Pretend you’re a fan of another team, one that’s contending. Pretend that the Giants don’t have the best record in baseball. That they have the worst, actually. So you’re being a dutiful fan, scouring their roster and looking for things to scavenge, and you’re turning your attention to the bullpen.
Hrm. Santiago Casilla has a solid ERA and a career-best strikeout rate. Bet they’re going to want a lot for him.
Yes, looking from the outside in, the blown saves don’t tug at your very being. All you can see are the raw numbers, and they’re good.
Hunter Strickland still throws 97, and he’s allowed only two home runs this year. The 3.13 ERA is a bit high for an eighth-inning guy, but he’s still missing bats. I’ll put him on the "maybe" list.
You would be interested in Strickland if he were on another team. Just the stats, ma’am, you’d say, chuckling at the relevant pop culture reference from 60 years ago. He would fit. He would fit in your contending team's hypothetical bullpen.
Oh, hellllloooo, Derek Law. There’s no way they’d trade a rookie ... but his minor league numbers are absurd, and he has 32 strikeouts to just five walks. Now that’s a solid trade target.
You would want at least a couple of these relievers in an alternate universe. You would want your team to exchange prospects for them.
That’s not to suggest that the Giants’ bullpen is actually great, and we’re just too close to the trees to notice the forest. No, it’s a reminder that if the Giants get someone affordable, someone who doesn’t cost three or four of the best prospects in a system that’s not exactly flush with A+ youngsters, you’re going to be lucky to get a Derek Law or Hunter Strickland.
I’ll take a wild guess that you don’t think one more Derek Law would make the Giants’ trade deadline an unqualified success, even if he would certainly help more than he hurts.
No, you’re looking for someone who would absolutely shake the bullpen up, something who would make teams tremble in the postseason. You want 100 mph and a K/9 of 27. You want someone who hasn’t given up a run since Harold Baines hit a home run off him, someone who could pitch two innings in a tight postseason game, if needed.
So, about that. Probably doesn’t exist! The Yankees have told Andrew Miller that he won’t be traded, and considering that they’re a) still technically in a wild card race and b) historically unwilling to rebuild when they can reload instead, I have no reason to be skeptical.
Here’s a list of the 36 relievers who have been worth a combined three wins or more over the last two-plus seasons. WAR isn’t a perfect stat for relievers, but it combines general effectiveness with consistency well enough. Now look at the teams they’re all attached to. Mets. Dodgers. Cubs. Red Sox. Orioles. Nationals. Indians. Royals. Those teams aren’t going to trade relievers away.
Now think of the teams that would like to add another relief arm. Mets. Dodgers. Cubs. Red Sox. Orioles. Nationals. Indians. Royals. Everyone’s a gonna fight over these guys. The Giants might be secretly thrilled with another Derek Law and nothing else (again, it would help!), but if you’re looking for something more substantial, the competition will be ridiculous.
The relievers on that list who pitch for teams that are (or might be) out of it in three weeks:
- Brad Ziegler
- Andrew Miller
- Aroldis Chapman
- Joe Smith
- Francisco Rodriguez
- Dellin Betances
- Mark Melancon
- Tony Watson
- Jeanmar Gomez
- Huston Street
- Jake McGee
- Tyler Clippard
At least two of those players are hobgoblins who would sully the Giants’ good name. Melancon is interesting, but the Pirates are hot and still in the Wild Card race. McGee and Smith used to be excellent, but they’ve both been super shaky this year. Gomez is basically George Kontos with a supervisor’s position, and can you definitively make the argument that Clippard would be any better than the Giants' second- or third-best option?
Whatever, pick your white whale. You don’t just want another Law or Strickland, you want Mark Melancon. You want Dellin Betances. You want the moon and the stars because that’s the only thing missing from the 2016 roster.
It’s, uh, gonna cost you. If you want someone better than merely good, if you want the wow factor, it’s going to cost four of the Giants’ best prospects. Minimum. You think this is made up, pulled from my nether regions and, okay, you’re probably right. There’s precedent, though. When the Giants traded for three months of a starter and three months of a closer in 1997, they gave up two of their top-10 prospects, along with three other minor leaguers. That was a little different, considering it addressed two needs, but Miller is under contract for next year. So is Watson. Betances is around for even longer.
I don’t think we can even fathom what the Yankees would want for Miller or Betances. It would probably start with an infielder who got 400 at-bats in the majors last year, really.
So the message is clear: Be happy with incremental upgrades, relievers on the pleasant-if-fallible Hunter Strickland level, or be happy with the Giants completely emptying their farm system for a reliever. I’m not opposed to the latter, but I don’t even think they'll get the chance. Which means unless the Pirates fall out of the race and trade Melancon, or unless the Giants completely change their organizational philosophy to consider Chapman (gross), they probably aren’t going to do better than Another Okay Reliever.
That’s fine. It sort of has to be.