The Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants have been two of the most successful franchises of the last decade, with a combined nine playoff appearances, five World Series appearances, and three titles — all to the Giants — but both teams had disappointing seasons this past year and face uncertain futures. Each was connected to a trade earlier this offseason for a major, high-salaried player — Giancarlo Stanton in the Giants’ case, Zack Greinke in the Rangers’ — although neither deal came to fruition.
Neither team’s strategy has been readily apparent. After a deal on Friday, however, their paths forward have become a bit more clear, even if neither club’s intentions appear crystallized.
- LHP Matt Moore
- $750,000 of the Giants’ international bonus pool
The main piece in the deal, Matt Moore was a part of an underachieving rotation in San Francisco last season. Johnny Cueto couldn’t repeat his great 2016 campaign, and Madison Bumgarner missed a chunk of the season due to an off-field injury. Matt Moore was pretty good in 2016, putting up an ERA and FIP right around four — including an even better 3.53 FIP in his partial stint in San Francisco — and completed that season with average numbers and a 2.3 WAR. After that, though, his velocity dipped — by more than 1 mph on his fastball. His swinging-strike percentage declined down from 10.4% in 2016 to 8.6% last year, and batters made contact on 90% of swings in the zone, his worst career mark.
Moore’s problems didn’t come and go, either. He recorded neither an ERA nor FIP below 4.40 for any one month of the season. There wasn’t a whole lot of bad luck, either, his xwOBA of .352 coming pretty close to his actual wOBA of .358, per Baseball Savant.
Still, Moore’s salary is reasonable. His contract possesses a $9 million option for 2018 and $10 million option for 2019 (with a $750,000 buyout). If the 28-year-old rebounds to his 2016 levels, the Rangers have a cheap fourth or fifth starter for two years. The minor leaguers given up by the club aren’t highly regarded, and the $750,000 in pool money received by Texas will enable them to sign more potential prospects. For a team with a weak rotation, this was an easy move to make. Where it leaves the Rangers overall, though, isn’t as easy to tell.
Right now, the Rangers rotation consists of Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Doug Fister, Mike Minor, and Matt Moore, with Matt Bush potentially converting to a starting tole. Clayton Blackburn represents the best of the bunch after that. According to FanGraphs’ Depth Chart projections, that group gives the Rangers the 25th-best rotation in baseball. The optimistic view of the rotation sees a 34-year-old Cole Hamels bouncing back to form; a breakout performances from Martin Perez, who’s still just 26; a re-emergence of the 2016 version of Matt Moore; and the 2013 versions of Doug Fister and Mike Minor (although the 2017 version of Mike Minor was worth as much as an average starter in fewer than half the innings).
That outcome would probably result in about 15 wins from the rotation, which would sneak the club just inside the top 10. Of course, it isn’t a very likely outcome. Texas is throwing a bunch of options at the wall to see what sticks. If too many pieces don’t, however, then the Rangers are going to fall out of contention pretty quickly.
Signing a bunch of pitchers to cheap deals makes a lot of sense for a team about to rebuild. The Rangers only have around $130 million committed to next season right now, about $35 million shy of where they were last season and a mark they haven’t failed to surpass in five years. At the end of the year, Adrian Beltre becomes a free agent. Cole Hamels features a buy-out option for the last year of his contract. The Rangers have less than $75 million committed to their 2019 roster.
Right now, Texas is an ace away from emerging as a legitimate Wild Card contender. That’s why the Zack Greinke talks made a lot of sense. It could also be that the Rangers see the Astros as far and away the best team in the division, and they feel it’s best to tread water for a year, let Joey Gallo and Willie Calhoun grow, get Leodys Taveras a year closer to the majors, and then reload with all of their available money for 2019. They couldn’t really be faulted if that were the case, but if they were really interested in putting the best team on the first next season, they would have bolstered their starting pitching with more certainty and production.
Like the Rangers, the Giants are probably one big addition away from considering themselves real contenders for the Cild Card next season. The path to the play-in game looks easier in the National League than the American League, with Boston and New York favored for two playoff spots in the latter. The Giants might or might not have payroll issues, the Moore trade possibly representing a salary dump. Of the prospects the Giants received, only Wolff — a soon-to-be 27-year-old righty reliever who pitched well across Double-A and Triple-A — appear among MLB Pipeline’s top-30 Giants prospects, and he ranked just 27th. He did strike out nearly a third of the minor-league batters he faced last season, so there is some reason to think he might contribute in a major-league bullpen at some point soon. As for Israel Cruz, he’s a 20-year-old righty who has yet to advance past Rookie ball. He’s struck out a lot of batters and kept his FIP low by limiting home runs, but the competition level isn’t great. Either way, he’s a project.
Cot’s currently lists the Giants tax payroll at around $179 million, roughly $18 million below the tax line. If the Giants want to make that big move, they might need to unload one more contract, perhaps paying down some of Hunter Pence’s deal. They could trade Jeff Samardzija, but that would just make them worse and no closer to contention. Maybe they swap Brandon Belt for Jackie Bradley, Jr., leaving an opening at first base. Lorenzo Cain might be a fit. They could try to sign a free-agent pitcher, too. They are going to need to reduce more salaries if they want to stay under the cap and contend next season. Given his 2017 performance, the departure of Matt Moore likely doesn’t affect San Francisco’s on-field prospects at the moment and helps their ability to potentially make a meaningful move for the team.
This trade puts both the Rangers and the Giants slightly closer to their goals. Both teams need to do a lot more, though — either this offseason or next — to put themselves comfortably in the role of contenders for a playoff spot. Both teams are unfortunately stuck behind great teams in their division, which cuts down their paths to the playoffs. Trying to walk the line of contention without significantly hurting the future puts them both in tough spots to make positive decisions.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.