When the Giants signed Kevin Gausman to a 1-year deal, an immediate bit of speculation is that he might be signed as someone with the chance of improving himself as a Giant, to be traded midseason to a contender that he could help, and net a prospect or two in return. The Giants did it under Zaidi in 2019 with Drew Pomeranz, to a pretty solid result. Of course, 2020 really threw all that up in the air.
On Thursday, just before the season began, baseball threw another wrench in the trade deadline: expanded playoffs. In one way, it could make being a seller at the deadline more difficult. In another way, it could really help any sellers. But, one thing is clear:
If the Giants are going to make any good trades at the Deadline, things will have to go wrong during the season. Very, very wrong.
Under the new expanded playoffs, 16 teams will make the playoffs. That is, of course, more than half of the entire Major Leagues. The way it will work is the top two teams from each division will make it. Then there will be two wild cards in each league based on the best records among non-qualifiers.
Last season, the Giants flirted with competitiveness through the summer. On the verge of breaking through to be a winning team, the trade deadline worked out very differently than anyone predicted at the start of the season. With two major stars as potential free agents who could be traded, in Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, the Giants got close enough to being contenders that Zaidi ultimately chose to hold onto them, instead making other deadline deals (including Pomeranz), that ultimately were pretty impressive (Unloading Melancon’s contract was a masterstroke) but did not have big prospect yields.
Now, with half of the field getting into the playoffs, contending is a much shorter bar to hurdle. You could easily have 20-22 teams believing they can make the playoffs, maybe more.
So, how bad do the Giants have to be to not be contending, and to justify not making trades? Well…very, very, very bad. And they have to be that bad early in the season. Last year’s team was way out of making what an expanded playoffs would’ve been last year, but at the deadline, they were in playoff position, at 55-53, in second place. They went 22-32 the rest of the way to finish a season we’ll remember as being bad, but that positioning at the trade deadline dictated the lack of big trades.
So, if the Giants are going to be sellers, they need to suck early, and suck badly. The trade deadline is Aug. 31st this year.
But…the other side of the coin is, who would the Giants have to trade?
The Giants don’t have any headliners like Bumgarner or Smith from last season, but the truth is, there’s a few players whose contracts expire at the end of 2020.
- Jeff Samardzija – Probably the biggest draw the Giants have. The Shark hasn’t been an ace in a long time, but he’s been a good, reliable pitcher who has been mostly healthy, and would really deepen any team’s playoff rotation. He does have a partial no-trade clause, and is able to pick 8 teams to which he’d accept a trade.
- Tony Watson – Lefty relievers are always a trade resource, but Watson is rarer in that he can get out both RHB and LHB. In fact, his struggles in 2019 came from losing effectiveness against left-handed batters. With the new 3-hitter minimum, a guy like Watson is going to be valuable, if he’s healthy and back to normal.
- Kevin Gausman – As named earlier, Gausman immediately felt like a rehabilitation project after a horrible 2019. He’s thrown well with the Giants in the camps, so there’s a chance he could be like Pomeranz.
- Drew Smyly and Tyler Anderson – I’ll lump these guys under Gausman as they are similar projects on one year deals, but with less early camp results and buzz.
- Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence – Making a trade of either of these guys would raise the ire of some fans, but if either are producing, they might be available from Zaidi.
Notably, lots of pitchers, which is no surprise for this team right now. And this focus was on players whose contracts expire in 2020. I’d expect others could be available, though possibly with very limited interest. None of these guys will evoke all-star like interest. But one thing is working in the Giants favor…The number of Buyers vs. Sellers.
Very simply, there’s not going to be many sellers this season. I can’t say that every team that is contending would be buying, that seems highly unlikely to be a good strategy for everyone. But there won’t be many sellers. Samardzija could be one of the bigger pitching names even available.
In the short view, this might pay off, if the Giants are bad enough to be selling. But the reality is that a good trade might be tough to make regardless. Teams can only trade players in their 60-man pool, which takes away most of the very young guys that are a part of these deals. Players in the pool will be playing essentially behind a curtain, with no scouts or media able to watch and make informed judgements. And teams that make trades will have to keep their assets in their 60-man pool, which means the Giants will need room on the pool and, for really young players, have space of guys they won’t plan to play.
There’s already been a history of thought that midseason trades are getting less and less spectacular, without big prospects always coming back in trades. This year might make it even worse.
Still, the Giants could still get some prospect depth, and maybe a future Giant or two. But if that happens, it will mean this season will have been very, very, very rough to watch.