Matt Moore

Looking back at Giants-Rays Matt Duffy trade that shocked fans, team

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USATSI

Looking back at Giants-Rays Matt Duffy trade that shocked fans, team

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the spring of 2017, a former Giants prospect sat in the visiting dugout at Scottsdale Stadium and marveled at how the big league team had fallen apart a year earlier.

"Everything changed when we traded Duffy," he said. 

Matt Duffy was just as popular in the clubhouse as he was with the fan base, and he was a bridge from the veterans who had won in 2014 to the newer Giants trying to repeat two years later. There's no doubt that trading Duffy to Tampa Bay at the deadline was a big blow for the clubhouse, but over time -- and three straight losing seasons -- it has became clear that the issues were much deeper. 

The Duffy trade, one of the most scrutinized in recent Giants history, came full circle Wednesday when the Rays DFA'd Duffy as part of an effort to clear 40-man roster spots for prospects. Like Matt Moore, Duffy no longer is with the team that dealt for him, although a good prospect the Giants included is still with the Rays. 

The deal was Moore, a talented left-handed starter, for Duffy, Lucius Fox and Michael Santos. Fox, a 22-year-old shortstop, actually was added to Tampa Bay's 40-man roster on Wednesday to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and perhaps that'll ultimately be the part of this deal that really burns the Giants.

But while he ends up on prospect lists occasionally, Fox has yet to break out and he had a .657 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A last season. Santos is now with the Angels organization and has made just six appearances above A-ball. 

The principals were Duffy and Moore, with the Giants, the best team in the majors throughout that first half of 2016, dealing from their infield depth to get a lefty they felt would put them over the top in the postseason. In retrospect, Moore's time with the Giants is absolutely fascinating. He had a 5.12 ERA in 44 appearances and was traded to the Rangers after his only full season in San Francisco. 

But ... Moore's stint in San Francisco was so close to being remembered as somewhat legendary. 

In his fifth start with the Giants, Moore came one out away from no-hitting the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, which would have given him #ForeverGiant status on the spot. His lone postseason start for the Giants was memorable, but not because he gave up two runs and struck out 10 Cubs over eight innings in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Imagine how Moore would have been remembered had the bullpen held the three-run lead he handed over?

Moore was close to fulfilling all the dreams the Giants had for him when they swung the blockbuster. Across the country, Duffy never even got a chance. 

An Achilles injury limited Duffy to 21 games the rest of 2016 and kept him out all of 2017. Duffy looked more like his old self in 2018, posting a .361 OBP in 132 games, but this past season was again ruined by injuries. Duffy played just 46 games for a team that surprisingly reached the postseason. 

[RELATED: Why Zaidi believes in Giants' veterans after down seasons]

In three-and-a-half years in Tampa, Duffy had just 726 at-bats, but he's still only 28. Perhaps getting back on natural grass full-time will help keep him healthy. Maybe there's a reunion in his future (Duffy isn't really a fit for the current Giants roster but bringing him back sure wouldn't hurt an organization facing a PR nightmare right now). 

Regardless of where he ends up, Duffy won't be in Tampa Bay four seasons after a trade that shook up his previous organization and didn't work out as either side had hoped. 

How Patrick Mahomes injury could change outlook for Raiders, AFC West

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AP

How Patrick Mahomes injury could change outlook for Raiders, AFC West

The AFC West might have just become even more wide open.

It already was heading in that direction after Kansas City lost each of their last two games, but the Chiefs might have suffered an even worse loss Thursday night when quarterback Patrick Mahomes left their game against the Broncos with an apparent leg injury.

Mahomes was in obvious pain after emerging from a pile following a fourth-down sneak. He was able to walk to the locker room, but was ruled out for the rest of the game shortly thereafter.

If Mahomes' injury is as serious as it appears, it would have a drastic effect on the AFC West race. The Raiders (3-2) have put themselves back in contention after winning their last two games over the Colts and Bears. While Kansas City's Matt Moore is a competent backup quarterback, he's nowhere near the same kind of player as the 2018 NFL MVP.

A Chiefs loss to the Broncos combined with a Raiders win over the Packers would leave Oakland all alone in first place in the division. Safe to say, nobody expected that to be a possibility in Week 7.

[RELATED: Green Bay HS legend Ingold ready for homecoming vs. Pack]

The Chiefs, Raiders and the rest of the NFL wait with bated breath for more information about Mahomes' injury.

How Giants closer Will Smith came back from Tommy John as an All-Star

How Giants closer Will Smith came back from Tommy John as an All-Star

SAN FRANCISCO -- The final game of the 2016 NLDS is one the Giants would prefer to forget, but as Will Smith worked his way back to a big league mound for over a year, he tried to remember what that pain felt like. 

Smith was one of five relievers who tried and failed to get the series back to Chicago, with the group combining to allow four runs and blow the lead Matt Moore handed to the bullpen in that infamous Game 4. Smith was the fourth of the five to pitch that night, and he ended up being the one charged with a loss that really fell on the entire bullpen, an Achilles heel for that 2016 team. The next spring, his first with the Giants, Smith was told he needed Tommy John surgery. 

"That was the last game I pitched in, so that was kind of some motivation, too, during rehab," Smith said of Game 4. "You think you're tired and this and that, and you're like, 'Well, your last game you were the losing pitcher, Will. I think you're fine. Get this last set in. Get this last rep in. You're fine.' There was definitely some motivation there."

Whatever was used to push Smith through the tedious and long days in the gym and trainer's room worked. He has returned as a closer, one of the best relievers in the National League, and, for the first time, an All-Star. As he recalled the journey on The Giants Insider Podcast last week, Smith admitted all of this has surprised him. "I never thought this was possible," he said. 

Throughout a rough first half for the Giants, there never seemed to be any other answer. Smith was a no-brainer All-Star selection. He’s 23 for 23 in save opportunities and carries a 1.98 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. Smith has 53 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings and has walked just eight batters, and his rate of 13.1 strikeouts-per-nine is the best of his career. 

The increased strikeout rate has come in part because of an uptick in stuff. He throws his slider nearly 40 percent of the time and opponents are batting just .100 off it, with two extra-base hits. Smith is actually throwing his fastball two-tenths of a mile per hour harder than he did before surgery, and the slider is harder, too. 

As he talks about being better than he was before surgery, Smith often recalls a conversation he had in the spring of 2017. He had just been told that he would need Tommy John surgery and was glumly digesting the news when Buster Posey walked into the trainer's room at Scottsdale Stadium. Posey told Smith his responsibility to the rest of the team was to get better while he was sidelined, and Smith took it to heart. 

That meant attacking the weight room and his cardio work for three to four hours a day, six days a week. It meant taking advantage of the fact that he wouldn't have to save his arm for a game and going through set after set of shoulder workouts. 

"When I was in there I was trying to physically crawl out of the weight room every single day," he said. "If we had legs that day I wanted to be as sore as possible that afternoon -- same thing with the upper body. That's all I had to do that day, that's all I was really thinking of. At the end of the day, I could get my mind off of it and I knew I'd put in my work and it was easier for me, I guess, to get away from it."

Smith's body was noticeably transformed when he returned, and the 29-year-old said he's now in the best shape of his life. The Giants have pushed him hard at times in the first half -- he pitched seven times in 11 days during one June stretch and picked up six saves -- but Smith has always responded

That production will keep Smith from getting a true midseason break, but he's thrilled to be going to Cleveland. His first win came there in 2012 when he was a young starter for the Kansas City Royals, and this past offseason Smith and some friends visited to watch his hometown Falcons take on the Browns. 

That day ended with a Falcons loss and Smith jumping into a frigid Lake Erie to pay off a bet. The trip this time should be much more enjoyable.

[RELATED: Giants' Madison Bumgarner trade return 'not going to be great']

"You think back to being knocked out for the whole year," Smith said. "Just to be able to call yourself an All-Star at the halfway point -- two years after that -- it's kind of something I never really expected, honestly."