Valuing the trade chips: San Francisco Giants

The Giants are in a tough spot. They made a classic mistake of holding onto their championship core too long -- much like the Phillies did in the late 2000s -- and now most of those players are expensive and past their prime. They did make a smart move to hire President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi from the Dodgers, and because he was brought in to be a change agent, well, you can expect some change. That means they will likely be trading off many veterans and starting their rebuild in earnest.

One advantage Zaidi has over other teams in this position is that he can use cash to his advantage. The Giants are known for having deep pockets, so Zaidi can offer cash in any deal to enhance the surplus value and increase the return. That will generate a higher quality package and accelerate the rebuild. In other words, he can trade both player capital and monetary capital to buy better prospects.

Let’s look at the most likely trade chips for the Giants in the summer of 2019. We’ve sorted them by median trade value, highest to lowest, but also filtered out players whose availability is low (values in $Ms):

  • Bumgarner: 9.8
  • Smith: 9.3
  • Panik: 9.0
  • Watson: 5.6
  • Pillar: 3.8
  • Sandoval: -0.7
  • Vincent: -0.9
  • Dyson: -1.1
  • Pomeranz: -1.3
  • Holland: -4.4
  • Belt: -6.2
  • Melancon: -18.6
  • Samardzija: -21.7
  • Longoria: -45.7
  • Cueto: -50.6


The biggest name here -- and the one most likely to be in demand -- is starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Interestingly, despite his reputation as a playoff ace, his value is not terribly high, based on all our calculations. He will certainly benefit from an October premium -- whereby contending teams will pay for an extra month of his services in anticipation of making the playoffs and having him be a key contributor to that run -- so we’ve factored that in. We’ve also factored in a market premium due to demand being higher than the supply of comparable starters. He’ll go on the high side of his range, but we don't think it will be as high as many in the media are predicting.

To augment that value, Zaidi may package MadBum with one of his two left-handed relievers (Will Smith or Tony Watson), both of whom have moderate value; and/or include cash in the package. Contending teams will almost always need extra quality bullpen help, so there will be lots of options for, say, the package of Bumgarner/Smith/cash. That will be enough to get a return package of either one high quality prospect or a package of medium-to-low ones.

We think Zaidi will prioritize the former -- that is, he’ll want the highest upside player he can get in return. That’s what he’s getting paid for.

However, a case could be made that he opts for quantity over quality, because he has so many holes to fill and perhaps because he and the team might factor in the optics -- that is, fans and the media will expect a “haul” for MadBum and Smith, and might be disappointed if they only get one prospect instead of four or five.

Compare these two possible returns:

Kyle Wright from the Braves for Bumgarner, Smith, and $8M cash.

Wright is a high quality prospect, but he’d be the only one in the deal. Fans and the media might complain that the Giants should have gotten more for that package instead of “just one.” But he has a real possibility of being an impact pitcher for six years.

Bobby Dalbec, Darwinzon Hernandez, Jay Groome, Durbin Feltman, and Mike Shawaryn from the Red Sox for Bumgarner and Smith.

Fans and the media will see this as a “haul,” because there are five prospects coming back, including the No. 3, 4, 5, 12 and 13-ranked prospects from the Red Sox system. They may not realize that the Red Sox have the lowest-rated system in baseball, and that most of these players have lower probabilities of success at the MLB level (or even making it there) compared to other options.

Zaidi and his team will factor in these views, but in the end we think they’ll opt for quality over quantity.

As for the other chips:

Assuming one of Smith or Watson is attached to Bumgarner, it’s likely the other one will be traded on his own, as including two lefty relievers with MadBum is probably overkill.

The markets for Joe Panik and Kevin Pillar are questionable. Neither is likely viewed as an impact player at this point, although both are nice depth players for a team eyeing a championship run. Due to this lack of demand, they may each go slightly below our median value estimate.

Belt will be tougher to move because of his negative value. Zaidi will need to include cash to create a surplus, but even then he might find that there isn’t much demand for first basemen among the contenders, and there’s ample supply to boot (e.g., Justin Smoak, Yonder Alonso, possibly Jose Abreu), and most of those come with less time commitment.

There may be some interest in Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon, because... pitching. Zaidi will have to include a lot of cash for both of them to just break even, but even if he included, say, $25M with Samardzija, it won’t be enough to return much of a prospect. There’s too much sunk cost here.

So with these underwater veterans, it will be a game of: send a lot of cash with them, and get whatever small return you can. Opt for the highest quality prospect you can get for that combination of player and monetary capital.

In the end, the lone meaningful return will come from the Bumgarner/LHRP/cash package, and after that Giants fans will have to hope Zaidi finds a nugget or two in his pan after dumping the rest of the available veterans.

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