Giants make 3 trades, but this deadline ushered in 3 years of doldrums in the NL West – The Athletic

Giants make 3 trades, but this deadline ushered in 3 years of doldrums in the NL West - The Athletic
Written by admin sati

SAN FRANCISCO — Farhan Zaidi took a seat in the broadcast booth and put on a headset in the top of the second inning Tuesday night. Duane Kuiper was to his right. Mike Krukow was to his left. The baseball team that Zaidi assembled, and chose not to disassemble when the trade deadline chimed a few hours earlier, spread across the field in front of him.

There were a lot of uncomfortable silences.

LaMonte Wade Jr. froze on a pop-up and came up empty on a diving attempt. Austin Slater couldn’t make a sliding catch on a ball the Dodgers’ fifth-best defensive outfielder probably snags standing up. Slater bobbled a ball for an error and threw without purpose to the plate. Alex Wood whizzed a pickoff attempt into center field. There was a walk and a hit batter and a couple of sacrifice flies that probably kept the inning out of mercy-rule territory. The Dodgers scored four runs. Zaidi didn’t make it to the third out.

“Thanks for stopping by, Farhan,” Kuiper said.

It might have been the lowest point in the four-year tenure of this baseball operations administration. It was a day that saw the San Diego Padres harvest from their ample farm system to acquire a generational player, Juan Soto, who likely will impact a minimum of three pennant races. It saw the Dodgers further adorn their constellation of stars with Joey Gallo. The Giants by now should’ve had the pieces to be movers and shakers at this trade deadline.

Instead, the biggest action date on baseball’s calendar provided a rude awakening. The Giants simply didn’t have the players whom other teams valued. Not in the minor-league system to put together a competitive offer for Soto. Not the major-league players who would’ve brought meaningful hope for the future.

Every trade deadline, some contending clubhouses will add wind to their sails and others will feel deflated by inactivity. This one felt like it ushered in three years of doldrums on the shores of McCovey Cove.

Barely 10 months after every cosmic cylinder clicked in a franchise-record 107-win season and the Giants clinched an NL West title, they found themselves completely and totally outflanked by the two behemoths in their division. They neither advanced nor retreated at the deadline, and the three minor deals they completed sent no coherent message. You can’t thread the needle when you’re all out of thread.

They engaged with the Nationals about Soto, Zaidi said. They were willing to discuss any player on their major-league roster or in their minor-league system. But without enough prospect sheen in what has been a difficult development year, they didn’t have the right pieces to create a match. So you’re left with whatever consolation it means that they tried, just like when they tried to sign Bryce Harper and tried to convince Giancarlo Stanton to waive his no-trade clause.

“Obviously, the Nationals gravitated to the package with the players they liked the best,” Zaidi said.

So the Giants closed up shop on a couple of reclamation projects, Matthew Boyd (to the Mariners) and Trevor Rosenthal (to the Brewers), while acknowledging the playoff probabilities made those players more valuable elsewhere as potential contributors in September. They dealt Darin Ruf for another right-handed platoon bat, J.D. Davis, who owns a third baseman’s glove and offers a speck more defensive versatility. One of the three pitchers they got from the Mets, lefty Thomas Szapucki, could help in the bullpen right away. They added another potential future relief arm for injured catcher Curt Casali, which meant taking the training wheels off what has been a rough ride behind the plate with rookie Joey Bart. Zaidi characterized the Casali trade with Seattle as a vote of confidence in Bart, and as if on cue Tuesday night, the former No. 2 overall pick offered a twinkle of hope. He tagged a home run and reached on a deft bunt single and threw out a runner at second base and even stopped a speeding bullet with his bare hand in the Giants’ 9-5 loss to the Dodgers.

But in the final accounting, the Giants couldn’t say they bolstered their roster nor could they say they folded tents. They didn’t even turn a payroll spade to bury a dead contract or two (Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, Patrick Corbin) and extract a few prospects in return. They whipped up a meal that satisfied no one.

You might use the phrase “colossally underwhelming.” When I asked Zaidi to characterize the team’s strategy, I went with the more civil “mixed message.”

“I don’t see it as a mixed message,” Zaidi said. “We think we can compete with the guys we have here. We think we’re very much in the race. We think we have a group of guys that can continue to fight for a spot in the playoffs. My sense walking around the clubhouse is relief because no matter what the reality is, when you’re a player, you just don’t know what to expect. You could get a call at any moment. I think a little of that stress and anxiety has been lifted and we’ve got a group that is feeling loose and happy to be here, and hopefully gives us a boost.”

To Zaidi’s credit, the Giants’ rotation ranks fifth in the majors in Wins Above Average. No team is better at suppressing home runs or getting groundballs. Because of their inconsistent to downright dreadful defensive performance, what should be leveraged as their greatest team strength has instead become their greatest liability. But that strength is still intact. Maybe center field dynamo Bryce Johnson will get a chance to escape Triple-A Sacramento over these final two months. Maybe the roster will stabilize with a healthier Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria and Joc Pederson in the next week to 10 days.

“We know a hot two weeks can turn it around,” Zaidi said, “just like a bad two weeks put us in this position.”

If that seems like unfounded sunshine from one of the game’s most pragmatic thinkers, well, what else did you expect him to say?

Uncomfortable silence wasn’t an option.

“We play with what we got,” Carlos Rodón said. “It’s not going to be easy, as you know. But still no excuses.

“It’s over, which is good. We’re here. Let’s try to frickin’ win. Might as well do it, and not just show up for no reason.”

Let’s try to frickin’ win. Might as well. Print the T-shirts now.

As the minutes counted down to the 3 p.m. PT deadline, one contender after another addressed their needs in the rotation. The Phillies got Noah Syndergaard. The Cardinals got Jordan Montgomery. The Yankees had acquired Frankie Montas a day earlier at a more affordable prospect cost than what the Mariners had sacrificed to get Luis Castillo a day before that.

And the Giants held on to Rodón, who might be superior to all of them — at least for the nine or 10 turns through the rotation that remain this season. Rodón’s 39.1 percent strikeout rate is the fifth highest among major-league starters and his 1.4 percent home run rate is the fifth lowest. He’s the god of FIP. There might not be a more overpowering starting pitcher, on the trade market or otherwise, in the league.

But several potential suitors had reservations about the opt-out clause that Rodón vested when he reached 110 innings in July, allowing him to walk away from a $22.5 million salary and become a free agent after this season. He’s on the cusp of a $100 million contract this winter. The only reason he wouldn’t opt out is if he blows out in his remaining starts, and an acquiring team would be relieving the Giants of that risk. Whether the concern was legitimate, or partly a convenient way for teams to try to drive down the cost, it probably impacted the quality of the offers. And like Madison Bumgarner in 2019, the Giants weren’t going to move Rodón unless they received a compelling package of major-league or league-adjacent talent in return.

“We explored everything,” Zaidi said. “There were scenarios that would have involved us maybe taking a little bit of a step back this year. And in the end, nothing made sense. We’re always juggling the present and the future.”

Both of those seem like sharp objects at the moment. For now, Rodón said staying put suits him just fine.

“Great, I don’t have to go anywhere,” he said. “Fortunately, I get to stay here with my teammates, so it’s nice.”

It’ll be nice for agent Scott Boras if the Giants fall further out of contention, which will enable them to further groom the ski run for Rodón over his final starts. No pushing the pitch counts in a must-win game, no stressful postseason assignments, no short-rest scenarios. And both parties will be motivated to make sure he ends the season healthy. The Giants were burned by an opt-out refusal a few years back when Johnny Cueto required Tommy John surgery. They weren’t able to pass along that same risk to a contender this time around.

Beyond the Giants, it wasn’t the greatest day for the other NL West teams not named the Padres or Dodgers. The Diamondbacks announced that Druw Jones, the No. 2 overall pick who just signed for more than $8 million, will undergo surgery to repair a damaged labrum in his shoulder after he injured himself while taking batting practice for the first time in his pro career. And the Rockies, the one team that made zero trades prior to the deadline, just placed Kris Bryant on the IL for the third time this season.

The Dodgers have Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner, among others. The Padres have Soto to pair with Fernando Tatís Jr. and Manny Machado.

Then again, the Giants had Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda together for eight years and finished in first place only once. Bet you never believed that would be an encouraging thought for Giants fans. But despondency does strange things to people.

(Photo of Gabe Kapler: Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

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