The Giants are only 2-7 in their last nine games, but the club remains a factor in the playoff race. With a 47-41 record for the season, San Francisco is 3.5 games behind the Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West, and 1.5 games out of a NL wild card position. While obviously a lot could still happen between now and the August 1 trade deadline, the Giants are preparing at this point to be buyers, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi highlighted one particular target area.
“We’ve got to at least evaluate what we have in the middle infield,” Zaidi told reporters, including Evan Webeck of the Bay Area News Group and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Kind of just keep an eye on the market and see if there’s someone that can be impactful there and weigh that against continuing to give opportunities to Casey [Schmitt] and Brett [Wisely].”
Both second base and shortstop seemed pretty reasonably well covered less than a week ago, yet the loss of Thairo Estrada to a fractured hand delivered a major blow to both the middle infield picture and to San Francisco’s lineup as a whole. Estrada was playing the majority of games at second base while also chipping in at shortstop, so his absence weakens the Giants at both positions. Brandon Crawford remains the starting shortstop, while the rookie duo of Schmitt and Wisely figure to be the top options at second base, with veteran Wilmer Flores likely to get some work at the keystone as well.
Estrada’s recovery timeline is a little fluid, but he is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks, so it is quite possible he might not be back prior to the trade deadline. Even if Estrada is able to return on the lower end of that timeline, that leaves the Giants shorthanded in the middle infield for a lot of crucial games in July. Zaidi could try to swing a trade sooner rather than later, but since there’s still a lot of time until August 1, teams are likely to still have pretty high asking prices on any notable middle infielders who might be available.
Beyond the middle infield, there’s a bit more of a wait-and-see perspective about other possible needs heading int othe deadline. “We’ll have to see how it goes with the outfield the next couple of weeks, but we like the options that we have there,” Zaidi said, and the PBO also noted that the Giants expect some outfielders back from the injured list in the second half. Heliot Ramos is already on a Triple-A rehab assignment and looks to be nearing a return from his oblique strain, while the Giants continue to aim for early September as Mitch Haniger’s return date from forearm surgery.
Zaidi also provided an update on Luis Gonzalez, who hasn’t played this season after undergoing back surgery in mid-March. Gonzalez has been working out at the team’s Spring Training facilities and could soon start playing in Complex League games. His initial recovery timeline ruled him out until at least last June, so while he is a little behind schedule, Zaidi said the outfielder “could be a factor for us in August.”
Since all teams are forever on the lookout for starting pitching, Zaidi acknowledged that the Giants would check in on “a front-of-the-rotation arm that becomes available….You can always fit that.” However, in terms of overall pitching needs, Zaidi said “I don’t really see us adding starting rotation depth because we like the guys that we have in that category.”
Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Anthony DeSclafani, and John Brebbia have all spent time on the IL this season, with DeSclafani (shoulder fatigue) and Brebbia (lat strain) currently sidelined. The latter two hurlers could both be back in the window between the All-Star break and the trade deadline, so the Giants might finally have a chance to see what their rotation looks like when fully healthy.
“What we’re hoping to see in the next two or three weeks leading up the deadline is a little bit more definition and clarity on the pitching staff,” Zaidi said. “We would love to have a group of five guys that just get the ball every fifth day. Even though we’ve had success in the bullpen games and we’ve got guys that are willing to buy in, I think it’s just the most comfortable thing for everybody. Just have a five-man rotation and be giving five guys the ball every fifth day and try to get deep into games. Hopefully we start seeing a little bit more of that over the next two or three weeks.”
The other x-factor surrounding the pitching staff is top prospect Kyle Harrison, and Zaidi said that the team had initially considered calling Harrison up for his MLB debut prior to the All-Star break in order to include him in the Giants’ broader evaluations of their rotation plans. However, Harrison suffered a right hamstring strain earlier this week, and Slusser estimates that he could miss roughly 3-6 weeks.
One of the more highly-regarded pitching prospects in baseball, Harrison’s first season at Triple-A has been inconsistent, as he has a 4.79 ERA over 56 1/3 innings and 17 starts. While the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League is a challenge for any young hurler, Harrison’s 17.3% walk rate is a sizeable red flag, yet the Giants might feel that pitching in the majors (and getting direct help from the big league coaching staff) might be a better adjustment phase for Harrison than continuing in the PCL.
This injury might also erase whatever small chance there might have been of a Harrison trade prior to the deadline, though there was no indication that San Francisco was looking to move a pitcher who projects to be a big part of the future. Logan Webb is the only Giants starter under contract beyond the 2024 season, as the bulk of the rotation is comprised of veteran starters on shorter-term contracts.