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Pence, Lincecum.... Lopez?

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Congratulations, Red Sox. When Big Papi wears a brain bucket and waves a huge flag like the love child of a sumo wrestler and drum majorette, it's all good for baseball. I'm happy with the outcome. I don't harbor the same animus toward Shane Victorino as many Giant fans, and above all, as Grant put it so well this morning, Not Dodgers.

Even better: Hot Stove time! Let's get right to it. Two of the Giants' would-be free agents never were. With Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum all wrapped up for far more dollars than anyone expected, will there be payroll left to sign Javier Lopez, let alone another big-ticket starting pitcher and an outfielder who will hit more than three home runs next year? Baggs?

"The clock's pretty short but we're open to exploring our options with Javy," Bobby Evans said. "That won't be easy given the pace of the calendar, but we'll see." Both [CEO Larry] Baer and Evans said Lincecum's contract won't deplete their resources to acquire an everyday left fielder. As for another free-agent starter, they are exploring all aspects of the market, from pitchers looking to sign bounce-back one-year contracts to those that will command multiyear deals.

It seems quite possible that the Giants aren't willing to head Lopez off at the free-agent pass with the hold-it-right-there-pal kind of offer they they threw at Pence and Lincecum. Or it's possible Lopez simply wants to try free agency, fly around, get wined and dined, have Mr. Met slip him the keys to the Midtown love nest, a few phone numbers and whisper, "Have at it, kid. And not a word to Mrs. Met, you hear?"  

Javy made $4.5 M a year in 2012 and 2013. It'll take more than that to re-sign him. Should they? Lopez is very good. Very very good. But the conventional wisdom is that he's a LOOGY -- left-handed one-out guy -- and, boy, aren't those reliever salaries getting ridiculous? Of course they are, but the more relevant discussion is whether the Giants could get a rough equivalent of his performance for a fraction of the cost. Looking at their internal options, the answer is probably not. Jose Mijares will command about $2 M in arbitration, and he's been erratic (at best) in his SF tenure. They don't have any obvious candidates in the minors to step into Lopez's role, and the Giants aren't the types to count on the Mike Kickhams of the world for low-cost surprise and delight. (Nor, in Kickham's case specifically, should they be.)

Could they scrap-heap it and hope someone who's been bumping along for a couple years with injuries or ineffectiveness could do a fine Neal Cotts impression? Sure, anything's possible, and the Giants are as good as they get at finding and reviving under-the-radar pitching talent. But their Olympic-size swimming pool full of cash is no longer a secret, what with Pence and Lincecum doing cannonballs into it the past few weeks, so I'm guessing we'll see a replay. Lopez will join them for an offer he dare not refuse, and Bobby Evans will swear they've still got the "resources to pursue all options to improve the team" or some such boilerplate.  If that's the case, here are a few things to remember:

* Javy Lopez has faced 605 regular-season batters as a Giant. He has allowed two home runs. Stunning. An infinitesimal HR/9 -- home runs allowed per 9 innings -- is no guarantee of success. Dan Runzler leads all relievers since 2010 (at least 50 games pitched). But it's a huge reason Lopez has been dominant in his limited innings. Other reasons:

* His BB/9 rate has improved each full season as a Giant, from 4.4 to 3.5 to 2.7.

* His K/9 rate has improved each full season as a Giant, from 6.8 to 7.0 to 8.5.

* His platoon splits are severe. He's not good against righties. But the damage by righties is mainly limited to singles and a few doubles, plus a high walk rate that, I'll bet, is padded by intentional and semi-intentional walks when a lefty awaits on deck.

Relievers are notoriously unpredictable year to year, but to some extent the danger of regression for Lopez is blunted by his limited use. Then again, he'll be 37 next July. I'm not sure what I would do if I were the Giants front office. My tribal affiliation says shower all lefties with millions. My head says Lopez's millions are better spent elsewhere. Here's what I think the Giants will do: Offer two years, $12 million. In the grand scheme of life and the moral universe, I have no idea if that's good or bad. Here's what some famous left-handed batters think about Lopez:

Carlos Gonzalez 17 3 0 0 1 0 4 .176 .353 .529
Carl Crawford 16 7 2 0 0 0 3 .438 .563 1.000
Andre Ethier 16 3 2 0 0 1 4 .250 .333 .583
Jay Bruce 15 2 0 0 0 2 5 .267 .154 .421
Nick Markakis 15 1 0 0 0 3 1 .267 .083 .350
Miguel Montero 15 3 0 0 0 1 4 .267 .214 .481
Chase Utley 15 0 0 0 0 1 1 .067 .000 .067
Gerardo Parra 14 1 0 0 0 1 3 .143 .077 .220
Prince Fielder 13 2 0 0 1 4 3 .462 .556 1.017
Jason Giambi 12 2 0 0 0 3 1 .500 .250 .750
Ryan Howard 12 2 1 0 0 0 7 .167 .250 .417
Carlos Pena 12 4 0 0 1 1 3 .417 .636 1.053
Brian Roberts 12 3 1 0 0 0 2 .250 .333 .583
Todd Helton 11 1 1 0 0 1 5 .182 .200 .382
Robinson Cano 10 1 0 1 0 0 1 .200 .333 .533
Adrian Gonzalez 10 2 0 0 0 1 1 .300 .222 .522
Mark Kotsay 10 2 0 0 0 0 0 .200 .200 .400
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/31/2013.

If the Giants were facing the Phillies 18 times next year, the decision would be a no-brainer.

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