You know, we don’t really talk about the San Francisco Giants a whole lot around. Well, not these days, anyway; go back to 2010, or 2012, or 2014, and we talked about them a bunch. Especially in October, when the Cardinals would show up for their annual soul-crushing loss to the eventual champs in the NLCS. But if the Giants aren’t somehow sliding past the Redbirds despite it really, really seeming like this is the year the Cards finally beat them, they’re not really a huge topic of conversation around here.
Oh, except for when the Giants are trying to pry the same homer-hitting superman away from the Marlins as the Cardinals. Then we talk about them.
Oh, and when Evan Longoria is rumoured to hold some interest for the Redbirds, but then gets traded to the Giants. Then we talk about them.
Okay, so the premise of this article may, in fact, be flawed. Apparently we talk about the Giants a surprising amount, considering they’ve been more or less irrelevant to the postseason picture the last couple seasons, and don’t play in the same division as the Cardinals, to whom this blog is ostensibly devoted.
Guess what? We’re going to talk about the Giants a little more today.
See, the Giants are, as of right now, the most interesting team in baseball. Why is that? Because they are, probably more than any other team currently, in the catbird seat in terms of the trade deadline, and what they could potentially do. What the White Sox were a couple years ago, the Giants are this year.
Okay, that’s maybe overstating things a little. (Or maybe a little more than a little.) The White Sox were dealing career-year Adam Eaton and Chris Sale among others. The Giants are looking to trade still-pretty-good Madison Bumgarner in the final year of his deal and the certifiably awesome Will Smith. As good as Bumgarner has been in his career, he’s never been prime Chris Sale, and Sale at the time he was dealt had multiple years left on his contract. Will Smith is a pending free agent as well, and rentals just don’t command quite what they used to.
On the other hand, it’s not just those two players that make the Giants so intriguing right now. In fact, there’s a really interesting thing going on by the Bay: namely, the Giants have multiple relievers that could draw big-time interest from roughly half the league over the next week.
There is, however, one complicating factor in all this: the Giants have decided they like winning apparently.
Now, here’s the thing: the Giants are not good. They’re just not. I’m not saying that to insult them, or their fans, or their front office, or to make fun of them. This is factual stuff here. The Giants are bad. They had a phenomenal run of title-winning teams, kept the whole thing together longer than they should have — or maybe just poured too much energy into trying to keep the window open, if you prefer to think of it that way — and rather than get a head start on building their next good club, they dug themselves a hole. It happens sometimes, and it’s especially easy to fall into that trap when you’re talking about three championships in five years, all with teams that were not juggernauts, but simply played like one once they got into the tournament. If that’s your recent past, it’s extraordinarily easy to talk yourself into taking a shot at any playoff spot you might be able to grab, even if it means you’re kicking the can down the road on a needed club reset.
So the Giants are bad. They have a Pythagorean record of 46-55, with a -41 run differential. That is not a contending club. On the other hand, they have an actual record of 51-50, and since the actual record is the one that really matters, they are an above .500 club. That may not sound like much, but in the incredibly parititious (that is totally not the adjective form of ‘parity’, but I don’t know if there actually is one, so we’re going with parititious), National League of 2019, anything over the break-even mark puts you at least in the conversation for the postseason.
However, it is also a fact that the Giants’ president of baseball operations and de facto General Manager is Farhan Zaidi, former Oakland A’s Assistant GM, former Dodgers GM, and all-around sabermetric paragon. If there is any executive in the game right now one would think you could count on to do what is in the long-term best interest of his organisation, without his vision being clouded by potentially unreliable, unrepeatable success, it is Zaidi.
What we have here is a really interesting soup of things. The Giants have multiple pieces other clubs will be interested in between now and the trade deadline. They have a winning record, but the underlying realities of a losing club. They have a front office headed up by one of the most analytically-minded executives in baseball, but also a legendary, old-school manager in the final year of his career. Everything about this club is interesting right now.
As for how this relates to the Cardinals, it’s pretty easy to see that if the Redbirds are going to be buying this next week, trying to shore up whatever can be shorn up, they will at least be having conversations with San Francisco. The Cardinals’ rotation has been a persistent concern all season, and while Madison Bumgarner is not the ace he once was, he is still one of the more dependable pitchers on the market, if he is indeed on the market. If you need a pitcher to take the ball every fifth day and give you six innings of solidly above-average performance, you can do a whole lot worse than MadBum. If Bumgarner is too rich for your blood, Jeff Samardzija is almost certainly available as well, and is having a perfectly cromulent season. He’s not great, but he’s durable and mostly dependable.
Andrew Miller has been awesome for most of this season, and Tyler Webb has been pretty okay. Chasen Shreve is again being DFA’d to make room for Mike Myers, which I personally think is a bad idea, but whatever. Neither of them are very good pitchers at this point, so what does it really matter? The point is, the Cardinals could really use another left-handed hammer to complement Miller in the late innings, and the Giants just happen to have one of the best in the game in Will Smith, he of the two and a half FIP and 39% strikeout rate.
The fact is, if you’re looking for relief help, you basically have to at least call the Giants and ask. Not only do they have Smith, they also have at least three other extremely intriguing relievers on staff. Sam Dyson is back to being sneakily awesome, basically the pitcher he was in 2015 and ‘16, rather than the 2017 disaster version. He’s running a 2.57 ERA and 2.71 FIP currently, and while there’s a little good luck baked in to his home run rate, he’s also an extreme groundball pitcher who just refuses to walk pretty much anyone. Dyson is still under control for 2020, so might bring a little extra in return were the Giants willing to move him. A club looking for more setup relief help could do far, far worse than Sam Dyson.
Maybe the most valuable piece the Giants hold in their bullpen right now is 26 year old Reyes Moronta, a fireballing second-year right-hander who strikes out the world and is gradually improving his walk rate over time. Moronta would be under club control for four more seasons after this one, making him an extraordinarily valuable asset on the market. It’s much more of a question whether Zaidi and the Giants would be willing to part with him, but if they are dedicated to starting a rebuild process in earnest, Moronta is exactly the sort of player you move now while his value is boosted by his contract, rather than letting him throw high-leverage innings for a low-leverage team and dealing him in July of 2022, when he will net far less and you’ve essentially wasted his best years.
Let’s do a quick SAT segment. Madison Bumgarner : Jeff Samardzija :: Will Smith : ________________.
If you answered, ‘Tony Watson’, then congratulations! You’re getting into a decent school, like a Wake Forest or something, and also have probably looked at the Giants’ roster at some point this season. Watson does not have the oomph of Will Smith, but he’s been a very solid left-handed reliever for many years now, and he’s still running a sub-3.00 ERA this season, even with a weirdly low strikeout rate. The peripherals are a little scary, but he has a crazy low walk rate and hasn’t really lost much off his fastball. He would be very much a backup plan to acquiring Smith, but not a terrible backup plan for all that.
If the Cardinals are looking to bolster their pitching in basically any direction, they’re going to be at least looking at the Giants’ roster. The Giants have the best lefty reliever on the market, and another, more complementary lefty that could be had for a lower price. They have one of the better setup relievers in the NL this year, and a shock and awe young arm who would be around for several more seasons if you wanted to invest in him. They have two workhorse starters, one with a postseason record second to none, both of whom are putting up perfectly fine campaigns this year.
It is fair to ask just how many of these players the Giants would be willing to move, particularly if they are within striking distance of a wild card berth. And that’s really a tough thing to parse out. As I said, the guy running their player acquisition efforts is a hardcore numbers type, and the numbers say the Giants have no business being in postseason consideration. If it were me, I would strip-mining the roster and shooting for the haul of the century by dealing away 40% of my rotation and damned near my entire bullpen. It’s possible that’s just not a feasible way to go about things, though, and either a) the fans would revolt at the front office pulling the rug out from under Bruce Bochy, or b) the players would revolt at having their shot at meaningful late-season baseball taken away from them. Managing actual people and actual fans is much harder than managing a fantasy team, no matter how much we might prefer not to admit it.
All of this makes the Giants the most interesting club in baseball right now, and certainly a team of enormous interest to we Cardinal fans. There aren’t that many sellers on the market this year, largely because of that crazy parititiousness I alluded to earlier in the National League. The Redbirds will be buyers, both because they are too good to be sellers and also because so much has been invested in this season. Considering how small that group of sellers is likely to be, we should all be paying very close attention to what the Giants do over this next week.