MLB Trade Deadline

Making case for Giants to buy, sell before MLB trade deadline

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The third Wild Card probably isn't great for baseball. 

There are only six teams above .500 in the National League, yet only two -- the Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies -- really have been eliminated from playoff contention. About half of the league has spent the first half hanging just below .500, but with the knowledge that a hot streak in September could lead to a postseason spot and the chance to get on a roll in October.

Major League Baseball would argue that it's a good thing that more fan bases will stay engaged throughout the summer, although you could counter with a pretty strong argument that teams like the Chicago Cubs (42-49) and Washington Nationals (42-48) probably should not have any path at this point to keeping hope alive. 

The third Wild Card, however, is very good for the 2024 Giants. And it could be a lifeboat for a front office that desperately needs to make the postseason. 

After going 3-3 on a tough road trip through Atlanta and Cleveland, the Giants will enter the final week of the first half with a 44-47 record. They've been outscored by 27 runs and they're fourth in their own division.

The Giants are just two games better than the Cubs, who have the 13th-best National League record. But they're also just 3 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot. 

That puts them in an interesting spot as they approach the All-Star break. When they return, they'll have 11 games to pick a lane before the July 30 MLB trade deadline, and already they have made their first move, swapping Austin Slater for lefty reliever Alex Young.

As July 30 fast approaches, should the Giants be buyers, sellers or something in between? Here's a breakdown of the choices they'll have ... 

The Case To Buy

After getting swept in St. Louis, the Giants were six games under and faced three weeks filled with contenders. Thus far, the stretch has gone pretty well.

They're 8-5 with series wins over the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, and they hung around all weekend with the Cleveland Guardians, who have the best record in the American League. This goes beyond wins and losses, though.

With All-Star Heliot Ramos leading the way, the offense finally looks capable of actually being competitive the rest of the season. It took a while, but the offseason additions finally got going, joining Ramos and LaMonte Wade Jr. in giving Bob Melvin some consistency in the upper half of his lineup. Jorge Soler has looked closer to himself over the past few weeks. Along with Ramos, Matt Chapman gives the Giants two players in the top five in the NL in fWAR over the past two months.

The uptick in offense has helped the Giants stay afloat while not really having an actual rotation, and that's where this case gets particularly strong.

Blake Snell will return on Tuesday, and while his first half has been a nightmare, he's a notorious slow starter who has millions of reasons -- he can opt out after this season -- to find his form in the second half. Robbie Ray and Alex Cobb are throwing well on rehab assignments and both could join the rotation for the first turn of the second half. 

The bullpen has been overworked, but the core also has been excellent. Ryan Walker has a 1.91 ERA, Taylor Rogers is at 1.98, and Tyler Rogers has a 2.76 while leading the majors in appearances. Camilo Doval has allowed just one run in a save situation or close game over the past month. If the returning starters push Jordan Hicks or Kyle Harrison or Hayden Birdsong to the bullpen, the group will be even more of a strength.

The Giants did not enter the season dreaming of being a Wild Card team, but they look better positioned than just about anyone in that pack to have a big second half, and you can bet there isn't a contender in the NL that would want to see Logan Webb and the rest of this pitching staff -- if healthy -- in a short series. 

The most interesting question when it comes to this path is what the Giants would actually buy.

The bullpen could use a fresh arm or two, although those innings could also be filled internally and it's hard to see anyone crashing the Walker-Rogers-Doval trio late in games. The outfield has struggled, but unless you're adding an All-Star-caliber talent, it's probably not a great idea to keep taking at-bats away from Luis Matos. 

The most glaring hole is at shortstop, where Nick Ahmed has a .581 OPS. Bo Bichette is the biggest name who might be available, but he hasn't been any better at the plate. After him, the best option might be Paul DeJong, who literally has already been tried by this regime. There aren't a lot of potential trade options who look as good as Brett Wisely, who can slide back over to short after Thairo Estrada comes off the IL. 

Perhaps a star like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hits the market and the Giants decide to truly go all-in, but right now, it looks like a very weak market for impact bats.

The Case To Sell

The last couple of weeks have been a breath of fresh air, but you have to go all the way back to May 29 to find the last time this team was above .500 and they have never been more than two games over. This hasn't been a good team, and it hasn't been a fun team to watch most nights. 

Even with this little run, the Giants have just a 23 percent chance of making the postseason, per FanGraphs. The crowded field includes a few teams, including two in the division, who also should get markedly better in the second half.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have their own rotation upgrades on the way, with Eduardo Rodriguez and Merrill Kelly due back in the second half. The San Diego Padres are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Giants and A.J. Preller might be the most aggressive exec in the game. With industry speculation about his job security, he'll surely push for another splashy addition. 

It's a narrow path for teams in the NL Wild Card race, and anyone who decides to bow out early could do very, very well in a market lacking true sellers.

It doesn't take much for a pitcher to show that he's healthy and back to form -- remember the Giants flipping Drew Pomeranz after, like, one good week as a reliever? -- and it's possible that someone like Snell or Cobb could end up being the best starter available. 

Taylor Rogers has a year left on his deal and any contender would pay up for a lefty with late-innings experience. Tyler Rogers is under team control for just one more season. Michael Conforto is a free agent at the end of the year and has been 14 points better than league average by wRC+. Wilmer Flores would have suitors given his past success off the bench and Mike Yastrzemski would bring back a lot more than his platoon partner did. 

Then there's the true blow-it-up move. Camilo Doval would instantly become the best reliever on the market if the Giants made him available. If they committed to selling, they could dangle him for top prospects, knowing that Ryan Walker could slide into the ninth. 

The Likely Path

Ultimately this is largely up to Farhan Zaidi, which means the biggest question right now might be how he truly feels about his future. The Giants gave him an extension, but there are some within the organization who feel that won't matter if they miss the playoffs again. 

One of Zaidi's defining traits as an executive is his discipline, and he's not the type to mortgage the future to try and make his record look more appealing in 2024. But he also surely feels the heat, and if a full-blown sale leads to a 76-win finish, well, he would have a lot of difficult questions to answer in September. 

So, what will the Giants do? The easiest way to find the answer might be to look at what they just did.

Slater was having a rough season, but in dealing him now, the Giants opened at-bats for Matos while adding a depth reliever. Zaidi has taken the middle ground often, most notably in his first season, when he traded half his bullpen but kept Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith in order to give a red-hot group at least a small chance to keep it going after the deadline. 

The Giants could deal a starter and rely on Birdsong and Carson Whisenhunt in the second half. They could trade an experienced reliever and lean more heavily on Sean Hjelle, Randy Rodriguez and Spencer Bivens.

There's a way to thread the needle before the deadline and rely more heavily on prospects, and honestly, would you feel any worse about their chances of making the playoffs if that's what they decided to do?

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