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Evaluating the best of what’s left

The Giants have the chance to claim some players who might be able to help... but there’s always a catch.

Los Angeles Angels v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants have the potential to do the funniest thing of all time (blogging era) and make the playoffs because some teams gave up. Yesterday afternoon, a quintet of teams waved their white flags and some pricey soon-to-be-free agents to the waiver wire.

There are some familiar names here, not just ones we recognize from their years of service time, but because at least a couple of them were maybe-possibly guys the Giants were connected to during the trade deadline season. Starting pitching? Right-handed power? Left-handed relief? So many ways to go, and none will cost the Giants a prospect, something they’d sought to avoid seemingly at all costs this past deadline.

There are certainly people upset that the Angels (primarily) have done this, thinking it’s unfair competitive advantage to teams competing for the Wild Card. The new trade deadline rules are that no major league players can be traded after the deadline. Remember August waiver trades/claims? Jose Guillen and Cody Ross happened for the Giants in 2010 alone. Randy Winn before them. The Giants even traded for Bill Mueller in 2002, but he was ineligible for the postseason roster because it was a September trade.

The Giants are playing better of late, but they still have seven games against the Dodgers, three against the Cubs, four in Colorado, and seven against the Padres — I name these last two teams because those are a lot of games against your division and it’s a chance to get fat at a critical point in the season. There are also three home games against the Rockies. If they’re going to go 10-4 or 12-2 or 13-1 they’re going to need reinforcements... but more on that in a second.

Let’s take a quick look at the guys who just hit the wire. Assuming 30 games left on a 162 game schedule (and I am dividing all of their 2023 salaries by 162 and then multiplying by 30 — not exact, but quick and dirty), I’ve put in parenthesis the remaining salaries of guys the Giants will probably be looking at — on the other side of this, I’ll examine why it’s no sure thing that they’ve claimed any one guy or any of these guys.

Well, first, let’s knock out these three:

Carlos Carrasco - RHP (old & bad)

Josh Donaldson - 3B (old & bad)

Mike Clevinger - RHP (abuser)

Okay, now the possibilities:

Hunter Renfroe - RF ($2,203,703.70)

Excepting his September callup in 2016 and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Renfroe averaged 29 home runs a season coming into 2023. He’s going to miss that mark (he has 18 with ~30 games to play) and if the Giants claim him Oracle Park will make sure of that, but, he does bring a right-handed power dimension they lack. According to the batted ball data, his expected weighted on base average should be .338 — the real wOBA is .311. His 39.7% Hard Hit rate is a pedestrian 152nd place, a tenth of a point below Blake Sabol’s, and his 22.4% strikeout rate is in line with Michael Conforto’s (22.8%) without the walk rate (7.8% compared to Conforto’s 11%). Still, his right-handed pull power at Oracle could play.

Lucas Giolito - RHP ($1,925,925.90)

A guy with a career ERA of 4.35 (4.37 FIP) probably doesn’t snap to mind as a tremendous upgrade for a contending team and for a Giants team that tends to prefer sinker-slider guys, Giolito’s four-seamer + slider combo might not be much of a help over five or so starts. Just a glance at the numbers shows that he gets more swing and miss on the slider and changeup (35.5%) than his fastball (20%). There’s unremarkable spin on the fastball (2,169 rpm) and slider (1,967 rpm), too. He doesn’t really fit their pitching profile except he does something nobody else in their starting staff does outside of Kyle Harrison: strike guys out at a high rate. His 9.66 K/9 is 16th in MLB, better than Logan Webb’s (8.41 - 32nd) and Alex Cobb (7.96 - 37th).

Randal Grichuk - OF ($1,913,580.37)

A negative defender (-7 Outs Above Average between Colorado and Anaheim) with a not-terrible batted ball profile (70th percentile Hard Hit rate, 60th percentile expected batting average, 55th percentile strikeout rate), it’s hard to see what the 32-year old veteran does that’s much different from what the Giants already have in Austin Slater, Luis Matos, and (theoretically) Mitch Haniger. In 32 home games as a Rocky this season, he did hit .336/.394/.552 (.945), and before the unfortunate trade to the Angels (.165/.212/.351 in 104 PA), he had a robust season line of .308/.365/.496 (.861 OPS) in 263 plate appearances.

Matt Moore - LHP ($1,398,148.15)

The Giants wrung out all the starter juice left in Moore, and it took until last year with the Rangers for him to remake himself into a dominate reliever (1.95 EA in 74 IP). Even in that transformation, the walks were still there (4.6 BB/9 in 2022), but this year with the Angels, he’s managed to tone those down, too (2.5 BB/9 in 43 IP). He’s a fastball-changeup-curveball reliever and his fastball is a four-seamer; again, not a type of pitch in the Giants’ preferred arsenal. BUT! It does carry a higher spin rate (2,317) and his changeup and curveball have been exceptionally effective (30.9 and 37.2% Whiff Rates, respectively) — Statcast really likes his pitches and results. Just to reinforce how much of a Reliever Only he is now, Moore has pitched more than one inning an appearance just seven times this season, and only completed two innings twice all year — once in April, once in May.

Reynaldo Lopez - RHP ($671,296.30)

One of the few players who actually performed better once he went to the Angels, Lopez looks dangerously close to filler, but that 11.9 K/9 this season compels me to dig in a bit. Oh, okay, he’s averaging 98 mph with his fastball (a four-seamer). That’s great! A full mph increase from last season. Oh, and look at that, he has a high-spin slider (2,363 rpm) — not quite in the goldilocks zone of 2,500 rpm, but the 39.2% whiff rate tells me it pairs nicely with that fastball. The walks are troubling, though: 28 in 53.2 IP between White Sox and Angels combined. He had 6 in 11.2 innings just with the Angels. Still, here he is striking out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a 101 mph fastball right through the heart of the strike zone:

Harrison Bader - CF ($962,962.96)

A defensive wizard in centerfield and that’s where he gets basically all his value. Between the +6.9 Defensive Runs Above Average and +8 Outs Above Average — again, this is as a centerfielder — he has just a 1.3 fWAR, with a shockingly awful 4.2% walk rate against an 18% strikeout rate. He’s slugging just .365! That’s barely above Luis Matos. But like DeJong at shortstop, the team’s model seems to be very successful with stellar pitching and defense combined with a lineup in the 90-99 wRC+ range. Before Bader was traded to the Yankees, he was close to being a league average hitter: (by wRC+) 71, 107, 82, 114, 108, 85 (94.5 average) in five seasons with St. Louis.

José Cisnero - RHP ($423,611.11)

Again, another guy who seems like roster filler, but he has a career-best 10.4 K/9 in 48.2 IP with Detroit this season, so let’s take a look. Not a great Statcast page, but I jumped out of my seat when I got to the pitch breakdown. He throws five pitches: a four-seamer (95.9 mph), a sinker (95.6), a slider, a cutter, and a changeup. This is the guy who the Giants would love to have. That 2,587 rpm slider spin is exactly what the Giants want to see, and he’s already getting a 29% Whiff rate on it. His sinker has absolutely been trashed the past two seasons, but that just means the Giants have a chance to sprinkle some sinker dust on it to make it shine. He could be another John Brebbia or another Mauricio Llovera.

Now this last part is where things snap into focus. While it’s true that most of these players give the Giants something they don’t have a lot of — power, defense, approaching or barely achieving league average lineup production — they do border on redundant. Cisnero and Lopez could both be John Brebbia or Mauricio Llovera, but the Giants traded Llovera and Brebbia is set to return.

It’s hard to add a player who exceeds Luis Matos’ ceiling when they can’t even roster Luis Matos:

Where can they roster corner power when they already have it?

The Giants’ 40-man roster is full. The aforementioned Brebbia is on the 60-day but is nearing a return which means the Giants will have to remove someone. And after that, the Giants will have to make room for the four guys coming off the regular IL: Ross Stripling, Brandon Crawford, AJ Pollock, and Michael Conforto. Even with rosters expanding to 28, clearing 40-man and 28-man roster spots to add any of these potential waiver guys seems difficult, but also might be moot.

There are two reasons why nothing all that interesting could happen. First:

Waiver order is no longer determined by league, it’s only used as a tiebreaker. The Giants won last night so they have the same number of wins now as the Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Twins. Here are the more correct standings:

Marlins | 66-66
Reds | 68-66
Twins | 69-64
Red Sox| 69-64
Dbacks | 69-64
Giants | 69-63

Now, I don’t know how active the Marlins and Reds can be given that their owners use the teams as a slush fund, but they also have the added “excuse” of the RSN collapse to tell their disappointed fans why they sat on their hands. The Diamondbacks and the Twins are impacted by that bankruptcy, too, but there’s a decent chance they can scrounge up a couple of millions bucks for at least one of these players.

Then there are the Red Sox, who have the chance to make up for a rather dreadful offseason from a PR standpoint to add and subtract all year long and make it into the postseason. You’d think they’d have the financial flexibility — after all, isn’t a situation just like this the reason for creating flexibility year round? Oh, what, it’s not? That’s just part of the grift? Damn. — but they wouldn’t grab all those guys, would they?

Then there are the Giants, who are close to the luxury tax threshold. Cot’s MLB Contracts is not exact, of course, but it suggests that even after adding ~$2.6 million for AJ Pollock that they should be short of the line to add one of these guys. I think the “how do we fit them on the roster?” question weighs more heavily than the financial one, but you never really know what a team is going through. These are nontrivial sums of money to add this late in the game, but if it is about process, it’s hard to argue that they’re so burdensome as to discount the player attached to them. They would all be now moves, too. It’d be about trying to make the playoffs this season. But it wouldn’t hurt them long-term (unless it does somehow push them over the luxury tax threshold — which, hey, maybe it would! How would we know?)

When the Giants signed Paul DeJong I said he’s “the best of what’s left.” Well, here’s a list of Pauls DeJong. All they cost is money. Each of them provides incremental improvement, but there’s also skill overlap, which is inefficient. I can imagine the Giants saying they prefer Wade Meckler’s at bats to Harrison Bader’s defense. And then you just go from there. While the power bats might have power the Giants lack, the Giants just like their own players more (swing decisions, general versatility, etc.). Why add a starting pitcher when you’ve been successful all year with 2-2.5 starting pitchers — besides, aren’t Webb, Cobb, and Harrison enough? And any reliever who comes through the Giants’ pitching program can be made great, so why go outside the organization at this point?

Okay, I’ve talked myself into it. The Giants simply have too many great players to even consider adding another team’s castoffs. Let it ride, baby. Process has gotten us this far. They’re basically the Dodgers already.