Staturday: Does Jason Giambi help the A's?

A few months ago, I opined:

That means that signing Giambi and sticking Cust in the outfield will garner us, at most, an extra 2 wins (+25 - 15 - (-10) = 20 runs, 10 runs = 1win) - for which we'd have the pleasure of paying Jason Giambi about $10 MM.

I'm not opposed to paying $10 MM for an extra few wins, but only if a) we're at the cusp of contention, b) there are no better options, and c) the move has some upside.  None of those three criteria are met here.  We're not knocking at the door to the division, there are lots of low key upgrades we might make in the infield, and there is virtually zero upside to signing Jason Giambi beyond what I've outlined here.

In the light of Preparation G's "imminent" return to Oakland, let's revisit that conclusion.  The price has dropped considerably since I wrote the above.  Management believes that we are at the cusp of contention (whether or not you think so is, well, up to you).  It's arguable whether or not there are better options, but I'm of the mind that this move doesn't necessarily preclude others, although space on the 25-man roster is becoming tight.  I think we can mostly agree that there's not a lot of upside to this move, as Giambi is both a known quantity offensively and also an injury risk due (at least) to age.

Thanks to Chone Smith, we have projections for next season at our fingertips. For the purposes of this post, I'll just assume about 150 games of playing time for everyone - that obviously won't be true, but it will give us a starting point.

Prior to signing Giambi, I think we would have seen an outfield of Holliday, Sweeney, and Buck.  With Giambi, there are two options.

First, send Buck to the bench (or the minors), run Cust into the outfield, and let Giambi DH. Cust versus Giambi at DH is a wash - both project to about 20 runs above average over 150 games.  So the exchange here is Buck in a corner OF spot for Cust in a corner outfield spot.

Buck is projected to be a slightly above average hitter and if you assume above average defense (+7 runs), you're essentially talking about an average player.  That's +2.5 wins above replacement for a full year.  Cust is a far superior hitter, but if you consider his outfield defense to be very bad (-10 runs), he comes out to...+2.5 wins.  No gain, although given Buck's injury history I would guess that Cust in the OF will be worth more than Buck+replacements in the OF over the millions of possible future trajectories.

Second option is to bench (or option) Barton and live with Giambi's awful defense at first base.  Barton projects as Buck's equal with the bat.  Throw in some slightly above average defense (+5 runs) and you've got yourself a +2 win player.  Giambi, like Cust, is far superior with the bat but a butcher in the field (-10 runs).  Put it together and you've got a +2.25 win player.  Slight gain, although it's essentially a wash.

Prior to the Holliday trade, a Giambi signing might have made some sense, as pushing Cust to the outfield would have replaced a truly putrid hitter.  But with Holliday in the fold, we're pushing out a guy like Buck.  And replacing Barton with Giambi is also a wash.  Defense counts for something in this game, and Giambi doesn't have it.

As for depth, Giambi (by proxy) adds injury insurance to 1B and corner OF.   That's good, considering that Buck is never healthy and Barton's head might lose an battle with the bottom of a hotel swimming pool.  The depth is nice, but this team's major injury concerns are at 3B and 2B, where the potential replacements for our projected starters are...well, let's just hope that Chavez and Ellis can play.

So, for $6 MM or whatever it is, this move doesn't really improve the team, doesn't add a missing skill, probably inhibits the development of either Barton or Buck, and results in the loss of a roster spot (the likely casualty is Rajai Davis). Thumbs down.

This is a team with a whole lot of "average" around the diamond, with premium players in LF and 2B.  SS (and possibly 3B) will be the only sucking wound, and we need to fill it in a bad way.  At this point, an overpay for Orlando Cabrera might actually be a good idea.  Hey - does anybody know what David Eckstein's health situation is?

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