The Giants would be crazy to not trade some of their players. And no, I'm not talking about Brandon Belt or Madison Bumgarner. I'm talking about pending free agent Andrew McCutchen and our two favorite lefty relievers, Watson and Smith.
The main rationale for trading McCutchen and a reliever is that the Giants are probably planning to try sign a couple of free agents this offseason that are going to get qualifying offers (Bryce Harper, anyone?). The Giants farm system is incredibly weak on starting pitching. The Giants have no starting pitching prospects that are reasonably close to the big league level, unless you count Shaun Anderson, who still is maybe a year away. Tyler Beede has taken a huge step backwards and can no longer be counted on to be a fixture in the big league rotation. Looking ahead to next year, it doesn't appear that the rotation will be much better than now, with a good chance of it being slightly worse. Johnny Cueto will be a year older and Jeff Samardzija might never be the same. Even if Andrew Suárez and Derek Rodriguez are able to keep up being quality starting pitchers, the Giants are still short. And lets not even think about what the 2020 rotation could look like. By signing qualifying offer free agents, and thus losing draft picks, they are going to be even worse off with starting pitching in 2020 and beyond.
The Giants did draft a boatload of pitchers in this year's draft, but they are all a few years out, and there is no guarantee that any of them will make the majors. If they sign qualifying offer free agents, they are going to lose draft picks next year. Signing one qualifying free agent results in a loss of a 2nd round pick. Signing two qualifying free agents would result in losing their 2nd and 3rd round picks. Plus, the Giants will lose $500,000 of international bonus pool money per qualifying free agent signed. They already lost a first round pick when signing Samardzija, putting them behind in potential pitching prospects. In addition, they have been restricted in the amount of money they could offer international free agents up until this year, leaving them with years of lost opportunity.
For these reasons, the Giants should trade McCutchen and a lefty reliever for a cost controlled starting pitcher. For example, the Astros have Lance McCullers, a 24 year old starting pitcher that will just be entering arbitration this fall, and he might be the 5th best pitcher in their rotation. He isn't a free agent until 2022. The Astros have a semi-weak outfield according to wRC+. Fangraphs has them with a wRC+ of 95, which puts them 17th in the majors. In addition, the Astros have a gaping hole in lefty relievers in their bullpen. Right now Tony Sipp is their best left-handed reliever. Now, I have nothing against Tony Sipp, and in his defense he has been pretty good this year, but when your best lefty reliever is 35 years old and hasn't had an above replacement level season since 2015, you probably should think about getting another left-handed option. The Astros are also in a win now mode. McCutchen, Smith, and maybe a prospect, such as Chris Shaw, in exchange for McCullers or another cost controlled starting pitcher would benefit both teams.
The Indians are in a similar position and could be a trade partner. They have an outfield that ranks 28th in the majors with a wRC+ of 86. For prospective, the Royals have a better outfield, and I bet you can't name the Royals starting outfield. The Indians are also in a win now mode, so they probably want to upgrade their outfield. Throw in Watson or Smith and maybe you could get a good, young starter.
Now, you might be thinking that by trading McCutchen and a reliever you are giving up on this year, and perhaps next year. But not necessarily! This offseason, the Giants could sign Andrew Miller or Zach Britton, who are both going to be free agents, to be a lefty presence in the bullpen, so by trading a lefty now they are not giving up on next year. And by not trading McCutchen they are giving up on a chance to get something of value out of trading him and replenishing the farm system. And I'm not sure the difference between Austin Slater and McCutchen would be too massive for the rest of this season. And I have a feeling the Giants have their eyes on a certain Washington Nationals free agent right fielder for 2019. Plus, a move like this might make them better off this year, as they will get another good starting pitcher, and they could use Derek Holland or Ty Blach as their second lefty out of the bullpen. After all, Holland did look pretty good coming out of the bullpen Saturday. This would also make it assured that the Giants will not go over the luxury tax threshold, which is a big deal, because if they somehow miscalculate and do go over, the repercussions could be felt for years.
I don't see how the Giants can justify not making a trade, as it will probably make them worse off with starting pitching next year and probably make them fall off the proverbial cliff in 2020. With the Giants' history of signing big name starting pitchers for lots of years (Zito, Cain, and the jury is still out on Cueto and Samardzija) I would be hesitant for them to go out and give another large contract to a starting pitcher. The best under 30-years-old starting pitchers that are free agents this offseason are Patrick Corbin, Drew Pomeranz, Matt Harvey, and Nathan Eovaldi. I would much rather the Giants spend money to sign a left to replace the loss of Smith or Watson than attempt to fix their rotation with one of those four.
As much as it might hurt to trade Smith just as he is becoming a force, trading Smith, McCutchen, and Watson might save the Giants in the future by compensating for the loss of future draft picks that is coming with free agent signings this offseason.