Wow, go on a short break and things just fall apart: the Giants have been stumbling greatly since the ASB. I was going to write on the decline of both Cueto and Samardzija as the season progressed, but given the trades made, to address this great decline overall for the team, I felt that took precedence.
The trades made:
- Eduardo Nunez, utility infielder for the Twins, was acquired for LHP Aldaberto Mejia
- Will Smith, LHP reliever for the Brewers, was acquired for RHP Phil Bickford and C Andrew Susac
- Matt Moore, LHP starter for the Rays, was acquired for 3B Matt Duffy (Duffman!), SS Lucius Fox (Batman!), and RHP Michael Santos
A series of stunning trades made it imperative for me to write on this although I have had a splitting headache in the afternoon for days now. I'm going to take a few different perspectives on the trades, both individually and on the whole.
The big picture is that the Giants boosted three key areas with these moves:
- Lead-off: you know Nunez, the new starting 3B (but he could be moved to LF, or around the diamond as a super-utility guy, in 2017), will get the leadoff spot sooner or later, he's been hitting well, as well as stealing a lot more bases than either Span (who was acquired to do this) or Pagan (who used to do this). Bochy does not tolerate non-performance now that we are entering the stretch run, and once Nunez earns Bochy's trust, he'll be up there. And he fits the mode of players the Giants acquire in recent years: makes good contact, which keeps their BA pretty high, plus they can take walks, leading to high OBP.
- LH relief: I love Osich, but he's been up and down, plus now on the DL once again. The Giants have missed Affeldt's steady goodness that they had had since 2009, plus Lopez has had a down year. They had to get a LH reliever to fill the void. Will Smith does that in spades, in a way that modern bullpens are made today: in the three seasons where he has been established as a reliever, he has a 11.9 K/9 and 3.11 K/BB, great numbers all around.
- Starting Pitching: It has not been made clear yet whose spot Moore takes over (wrote this before announcement), but I'm pretty sure it is Peavy, who has not really pitched well since his June 24th start, 6.14 ERA in 6 starts. Historically, he would stumble in the early part of the season, then become a quality start (per PQS) machine for most of the second half. Whether it be the distraction of the theft of some $30-40M from his investments by a crooked investment advisor, or old age, or both, the Giants couldn't sit on that while Cueto (4.26 ERA in last 6 starts; I warned of over working him at start of season), Samardzija (6.29 ERA in last 11 starts; 7.09 ERA in last 7 starts), and Cain (who just got back off DL, had two poor starts before a Cain-esque start) also have their ups and downs. I assume Peavy becomes the new long reliever, but we'll see. Plus, given his way of throwing, being able to give his all in 1 IP vs. 5-6 IP might give him enough extra gas to make him a very effective reliever, as he's already good at keeping his walks down.
In addition, all three are under 30, and the Giants control the pitchers to 2019, and Nunez to 2017, but probably they will sign him to a 2-3 year deal after this season, and use him as a rover around the diamond eventually.
To get these players, we gave up only one major leaguer, Matt Duffy, who has been having a sophomore slump type of year, but I had noticed that he had a very high BABIP last season (.336), which players with speed and/or hard contact can keep aloft, but the question was whether he was enough of either. So far this year, not so much. I feel sad as a fan, but part of me feels that the Giants sold high on him.
We also gave up Andrew Susac, who lost his backup MLB job both to injury and poor performance. I felt bad for him because he grew up a Giants fan, but now he gets the chance to see whether he can be an MLB starting C for the Brew Crew. And no one can ever take away his World Series ring he won in 2014, nor his memories of it (Frandsen just missed out because he sulked his way off the team).
We also lost three pretty good prospects in Bickford, Fox, and Mejia. While I like the three (OK, Mejia I've never been that warm to), I didn't view any of them to be sure things in the majors, at this moment. While surprising that Bickford was not the key future piece in the Duffy trade, looking at the trades overall, only Bickford appears to be one to put a pit into Giants fans' stomachs, but given the commentary that Bickford is viewed by many as a future reliever, that could ease much of that pain. And again, overall, to get a good MLB middle rotation starter at a great cost-controlled contract for 3+ years, you would expect to give up someone like Bickford.
That he wasn't part of that particular trade, isn't germane in the big picture, in my view. I would shuffle the trades in this way to make more sense: Nunez for Susac; Smith for Fox and Mejia; Moore for Duffy, Bickford, Santos. This don't make as much sense for the Brewers, but just in terms of value given up for value received, from the Giants fans' viewpoint, these, I think, were better matches, in terms of making sense.
I like the trades, I like the upgrades. As Kuiper said about the Duffy trade, to get something good, you need to give something good. I like Duffy and Susac, plus the prospects, but I think Nunez gives us a leadoff hitter as well as defensive flexibility in that he can play SS, 2B, 3B, and I read LF somewhere as well, Moore upgrades the rotation for the next 3+ years, and Smith replaces what we've lost in handling lefties.
Nunez for Mejia: I've never liked Mejia much as a prospect, though I was warming up to him this season because his K/9 went up some, leading to pretty good K/BB ratios. But if you look over his seasonal stats, his high point in IP is 108 back in 2014, though he's about to pass that up this season. For one reason or another, he has never been able to stay in uniform long enough to get his IP high enough to become a major league starter. Given how cautious most teams are, he won't get up past 180 IP for another 2-3 seasons (assuming he has another stumble in health or stupidity with drugs along the way). So the best we could hope from him near-term is relief.
For that, we got Nunez, who has been a good contact hitter, learning his way in the majors, and has speed, and some pretty good power as well. He's going to be great anywhere we play him, at least offensively. Defensively, he's horrible in the infield, but he's been average in the OF (probably because of his speed). So he could be our LF next season, and be a pretty good player for us, who could play infield for us, in a pinch, as needed. Or he could finally be the super-utility guy the Giants have been looking for (though his very poor infield defense hurts his value in this usage).
Great trade, as well as Mejia has done this season, he still looks, at best, to be a back of rotation starter by most estimations, and still not for a number of years yet, and for that, we got someone who not only could be our lead-off hitter for the next few years, but can play a number of positions, though ideally he's our LF, from a defensive value viewpoint, in 2017 and beyond. That would mean that Mac and Jarrett will be our bench OF next year as well, and perhaps the Giants have made that call already, will be interesting to see what happens.
Smith for Susac and Bickford: Smith has beautiful stats for a reliever. Last 3 seasons, 3.28 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 11.9 K/9, 3.11 K/BB, his main problem is he walks too many, at 3.8 BB/9, but a high K/9 leads to a high K/BB, so that is totally tolerable. He's been OK against RHH, good against LHH, and really good against RHH the past two seasons, while so-so against LHH, but that could be due to SSS that happens 1) to relievers and 2) facing LHH. As much as I like (love?) Osich, Smith gives us a steady Loogy type we can go to, and the hybrid proto-closer set-up man that Affeldt excelled in. If Osich can figure things out, and more importantly, stay healthy, we could have two of them.
We gave up a lot, but nothing critical. Susac has been injured so much, I'm ready to move on, and wish him all the best getting to start for the Brewers, hopefully some day. Bickford I was surprised by because of how well he's been doing for us in the minors. Given the Giants history of being pretty good at keeping the good pitchers and trading the rest, have to think that this means that the Giants do not think that Bickford will figure out enough pitches to become a starting pitcher in the majors, that he'll be no more than a great reliever, in a couple of years or so. Even if he were able to figure it out and be a starter, he wouldn't reach the majors for at least another two years, if not three, by which time, he'll be still only 24YO.
Fair trade, giving up value now (Susac as starting C) and later (Bickford as good reliever, perhaps starter) to control a very good asset, who I suspect will essentially become our new Affeldt-type of set-up LH reliever who can shut down both RH and LH batters. Anyone who appreciates what Affeldt had done for us from 2009 to 2014 should appreciate this deal.
Moore for Duffy, Fox, Santos: Moore had been a good pitcher for a couple of years, interrupted by his TJS. His stats are not overwhelming, however, given his status, prior to injury, as Ace of the Rays staff. And really, that status was a bit overblown, as his one great year, 2013, was totally driven by his extremely low and unsustainable .263 BABIP that he had that year (career BABIP of .289 suggests that he mostly regresses to the mean as a pitcher).
I think the positives are multi-fold though. One is that even with his poor pitching over the past two seasons, his career ERA+ is still good at 101. I think his 2012 season and 3.81 ERA is representative of his skill set, and I would view most of his struggles since TJS to the adjustment pitchers need to do after TJS. Another is that with a 3.88 ERA in the AL, his ERA should drop into the 3.6's in the NL, and perhaps better since he faced the high offenses in the AL East more often, plus AT&T helps out LHP much more than RHP, all that combined should improve his stats here with the Giants. An oft mentioned benefit is that the Dodgers have not done well at all against LHP, and with Moore being slotted in after Cueto, pushing Samardzija into Peavy's #4 spot, ensures that at least one LHP will face LA in each series we play against them (I believe there are 3 more series left).
Some have mentioned his low ERA recently, but that's with extreme low BABIP (.220-something) that is not sustainable. I think the view should be that we are getting someone who slots in the middle of the rotation well, with the upside that his contract is very cost-controlled for what he can do and now that he's in Righetti and Gardner's hands, what they can do with his skill set, as a lefty with recent 93 MPH stuff and only 27 YO (though still 2 months older than Bumgarner).
This is an indictment, however, of the SP prospects that we currently have in the minors, since Moore takes the opening of one spot that would open up after Peavy's contract ends after this season. The next rotation spot opening would be Cain's and perhaps Cueto's after the 2017 season. It appears that the Giants have determined that there are probably not one prospect SP who would be ready to take a rotation spot for the 2017 season (meaning they don't think Blackburn, Beede, Blach, Mejia, Bickford, or Stratton are near ready yet), and this move punts the decision forward to 2018.
This is also an indictment, in my opinion, of Fox's abilities to make an impact in the majors. He has done horribly so far in Augusta, albeit, it is only his 18 YO season per Baseball-Reference. One respected analyst feels that there are still a lot of positives to Fox as a prospect, and that is probably a large part of the story line selling this deal to Rays fans, getting the $6M (nearly $12M considering the penalty) bonus baby but one rumor notes that the Rays supposedly will throw in money to cover some of his bonus). But the Giants under Sabean has very rarely traded away a prospect who then became a very good player, they have mostly known who to keep and who to trade (their infamous "Do Not Trade" list that Sabean has supposedly been keeping on our prospects). Nobody's perfect, but ultimately, I wouldn't bet against Sabean.
Michael Santos, to me, is a throw-in SP to balance out getting an All-Star ace like Moore. They had to get a replacement of some sort, even if off in the future. He's a nice SP prospect, but he's not a strikeout machine, he's a control pitcher who has been excellent in keeping his BB/9 low (very low this year), and each step up the ladder will be that much harder. That is why he was kept in Augusta this season even though he did OK last season, his K/9 was woefully low, and even this season, not that high, given that he still needs to get through Advanced A, AA, and AAA to reach the majors.
Duffy is the piece that makes losing Moore palatable to the Rays and their fans. He's the value to make up for giving up Moore, mostly, with Fox being the possible shiny golden future for this deal. He will be the starting SS for the Rays when he's back from rehabbing from his injury. That makes him a more valuable trade piece in the Rays eyes then, than getting him as a starting 3B (and, you know, Longoria), although this is just a trial to see how he handles being the starting SS, nothing is set in stone.
The question is whether he's the Duffy of 2015 (and his upper minors performances) or the Duffy of 2016, who has improved in some key ways, but not in the way of overall OPS performance, particularly in terms of power. In any case, he produced a lot of value already this season from his defense at 3B, and defense is a more reliable value producer, so he is the main get for the Rays to replace Moore's expected value. He guarantees some significant value back to the Rays in this deal, and was key to this deal being made.
And on the Giants side, Nunez can handle 3B for the rest of the season, but Arroyo has been doing well enough in the minors, particularly in the last month. Not that Christian is ready to jump to the majors from AA, but the Giants can ham and egg it at 3B until Arroyo is ready: perhaps Adrianza can keep up his nice hitting this season and, more importantly, avoid the DL going forward, and hold the spot warm for Arroyo.
This is a good trade overall. I still believe in Duffy, but he has some question marks, which are still unanswered. Fox is the nice lottery ticket for the Rays that their fans can dream on to make up for losing their ace, but he's all potential right now, hard to squint and see any sure MLB value yet. Santos could be a nice replacement for Moore down the line, in terms of being a back-end starter, but we need a starter now. So the Giants gave up some nice pieces, but nothing critical to us winning in the near-term.
Moreover, Moore clamps down a rotation spot for the next 3+ seasons, along with Bumgarner and Samardzija, with Cain's contract ending after 2017 and Cueto's too if he takes his player option (and hopefully he will, because that would mean that he pitched great for us in the two years we have him), with the upside that if his arm is back to prior goodness (he's only recently back to 93 MPH, which is where he was in 2013, before his TJS in 2014) that Righetti and gang can figure out how to bring out better performances.
This move was pushed up from the coming off-season (since Peavy's contract was due to expire) to now, I believe, because of the struggles of Cueto, Samardzija, Peavy, and Cain. I was surprised to see all the rumors of chasing SP, but now that I dug into the SP stats, it was clear that they needed to do something. Moore is rightfully the #3 in the rotation based on the past couple of months. And, as to who lost their spot, mostly due to contract size, but also because Cain had a nice last start and showing something, Peavy was the odd man out.
Beyond all that, Peavy made the most sense out of the pitchers not named Bumgarner. While Samardzija has the most relieving experience by far, the Giants invested 5 years and $90M in him to be a SP, not part-time reliever. Plus what it would do to his psyche and ego, if he were sent to the bullpen, as well, has to be a consideration. Cueto has been worse, but not horrible like the others. Cain has been just as bad, but had a very Cain-esque start in his last outing and was Cain-esque before going on the DL, too much promise there to put in the bullpen.
Peavy, on the other hand, in addition to being the only starter not signed to a contract for next season, is the oldest in the bunch and age could be finally getting to him. It is not a good sign that after years of great second half finishes, he's struggling mid-season. On top of that, in recent years, he's been mostly good only in the first time or two around the lineup, it is the third time that gets to him often. In fact, this season, they have been getting to him even earlier, in their second AB. Relieving would eliminate the 1.024 OPS he is giving up in second AB's, and leave the great .685 OPS that he's been dealing to batters in their first AB. On top of that, relieving usually gives the pitcher a 1-2 MPH boost, as he don't need to save some for later anymore, which will help him further. For all those reasons, Peavy made the most sense to go into the bullpen.
All in all, Evans added three key elements that the Giants were missing for a long while. Seems pretty clear now that the Nunez trade was made to facilitate the Moore trade, as probably the Rays were asking for either Panik or Duffy, and the Giants were not moving Panik, so then it became an issue of how to replace Duffy if he's the one going. Nunez allowed the Giants to pivot and make the Duffy-Moore trade.
Whether that is enough to win the NL West, yet to be seen, as the A's helped out the Dodgers by trading Reddick and Hill to them (but wow, Puig optioned to minors! Another Cuban bites the MLB dust!). Still, very good adds, lets see if they can ignite themselves, from these big trades, and get back their big lead, which has dwindled down almost to nothing.
It was at a severe cost - Duffy and Susac from the sentimental view, Bickford, Mejia, and Fox from the prospect view - but if you believe in Sabean and Gang's ability so far to discern who are the must keeps and who are OK to trade (and I do), these are three good trades, nothing blockbuster, but all added key pieces that we have been missing for a long while, good complementary pieces to our core players of Bumgarner, Posey, Pence, Belt, Crawford, Panik, while not giving up the farm to get them. But it will hurt for a long while to lose Duffman.