My biggest problem with the Giants trading Matt Duffy is that I liked him. And I was used to him. And I was looking forward to watching him over the next few years. And I was looking forward to watching him progress in a nice, linear fashion, hitting his stride in a couple years and turning into an All-Star. If not an MVP. If not a Hall of Famer. If not a Hall of Famer so inner-circle that they renamed the park Matt Duffy Field. If not ...
Okay, the first sentence is probably the most important one. Liked him a lot, and I’ll miss the dream of the same infield staying together for the next decade. It was a beautiful dream.
At the same time, I’m making my peace with the deal. It takes a robot heart and some reluctance, but here’s the headline of an article I wrote about David Freese this offseason:
It's apparently a Golden Age of third basemen, and David Freese is getting hosed
The premise was that in an era where mediocrity is still rare enough to get paid, there just wasn’t a place for Freese to play. The supply of third basemen was up. The demand was down. A solid player had to take a one-year deal because the market didn’t want him.
Compare that with an article I wrote about the future of pitching in free agency:
Your team should pay for a pitcher now because next year's free agents stink
Since that article, Stephen Strasburg has signed an extension, which leaves Rich Hill as the top free agent starter this offseason. He’s followed by Scott Kazmir, who will probably opt out. Then Jeremy Hellickson. Then Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. Then Doug Fister. Then Andrew Cashner. Then Jake Peavy. If you want to pause here, go to the story, buy a record player, stop by Goodwill, get a cheap record, then set it all up and make the record-scratch sound while saying, "Wait, Jake Peavy is a top-10 free agent starting pitcher this year???", please go ahead. We’ll wait. But if he’s not top-10 on your list, he’s awfully close.
It’s a wasteland, an absolute wasteland. That was an unspoken problem, considering the Giants were going to need at least one starter this winter, if not two.
Add the two realities of the market together, then. It’s a lot easier to find a third baseman right now than a starting pitcher, and it’s not even close. The cost of acquiring a third baseman (Eduardo Nuñez) for the next two seasons was a single top-10 pitching prospect. The cost of acquiring even an average rental pitcher is about twice that, if not steeper. Then you get to the part where the Giants’ best position-player prospect is an infielder who is already in Double-A.
I recently spent too many words explaining why it would make sense, in theory, to trade Joe Panik. If I had thought about it, trading Duffy would have made even more sense. Also, ignore the conclusion of that piece, which posits that the Giants wouldn’t trade a homegrown piece of the long-term infield. The market almost demanded that the Giants trade a third baseman for a pitcher. The Rays felt they could swim upstream on this because Duffy is also a shortstop to them, and those aren’t nearly as plentiful on the market. The Giants, though? Trading an infielder for a pitcher, and doing it before the rest of the league could, was supremely rational.
Cold and unforgiving. Upsetting and nauseating. But rational.
The biggest concern with the deal isn’t that Duffy was irreplaceable. I mean, he was irreplaceable in my fragile little flower-heart, but that’s beside the point. The biggest concern with the deal is that this is it. This is the pitching solution. The Giants had their big shot, and they came away with Matt Moore. If he struggles, the Giants are hosed. This is their shot, their only shot to get someone better than a fifth starter, and they used their most valuable commodity to get him. It’s Matt Moore or bust, and that’s a rather risky proposition.
It’s also one of the most rewarding propositions, too, don’t get me wrong. The Giants could have traded a similar package for, say, Jimmy Nelson, but there’s a limit on the upside. The Giants could have dealt far less for James Shields or Hector Santiago, but those probably aren’t pitchers you’ll want to mess with in two years, much less three.
There might be other high-reward pitchers out there this offseason, though. Steven Matz. Jose Quintana. Maybe the Indians want a long-term solution at third instead of all the starting pitchers. There might not be one of those pitchers available, or the Duffy-Fox-Santos package might not have been enough to get anything substantial done, but the Giants will never know.
The finality of it all. That’s what bugs me.
It helps to read Eno Sarris on Moore, followed by Jeff Sullivan earlier this month. If Moore pitches as well as he’s capable as pitching, the Giants wouldn’t have had a shot. He would be in the Chris Sale stratosphere of look-don’t-touch, which reminds you that if the Giants were going to trade for pitching, there was always going to be a surplus of risk or a surfeit of reward with the pitcher they got back, and that’s even with trading Duffy. If it wasn’t going to be Moore, it was going to be someone just as risky or someone without a lot of measurable upside beyond Jake Peavy’s 2015.
But without Moore, there was a hazy feeling of "Eh, the Giants will figure something out" about the future of the rotation. With him, it’s a very concrete "This had better work." I understand the potential reward. It’s just hard seeing them right in front of us without an emergency exit.
At least we’ll all be calm and rational if Moore struggles for a few starts. That’s the most important thing.