The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is almost here, and the San Francisco Giants are 24 games out of first place. It's been 20 years since a Giants squad finished that far out of the National League West Division lead, and there next to no chance S.F. will recover in the second half to achieve the biggest miracle comeback in MLB history. Thus, the team needs to start thinking about next season right now, and that involves trading away players from this team to prepare for 2018.
It's a solid tradition these days in baseball to trade away veterans before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and the Giants have several players they can trade away to save money, recoup talent and reload for next season. No team overcomes a 20-plus game deficit in the standings, so San Francisco can start now to prepare for another #evenyear postseason chase next summer.
Here are the players the Giants should trade before July 31, in alphabetical order.
1. Brandon Belt, 1B/OF: The team foolishly signed him to a long-term contract to a $72.8-million contract before this season that lasts until 2021, and that was way too much money to pay a guy with no Gold Gloves and no 20-homer seasons who is now hitting just .236 this year. He's never driven in 100 runs or hit .300, so it's kind of hard to understand why the Giants gave him so much money. The contract makes him hard to trade, but another team might take a chance on the 29-year-old Belt if they need an extra bat due to injury, etc., down the stretch as it tries to reach the World Series. If S.F. can dump that contract, you have to believe the organization would jump at the chance.
2. Johnny Cueto, SP: Last year, Cueto was brilliant. This year, not so much. At age 31 now, Cueto is giving up more hits, more HRs and more walks than last year, and his contract means the Giants still will owe him about $84M by 2021, as well. Yikes! He has an undeserved reputation as a playoff stud (thanks to one complete-game win in the 2015 World Series), so perhaps some team close to the ring itself could roll the dice on his talent returning in time for October. Strangely, Cueto himself has the option to exit the deal after the 2017 season, but considering his sharp decline this year, that doesn't look like a reality that will happen anytime soon. Like Belt's deal above, the Giants should leap at the chance to shed this albatross of a contract.
3. Eduardo Núñez, UTL: He has two key skills that appeal to almost any postseason contender, and he will be a free agent next season as well. Núñez can steal bases (30 since joining the Giants last summer in a midseason deal), and he can play five positions (albeit none of them really well). That flexibility and versatility comes in handy in the playoffs, as super-utility man Ben Zobrist has proven in winning two straight rings now with the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago Cubs last year. Núñez has been hurt this season a few times, but the Giants should able to move him readily for some prospects in return.
4. Joe Panik, 2B: We're not sure how many teams are in the market for a light-hitting second baseman, but Panik has value as a former All-Star selection who used to hit .300 when he was younger. He won a Gold Glove last year, despite finishing just fifth in both assists and range factor for NL second basemen. Panik would be a good late-inning defensive replacement for a team with power-hitting 2B that cannot field well, but on the Giants these days, he's little but slap hitter at the plate (.254 average, .389 slugging since the start of the 2016 season). He is still cheap, so it's not about the money. In reality, it's about production. If S.F. wants to compete, they need a player at the keystone that can play both ways well.
5. Jeff Samardzija, SP: The Shark has jumped himself in San Francisco. The possessor of yet another terrible contract awarded by the Giants in recent years, Samardzija is just 16-20 with a 4.07 ERA with S.F. in the time spent by the Bay. The Shark is 32 years old, and the Giants owe him almost $70 million still on a contract that runs through 2020. Like Cueto, perhaps some team out there will take a chance on Samardzija, based on past performance, although he hasn't had a truly stellar season since 2014. Shedding the contracts of Belt, Cueto and Samardzija would free up so much free salary space that the Giants could go shopping for real this winter to reload for 2018 and their #evenyear magic.