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Boy math

Can trades and free agency help the Giants get better in a hurry? Some sources say yes.

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Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

None of us know what it’s going to take for the San Francisco Giants to stop being a bad major league team. This uncertainty has compelled people to opine about what the team could do. Who’s right and who’s wrong?

I should have an opinion about future actions, but I’m still stunned by how this season went down. How did they go from 8th in runs scored (354) and 7th in wRC+ (108) through June 18th (71 games) to 29th in runs scored (314) and wRC+ (82) the rest of the way (88 games)?

Is it simply a matter of them being a bunch of weaklings? Through their first 71 games, they had a 9% walk rate, a 25% strikeout rate, and a .422 slugging percentage. Next 88: 9% walk rate, 24% strikeout rate, .355 slug. Hit the weight rack, meat! Or did they all contract coronavirus and have long COVID, sapping their power?

I don’t know. None of us might never know. The Giants’ sudden reversal of fortune in 2016 was claimed to have been the result of every team having Statcast data and figuring out how to use it and so the league adjusted to the Giants’ ground attack game and figured out the launch angle thing before they did. That might not be the whole truth of the matter, but it’s at least an explanation for why a team of champs became a band of chumps. With this team, though, I don’t know.

But if it is all about the thump — that Marco Luciano sure does hit the ball hard! — then maybe these couple of articles that circulated yesterday are on the right track. published an article that was about an interview Andrew Baggarly did on the team’s flagship station that actually talked about an article he wrote prior to the appearance (subscription required) in which he suggests the Giants could trade a prospect as valuable as Kyle Harrison for a bat.

The Giants could be a match with the Cincinnati Reds, who have more breakthrough rookie position players than they know what to do with. (Harrison for Matt McLain, who says no?)

He also suggests Jordan Walker, Lars Nootbaar, and Pete Alonso as trade targets. As he elaborates in the KNBR interview:

“There’s not that many everyday position players out there,” Baggarly said.


They may just have too much heavy lifting to do without making a trade [...]

But I think the Giants are realizing they may need to be a little more aggressive and have a little bit of a different risk-averse calculation this offseason than they have in the past.

Okay, ditch the risk management. Go big. That’s the theme of Dave Tobener’s piece at SF Gate:

They can try their luck in free agency, but that probably isn’t the route they’re going to take — both because this year’s crop of hitters is extremely top-heavy and because the Giants haven’t been able to attract a premier free agent hitter in decades.

Their best chance of adding an impact bat or two, then, is going to come on the trade market.

He also mentions Pete Alonso along with four other plays, but also “Anybody on the Reds.”

The theme of both pieces is that the Giants need to DO SOMETHING. The franchise is withering on the vine. Or whatever. I might not know what’s going to fix the team, but I feel compelled to talk about this idea because both columns and all of the chatter are drifting into post-2017 territory.

The Giants lost 98 games! They need to DO SOMETHING. At the time, the team felt like they didn’t need to do anything drastic so much as hit reset.

“We had a last-place season. That can happen in sports, like you have a lost year in life,” Brian Sabean, executive vice president of baseball operations, said Tuesday. “But we’re not last-place people and we’re not a last-place organization. We’re the furthest thing from that.”

Sabean hardly sees a need for a “blow-it-up” overhaul or even a rebuild but rather, “We hope it’s a reset.”

Such wisdom. Yes, watching this year’s Giants has felt like losing a year of my life. To wit:

  • Last night, the team set a franchise record for strikeouts in a season. They did the same thing five years earlier in 2018, another disaster season, the one that ended Bobby Evans’ baseball career and compelled the team to bring in Farhan Zaidi.
  • Not only did the 2023 team have the 29th-worst offense over their final 91 games (yeah, I’m rounding up now because I’m writing this with three games left to play), their 82 wRC+ over that span matches the 82 wRC+ season total of the 2018 team.
  • The 2023 pitching staff was middle of the pack (16th) with 14.5 fWAR. The 2018 team was 17th with 14.1 fWAR.

So, I lost 2023 because I relived 2018? How did this happen? How did I get here? Forget the Brian Sabean speed run. Farhan Zaidi is speedrunning the Bobby Evans duology? What in the world? Yes, they have the on-paper potential of a middle of the pack or better farm system — something Evans never had BY CHOICE and so there’s a ray of hope beaming in our general direction from the horizon. But 2024? No clue. Not even the Giants know.

That doesn’t mean it’s okay to think like it’s 2018! That’s what these theoretical trade articles are talking about. Pete Alonso? Juan Soto? Why are people out here complaining about how little the team has improved since 2018 while advocating for a sequel to Bryan Reynolds for Andrew McCutchen?

One year of a truly great player being in the organization won’t turn this franchise around and the prospect capital that would have to be surrendered doesn’t make sense. Sure, the Giants have prospects, but they’re not great prospects, so how many of them would they need to give up to get a Juan Soto? Probably enough to impact their greater utility to the Giants as immediate depth options.

The Harrison to the Reds for any of their hitters intrigues me a little bit, but Matt McLain has missed time this season with an oblique injury. That’s one of the worst injuries for a hitter. Christian Encarnacion-Strand excites me a little more, but his 5:1 K:BB (3:1 in the minors) doesn’t fit the Giants’ hitting plan so I don’t see him attracting their interest. Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, Will Benson, TJ Friedl, Jake Fraley — all interesting players and maybe the specific Reds part of this is worth a separate piece, but a BIG TRADE that sees Kyle Harrison go away should probably bring back a player most fans intuit as being already great.

Otherwise, you’re just making a trade for a trade’s sake.

One last bit of this discussion that must be pointed out: the Giants are not risk averse. They are risk managers. Michael Conforto? Mitch Haniger? Carlos Rodon? Alex Cobb? Anthony DeSclafani? Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly before them? All risks! 9-and-13-year contracts to Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, respectively? Incredible risks!

Rhys Hoskins has been another name out there and he fits the team’s profile perfectly. Missed all of 2023 with an ACL tear, but a career .846 OPS (667 games, 2,877 PA) with a beautiful 1.78 K/BB. He’s a right-handed hitter so Oracle Park won’t totally kill his power and he’s from Sacramento so he might be up for actually playing for them, unlike most good free agents.

Yes, another Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger situation. Risky but it makes sense! I’m not even sure I like it as the sensible move (Haniger seems destined to be the full-time righty DH), but you do that and land Cody Bellinger (somehow) and Yoshinonu Yamamato, maybe that softens the blow of losing out on Shohei Ohtani (an L so obvious it might not even be worth the embarrassment of trying and failing again).

It’s not right to say they don’t like risk without mentioning they don’t like making acqusitions with a potentially huge downside. They could trade five prospects for Juan Soto (which, if you’re going big, why not go for the next Barry Bonds?) and the downside is that Soto gets hurt, barely plays, and they are out five prospects, one or more of which could’ve been productive for the team in 2024. So, maybe next time, we can just say the Giants really are afraid to make a big trade. That’s more accurate!