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Triangulating the Giants’ alleged targets

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St Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Don’t worry, I’m as skeptical as you are when it comes to Jim Bowden’s reporting, but he very clearly does still have a few friends around the industry. So, when he put in a piece for The Athletic yesterday that the San Francisco Giants are in the market for a shortstop and starting pitcher, it got picked up by NBC Sports and became more truth than rumor.

Jon Morosi previously reported that the Giants had inquired about Justin Verlander, sort of confirming the starting pitching part of Bowden’s report. The Giants really need a bat, though. Like, really really. We haven’t heard a peep from any of these national reporters about players who might be in that mix, but let’s see if we can come up with a list, based on what we think we know about the front office’s preferences.

Let’s start with the idea that the Giants are focused on shortstop because we might not see much of Brandon Crawford over the final third of the season and Casey Schmitt is 8-for-78 since his last multi-hit game (June 11th) with just one extra base hit and 8 walks against 23 strikeouts. Schmitt’s defense is largely a positive because of his fantastic arm strength, youthful knees, and fresh legs, but Statcast demerits him with -2 Outs Above Average at second and -2 at shortstop; he’s a mere -1.0 Defensive Runs Above Average for FanGraphs.

You’ll recall that there was some to-do involving the Giants’ effort to obtain a shortstop in the offseason, almost certainly for this very reason. Crawford’s age and health were more certain to betray him than not and the player development depth up the middle has a strong ceiling but probably needed more development time. Schmitt got tossed into the deep end and managed to swim almost back to the ledge but is now struggling to tread water and has really swallowed a lot of water — okay, exiting this metaphor now.

So, yes, shortstop makes a whole lot of sense. Bowden’s information might be a little fuzzy, too, and maybe it could be any middle infielder, given how poorly Brett Wisely and David Villar have played there; regardless, the team simply must do something. But who could be available? Who might they target?

You have to imagine the Giants don’t want to take all the player development positives they’ve accumulated this season and subtract them in one big move or even series of moves, even though Bowden suggests they’re in the market for “a big splash.” I don’t know what he views as a splash versus what the team itself sees as one, but I feel a little more comfortable guessing from the team’s perspective.

Kris Bryant seemed like a splash, but it was really pretty painless in terms of prospect cost, helped immensely by Bryant’s expiring contract. I think “final year of his deal” is a good starting point for this examination, and by doing that I’ve come up with these shortstops:

Paul DeJong - STL

Season line: .232/.298/.421 (1.5 fWAR; 101 wRC+)

That line might not get you very excited, but his 13 home runs would be tied with Michael Conforto and Wilmer Flores for the Giants’ team lead. He’d also be one of just eight active Giants hitting at or above the league average (by wRC+).

His season walk rate of 7.3% is off his career mark of 8.2% and the 28.7% strikeout rate a little bit higher than his career 27.7%, and neither of these marks would necessarily land him on the radar of Farhan Zaidi’s performance model, but as these rates do put him somewhere in the Blake Sabol to J.D. Davis/Mitch Haniger zone, I can kinda see it. Yes, the strikeouts really are an issue, but the power is very real. Since 2017 (when he entered the league), DeJong’s cumulative .195 Isolated power is 7th in MLB, just behind Carlos Correa (.197) and ahead of Marcus Semien (.194), and that’s in fewer games than both.

Then there’s the defensive component, which might actually be where he has the most value, even to a team starved for power. His +7.2 Defensive Runs Above Average is 7th in MLB and 4th in the National League. Better results than big ticket signings Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Trea Turner. As good as Francisco Lindor’s results. By Outs Above Average, his +6 is 10th among all shortstops, and 6th in the NL. He would be a substantial upgrade over what the team has now.

Why would Paul DeJong be available and potentially in the Giants’ zone of interest? The Cardinals are out of it and they might even be aware of it. No Cardinals Devil Magic can carry them back into contention. I think, if he is available, it all comes down to cost.

The Cardinals aren’t in financial dire straits, but they will need to remake their rotation at the very least, and so acquiring some financial flexibility could help with that. I think they’d rather keep Tommy Edman, who’s cheaper and at least — if not better — than DeJong. His next two seasons are team options. For 2024, that option is worth $12.5 million with a $2 million buyout. In 2025, it’s $15 million with a $1 million buyout. The Giants would owe him $3.055 million over the final 54 games of the season and whether they kept him or bought him out he’d fit into their payroll structure pretty easily. Any concern he might block Marco Luciano is easily assuaged because of those options.

What might it take to get him? This is where it’s tough to say, because I’m really only making a guess based on what I think I know about the Giants. After all the early season struggles with Willson Contreras as their catcher, the Cardinals seem to have settled on him sticking there (he’s appeared there in 35 of his last 40 games). Still... would Joey Bart make sense here? Is he still a better catcher than Willson Contreras, at least defensively? Statcast loves Bart’s framing (100th percentile) and is cool on him as a running game limiter. Still an improvement over Contreras if they want to move him off the position.

Starting pitching seemed pretty obvious to me just a few days ago, and I hold firm to my deeply held belief that another starter is a must at this deadline even in the face of Ross Stripling figuring out a way to extricate himself from the vomitorium he’d been trapped in for most of the season. I feel a lot more comfortable with a rotation of

  • Logan Webb
  • Acquired Starter
  • Alex Cobb
  • Ross Stripling
  • TriSealextony Dewinnbeckwoodman

Although, as Baseball Jeff on Twitter X (haha no seriously are we doing this?) spotted in a video podcast: “I think a guy we should talk about as a potential trade target is Alex Wood of the San Francisco Giants [...] wouldn’t surprise me if he does get moved.” Well, that takes one set of body parts out of the Frankenstein’s Bulk Innings Monster created by the front office, but that might be addition by subtraction just based on performance (5.24 FIP).

The problem with adding an Acquired Starter to this mix is, of course, the acquisition cost.

Still, I think there are two who might be on the Giants’ radar. I don’t know that Paul DeJong would necessarily be on the radars of multiple contending teams — the NL contenders look shored up at the position and only maybe 1-2 teams in the AL might want to look in that direction for an upgrade — but I do know that both of these guys will be. Let’s start with DeJong’s teammate:

Jack Flaherty - STL

Season line: 104.2 IP, 102-52 K-BB, 4.39 ERA / 4.17 FIP, (1.5 fWAR, 105 ERA-)

Injuries slowed what had been a hot start to his career (7 fWAR after his second full season) and 2023 features the most innings he’s pitched in a season since 2019 (196.1). To put it another way, these 104.2 IP through the first two thirds of this season are just 50 fewer than his combined innings total from 2020-2022.

All that said, his 8.8 K/9 and 0.8 HR/9 are fantastic: 33rd and 8th in MLB, respectively. That 4.6 BB/9 is a real bummer, though. It’s third-worst in Baseball, behind Blake Snell and Kodai Senga, who are both better at striking guys out.

Flaherty’s four-seamer averages 93 and has a .299 batting average against. He has a sinker and a cutter, too, and maybe Andrew Bailey can refine one of those pitches to be more effective than the four-seamer because his slider averages nearly 2,500 rpm on its spin rate and already gets a 26.3% Whiff rate. He has a strong curveball, too (41.4% Whiff Rate and a .169 batting average against).

Maybe it could all come down to getting Flaherty to alter his sequencing a little bit and hide that fastball a little more, because Statcast does love his ability to minimize hard contact: 80th percentile average exit velocity, 76th percentile hard hit rate, 73rd percentile Barrel rate against, 50th percentile Whiff, 59th percentile fastball spin, and 54th percentile expected slugging.

I expect the competition for him to be pretty heavy, even though he’ll be a free agent at season’s end. His deal is for just $5.4 million this season, meaning any team acquiring him would owe $1.8 million over the final 54 games, and he won’t turn 28 until October 15th. He’s from Burbank, so, I get the feeling the Dodgers will be in on him which might mean the Giants walk away immediately and with some of these peripheral numbers — even with Oracle Park being his home stadium — it might be easy enough for them to do.

Anyway, there’s a better option.

Eduardo Rodriguez - DET

Season line: 83.2 IP, 88-18 K-BB, 2.69 ERA / 3.14 FIP (2.1 fWAR, 64 ERA-)

He missed all of June with a “pulley rupture” of his left index finger, but on either side of that IL trip he’s having the best season of his career. Kind of a command-control lefty who has managed to dance between the raindrops with a 92 mph fastball (23.8% Whiff), a cutter (.148 batting average against), and changeup (32.6% Whiff rate). A modern “crafty lefty.”

Since he’s pitched so few innings this season, adjusted for a minimum of 80 IP, his 1.94 BB/9 is 16th in MLB. He’s always been solid at limiting home runs (career 1.1 HR/9) and it’s really the strikeouts for me that set him apart from the rabble (career 9.2 K/9). His 9.5 K/9 this season is 28th in MLB, right in line with Yusei Kikuchi, Andrew Heaney, kinda-sorta Clayton Kershaw, and better than Corbin Burnes and Logan Webb.

In fact, the Clayton Kershaw comp this season feels kinda right on. I’m talking about 2022-2023 Clayton Kershaw here, of course, but still — definitely a guy you’d want in your rotation.

It helps that the Giants know the Tigers’ President of Baseball Operations. Maybe Scott Harris knows exactly who he’d want from the Giants’ farm system and/or major league roster to find commensurate value. But maybe some other team wants him more. Rodriguez has an opt out after this season, but if he injuries another “pulley,” he could opt in for three more seasons of $18 million, $16 million, and $15 million. Sort of a gamble for any team acquiring him, but one that even if it didn’t go their way, he’d probably still be paid below what he’d get in free agency and there’d be enough time for him to perform some measure equivalent to the industry’s perception of dollars per WAR. He has a $14 million salary this season and would have $4.67 million left after the deadline.

He’d be a tremendous boost to any team’s rotation and so I expect the competition to be pretty fierce, opt out or no. The Giants definitely don’t have much of a stomach — or prospect depth — for risk, but risk is the only way they can make a “big splash,” and Rodriguez fits that bill. There is one other guy who might be on their radar though:

Michael Lorenzen - DET

Season line: 100.2 IP, 76-26 K-BB, 3.49 ERA / 4.03 FIP (1.3 fWAR, 83 ERA-)

Rodriguez’s teammate. An effective, useful pitcher who’s having a nice season and will be a free agent who’d be owed $2.83 million over the final 54. His 2.3 BB/9 represents a career best — in three prior seasons it was in the 4-4.5 range — but his 6.8 K/9 is well below his career 7.3 K/9... which isn’t all that great to begin with. He has a .258 batting average on balls in play against, which conforms to his career average of .275 — just absolute sorcery when it comes to batted ball luck.

The Giants tried to pursue him this offseason, so it’s easy to envision them trying to add him at this point when he might be available and doesn’t have a choice. When I look at his Statcast numbers, I see “more successful Anthony DeSclafani.” The Giants have structured their starting rotation around Logan Webb and Alex Cobb — DeSclafani and Stripling fit the low-walk high groundball rate profile, and so does Lorenzen, generally, but that low, low strikeout rate concerns me going forward. He’d be the less sexy pick and really just an upgrade over DeSclafani, which might be good enough if the price is right (low, low).

And, no, I didn’t forget that he was a two-way player at one point, but he hasn’t taken regular major league at bats since 2019. I just didn’t know where to spotlight that little bit except here, awkwardly, at the end. If that’s the thing that pushes the Giants to pursue him, then it means I will need to recalibrate my perception of the utility of a two-way dude.

The Giants will have a lot of competition no matter which direction they go in and if they want to make a big splash at the deadline, it makes the most sense to pursue high-priced guys and guys on the verge of free agency rather than any real long-term solutions. Yeah, crossing the competitive balance tax threshold won’t feel very good because of the ripple effects on player development, but at this point, the Giants can’t be seen as ducking the chance to compete for a deep postseason run. Which means they have to do something and the size of the thing matters.

I wrote this piece trying to imagine how the Giants might approach the trade deadline. When the deal involves mostly great gobs of money we get a Justin Verlander rumor. How many of those high AAV guys are 1) available and 2) what the Giants look for in players? I think the list is pretty small; so, I tend to look at their acquisition history to figure out who fits it and then I looked at cost. They’ll have to give up some prospects to get what they want and the market is so skewed when it comes to prospect value and every team values both theirs and other team’s prospects differently than any other. So, this is just a wild shot in the dark of a post.

Do any of these guys fit the bill?