San Francisco Giants

Will the Giants buy or sell? What to expect as baseball’s trading deadline approaches

The Giants celebrate after a 13-inning win over the Chicago Cubs on July 11 in San Francisco. They are 51-50 and five games out in the National League West.
The Giants celebrate after a 13-inning win over the Chicago Cubs on July 11 in San Francisco. They are 51-50 and five games out in the National League West. The Associated Press

Few franchises in baseball honor their tradition quite like the San Francisco Giants, an organization loaded with legendary players and some of the sport’s most iconic figures.

This year the Giants are celebrating their 60th anniversary in San Francisco with special days honoring each of their World Series teams, a retirement of Barry Bonds’ No. 25 jersey and a Wall of Fame ceremony to commemorate two playoff heroes, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong.

But while the Giants are busy paying homage to different elements of their past, it appears one tradition won’t be honored.

When the Giants are in the mix for a playoff berth, the club has a longstanding practice of buying at the July 31 trade deadline.

Bay Area baseball fans have become accustomed to watching the Giants ship out prospects in return for big league difference-makers, but this year, that’s not going to happen.

Javier Lopez, acquired at the 2010 deadline from Pittsburgh, isn’t walking through that door. Marco Scutaro, who the Giants traded for in 2012, won’t have anyone following in his footsteps. The club could use a veteran starter to fortify its rotation, but there’s no sense of urgency to pursue a pitcher like 2014 deadline addition Jake Peavy.

The Giants put a fresh coat of paint on a core that needed help this offseason, and barring a drastic plea from ownership to bring the roster up to code, there won’t be many, if any, changes made to the team’s structure in the coming days.

Why not buy?

After trading outfielder Austin Jackson and reliever Cory Gearrin to the Texas Rangers earlier this month, the Giants made it clear the franchise has no intention of exceeding the luxury tax threshold of $197 million.

Cutting costs to avoid paying the tax has been a mission of general manager Bobby Evans and vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean since a potential trade for Giancarlo Stanton fell through last offseason, and they’re not planning to reverse course now.

The Giants have about $2 million to play with, so San Francisco could conceivably add a player making close to the major league minimum at the deadline. However, there are few assets like that available, especially if the team is looking outside the relief pitcher market.

At 51-50 and five games out in the National League West, there aren’t any Manny Machado-types who could put the Giants over the top. Because of that, the front office doesn’t see many, if any, talents who remain available and are worth pushing past the tax threshold to acquire.

If the Giants are going to challenge for a playoff berth, the onus is on the club’s highest-compensated hitters to lead that charge. Buster Posey is slugging a season-low .304 in July, Andrew McCutchen has two extra base hits this month and Brandon Belt has a .237 average since the start of June. Brandon Crawford, the team’s first half MVP, is hitting .150 in July with a .455 OPS while third baseman Evan Longoria hasn’t played since June 16 due to a broken hand.

If those five players don’t hit over the final two months of the year, it doesn’t matter who the team could add at the deadline. The Giants won’t make the playoffs unless their best players perform up to expectations.

Why not sell?

Though the Giants don’t have the flexibility to aggressively pursue deadline acquisitions, the team does have a reasonable amount of assets that could fetch much-needed prospect capital and continue the process of restocking its farm system.

But unless the Giants fall completely out of the N.L. West and wild-card races over the next seven days, they’ll likely keep the vast majority of their roster intact.

Fans are much more eager to bow out of a playoff race than a front office, so calls for Evans and Sabean to begin shopping veterans have been persistent. But because the Giants are unwilling to gut the team and start from scratch, it’s unrealistic to expect much trade deadline movement.

McCutchen is playing on an expiring contract and could help a contender, but trading their right fielder and No. 3 hitter in July would suggest the front office has given up. Belt’s name comes up every year, but the Giants aren’t parting with their cleanup hitter when there’s no internal replacement ready to promote.

Jeff Samardzija’s name is tossed around frequently, but the Giants would need to eat nearly all of the $40-plus million remaining on his contract if they wanted to unload a starter. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and few teams would be willing to take a chance on a pitcher who has spent three different portions of the season on the disabled list.

If the Giants do fall out of the race, expect veteran Derek Holland’s name to come up in discussions while relievers Will Smith and Sam Dyson would both be attractive players to playoff-bound teams. Pitchers performing well and earning under $5 million in salary are the most likely to go if the Giants do start losing, but it’s unrealistic to expect much else.

Stuck in the middle

Despite having one of the top payrolls in baseball, the Giants current record and their determination to stay under the luxury tax threshold means they aren’t expected to swing toward “buy” or “sell” mode this week.

There could be some movement in one direction or the other, and Evans could also be creative and dump a salary like Dyson’s to free up space for a different type of contributor. But for now, the splashy moves and win-now aggressiveness the Giants have been known for are taking a backseat to measured optimism inside the team’s front office.

After losing 98 games last year, the Giants set out to field a roster that would remain in contention through the end of the season. While the team is in fourth place in the division and must pass five contenders to secure a wild-card berth, a favorable schedule in August and September is giving the Giants reasons to hold onto their talent and hang in until they have to hang it up.