With the 2017-18 free agent market short on ace starting pitchers, a better way to improve the top half of the rotation could be by trade. San Francisco may be one such target.
One of the big needs this off-season for the Milwaukee Brewers is starting pitching. The only real ace starting pitchers available on the free agent market will be Jake Arreita and Yu Darvish. Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Masahiro Tanaka also have options or opt-outs in their contracts, but all will likely be picked up.
In the past, Doug Melvin went after middle-tier starters for big money. Jeff Suppan was given $42 Million over four years. Kyle Loshe’s contract paid $33 Million over three years. Matt Garza was paid $50 Million over four years. While fans may be interested this off-season in middle-tier options like Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, spending $10-12 Million per year for three to four years carries risk with lower upside.
The 2017 Brewers lacked star power. Adding an ace can change that for 2018. If the Brewers want to make the postseason and ultimately the World Series, they’ll need an ace to win important match-ups. With a deep farm system, trading for an ace is an option, and the Giants may be a partner.
The Milwaukee Brewers outfield depth makes them an ideal partner with the Giants needing outfield help. If the Giants want to shed payroll to open new opportunities, they could trade one of their aces. Here’s what it may take to make a trade for a Giants ace (Stats and contracts provided by Fangraphs):
1. Johnny Cueto
Assuming he doesn’t exercise his opt-out clause this off-season, the former Cincinnati Red is owed $21 Million per year in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, with an unknown team option for 2022.
While he was nearly unstoppable from 2011-2016, 2017 was a tough year. He had a 4.52 ERA in 147.1 innings with an 8-8 record. His walk rate of 3.24 per nine was the highest since his rookie season in 2008 and his WAR of 1.2 was the lowest since he only pitched 60.2 innings in 2013.
Since Cueto is owed $84 Million over the next four years, the Brewers would likely ask for some cash considerations if the Giants want a major league ready prospect. While the Crew have some payroll flexibility, taking on that much money would be a risk. Trading Lewis Brinson, Corey Ray or Brett Phillips would be even more of a risk without receiving at least a quarter of Cueto’s remaining salary.
2. Madison Bumgarner
The former World Series MVP is one of the faces of the Giants franchise. However, if the Giants decide to enter a full rebuild, ‘Mad-Bum’ might even be available. Bumgarner’s team options for 2018 and 2019 are a modest $12 Million each season. However, he has a limited eight-team no-trade clause. A trade, if possible, would likely involve multiple top prospects or Domingo Santana.
Even if the Giants decide to rebuild, Bumgarner’s value is at its lowest this off-season. After a dirt bike injury derailed the start to his 2017 season, he pitched to a 4-9 record in 17 starts. His strikeout rate of 8.19 per nine was his lowest since 2010 with a career high FIP of 3.95.
The Giants likely play wait and see on their best pitcher. If San Francisco is out of contention at the 2018 trade deadline, ‘Mad-Bum’ could be the biggest deadline trade target in a decade. If the Brewers are in position to contend, they’ll have the prospects to pounce if interested.
3. Jeff Samardzija
One of the most underrated pitchers of 2017 was ‘The Shark’. While his 4.42 ERA and 9-15 record may look disappointing, he was an analytics darling. He posted a significantly lower FIP of 3.61 and xFIP of 3.60. His walk rate of 1.39 per nine was a career low with the 8.88 per nine strikeout rate his highest since 2013. Finally, his season WAR of 3.8 ranked 15th among qualified starting pitchers in 2017.
Samardzija is owed $18 Million per year in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and has a limited eight-team no-trade clause. One major concern is the increased home run to fly ball rate in 2017. This doesn’t translate well at Miller Park.
However, the higher salary and less desirable traditional stats could lead to a bargain trade. Assuming the Brewers aren’t a part of his no-trade, a package including Trent Clark and Keon Broxton might be a viable return if the Giants front office undervalues Samardzija’s advanced statistics.
While the Giants may try to reload this off-season, their significant payroll obligations and aging core screams that they should rebuild. With the outfield a position of need for the Giants and the Brewers significant depth at the outfield position, a trade this off-season could benefit both teams. However, significant hurdles could be in place if no-trade clauses involve Milwaukee and the Giants decide to reload. The Brewers will need star power if they want to make the postseason for years to come. If they can’t find it this off-season, ownership will likely push for it at the trade deadline or the 2018-19 off-season.