What the Giants have done by acquiring Carlos Beltran is go into an all-in, win-now mode. While Beltran is likely the best bat available, and perhaps the best player available, he is purely a two-month rental that will likely depart at the end of the season.
But, at least for a couple of months, the Giants will have their Killer Belts.
You know the Giants were willing to go in this direction when Sabean said he’d be willing to grab a rental. That’s not his modus operandi, but he said it anyway. And you probably knew who their favorite target was when Beltran flew with them to Arizona for the Summer-Classic. Oh, and the fact that he’s an excellent hitter and the Giants’ offense is terrible.
He’s having a spectacular season with the bat, especially considering he plays in a tough ballpark to hit, and also that offense is down across the league. He’s hitting .289/.391/.513 for a .392 wOBA and has already posted 3.9 WAR (Wins above replacement) according to FanGraphs.
When healthy, which was the case until recently, he’s been a phenomenal player over his career. In fact, he’s a borderline Hall of Fame candidate with 60.9 WAR (FanGraphs) and a .372 lifetime wOBA. The Hall voters like center fielders, and for most of the past 13 seasons, he’s been one of the very best in the game.
The Giants give up one of their very best prospects in the deal, Gary Brown. Brown was a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, and at the time, some wondered if he was picked too high. He didn’t appear to have any plate discipline whatsoever, or the ability to draw a walk.
This season in A-Advanced, he’s been excellent. In 459 plate appearances, he has a batting line of .317/.386/.466 for a .385 wOBA. The walk-rate (7 percent), while not spectacular, has been much better in the minors than it was a year ago at Fullerton. Brown has also stolen 39 bases, but that large total has also come with 14 failures. That’s an efficiency rate of just under 74 percent, which isn’t great, but he could certainly improve in that with more games.
He’s an excellent prospect, and I hate to see him go.
But then they didn’t trade Gary Brown. They traded Eric Surkamp, Francisco Peguero and Zack Wheeler. Then they traded Gary Brown and Zack Wheeler. Then they threw in Charlie Culberson to sweeten the deal. Then Grant Brisbee said something funny (which he almost never does):
And finally, before the Mets and Giants settled on a deal, everyone on Twitter knew more than Brian Sabean, was sure he was an idiot, and despite having virtually no information whatsoever at their disposal regarding any of the prospects, they were just sure they’d have traded for Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes for a Jerome Williams rookie card and a pack of those fake (candy) cigarettes from when you were a kid, the ones you could still purchase at the super market.
And then Sabean sent an Advanced-A pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the New York Mets for the best hitter (and probably player, period) in the trade market.
Zack Wheeler isn’t just any A-Advanced pitching prospect. He’s an excellent one. He’s also a former first-round pick for the Giants, having been picked by San Francisco sixth in the 2009 MLB amateur draft out of a Georgia high school. He was also the pre-2010 #49 prospect for Baseball America, and #55 coming into this season. Since the start of 2011, he’s moved up in the rankings.
And, unlike many who will write about this deal today, I have seen Zack Wheeler pitch. I watched Wheeler strike out 12 batters early this summer. The stadium gun had him at 89-93 miles per hour and most of his strikeouts came on the heater. It was an impressive showing.
Right now, he’s a 21-year-old, high-upside starter in the minor leagues. He has an excellent fastball that has sink on it and an excellent curveball, which is his main swing-and-miss pitch. But he also lacks control. To go along with an excellent strikeout-per-nine rate of 10.0 this season, he’s walked 4.8 per nine. Last season he walked 5.8 per nine innings.
Attempting to extrapolate whatever I can from his minor league stats, I think his poor results against left-handed hitters this year is an indication that he doesn’t have even a mediocre changeup at this point. In just 26.2 innings, he’s given up four home runs to lefties and walked 22. He has accumulated 35 strikeouts, though, so it’s not as if he hasn’t found a way to strike out opposite-handed batters. But versus righties, he’s managed nearly the same number of walks with more than twice the innings pitched.
As he heads to whatever minor league level the Mets decide to send him to, probably the A-Advanced Carolina League, he’ll carry a 3.99 ERA through 88 innings.
Here’s why I like the deal: I’m very, very comfortable with the Giants’ ability to evaluate their pitching prospects. I really, really am. The Giants know pitchers. They kept Madison Bumgarner in 2010, when it might have been attractive to move him, and even though his velocity was down and, some thought, he might be hurt. In 2009, they flipped Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez, Sanchez got hurt but Alderson collapsed, and the Giants eventually won the World Series. Sanchez certainly helped them to.
Will this happen again? Will Wheeler never reach his ceiling? Who knows, but the Giants made their decision and I’m comfortable with Bobby Evans’, Dick Tidrow’s and Brian Sabean’s assessment.
The other reason is that I like Gary Brown quite a lot. The Giants have, in the past couple of years, shown a much better ability to develop young hitters. We have Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and if Bochy will let us, we have Brandon Belt. What they have lacked, though, is an extremely athletic table setter. I don’t know if he will be, but Brown could be that player.
From everything that I’ve read, Brown might be the fastest player in the minor leagues right now. That’s a nice thing to have, a player with Darren Ford, Deion Sanders, 80-grade speed, but that actually also possesses the hit tool. That’s very attractive. I’m glad the Giants have decided to keep him around to see if he’s for real.
I think I read this right this morning when I said:
The latest on the Beltran front is that he may not fetch a top prospect after all. I think that’s rubbish, and that he ultimately will fetch a Zack Wheeler-type.
And that he did.
Roughly 70 percent of Giants fans will at least be happy with the player the Giants acquired, at least those that read this blog. According to the poll I placed in this morning’s blog post on B.J. Upton and Carlos Beltran, a large majority preferred Beltran if the prospects headed out were the same. This didn’t surprise me in the least.
There are two major risks in this trade that we may as well throw out there. The first is that Beltran has had trouble staying healthy the last two seasons, and you pray that those troubles are behind him in 2011. The other isn’t just that Wheeler will become an excellent starting pitcher, but that the Giants will have no ability to reduce the overall cost of their rotation in the next few seasons. It’s no secret that Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are expensive, and getting more expensive.
That being said, the Giants do have another starting pitcher in the minors that may be able to contribute soon in Eric Surkamp. He may not have a ton of value in a trade right now, but his future may be bright, and the Giants have done well to hang on to him. It’s now more important than ever that he succeeds in his quest to enter the big-league rotation. Despite having a much lower ceiling than Wheeler, there’s no question that he was likely to arrive sooner. Perhaps much sooner.
What this trade is not, is a disaster. A Single-A pitcher, even one as talented as Zack Wheeler, is not an outrageous price to pay for a two-month rental. Not when that rental is the best offensive player a team can hope to add, and not when there are a bunch of teams hot on his tail. Is it a bit of an overpay? Perhaps, but if the Giants weren’t going to do it, somebody else was. He was the guy they wanted, and the Giants went out and got him.
All in all, the Giants have put themselves in excellent position to take the National League West in back-to-back seasons, and they’ve given themselves a much better shot to go beyond that, even defend their title. But, at some point this season, I’ll probably have a wonderful dream that goes something like this…
I’ll be sitting at a computer screen and see this tweet:
@ExtraBaggs: Giants lineup:
1. Andres Torres, CF
2. Brandon Belt, 1B
3. Carlos Beltran, LF
4. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
5. Buster Posey, C
6. Nate Schierholtz, RF
7. Freddy Sanchez, 2B
8. Brandon Crawford, SS
9. Madison Bumgarner, P
Then I will wake up, and I’ll begin to feel very somber. Luckily, I’ll have the memories of watching the Giants win the 2010 World Series to cheer me up. I’ll also have the hope that, even without Sanchez and Posey, they still have a fighting chance to do it again.
Still, we will miss ye, Zack Wheeler.
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This is a nice looking breaking ball. Good luck, Zach, or Zack, or Zax, or whatever your name is.
This GIF comes from Adam Foster of Project Prospect, who had this to say on Wheeler:
Wheeler’s 72-78 MPH curveball has elite, two-plane break and is a no-doubt swing-and-miss offering…
…the pitch is already above-average and it’s close to surfacing as a true plus offering. As impressive as Wheeler’s fastball was, I think his curveball is his best offering.
Follow Rory Paap on Twitter (@paapfly).