With the trade deadline straight up creepin’ up, we’re still waiting for the big blockbuster trade that shocks and awes, that causes bowels to loosen and jaws to drop. The Troy Tulowitzki trade. The Cole Hamels trade. Sure, we had the Aroldis Chapman trade, but elite relievers from expiring contracts on non-contending teams (or whatever you want to call what the semi-semi-contending that the Yankees are doing) are supposed to move. No, we’re waiting to see how the Chris Sale slasher flick ends. With this offseason’s free agent class looking pretty rough, we’re waiting to see who puts together a package for Julio Teheran or Jonathan Lucroy. Until then, we’ll have to settle for another run-of-the-mill, not terribly exciting trade, but one that at least gets the creative juices flowing.
Yesterday, it was announced that the Giants had traded for Twins’ infielder Eduardo Núñez. Núñez, 29, is hitting .300/.326/.444 and having the best year of his career this season. He was the Twins’ lone All Star this year, which probably says more about the Twins than it does about Núñez. He’s got 26 stolen bases, good for 4th in MLB. After coming up in the Yankees’ system and failing to impress there, Núñez was traded to Minnesota in the early 2014 season and developed into a respectable utility infielder last season, where he hit .282/.327/.431, while playing acceptable defense at third base and shortstop and in left field. The defensive metrics, taken as a career whole, suggest that Núñez might be a slight liability, which would make his ability to play different positions less of an advantage, but his past few years have seen him put up acceptable numbers defensively. He’s under team control until the end of next season.
The cost for the Giants was Adalberto Mejia. Mejia was one of the closest pitchers in the Giants’ farm to the majors and ranked as their 5th best prospect by Baseball America in their midseason prospect update and 7th by MLB.com. He pitched well enough in AA earlier this year (1.94 ERA, 8.03 K/9, 2.22 BB/9, 3.19 FIP over 65 innings) to earn a promotion to AAA (4.20 ERA, 9.52 K/9, 2.43 BB/9 over 40 innings). Mejia projects to be fourth starter material, which isn’t a bad get on the Twins part, as they certainly need some depth in their rotation.
A swap of a close-to-the-majors pitching prospect for a utility infielder having a banner season is pretty ho-hum stuff in and of itself, but the fact that it’s the Giants who made the deal is a bit surprising, considering their biggest needs were rotation and bullpen help. That being said, the Giants have been dealing with injuries all over the field this year, and the infield has taken its fair share of hits.
Third baseman Matt Duffy hasn’t played since June 19 due to an Achilles injury. Second baseman Joe Panik just came back after being on the shelf since since June 27 with back issues. Utility infielder Ehire Adrianza hasn’t played since April thanks to a fractured foot. Ramiro Pena has done an admirable job (.306/.337/.435, 111 wRC+) helping out at second, short and third, and now he’s out for a week or so with a rather, ahem, unfortunate injury. Panik is back, but backs are fickle masters ( he missed time last year with back issues, too). Duffy is poised to start rehab and the Giants are still waiting on Hunter Pence to come back in right. Obviously, the Giants’ brass knows more than anyone else regarding realistic return dates, so maybe this is a move to shore things up based on some info we aren’t privy to. If everyone does get healthy and contribute, though, then this ends up being just a move to strengthen the bench, which would be a curious use of one of their top prospects, to say the least.
The intriguing question here is whether this might all be a part of some bigger plan. The Giants pretty clearly don’t have the depth in their farm to make a run at elite bullpen help or a starter worth acquiring. That could change if they were willing to put together a package that started with one of their MLB-ready infielders. The Giants, when healthy, have the best homegrown infield in baseball, and that’s not something you part with lightly. But if the offer was right, they would be foolish not to at least consider, given that top prospect Christian Arroyo is set arrive next year and projects to play at third or short, two positions which are currently occupied.
Grade for Twins: A
Hard to be down on the Twins’ move here. It seems like a reasonable get for a player like Núñez and it certainly looks like they sold high on him. The Twins are in the bottom of the pack in terms of pitching, and, while Mejia isn’t a certainty, it’s a good turnout for a player that they didn’t give up too much for in the first place. The pitcher they sent to the Yankees for Núñez, Miguel Sulbaran, hasn’t panned out and now they’ve got a much more enticing prospect in their larder.
Grade for Giants: C+
As discussed, it’s not clear exactly what the Giants are up to here. If Mejia ends up succeeding as a starter, even at the back of the rotation, this could end up looking bad down the road, since that’s clearly a need on the Giants’ part going forward. That being said, we don’t yet know whether the Giants are worried about further injury, looking to make a blockbuster deal or just looking to upgrade on their current situation in the infield slightly. So, on some level, the grade is still incomplete. But, as is, the team did get incrementally better to play down the stretch in 2016, so we can’t be too hard on them.
(Bonus) Grade for Núñez: A+
Getting traded to the Giants in an even year? Enough said.