Despite what we saw — or didn’t see — in July, Brian Sabean has traded players before. Several times, in fact. And, by and large, his trades have mostly turned out pretty well. One can point to the Hillenbrands and Pierzynskis that floated in the punch bowl as examples of trades that didn’t work out that well (massive understatement), but those are the exceptions. Sabean’s free agents have been hit and miss (literally), and the organization’s recent track record on draft picks outside the first round isn’t stellar, but it’s no coincidence that the Pirates finally pulled themselves out of the muck after they stopped making trades with the Giants.
After falling short of the postseason in 2011, Sabean dealt Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo to the Kansas City Royals for Melky Cabrera in early November. A month later, the Giants shipped Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for Angel Pagan.
The Giants cannot go into the 2014 season without making changes to their roster, and they can’t depend on free agency to fix all their problems. And if they stick pretty close to their 2013 budget, they’ll need to get creative to avoid a repeat of what happened this season.
At least one trade will be made, perhaps more. After the team looked unfocused, complacent and just plain tired at times throughout the season, Sabean probably looks forward to shaking things up a bit, too. However, the Giants will have to give up something to get something. As for what they’ll look for, we all know the problem areas.
- Their current rotation heading into next season: Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain
- Left field
- Depth, depth, depth
And here’s the part where we take our medicine — a short list of players I can see the Giants parting with.
A minor league pitcher
That’s a total cop-out, I know. But I haven’t seen any of them pitch and I have no idea which of these guys the Giants worry about in terms of future arm trouble. But if there’s a surplus in the organization, it’s projectable arms in the lower minors. With Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Edwin Escobar, Adalberto Mejia, Ty Blach, Joan Gregorio, Chris Stratton and Martin Agosta all putting up good numbers, the Giants wouldn’t have a problem finding a trade partner — if they’re willing to risk the inevitable fan blowup if the guy they trade becomes one of the top prospects in baseball (a la Zack Wheeler). On that note, it’s pretty unlikely the Giants part with Crick, since he’s clearly the No. 1 prospect in the system.
Sabean usually likes to deal for veteran relievers. So why would he part ways with Casilla, whose ERA of 2.16 in 2013 lowered his overall ERA in four years with the Giants to 2.21?
- He missed some time due to injury in 2013.
- He’s set to make $9.5 million over the next two seasons.
- His strikeout rate dipped from 7.8 per nine innings in 2011 and 2012 to 6.8 in 2013.
- His walk rate (4.5) was his highest since 2009, his last year pitching for the A’s.
So why would another team want Casilla? He has experience as a closer, the ERA is damned impressive, and his velocity is exactly where it was back in 2007 on the fastball, while his slider has gotten faster.
Not that it matters for the purposes of this post, but wow those 2010 numbers. Casilla’s average velocity was higher than Brian Wilson’s (96.60) that season. However, 94 on the fastball and a high-80s slider would get the job done for any team that needs help in the back of their bullpen.
The Giants need a backup catcher. Their best candidate is and has been Sanchez ever since they parted ways with Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart, but Sanchez’s game is so raw. He needs to start, but the Giants can’t just leave him in Fresno. Sanchez gets a lot of flack around here for not being Buster Posey, but there might be some teams out there that wouldn’t mind bringing in a 24-year-old switch-hitting catcher who, despite his weaknesses behind the plate, seems to be a guy several of the Giants’ pitchers have enjoyed or even preferred working with. Most of this depends on Posey, of course. If Posey wants to catch for several more years (and it sure sounds like he does), the Giants might be better off getting something for Sanchez this offseason and bringing in a veteran backup catcher as a bridge to Andrew Susac.
Including Belt on this list is going to upset/annoy/enrage some, maybe even cause people to throw small- and medium-sized objects at me. Relax, I’ve been in Belt’s corner since 2011. It’s not that I want the Giants to trade Belt, but I don’t think he’s on the list of untouchables, either. After Belt hit .346/.407/.576 over the last two months of the season, the Giants could decide that trading Belt now would be selling high.
The Giants have put a lot of work and time into Belt’s development, however. That could be a reason why they’d want to keep him around, besides the reasons that are obvious — he’s young, cheap and good.
“Sometimes players are reluctant to make a change or adjustment or tweak in their swing when they’ve had success throughout their career, whether it’s college, minor leagues, and doing okay in the Major Leagues. But it’s all about getting better and going to the next level,” Bochy said in a recent interview with Tom Tolbert and Ray Ratto.
“We had talked to him about making these changes and it was hard for him to buy into it. So I get to the point where he was struggling, he was missing a lot of fastballs and I had to pretty much tell him, ‘Hey Brandon, it’s time.’ We were in Philadelphia. We called up Brett Pill, and I said, ‘I’m going to give you some days off.’ My hammer is, don’t play the guy. If you take away playing time, that helps. But at the same time, he finally came to grips and said, ‘I’m ready. It’s time for me.'”
Bochy talked about how Dominic Brown talked to Belt about how easily and quickly he took to similar adjustments after getting some coaching from Wally Joyner (I think we’re all familiar with that part of the story by now). Then the Giants manager shed a little more light on how how he dealt with Belt.
“I was just honest. I said, ‘Brandon, who else stands in the box like you do, up front all the time? Why not buy a little bit more time?’ And to his credit, he said, ‘You know what, I’m all in on this and I’m ready to try to take it to another level.’ Pill came up and did well and (Belt) had three days off and he felt great. He got in there, hit a home run and was sold right away. His confidence soared. So I think we’re going to see a more consistent player next year, a guy with a lot of confidence and could be our number three hitter all year next year.
“It did take a while (for Belt to make the adjustments) because he really thought that was the way he hit, it’s his style. And he was pretty hardheaded that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be fine doing this.’ But once he made the change he realized how much easier it is to hit with these adjustments.”
Bochy has also mentioned how Belt could play some in left field next season, something the “hardheaded” Belt would probably do without complaint … but might not enjoy. But first base is a pretty easy position to fill compared to most others, even if you don’t believe the rumors that the Giants are the favorites to land Jose Dariel Abreu, the 26-year-old power-hitting first baseman from Cuba.
Belt is probably sticking around, and you can say the same for every other player I mentioned. But the Giants can’t just re-sign every one of their own free agents and call it an offseason. If they want to fill some holes and add a bit of a jolt to a team that could probably use it, Sabean will probably need to make up for a 2013 trade deadline where nothing happened at all.