In the winter of 2007, the San Francisco Giants were a team facing a massive talent overhaul. Barry Bonds was shown the door, the team moved away from its strategy of signing aging veterans to fill out the lineup around Bonds, and the Giants tried to instill a new team-first attitude in their players.
To further their cause the front office targeted a relatively young, modestly successful outfielder in free agency who they thought would help change the clubhouse culture and lead the team into a new era of winning. The Giants promptly handed him a five-year, $60-million deal and sat back to reap the rewards.
That outfielder was Aaron Rowand. We all know how that turned out.
Fast forward to 2012 and the Giants are coming off of their second World Series championship in three years. By all accounts they have a great clubhouse, and the rebuild the front office envisioned back in the winter of '07 has exceeded expectations (with not much help from Rowand along the way). Strangely, though, they find themselves in almost the same position in the free-agent market: targeting a relatively young, moderately successful outfielder, but one who actually has helped the team win games. He's seeking a multi-year contract and is looking to cash in after a career year.
The outfielder this time is Angel Pagan, and the Giants have to ask themselves if he'll turn into another Rowand. If the Giants meet his demands, will his contract hang around their necks for years to come?
Pagan is a tough case. He had a wildly successful year with the Giants after an offseason trade from the New York Mets, posting a .288/.338/.440 line with 8 HRs, 56 RBIs and 15 triples (an all-time San Francisco record) while batting all over the lineup. After settling into the leadoff spot, Pagan provided a spark for the rest of the Giants' offense, especially in the postseason. And while his routes to balls aren't always pretty, Pagan played an above average center field and easily covered the vast dimensions of AT&T Park. It's not a stretch to say Pagan had the season of his life in 2012.
Unfortunately for the Giants, that career-defining season came just as Pagan became a free agent. By all accounts he's looking to cash in on 2012 with a multi-year deal and a significant pay bump from the $4.8 million he made this year. That leaves the Giants in a perilous position: Do they aggressively pursue Pagan and meet his demands? Or do they think back to the last big contract they gave to a free agent center fielder, shudder to themselves, and move on to Plan B?
The pros for signing Pagan are obvious. He's a good hitter with speed at the top of the lineup and just enough power to make an opposing pitcher think. By all accounts he's well-liked and respected in the clubhouse. He plays a position where the Giants are thin in major-league talent and is arguably the best center fielder the team has had in a decade.
However, signing Pagan is not a slam dunk. He'll turn 32 next year, or as it's more commonly known, the wrong side of 30. He'll likely have another good year or two at the plate, but will be hard pressed to match the success he enjoyed in '12. And, once he's had those one or two more good years, what about the rest of his contract? Pagan is likely looking for at least four years in this deal, since it's the last real chance he has to cash in as a free agent. Would the Giants risk another Rowand situation where the last few years of a contract are nothing but wasted money? Should they risk that?
If I was the GM of the Giants (one day!), I'd try my hardest to convince Pagan to take a three-year deal; in fact, I'd even overpay on a per-year basis if he'd agree to the shorter length. That gives Pagan his payday, gives the Giants a contract that is much easier to swallow than a four- or five-year deal, and gives more time to the team's top prospect, Gary Brown, (a center fielder) to hone his skills in the minors. It's the best course of action to keep their offense together without hamstringing the team financially a few years down the road.
Of course, that may be a pipe dream. Pagan is a hot commodity and all it takes is one team to offer him a huge deal that would give the Giants pause when thinking about matching it. My advice to the Giants would be this: If Pagan would take a three-year deal, fantastic. If he wants something longer than that, just pull up some video of Aaron Rowand swinging at sliders in the dirt, thank Pagan for a great 2012, and move on.
Dave Tobener has been a Giants fan longer than he's actually been alive...it's science. You can find him on Twitter @gggiants or his Giants blog www.GoldenGateGiants.com.