Clash of the Three Giants: Veteran starter Austin Slater traded to a left-handed reliever

Clash of the Three Giants: Veteran starter Austin Slater traded to a left-handed reliever
Clash of the Three Giants: Veteran starter Austin Slater traded to a left-handed reliever

The Giants cut ties with their longest-tenured player on Sunday night, trading infielder Austin Slater and cash to the Cincinnati Reds for left-handed reliever Alex Young.

The move will be cheered by a vocal segment of the fan base that sees Slater as a roster check for young outfielders like Luis Matos and Tyler Fitzgerald. It also ends a long-running feud between Slater and Mike Jastrzemski, the latter of whom now inherits the title of the Giants’ longest-tenured player. Yastrzemsky made his debut in May 2019; right-handers Logan Webb and Tyler Rogers made their debuts in August of that season.

Slater, 31, established himself as a solid hitter and reliable producer against left-handed pitching (.805 OPS, 24 in 755 at-bats), but injuries piled up the past two years and he never found his groove this season. The Stanford alum, an eighth-round pick in 2014 who debuted three years later, hit .200/.330/.244 with one homer in 90 at-bats over 43 games this season. He lost 5-4 at Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.

Young, 30, is someone the Giants already gave away once. He posted a 2.39 ERA in 24 games for the Giants in 2022 but didn’t earn a contract after the season and became a free agent. Young battled a back issue with the Reds and hasn’t pitched in the majors in more than a month, but he posted a 1.19 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings for Triple-A Louisville.

Young will report to Triple-A Sacramento, the Giants said.

Here are three takeaways from the business that may have been surprising only at the time:

We’ve seen this trade before.

It’s out of character for Giants president Farhan Zaidi to start the season with veteran depth next to a position player and lose that depth after reaching his goal. He did that in his first season with the franchise in 2019, when he signed Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra to one-time deals, ensuring the lineup had at least some depth and structure while Zaidi rotated through the back half of the roster he sought and sought. Players both in and out of the system can plug away if given the opportunity.

When the Giants decided they no longer needed an extra set of training wheels, they cut Solarte and Parra and moved on with players like Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson.

The difference this time is that Zaidi didn’t have to look outside the organization to find someone who could help bridge the gap for young players like Matos and Heliot Ramos. Slater fits in quite well. And he’s already shown familiarity and acceptance playing as a platoon tight end.

Now Ramos is an All-Star, Matos has gained a bit more experience, and Fitzgerald offers more positional flexibility along with the athleticism this team desperately needs. David Villar is having a nice season in Sacramento, hitting .294 with one homer in six games. And while they’ve been quietly dreaming of fulfilling Tom Murphy’s two-year, $8.25 million contract, the backup catcher will be healthy at some point and at least able to play a role as a right-handed hitter. All of these factors likely convinced Zaidi that it was time to move on from Slater.

And if Brett Wiesel becomes the player the Giants can’t get out of their lineup, then shortstop Nick Ahmed could be the next veteran player to make ends meet.

The giants got better as they got younger (and healthier)

It’s probably no coincidence that the Giants have begun reliably rotating the lineup and scoring more runs while giving young players like Ramos and Viseli an expanded role.

The Giants have a .744 OPS on players 25 and younger, a .707 OPS on players 26-30 and a .680 OPS on players 31-35. They got younger and fresher after sending second baseman Tyro Estrada and first baseman Wilmer Flores to the IL, who needed a break.

This is a trend that should continue. The Giants are tied for last among MLB teams with 30 stolen bases, and at this point, it would be surprising if they didn’t go 30-for-30 for a second straight season.

With just four full-time starters plus designated hitter Jorge Soler on the 40-man roster, it might not be out of the question for shortstop Grant McCray, who has started 20 games since being promoted to Sacramento, to make his debut soon. (McCray must be added to the 40-man roster after the season or he will likely be lost to the Rule 5 draft.)

The search for the remains

Rodgers leads the major leagues with 46 games and fellow right-hander Ryan Walker leads with 45, but it’s left-hander Eric Miller’s workload that is more of a focus for manager Bob Melvin and the coaching staff.

Miller has been excellent as a rookie, holding lefties to a .115 average while serving as a primary lefty reliever and occasional starter. He’s also pitched more than 40 innings and is on pace for a career-high 62 1/2 innings last year at Triple-A Sacramento. There’s a reason the Giants were able to acquire Miller for reliever Junior Marte in a trade from Philadelphia, where he was once a top prospect. It’s the same reason Miller appeared in the futures game one year and then went unprotected and unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft the next year. He’s battled a series of injuries. He also dealt with a calf issue this season.

Alex Young was previously with the Giants and posted a 2.39 ERA in 24 games in 2022. (Karim Elgazzar/USA Today)

Young is the second left-hander the Giants have acquired in the past week. They also claimed left-handed reliever Colton Ingram off waivers from St. Louis, optioned him to Double-A Richmond and recalled him Saturday.

There’s no guarantee that Ingram or Young will remain with the organization much longer. With Robbie Ray and possibly Alex Cobb activated from the 60-day injured list after the All-Star break, the Giants will need to create spots on a 40-man roster. Pitchers Tristan Beck, Ethan Small and Austin Warren are all on the 60-day injured list and could contribute in the second half.

Slater’s move from the 40-man pool was a precursor to some roster decisions that will be made in the coming weeks. In the meantime, it gives the Giants a bit more coverage from the left side of the bullpen, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

(Foto superior: John Hefty/USA Today)

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