clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Player Reviews: Churn Notice

Let’s look at all the lottery tickets that didn’t work out.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

2023 hitting (9 churned): 120 PA .150/.242/.168, 0 HR 2 XBH 10 RBI 38-12 K-BB, -1.4 fWAR
2023 pitching (2 churned): 7.2 IP, 6.25 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 7-4 K-BB, -0.1 fWAR

Here it is, the final player review for the 2023 San Francisco Giants. If you were wondering, yes I did consider writing “lol A.J. Pollock was on the team,” hitting publish and calling it a day. But that would be laughing at the process. And we need the process... because there’s not much else happening this offseason. Plus, it would’ve deprived us of so many other lols and I didn’t want that. After all, we’re in this together... right?

While looking up prior posts to see if we’ve already done the Churn Notice bit, Past Me reminded Present Me about the purpose of The Churn:

The whole point of The Churn is to upgrade the back of the roster on the cheap.

In the old days, which I don’t remember clear as day but still remember, it usually was the case that Brian Sabean’s sure bets would falter a bit and some last minute scrap heap signing wound up shining and covering that production to make the whole team work. The premise of The Churn is as simple as that: “what if we bought as many lottery tickets as possible?” And the team will do the scratchers, the more expensive scratchers, the powerball numbers, et cetera — you can easily extend this metaphor in your mind.

But does it work?

Yes, it mostly does. When it doesn’t, it looks no worse than signing the oft-injured Tommy La Stella to a 3-year deal. Except it costs way less and it psychologically refreshes your hopes. So let’s look at the bunch of players who, for one fleeting moment, might’ve been somebody who could positively help the team in 2023. Brady calls it “the came and went bin,” and it’s made up of Matt Beaty, Johan Camargo, Paul DeJong, Isan Díaz, Bryce Johnson, Mauricio Llovera, Mark Mathias, Roberto Pérez, AJ Pollock, Darin Ruf, Cal Stevenson, Cole Waites, Austin Wynns.

Each player landed on the roster for a reason. I’ll go through the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of each just to show you that here at McCovey Chronicles we agree that no transaction is so small that it can’t warrant a lengthy post.

Who? I’ll try to provide some event or factoid to jog your memory about the player or otherwise clue you in.

What? His purpose.

When? The timeframe for his participation.

Where? The way Gabe Kapler deployed said player.

Why? For what reasons was he a churn guy and not a stick to the roster guy?

Matt Beaty

Who? A left-handed corner outfielder/first baseman/pinch hitter the Giants acquired from Kansas City on Opening Day.
What? To provide left-handed pinch-hitting off the bench and general utility. BUT HE ALSO PITCHED IN A BLOWOUT!!
When? He appeared in 4 games for the Giants, had a hit and an RBI, was then optioned to Triple-A in April and released in June.
Where? He pinch hit in three of the four games and started one (April 15), getting two at bats before being lifted for a pinch hitter. Ironic!
Why? The Giants needed another pinch hit option and they also needed another optionable player on a pretty full and pretty static 26-man roster. He had a quirk in his $1.25 million contract with Kansas City that said he had to be on the Opening Day roster. The Royals didn’t want to roster him either because of performance or because they didn’t have the space, but the Giants did and used their financial flexibility to eat a contract greater than the league minimum just to buy that option. His time with the team felt more like an intellectual exercise than anything baseball-related.

Johan Camargo

Who? Switch-hitting middle infielder most of us remember from his Atlanta days; and if you’re like me, continue to confuse with Ozzie Albies (another switch-hitting middle infielder).
What? The Giants ***reeeeeeeeeeally** needed middle infield help, particularly at shortstop, but also a little bit at third base, and so they took a flyer on a guy with experience hoping they might catch lightning in a bottle. They did not.
When? Camargo appeared in 8 games in August, going 4-for-18.
Where? He played 5 games and 37.1 innings at shortstop and 12 innings in 3 games at third base. In this short burst, Statcast ticketed him with a -2 Outs Above Average... at third!
Why? Did I mention the Giants were desperate for infield help late in the season? We’re going to get to Mark Mathias and Paul DeJong, but Casey Schmitt had been adjusted to by the league, J.D. Davis had faded, and David Villar wasn’t an option. The situation was grim at the corner, and with Brandon Crawford’s injuries and age having finally caught up with him, Camargo emerged as the emergency option. For a brief moment, anyway.

Paul DeJong

Who? A defensive whiz at shortstop originally with the Cardinals who’d previously shown some ability to hit at a level approaching league average.
What? The Giants really needed a shortstop, preferably one who was above average defensively and approaching league average offensively. DeJong only cost the prorated minimum (for reasons we’re about to discuss). It was a perfect move, on paper.
When? The Giants signed him on August 22nd and he joined the team on August 23rd in what wound up being his signature game.

After that game, in which he went 3-for-5 with a home run and 4 RBI, he went 6-for-44 with just two extra base hits (two doubles) and 15 strikeouts against zero walks (.136/.133/.182). The Giants cut him on September 21st.
Where? Penciled in as the everyday shortstop until he hit himself out of a roster spot.
Why? The only reason they were able to get him for the prorated minimum is because he he had hit so poorly for the Blue Jays, who actually traded for him from St. Louis, that they figured it was better to cut their losses than try to pretend the deal worked out. But you could see the Giants’ desperation and their thinking that maybe returning an NL guy back to the NL could stabilize a collapsing offensive profile.

Isan Díaz

Who? Left-handed hitting second and third baseman who’d been in the organization since 2022, a season wherein he had a .950 OPS with 23 home runs for Sacramento.
What? Another left-handed option for the infield and someone to cover second when Thairo Estrada went down and when third base became a black hole.
When? Just 8 games across June, July, and August.
Where? Started at second base when Thairo Estrada hit the IL in August, but previously had a few appearances at second and third.
Why? During 2022 there was some curiosity about why the team hadn’t called up an optionable player who was crushing the ball in Triple-A, but he was never considered to be a great defender, and whatever the coaching staff or Gabe Kapler saw once he got up to the bigs convinced them that he wasn’t a guy they should give a lot of playing time — that Triple-A production just didn’t seem to translate.

Bryce Johnson

Who? Switch-hitting centerfielder with speed!
What? Mainly a pinch runner, defensive replacement type.
When? 41 games across April, May, and June. He did sneak in 1 game in July.
Where? He did start 9 of these games, but otherwise, he was a pinch hitter and defensive replacement.
Why? You should be seeing a pattern emerge by now. The Giants are using the bottom of their roster for skill position-types but the decision-making is weighted heavily towards offensive production. Speed and defense are tremendously valuable to a team that is going to live and die on its pitching, and the Giants have, at times, been able to find some really solid defenders out there, but the versions they’ve managed to acquire have also been so deleterious to the offense that whatever value they might have disappears. His 4:1 K:BB isn’t what they want in a player, and despite an 86th-percentile sprint speed and above average range in the outfield, his batted ball profile was middling at best — and where he stands now is a 28-year old outfielder out of options.

Mauricio Llovera

Who? That right-handed reliever who throws hard.
What? A right-handed reliever who can throw hard in the middle innings.
When? Five July appearances before being traded to the Red Sox.
Where? He was a pain sponge, filling in for a tired reliever or in the final inning(s) of a probable loss.
Why? The Giants took a volatile 27-year old reliever with command-control issues and flipped him for an 11th round draft pick from last year’s draft. Llovera worked during John Brebbia’s extended absence and it gave the team a chance to showcase a reliever they could flip to both free up a 40-man spot and add to their prospect inventory. Middle inning relievers with velocity are exactly this fungible and even if he didn’t rise to the level of reliable, he served a very strong purpose for the organization. Plus, after the Giants traded him to the Red Sox, he faced them just a few days later and had a meltdown inning that led to a Giants win. Giants won the trade.

Mark Mathias

Who? That guy who Gabe Kapler pinch hit for Brandon Crawford against Aroldis Chapman in that one game.
What? The Giants needed a middle infielder — preferably one with options — and Mathias had a .355 OBP in 22 games with the Pirates
When? Five games in August, one of which (the aforementioned pinch hit appearance) wound up being on the list of charges against Gabe Kapler as he fast-walked himself to his second termination from the manager position.
Where? He started two games at second base and was a pinch hitter in three others.
Why? It’s incredibly hard to know what the team was thinking with this move because he’d only played 24 games at shortstop — in the minors — before coming over to the Giants and he’d never hit the ball with authority (.411 slug in over 500 MiLB games) except that he was an optionable middle infielder who has good pitch selection, probably, because he has gotten on base better than average (.364 OBP in the minors). By August, the Giants were the worst lineup on the planet, only Wilmer Flores could hit — hey, I get it. Grab any major leaguer who might be available. He’s already better the guys on the roster. Except Mathias wasn’t.

Roberto Pérez

Who? The dude scheduled to be the starting catcher for the 2023 season.
What? Joey Bart had played himself out of a starting role, but the thinking was that a veteran with experience and ace defense would help the team get by until Bart figured things out or the team figured out another option.
When? Five games at the very beginning of the season before straining his shoulder and needing season-ending surgery.
Where? Starting catcher batting ninth.
Why? Now, is he technically a Churn Guy? No. That’s why Brady’s “came and went bin” fit better, but I wanted to spotlight the mechanism that brought certainly players to the team in the first place. Perez is straightforwardly the veteran catcher the team hoped could stabilize a shaky position. He’s always been an injury guy, but it’s clear the Giants were hoping for more than 5 games. It worked out in the end in that they made their way to bringing Patrick Bailey on board, and who knows how much the shoulder injury played into that. We might never know.

A.J. Pollock

Who? The Giants’ big deadline deal (along with Mathias, who had been claimed off waivers by the Mariners from the Pirates and then traded along with Pollock from the Mariners to the Giants because Jerry Dipoto and Farhan Zaidi are really, really good friends). The former Dodger outfielder who was 35 and injured at the time of the deal.
What? No, seriously, he was the Giants’ big trade at the deadline. The Giants needed a hitting who could approximate the production the team had hoped to get from Mitch Haniger, while also upgrading the clubhouse culture and giving the outfield a bit more defense and experience.
When? Five games in August. Then he got hurt again and the Giants kept him in a Ross Striplingesque limbo before releasing him on September 5th.
Where? Left field when he played, but he didn’t play much.
Why? This is perhaps the most cynical deal of Farhan Zaidi’s tenure (so far, anyway). It was a move to make a move because the team was vaguely contending for a playoff spot at that point (though you could feel it starting to slip away) in a transaction environment that was especially punitive if you were a team with very limited prospects but trying to add players who could impact a team much beyond replacement level. The Giants were thinking they might be able to catch lightning in a bottle and suffer no downside risk from a prospect and cost perspective if it didn’t work out.

Only, there was a downside. It caused a lot of eyerolls and raised a lot of questions about the quality and strength of the front office. The Giants have been very willing to sacrifice the reputation of the team in the short-term on the premise that they can win it all back long-term with a successful window of contention (whatever that means anymore). It’s a pre-COVID managerial thought process, though, and just like all of us have had to let go of certain ideas about baseball over time, we might be seeing the beginnings of the Moneyball dudes having to make some adjustments.

Darin Ruf

Who? The lefty-masher the Giants traded away in 2022 for a haul of players. A deal that’s still hard to believe.
What? A lefty-masher with no defensive ability.
When? April.
Where? DH and pinch-hitter against lefties late in games.
Why? This is another situation where Mitch Haniger being unavailable and Heliot Ramos not measuring up created a knock on effect where they kept trying to replicate Haniger in whole or in part. Ruf’s left-mashing skills seemed to have faded in 2022, but the Giants perhaps guessed that getting to face early season pitching would give him a chance to produce and it did. His 102 OPS+ (in 27 PA) wound up being 7th on the 2023 Giants.

Cal Stevenson

Who? An outfielder the Giants got from the A’s in trade.
What? A sub-30 centerfielder with some on base ability.
When? Six games in May, while Mike Yastrzemski was on the IL.
Where? Bottom of the lineup, but working in CF.
Why? See Mike Yastrzemski’s injury — but why did they get him? In case Mike Yastrzemski was injured.

Cole Waites

Who? Right-handed relief pitcher
What? A power reliever to bridge the middle innings and possibly provide some outs in higher leverage, later innings.
When? I don’t remember his three appearances in May, but maybe you do.
Where? An innings sponge in probable losses or with big leads.
Why? It was time for the 18th round pick from Zaidi’s first draft to help the mjor league club. His 76 strikeouts in 41.2 innings across three levels in 2022 certainly set him up to do that. It’s a shame that pitchers are always on a path towards injury. He’s more like an unforced churn. He was shelved with an elbow sprain that evolved into the need for Tommy John surgery, so he’ll miss the 2024 season. As a result, the Giants designated him for assignment, then he elected free agency and signed a minor league deal with the team so that he could rehab under the team’s supervision.

Austin Wynns

Who? The premiere backup catcher of Major League Baseball’s National League West.
What? The Giants needed somebody they could put with Joey Bart after Roberto Perez and until they could figure out a better option. Thank goodness for Patrick Bailey.
When? One game in April, after Roberto Perez went down.
Where? The backup catcher — didn’t I already say that? He got into one game.
Why? I’m not sure what the Giants were doing here. They signed him to a minor league deal and then selected his contract after Perez’s injury but then I guess they remembered that they had Blake Sabol on the team and pivoted to folding him into the catching situation instead, at least through April? They must’ve been comfortable enough with the outfield and DH to think that Sabol would probably get more playing time there? Or maybe Wynns’ deal simply had an opt out date and the Giants wanted to have him rather than lose him. In any case, thanks for 2022, Austin Wynns, when you were a remarkably reliable backup.

I put it right up top so you can see that this group combined to provide negative value for the team, but you can see how in each of them there was some thing that made the team think — and made dumb dumbs like me on the outside looking want to believe — there was a chance to strike it rich. That doesn’t mean they hoped any of these guys could become an All-Star, just that they hoped they could hit a specific target within their role. Except for those couple of guys who seemed like holding actions until injured guys and prospects matured.

This is how every roster has ever worked in the history of Major League Baseball.