Taking a Look at the Giants’ Trading Deadline
Since we’re past the All-Star break, that means we’re not too far away from the trading deadline (which falls on July 31st). Of course, this is the time of year where trade rumors really begin to pick up- and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always fervently searching for Giants-related rumors this time of year. I often analyze potential deals the Giants are rumored to be involved in, but very rarely do I ever suggest a player that I think the Giants should acquire via trade. This is due to the very simple fact that I don’t know the actual state of the market. I don’t know what players are actually available, nor do I know exactly which player(s) the other team would want in return. One could always consult a well-informed fan of the team or make assumptions based on rumors or perceived team needs at the Major League level, but we’re still left with an immense amount of uncertainty. Furthermore, we can use a trade calculator to determine a “fair” deal, but it’s still nothing more than an extremely rudimentary calculation riddled with the assumption that all Major League organizations evaluate players using a model based on Wins Above Replacement. Some teams rely heavily on scouting rather than statistics. Other teams use proprietary data that could very well trump our models.
All caveats aside, I am going to take a look at players that I believe the Giants should consider pursuing. I will do whatever I can to create as realistic a trade I can, but I fully acknowledge all the shortcomings that come with it. First, I’d like to address the state of the Giants to get a sense for offensive needs (I’m focusing solely on offensive options, as I believe relief pitching is a rather easy problem to fix).
ASSESSING THE STATE OF THE GIANTS’ OFFENSE
The Giants are currently 49-41 (.544 W%), 3.5 games behind the Padres, and 0.5 behind the Rockies and tied with the Dodgers. They’re first in the National League in ERA+, and have scored 4.38 runs per game- exactly at the league average. In any case, I don’t think anybody is actually comfortable with the Giants’ offense. Let’s face it: aside from Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Buster Posey, we’re looking at a rather poor group of hitters. Juan Uribe can be entertaining at times, but I don’t think anyone would want him to be starting for their team. The same goes for Pat Burrell, who has performed quite well in his short stay with the Giants. Nate Schierholtz hasn’t hit particularly well thus far, although his defense has been stellar- and it’s quite obvious that Bruce Bochy will never give John Bowker a chance. Pablo Sandoval’s been absolutely horrible this year- not only is he swinging at everything in sight (and missing or making weak contact), he’s also hitting into a ridiculous amount of double plays. That just isn’t going to work.
Rather than extrapolate the Giants’ performance and attempt to fit in various players, I’d much rather use a projection approach. This is due to the simple reason that we’re only working with a half season of baseball- and players will often have a good or bad first half before regressing to their mean in the second half. To assume Aubrey Huff or Buster Posey will continue at their torrid pace is a mistake, as it’s unlikely- and to expect Pablo Sandoval to hit just as bad as he has all this season would be rather pessimistic. While it is certainly possible that all of these players do continue at their current rate of production, it’s more likely that they’re going to regress to their true talent levels. So, for this exercise I’ll be using the forecasts from The Hardball Times. I’m doing this for a few reasons: 1) I highly respect and like the system, as it’s Brian Cartwright’s Oliver projection system, and 2) I write at THT Live, so I like to represent the site whenever possible. Yeah, I’m “that guy.” To be fair, I’d average THT with Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA if I could- but to be honest, I don’t have any intention of re-upping my subscription there. So, our current Giants listed by name and expected regression:
Looks like we should expect a heavier regression from our two first-half studs Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres, while expecting Sandoval to see a substantial increase in overall performance. Aaron Rowand is supposed to see a jump, and Buster Posey’s expected to drop some. That makes sense (by the way, hot-hitting Travis Ishikawa is expected to regress the most out of the Giants, by performing at 81% of his current production in the second half). The players’ projected end of season wOBA:
Keep in mind that a league average wOBA is around .330. That said, we’re looking at above average production at catcher, first base, third base, and right field. We’re looking at horrible production from second base, shortstop, and center field. I don’t think anyone can truly consider Pat Burrell to be an everyday left fielder any more (unless, perhaps, you’re Bruce Bochy), so it would seem like acquiring a true everyday left fielder would be on the Giants’ wish list. We’re also looking at rather poor production from Aaron Rowand. Honestly, I don’t care how much money he’s making- I have no interest in having him play for the Giants every day. As of now, I consider Rowand to be a sunk cost. But I’d love for him to prove me wrong. So, let’s say that Rowand and Burrell are both pieces we’d rather use off the bench as pinch hitters, and for Rowand the occasional defensive replacement. I’d consider designating him for assignment, actually, but that’s a discussion for another day. That leaves us with one everyday outfielder in Andres Torres, who could play any of the outfield positions well. I’d rather place him in center field, where he has a career UZR/150 of +16 (!) and has saved approximately 4 runs in 260 innings this year. He’s an exceptional baserunner as well, with about four runs added above an average player, and that patient approach of his (12.9% BB rate) is a welcome addition to the top of the order. Keep Torres in that lineup.
The added bonus of having a player like Aubrey Huff is that he allows for the Giants to acquire another first baseman. Why? Well, Huff can play the outfield. Stick him in left field (where he’s about a +5 talent defender) and you’ve got an opening at first base if you can’t find an outfielder that fits your needs. Huff has been surprisingly decent in the outfield this year, so I would have absolutely no qualms with him playing in left for the rest of the year if it came down to that. To be honest, I’d much rather keep him at first- but we’ll see where this post takes me.
Taking into account the remaining schedule and the expected performance of these players for the rest of the season, the Giants are currently projected to finish the season with a record of 89-73, 3 games behind the projected division winner Colorado (92-70) and 2 games behind runner-up San Diego (91-71). As it currently stands, I am assuming the Giants will be buyers. This post will work along with this assumption not only because the Giants are projected to be in the mix for the division and the Wild Card, but because I know Giants management well enough to know that they will never be sellers (not with Sabean behind the wheel, at least- and especially not when he wants to make for a good impression in the first year of his extension). Using these same projected standings and taking into account games back, I’ve identified a number of teams that I consider to be potential sellers by the deadline (I don’t want to bother with ‘tweeners, or teams in contention, as that makes deals infinitely more difficult to suggest). Below are these teams, followed by their projected games back:
First things first: the Angels are projected to be 15 games back, but I don’t see Arte Moreno handing in the towel and shedding any valuable players. I just don’t. I can’t really see the Cubs being sellers either, but I thought I’d include them in the list as well. Below is a list of the top 15 players by projected rest of season wOBA, to see which guys might give the Giants the most spark in their lineup:
There are a few players that we can begin to immediately scratch off our list. The first would be Prince Fielder, who I don’t believe the Giants should trade for. At all. I think a lot of fans are enamored by the idea of a left-handed hitter with massive power- I mean, hell, we haven’t had one of those since Barry Bonds- but despite all that power and tremendous offense, (he’s around a +45 hitter, including situational hitting) two things about him scare me: he’s a base clogger (about -5 runs per season) and a horrible defensive first baseman (about another -5 runs per season). At the age of 26. He doesn’t have a body type that looks to age well, and when you consider just how detrimental his baserunning and defense are at such a young age, you’re essentially looking at a player that should be a designated hitter by now. And it will seemingly be a mandatory move by the time he’s 30. This means that signing him to a lucrative deal surpassing the Howard or Teixeira contract, as agent Scott Boras suggests he deserves, would not bode well for the Giants- especially when they’ll need to start spending big on pitchers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, as well as budding superstar Buster Posey. I’m not sold on the idea that a year and a half of Fielder and two potential first-round compensatory draft picks (it depends largely on the team signing him) is worth the package the Brewers would require to part with him. Hanley Ramirez isn’t going anywhere. He just isn’t. The Marlins have no reason to move him, nor should they. And I’m not going to waste my time (or yours) proposing a ludicrous package that would get the Marlins listening. The same holds true for Brewers slugger Ryan Braun. Since we’re on the subject of Brewers outfielders, I have no interest in acquiring Corey Hart, who is having what looks to be an outlier of a season. And given the Brewers’ asking price (Jonathan Sanchez or Madison Bumgarner), I don’t want anything to do with him. No siree-bob. He’s not worth it.
Shin-Soo Choo would be a wonderful addition to the Giants, as he’s one of the most underrated players in the game and would be a stud for the Giants. I’m not sold on the idea that the Indians would entertain trade offers for him, as he’s still quite young and under team control. He’d demand a hefty return, and on top of that, there are some concerns that he’ll have to return to Korea to fulfill his military duties relatively soon. I love the idea of having Choo; unfortunately, I don’t see it as a realistic option. Justin Upton would be a knight in shining armor for the Giants, but let’s not fool ourselves- the Diamondbacks aren’t going to move him. The same holds true of Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman- and as much as I love the guy, I just don’t see the Giants being able to offer something that the Nationals would even consider entertaining. We have no need for Mike Napoli, and I can’t see Dayton Moore (as dumb as he is) moving Billy Butler. The Orioles are in the midst of a youth movement and Nick Markakis is an invaluable asset to their organization, so he’s not going anywhere. That leaves us with six players that would appear to be clear upgrades in the Giants’ lineup, and all of them fill that first base/outfield need, with the exception of Uggla. But I’ll get to that soon.
If you didn’t figure out already, those players’ names are in bold. There are other players, of course, that warrant a look- but I want to look at these players specifically first. We’ll get to a few of those other players later.
First, let’s kill two birds with one stone: the Nationals’ Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Dunn. I love the home runs and the on-base percentage, but I don’t trust him with a glove at any position, regardless of the scarcity of balls in play hit there. He’s also a personal favorite of Stan Kasten and the organization, and I remember hearing rumblings about him not only wanting to stay there, but the Nationals wanting to keep him there. Since they’re working with quite a young team, they’ve deemed his experience and consistency as invaluable. They also expect to begin being competitive next year, so I can’t imagine they would have any desire to move him.
That said, I don’t see them wanting to move Willingham either. This is unfortunate for me, at least. I like Willingham, and I’ve always felt that he’s been quite underrated. He’s projected to finish the year hitting .271/.389/.487 (.383 wOBA) with 27 home runs and 28 doubles. Talk about a big year! The Giants sure could use the steady on-base production and pitch selection, and that power isn’t anything to scoff at, either. The Nationals have been asking for a lot in return for Willingham, and I’m not sure about the price- he is, after all, 31 years old already. Moving high-end prospects for a player that is soon to hit his decline is not an ideal trade for me. Should they lower their price, then I’d be all over him- if not, then I’ll sadly sit in the corner twiddling my thumbs, thinking about what might have been.
Lance Berkman is a very intriguing option and is exactly the type of player that both Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy covet. He has a stellar track record but has slipped this season, currently hitting .255/.369/.459 for a wOBA of .364, well below his career average of .406. Oliver projects a better second half, and has him finishing with a .262/.373/.465 line, with 23 homers and 31 doubles. Berkman’s an interesting case, though. He would be a good player on the Giants. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’d add at least a win over our incumbent options, if not more. The problem is, he’s owed $16 million over the next two seasons. This is good in that the Astros can’t reasonably demand a high-end prospect or package for him without eating a good portion of his contract, but it’s bad in that the Giants would be paying $16 million to a player that might be showing the effects of aging (he’s 34) rather than simply a down year. If the scouts are convinced that it’s an anomaly, I might be more inclined to deal for him…but as it stands, I’m not convinced that he’s a player worth dealing for. Berkman also possesses a full no-trade clause, and if I remember right, has expressed a strong dislike for San Francisco and AT&T Park in particular (I swear I’ve read it in The Chronicle; I just can’t remember when). So Berkman would appear to be a no-go.
Dan Uggla? Well, there’s an interesting idea- and one that’s never been explored (if you can’t sense the overwhelming sarcasm, well…I don’t know what to tell you). Uggla is in the midst of a wonderful .285/.369/.483 campaign. Don’t expect that to continue in the second half, though- he’s projected to regress and finish the year hitting .274/.360/.485 with 31 home runs and 31 doubles. The question is, where would he play? The only logical scenario in my mind would be to shift Sandoval to first and have Uggla play third. Why third? Well, Uggla’s not as good a defender as Freddy Sanchez. Tom Tango’s positional adjustments (based on UZR studies) suggests that the defensive talent level of third basemen and second basemen are overall very similar. Not only is Sanchez a better defender, but third basemen see fewer balls in play than second basemen. This would, in theory, diminish Uggla’s range issue. Pablo would play at first, where he’ll most likely have to move in several years (as nimble as he’s looked this year, I remain unconvinced that he can stick at the hot corner long-term), and Huff would be sent back to left field.
The Giants’ division rival, the Arizona Diamondbacks, very well might be having a fire sale. There are a few players that the Giants might have some interest in- Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson, or perhaps Stephen Drew. I imagine the Diamondbacks would be most likely to move LaRoche, as they have 24-year-old prospect Brandon Allen hitting .268/.408/.512; a .406 wOBA. LaRoche doesn’t exactly like AT&T Park, and I’m not overwhelmed by his projected .262/.338/.463 line for the remainder of the season. I wouldn’t want to give anything of value for him. I’m a fan of Kelly Johnson, and suggested he’d be a good bounceback candidate for 2010. Boy, that move would have made me look smart! Despite his hot start to the season, THT projects him to hit .262/.340/.438 for the rest of the year. While that’s not nearly as spectacular as his current .276/.374/.497 line, it’s still solid. What makes him even more appealing to me is that THT expects a rather static production from him for the next 2-3 years in his age 29-31 seasons. I wouldn’t play him at second base, by the way- I’d stick him in left field, where he has a pretty nice UZR/150 of +18 in 648 innings (to be honest, I’d regress that figure rather heavily- maybe estimate his talent to be closer to +5 to +7 runs per 150 defensive games). He’d give the Giants a good left-handed hitter with moderate power (career ISO of .175, league average is around .150). He’s also a decent situational hitter that can avoid the double play. He seems like a good option behind Andres Torres in the #2 slot. And hey, dude takes pitches (career 3.98 P/PA; MLB average 3.78). Stephen Drew would also be an interesting option, as he is an above average hitter for a shortstop with a decent (albeit unspectacular) glove and fine situational hitting skills. He’s not special, but he’d hold down the shortstop position for years to come- and given that the Giants lack a blue chip shortstop of the future (I’m really not sold on Brandon Crawford’s contact rates), he could be a very valuable player. I’d be worried about their asking price for him, though. They might ask for a bit too much in return, given that we’re looking at an inter-division trade.
This is why I can’t see the Diamondbacks willing to move Reynolds to the Giants. He’s having a down year, yes, but he’s still very much a middle of the order force and not someone to give up on. The Diamondbacks would want a fair haul in return, I believe, and Reynolds isn’t a player I’d want to part with a lot for. If I had to take my pick of the Diamondbacks players based on performance and asking price, it’d be Johnson.
This leaves me with one last player on the list, Russell Branyan. Branyan’s a career .236/.331/.491 hitter- good for a .350 wOBA in 3,062 career plate appearances. He strikes out a lot- he’s averaged a 36% strikeout rate from 2007-2009 and is currently striking out in 31.5% of them- but really, a strikeout isn’t extremely detrimental in most cases unless we’re looking at runners on first and third, runners on second and third, and the bases loaded. Russell excels at hitting with runners on first and third, but fails miserably in the latter two situations- especially with the bases loaded. But the important thing to keep in mind is that these are relatively rare occasions for any slot in the lineup- in fact, from 2000-2009, they’ve accounted for exactly 8.6% of a cleanup hitter’s plate appearances. That’s all. It’s 9.5% for a #5 hitter, and 9.0% for a #6 hitter. Branyan might be better suited for the #3 slot, as it only accounts for 7.2% of all plate appearances. So a team could effectively minimize the impact of his strikeout rates by having him hit third. With a career ISO of .255 and one home run per 17.2 plate appearances- which extrapolates to 29 home runs per 500 plate appearances- there’s no doubt that Branyan has some real light-tower power. Branyan has a career UZR/150 of +3 runs saved at first base, and over the past two years (including 2010) has been right around that figure as well. So he’s at least a decent defender at first. Combine that with a projected 13 home runs and a .252/.336/.512 line, and he’s beginning to look like an interesting midseason pickup. His recent injury history tells us he has some lower back problems, and he’s never accumulated more than 505 plate appearances in a season. So he’s not particularly durable, meaning he’d have to be given frequent chances to rest or to be replaced in the latter innings by a defensive specialist/spot starter (*cough* *cough* Travis Ishikawa *cough* *cough*).
There’s one major reason why I like Branyan: he’s a cheap option that will give us some power production, along with some plate discipline that would hopefully rub off on other hitters in the lineup. It’d be nice to have a player with a career 11.8% walk rate. The Mariners currently have no need for Branyan, as they’ve recently acquired first baseman Justin Smoak from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal and Branyan is not a part of their future plans (he’s 34). Not only that, but he has a $5 million mutual option (and a $500k buyout) for 2011, so the Giants can reassess their plans at the end of the season to determine whether or not they’d like to bring him back for a reasonable price. The Mariners sent Ezequiel Carrera (a 23-year old OF in AAA that might be a fourth outfielder) and Juan Diaz (21-year old SS in A+ ball with decent upside). From the U.S.S Mariner:
Carrera led the Southern League in BA and OBP last year, but some scouts questioned whether he’d ever be more than a 4th OF in the majors. A brilliant spring capped by a homer off of Felix in an intra-squad game led many to believe that the scouts were wrong. However, from April on, Carrera’s played like a dictionary definition of a 4th OF – a poor man’s Endy Chavez – and picked up a few injuries on the way. He’d been on the Rainiers’ 7-day DL, but it obviously wasn’t serious enough to delay this move.
Juan Diaz was a moderately promising SS in a system without many middle infield ’spects. Until this year, when Nick Franklin made him 100% expendable. Diaz hit the Cal League last year with the reputation of a glove-first guy, but put up a .346 despite never coming close to .300 previously. He wasn’t able to force his way to AA this year (a guy named Triunfel mans SS for West Tennessee), and he’s regressed a bit at High Desert thanks to his BABIP coming back to earth. .
All in all, it’s tough to be upset about what we’re sending to Cleveland. I’d been excited to see Carrera in Tacoma, but he quickly showed that he was a fairly limited slap hitter (I’m still trying to envision him hitting a homer off of Felix and I can’t quite do it). And if anyone thought Diaz’s offensive outbreak was ‘real’ in 2009, 2010 is getting really hard to explain.
I don’t exactly know what Jack Zduriencik would ask for in return for Branyan, but I can’t imagine it would be beyond the package he gave up for him. I imagine he might be interested in some pitching- in which case, someone like Clayton Tanner and another pitcher might be appealing. I really don’t know, and I’m not going to pretend I know the Mariners’ farm depth well enough to make an educated guess. But Branyan should come at a pretty low price, and he’d give the Giants a nice boost of pop.
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t discussed David DeJesus yet, so I figure I might as well get that out of the way as I begin to finish up this rather lengthy post. I don’t want him. Well, I do, but not at the price the Royals would ask for. DeJesus, much like the aforementioned Hart, is in the midst of a career year and is due for quite a bit of regression. When all is said and done, he’s a very solid average outfielder- but he’s not an impact player, nor does he really give the Giants anything that stands out from their current squad. I suppose I think of him more as a poor man’s Randy Winn- just without the phenomenal baserunning and a lesser defender, with a slightly better bat.
There are other options on the market that I haven’t discussed here, but I think this should suffice for now. Really, the only player that I think fits well on the Giants- based on his availability and price- would be Russell Branyan. He’s a low-risk, low-upside option, and I realize that he isn’t a sexy name. But we don’t need sexy; we need production. I’m not saying that Branyan would be the only player I’d pursue, either. But he’s the first one that really comes to mind. One thing is for sure, though: the Giants need to acquire a hitter or hope Pablo Sandoval turns things around quickly, and that Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey and Andres Torres continue to smash the ball. Otherwise, we’ll be missing out on the postseason once again.