Opening Day is less than a week away and the Giants’ lineup still looks pretty shaky. Brandon Belt has confidence in the infield, but what about the outfield? Sure, they traded for Connor Joe yesterday, but after everything that’s happened of late, it’s clear the work is far from over.
The team just released Cameron Maybin this evening and Drew Ferguson yesterday, meaning there are few right-handed outfielders on the roster. Early this morning, Ken Rosenthal buried deep in a lengthy MLB News post (subscription required) that the Giants tried but failed to make a bad contract swap with the Rangers for left-handed outfielder Shin-Soo Choo earlier in the offseason. The handedness issue hasn’t held up the efforts, obviously — Farhan Zaidi has been trying really hard to make something happen, and following the Maybin news, Alex Pavlovic reminded us —
The Giants released Cameron Maybin. They’ve been talking to other teams about outfielders.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) March 22, 2019
Is there really a deal to be made at this juncture and are the options all that attractive? What kind of deals for an outfielder just might be out there with Opening Day just six days away?
Let’s look at this timeline of events to setup some baseless speculation:
January 7th — Giants and Brewers rumored to have discussed a trade for Madison Bumgarner.
March 7th — Farhan Zaidi wants a right-handed outfielder
March 20th — Brewers are reported to have been in talks with Craig Kimbrel
March 21st — Corey Knebel, as close to a “closer” as the Brewers had last season, and had a 14.3 K/9 in 57 games last season, is reported to have a UCL injury, jeopardizing his season.
March 21st — the Giants still have Will Smith, Tony Watson, Sam Dyson, Reyes Moronta, etc.
I have no specific information, but I would guess #sfgiants and #brewers are chatting. MIL has some key bullpen injuries and, from what I understand, some outfielders at higher levels of minors. New SF director of pro scouting would know them. He was hired away from Brewers.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) March 22, 2019
March 22nd: Drew Ferguson is returned to the Astros and Cameron Maybin is released from his non-roster deal, leaving just Henry Ramos, the newly acquired Connor Joe, Craig Gentry, and Mac Williamson as the only right-handed outfielders on the Spring Training roster. And, technically, Henry Ramos is a switch-hitter.
So, given all of this, could the Giants make a deal with the Brewers just before Spring Training? The two upper level outfielders to which Schulman’s referring are probably Troy Stokes Jr. and Tyrone Taylor, numbers 13 and 29, respectively, in MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the Brewers’ Top 30 (neither make it onto the top 100 in all of baseball), and who are currently on the Brewers’ 40-man roster. Some quick notes on them:
Troy Stokes Jr.
He turned 23 on February 2nd, and is just 5’8” tall, meaning I’m already a big fan of his. He was the Brewers’ 4th round pick in 2014 (the Giants would grab Logan Webb just two picks later!) and has hit 48 home runs in his minor league career (459 games in 5 seasons).
He’s not an on base machine quite like Drew Ferguson has been in the minors but he’s been solid (.353 career OBP for Stokes Jr.) and uses his speed to grab bases (114 SBs) and hit for extra bases.
An above-average runner, Stokes knows how to apply his wheels on the basepaths and improved as a basestealer in 2018. A well-below-average arm will limit him to a career in left field, but he’s generally regarded as an above-average defender at the position and was the Minor League Gold Glove-winner there in 2018. Overall, he has the profile of a semi-regular or platoon player, perhaps more so if he can start converting some of the strikeouts into contact.
This six-foot tall right-handed outfielder shares my birthday, meaning I’m already a big fan of his. He was the Brewers’ 2nd round pick in 2012 (the Giants had gone with pitcher Martin Agosta nine picks earlier) and has hit 53 home runs in his minor league career (688 games in 7 seasons).
He’s far less of an on base machine than Stokes Jr. (.325 OBP) but has a little speed (84 steals) and doesn’t strike very much (just 360 in 2553 at bats). He’s pretty okay and, like Stokes Jr., has minor league options available.
Taylor had never hit double-digit home runs in a single season until 2018, when he delivered 20 bombs in his first Triple-A campaign. The significant uptick in power was a product of Taylor’s revamped swing, as he attacked the ball at a better angle and hit the ball in the air more consistently than at any other point in his career.
But why would the Brewers trade one of their young, cheap players? Instead, could the Giants and Brewers really take a big swing and do a deal involving Ryan Braun? Back in 2016, there were discussions for just such a deal, but the Giants wound up with Will Smith instead. My how the calculus has changed, too. Ryan Braun would’ve been going from the rebuilding Brewers to a 3-time world champion team that at the time had the best record in baseball. Now, the situation is completely reversed, minus all those championship rings for the Brewers. And there’s the matter of Braun’s ability to block any trade as a “10-and-5” guy (10 years in the majors with 5 on the same team).
Rosenthal reported back in 2016 that the Giants were not on Ryan Braun’s no-trade list. Of course, Braun can update that list every year. The Giants could be on it right now. In fact, back in 2017, MLB.com reported that he’d “likely” veto a trade to any other team besides the Dodgers. But still! Let’s just imagine for a moment that they’re not on his block list at the moment. How could such a deal like this even get done?
First, given the earlier news about Choo and the Giants’ payroll flexibility, it’s clear that the Giants would have the stomach for both the remainder of Braun’s deal — $19 million this year and $17 million next year with a $15 million mutual option or $4 million buyout in 2021 — and his defense in left field... which isn’t actually all that bad (+4 DRS in LF last season, +28 for his career there). Braun would be an instant upgrade in left, even as his OPS has dropped steadily over the past three seasons (.903 in 2017 to .782 last season) and he enters his age-35 season.
Second, the Brewers probably want some payroll flexibility in their quest to staunch the bleeding in their bullpen. Not only has Corey Knebel’s elbow got them worried, but Jeremy Jeffress has struggled with injuries, too. Their strength was in the ‘pen last year and the Giants could offer back one of their quality arms who would seemingly cost substantially less than Craig Kimbrel would — the Brewers would even hold on to a future draft pick via a trade. But the Brewers could also move Braun to free up the money to sign Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel and grab Will Smith or Sam Dyson.
Braun has had a nice spring — .300 / .364 / .450 with a home run in 22 PA — and is a veteran presence / face of a franchise type, so the odds of this specific deal happening are incredibly small — probably zero.
The biggest trade just before the start of the season happened back in 2015, when the rebuilding Braves dumped B.J. Upton and Craig Kimbrel’s contracts on the Padres just before Opening day. Moving Braun would be a confusing transaction for a team that’s designed to return to the postseason and for the Giants, absent a contract swap (Jeff Samardzija really being the only candidate here), seems hard to fathom as a “good” one from their perspective.
That leaves finding other outfielders out of options who could be getting squeezed on their current teams. This tweet from a few days ago summarizes it nicely:
Based on Zaidi saying OF who are out of options could be the targets, here are some of those players that could be targets:— GPT (@giantsprospects) March 18, 2019
So, basically, more Connor Joes.
Given the state of the roster, that’s not the worst outcome. The worst outcome would be that nothing else happens between now and Opening Day; though, really, we’re talking about a team that’s shuffling deck chairs at this point, so your interest in this particular outcome may vary.