Brian Sabean's San Francisco Giants have struck again, signing reliever Javier Lopez to a three-year, $13 million deal as reported by Bay Area Sports Guy. The 36-year old Lopez is the Giants' favorite LOOGY, holding left-handers to a .152/.208/.222 line in 2013.
While Lopez does have good splits overall, the Giants are still committing multiple years to a player with limited use. Lopez has never thrown more than 60 innings in a season despite topping 70 appearances five times over his career. Lopez made $4.25 million in 2013, so the contract isn't really much of a raise for him.
What gives me pause is Sabean's strategy of continuing to lock up his entire bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla both got three-year deals for a combined $33 million last winter, and both contributed negative value to the club in 2013 (though a .262 BABIP helped Casilla post a 2.16 ERA and override some of his poor peripherals).
In response to Affeldt's signing last year, Dave Cameron wrote about reliever valuation at Fangraphs and noted that Affeldt was one of four left-handed relievers who posted a ground ball rate of over 55% and a strikeout rate of better than eight batters per nine innings. Affeldt didn't clear either of those marks in 2013, and threw just 33 2/3 innings. One of the other three relievers, Jonny Venters, blew his elbow out in Spring Training. Another one of the four, Sean Marshall, threw just 10 1/3 innings while dealing with a sprained shoulder. The final one of the four, Sean Burnett, got a two-year, $8 million contract from the Angels and threw just 9 2/3 innings before undergoing surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon.
My general point is one that is shared by most in the sabermetric community: relievers are a fungible asset, and that handing out multi-year contracts to them isn't a great investment. The Lopez contract isn't something that's going to doom the Giants – after all, they're swimming in money – but it's not exactly a wise use of the club's money. Lopez is getting paid roughly his market value, so it's not as if the team is getting bent over a barrel here. If Sergio Romo stays healthy and pitches well in 2014, I'm curious as to whether or not Sabean once again goes to the well to bring back one of his core relievers for multiple years and, especially in the case of Romo, many millions of dollars.