Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the Giants. A year after winning the Wild Card game, they’ve got the worst record in baseball and, as of right now, a 7% chance of making the playoffs. They’ve lost their ace to a foolish dirt-bike accident, and their starters at shortstop and center field, as well as their closer, are on the DL. They’ve scored the second-fewest runs of any team, and their run differential of -69 makes that even worse. It’s May 10th and the Giants may already be dead.
Teams this far out of the playoff picture typically make the most of it by offloading pieces to contenders in exchange for prospects. It’s much too early in the year for theoretical contenders to be pushing their chips to the center of the table just yet, but it’s not too early for them to be surveying the shape of the market. Unfortunately for both buyers and San Francisco, the Giants may not have many pieces to pick over.
Players who get moved at midseason usually don’t have much time remaining on their contracts before they hit free agency. They’re guys who may not be around when the selling team is making its next playoff run — or whom the club can otherwise afford to replace. The Giants have pretty much their entire core under contract for next year. Only Hunter Pence and possibly Denard Span (depending on how the Giants decide to handle his option) will leave for free agency following 2018’s conclusion. They’ll have Bumgarner back at full strength next year, and in the unlikely event that Johnny Cueto doesn’t opt out, he’ll be there, too. If Cueto does opt out, this upcoming free-agent class doesn’t lack for premium starting pitching, on which the Giants have repeatedly shown themselves willing to spend.
That’s all a somewhat roundabout way of saying that the Giants don’t exactly have a ton of expendable trade chips at the moment. This season doesn’t look like the start of an irreparable decline as much as it looks like a rather large bump in the road. There’s no reason the Giants can’t be competitive next year, even if they do lose Cueto. But barring a massive resurgence and excellent play from their currently injured players, the Giants aren’t going anywhere this year, and they’re not really in a position to better prepare themselves for the future.
San Francisco has two notable players in their walk years: Matt Moore and Eduardo Nunez. The latter broke out in a big way last year, but has struggled to a 66 wRC+ thus far. He certainly becomes much more interesting if he starts to hit again. Even if he does, though, it’s hard to imagine the Giants getting much of worth for him. Moore is in a somewhat similar situation in that he hasn’t been pitching well, but he does have two club options on his current deal that could keep him out of free agency until after the 2019 season. Left-handers are always in demand, and he could be moved if he finds a groove.
Cueto could also be moved if the Giants anticipate that he’ll opt out, but that’s a much more complicated situation. San Francisco would be forfeiting the chance to put a qualifying offer on Cueto, and potential buyers could be wary of taking a chance on him, knowing that he’d be much more likely to opt in if he gets hurt following the trade. The acquiring team would then be saddled with a rather large payroll commitment for the future.
Theres no slam-dunk trade candidate here. The Giants could theoretically dangle someone like Hunter Strickland, who’s having himself a fine year. He’s cheap and controllable, though, and San Francisco would surely like to have him around if and when they try to contend in 2018. There’s a caveat with almost every player. The Giants are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now, caught in a limbo that was nearly unforeseeable. The struggles of the team weren’t initially surprising, but the Madison Bumgarner injury opened an even deeper wound, one that couldn’t have come at a worse time given Cueto’s possible departure at season’s end. The Giants can still make a run at contention next year, but it’ll be much harder without Cueto around. This was to be their last real hurrah, with the two aces forming the backbone of the team. Instead, they’ve been crippled.
Flipping pieces from the big-league roster for prospects is the one meager silver lining of a bad season. The Giants may not even be able to do that. They’ll need all that they can salvage for next year, and their expendable assets are performing too poorly to capitalize on. It’s unfortunate, seeing as they had just two prospects on our pre-season top 100 list (one of whom has already made his debut). The Giants lack minor-league depth, and it’s one of the reasons they’re in bad shape. It’s the reason they’re sending Nunez to have adventures in left field, and why Gorkys Hernandez is still being run out in center field despite already amassing -0.7 WAR on the year.
This may just be a long, arduous slog of a season for San Francisco.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.