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The Blockbuster Trade: Someone Tell the Giants it’s Still Allowed

The history of MLB trades sometimes gives the impression that certain baseball teams are permanently hard-wired to make certain types of trades.

It doesn’t matter who the current owner, general manager or manager is at any given time– there’s a DNA ribbon somewhere inside the New York Yankees, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cleveland Indians, and the Toronto Blue Jays that compells their front offices to often trigger the kind of blockbuster trades that rumble through the Major League landscape.

Most other MLB teams rarely do more than tinker or make those player-for-player moves projected to benefit both teams. The San Francisco Giants are one such team.

To be fair, the whole nature of baseball trades, especially the classic “blockbuster” trade, has changed over the past fifteen plus years. Fans tend to think only in terms of what happens on the field (which is their job), and in that universe making trades takes on an importance that can be out of proportion and out of touch with real world player/team management.

Front offices are now corporately organized so franchise branding, vendor contracts, season ticket sales, and media agreements are the financial life-blood of every Major League baseball team. Add to that the changing face of free agency, arbitration, and the impact of the statistical revolution, and the opportunity (or need) for big player trades just isn’t on the radar.

Just what is a “blockbuster” trade? Other than trading Babe Ruth to finance a Broadway musical (which, by the way, is not a true story), we think of blockbuster trades as involving multiple players at least two of whom are front line performers. A classic blockbuster is the December 12, 1990 trade between the Blue Jays and San Diego Padres: the Pads sent Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to the Jays for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez.

And the travels of slick fielding shortstop Tony Fernandez were just beginning: after two very good years with the Padres in 1991-92, he was traded to the Mets (1993), back to Toronto (1993), then to Cincinnati (1994), the Yankees (1995), the Cleveland Indians (1997), again to Toronto (1998-01), then to the Brewers and finally back to the Blue Jays in 2001 to retire. Whew.

A more recent “blockbuster” was the 2007 deal that sent Dan Haren and Connor Robertson to Arizona from the Oakland As for Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Chris Carter, Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham. Dan Haren produced a 16-8 for the D’Backs in 2008, and 14-10 in 2009. He ended up with the Angels and had a great 2011, going 16-10/3.17/192SOs .

For the San Francisco Giants only two trades in the past 25 years really qualify as “blockbusters”.

jeffkentThe November 13, 1996 deal that sent Matt Williams and Trent Hubbard from the Giants to the Cleveland Indians for Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez, Jose Vizcaino, and Joe Roa. In his only year with the Indians Matt Williams put up 105RBI/32HR numbers; he finished the last six years of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

And of course Jeff Kent sealed his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Giant by knocking in over 100 RBI each of his six years in San Francisco, teaming up with Barry Bonds to lead the team to the 2002 World Series, and being named the National League League MVP in 2000.

San Francisco’s other blockbuster trade in the past 25 years? July 5, 1987 when the San Diego Padres sent Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, and Craig Lefferts to the Giants for Mark Davis, Mark Grant, Chris Brown, and Keith Comstock.

Mark Davis had 44 saves for the Pads in 1989 with a 1.85 ERA. The Giants went to the 1987 NLCS, losing to St. Louis 4 games to 3, then to the World Series in 1989 (losing to Oakland 4-0). But in 1989 the Giants’ Kevin Mitchell had one of the greatest offensive years in NL history: 127 RBI, 47 HR, .291 Avg, 1.023 OPS, .388 OBP, 100 runs scored. Mitchell was the NL MVP that year.

And today? The San Francisco Giants are actually in the rare position to make a classic blockbuster trade, because 1) terrible run production is killing the team’s chances of ever getting back to the post season; and, 2) they have an excess of quality pitching. That scenario sets up a classic deal: the quality starting pitcher for the quality 3-4-5 hitter. With the usual additional players thrown in.

The Giants braintrust has made it clear that they want to keep their starting pitching intact. But take a look at the structure of the four teams making the NLCS/ALCS this year– they have a very different approach to balancing pitching and hitting. Texas, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Detroit all featured relentless batting line-ups with 3 or 4 major hitters backed up by several above average offensive players.

The starting pitching set-ups for the 2011 Championship Series’ teams are amazingly similar: a top tier starter, a quality starter, and two starting pitchers who are not top tier but will win games because they have a run-producing offense behind them.

So while Tim Lincecum (13-14), Matt Cain (12-11), Madison Bumgarner (13-13), Jonathan Sanchez (4-7, injured), and Ryan Vogelsong (13-7) are a great five man rotation, their records reflect what happens to great pitching when the team’s offense can only average 3.5 runs per game.

Trading Cain and either Sanchez or Vogelsong for RBI producing hitters would be a logical first step. If that happened I’m going to guess that, a) the Giants would pick up sufficiently talented starting pitchers to fill the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation; and, b) those “lesser” pitchers’ win-loss records will look damn good thanks to having a run producing batting line-up supporting them.

So hold on to your seats– and cross your fingers that an old school blockbuster trade just could be in the Giants’ immediate future.
          

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