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Lefties! Lefties! Lefties!

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By now you know that the Giants have re-signed Javier Lopez to a two-year $8.5 M contract and exercised Jeremy Affeldt's $5 M option for 2012. That's a lot of scratch for middle relief, and the first reaction from anyone wishing for a big bat or two this off-season is fear, fear that every dollar spent on the bullpen is a dollar no longer available for hitting help.

I've already resigned (as opposed to re-signed) myself to the Giants counting on the returns of Buster Posey, Freddy Sanchez, and a chastised Aubrey Huff to be their offensive upgrade this winter. In other words, spend a ton on pitching and hope that the same plague of injuries doesn't descend upon Mays Field like seagulls circling cold garlic fries. I hope I'm wrong, although I've said before and I'll say again I'd love to see them hand shortstop to Brandon Crawford. Don't spend the now even more precious dollars on Jimmy Rollins or Jose Reyes. Let Crawford play. Bat him eighth. Watch him run and field and throw and say, we'll find the offensive elsewhere. I'm even willing to bet that over a full year his offense will be passable.

I can't be too upset about the warm fuzzy blanket of Javier Lopez in the Giant bullpen for two more years, ready to suffocate Ryan Howard or Carlos Gonzalez or Andre Ethier at a moment's notice. Lopez shouldn't be used much against righties, which limits his value, but if he does what he's done the past season and a half for the Giants -- stamp out late-inning rallies by retiring the other team's top lefties -- I won't quibble about the overpay of a million or two per year.

Affeldt at $5 M is a bit more egregious. I guess they're considering him expensive insurance for the real possibility that Dan Runzler doesn't put it all together in 2012. Beyond Runzler, there are no lefty relievers in the Giant system. None like this guy, at least.

Affeldt was murder on lefties in 2011 -- a .144 batting average against -- but his career numbers don't show an obvious split one way or the other. In 2009 for example, his first with the Giants, he walked a lot of lefties then induced a gaggle of double-play grounders, and overall had a very nice year. There's no real indication that Affeldt is going to be a LOOGY, or lefty-killer; by paying $5 M the Giants are hoping he stays healthy (another problem he's had the past couple years) and gets batters out from both sides of the plate. If the Giants can rework his contract, as hinted here, more guaranteed money spread over two years -- say, $7.5 million -- might make more sense.

A few numbers to note:

- In his three years as a Giant, Affeldt's K/BB ratio against righties has dropped slightly each year -- 2.23, 2.08, 1.58 -- and his HR/9 rate has risen -- .25, .84, .99. So more walks, more home runs, and little change in strikeouts. Against lefties, K/BB has gone from mediocre in '09 and '10 (1.44, 1.55) to excellent in '11 (4.55), while his HR/9 has average around .5 (.69, .5, .36). His groundball rate, which served him so well in '09, nearly reached the same level in '11. If the Giants have F. Sanchez back at 2B and let Crawford play SS, with Sandoval and Belt at the corners, ground ball pitchers like Affeldt could benefit nicely.

So far the front office has asserted that payroll in 2012 will be about the same, $120 M or so, and that pitching will be the first priority. With the Lopez and Affeldt news, it seems Sabean wasn't blowing smoke about the pitching priority. And the payroll? If you include the Aaron Rowand money, it's now up to $81 M guaranteed and counting. Tim Lincecum's salary alone will likely put them up to or over $100 M. Even without a big free-agent bat the Giants will have trouble keeping to the same payroll, so I'm predicting they open next year with at least $130 M on the books.


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