SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants officially turned down Ryan Vogelsong’s $6.5 million option on Monday, and both sides resolved to explore other options while keeping the door open for a return.
In a decision that Giants vice president Bobby Evans called “complex” and “difficult,” the club will give Vogelsong a $300,000 buyout. The Giants also officially declined options on Barry Zito (a $7 million buyout instead of $18 million) and Andres Torres ($500,000 instead of $3 million).
Evans said conversations with Vogelsong’s agent were mostly about whether the club would pick up the option. There were minimal discussions about the structure of a new deal for a smaller guarantee with incentives, although both sides are open to that possibility depending on what alternatives the market will provide.
“There were some what-ifs and we'd still like to keep the door open for conversation but we did not put anything on the table,” Evans said. “We’d like to keep the door open, allowing them to explore their options and us to explore ours and just to keep an open mind.
“Today doesn’t eliminate his chances of coming back but it obviously is a step back in the process.”
Vogelsong is a 2011 All-Star and a 2012 postseason hero whose late-career comeback ranks as one of the most inspiring tales in recent franchise history. But he’s also going to turn 37 in July and is coming off a difficult season in which he went 4-6 with a 5.73 ERA and 1.56 WHIP.
His struggles were acute even before May 20, when he was struck by a pitch that crushed the pinky finger on his pitching hand. He returned in August and ended up throwing just seven quality starts out of 19.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean have said that Vogelsong deserves the benefit of the doubt, not only because he has revived his career once before but also because he likely was set back by pitching in the World Baseball Classic last March, immediately after such a short offseason.
Does it seem a bit unfair that the Giants would decline Vogelsong’s option just a few days after overpaying, in the view of most within the game, to bring back Tim Lincecum for $35 million over two seasons?
Perhaps. But remember that these decisions are almost always made with market forces in mind. The Giants both had confidence in Lincecum’s upside as well as the fact he would’ve commanded lots of interest on the open market. And they didn’t want to enter free agency with THREE spots to fill in their rotation.
Obviously, letting Vogelsong test the market was a sign that the Giants believe they can bring him back at a lower cost.
There’s one other issue at work. If the Giants are keen on signing more than one free-agent pitcher, it’ll be hard to sell them on coming to San Francisco if they only had one opening in their rotation. They could always sign two pitchers and then perhaps bring back Vogelsong at a later date this winter, if he is still on the market.
Depth is never a bad thing, as the Giants found out this past season.
As for now, the Giants must round out a rotation beyond Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Lincecum.
“These are the three mainstays of our rotation, not only for the immediate past but in the immediate future,” Evans said. “These are key reasons that we won twice in the last four years. We want to explore options on the market that will only help us get better.”
Although the club is thought to prefer short-term deals with dependable innings loggers, a mold that fits pitchers like Bronson Arroyo and Dan Haren, Evans said he and Sabean didn’t want to eliminate any opportunity in the market.
“We’re going to explore as many options as we can,” Evans said. “I would not want to limit Brian’s choices to any one single element. There’s the ideal and the less than ideal but good fits can come in many different forms. We’re not necessarily limited to just guys who have been healthy, but there are obviously some advantages to that. Those sometimes can be your longer deals.”
The Giants also have had ongoing dialogue with left-hander Javier Lopez, but no deal was expected to be announced before midnight when free agents are unrestricted and can sign with any team.
In other news, Evans said 17-year-old outfielder Gustavo Cabrera “pretty near severed everything you can sever in his arm” in what he described to club officials as a household accident in the Dominican Republic. Cabrera told Evans “in clear Spanish” that he slipped and threw out his right arm to brace his fall when his hand wend through a glass door or window.
Although outgoing farm director Fred Stanley expected Cabrera could play next season, Evans said the young prospect, who signed for $1.3 million last summer, is looking at a solid year of rehab and likely more.
“I don’t think this is career threatening,” Evans said. “He’s 17 years old. It’s going to take time. He could be looking at a year or more of rehab, I hesitate to say two years, but at least a year of baseball activities.”
Evans said Cabrera was just beginning to move his fingers. He injured his wrist Oct. 22 and traveled to Arizona the following day, then had surgery in San Francisco.
“How he flew in the immense pain he must’ve been in, I’ll never know,” Evans said. “But it’s a brave young man and we put a team of doctors on him here to reconnect everything.”
One final note: Evans was not ready to name Stanley’s replacement as the organization’s director of player personnel. Shane Turner and Steve Decker are among their top internal candidates, and my understanding is they’re likely to go that route.