Examining Giants' long, odd history of one-sided trades with Pirates

Examining Giants' long, odd history of one-sided trades with Pirates

The Giants would have been in Pittsburgh tonight, which is always a fun trip if you can ignore the fact that you're in for at least one lengthy rain delay (they make up for it by leaving the ice cream machine on in the dining room, although it's possible that's an accident I'm not supposed to talk about publicly). 

PNC Park is as good as it gets, and the Giants do have some recent history there. Madison Bumgarner's shutout in the Wild Card Game, boosted by Brandon Crawford's grand slam, is one of the more memorable games of the championship era. If you go further back, you know the Pirates as the team that employed Barry Bonds before he came home. Other than that, you might think of them for something else. 

If you feel like the Giants and Pirates make a lot of trades, you would be correct. They have a long history of working out deals, and some ended up being lopsided. There have been 38 deals in all, including six since the Giants moved into Oracle Park. Before you watch our PlayStation simulation of Giants-Pirates tonight, take a stroll through some of their most recent deals:

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2018: Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick for Andrew McCutchen

I've written about this one a couple of times before, including in early 2019, when the Giants happened to be in Pittsburgh when Reynolds was called up. To sum up, while the Giants misevaluated Reynolds, they also really misevaluated themselves. 

McCutchen and Evan Longoria were not going to turn a 98-loss team back into a contender, and by swinging those deals the Giants set their farm system back and slowed the current rebuild. Reynolds hit .314 as a rookie with 16 homers, and Baseball-Reference had him at 4.1 WAR (which easily would have led the Giants) in just 134 games. 

Imagine if the Giants would have been moving forward knowing that Reynolds, Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop could have made up an extremely cost-controlled outfield by 2022? 

2010: John Bowker and Joe Martinez for Javier Lopez 

Acquired on deadline day in 2010, Lopez became a key member of the Core Four and allowed Bruce Bochy to deftly play the matchups every other postseason. My favorite Lopez stat: He faced 47 batters in the playoffs for the Giants and allowed just five hits. He also was so popular and respected that he joined the broadcast team soon after retirement, and he regularly fills in for Mike Krukow when the Giants are on the road.

Bowker had just 109 big league at-bats after the trade. He ended up back in the Giants system and they dealt him back to Pittsburgh in 2015 for cash considerations. Martinez made eight big league appearances after the deal. It was such a heist it made my list of top 10 trades in franchise history.

2009: Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez

I started covering the Giants full-time in 2012, which means most of my Freddy Sanchez stories have been updates on his health. But in 2010, he was a key piece for the championship club. Sanchez had a .342 on-base percentage that year and started every postseason game at second base. He became the first player to double in his first three World Series at-bats and his huge Game 1 helped the Giants get off to a good start against the Rangers. 

Also, Ghost Freddy is an underrated image:

Alderson was a 2007 first-round pick who made Baseball America's Top 100 in back-to-back years, but he never made it past Triple-A. 

[RELATED: Ever wonder what the first-ever bobblehead was at Giants baseball game?]

2007: Matt Morris for Rajai Davis

The Associated Press always stays right down the middle, but even their Pittsburgh writer couldn't resist taking a shot after this deal, a pure salary dump by Brian Sabean. "Normally, teams not in the race don't look to add an aging and expensive starter such as Morris," the AP writer wrote in the recap.

Well yeah, but the Pirates don't exactly have a history of making smart baseball decisions. They took on an expensive contract to add Morris to a young rotation. Morris had a 4.35 ERA at the time of the deal and it ballooned to 6.10 in 11 starts the rest of the season. He gave up 24 earned runs in his first five starts of 2008 and was released with more than $10 million remaining on a three-year deal he had signed with the Giants. The general manager who dealt for him was fired about a month after the trade. 

Davis, incredibly, still was playing in the big leagues last season at the age of 38. He played just 63 games for the Giants after the deal, but that's alright. Getting rid of that money as they were rebuilding was the real prize. 

2001: Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong for Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal

Sabean fared quite well when he called the Pirates, and he absolutely fleeced them in his first deal with them.

Schmidt was a back-end starter in Pittsburgh but turned into an All-Star and Cy Young candidate in San Francisco. His 2003 season -- 17-5, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP -- is one of the best in recent franchise history. Vander Wal played just 49 games for the Giants. 

Rios had been a moderately productive outfielder for the Giants but he hit just one homer in 211 at-bats for the Pirates. Vogelsong is one of the most popular players the Giants have employed, but it took him a while to get there. He struggled in five seasons in Pittsburgh, bounced around the globe, and then returned to San Francisco, where he became an All-Star in 2011 and contributed greatly to the next two titles. 

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

No matter how you feel about interleague play, it's hard to find much fault with the yearly home-and-home series between the Giants and A's. 

Fans from both sides pack the ballparks, particularly in Oakland. For years, when Oracle Park sold out every night, that was the best chance that Giants fans in the East Bay had of seeing their team up close, and it remains a much closer trip. There's a lot more media for those games, and I can say from personal experience that I've always loved having the opportunity to watch someone like Matt Chapman in person for three days. 

The games are generally good, too. Two of last year's four games were decided by a run, and a third game saw the Giants score five runs in the eighth to claw back, only to watch the A's pull away with two more in the top of the ninth. A year earlier, three of the six meetings were one-run games, including a pair of walk-offs. 

The Bay Bridge Series now includes an art show and a trophy, and it even gave us one of the best GIFs in franchise history:

The 2020 season was halted a couple of weeks before the Giants and A's were to return home for their yearly exhibition series that gets both sides ready for the season, and it's hard to tell what the plan will be when the sport returns. The original proposal from MLB called for the Giants to play just the NL West and AL West this season, so they expected to see a lot of the A's. If MLB decides to play just 50 games or so, that would drastically change the schedule, and perhaps the Giants would just play games within their division.

We don't know when the Bay Bridge Series will resume, but on NBC Sports Bay Area, a version will air tonight. We've been simulating the whole season and tonight's matchup is the Giants and the A's, with Kruk and Kuip on the call at 5 p.m. 

[RELATED: How 2019 Giants would've looked in shortened MLB season]

Hopefully it's a close game, and history tells us it will be. If you extend the sample beyond the two seasons mentioned above, you find a remarkably close back-and-forth. Since the A's swept the 1989 World Series, the two Bay Area franchises have squared off 124 times in the regular season, with Oakland holding a 64-60 edge. The A's have outscored the Giants by 14 total runs over the last 30 years. 

You might think the last decade would be different given the three titles and all the success the Giants have had, but it's been even closer in recent years. They've played 50 times since the start of 2010 and won 25 games each. The Giants have outscored the A's 225-224 in their interleague matchups over the past decade. It's a matchup that's as close as it gets, and hopefully it's one we're watching again soon. 

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Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele was a shortstop at Santa Clara University as the Giants were taking over the even years, and he took advantage of his school's location. Viele and friends would hop on Caltrain a few times every year and head straight to Oracle Park, the home of his future employer. 

The ballpark will look different when Viele finally walks through as the co-hitting coach. The fences are coming in, a boost not just to the hitters but to the men -- Viele, Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind -- tasked with getting the most out of them. That's not their focus, though. 

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Viele said the focus remains on what hitters can control. The ballpark is still going to heavily favor pitchers, and the new staff will continue to preach having a proper swing and controlling the strike zone. 

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"If the ball doesn't carry but we hit it really hard, in the expected numbers that really looks good," he said. "It doesn't look good in the batting average, but the expected numbers look good because you're hitting the ball hard. That's really what we can control. Swing at the right pitches and hit the ball hard."

The hope is that a solid approach leads to more success over time, and even if the Giants get Oracle'd, they still hope to hammer teams offensively on the road. They were much improved last season, but over this three-year dip, they rank 23rd in runs scored away from home, 27th in road homers, and 28th in road wRC+. The new staff is trying to teach a better approach, and Viele summed it up neatly. 

"We like to break it up into three different bullet points," he said. "It's (first), how well are you moving. That's so many things. Some people say it's dancing with the pitcher, it's the timing, how you pick up your leg, how you move forward, all these different things. Do you have a big swipe act? Do you have a big jump forward? Are you controlled? All these different things, but ultimately it's how well are you moving. Can we make you move better?"

The second focus is on the bat and what it's doing as it comes through the zone. 

[RELATED: Justin Viele recalls Yaz calling his shot]

"How adjustable is your path, are you able to get on plane with multiple pitches," Viele said. 

Finally, what are you swinging at?

"How prepared are you to face that certain pitcher, how is he going to attack you and how are you going to beat him. How is he going to win," Viele said. "It's understanding those three things: How well you're moving, the bat path, and then the game-planning portion of it."