The Giants probably won’t trade for any of the players who will slip through waivers this month. This hot take is brought to you by the same goofball who posted "The Giants won’t make a big international signing" before the Lucius Fox signing and "The Giants probably won’t make a big trade" a month before the Matt Moore trade. So be careful using any of my theses for gambling purposes.
But it seems worthwhile to explore the idea of August trades and why they wouldn’t work for the Giants. The first step is to remind people how it all works. You can skip a few paragraphs down if you know all this.
We’ll use Freddie Freeman as an example. Say the Braves want to explore their options and potentially trade him after the July 31 deadline. They have to place him on revocable waivers, which means the Diamondbacks would have the first opportunity to claim him (worst non-Braves record in the NL). Then the Reds, Padres, and Phillies would get a chance. The Cubs would get the last chance to claim him in the NL, and then the opportunity would go to the Twins, who have the worst record in the AL. The Rangers would be the last team with a chance to claim him.
If, say, the Cardinals claimed Freeman, the Braves could a) work out a trade, b) pull him back off waivers and make him ineligible to be traded until the offseason, or c) give Freeman’s entire contract to the Cardinals, no backsies. The Marlins just gave Cody Ross to the Giants because they didn’t want to bother with arbitration the following year, for example.
Just about everyone is placed on waivers at this time of year because there’s no risk to doing it. The only downside is that it gives a team more flexibility, which isn’t a downside at all. If the Yankees put Dellin Betances on waivers, the Twins would claim him immediately, and the Yankees would pull him back. But when the Yankees put Brian McCann on waivers, he reportedly sailed through because no one wanted to absorb the rest of his contract.
Which brings us to the first and most important rule of post-deadline waivers: If a player makes it to a first-place team, it’s either because he’s bad, owed a lot of money, or both. If the Giants wanted Albert Pujols, why, they can have him. Literally just take him. They would just claim him on waivers, and the Angels would giggle themselves to sleep.
So in order for a player to make it through waivers, or at least last until the Giants get a chance to claim him, he would need to be ...
- Either owed a lot of money or not very good
- Not good enough to make his contract seem like a bargain
There would need to be some ambiguity about the player’s value, in other words. Chris Sale wouldn’t pass through waivers, even though he’s owed millions. Ervin Santana might, though, because he’s making $28 million over the next two seasons and in that sweet spot between "clearly talented" and "not having as much talent as you might like for your $28 million."
This presents a problem for the Giants if they’re looking to upgrade in August. Let’s take three positions where they could conceivably upgrade, and look at the problems with post-deadline trades for each.
Goal: Get someone likely to be better than Angel Pagan.
Possible example: Ryan Braun
Problems with that scenario: Braun is already 32, and he’s still owed $80 million after this season. Even if the Brewers wouldn’t want a huge trade return for him — which they apparently do — I’m not sure if the Giants would take the contract for free. That’s a bunch of money for an aging player with injury concerns, and that’s before you get to the better living through chemistry.
And if it’s not Braun, the only reason a player is getting to the Giants is because he isn’t good. Which means he’s probably not an upgrade on Pagan. The Giants are already forced to stash decent outfielders in Sacramento, so they aren’t interested in a different kind of decent. They would want a clear upgrade, and those players are either too expensive or never making it to the Giants on waivers. It’s the post-deadline paradox.
Goal: Get someone likely to be better than Matt Cain
Possible example: Ervin Santana
Problems with that scenario: Is Santana better than Cain? Probably. Is he worth $28 million in this market? Probably. Would he make it past the Dodgers? Probably not.
And even if he did, it’s hard to see the Giants making the commitment to Santana in their rotation for the next two seasons, giving up prospects in trade, especially if it means moving Matt Cain to the bullpen. They would have to love a pitcher to make that kind of commitment, and I’m just not seeing anyone who matches that description.
If you had the chance to replace Cain with CC Sabathia, you might do it. The Giants almost certainly wouldn’t, though, for several reasons. "Paying $30 million for a possible incremental upgrade on Matt Cain" doesn’t seem too high on their list of priorities.
Goal: Get someone likely to be better than Jake Peavy, Cory Gearrin, or George Kontos
Possible example: David Robertson
Problems with that scenario: Again, the relievers who make it as far as the Giants on waivers are overpaid and/or broken. Even if you’re willing to take a risk on Robertson, who’s making an average of $12.5 million in 2017 and 2018, the Dodgers certainly would be, too. He probably wouldn’t even make it to the Giants.
The pitchers who make it through waivers to the Giants probably aren’t much better than Gearrin or Kontos, which means they shouldn’t even bother, especially if the move limits financial flexibility.
If the pitcher is affordable, he probably isn’t very good. Take Jim Johnson, for example. That’s a pitcher that a team might want to mess around with in April, just in case he discovers something, but it’s not an upgrade for the Giants, as currently constructed.
Injuries can change everything, of course. But there’s a reason these players didn’t get traded before the deadline. They’re expensive, busted, or completely underwhelming. The Giants aren’t looking to fix gaping black holes, with the exception of their #5 starter (who’s thrown 10 consecutive scoreless innings!), which puts them in a bad spot. The waiver market is for black holes, not for upgrading positions substantially at a reasonable cost.
There’s a chance that the Giants fall into second place and make a claim to keep someone away from the Dodgers, true. That’s how the Giants got Ross: They wanted to keep him off the Padres, and they didn’t think the Marlins were just going to give him away. They were wrong, and everything ended up being oh so right.
Apart from that unlikely and lucky scenario, though, I don’t see the impact starter or reliever who’s going to make it through 12 or 13 National League teams to get to the Giants. Either that pitcher isn’t good, or he’s prohibitively expensive, or both. The Giants shouldn’t be in the market for "isn’t good" and they’ll be as wary of prohibitively expensive as you might imagine.
Unless there’s an injury between now and September, I don’t see the Giants making a trade. That’s probably a good thing, really.