For the San Francisco Giants the 2017 off-season starts right now.
The Giants can’t sit back and wait until the end of the World Series in November to start making the hard decisions this team needs to begin to regroup and gear up for the 2018 season and beyond.
The weeks prior to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline give San Francisco’s ownership and front office an early shot to begin the process of tearing down and rebuilding their 25 and 40-man rosters.
And it certainly shouldn’t stop there. After the July 31st non-waiver deadline, there are ongoing opportunities to continue making waiver deals right up to August 31st, the deadline for traded players to be eligible for the playoffs.
One of the Giants’ top priorities should be to severely limit their list of “untouchable” players.
As a result of the Giants’ slap-happy world of fan-player bonding, if any player is traded or released it’s a crushing blow to the fanbase. Heck, a majority of Giant fans still want Tim Lincecum to be re-signed.
The Giants aren’t particularly good at making tough decisions when it comes to player trades, so having to also deal with their fragile fanbase adds another disincentive to the process.
Which players should be untouchable and off the table prior to the July 31st deadline?
Unfortunately that leaves just three other players on the 40-man roster who could bring actual, valuable returns to the San Francisco Giants: 1B Brandon Belt, SS Brandon Crawford, and SP Johnny Cueto.
The consensus is that Cueto will opt out of his current 6-year, $130 million contract (a two-year opt out was part of the deal) and hit the free agent market in November.
Cueto will be looking for a new four or five-year deal in the $24-$25 million per year range.
Since the Giants aren’t going to re-sign him, trading Cueto in the next three weeks is critically important. What you get in return is another issue.
Certainly the Houston Astros and New York Yankees would be at the top of the want-Cueto list, and their top-rated farm systems have the prospects to get that done.
But Johnny Cueto would potentially only be a three-month rental, so look for the Giants’ return in a Cueto trade to be second or third tier prospects.
First baseman Brandon Belt looks like the best trade chip the Giants have in terms of getting a solid return. And the Yankees look like a perfect match.
New York recently designated their everyday first baseman Chris Carter for assignment. Carter put up a mediocre .653 OPS in 62 games for the Yankees this season and his replacement is 26-year-old Ji-Man Choi.
South Korean Choi’s Major League experience consists of 54 games for the LA Angels, and the result was a .611 OPS.
Although the Yankees are deep in the hunt for a starting pitcher, they also need offensive and defensive help at first base. The list of talented prospects in their excellent farm system will allow them to solve both of those issues.
The New York Yankees should make the acquisition of Brandon Belt a top priority, and the Giants should be all in.
Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford presents another problem. After having his best season in 2015 (.782 OPS) and an excellent follow-up last year (.772 OPS), Crawford is struggling at the plate in 2017.
In the new world of so many superstar Major League shortstops, Brandon Crawford’s .641 OPS in the first half of 2017 has hurt his market value. But over the past several seasons he has developed some extra base hit power and his defense is still stellar.
There are several teams who could have interest in Crawford: Baltimore, St. Louis, and Kansas City need shortstop help; and Brandon Crawford could be the solution for Boston or the Yankees at third base.
It remains to be seen what kind of a return Crawford would bring to the Giants, but the point here is they have to make some significant moves if there is any hope of improving.
Significant moves do not include trading the aging Hunter Pence, the struggling Denard Span and his chunky contract, or defensively challenged singles hitter Eduardo Nunez. Even if the Giants could accidentally find teams who would take these players, they wouldn’t bring back an impactful return.
Jeff Samardzija and his bloated 5-year $90 million contract overpay will be difficult to dispose of without eating some salary. But as it was beautifully noted in “The Godfather Part II”, “it would be difficult, but not impossible”.
So who would play first base, shortstop, etc. if significant trades are made?
In fact, it should be the team’s less-valuable players (Nunez, Jarrett Parker, Conor Gillaspie) and their younger, potentially talented players (Kelby Tomlinson, Austin Slater, Jae-gyun Hwang) who should fill in the rest of this lost season.
But the take-away global perspective in all this is: will the Giants stumble along and make a few insignificant deals just for show? Or will the front office and ownership step up and make the tough decisions that demonstrate a true commitment to crafting a championship organization?