SAN FRANCISCO — As Giants officials gave updates over the past two weeks, they always did so with a pained look. The knew that upgrading the roster before Major League Baseball's trade deadline was going to hurt. On Monday, they found out just how how painful it would be.
In acquiring three veterans over the past week, the Giants shipped out six young players, including their top pitching prospect and a teenage infielder they paid $6 million to just a year ago. But the biggest name was one already part of a championship club. Matt Duffy was the main target for the Tampa Bay Rays as they talked of shipping left-hander Matt Moore to the Giants, and after repeatedly trying to make a prospect-driven deal, general manager Bobby Evans finally pulled the trigger.
Evans said trading Duffy, a fan favorite and talented young third baseman, was “emotional” and “personal.”
“I still think this is more of a game than a business,” Evans said. “But today it feels a lot more like a business.”
Evans is in the business of winning championships, and in recent weeks the front office looked around and saw a roster in need of multiple infusions. Eduardo Nunez came over for Adalberto Mejia, a left-hander adored by scouts, and that partially cleared the way for Duffy to be dealt. On Monday morning, the Giants traded top pitching prospect Phil Bickford — their 2015 first-rounder — and Triple-A catcher Andrew Susac for left-handed reliever Will Smith.
Then came the Moore trade, with Duffy joined by 19-year-old Lucius Fox, who was signed out of the Bahamas, and A-ball right-hander Michael Santos, an intriguing project.
“This is always a tough time of year,” Evans said. “You get attached to these guys and believe in these guys and invest in them. Our anticipation from the day we sign them is they’re going to be Giants. This is a very difficult day.”
It is also one that leaves some questions. The 2016 Giants are certainly much improved, and Nunez is signed for another season with Moore and Smith under team control for two more after that. The rotation will get an immediate boost from Moore, a 27-year-old left-hander who has a 4.08 ERA this season but was a Cy Young candidate just three years ago, when he was 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning. Evans could not yet say which veteran — Jake Peavy or Matt Cain — would come out of the rotation.
“Everybody will play an important part going forward,” he said.
Moore had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and Smith has also dealt with an injury, but the Giants believe his right knee is healthy. Smith has a 3.68 ERA this season, but a year ago it was 2.70 and two years ago he posted a 3.70 in a league-high 78 appearances. Smith will in theory become the new Jeremy Affeldt, a lefty capable of facing hitters from both sides and pitching multiple innings.
“We’re confident he can help us on both fronts,” Evans said. “Both (Moore and Smith) are under contract through 2019 and it certainly affects what you give up. For us, it does provide an additional benefit in that we’re looking not just at 2016, but beyond. I think it makes us stronger.”
Smith will be a seamless fit. The more interesting moves will come to the infield, both this month and in future years. Brian Sabean spent the past week watching Christian Arroyo play for Double-A Richmond and Evans said Arroyo isn’t “that far away.” He wouldn’t commit to a timetable for Arroyo, but also didn’t say Nunez is the new everyday third baseman.
If Arroyo doesn’t make it up in the next two months — Duffy himself was a young contributor after the deadline just two years ago — he certainly looks like the third baseman of the future, probably as soon as next spring.
Duffy has appeared to be the cornerstone since taking over for Casey McGehee last May. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting and was a Gold Glove finalist, but injuries — he’s currently rehabbing an Achilles strain — have limited him this season. The Rays asked about Duffy when he was a relative unknown in the minors, and they continued to ask. Evans was hesitant. Until Monday.
“It’s incredibly difficult,” he said of trading Duffy. “Our focus was on prospect-driven deals, but it became apparent there was no way to do a prospect-driven deal with them."