Rebuilding on the Fly: How the San Francisco Giants Can Turn Around the Team Quickly

The San Francisco Giants are coming off two consecutive bottom-10 seasons in MLB.  They’ve only combined to win 137 games in the last two seasons.  If they have any hopes of avoiding a third straight losing season they will need to mix up this aging roster by injecting youth in the outfield and creating depth in the pitching rotation. 

Good news for Giants fans, new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has made these two objectives his main goals for this offseason.  Today we will dive into some potential trades that can help the Giants get younger right away and in turn get them back to the postseason. 

Trade number 1:  Brandon Belt and Tyler Beede to the Yankees for Greg Bird and Sonny Gray.

With Bird, the Giants instantly become 4 years younger and save almost 6 million in salary a year.  Bird hasn’t played the best since reaching the MLB, hitting only .214 in 576 career at-bats with 173 strikeouts.  However, Bird has the potential to be great.  In his first season with the Yankees, Bird hit .261 with an OPS+ of 135.  The big league average OPS+ is 100, so Bird’s 135 was 35 percent better than league average his rookie year.  This is very promising for a Giants team that isn’t ready to win yet, but can afford to give Bird a couple years of time to turn himself into an elite player. 

One other downside is Bird’s injury history.  Bird missed the entire 2016 season and time in both of the following two seasons. This is cause for concern as the Giants seem to be constantly riddled with the injury bug.  But, it is fair to wonder if Bird hasn’t had a shot at playing at 100 percent since his rookie season which could explain a decline in his numbers.  Maybe the Giants can make this trade and give Bird an adequate amount of time to fully recover and see how he can play while feeling completely healthy. While Bird has struggled with injury and performance since making it to the big leagues, there is reason to hope that with a change of scenery and less pressure from the bright New York lights, that he could bust out into a middle of the order power threat the Giants need for their future core.  

Sonny Gray is an interesting piece in this deal as he has struggled since leaving his home in Oakland.  Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM, practically announced to the world that Sonny Gray would be off the Yankees roster before Spring Training rolled around.  This works out nicely for the Giants who are looking to build rotation depth and could look to flip Gray at the deadline if he improves his numbers.  Gray could benefit from a move back to the Bay in a couple of ways. 

First off, a reunion with his former pitching coach and Giants current pitching coach, Curt Young, will lead to a sense of familiarity.  Gray and Young worked well together as Gray dominated during his time in Oakland, posting a 3.42 ERA while striking out 607 batters in his 5 years there. 

Another reason Gray would benefit from coming back to the Bay would be his new home ballpark.  AT&T is known to be one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in all of baseball which could help Gray to lower the 4.90 ERA he posted in New York last year.  If the Giants could take Gray and return him to his former self, they could deal him to a contender at the deadline and get some promising prospects back for what seems like a failed pitcher at the moment.

Losing Belt would hurt the Giants in the short-run by taking out one of their few power hitters from the lineup.  While Belt has had his own problems, he has been one of the Giants better players the last couple of years, playing gold glove caliber defense while never dipping below the league average OPS+. 

Belt also worked pitchers well as seen in his 21-pitch at-bat last year.  However, if the Giants are hoping to rebuild quickly, it will require them cutting ties with some of the fans’ favorite players to return them to relevancy in the NL West. 

The other player in this deal was once a top prospect for the Giants is Tyler Beede.  Beede is a hard-throwing right-hander out of Vanderbilt.  He was the Giants first-round selection in the 2014 draft but has been passed up by many players in the Giants organization recently.  He has lost command of his pitches making it difficult for him to prevent runs from scoring.  The Giants tried him in the bullpen while at Sacramento but to no avail. 

It looks now, that like Gray, Beede could use a change of scenery in hopes of turning things around.  A once highly valued prospect still has good trade value even if his numbers haven’t been where they should be.  The Giants should complete this trade in a boom-or-bust type deal, hoping Bird and Gray turn their careers around and become valuable pieces to the Giants.

Trade number 2:  Derek Rodriguez and Tony Watson to the Milwaukee Brewers for Ben Gamel, Ryan Braun, and Lucas Erceg or Keston Hiura.

Farhan Zaidi praised the A’s, his first organization, for completing a deal that netted them a relatively unknown player, named Kris Davis, from the Brewers for two low-end prospects who never turned into anything close to Kris Davis.  Zaidi may look and see the potential for the Giants to make a similar type deal with the Brewers now in hopes of landing their own Kris Davis.  

Domingo Santana initially fit very well as a potential player for the Giants to trade for in this deal, but he was traded to the Mariners in exchange for Ben Gamel who figures to be flipped.  Gamel is a 26-year-old outfielder with a career 1.2 WAR.  He is coming off a season where he had a 106 OPS+.  While he lost 10 home runs off the 11 he hit in 2017, Gamel seemed to be going against the new trend of prioritizing slugging.  He raised his OBP 30 points while also raising that OPS+ 6 percentage points.  He also lowered his average launch angle by 3.5 degrees which could explain his lack of power.  He did, however, hit the ball 2.5 mph harder on average which could be a sign that Gamel just ran into some bad luck. If Gamel gets his launch angle up with the same average exit velocity look for him to turn into a very well-rounded player the Giants covet in the outfield.  Making this trade possible is the lack of playing time the Brewers would be able to provide Gamel. 

Simply put, the Brewers don’t have space in the lineup for him.  With MVP Christian Yelich in right field and Lorenzo Cain starting in center, there is really only one opening in the outfield for Gamel, Braun, Eric Thames, and Keon Broxton to fight for.  Braun has the veteran, franchise-player advantage while Thames is a good platoon partner, hitting from the left side with a ton of power.  While both of these players also may see time at first base, there will be a definite log-jam preventing Ben Gamel from seeing the field for a significant amount of at-bats. 

Gamel is exactly the kind of player the Giants could use and may one day end up being the Kris Davis of the Giants, only not hitting for absurd power but instead playing more of a very good at many things type player that Zaidi loves.  He is a young, athletic player who can hit for average and has decent power potential as seen by his 11 home runs in 2017.  He has shown the ability to make some amazing plays in the outfield and his luscious locks would fit in well with the Giants fan base.  I can see it now, fake Gamel hair wigs under panda hats– a classic Giants fan look. 

Gamel has the ability to play all 3 outfield spots, but the metrics on Baseball Reference point to him being best-suited for right field, a key position for the Giants due to Triples Alley.  Landing a player like Gamel, who could hopefully return to his 2017 form, would provide Zaidi with a versatile, young outfielder to fill out the depth chart with.

As previously mentioned, the Brewers have an outfield surplus and have been rumored to want to trade Ryan Braun and his large contract away for some financial flexibility.  According to a projection from MLB Trade Rumors, the Giants will have around $29 million in cap space available for the 2019 season.  This means the Giants could absorb Braun’s enormous $19 million dollar salary and hope he sells tickets, while also stealing a top level prospect from the Brewers in Erceg or Hiura as an enticement for the Giants to pay Braun’s whole salary. 

In Zaidi’s time with the Dodgers, they loved to make moves like these where they take on a horrible contract and get a prospect in return.  Only this time the Giants will be dealing a prospect of their own in Derek Rodriguez in hopes of a higher return.  Rodriguez, who impressed with a 2.81 ERA in his rookie season broke on to the scene in 2018 after failing to make his big league debut with the Twins and signed a minor-league deal with the Giants last offseason.  He is also the son of the Hall-of-Fame catcher, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.

Had it not been for an insanely talented rookie class including Ronald Acuña Jr and Juan Soto, Rodriguez would have had a great shot of winning Rookie of the Year. 

Rodriguez who is still a young player himself could contribute to the Brewers right away, while also providing a long-term rotation piece.  He is also very cost-efficient, making a little more than half a million each year, for the next three years and then will be arbitration-eligible after that.  For a small-market team like the Brewers, cheap, controllable players like Rodriguez are exactly what they’re looking for.

On top of Rodriguez, the Brewers would be receiving another elite left-hander to add to their talented bullpen in Tony Watson.  Watson is also incredibly cost-efficient, making only $3 million a year for the next two years.  To get a left-handed relief pitcher coming off the best season of his career, posting a 2.59 ERA, for only $3 million is a steal. 

Especially when the Brewers see what teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers are giving to relievers in free-agency, they will most likely be motivated to upgrade their bullpen through trades.  Just recently the Cardinals inked Andrew Miller, who comes with a flurry of injury problems, to a 2-year, $25 million dollar contract.  Tony Watson was a much better pitcher than Miller last season even when Miller was healthy.  

Asking for either of these top prospects from the Brewers organization is a stretch.  However, when considering that the Giants will be dealing a talented, controllable starting pitcher with a veteran, cost-effective reliever while also taking on a bad contract, asking for one top prospect doesn’t seem so bad.

According to MLB.com, Hiura and Erceg are the Brewers number one and number four ranked prospects respectively and would instantly become a top-2 prospect for the Giants.  Hiura is the number 30 prospect in baseball.  

Hiura is a second baseman out of UC Irvine with a 70-grade hit tool and 50-grade power tool.  Hiura hit .442 his junior year at Irvine which was good enough to lead all Division I hitters that year.  He’s not a great defender but has good enough actions to play average defense until hampered by age.  Even then, his bat is projected to keep him in the league for a long time. 

I would compare him to a Dustin Pedroia in his prime, minus the elite defense Pedroia brought the field.  The Giants don’t exactly have a need at second base, but by the time Hiura will be ready for the Bigs, Joe Panik will most likely not be around anymore leaving a spot for Hiura to come in and take.

Erceg is a left-handed-hitting third baseman who possesses elite power potential.  He slugged 20 home runs and hit for a .308 batting average in his senior season for Menlo College, where he transferred from after Cal.  This offensive display paired with his plus-plus arm strength that was showcased by his 95 mph fastballs as Menlo’s closer led to him being selected in the second round by the Brewers. 

While he struggles at times with his approach at the plate, his power will always give him a good chance to be a middle of the order type guy for the Giants.  While the Giants have Evan Longoria signed through 2023, with Zaidi now at the helm it is a safe bet that he won’t finish his contract in a Giants uniform which would open a whole for Erceg to fill.

Here is Erceg sending a ball to the moon in his first major league spring training with the Brewers: Erceg Grandslam

As you can see, he has the power needed for the new-era hitter.  He trains at Driveline Baseball in Seattle and is a forward thinker when it comes to hitting analytics. This may be an appealing aspect of Erceg’s game to Farhan Zaidi who is a big believer in the new collection of data and utilizing it to develop players.

While both prospects are very promising, it would be up to the Giants scouts to determine which player they like more and the coaches to determine which guy would be a more useful piece of the puzzle moving forward.  Hiura would most likely be harder to wrestle away from the Brewers, but there have been rumors that the Brewers are trying to produce a homegrown third baseman so if that’s the case it is possible that they value Erceg more than Hiura.

While completing these trades will not make the Giants win 3 out of 5 World Series rings like they recently did, it will help to speed up their needed rebuild.  These deals paired with a potential Bumgarner trade that I discussed Here, could replenish the organization’s farm system that is currently one of the worst in the entire Major Leagues.

 

Photo credit to mlbtraderumors.com

 

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