Giants' trade for Mike Yastrzemski paying big dividends one year later

Giants' trade for Mike Yastrzemski paying big dividends one year later

There's nothing but uncertainty right now for Major League Baseball, but whenever this season starts, there are some sure bets for the Giants.

It's pretty close to a lock that Mike Yastrzemski will be in the Opening Day lineup, and it's a pretty good bet that he'll be hitting at or near the top of the order every game when baseball resumes. 

Yastrzemski has become a household name for Giants fans, one of the few players they can feel comfortable relying on heading into this season, but a year ago at this time, he wasn't much different than the people clicking through depth charts and tweets and trying to figure out what the Giants were going to look like. 

Having spent six seasons in the minors already, Yastrzemski could read the writing on the wall last spring. He was not part of the future in Baltimore, and he spent his March trying to find a more desirable situation.

"I went down a rabbit hole of outfield depth charts, just kind of seeing where teams were and where they were strong and where they weren't," Yastrzemski said earlier this month. "I was just reading articles on where there were opportunities to play in the outfield. I was just constantly trying to put the thoughts out there that it was possible."

"At this point, I was probably researching every team in the world that needed outfielders and trying to find a way to convince either them to trade for me or for the Orioles to trade me. I was somehow trying to just find a way to get to an area where I knew that I had a little more of a chance."

As Yastrzemski did his research, he zeroed in on the Giants, and for good reason. Farhan Zaidi inherited an outfield with virtually no big-league talent in-house and the Giants ended up going with Connor Joe, Steven Duggar and Michael Reed on Opening Day.

Duggar was entering his second year and was unproven. Joe and Reed were very similar to Yastrzemski. All three were minor leaguers who had put up intriguing numbers in the upper levels but had not yet gotten a consistent chance -- "runway," Zaidi usually calls it -- to try and sink or swim at the big league level.

Yastrzemski knew he wasn't going to get that runway in Baltimore despite the fact that the Orioles had won just 47 games the year before. Yastrzemki had a .359 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage in 2018 in Triple-A, which fit in line with the rest of his minor league career. He was a solid outfielder, but he had never quite broken through with numbers that jumped off the page (his 21 homers last year were six more than his previous career-high for a season). Yastrzemki had spent three consecutive seasons in Double-A and Triple-A when he reported to camp in 2019.

The Orioles decided that the 27-year-old was just an organizational player. Yastrzemski, a 14th-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2013, said he didn't need to talk to any team execs or coaches last spring to know where he stood. He didn't want anybody giving him false hope, and he knew he was no longer in Baltimore's plans. 

"I knew that they were in a full rebuild mode and they weren't looking for somebody to kind of step up and help the team win at the time, they were looking to develop their players and guys that they had their sights on for the next 10 years," he said. "I felt like they didn't view me like that, even if I did."

The Giants couldn't have predicted Yastrzemski coming in and tying for the team lead in homers, but they liked his all-around game and felt he fit the mold of what they were looking for. Their own rebuild has been less glaring. This hasn't been a full teardown. Zaidi has spent most of his two years in San Francisco trying to find players who can supplement the wave of prospects that will arrive over the next few years, and Yastrzemski was a player he brought up early in conversations with other team execs after he took over in November of 2018. 

On this day a year ago, the Giants announced the minor deal that would have gone just about totally unnoticed had it not been for the famous last name of their newest player. They dealt Tyler Herb, a right-handed pitcher who had come over in the Chris Heston deal with the Mariners, to the Orioles. Yastrzemski was sent straight to minor league camp.

[RELATED: Anderson, Duggar were optioned as team hits pause]

After spending the spring looking for a big-league shot, Yastrzemski wasn't too discouraged when he was initially passed over by the Giants. A night before the trade, he had been talking to a friend who was designated for assignment elsewhere. Yastrzemski told him that all he wanted was to find his way to San Francisco. He knew that at some point there would be an opportunity there. That was all he wanted, a chance to prove he was a big leaguer. 

"I knew that they were going to give guys chances," he said. "It all depended on who played well and who didn't. I just wanted to show up here and play well in front of new eyes."

Former Giant Randy Winn describes feeling of month-long hot streak

Former Giant Randy Winn describes feeling of month-long hot streak

A starting pitcher can take control of a game and singlehandedly lead his team to a win, but in general, it's hard for baseball players to will their team to victory day after day.

Starters pitch once every five days and position players know that even on a five-hit night, you're dependent on your own pitchers standing tall, and every time you reach base, you have to wait a couple innings for another chance to impact the game.

But every once in a while, a hitter gets so hot that it seems he's carrying his team for weeks at a time. The Giants last truly experienced this in 2018, when Brandon Crawford briefly thrust himself into the MVP race and earned an All-Star selection with an absurd stretch in May and June.

Buster Posey won the MVP award with his second half of 2012, and Melky Cabrera dragged the Giants to plenty of wins earlier that year before failing a PED test. In the first half of this century, Barry Bonds could carry the lineup for weeks, even seasons, at a time. 

Randy Winn experienced that after being traded to the Giants from the Mariners in 2005, and that year he had his own hot streak that to this day is one of the most impressive in franchise history. Over the final 30 games of that season, Winn had 54 hits in 123 at-bats, good for a .439 batting average. He hit 11 homers, 13 doubles and three triples, with a slugging percentage of .862 and OPS of 1.331. 

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Winn recalled what it felt like to get that hot for such a long period of time. 

"Nothing felt different -- everything just felt really, really easy and really slow," Winn said. "Whenever I felt like I wanted to take a pitch, the pitcher would throw a ball. If in my mind I was thinking, you know what, he might throw me a changeup, and he would throw me a changeup and it was very hittable. When anybody describes 'the zone' or being on fire, what they say is always the same: Everything was really slow, I was really relaxed, and my mind was really clear.

"When I think back on that time or other times when I was hitting really well, those are always the things that I remember. I didn't feel different, I wasn't really doing anything different. It just feels like you're in control of everything."

Listen and subscribe to the Giants Insider Podcast:

Winn was having a solid season to that point, with a .273 average and .742 OPS. He opened September with eight hits in a three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks and never looked back, finishing the year with a .306 average. Winn had 17 multi-hit games in September, including three four-hit games. His 51 hits that month set a San Francisco Giants record that Cabrera tied in May of 2012. 

"It was a great situation for me," Winn said of the midseason trade that brought him to San Francisco. "Coming home, still live in the Bay Area, grew up in the Bay Area, my wife is from the Bay Area, our parents at that time lived in the Bay Area, so for us it was a homecoming and it was just great to be back home."

[RELATED: Why "Champ" Timmy is the best version of former Giants ace]

On the podcast, Winn also talks about how he would handle this layoff, what it was like playing college basketball with Steve Nash, what made Bonds and Albert Pujols so great, and much more. 

Giants fans vote 'Champ' Tim Lincecum as best version of former ace


Giants fans vote 'Champ' Tim Lincecum as best version of former ace

You the fans have spoken.

We asked you to designate your favorite version of former Giants ace Tim Lincecum, and the social media response was overwhelming.

Lincecum was a part of all three World Series-winning teams in 2010, 2012, and 2014 in San Francisco.

During his first postseason run in 2010, Lincecum put together an impressive stretch of performances, solidifying himself as a franchise icon.

Listen and subscribe to the Giants Insider Podcast:

He kicked off the 2010 MLB Playoffs by throwing a 119-pitch shutout with 14 strikeouts against the Atlanta Braves in Game 1, propping up an offense that only mustered one run of support to give the Giants a leg up in the five-game division series.

He followed that effort up by striking out eight Phillies in a Game 1 road win in Philadelphia, when Cody Ross’ two home runs led the Giants to a 4-3 win.

[RELATED: Forbes values Giants as worth $3.1B, fifth-highest in MLB]

Lincecum wrapped up the postseason by earning two World Series wins, including the series clincher in Game 5, striking out 10 Texas Rangers over eight innings as the Giants won their first Fall Classic since the franchise relocated to the west coast in 1958.

Although Lincecum earned plenty of nicknames during his legendary career in San Francisco, “Champ” definitely has a nice ring to it.