Not sure about you, but I think about the trade deadline a lot every year. It begins in, oh, April, but it really grips the imagination toward the end of June. The fringes of the wild-card race become exciting, with under-.500 and just-over teams dipping in and out of relevance, tossing away their expectations or clinging to them like a life preserver. There are needs to be met, prospects to deal and players to unearth.
This year, the Giants got a 35-year-old outfielder with a 53 OPS+ and an infielder who might be the Donovan Walton of Kevin Padlos. You had visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, and you got a 20-percent-off Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon in the mail instead. You had one in a junk drawer already, and you’re not even sure if you can use them anymore? Seems odd.
I have thoughts. Also, excuses, grumbles and explanations with the benefit of hindsight. Mostly just a bunch of thoughts. Here’s how to feel about the Giants’ trade deadline performance in 2023.
This was simply the wrong trade deadline for the Giants
Tim Kawakami made this point forcefully, so I won’t belabor the point, but the Giants’ roster was a round hole, and their farm system was filled with delicious oranges. The teams selling at the deadline had a bunch of square pegs, and they were looking for apples. Just a miserable fit, all around.
To be more specific, this was the deadline the Giants were set up to make a move for Juan Soto. If the Angels decided to trade Shohei Ohtani, the Giants would have been able to make a competitive offer. Or, less dramatically, if the Pirates wanted to trade Mitch Keller, the Giants could have stepped in. If the White Sox figured that they could get the right return for Dylan Cease, there was a fit there.
A true difference-maker was possible for the Giants, but he didn’t exist. A young, cost-controlled target was possible, but he didn’t exist. The two best players traded at the deadline were a combined 78 years old and in the middle of semi-disappointing seasons, and they both already had some IL time this season. Their owner is perhaps the only one in baseball who was willing to say, “Screw the money. I’ll take care of that. Give me the best prospects,” so it’s not like these deals were bargains for the acquiring teams, at least not in the prospect sense.
Look, I think it’s cool that Randy Johnson got his 300th win in a Giants uniform back in 2009, but I’m very glad the Giants didn’t trade Madison Bumgarner for him. That might be unfair to Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but not by much. I was skeptical of the Mets before this season, but not when it came to the regular season. It was their October plan that seemed dicey. That still applies to the Texas teams that took on that risk.
The trades the Giants didn’t make
I wrote about some of the deals that went down before Tuesday and how they did/didn’t fit the Giants’ situation. If you’re interested in a summary, here you go: Jordan Montgomery would have been kinda nice. But that’s about it.
There aren’t a lot of trades made on Tuesday that made me feel differently. The Astros gave up their best prospect for Verlander, someone between Marco Luciano and Luis Matos in the eyes of a lot of prospect hounds. That it was the Astros, an organization with which Verlander feels comfortable, is no small concern. He had a full no-trade clause, and there were no guarantees that he’d waive it for the Giants. He has a lot of … memories … here.
The Giants’ rotation would unquestionably be better with Verlander in it. So much better. For a while. Maybe. Here’s a year-by-year progression, along with Verlander’s age. See if something stands out:
Age 36: 12.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9
Age 37: (made one start, Tommy John)
Age 38: (DNP, Tommy John)
Age 39: 9.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9
Age 40: 7.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Am I predicting doom for Verlander? Not at all. There’s more to pitching than strikeouts and low walk rates, and Verlander is one of the best pitchers of his generation. But the question isn’t if he would make the Giants better for free. The question is if he’s so likely to thrive with the Giants for the rest of the season and into the postseason that he’s worth one of their three best prospects.
Other than Verlander, there weren’t a ton of obvious upgrades for the Giants. Michael Lorenzen is a healthy Anthony DeSclafani with a more interesting batting practice round. Jack Flaherty was an interesting fit, but he’s also pitched more than 100 innings for the first time since 2019, and he’s been merely OK this year. Aaron Civale would have been fun, but the Giants were right not to give up a top prospect for someone who didn’t at least have the potential to dominate in the postseason.
The top three players I would have liked to see the Giants acquire, based on the prospects it took to get them:
1. Lucas Giolito (though it should be noted he gave up nine runs in 3 2/3 innings today against the Braves)
2. Jordan Montgomery
3. Jack Flaherty
Luis Urías moved right before the end of the deadline, and I would have liked to see the Giants on that, too. So there were moves that could have made sense. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the teams trading players have thoughts and opinions, too. The Cardinals picked up an undersized middle-infielder scrapper and a lefty starter with more command than stuff in the Montgomery and Flaherty trades, respectively. Which is to say that they acquired super-Cardinalsy prospects. They have a type, and maybe they weren’t finding that in the Giants system.
Still, it’s hard to get too mad about missing out on Giolito or Montgomery. Maybe a little annoyed. That’s about as much as this deadline was worth.
The Giants have faith in Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling, and that’s not a bad thing
If Manaea and Stripling were having the same season for the Royals, and the Giants acquired one of them, you’d better believe that I’d be right here with an article encouraging you to look past the ERA. Here’s why the Giants did it. Here are the underlying metrics suggesting that they can be better. You can see the Dodgers getting this treatment with Lance Lynn, and it’s not dissimilar with Manaea and Stripling. The only difference is you had to watch all the outings that led to the inflated ERAs, and Dodgers fans didn’t have to watch Lynn’s.
Here’s Manaea’s OPS allowed by month:
He’s walking fewer batters and giving up softer contact. Can you do the same with Ross Stripling? You betcha.
They’ve been effective pitchers in the recent past. There are good reasons to think that they’re effective right now.
But it’s Kyle Harrison who might be the real deadline acquisition
Farhan Zaidi said as much. As a mediocre baseball analyst and terrible fantasy player, I’ll suggest that I would rather have Jordan Montgomery making starts for this team over the next two (or three) months. But you can also see the ceiling here. There weren’t a lot of players moved at the deadline who had the potential to get you excited for a Game 3 start. Scherzer, Verlander and maybe Giolito and Montgomery. That’s it. Harrison at least has that potential, even if he’ll be limited to three or four innings a start, most likely.
With Harrison and Tristan Beck as the options behind Manaea and Stripling (or even slightly ahead of them in a couple weeks), I’ve already talked myself out of Jack Flaherty.
My first thought is that he would allow Austin Slater to rest more often by taking the bulk of the center field innings against lefties, but Luis Matos is already doing it. And when Pollock and Matos were in the same lineup on Tuesday night, it was Matos in center.
Pollock has moderate power, but it isn’t showing up much this year. He’s still fast and athletic, but you can’t steal first base. He’s just two seasons removed from his last excellent season, but that’s another way of saying that he’s been extremely disappointing over the last two seasons, and now he’s 35.
Pollock is currently taking the place of Marco Luciano on the roster, and it’s entirely possible that the veteran will be the better hitter over the rest of the season. Luciano is young and untested, and Pollock is probably better than his .500-something OPS. But I’d rather take my chances with Luciano and the occasional appearance from Joc Pederson in the field for now. There’s an upside play there.
Of course, this ignores that Luciano was the one that made room and not Casey Schmitt, who is having one of the worst offensive seasons (min. 200 PA) in San Francisco Giants history right now. Johnnie LeMaster has just one season that’s worse by OPS+. Schmitt is keeping company with Neifi Pérez, Emmanuel Burriss and Mike Benjamin. This isn’t to say that he’s a bust, not by a long shot, because he’s also keeping company with a young Matt Williams and a rookie Rich Aurilia. Development isn’t linear.
In other words, if the choice were between Pollock and Schmitt, the move would have made more sense. And when Thairo Estrada comes back, it’ll probably be Schmitt who makes room, but that just means we’re back to Pollock vs. Luciano on the roster, and I know who I would choose for the rest of the season. The league would eventually figure out Luciano, perhaps, much like they’ve done with Schmitt and Patrick Bailey. However, you can ride one of those hot streaks for a couple months, and Luciano had a chance at one of them. I’m not sure that Pollock does.
As a practicing parishioner at the Church of Marco Scutaro, I’ll take a wait-and-see approach with Pollock. He did used to be quite good, you know. The real improvements are going have to be the players we’ve met along the way, though.
It was a dull deadline, and not all of it was the Giants’ fault. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, either. I sure miss those Hunter Pence-shaking-Tim-Lincecum’s-hand vibes from 2012, though. We’ll see if there’s a way to recreate those vibes from within.
(Top photo of Manaea: John Hefti / USA Today)