s hitting just .239/.347/.391 with nine home runs and only 26 extra-base hits. Signing him would have cost the Giants their first-round draft pick, which turned out to be shortstop Christian Arroyo. Arroyo is hitting .254/.338/.413 through 16 games in rookie ball.

The only other quip I had with the Giants’ offseason was their refusal to offer Angel Pagan the one-year qualifying offer. If Pagan had accepted, they would have had him on a one-year, $13.3 million deal. If he had declined, his value would have been driven down by the draft-pick compensation attached to him by the qualifying offer. I liked the decision to bring Pagan back, but I think the Giants could have gotten him for substantially less than the four-year, $40 million they ultimately gave him.

That contract wasn’t an overpay at all compared to the rest of the outfield market. Swisher (4/$56 million), Josh Hamilton (5/$125), B.J. Upton (5/$75), and Michael Bourn (4/$48) all got larger contracts than Pagan, and all four were extended the qualifying offer. Shane Victorino (3/$39) wasn’t attached to draft-pick compensation because he was dealt during the 2012 season, and he still received more money per year than Pagan.

The Giants got Pagan on a good deal considering how outstanding he was in 2012. However, had they used the leverage of the qualifying offer, they could have had him on a one-year deal, or a shorter contract of some kind. Now they’re on the hook for three more years and $28 million for a 32-year-old outfielder whose only plus tool is his speed. Given that Pagan is getting older and coming off of a major leg injury, it’s fair to wonder how much value the Giants will get out of that deal.

Hopefully, San Francisco learns to play hard ball with free agents Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence this offseason. They should slap the qualifying offer on both of those players immediately and tell both agents they’d be happy to recoup two first-round supplemental draft picks if their clients want to sign elsewhere.

All contractual data in this article is courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Baseball Contracts. All statistics in this article are courtesy of ESPN.

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