The Cardinals are reportedly interested in Will Smith, and if they can’t get Smith, Tony Watson would do just fine. I’m frankly surprised that this is the first real rumor we’ve heard of the Giants getting calls on either.
Though Smith missed the first few months as he was coming back from Tommy John, Smith was one of the better relievers in the majors. Among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched, he’s in the top 20 in strikeout, walk, and whiff percentages. Per nine innings, he struck out a batter more than Blake Treinen while walking about as many hitters. Smith also didn’t benefit from having a .230 BABIP, an 85 percent LOB, or a Matt Chapman playing third like Treinen did. Treinen is still comfortably better than Smith, but he’s not that much better. He’s certainly not two runs better.
Smith has just one year left of arbitration eligibility before he reaches free agency. He and the Giants haven’t come to a deal yet, but MLB Trade Rumors predicts he’ll make $4.1 million next year. Why wouldn’t more teams want a top-20 reliever for less than a Sam Dyson?
Tony Watson, on the other hand, is under contract for two more years and $6 million. He’ll be 34 next year, but he’s coming off his best season since 2014. How many contenders could use a competent to great lefty in their bullpen for the next two years? Well, just about all of them.
The Cardinals, though, are the team that’s thirstiest for the Giants’ southpaws. They need someone to back up Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia. They didn’t trade away Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly for a year of Goldschmidt to sit on their hands when it comes to the bullpen. Their need is dire, and being the Cardinals, they’ve got a system stuffed to the rafters with exciting outfielders. None of them grade out particularly well, but that’s because they haven’t been swathed in Cardinals Devil Magic yet. It seems like the perfect match, so what are the Cardinals rumored to offer?
Hmm. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it.
There are things to like about Jose Martinez, but for every nice thing you can say about him there’s a caveat. His 125 wRC+ would have been the highest on the 2018 Giants BUT his DRC+ was just 113, so he was getting a bit lucky. He can technically play first base and right field. Versatility is never a bad thing, BUT his defense is so bad at either position, you don’t want him playing anywhere. He has one more year of team control, and three more years of arbitration eligibility before he reaches free agency BUT he’s already 30, and he’s not likely to improve.
Four years of an outfielder is a lot of time to get back for one or two years of a relief pitcher, but there’s a non-zero chance the Giants would wind up non-tendering him eventually. There’s a reason the Cardinals are willing to part with Jose Martinez even though they only have one year of Paul Goldschmidt and that is *sotto voce* he’s not very good.
If a trade is to be made with the Cardinals, the Giants could do better by going after a bundle of prospects. The Giants aren’t going to get Alex Reyes, but the Cardinals have three outfielders in their MLB Pipeline top-10: Randy Arozarena, Justin Williams, and Conner Capel. Dylan Carlson is their highest rated outfielder according to FanGraphs.
Arozarena reached triple-A last year where he scuffled, and he might not be much more than a defensive replacement. Williams, who the Cardinals got in the Tommy Pham trade, also struggled in triple-A though his issues with hitting a ton of ground balls improved. Capel is projected to be a righty mashing platoon player with good speed. Carlson, a 20-year-old whose highest level is high-A, is the only outfielder that FanGraphs gave a 45 FV or above in the Cardinals system. About him, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote, “There’s a good chance Carlson turns into a solid everyday outfielder immune to modern pitching staffs’ desires to exploit hitters’ handedness.”
Maybe the Giants aren’t enamored of the Cardinals’ outfield prospects and instead go after Andrew Knizer or Nolan Gorman. Maybe the Cardinals balk at giving up anything other than Jose Martinez and talks cease there.
Trading Smith or Watson makes sense this offseason. They have the highest trade value, and they’re not World Series heroes or fan favorites. I’m not sure the Cardinals are the best match even if they’re desperate for bullpen help and have a history of churning out All-Star outfielders. The Giants can do better than Jose Martinez or a bundle of lottery tickets.