Let’s build the best possible baseball player for the 2018 Giants. There would be dingers, certainly. He would be young and athletic. There would be speed. Did we mention young and athletic? He would be right-handed, of course. He would be extremely affordable, which would allow the Giants to make even more moves, and he would be an outfielder.
This makes sense, then. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Giants are interested in Domingo Santana. He’s young, athletic, cheap, and powerful. He’s exactly what they should be looking for. And it’s for those reasons that the Giants are unlikely to get him.
Teams with young, cheap, and good players usually like to keep them because they’re young, cheap, and good. The Brewers, especially, would like to keep Santana around because they were contending last year, and they are anticipating doing so again in 2018. Him being young and cheap is a huge advantage for them if they want to, say, sign Lance Lynn to a hefty deal. Santana’s low price and high production would subsidize a contract like that.
But in the right deal, sure, they’ll listen. The “right deal” is code for, “Now if a team wants to ditch some of the best prospects in the game, we’ll listen.” Santana is good, but his defense is average, at best, and it’s not like he’s a superstar. He’s currently a Mighty Fine Player, and that’s probably his ceiling. If the Brewers had a chance to get a potential superstar for him, they would have to consider it.
The Giants don’t have the right farm system for that kind of trade. Unless the Brewers are really, really high on Heliot Ramos for some reason, there isn’t really a potential superstar in the current farm. Which rules out a trade for Santana. This brings us to something of an axiom:
If there’s a player who is young, cheap, established, and good, the Giants lack the prospects to acquire him.
Makes sense to me. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, the Giants don't care to belong to any trade that will have them as a trade partner.
However, Santana can also teach the Giants something. If they went to the Brewers last year and asked what they would have wanted for him, it would have been a much different story. He was just 23, sure, but he was still something of an enigma. He had troubles making contact, and his power wasn’t quite in 30-homer territory yet. Defensive metrics hated him. If the Giants were sniffing around last year, the cost to acquire him would have been prospects. Good prospects, to be sure, but the kind of good prospects that 28 or 29 MLB teams have, Giants included.
What the Giants need to do, then, isn’t trade for Domingo Santana. It’s to find and secure the next Domingo Santana. They can’t pay market price for a young, cheap, and established hitter. They need to pay at a discount for a young, cheap, and unproven hitter. They need to trust their own ability to evaluate a player from another organization and plug him in, despite the uncertainty.
They need to do what the Reds did with Adam Duvall, in other words. And, yes, that example was included specifically to annoy you.
The other Brewers outfielder the Giants were linked to makes a little sense in this regard. That would be Keon Broxton, who comes with warts. After a breakout season in 2016, he had a Giants-like season last year, with a .299 OBP and poor defensive marks. He struck out 175 times in just 463 plate appearances, and he’ll be 28, so it’s not like he has eight years of development in front of him.
But he’s right-handed. He has power, and there is a lot more evidence that he can play center than evidence that his 2017 is some sort of standard. He wouldn’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2019 season, and the Brewers need to make room for Lewis Brinson, so they would definitely listen to offers for Broxton.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect fit. My knowledge of Broxton is basically limited to the Baseball-Reference page and a couple of fawning FanGraphs articles. But this is certainly the type of buy-low player the Giants should be messing around with now that they’ve lost out on the buy-high superstars. There is risk, but there is plenty of reward.
If not Broxton, someone else, then. Find the next breakout player for one of the outfield positions or third base, and use the savings to get a more established player for one of the other holes. Take a chance on a high-upside player instead of tossing millions and draft picks at someone like Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain.
Domingo Santana would have been perfect for the Giants, but last year. Because they can’t afford the prospects it would take now, they need to look for the 2018 version. I’m not going to predict exactly who that will be because I don’t want to look like a dummy at this time next year. But the people in the front office, who get paid to look this stuff up, should have some ideas. And it won’t be exciting if they get one of these guys. All we can do is hope they unearth a Jeff Kent-like truffle buried beneath the soil.