There’s no doubt that the Giants are a fiscally responsible, extraordinarily wealthy franchise that will only become more efficient and profitable on the baseball operations side of things as Farhan Zaidi unleashes more and more of his proprietary algorithms.
There’s no doubt that the Giants will spend another offseason being a Scott Boras stalking horse to land his incredibly talented clients record deals. There’s no doubt the Giants won’t sign any top tier free agents (Kenny has you covered on who they could go after instead) because the top tier free agents don’t want to play in San Francisco and signing top of the market free agents is just not what rebuilding teams are supposed to do.
There’s no doubt the Giants are going to spend a good chunk of this offseason and most of next regular season doing what they did this past offseason and regular season, either: they’re going to snap up every outrighted player, minor league free agent, and waiver claim that they can in hopes of finding one gem. And if an opportunity arises where they can trade one player for three, they’ll do that, too.
It’s clear the Giants are going to try to build All-Star players through the draft and development and for all the rest rely on fringe players they can coach up or who have otherwise been discarded because teams have players who are better. The Giants don’t have many good players. They aren’t in a position to add many good players, but they have to money to spend to do so.
Meanwhile, the rest of the league continues to pursue a policy of “financial flexibility” and “fiscal efficiency” in free agent and payroll management, using the luxury tax threshold as a hard salary cap. But what about players who make a lot but aren’t good? Or make a lot but aren’t better than league average?
What if . . . and hear me out . . . the Giants used their financial might to snap up these players, who would both be better than most of their current active roster and give them another avenue for acquiring fringe players who might’ve been outrighted, put on waivers, or otherwise discarded?
We’ve been programmed since Moneyball to believe that the best and smartest way to win in baseball is to buy into the idea that your billion dollar baseball team is seventy miles beneath abject poverty. That’s what everybody’s doing now. The modern standard is to stay under the hard cap and ruthlessly right-size payroll to maximize dollars per win. So, isn’t the exploitable market inefficiency, then, spending money? Yeah, trade for bad contracts, but also target those fringe roster dudes instead of be be held hostage by the whims of the waiver wire.
Alex Dickerson and Joe McCarthy for OF Josh Reddick, RHP Carlos Sanabria, and LHP Ryan Hartman
Theoretically, the Astros are trying to figure out a way to fit Gerrit Cole into their payroll for 2020 (if Jim Crane’s recent comments are to be believed) and purging Josh Reddick’s $13 million contract would.
Both Dickerson and McCarthy have options remaining, and would generally figure to provide depth and replacement value (Steamer projects 1.0 fWAR for Reddick in 2020, 0.8 for Dickerson; McCarthy has 40+ Future Value, per FanGraphs) all for the cost of about the league minimum.
Both Sanabria and Hartman are Rule 5 eligible this year, and while the Astros could just add them to the 40-man roster, it might be better to get a modest power bat upgrade in Dickerson for two very fringe pitching arms (both are 35+/40 FV arms). The 22-year old Sanabria, a reliever, had an 11.6 K/9 in Double-A this past season but a 5.9 BB/9.
The 25-year old Hartman, struck out 117 in 115.2 IP at Triple-A this year. He allowed 27 home runs. In response to the question, “Are all lefty pitchers crazy?” he says, “We’ve all got a weird thing to us. We’re a different breed!”
And for the Giants? Oracle Park will absolutely vaporize what’s left of Reddick’s power (.409 slugging last year) and he’s a defender on the decline, but who cares? It’s a one-year deal, and the Giants could always DFA him. Alex Dickerson’s injury track record means he can’t be relied upon as a starter, meaning they’d be looking for an upgrade anyway. Reddick wouldn’t be that upgrade, but he wouldn’t stand in the way of them finding one.
Brandon Belt, Mike Yastrzemski, and Trevor Gott for Jackie Bradley Jr., Nathan Eovaldi, RHP Brayan Bello, and RHP Thad Ward
The Red Sox are a broke, hopeless franchise that’s been managed into the poor house. The state of Massachusetts is on the verge of eminent domaining the hearts and minds of all Boston fans, owner John Henry has been thrown on the street, his assets seized by creditors.
And yet Major League Baseball is going to force the Red Sox to play 162 games next season, even though there’s no certainty that team can pay to keep the lights on or their luxury boxes stocked with the blood of young people
The franchise is hell bent on pairing down payroll, building a “sustainable” model in the future. They want to stay under the luxury tax forever, probably, and that might mean shedding contracts like David Price’s and players like Mookie Betts all in the name of trying to stay competitive but without paying into MLB’s tax fund.
But! What if they do want to try to keep Mookie Betts? They’re about $56 million under the cap right now and Betts projects to make in arbitration half or a little more than half that amount. That gives them $25-$28 million to improve the rest of the team and pay out arbitration raises to other players they’d like to keep. Eovaldi has an injury history, Bradley Jr. has a hitting issue (career 92 OPS+). The opportunity here might lie in the new baseball ops president, Chaim Bloom, not caring much about the prospects he’s inheriting.
Jackie Bradley Jr.’s projected arb salary, per MLB Trade Rumors, figures to be $11 million. He earned $8.55 million this past season despite posting a 92 OPS+ the year before. He posted a 90 OPS+ in 2019, so, let’s say that the actual value might be $10 million. Steamer projects a 2-win contribution from JBJ. Nathan Eovaldi’s tax number will be $17 million in 2020, 2021, 2022. His 2020 Steamer number is 2.1 fWAR. Thad Ward is a 22-year old right-handed starter with a 35+ FV and “a Chris Sale slider”. Bello is a 20-year old A-ball starter with a 40 FV who struck out 119 in 117.2 innings.
The Red Sox could be on Belt’s no-trade list, which would cheese this deal, but if not, it saves the Red Sox $11.865 million this year (Belt’s salary is $17.2 million, but the tax number is $14.56 million) and $17 million in 2022 (Belt’s deal ends after 2021). Belt, Yaz, and Gott are projected for just 3.1 fWAR. Still, because Yaz and Gott make the minimum, that’s $5 million per win versus the $6.75 million per win in the combined Eovaldi and JBJ setup, and neither of them are the grandson of a Boston legend. And, yeah, if you’re the Giants, why not try to use that PR boost to your advantage? They give him a standing ovation, after all.
Kevin Pillar, Austin Slater for Wil Myers, IF Owen Miller, RHP Dinelson Lamet, and OF Agustin Ruiz
If it’s true the Padres intend to pursue San Diego native Stephen Strasburg this offseason, then they’ll need to free up some cap space and if it’s true team ownership is fed up with Wil Myers, then the Giants might have a real opportunity here.
This could be sort of a reverse of the Matt Kemp to the Padres for Yasmani Grandal trade that Farhan Zaidi made in his first month with the Dodgers. It’s pretty obvious now that these complex trades involving dead or dying contracts are more Andrew Friedman’s bag than Farhan’s. but there might be an opportunity her to grab 1) a player who hits well in Oracle Park and 2) a major-league ready power arm.
Pillar would give the Padres an actual centerfielder and one who projects to be twice as good (1.4 to 0.7) as current starter Manuel Margot, Slater would provide decent OBP and positional flexibility for a roster sorely lacking in both.
Myers makes a lot of money ($22.5 million in 2020, 2021, and 2022 with a $1 million buyout in 2023), was a below average hitter in 2019 despite a juiced-ass ball (95 OPS+ in 490 PA), and is a reeeee-ough defender who projects to be worth just 0.4 fWAR. Pillar (1.4) and Slater (0.1) are better and cheaper than Myers.
Despite his injuries, Lamet is projected to be worth 3.5 fWAR as a high octane strikeout starter. Miller is the Padres’ #10 prospect who hit .290/.355/.430 in 560 Double-A PA, and Ruiz is an A-ball outfielder with a 10% walk rate and just a 35+ FV. It’s perhaps a steep cost, but if the Padres are serious about Strasburg and being competitive in 2020 and really want to ditch Wil Myers’ contract, it won’t be easy.
Alex Dickerson, Donovan Solano, Tony Watson, and Trevor Gott for OF Yoenis Cespedes and IF Jed Lowrie, SS Andres Gimenez, and LHP David Petersen
The Mets are weird and they’d probably rather have the insurance payout than deal with the PR disaster of moving Cespedes and it’s probably be really bad for the Giants to absorb that much salary for big leaguers who might not play 100 games combined in 2020 and for prospects who might never pan out. On the other hand, Cespedes and Lowrie don’t figure to be the reasons why the Mets will be competitive in 2020, if they are at all, and clearing their ~$40 million off the books gives Brodie van Wagenen and the Wilpons flexibility, though also fewer excuses to not improve the team.
Grabbing the Mets’ #3 and #7 prospects, who both fill needs in the organization would be a worthwhile get for the Giants. The Mets already have a better middle infield prospect and performers in the big leagues, and their starting rotation doesn’t need David Peterson in the next year or two, but the team would figure to need that sweet, sweet payroll flexibility now.
Mike Yastrzemski, Joe McCarthy, Trevor Gott for OF Jason Heyward, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Adbert Alzolay, and RHP Kohl Franklin
The Cubs are another team in search of “sustainability” and “payroll flexibility”, to the point that there have been whispers that they might trade Kris Bryant (who’s arbitration eligible). Rather than trade Heliot Ramos or Joey Bart for the privilege of Kris Bryant’s sturdy bat and defense, the Giants could make it easier for the Cubs to retain one of their top players and help them create payroll space to make other moves to improve.
Heyward is not a bad player (1.9 fWAR in 2019), but there are four years left on his deal and a tax number of $23 million. Chatwood makes $13 million (2020 is the last year of his deal) and has a Steamer projection of 0.8. That’s a combined $36 million for a projected 2.7 fWAR. Azolay is their #5 prospect and Franklin has a 40 FV, but again, if the Cubs want to contend in the near-term — and industry executive talent pipeline FanGraphs is aghast at the thought that they are, indeed, squandering their window of contention — then they’ll have to give up a little bit of something to gain what they most desire: flexibility.
The Giants can easily absorb bad 3-4 year deals, mainly because Jeff Samardzija’s contract comes off the books next year and they’re not paying Mark Melancon $16.5 million this year. In any one of these deals, they pick up talent that improves upon what they already have and add players who might actually improve the major league roster in 2020 and 2021.
Between the new scoreboard, Bruce Bochy’s contract, and the additions of Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz, Stephen Vogt, Gerardo Parra, Yangervis Solarte, Nick Vincent, and Erik Kratz, the Giants wound up spending about $33.75 million last offseason and had an Opening Day payroll of about $177 million. They’re currently projected to have an OD payroll of $117 million, before arbitration raises.
Let’s say the ownership group wants to really juice their ROI from the team the next couple of years and continue to push payroll down. Going from $177 million to $150 million accomplishes that and still gives the Giants about $33 million to play with, meaning all but the Cubs and Mets deals could be done very easily. On the other hand, why the hell should we care about the team owners’ ROI?
Waiver claims, minor league deals, and trades for back of the 40-man guys are the lazy sabr practitioner’s way of doing things. It’s time Farhan Zaidi flexes his team’s financial muscle to add more raffle tickets, not just to find the next Max Muncy, but to also get a currently average guy.