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Ryan Vogelsong And The Erosion of Certainty

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I'm not surprised the Giants rejected Ryan Vogelsong's $6.5 million option for 2014, even though I'm guilty of writing headlines like this one about two months ago: Ryan Vogelsong Ups His Odds.

That was late August. Vogelsong fell apart after that, and the Giants for several weeks have telegraphed their intent to decline the option. The new story: Renegotiate the contract with a lower base and more incentives.

I am surprised that strategy didn't work, or at least not yet, with no new contract before this week's decision to cut Vogey loose. Perhaps Team Vogelsong felt it had nothing to lose. Take a quick spin through the free agent waters, and if the fish aren't biting, circle back to San Francisco ready to sign. The Giants have two rotation slots to fill, after all, and they probably won't be chasing big-ticket free agents for both. How could they say no to an affordable Vogelsong?

Before you chalk up his lost year in 2013 to the broken pinkie he suffered in May, remember that his season was already a disaster at the time of the injury. You probably knew that. And you probably know that Vogelsong was throwing stressful innings in March for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, instead of playing long toss and getting poolside massages in Scottsdale, Arizona.

So maybe the Giants know something, medically speaking, that hasn't surfaced. Like, say, Vogelsong could be headed toward elbow or shoulder surgery in 2014 instead of another feel-good comeback story. Which means all the recent talk about giving him the benefit of the doubt, calling him a warrior, blah blah blah, could be best-face-forward PR to distract from the fact that the Giants have had no intention of re-signing him.

That's strictly my speculation about one potential scenario, mind you. I think the Giants do have genuine fondness and respect for Vogelsong -- the fans certainly do -- but we all know that Brian Sabean's pronouncements about players can often be smoke screens.

If I had to guess, I'd say the team hasn't made up its mind. More likely, the Giants are wary of what might lurk in his throwing appendage, and they want to hedge maximum bets. Offering a minor league contract that converts to a major league deal if he makes the team is too insulting -- basically the same as letting him walk, for another team assuredly will risk guaranteed money.

Perhaps we could look to Mike Napoli and the Boston Red Sox for guidance. Once the Red Sox found a potentially career-ending degenerative hip condition in Napoli's records, they ripped up a fat three-year contract and replaced it with a one-year deal with incentives that, if maxed out, would earn Napoli the same as the annual average of his annulled contract. (Bartolo Colon's 2013 contract is an example of an incentive-heavy deal on the pitching side.) The lesson: When a team has serious doubts about a player's physical future, it's still possible to negotiate from positions of fairness.

So it comes down to this: If there's medical doubt but no slam-dunk diagnosis of hamburger shoulder, how much should the Giants risk? One million dollars? Two? Three? They guaranteed Andres Torres $2 million last winter. It's kind of a silly comp, but it seems like a threshold of fairness. Start there, and let the incentives pile up quickly to show Vogelsong that, basically, all he has to do is stay healthy. In fact, to show goodwill, let the incentives carry the maximum dollars well past the $6.5 M the option would have paid, to $7, $8, even $9 M total.

Again, I have no idea what's happening with Vogey's soft tissues, and the Giants might not, either. His velocity was down after he came back from the DL, and it stayed down, but that's no guarantor of major injury. Have a look at Madison Bumgarner at the end of 2012. A few mechanical tweaks later, he was shutting out the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

But the fact that the Giants and Vogelsong couldn't come to a quick understanding once the season ended makes me think there's medical doubt clouding the atmosphere. Vogelsong, 2014 San Francisco Giant, seemed like a certainty in late August, and certain enough in late September to make Baggs write that "the unsaid understanding among all parties seems to be that the right-hander will return in some form." Not so much anymore.

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