Okay, let’s start looking at some trades since we’re 11 days from the August 1st trade deadline. After evaluating the San Francisco Giants roster and considering their recent hitting struggles, it’s safe to say there are two acquisition paths the Giants can take: pitching or hitting.
The Giants will want to show their fans that they are committed to contending, so, making a trade of some size will support their public comments since Farhan Zaidi joined the team that the goal is to compete for the postseason every year. The team tried to make a big splash in the offseason and they couldn’t tuck in time to make a really big cannonball off the diving board. What they did get was a series of players who’ve kinda-sorta helped the team compete. They’ve been helped out a lot by player development successes.
So, why not go after pitching and hitting? I suppose they could, but the size of any deal will be determined by market forces, of course, and given that, I think it’s only reasonable to conclude that the prospect cost to acquire a player worthy of a headline and in line with the team’s own expectations of what “competing” means when they communicate that goal to their fans will be significant enough that they’ll have to choose.
The brilliance of Farhan Zaidi, though, is that he’s the best risk manager to ever manage a baseball franchise, and managing risk involves is basically “possibilities + certainties.” It’s possible the Giants could acquire an every day hitter and a starting pitcher, but they’re certain they’re only going to spend x amount in dollars and prospects to get any one player.
And the trade deadline might come down to one player.
For a time, I liked the idea of the Giants trading for Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger, because both guys would make great fits and because the Giants have already dealt with the Cubs for Kris Bryant. Then I realized that with so many buyers it’d be stupid of the Cubs to pair them together. They will get more of a return by splitting them up.
Marcus Stroman is the 25th-best starting pitcher by fWAR right now (2.5), and he’s having a career year in his age-32 season. He has a $21 million player option that could jump to $25 million. Or he could opt out and become a free agent. August has, historically, been his worst month (212 IP 4.25 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), too. Still, he’d slot in between or behind Logan Webb and Alex Cobb perfectly.
Then there’s Cody Bellinger, the 41st-best position player by fWAR right now (2.4; minimum 250 PA). He’s having a Comeback Player of the Year Award-worthy season at 27, his .310/.365/.522 (.887; 2754 PA) a far cry from his combined 2021 & 2022 seasons of .193/.256/.355 (900 PA). His defense never left him even when the offense did. His +3 Outs Above Average in centerfield is roughly on pace with his +7 from last season and he also plays a helluva right field, too.
Now, I’d like the Giants to add nearly 5 wins above replacement in value to the roster, but I think the Cubs would be better off splitting them up and the Giants would be better off saving some of their prospect capital. Combined or separate, though, I think either player represents a big move. Maybe not the biggest move a team could make, but close, and either player would only strengthen the Giants. But which way do you think they should go?
If you never saw the old TV show Mad Men, it was about advertising people in the 1960s. Lots of smoking and misogyny, and that grossness came together in their pitch for Playtex that hinged on marketing to women’s anxiety about how men see them, boiled down into “Are you a Jackie (First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) or a Marilyn (Monroe)?”
Here’s the full version of what I mean:
Here’s the polished, slightly less gross pitch:
Marcus Stroman represents strength and certainty. Cody Bellinger is fun and frivolity. Everybody wants to see doubles and dingers, but pitching wins championships. Do the Giants already have enough pitching? Do they not need that much help in the lineup? Now’s the time for you to decide!
If you’re a Stroman, then you want the Giants to go after that one big starting pitcher. Maybe you’d rather the Giants go after Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer if either one is available — then, you’re still a Stroman. Given Verlander and Scherzer’s contracts, the prospect capital figures to be about as heavy as a package for Stroman. The Mets wouldn’t be looking to dump payroll. And you have to figure that the cost for Lucas Giolito would be about the same, too, given that he’ll 100% be a free agent after the season.
Bellinger’s contract is similar to Stroman’s, but his option is a mutual one that includes a $5 million buyout. He’d almost certainly decline his end, though, because he’s had such a tremendous season. Still, given his value (2.4 fWAR) and position (centerfield), he’d almost certainly cost quite a lot in trade. Do you want the Giants to go big for a bat? Then you’re a Bellinger.
Maybe the Padres want to take a step back in order to move forward. Does Juan Soto become available through some sort of three-team trade contrivance? The Giants have the prospect capital along with financial flexibility to finally get involved in one of those. What about Paul Goldschmidt? He’s under contract for one more year, so maybe that’s a big enough factor to jump the cost. But does a 36-in-2024 Goldschmidt fit on the Giants?
Where would you add this big bat? The outfield seems fine if not set. The infield is missing a bat to be sure, but which direction do you turn? Third base? Hello, Nolan Arenado?! Stick with second base and try to get Gleyber Torres from a sinking Yankees boat? Then you move Thairo Estrada over to shortstop when he returns, even though he’s demonstrably worse there for some reason? And what about Marco Luciano? Suppose he blossoms in Triple-A and the Giants find themselves with a 35-homer bat ready for a call-up? If you’re a Bellinger, you don’t care about any of that. You just want certain thump and, certainly, ASAP.
Oh, what’s that? Shohei Ohtani, you say? The best of both worlds? Stroman and Bellinger? Fair enough. But, do you really think the Angels will trade him? Do you really think the Giants will nuke their player development pipeline for 54 games? If I think the Cubs will be wise enough to split up Stroman and Bellinger on the trade market, then I think the Angels will — even accidentally — figure out that they should be able to get the equivalent trade value of Stroman plus Bellinger, and given everything Ohtani can do along with all he represents I think he’s worth even that much more.
So, are you a Stroman or a Bellinger?