I have no idea what the San Francisco Giants aim to do at the trade deadline. I suspect none of us do. The team isn’t in a situation where they absolutely need to make a move, either; it’s only logical that they should. But how do you improve upon a team that’s had the third-best record in the National League (sixth-best in MLB) since May 1st?
Just going by wins above replacement, FanGraphs-style, the team’s 8.1 WAR marks them as the fifth-best pitching staff in Baseball — again, since May 1st, when everything turned around for this team. Their bullpen has been the absolute best with 4 WAR over this same stretch. If you’re thinking maybe they could stand to tweak some of the indicator numbers, well, their 0.89 HR/9 is best #1 overall, their 2.64 BB/9 #1 in the NL (#2 in MLB), and they balance a tepid 8.59 K/9 (#18) with a sport-leading 48.1% groundball rate.
That rate tops the second-best team at inducing groundballs (the Marlins) by a decent margin, too (46.8%), and that’s thanks to not only Logan Webb and Alex Cobb for being so impressive (Cobb’s start in Cincinnati this morning excepted) but also the fourth-best defense in the NL (+8.2, #9 in MLB) based on FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average.
Letting down those two factors for the team’s success is the lineup. The team’s 451 runs on the season puts them at middle of the pack, more or less (7th in NL, 13th in MLB). Even with the “since May 1st” adjustment, their 324 runs scored is 6th in the NL and 11th in MLB. It gets worse, though: a 97 wRC+, putting them in a three-way tie with the Yankees and Phillies; a .144 ISO (#25) and all on a .305 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), suggesting that the Giants hitters are getting the results they deserve.
So, they just need better hitters, right? Shouldn’t be a problem. Farhan Zaidi is one of the greatest minds to ever grace professional sports. His system’s been able to make Blake Sabol and Patrick Bailey go, they’ve already acquired and polished up guys like Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr., and J.D. Davis (well, at least for a while, anyway) and for very little. Adding a key bat seems eminently reasonable.
The problem is that even if the Giants have the smartest front office ever conceived, they’re competing against clubs with pretty clever front offices, too, and the ones that might not fit that description will have a dozen or more suitors for one of the players they might be willing to move on or before the August 1st trade deadline.
Then there’s the question of how long a player will actually be with the team. The Giants will play 54 regular season games after the deadline, which is almost as many games as Casey Schmitt had played in as a major leaguer before the start of the Reds series. A third of the season will remain. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a significant number of games that would demand a big move or a number of games too small to justify one.
Every decision by the front office considers the risks. The Giants almost certainly will have to make a trade to maintain fan interest and to communicate to their clubhouse that they believe in this year’s team. The move has to make sense — the right personality for the clubhouse balanced against the talent needed and driven by the cost.
The cost... the cost...
It is logical to consider the cost of doing business in the trade market. The Giants have made a range of moves at the deadline across regimes. Wheeler for Beltran didn’t wind up crushing the Giants — even though they let Beltran walk in the offseason and they could’ve used Wheeler during his team control years — because they still won titles in 2012 and 2014. The Matt-for-Matt, Duffy-for-Moore trade combined with passing up on Mark Melancon when he had the chance set the stage for the end of Bobby Evans’ career as a baseball executive. The Kris Bryant deal didn’t wind up helping or hurting them very much, and it’s up to you how you feel about the Prelander Berroa-for-Donovan Walton deal.
I say all that to suggest that trade deadlines are almost as much of a coin toss as the postseason. Brian Sabean once got Jason Schmidt for Ryan Vogelsong. Farhan Zaidi got J.D. Davis and the Giants’ #28 prospect Carson Seymour for Darin Ruf. Is there instead a Kris Bryant-type deal out there to be had, or are we in the Carlos Beltran/Andrew McCutchen zone where the Giants will wind up making a trade that will cost them dearly in the future?
It’s a big field of competition. The Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Brewers, Reds, Dodgers, Dbacks, Rangers, Astros, Twins, Orioles, Rays, and Blue Jays are all right there when it comes to playoff spots, but there are also teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Guardians, Angels, Mariners, maybe the Cubs and maybe the Padres all still in the mix for the Wild Card at the very least. There’s still 60+ games of the season left. That’s a good chunk of the league in competition with the Giants.
It’s debatable how hot and heavy teams would be for players on the A’s, Rockies, and Royals — to the extent that there would be multiple teams causing a bidding war — but beyond those three, the Tigers, White Sox, Mets, and Cardinals, have either impact pitching or hitting that could potentially be on offer, and if fringe teams like the Mariners and Yankees (just to throw out two teams) decide to put up for sale signs, that could tip the balance, too.
Does the team see Kyle Harrison and Marco Luciano as untouchable or could they be motivated to move either of them for the right guy? What about Joey Bart (.333/.395/.538 in July) and Heliot Ramos (.341/.362/.750) — do they have any prospect sheen left on them to be alternative trade chips?
The Giants do have financial flexibility to make a move. They’re about $18.5 million below the unofficial/official salary cap colloquially known as the competitive balance tax. That puts them in a good position to take back salary to lower the prospect capital surrendered, but more and more we’ve seen teams prefer the prospect capital over the financial relief. Could that be different this year because of the Diamond/Bally Sports regional sports network cable deals to collapse?
And, most importantly, what would “the right guy” look like? It’s not obviously all about the cost. The fit’s a pretty important part of this, too.
Probably looking for someone with doubles power and speed — in addition to the team’s depressing Isolated Power, they’re 29th in stolen bases (45), ahead of just Colorado.
Now, does this necessarily have to be an infielder just because of the injury (Thairo Estrada) and performance (Schmitt, maybe J.D. Davis) situations or could they look for an outfielder? It gets tricky because as bad as Mike Yastrzemski has looked at times, he’s been fine this season. Austin Slater is a solid platoon bat. Michael Conforto has been fine. Blake Sabol can’t be optioned yet and I have to believe the team is committed to keeping this Rule 5 guy one the roster. You also — probably — don’t want to acquire an infielder who could block Marco Luciano if he proves a fast mover in Triple-A.
All of these considerations narrow the field. Thairo Estrada was the best second baseman in the National League up until mid-June. He was the team’s best position player for most of the season. It’s always tough to replace your team’s best player.
It is my strongly held belief that the team should look to acquire a starting pitcher. The bullpen will probably not be able to keep up their dominant work, but the best way to turn into that future skid is by putting another arm in the rotation. The eventual returns of John Brebbia and Luke Jackson also add to the urgent need for grabbing another guy who can pitch at least five innings per start. Sure, there’s Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn in Triple-A and the coin flip possibility of Kyle Harrison come September, but in the present moment, given their experience levels and perhaps stage of player development, they’re really just a hair better than the veteran quartet of Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling quartet; and if the Giants had the chance to get, say, Jack Flaherty (1.5 fWAR) or Corbin Burnes (1.6 fWAR), I think any of us would take either one over any of the other six.
I’m considering guys like Anthony DeSclafani and Sean Manaea as having little or next to zero trade value, but we live in a world where the Darin Ruf trade did happen. Where Drew Pomeranz became a shutdown reliever in time to be a trade chit. Maybe some team out there really loves David Villar or Heliot Ramos or the Giants are ready to move on from Joey Bart. Maybe Sean Manaea’s spurts of effectiveness out of the pen excites Rays scouts.
Anything can happen, but what do you think will happen?
If the Giants have only one move to make, what player should they acquire?
This poll is closed
A starting pitcher
A relief pitcher
A platoon bat
A lineup staple
CTRL+F — this is the only time you mention Shohei Ohtani????