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Giants trade Matt Moore to Rangers for prospects, salary relief

The Giants now have more money to spend for a hitter.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks
This picture was after a home run to J.D. Martinez. FORESHADOWING???
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Giants traded Matt Moore and $750,000 in international bonus money to the Texas Rangers on Friday, receiving minor-league right-handers Sam Wolff and Israel Cruz. The deal is pending a physical.

While the idea of two minor-league pitchers is interesting, they’re unlikely to be prospects anywhere close to the top of the Rangers’ system. This deal was more about shedding Moore’s $9 million salary in the Giants’ continuing efforts to stay below the competitive balance tax. They were approximately $16 million below the tax before this deal, and this would allow them to afford a free agent hitter and still have some flexibility to make an additional move*.

* One caveat is that while Moore’s salary was $9 million, the average annual value of his current deal is at $4.25 million, and AAV (plus benefits) is how salaries are calculated for the competitive balance tax. But I wouldn’t expect them to trade Moore for that small amount of salary relief, so I’m clearly missing something. Still, hold off on assuming the Giants have exactly $9 million more to spend.

Edit: Yep, I was missing something. Option years are not counted in the AAV of a long-term contract. They’re on their own, which means the Giants do save the entire $9 milllion.

Moore’s 2016 season ended with him pitching brilliantly in the NLDS, and he wasn’t able to come close to that sort of outing in 2017, which was easily his worst in the majors. Moore led the National League in losses and earned runs, and while he still has a lively fastball and solid breaking stuff, his command was a continuing problem. I was looking forward to him turning it around next year, but that’s because I’m an overly optimistic fool who never learns. As is, the Giants preferred to have the additional payroll space to add a hitter, and that makes sense.

Who takes Moore’s spot in the rotation is an open question. Chris Stratton was likely the de facto fifth starter after his strong finish last year, which leaves Ty Blach, Tyler Beede, and Andrew Suarez as possibilities. There’s also a chance that the Giants will swoop in at the end of the offseason and nab a low-cost starting pitcher who’s been left behind. R.A. Dickey would be at least a little fun, but I could also see the Giants grabbing a boring-if-reasonable option like Ricky Nolasco or Hector Santiago in February.

As a reminder: Matt Duffy didn’t appear in a single game for the Rays last year, so don’t scream about the Giants getting jobbed in the trade on his account. If you want to get mad, get mad that Lucius Fox is coming into his own as a prospect and he was the reason why the Giants weren’t able to offer Shohei Ohtani or any other international prospect more than $300,000. That was the real bummer of the deal, in retrospect.

Still, the Giants are getting two prospects back, so let’s hope one of them is the Rangers’ version of Luis Castillo, a low-level guy who unexpectedly blows up and becomes one of the better prospects in baseball after being included as a throw-in.

Israel Cruz is a 20-year-old right-hander who spent time starting and relieving for the Rangers’ rookie-league team. He threw 32 innings, striking out 42 batters and walking 16. He was the 30th-ranked prospect for them in 2015, and here’s how he was described during the 2016 season by Ben Badler of Baseball America:

Another guy to keep an eye on that I’m sure most people don’t know is Israel Cruz, a teenage pitcher who pitched in the DSL last year. Nice $30,000 signing who could follow in the mold of Jonathan Hernandez as an athletic, skinny, quick-armed pitcher with a good fastball.

Sam Wolff is a 26-year-old right-hander who converted to relief last year. He struck out 12.3 batters per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year, though he also walked four batters per nine. He had flexor tendon surgery recently, and he’s likely sidelined until next May or June. He’s touched 100 mph in the past, and if you want to pretend like you can evaluate a player from one YouTube video, we have a lot in common!

We’ll see if this leads to Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, or J.D. Martinez, unless it leads to Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and J.D. Martinez. But we can be sure that the Giants are looking to spend, and now they can avoid the competitive balance tax while doing it.