The emotion in the voice of San Francisco Giants general manager Bobby Evans was palpable as he spoke of the players the club had moved in two deadline-beating deals Monday that brought in left-handed pitchers Matt Moore and Will Smith.
An organization that prides itself in taking care of its own had traded away homegrown third baseman Matt Duffy, 2015 No. 1 draft pick Phil Bickford and infielder Lucius Fox, an international free agent signed a year ago for a $6 million bonus.
“I still think this is more of a game than a business,’’ Evans said somberly, “but today it feels a lot more like a business.’’
Still, after the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled off a major swap with the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Josh Reddick and lefty starter Rich Hill earlier in the day, there was no way the Giants were going to sit still, not with their lead in the NL West having shrunk from 6½ games to two.
So they swung a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for Moore, who bolsters a rotation that had wobbled with a 5.72 ERA during a 2-11 stretch after the All-Star Game, and sent Bickford and minor-league catcher Andrew Susac to the Milwaukee Brewers for Smith.
Even with the Colorado Rockies’ recent surge, the Giants and Dodgers have reasserted themselves as the class of the NL West, two longtime rivals with deep pockets and a fierce competitiveness. No other club has won the NL West since the Arizona Diamondbacks claimed the crown in 2011, and Monday’s moves confirm this as a two-team race once again.
Under the stewardship of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who arrived in October 2014, the Dodgers have been stockpiling prospects and building what some in the industry regard as the top farm system in the game.
With an injury-wracked roster and a fan base clamoring for the franchise’s first championship since 1988, they turned three of those youngsters – minor-league right-handers Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes and Jharel Cotton – into two veterans who should make an immediate impact.
Reddick is sporting a career-high .816 on-base plus slugging percentage and will dislodge Yasiel Puig from right field, while Hill will join a rotation devastated by injuries as soon as the blister in his left middle finger has healed, probably later this week.
There were conflicting news media reports about why Puig did not join the Dodgers on their Monday flight to Denver, but indications are he will be optioned to the minors. As of press time, Dodgers officials had not commented on his whereabouts.
Reddick, who averaged 19 homers over the previous four seasons despite battling injuries, is seen as an offensive upgrade over Puig, whose production has diminished every year since his smashing debut season in 2013. Puig has never matched the 19 home runs he hit that year and his OPS has dwindled from .925 to his current .706.
Despite Puig’s offensive decline and the absence of staff ace Clayton Kershaw and fellow lefties Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood, Los Angeles has more than held its own in the NL West race, going 15-9 in July to trim four games from the Giants’ lead.
But while San Francisco is starting to get some of its own injured mainstays back, most notably Hunter Pence and Joe Panik, the Dodgers continue to hemorrhage players. The latest to get hurt is right-hander Bud Norris, who left Sunday’s start with an upper-back injury, leaving the rotation with three healthy starters.
That’s why the addition of Hill was critical, especially in light of the uncertainty regarding Kershaw’s return from a herniated disk in his back. In between missing time with a groin strain and the blister, Hill was sensational with the A’s, going 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA and holding batters to a .201 average.
The Dodgers managed to fortify themselves with two rentals – both Hill and Reddick are eligible for free agency after the season – while retaining top prospects like Julio Urias, Jose De Leon and Alex Verdugo.
The Giants, on the other hand, gave up two top-five prospects from a system that is not as deep in exchange for major leaguers with three more years of team control each. Smith should strengthen a bullpen that has been under fire because of its NL-high 18 blown saves, although it performed admirably in two weekend wins over the Washington Nationals.
Moore is the bigger catch, an experienced but still young (27) starter who is in his first full season following Tommy John elbow surgery and has fared particularly well in recent weeks, registering a 2.39 ERA and holding batters to a .199 average over his last nine outings.
He joins a rotation headed by All-Stars Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto that could present matchup problems for any contenders, and especially the Dodgers, who have a lefty-heavy lineup. The Giants and Dodgers have nine games left this season, including six in the final two weeks of the season.
“You certainly don’t make a move at the deadline focused necessarily on one club, but it’s just the nature of the game that there’s so many good left-handed hitters out there,’’ Evans said of picking up the two lefties. “We have to make sure our bullpen’s prepared to face them.’’