Lately, as Giants fans have enjoyed a series of nice starts from Derek Holland after the team fell out of contention, some fans have taken to criticizing the Giants for not trading Holland this year. After all, his production is wasted on a sub-.500 team. They’re not going to the playoffs, and winning a couple more games than they would with Ty Blach or Casey Kelly doesn’t mean a whole lot. So let’s try to answer the question: why didn’t the Giants trade Derek Holland this year?
I’m going to divide this question into two sub-questions. They are: “Why didn’t the Giants trade Derek Holland by July 31?” and “Why didn’t the Giants trade Derek Holland by August 31?”
Let’s look at the first one. Why didn’t the Giants trade Derek Holland by July 31? The first reason is that no one would have offered much for him. After his start on July 30, Holland had a 3.90 ERA, 4.03 FIP, and 4.09 xFIP on the year. His performance was fine. Do you know what playoff contenders don’t want? Fine. They want good. He wasn’t that good at the time. He had spent all of July bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen because he was having a nice year, but not a stellar one.
Then add in that the Giants were quasi-contending at the time. After that July 30 game the team was 54-54, and 5.5 games back in the West. Once everyone got healthy, the Giants told us and themselves, then the team would start firing on all cylinders. Boy, wasn’t that going to be fun!
The thought wasn’t completely outlandish. They had just gotten Joe Panik back from a groin strain that day, and Evan Longoria had come off the DL a few days earlier, and Brandon Belt had a knee issue, but when he came back, the lineup would be at full strength and they could make a run.
Did the lineup ever actually get to full strength? Obviously not, and some of that is injury, and some of it is that Panik and Longoria never did get it going this year (though Longoria has had a nice month of September). But the Giants aren’t idiots for not trading Derek Holland for a poor return at the end of July. That’s a completely expected and reasonable move.
Now the second part of the question: why didn’t the Giants trade Holland by August 31? After all, he had a fantastic August (2.60 ERA, 2.97 FIP) and seemed to answer all the questions about durability that plagued him in the second half of 2017. Around the end of August this year, it was clear that Holland would have some value for other teams. That part of the equation, at least, was rock solid.
Then we get to the actual process of trading him. To trade Holland in August, he would have have to go through waivers. To pass through waivers, every team would have had to decline putting in a claim on him. Derek Holland is a cheap pitcher (he is making less than $2 million this year, which in baseball terms is nothing) having a good year who can both start and relieve. He would have been an absolute lock to be claimed on waivers by just about everyone.
The Phillies would have claimed him both to keep him from going to the Braves and to see if they could get a versatile lefty for just money. The Dodgers would have claimed him both to keep him from going to the Rockies and Diamondbacks and to see if they could get a versatile lefty for just money. The Rockies would have claimed him both to keep him from going to the Diamondbacks and to see if they could get a versatile lefty for just money. The Brewers would have ... I think you get the point.
But! We’re trying to trade Derek Holland here and get back a prospect, so let’s get into the negotiations. Let’s say the Phillies are the ones that claimed him, and take a look at one hypothetical conversation between Bobby Evans and Phillies GM Matt Klentak:
BOBBY EVANS: If you don’t give us a prospect, no way are we letting you get Derek Holland!
MATT KLENTAK: k
The Phillies have a good, young rotation. They also had some issues in the bullpen and could have used Holland there, but how much would they have really given up for him? Holland, for them, would have been in the category of “Nice player we don’t really need,” and they would have made an offer accordingly.
That goes for every team that would have claimed him. The Dodgers have a whole bullpen full of guys about as good as Derek Holland. The Rockies just went out and gave up prospects for a couple bullpen upgrades. The Brewers could have used some rotation depth, but Holland would have had to clear three contenders in waivers to get to them (which would not have happened), and then the Brewers would have had to decide to give up something more than minor league roster filler for any of this to matter at all. It wasn’t going to happen.
Were the Giants ever going to be eager to trade Holland? Probably not. They don’t have any minor league starters to evaluate, so there’s no compelling baseball need to take him out of the rotation, and they like the energy he brings to the clubhouse. Even with the well-deserved criticism he received for his MLB Network appearance, Holland clearly still had value on and off the field to the organization.
If they had wanted to trade him, though, the team was just never going to be able to get anything of value for him. All they could get for Andrew McCutchen — Andrew McCutchen! — was two guys who will be Rule 5-eligible this offseason, and that was with being able to negotiate with every team in baseball.
The Giants were not in that position with Holland and never could have been. When they could have traded him to anyone, he wasn’t good enough to fetch any kind of return; when he was pitching extremely well, they’d have only been able to negotiate with one team, who’d have had all the leverage. No, the Giants didn’t get a shiny prospect for their cheap pitcher who had a good year, but they did get a cheap pitcher who had a good year. They already won on the deal. It’s not a disaster that they didn’t win a little more.