As McCovey Chronicles continues its look back at the best decade of baseball in San Francisco history, let’s look at the trades the the franchise pulled off. Some set them up for World Series wins, others are hopefully going to help the rebuild ahead.
What’s the grading for these trades? Pure opinion. I’m including the WAR each team got from its returns (so far), though just the WAR gained while the players were signed under team control. But these trades aren’t just about the WAR. A couple brought players to SF who would re-sign and have longer careers with the team. Some are for young players who may still pay dividends. And one isn’t about anyone who was in the trade at all.
#10: Tristan Beck and Dan Winkler for Mark Melancon to the Braves
Combined WAR received: 0 (minor leaguers); WAR traded: 0.3 (1 year)
Mark Melancon represented the last splurge of the Giants’ dynasty: an expensive closer to complete their championship set. Only, between bouts of extended injury, he wasn’t all that good and the team around him was much, much worse than the team that just came up short in the 2016 Division Series, the reason why they added Melancon in the first place.
Zaidi was able to trade away the final year-plus of the deal without paying down any of it. That, alone, is a feat. But he also got an interesting prospect back. Tristan Beck was a starting pitcher in High-A who had dealt with back issues and was looking for a change of scenery. It worked as he looked like a new pitcher in San Jose and had a good AFL campaign (in the context of the offensive prospect league). Beck was the #18 prospect on MLB.com at the start of the offseason. The Giants also got former major leaguer Dan Winkler, but released him after the season. He signed with the Cubs for the 2020 season.
#9: Javier Lopez for John Bowker and Joe Martinez to the Pirates
WAR Received: 1.8 (1-plus seasons); WAR traded: Bowker: 0.2 (1 season); Martinez: N/A
Usually, one wouldn’t expect trading for a 33-year relief pitcher to be a big move. It’s also not a player one would expect to have a major influence on the team for six more seasons. But that’s what the Giants got with Javier Lopez.
Javier Lopez settled into the bullpen immediately as one of the team’s top left-handers, alongside Jeremy Affeldt, and became an indispensable piece of the team and its championship lore. Lopez was rock solid, and allowed just one earned run in 12.1 postseason innings (five hits allowed, four walks, 14 strikeouts) during the World Series runs. He signed a two year deal after the 2011 season, and another three years after 2013.
In return, the Pirates didn’t receive much. John Bowker played for Pittsburgh in 2010 and 2011 but put up -0.2 rWAR and was later traded for cash. Joe Martinez never made the majors with the Pirates, having his contract purchased in 2011 by the Indians, and kicking around between the Diamondbacks, Indians, and Angels before retiring.
#8: Mauricio Dubon for Ray Black and Drew Pomeranz to the Brewers
WAR received: 0.4 (2 Months); WAR traded: Black: 0.0, Pomeranz: 0.9 (2 Months)
There’s a bit of expected future value here to be assumed. Mauricio Dubon was a top prospect in a weak Brewers system when the Giants traded for him. Initially slotting in at second base, Dubon had a 0.4 WAR over two months with the team. The Giants clearly think that Dubon is the future, and his Northern California roots endeared him to fans quickly.
The Giants departed with Drew Pomeranz, who had signed for just one year to prove himself, and who had moved into the bullpen as a left-handed reliever. He was incredible for Milwaukee in two months, getting 0.9 WAR in the limited time, but he left as a free agent after 2019, signing a four-year deal with the San Diego Padres. The bigger piece long-term for the Brewers is Ray Black, the fire-throwing right-hander. Black’s velocity impresses, but he hasn’t been able to capitalize on it yet in the majors. The Brewers, however, have four more years of control on him, and if he turns around, there is closer material there.
#7: Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo to the Royals
WAR received: 4.8 (5 months); WAR traded: Sanchez: -1.2 (4 months), Verdugo: -0.3 (1 game)
Okay, let’s get controversial.
The Giants were reeling from a 2011 season that saw their star get significantly injured, a big time trade did not save the season, and a repeat did not happen. Jonathan Sanchez, the author of the first San Francisco no-hitter in 33 years, was struggling with control and injury issues. Sanchez had a career year in 2010, but had always been a high maintenance pitcher who got sloppy when his armslot dropped. Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera had a breakout season in Kansas City, but the team needed help and had an up-and-coming star in Lorenzo Cain.
So, the teams traded assets. At least on the field, it was not a fair trade. Cabrera, in the second year of his resurgence, was an All-Star and an early MVP candidate. Sanchez struggled, and was traded four months later for Jeremy Guthrie, who stuck with the Royals for four more seasons. Prospect Ryan Verdugo made one appearance in the Majors, going 1.2 innings and still managing a -1.3 WAR from it.
The downside, of course, is that Cabrera was popped for PEDs, left the team without even saying goodbye, and left both teammates and fans without the team’s early-season star. But despite how it ended, and that Cabrera never played in the postseason, this was a big trade that kickstarted the 2012 run.
#6: Michael Main and Chris Ray for Bengie Molina to the Rangers
WAR received: Main: N/A, Ray: 0.1 (2 months); WAR traded: -0.8 (2 months)
This trade isn’t about who the Giants got, or who left. It’s about someone who wasn’t in the trade at all.
Michael Main never made the Giants. He lasted one more season in the minors before retiring at age 22. Chris Ray was a back-of-the-bullpen reliever, one who didn’t make the postseason roster. Meanwhile, Bengie Molina had been a staple of the Giants lineup for four seasons, having been there while Barry Bonds still played. As with many catchers, he had never been a great hitter, but he was good enough with good defense.
But, Buster Posey was in the minors. Brian Sabean had been fighting with fans through the media, telling them that though Posey was hitting, he still needed defensive reps to prepare himself for the long season. He’d had only one full season in the minors. By May, Sabean said Posey was “still learning how to catch.” Less than three weeks after that quote, Posey was in the Majors. A little more than one month later, Bengie Molina was no longer taking playing time from Buster Posey.
Did this trade start the decade of success that was the 2010’s? In reality, no. That started with drafting Lincecum, Posey, and Bumgarner the previous decade. But symbolically? It changed what was a talented team into the team that would win 2010, and everything else flowed from there.
#5: Mike Yastrzemski for Tyler Herb to the Orioles
WAR received: 2.8 (5 months); WAR traded: N/A
This late March trade was initially just a 40-man roster dump, as the Giants had a lot of pitchers to clear off the 40-man. Tyler Herb, the long-delayed return for Chris Heston, had a rough year in Triple-A for the Giants. Farhan Zaidi needed 40-man roster space for what would become a bunch of roster moves all season long (It was the third of five movies in the span of six days at the end of March alone).
At the time, Yastrzemski was a 28-year old outfielder who had struggled at the top levels of the minors and looked like depth in Sacramento and maybe an emergency option. But in late May, he got a shot and, after some big league reps, he ran with it. He ran all the way to a hero’s welcome as a visitor in Boston, and he may potentially have the safest spot as a starting position player for the Giants to start the 2020 season.
This trade could potentially change spots in time. Yastrzemski won’t be due to be a free agent after 2024, if he plays nonstop in the Majors, but so far it’s only been one good year. And Tyler Herb could still make the Majors, although he struggled in 2019 in the Baltimore system. But even if 2019 is the best of it, this was still a very lopsided trade.
#4: Will Smith for Phil Bickford and Andrew Susac to the Brewers
WAR received: 3.5 (2.5 seasons); WAR traded: Bickford: N/A; Susac: -0.1 (2 seasons)
In a way, this trade is frustrating, despite being the best of the Bobby Evans era.
Smith, who had closer experience, was coming off of Tommy John surgery and didn’t get started until late in the 2016 season, and this trade could be seen coming an offseason away, as the Brewers needed a young catcher (and the Giants didn’t). The Giants needed a closer type in a weak bullpen. But Smith never got the closer role from Santiago Casilla. He had 18 scoreless appearances in the regular season, but then, in the 9th inning that unraveled in Game 4, Smith was the fourth pitcher up in the inning, and he gave up just one hit, which allowed the game-winning runs.
Will Smith, of course, went on to a second Tommy John surgery, but bounced back to become an All-Star closer in a losing season in 2019. Maybe there’s the wish he could have seized the closer role from Casilla in 2016, then maybe the Cubs series goes different and Melancon never happens. In the end of reality, though, the Giants will still get a draft pick thanks to him, so the gifts will continue past the decade.
For the Brewers, this trade can still pay dividends. Andrew Susac never became the catcher expected, and was traded for Cash to the Orioles, and was purchased by the Royals before the 2019 season. But Phil Bickford, a former Giants first round pick, seemed to be finding himself in High-A for the Brewers system as a reliever. Whether or not that will be enough to negate the Giants getting an All-Star (however delayed), this is still a heck of a trade for the Giants. Just… ignore the what if.
#3: Hunter Pence for Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin to the Phillies
WAR received: 0.3 (2 months); WAR traded: Schierholtz: -0.1 (2 months), Joseph: -1 (2 seasons), Rosin: N/A
Hunter Pence. Buster Posey’s good friend. This is one of the ten best Giants of the decade. But this trade? The direct numbers look bad.
The Hunter Pence trade looked like a bust by the numbers. He hit just .219/.287/.384 over 59 games for the Giants that year. He still had a .400 OPS in the NLDS and a .528 in the NLCS, before getting to an average line of a .670 OPS in the 2012 World Series. Bottom line, Pence just didn’t hit.
So forget the numbers. Do the Giants beat the Reds without Pence’s speech in the 2012 DS? Maybe. And maybe they don’t need the 3-hit swing in Game 7 of the NLCS. But he was an unforgettable part of the team from then on. And that style, that unorthodox swing, those bug eyes… he started to endear himself to Giants fans. Would he have signed in San Francisco if this trade hadn’t have happened?
The Phillies ended up with little to show for Pence. Nate Schierholtz was a free agent at the end of the season. Tommy Joseph made it to the majors four years later, and had a couple of subpar seasons, but was waived, and has been in the minors since. Seth Rosin has had a crazy journey, being a Rule 5 draft pick, going to three teams before being returned to the Phillies, and cycling around to eventually returning to the Giants in the minors in 2017, though that was the end of his career.
Of course, Hunter Pence bounced back from a disappointing start to his Giants career and posted a 111 OPS+ across six more seasons and a heap of memories.
#2: Angel Pagan for Ramon Ramirez and Andres Torres to the Mets
WAR received: 4.2 (1 season); WAR traded: Ramirez: 0.0 (1 season), Torres: 1.5 (1 season)
In terms of WAR received, only the Melky Cabrera trade earned more than the Angel Pagan trade. Pagan was coming off of a bad year with the Mets, and came to the Giants as part of the redesigned outfield alongside the ill-fated Melkman. Pagan would become the 3rd-most valuable member of that Giants team at a 4.2 WAR, behind just Melky’s 4.8, and Buster’s 7.6. After Melky’s suspension, Pagan’s white-hot August helped keep the Giants afloat. Pagan wasn’t a big factor in the playoffs, but there’s no doubt he as a big reason the Giants got there.
Pagan was a free agent after 2012, but he chose to stay as a free agent after the World Series win. Despite injuries and later struggles, he would remain a big part of the 2014 team in the regular season, but his back caused him to miss the postseason.
This trade is notable also because of what happened after it. Andres Torres had a solid season for the Mets, helped by his defense. Ramon Ramirez was not as good, having a difficult year in the Mets bullpen. However, both players were free agents at the end of the season, and ended up returning to the Giants in 2013, though neither had big roles again in their future (unless you count Torres’ flashy wardrobe occasionally on NBC Sports Bay Area postgame shows).
#1: Marco Scutaro for Charlie Culberson to the Rockies
WAR received: 2.1 (2 months); WAR traded: -1.2 (2 seasons)
36-year old Marco Scutaro was not a notable pickup on July 27th. He was brought in to shore up the second base spot. It had been manned by the struggling Emmanuel Burriss and the very average Ryan Theriot. Scutaro had been hitting a little in Colorado, but not nearly the way a hitter in Colorado should.
But he just hit as a Giant.
He quickly became the everyday second baseman, batting .362 for just over two months as a Giant. And then the playoffs. He was a non-factor against Cincinnati, but against the Cardinals, he became more than a star. He was an icon. He suffered a takeout “slide” by Matt Holliday in Game 2, and was removed from the game, but somehow played the rest of the series. In the 7-game series, he was 14-for-28, batting an even .500 and winning the NLCS MVP award. And while his near-injured foot made him a bit of a mascot for a team that kept battling back, his celebration in the rain during Game 7 is one of the most memorable moments in San Francisco Giants history.
This was the perfect mid-season trade. A grizzled veteran who comes alive, plays out of his mind, and wins a title.
Scutaro would stick around through 2014, signing a free agent deal after 2012 (how could he not), and had a solid 2013 before being replaced by Joe Panik. But there is no way you won’t get a smile out of Giants fans by saying his name.
Oh, and let’s touch on Culberson. He sucked with Colorado, no doubt, and left the Rockies after 2015 as a free agent. He hooked on with the Dodgers and became a postseason beast in 2017 (8-for-18 in ten games, with 2 doubles, a triple and a home run), and went on to be a useful piece in Atlanta in 2018. But none of that really affects this trade.
Sorry, Charlie, but trading you away gave the Giants Marco Scutaro, and the best Giants trade of the decade.