The Giants made two acquisitions Tuesday evening, signing pitcher Kevin Gausman to a one-year contract and acquiring infielders Zack Cozart and Will Wilson from the Los Angeles Angels for future considerations.
These moves aren’t quite as earth-shattering as the Gerrit Cole signing, but both have short term upside for the Giants, which is consistent with the team’s goal of not completely gutting the roster while rebuilding.
Kevin Gausman is a long-term favorite of mine, and the $9 million the Giants will pay him in 2020 strikes me as a reasonable risk to take given the upside he represents. His stint with the Braves in 2019 is one he’d be happy to forget thanks to the 3-7, 6.19 ERA line he put up in 16 starts. It’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that his 4.20 FIP was nearly two runs better than his actual ERA, which was inflated by a .344 BABIP. Gausman’s strikeout rate had faded in recent years, dipping to a lackluster 7.3 K/9 in 2018, so his 9.6 K/9 in Atlanta was roughly a 30% improvement, which generally portends pleasant results rather than what actually happened.
When looking at Gausman’s 2019 hit data, the ZiPS projection system expects a BABIP of .309 rather than his actual .334. That’s still on the high side, but is enough to drop his batting average against in Atlanta from .290 to .252. Batters actually had the lowest exit velocity against Gausman since 2015 at 86.9 mph, which partially explains why even a struggling Gausman didn’t see his homer rate tick up.
I’ve long been of the belief that Gausman needs an effective breaking pitch to be a consistent No. 2 starter, and he’s been through an array of sliders and curves over his major league career. Gausman’s 2019 improved once he moved to the bullpen in Cincinnati, as he struck out nearly 12 batters a game to go along with a 3.17 FIP while nearly exclusively throwing his fastball and fosh. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, the fosh is a slower flavor of splitter, perhaps best described as a split-fingered changeup. This was Mike Boddicker’s bread-and-butter in the 1980s; as an Orioles fan growing up during that period, it may be one of the reasons I feel so warmly about Gausman.
The only thing the Giants are risking here is money. Nine million dollars isn’t enough to stop them from re-signing Madison Bumgarner or another pitcher, and ZiPS projects Gausman to have the best 2020 ERA of any starting pitcher currently employed by the team. This isn’t a case of ZiPS being ZiPS, either; Steamer feels the same way:
As for the Giants other move, the Angels signed Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38 million contract before the 2018 season. To many, myself included, that looked like a solid deal for a player coming off a monster .297/.385/.548, 5.0 WAR line in 2017. But instead of joining Andrelton Simmons and Ian Kinsler to give the Angels the best defensive infield in baseball, Cozart’s suffered continual shoulder problems over the next two years, resulting in multiple surgeries. In 96 games over two seasons, Cozart hit a bleak .190/.261/.296, a line only acceptable for a pitcher. With the roster expanding to 26 players in 2020, the Giants may carry both Cozart and Donovan Solano as backup infielders.
Cozart will earn $12.67 million in 2020, about $12 million more than he’d make as a free agent, so the Angels naturally had to include an enticement to get the Giants to pick up every last cent. This enticement comes in the form of Will Wilson, the Angels’ first-round pick out of NC State in 2019. Wilson has a very limited professional record, so I consulted with my colleague Eric Longenhagen, who shared his report from the Giants’ top prospects list, which was revised to reflect the trade (Wilson checks in at seventh, with a 45 FV):
Wilson was not a traditional first round talent based on visual evaluations. He’s a relatively projectionless, medium-framed infielder without a clear plus tool, and he lacked the strikeout-to-walk ratios first round collegiate players usually exhibit. But, his hands work great in the box, his swing is as compact as his frame (making it possible for him to get on top of high fastballs), he tracks breaking balls very well, and he was very young for a college player, still just 20 on draft day. Some scouts on the amateur side wanted him to catch in pro ball and thought he had the toughness to do it. Others think he’ll be a fine second or third base defender with a balanced, stable offensive profile. There is very likely limited ceiling here, probably something close to an average regular, but Wilson is also a fairly high probability contributor because of his bat-to-ball skills and defensive profile.
Our methodology would value a prospect with 45 FV at $6 million. But if Wilson can become a 50, there’s a significant bump in the valuation to $28 million. In essence, Wilson pays nearly half of Cozart’s salary without any improvement, and is arguably worth Cozart’s entire salary if his probability of improving to a 50 is at least 38%. San Francisco’s farm system is improving, but it’s still missing depth. This trade enables the Giants to add depth and take a flier on an interesting veteran, costing the team only money or a lower-level prospect.
The lure here for the Angels is fairly obvious. David Fletcher’s emergence and the presence of surprising All-Star Tommy La Stella and Luis Rengifo make even a healthy Cozart expendable. Los Angeles lost the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes to the Yankees, but have plenty of payroll space to turn their sights to Anthony Rendon. The Angels could conceivably — and should — also add one of the remaining starting pitchers even if they land Rendon, who will likely receive over $30 million a year in his next contract. Any time you have Mike Trout on your roster, you’re in a win-now mode, so if clearing Cozart’s contract makes the Angels more willing to sign Rendon and Hyun-Jin Ryu or Rendon and Bumgarner, it’s more than worth losing an interesting prospect in Wilson.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.