Trade Schmidt? Just Say No!

There seems to be a growing impression amongst teams and fans that Jason Schmidt, after all, is not done for his career. This is certainly evidenced by seemingly non-stop talk about teams trading for Schmidt, and quickly Schmidt has become one of the most talked about trade targets as we get into Trade Month, otherwise known as July. However, trading Schmidt could simply be the worst possible idea for the Giants and their fans.

Frankly, it’s practically all I’ve been hearing about the last week and a half amongst Giant fans.

“When should we trade Jason Schmidt?”

“Who should we trade Schmidt to?”

“What could we get for Jason Schmidt?”

Let’s get this straight: the only answers to these questions are:

“Not this year.”

“No one.”

“Not nearly enough.”

I don’t know when it happened, but a lot of Giant fans really turned into worrywarts and quitters during the admittingly rough times of this season, which is an embarrassment to the hardy, faithful fans of the mid eighties and nineties. Make no mistake, this team has problems. But at the same time, it’s not nearly as bad as the record (and some of the losses) have made this team out to be. And this Giants team is a better built contender for next year than many, and it’s not missing many pieces. But Schmidt is the glue holding the hopes for next year together, and if the Giants do trade away Schmidt, they might as well tell Bonds to not bother showing up, because 2006 will be a more pointless season than 1996 was.

Why do people want to trade Schmidt?

Well, it all started with Schmidt’s problems this year, and this growing fear that this once proud ace and Cy Young contender’s career was over. Fears were running amok that he was now just a mediocre pitcher and not worth the $10 million option he had next year, and that he should be dumped while his value was somewhere above sea level.

Now the focus seems to come from Giants fans who apparently haven’t been sellers in so long that they’re drooling all over each other at getting debatable prospects for the still unshaped ‘rebuilding’ process everyone was expecting to arrive after Bonds retired, but now seems to be being rushed into 2006.

These Giants fans have forgotten what the annual July trades are: they are usually teams who have players who could be leaving at the end of the year as free agents, have little hope of being resigned, and who have no hope at the playoffs. So they trade those players for what they can get simply to get something.

Though there are several potential free agents on this team, and a couple seriously worth trading, but Schmidt is not one of them. The Giants have an option for $10M in 2006, with a $3M buyout if they elect not to take it. But I doubt anyone wouldn’t take his option, so essentially he’s signed through 2006. And he’s worth keeping around, because the Giants can contend in 2006.

Can the Giants really contend in 2006?

Absolutely. It’s easy to be pessimistic about this team when they get one hit by the A’s and lose by 16 runs. But this team has plenty of pieces in place. Just look at the guys already under contract for next year.

You’ve got the leading Rookie of the Year candidate Jason Ellison in center, who has grabbed the leadoff job from Ray Durham, despite efforts to push him out of it. And hitting behind him, you’ve got Omar Vizquel, who is one of the top performing shortstops in the NL in both offense and defense, and a possible All-Star.

The middle of the order obviously has dependence on Bonds coming back, but you can’t truly plan otherwise, financially or personnel-wise. Set up to hit behind Bonds is Moises Alou, who’s hitting over .300 and could hit 30+ homers again. And then you’ve got Ray Durham, who between injuries has done well as a clutch switch hitter who can hit 3rd or 5th.

Then you’ve got either Edgardo Alfonzo, a more reliable clutch hitter than he has been, or Pedro Feliz, a big swinging slugger who still leads this team in RBI even as he slides down the batting order. There’s Mike Matheny, who despite a low overall BA, is the very definition of ‘clutch’ and leads the league’s catchers in RBI and is 3rd in home runs (1 behind the tied leaders). And then there’s Lance Niekro, tied for 2nd amongst rookies in HR despite limited playing time. Niekro has an admittingly bad platoon split and struggles mightily against right handed pitching, but if that’s this lineup’s only weakness, that’s not a bad one to have (and a platoon left handed hitting first-baseman away from being fixed).

The bullpen could use some help, but its biggest need right now is the return of closer Armando Benitez. The promotions of minor leaguers Jack Taschner (1.69 ERA) and Scott Munter (2.45 ERA) have been huge, and bode well for the rebuilding of the bullpen. LaTroy Hawkins is expected to take his option for 2006, which may lead to a solid setup man in front of Benitez. Walker has shown effective streaks, and there are several very good bullpen men available in the free agent market, as well as several in house options like converted starters (Brad Hennessey or Jesse Foppert come to mind) to work with.

That brings us to the rotation. Here lies the problem. Under contract next year is Jason Schmidt (via his option), Noah Lowry, and all sorts of minor leaguers. However, it’s not good to have more than one rookie in a year (lest you over-rely on young pitchers, like what happened this year), and most people will agree that Matt Cain is the rookie to bring up next year.

So that leaves the Giants, conservatively speaking, with Schmidt as their #1 pitcher, Lowry as their #4 pitcher, and Cain as their #5 pitcher.

Two upper rotation holes, a couple of solid bullpen arms, a maybe a platoon starter at first and bench players aren’t exactly in need of an overhaul of the entire team nor a scrapping of everything, is it?

But now take Jason Schmidt out of the equation…suddenly, this is a team that has no top pitchers, and though the lineup is good, it’s not THAT good to support getting no top pitchers.

But couldn’t the Giants just replace Jason Schmidt by way of Free Agency next year, using the $10M they save?

Here’s the thing: No.

The key here is to actually look at the impending free agents. A lot of people aren’t, but if the plan is to replace Schmidt via free agency, then one should.

This year’s list of free agent pitchers is shallow to begin with. There are only 39 possible free agents, and that number will drop once options are taken and older guys retire. I looked at the list, and here is how I rank the pitchers that will be available as to what types of pitchers they are:

Aces: NONE

#2's: Kevin Millwood, A.J. Burnett

#3's: Brett Tomko, Esteban Loaiza, Matt Morris, Glendon Rusch*, John Thomson*, Jarrod Washburn

#4's: Kirk Rueter, Shawn Estes, Joe Mays*, Brian Moehler, Jeff Suppan*, Jeff Weaver, Woody Williams*

#5's: Kevin Brown, Elmer Dessens*, Scott Elarton, Jason Johnson, Kaz Ishii*, Al Leiter, Jamie Moyer, Aaron Sele, Steve Trachsel*, Jamey Wright

Pure Crap:
Brian Anderson, Kevin Appier, Tony Armas, Pedro Astacio, Scott Erickson, Jose Lima, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdez

Won't be on the market (By way of retirement or options): Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Kenny Rogers, Mark Mulder, Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito

(Pitchers with an asterisk have a player or club option that may or may not be taken, thus taking them off the market.)

That is not a great list of pitchers, and it could get a lot worse after teams and/or players decide on taking options. I’ll grant my assessments are subjective. You can get picky with the rankings, and move a guy or two up or down, but the bottom line remains: there are simply not that many top pitchers available.

The top 2, the only two who could even be used in the same sentence as Schmidt, are not ideal options. A.J. Burnett is an injury risk, and by injury risk, I mean he has a hospital record that would give a hypochondriac a wet dream. And Kevin Millwood, inconsistent but having a good year, is represented by Scott Boras, who isn’t an agent Sabean likes dealing with. Or talking with. Frankly, I’m surprised that Boras hasn’t just faxed every team and notified them that only by out-bidding the New York Yankees can they get Millwood.

And the Orioles, who are trying to trade for Burnett, have said they only will do it if they can resign Burnett. Imagine that market without Burnett on it.

Which brings up the next thing to consider: the teams that will be looking for pitching. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Orioles, Mets, White Sox, Cardinals, Braves, Reds and Mariners, all top spenders, will be looking for pitchers this offseason. And that doesn’t include the usual mid and low-level teams that simply are always looking for help.

Look again at the list of pitchers up there, and how few are competitive pitchers. Then look at the number of teams looking.

Realize that not only does this mean diminished odds of signing even one (much less 2-3) of these guys, but that they will have pretty exploitative salaries.

But doesn’t your plan also need the Giants to sign some of these guys, smart guy?

Yes, but it calls for signing LESS of them. Maybe even just one, as the Giants are reportedly looking for a middle of the rotation pitcher in trade now, and have been connected with several already.

And signing one of the top eight or so guys is easier than signing two, not to mention a lot more likely. Especially when you’ve got, say, a former Cardinals catcher and pitcher’s best friend when ex-Cardinal pitcher Matt Morris should be on the market.

Okay, okay. But couldn’t trading Schmidt help by getting some pitchers?

If a team is looking for short term help in pitching, they’re not very likely to trade one effective pitcher away, are they? Much less two or three good ones.

No, but if we get prospects for Schmidt, couldn’t they then be turned around in the offseason for good, young pitchers, even an Ace?

Yea, because there are a ton of teams with extra Aces lying around they’d be willing to trade when they’re building for next year.

Aces just aren’t that plentiful. I suppose anything’s possible, but do you really find it likely?

But there’s still the chance the Giants won’t contend next year. Wouldn’t the Giants be smarter to capitalize on Schmidt’s value now and start rebuilding?

Ah, and here we come to thing #2: No.

Let’s say you’re right. Let’s say things don’t go right next year. Moises actually injures himself, Omar hits .250, Bonds doesn’t return to past glory, and so on.

What in the world is keeping the Giants from dealing Schmidt then, in 2006, when he doesn’t have the contract for 2007 and can’t help the Giants the following year?

Moreso, it’s likely the Giants could get a better deal next season. It’s a simple theory, ask your stockbroker: buy low, sell high. Schmidt’s value is possibly at its lowest point of the last few years. Teams that we might talk to will talk about how he suffered from dead arm, how he’s been inconsistent this year and still has an ERA closer to 5.00 than 4.00, and how he’s got this huge burden of a deal next season (or a huge buyout) that is a big risk with his performance this year.

Next year, he will probably be better. He’s already showing signs of recovery. Plus, he won’t have that burden of an option for teams to use as a negotiating point. Even if he still pitches in the mid-4’s of an ERA, he’s still more valuable to more teams because they don’t have to worry about budgetary issues the following year.

But if this year is such a bust in free agency for starting pitching, won’t teams see the value in having him for 2006?

Yea, but you think they’re going to admit that? You’ve never bartered at a flea market, have you?

But what if, against your odds, Schmidt does fall apart in 2006? What if he gets even worse, so bad he can’t even be traded? Then we’re stuck with him, his $10 million contract and we don’t contend.

True, that’s a risk.

But look at those guys in that free agent list again. Tell me that the odds of Schmidt getting even worse from this year are greater than those pitchers being this bad or worse. Tell me that with a straight face.

Now, once you’ve swallowed that any of those guys could be this bad or worse, and are perhaps just as likely to be, let’s remember they’d have to be signed this upcoming offseason, meaning that we’re stuck with them (and their likely bloated contract) for 3-4 years each.

Nothing kills rebuilding like bloated contracts for mediocre pitchers that can’t be gotten rid of.

The bottom lines for the arguments for trading Schmidt seem to be this:

• If you trade Schmidt, you’re all but throwing the towel in for next year. Any plans that call for the Giants to contend in ’06 without Schmidt call for counting on competing in a seller’s market for multiple free agents, making at best unlikely trades for new pitchers, and counting on all of them to do well. Oh, and getting a decent value for Schmidt. And if you trade Schmidt, and the other parts don’t fall into place…there’s no real fallback plan except suck and rebuild.

• If you keep Schmidt, you have a solid chance at contending in 2006 with not nearly so much to do in free agency and trade, thus making them more likely to be done, and count on Schmidt being healthy. And, if those don’t work out, the fallback option is to….well, trade Schmidt anyway and probably get a better value for him.

Remind me again what the downside of not trading Schmidt is?

That’s what I thought.

The Giants need to keep Schmidt for 2006. It’s a win-win situation.

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