The Mariners are playing some pretty bad baseball right now, and that’s not fun to dwell on. The closer they inch towards being sellers at the trade deadline, though, the more fun conversations we can have about who might be coming into the system via trade. In case you missed the first installment in this series, focusing on the St. Louis Cardinals, you can read about the justification for what I’m examining here. To summarize, I think the Mariners are specifically looking at acquiring a pitcher who the team sees as a contributor through 2018 and beyond. Although it’s possible the M’s attempt to grab a pitcher with MLB experience, I think it’s much more likely Dipoto goes the route he has before in trying to pick up players from the high minors, with the hopes they can be developed quickly.
After years of being on top of the baseball world, the Giants have decided to go ahead and make all of the 2017 plane out of sadness. The bullpen probably wins the misery density index, but the outfield has to come close. Eduardo Nunez is a third baseman who has played 20 games already in the outfield, their center fielder is a walking Just For Men ad, and as I was typing this Hunter Pence just fractured his ankle attempting to recreate for Buster Posey how he thinks an alien who ate a bad mushroom would do the Backpack Kid dance. The Giants called up 17th-ranked prospect Austin Slater, because sometimes retirement homes put a cute little potted plant out front to cheer up the place, who has brought some pop to the lineup, but not much defensive prowess.
As for the farm, Baseball America lists three outfielders in its top ten Giants ranking: Bryan Reynolds, Sandro Fabian, and Steven Duggar. Fabian is a teenager signed out of the DR in 2015 who won’t sniff the major leagues for years; Duggar is seen as a fourth outfielder type, with questions about his power; and Reynolds, drafted out of Vanderbilt in 2016, is a high-ceiling prospect who will take time to develop his multiple skills in order to get the most out of him. None of the prospects who are close, nor Slater, seem like a natural fit in center field. Reynolds is probably the best prospect out of all of the MLB-close guys, and he still has a below-average arm; Duggar is probably the best defender of the group. MLB Pipeline adds Heath Quinn to that group of outfielders, but he, too, profiles as a corner outfielder and probably a left fielder.
So the Giants are thin on bona fide center fielders, probably because the Mariners took all of them, every single one, and their big league bullpen is a forest of pain. What they do have is lots and lots of okayish pitchers all hovering around the Triple-A level, making them a good trade partner for the Mariners, if JerryCo decides a small rearranging of the living room furniture is preferable to hacking down that pony wall and going open concept. Even if both teams are out of contention around the trade deadline, they could beef up holes in their respective systems with a prospect-for-prospect swap. The thing to stress here is the Giants’ system has many arms, but they are okayish arms; even their top pitching prospect, Tyler Beede, is described over at Minor League Ball as “more of an future inning eater than a rotation anchor.” With that in mind, let’s eyeball up the farm.
The problem with writing about a farm that’s got a lot of breadth but not depth is the tiering system becomes very useless very quickly. Unlike St. Louis, which possesses some very clear front end talent, back end talent, and bullpen pieces, the Giants’ system is...fuzzier. This year, because of the Giants’ bullpen implosion, lots of guys who were starting in the minors have been called up to be bullpen pieces (see: Chris Stratton, Dan Slania). Add to that the Giants’ affinity for picking lower-ceiling “pitchability” arms and things get very muddled when trying to suss out a ranking. If I could have my pick of anyone in the system I think I’d choose Andrew Suarez, a lefty out of Miami whose fastball can get all the way up to 94, has a four-pitch mix, works all over the plate and doesn’t walk people. He’s had some health issues, which might be the one thing dinging his value, but he pitches like a guy who can stick in an MLB rotation. [Gazes into the abyss that is the Giants rotation] If I’m San Francisco, I’m not letting him out of my clutches, at least not until Matt Krook learns how to rein in his arm down at A-level ball.
A more realistic target might be Sam Coonrod. The Giants were aggressive with Coonrod in 2016, splitting his time between A+ and Double-A, and his numbers took a hit for it. This year in a repeat of Double-A he’s seen his K/9 rebound to where it was in the low minors while cutting down on a still-too-high walk rate. Coonrod might be a great buy-low candidate, as his numbers are depressed some but the stuff is still good: he pounds the lower part of the zone with a good sinking fastball that can touch mid-90s, a hard slider and a changeup he can use as putaway pitches, and a big breaking curve.
In a similar boat to Coonrod, Matt Gage posted a higher FIP than ERA for the first time this year and is still struggling to get his walk rate down, but KATOH likes him the best out of all left-handed pitching prospects (4.4). Gage, 6’4”/230, just recently threw a CGSO for AA-Richmond before being promoted up to AAA-Sacramento, and it seems like the organization likes him despite him not appearing on top prospect lists. But does a team need both Andrew Suarez and Matt Gage, both lefties who are on the cusp of being MLB-ready with fine, but not dominant, stuff? Feels greedy to me. Greedy, I says. (Side note to say: hoooo boy, the Sacramento River Cats’ bullpen is atrocious. One of their best relievers is Kraig Sitton, the OSU product who elected free agency from our system last year. Yowza.)
One other name to maybe keep an eye on is Jordan Johnson, who is just 23 and pitching this year for Double-A Richmond. Johnson has some rough mechanics, so he would be more of a project, and the Giants have been pretty aggressive with promoting him after he struck out the entire world in rookie ball, but he hasn’t yet recovered those impressive strikeout numbers as he’s moved up.
While the Mariners and Giants’ respective needs seem to line up on paper, it’s difficult to see any trade with them netting the kind of impact player Dipoto discussed. Both the Mariners and the Giants lack the kind of blue-chip trade pieces that make for the kind of deals breathlessly reported on Twitter or with incessant notifications from At-Bat. But an even swap from each teams’ positions of strength could benefit both teams, and might be the kind of small move that starts a chain reaction through an organization.