Programming note: Don't miss Larry Baer's exclusive 30-minute sit-down interview on SportsTalk Live's 'But Seriously' tonight at 8:30 and 11pm, only on CSN Bay Area.
SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants didn’t come away from the 2014 offseason with an ace to slot alongside Madison Bumgarner, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Left-hander Jon Lester got the full-court press from ownership, the front office and even the active roster before ultimately deciding to pitch for the Chicago Cubs.
A year later, the market will provide plenty of opportunities to teams willing to shell out $150 million or more for a starting pitcher. David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann are looking for deals well into nine figures. Price likely will top $200 million and the older Greinke could get a similar average on a slightly shorter deal.
A year after chasing Lester, could the Giants go after another $30-million-per-year starter?
“Could we? Yes,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said during an interview that will run on SportsTalk Live on Thursday night.
“I think the thing we always look at is there’s not a great history with that,” Baer continued. “The sample size is not huge but it’s big enough. Name me a successful signing of a pitcher 30 years old or older, five-years-plus — there aren’t a lot of them.”
The Giants don’t have a blanket policy for these types of deals. Baer said there’s nothing “written in stone” about giving an aging pitcher a nine-figure contract. But, Baer said, “we can’t ignore history.”
“We really kind of come down to it being case-by-case,” he said. “You could argue that maybe the way (the Cubs) looked at it was that Jon Lester, his average annual value was $26-$27 million, somewhere in there (and) maybe to them he was worth $35 million in the early years and the back-end years aren’t as important. That’s one way to look at it.”
Do the Giants look at it that way? Again, it’s a case-by-case basis, and there are many in the front office who believe the Giants dodged a bullet last December. Lester was good in his first year in Chicago, posting a 3.34 ERA and helping the Cubs reach the playoffs, but he wasn’t quite the pitcher he had been in past seasons. His 117 ERA-plus wasn’t all that far ahead of the 105 of Jake Peavy, who got $24 million over two years but dealt with injury issues. Through the first half of 2015, rookie Chris Heston was putting up pretty much the same numbers as Lester, and Heston made about $500,000 last year.
The Giants thought Lester had as good a chance as any ace to be worth the cost throughout a long-term deal and they’ll spend the next month trying to figure out which one of this year’s stars might hold up.
“Remember, when you’re paying somebody $30 million a year, pick your number — $32 million, $28 million — that’s not for one year, that’s for six years,” Baer said. “We’ve got to look at it as 2016 and whatever the commitment is beyond that. We’ve got to be smart about it because we don’t want to wake up in 2018 and say now our hands are tied because we did the $30 million deal to make us feel good in 2016.”