Teams that are out of contention usually trade their pending free agents at the trade deadline. The logic is to get something for them before they leave anyway. This season, the Giants did nothing at the trade deadline. Though the Giants will need starting pitchers next season, Ian Kennedy was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Padres — currently closer to Arizona in the standings than are the Giants — for a lot less in return than Javier Lopez. Ian Kennedy has had two mediocre seasons in a row, but he is better than Barry Zito, has some upside, and is still under team control at a reasonable price for two more seasons.
The Giants could have traded Hunter Pence, who has cooled off again, and whose see-the-ball-hit-the-ball approach might not age well. The Giants still would have been able to offer him a long-term contract in the winter if they thought otherwise.
Chad Gaudin is a pending free agent who should not be in next year’s rotation. (Remember in February when bloggers were wondering whether he would make the team as the last man in the bullpen?) His value will never be higher than it is right now. He’s had a nice run, but should we trust it?
That the Giants did nothing should not surprise us. General manager Brian Sabean really values veterans, and it seems as if the success of his relatively young 2012 Giants has not changed his mind. With only a couple of exceptions, he never sells veterans at the trade deadline.
Sabean became the Giants’ general manager before the 1997 season, promptly traded local favorite Matt Williams to the Cleveland Indians for Jose Vizcaino, Julian Tavares and Jeff Kent, and had to defend himself in the local media by declaring, “I am not an idiot.” And he was right. Kent provided the Giants with the strong bat they needed to pair with Barry Bonds, and the Giants would not have a losing season on Sabean’s watch until 2005.
On July 30, 2005, the Giants were 45-57, fourth in the National League West, but only five-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Padres. Sabean did not sell, but bought, sending pitcher Jesse Foppert and backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Randy Winn. Foppert never pitched in the majors again, and the acquisition of Winn allowed Sabean to release the desicated remains of Marquis Grissom. Yet the Giants finished 75-87, in third place, seven games out.
On the morning of July 22, 2006, the Giants were 50-47, leading the West and a half-game ahead of the Diamondbacks. Sabean traded 23-year-old reliever Jeremy Accardo to the Toronto Blue Jays for reliever Vinnie Chulk and Shea Hillenbrand, a 30-year-old first baseman who at his best had been an average hitter (99 OPS+ to that point in his career), but would begin a steep decline after coming to the Giants. The Giants would finish the season 76-85, third in the West, 11-and-a-half games behind the Padres.
On July 31, 2007, the Giants were 47-58, in last place in the West. In what was sold as a move to dump salary, pitcher Matt Morris, one of Sabean’s worst free-agent signings (pre-Zito), was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Rajai Davis and minor-league pitcher Steve MacFarland, who would only pitch 34 innings in the Giants’ minor-league system. Though no Giant starting position player was younger than 32, the Giants would not trade at the deadline Bengie Molina, Ryan Klesko, Ray Durham, Omar Vizquel, Pedro Feliz, Dave Roberts, Randy Winn or Barry Bonds. The Giants finished 71-91, last in the division.
The 2008 Giants were 40-57, in fourth place and eight games behind Arizona, when, on July 20, they traded Ray Durham to the Brewers for minor-league pitcher Steve Hammond, who would never make the majors, and outfielder Darren Ford, who would, but only for 33 games. These Giants would finish 72-90, fourth in the West. Bengie Molina, Omar Vizquel, Aaron Rowand, Dave Roberts, Randy Winn and Rich Aurilia (!) would all finish the year with the team. Winn’s OPS+ was 105. None of the others’ was greater than 98. Molina’s defensive reputation and/or Winn’s usefulness might have returned something in the trade market, even if it was only the prospect equivalent of a lottery ticket. Anything the Giants could have gotten for any of these players would have been worth it. They lost 90 games!
In 2007, Sabean apparently thought the Giants were not flawed but merely unlucky, and that the same lineup, trotted out in 2008, would lead to better results. Young pitchers Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez may have justified some hope, but the Bondsless lineup was bound to be terrible, and it was. The better results amounted to one game in the standings.
Brian Sabean and many others (including me) believed the 2013 Giants would be good. Instead, they have been awful. Perhaps Sabean believes they have just been unlucky, and that if he sticks with them, with a few minor upgrades, they can again contend. But by the end of the 2011 season it was obvious even to Sabean that the team that had won the World Series in 2010 needed major changes to contend again. It’s a pretty risky plan to bring the 2012 world champions back for a third attempt in 2014.
I need to thank my friend Ben. We had lunch yesterday for the first time in too long, and discussed the Giants’ inaction at the trade deadline this year. That conversation got me thinking back beyond this year and led to this post. Ben might not agree with my conclusions here, but he did help me think about the subject more deeply.