After a boring Winter Meetings and a few fringe transactions, it seems clear that the most exciting part of the Giants’ offseason will be Farhan Zaidi going to the wrong hotel room to meet with Scott Boras:
Farhan Zaidi had a meeting with Scott Boras last night. He said he accidentally knocked on the wrong hotel room on his way there and decided to make a run for it after realizing his mistake.— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) December 13, 2018
Brian Sabean provided us with plenty of unintentional comedy over the years in that grumpy uncle/dad arena, but I think Farhan Zaidi’s more obvious broad comedic stylings are much more my speed. Not my speed? The slow play of roster reformations.
This year’s Winter Meetings were so bad that executives are openly questioning whether or not an offseason trade deadline should be instituted in order to force the action. There are a couple of really great arguments to be made for this:
1) The Winter Meetings are free publicity for the league when games aren’t being played. A lack of action is both a waste of money and time — not just by the league who pays for part of the event, but also the various networks and media companies who cover the event. Baseball is still an entertainment product, and the less entertaining it is, the more the brand is hurt.
2) People have families and they need a break. It’s unreasonable for front office execs to be “grinding” all day every day all year long. It’s stupid and pointless. Beyond that, extending player insecurities in terms of where they’ll be playing the following season is similarly stupid and pointless. Stress is bad for the human body. Everybody needs a rest. It might sound cool, but it’s actually bad that Jerry DiPoto is making trades from a hospital.
So, I hope something like this happens. An season trade deadline and an offseason trade deadline. The one I heard was the last day of the Winter Meetings after the Rule 5 Draft, and then no trades again until, like, March 15th. Then the season non-waiver trade deadline of July 31st. It might not stoke the free agency fires and the workaround will probably be that teams talk a lot between December and March and then a bunch of trades get made on the 15th, but teams need to market themselves to ticket buyers, so it very well could make some more free agent signings happen or more trades happen before the calendar turns.
Farhan Zaidi might very well have used these meetings to setup a bunch of transactions in the coming weeks. Certainly, Yusei Kikuchi remains on the radar. The Giants do have money to spend, but the cost to improve the team either through trade and free agency is definitely more than they have to spend below the CBT threshold and in prospect inventory.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to blow past the CBT just to put out an 80-win team with no chance of getting to the postseason in 2019, but we know the team isn’t going to tank, either. We can also assume that the “good” free agents don’t want to play for a crappy team, so even if the Giants were interested in a Harper, Machado, or even Marwin Gonzalez, they’d have virtually no shot.
If Farhan’s sole goal is to improve the 40-man from the bottom up and then scout, trade, draft and develop wisely over the next couple of years to make it easier to have depth from 25-40 so that he can use free agency and trades to boost 1-25, then consider this year a gap year. Let’s take a look at some warm bodies who won’t kill the Giants, won’t break their budget, and might just be a fit on a year of hopeless mediocrity.
The word is that Andrew McCutchen’s 3-year $50 million deal (with option for a 4th) was too much for the Giants’ blood, which strongly suggests that they’d be out on a player who might garner a similar contract... say... Michael Brantley. A year younger, sure, but over 30, steady injury history, and an AAV of at least $15-$16 million. Let’s assume Farhan doesn’t want to sign any player this offseason for that amount. Who’s left?
Neil Walker - INF/OF
He’ll be 34 next September, but the switch-hitting infielder stands out as a veteran with plenty of experience to provide. He can provide a bit more stability on the infield and more consistent play over Alen Hanson, although his splits don’t make him a great platoon option with Joe Panik at second base (nearly an .800 OPS against righties, .675 versus lefties). He can spell Longoria and play first and still cover very capably at second base, though, and that versatility plus experience might be something Zaidi seeks. He earned $4 million in a last-minute deal with the Yankees and didn’t have a great season in a limited role. With a somewhat more expanded role, the Giants might be able to get him for about the same.
Robbie Grossman - OF
A career on base percentage of .355 should be enough to put him on Zaidi’s radar. With the adds of Drew Fergson and Mike Gerber, it’s clear that the team is looking for more on base, particularly in the outfield area. The switch-hitting Grossman’s OBP in 2018 was .367 (465 PA). It was .386 in 2016 (389 PA). He was drafted by the Pirates before being traded to the Astros during their rebuild (they got him in the Wandy Rodriguez deal), but it’s in Minnesota where his career really took off.
FanGraphs doesn’t like his defense (-8.0 in their Defensive Rating) and he was worth only about 0.7 WAR. DRC+ put him at 104, just a tick above league average. Steamer projects him to be a little above replacement level in 2019 (0.3 fWAR), so, there wouldn’t be a ton of surplus value in paying him around what he was set to earn in arbitration ($4 million, by MLB Trade Rumor’s projections), but he’d be a decent fit at the Austin Jackson price of $3 million.
Tony Kemp - OF / 2B
The Astros’ left fielder is out of options and this is why I think he might be a trade target. He’s another punchless outfielder with high on base percentage, but for AT&T Park and no intentions of contending for 2019, punchless but gets on base might just be enough to make the Giants slightly better than the past two years. He had a .351 OBP in 295 PA last season and a career minor league OBP of .389.
He’s also another left-handed batter, and his defense seems to just be okay. He did steal 144 bases in the minors (12 at the ML level), so his speed and on base would be a nice upgrade. It would be tough to justify an outfield with Tony Kemp and Steven Duggar, although Zaidi doesn’t sound as convinced about Duggar’s upside as the rest of the Giants do. Given that it’s the Astros, though, they’d probably want Bumgarner for Kemp, so a deal seems unlikely.
Kevin Pillar - OF
One player the Giants have discussed recently is Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar. I took a look at what that means, and how they’re putting their outfield together: https://t.co/km0xuOxKqB— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) December 14, 2018
Pillar’s defense has been exceptional, but has also been in a steady decline over the past three seasons. His career OBP of .298 works against Zaidi’s M.O. even with the defense (and he’s not remarkably better against left-handed pitchers, so it’s not a platoon thing), he’ll be 30 on Opening Day which means he’s on the downward slope of his career anyway, but he does have two years of team control. The Blue Jays are in a quasi-rebuild of their own, so it’s unclear what they’d want in return for him. What the Giants do have to offer should probably get a little more bang for the buck than Kevin Pillar. Probably. Hopefully.
As you can see, staying cheap and having zero aspirations for 2019 limits the team’s options significantly.
Derek Holland - SP / RP
His versatility as a starter and reliever gives him Zaidi value and his 8.88 K/9 was 25th-best in baseball last year. It helps that the team liked having him around. Still, Lance Lynn just signed a 3-year, $30 million deal with the Rangers, and Holland had a much better year than him. He might just be too rich for the Giants’ blood, but if they do bring him back, it will be around this area.
Nate Karns - SP / RP
The 31-year old right-handed pitcher rejected an assignment to the minors and became a free agent. He missed most of 2017 and all of 2018 recovering from thoracic outlet surgery and elbow inflammation. Injuries seem to be his biggest problem. He has 321 strikeouts in 310 career major league innings, but that spans five seasons. His career FIP of 4.36 is uninspiring, but a career 9.3 K/9 stands out.
Still, if the Giants can clear him medically and Curt Young & co. can Derek Holland him, he might be a good candidate for a sign and flip or at the very least be a back of the rotation, middle relief option. Given the team’s needs, there’s a good chance he might take a cheap deal to build up value. Maybe in the $2.5 million range.
Brad Brach - RP
He was at times the Orioles’ closer, but for the most part, the right-handed reliever is known for his durability. He’ll turn 33 just after Opening Day and his 94 mph fastball has just an average spin rate and career BB/9 of 4.0 (that’s obscene), but my guess is the Giants are going to unload their relief pitching depth to fix other areas. Using their money to grab relievers (and there are over 70+ still available) to replace that depth seems like a smart move. Brach made $5.2 million last year. If the Giants wait until January, they might be able to get him for around Tony Watson’s figure, depending on the level of competition. I’ll split the different and say $4.5 million.
Yusei Kikuchi - SP
For all the boring, toothless moves the Giants are going to make over the next couple of months in service of building a team they know is going to f-ing suck, there’s still a nonzero chance that they do decide that adding one intriguing new name to the marquee is worth their valuable resources. Kikuchi fills the glaring rotation needs — Zaidi has cited it as one of the team’s weak depth areas — and creates a little bit of buzz. The shiny new toy and the fun guy to watch bring his talents overseas. With Scott Boras as his agent, there’s no chance the team will get a great bargain, but it should be one that insulates them from some of the risk involved in this oft-injured talent. I won’t guess years, but give me a $10 million AAV.
If you add it all up, you’re looking at about $30 million in adds to the payroll. Still comfortably below the CBT threshold and a chance to supplement the team’s depth. This will probably all look very wrong in a week, but there’s literally nothing else going on right now.