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Giants get OF AJ Pollock and INF Mark Mathias for PTBNL

Rather than panic at the ridiculous cost to acquire star names in a sellers’ market, the Giants shored up their depth.

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MLB: Seattle Mariners at San Francisco Giants Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is the San Francisco Giants are all out of Prelander Berroas. The bad news is that the return for this afternoon’s reported trade with AL ally — ALly? — the Seattle Mariners doesn’t feature a player with the same upside Donovan Walton once had.

Instead, the Giants, the worst lineup in Major League Baseball for the month of July, will send a player to be named later to Seattle in exchange for the cremains of 35-year old outfielder AJ Pollock and 28-year old infielder Mark Mathias, a Cal Poly grad and Fremont native who’s primarily a veteran of seven minor league seasons (559 games; 2,306 PA).

There’s absolutely zero reason to get excited about this trade, but there’s even less reason to get upset about it. The Giants were looking for a cost effective tourniquet to prevent the lineup from getting worse (with, like, a 2% chance of improving itself) and they found it.

Late last week, avowed Dodgers fan and Statcast savant Mike Petriello of Baseball Savant wrote about the Giants’ need for team speed and threw out two possible options:

It’s clear they’ll be after middle infield help, in part because rookie infielder Casey Schmitt is hitting just .207/.252/.293. That probably means a veteran like Tim Anderson or Paul DeJong, but there’s a speed option too, one who already wears black and orange. The Orioles have more infielders than they know what to do with right now, and while Jorge Mateo isn’t a starting-caliber hitter, he is a good fielder with game-changing speed, tied with Corbin Carroll as the sixth-fastest player in the game.

But if it’s the right-handed-hitting outfielder they also need — given that the Giants are the second-weakest club in the Majors against lefty pitching — then maybe the Nationals’ [Lane] Thomas would make a whole lot of sense, if speed is part of the goal.

Now, who knows if speed is part of the Giants’ goal here — even if the numbers reflect their poor position in that skill, BUT both of these guys represent the “poor man’s” version of this exact combo of upgrade. That makes sense for a team trying to (re)build and contend, because this sellers’ market is absolutely nuts. The Giants probably would’ve had to give up Carson Whisenhunt to get even Jorge Mateo, and Thomas, having the best season of his career despite a 6:1 strikeouts to walk ratio would’ve cost that plus more.

They had to do something to improve on Casey Schmitt and in Mathias they’ve found that improvement, at least on paper. Mathias’s Statcast numbers aren’t inspiring, particularly in the middle infield (-4 Outs Above Average with the Pirates this season), but he does have experience at second, short, and third, and he has decent sprint speed — for instance, he’s faster than Paul DeJong, a guy I thought the Giants could be looking at.

In those seven MiLB seasons, he hit .267/.364/.412 (.776) and 265 walks against 452 strikeouts: 1.70 K/BB — what Farhan Zaidi calls “the cool zone.” In 68 major league games across three seasons (2020, 2022, 2023), he’s hit .249/.323/.402 (725) with a 100 OPS+ — exactly league average! His best stretch so far was last year with the Rangers after they acquired him from the Brewers in August: .277/.365/.554 (.919; 74 PA). The Mariners got him on a waiver claim from the Pirates this year.

The Giants needed to improve upon Casey Schmitt and Bretty Wisely until Thairo Estrada returns and they seem to have found that improvement. At the very least, another Cal Poly alum gives Mike Krukow someone else to talk about in the booth.

Meanwhile, AJ Pollock signed a 1-year, $7 million deal with the Mariners on January 12, 2023, in a move that was met with, “Huh?” and “Why?” Pollack’s utility fell off last year with the White Sox (93 OPS+) following two well above average years with the Dodgers (133 OPS+), and in 49 games with the Mariners this season, the falling off has continued: 53 OPS+ in 138 plate appearances, with a line of .173/.225/.323 (.547). 5 home runs and 4 doubles make up 9 of his 22 total hits. Statcast gives him a +1 Outs Above Average in left field this season.

He’s on the IL with a hamstring strain until tomorrow at the earliest, but the timing is important:

Of course, I think there’s merely toxic vapors left in Pollock’s tank, but that kind of thinking blinding me to some stuff like this:

... or that he’s got a career .838 OPS against left-handed pitching (although an unplayable .141/.195/.183 against them this season). He’s also a career .275/.335/.392 hitter (209 PA) at Oracle Park. The Giants don’t have a lot of guys who hit well at Oracle Park, so that’s good to see. Finally, of the four home runs that he hit this year against teams other than the Giants, two were against the Angels (he had a two-homer game on April 4th), and two were against the A’s — both teams be Giants opponents within the next 10 days.

The Giants also seem pretty high on his character.

Sure, sure, we can question the character analysis given all the Dodger ties and how Kapler and Zaidi view character of certain players, but this does feel like they’re making a move with a requisite bit of wisdom behind it.

This is 100% a move Brian Sabean would’ve made.

The comparisons between Sabean and Zaidi are multitudinous. Zaidi is Sabean: The Next Generation, whether he likes it or not. After all, Zaidi got his start in a front office that saw Sabean and the Giants as a punchline. Maybe he quickly or eventually shed himself of the perception that Sabean is a yokel but there’s just no way someone working for the A’s in their Moneyball heyday would’ve thought “Sabey Sabes” was formidable, let alone savvy.

This entire situation feels like a “the more things change, the more they stay the same” moment, because here is Zaidi making a move that helps the team in a need area and a character area in hopes that one helps the other and sparks the rest of the roster.

They didn’t give up anything painful to the future to get a pair of players who objectively make them better in the present — even if you and I agree that the improvement is almost imperceptible! — and it’s objectively unsexy: a reputation and a waiver claim. They’re even getting the Mariners to send cash to pay down the $2.376 million left on Pollock’s deal.

It usually worked out for Brian Sabean and Farhan Zaidi hasn’t had many setbacks either. The more things change...