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This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at the Giants whose strong play has moved them to deadline buyers, throwing the trade market into turmoil.
Entering the season, the Giants were pegged by rival evaluators as the team primed to own the starting pitching market in late July. They had five pitchers on one-year deals and were viewed as an up-and-coming rebuilding team playing in baseball’s best division.
How quickly things changed.
The Giants are 46-26 and in first place in the National League West. Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford have found the fountain of youth. Mike Yastrzemski is starting to heat up, hitting .321/.424/.714 in his last seven games. That same rotation has a 3.23 ERA that ranks fifth-best in baseball, with right-hander Kevin Gausman emerging as one of the best pitchers in the game.
Gausman, 30, would have been the crown jewel of the trade deadline. There would have been teams lining up for the chance to acquire him, with his 1.51 ERA ranking second-best in baseball, and could have helped reshape their farm system. Other Giants starters Johnny Cueto, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood would have also drawn varying levels of interest.
Instead, the Giants have already begun exploring upgrades, but are unlikely to part with any high-end prospects as president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi keeps an eye on the future. They could use another outfielder and may look to add a high-leverage bullpen arm, with Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez and Washington Nationals reliever Brad Hand being among the potential targets.
But that the Giants are in a position to buy — as opposed to selling off their starting pitchers — threw a wrench in some teams’ trade plans. And not only has it changed their long-term outlook, it very well may have reshaped the trade deadline.
Speaking of starting pitching …
The St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets are among the teams that have explored the starting pitching market ahead of the July 30 trade deadline. But in addition to high asking prices, they have been met with a market that features few difference-making starters.
“It’s one of the weakest (starting pitching markets) that I can remember,” one high-ranking National League executive said.
The Washington Nationals may decide to hold onto Max Scherzer despite entering Monday 33-36 and five games back in the NL East. Detroit Tigers starters Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull are injured, as is Colorado Rockies right-hander Jon Gray. Teams are expected to check in on Baltimore Orioles starter John Means, though there is no indication that he will be made available.
It leaves Minnesota Twins starters Jose Berrios and Rockies right-hander German Marquez as the top available starters, but both are controllable for multiple years and will come with a hefty price tag. Indeed, the Cardinals and Twins have had trade discussions, sources said, with talks described as preliminary and more of a “feeling out than anything.”
The Cardinals have to do something to upgrade a rotation that ranks 18th in baseball with a 4.40 ERA and will be without Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas for the foreseeable future. Texas Rangers starter Kyle Gibson, who has a 1.51 ERA in 12 starts since Opening Day and is signed through 2022, seems like a potential fit. But will the Cardinals or any other team want to pay a premium for a player who entered the season with a career 4.57 ERA?
As Mike Petriello of MLB.com noted, some teams may opt to stockpile their bullpens instead of addressing the rotation. But if you’re a team like the Cardinals, who have no choice but to add a starting pitcher, Gibson may be the best of a weak crop of options to choose from.
Is Yuli Gurriel the most underrated player in baseball?
A rival American League evaluator said that if you look at Houston Astros slugger Yuli Gurriel’s numbers this season — .316/.385/.515 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI in 237 at-bats — that a strong case can be made that he is the most underrated player in baseball. Then if you look at his individual accomplishments, which span 18 years in both Cuba and Major League Baseball, that Gurriel is a “worldly accomplished player.”
Among his accomplishments:
- 2015 & 2016: All-Star in Caribbean Series.
- 2017: AL Player of the Month in July, World Series champion, Astros Rookie of the Year.
- Baseball World Cup: Gold medal in 2003 and 2005; silver medal in 2007, 2009, 2011; Outstanding defensive player in 2011.
- World Baseball Cup: Runner up and all-world team in 2006.
- 2020: Gold Glove finalist.
But Gurriel is playing the best baseball of his career in his age-37 season. He credits his breakout season to his work with trainer Darian Alvarez of the DLAB Team in Miami, Fla. He has transformed Gurriel’s workout and diet, cutting out carbs and Coca-Cola, since signing with them in Dec. 2020 and has put himself in the conversation to make his first All-Star game, though it will be difficult with Toronto Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. running away with voting.
Still, Gurriel has emerged as a constant in an Astros lineup that has been inconsistent. He has slightly changed his approach, being more selective at the plate (30 walks and 27 strikeouts) and not swinging at pitches outside the zone (27.3 chase percentage in 2021; 34.4 chase percentage in 2020).
Gurriel has previously expressed a desire to stay with the Astros, hence why he signed a one-year contract extension with an $8 million club option for 2022. But if Gurriel continues his strong performance, the team figures to pick up the option and could look to extend his contract once again at a more lucrative number in the offseason.
“It’s something they should consider,” the AL evaluator said. “He’s trending toward being the next Nelson Cruz.”
Around the Horn:
- The Tampa Bay Rays, losers of six consecutive games, are calling up Wander Franco, a source confirmed. Franco, 20, is widely regarded as the top prospect in baseball. He hit .323/.376/.601 in Triple-A and can play each infield position besides first base. Some evaluators believing his potential exceeds that of Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr., as Jeff Passan of ESPN.com wrote, and should quickly become the next young star that the Rays have lacked for a while.
- Chicago White Sox starter Lance Lynn recently left Excel Sports Management. It is unclear if he has signed with a new agency.
- An American League team — the Oakland A’s, perhaps? — would be wise to ask the Twins about a trade centered around Jose Berrios and Nelson Cruz.