The San Francisco Giants continued their assault on the bargain bin on Monday with the addition of Tyler Austin
It is fair to be skeptical of any acquisition San Francisco Giants team president Farhan Zaidi makes at this point. A new acquisition might be yesterday’s news in just a couple of hours.
However, Monday’s trade pickup Tyler Austin has a defined skill: Power.
Power is something the Giants are sorely lacking. They ranked 29th in the majors with 133 home runs last season, and they’ve hit just seven long balls through 11 games so far this year.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Madison Bumgarner might be the only true power hitting threat on the roster.
That’s why Austin could be a solid addition.
The 27-year-old hit 17 home runs in 268 plate appearances last season with the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. The Giants also have a lefty-heavy lineup, and their struggles against southpaws have been well-documented.
Austin creates a little more balance as a right-handed bat who punishes left-handed pitchers. He has a .281/.356/.602 slash line with 12 home runs in 149 plate appearances against lefties in his career.
Yes, there are some red flags. Most notably, a 36.7 percent strikeout rate at the MLB level and the fact that his best defensive position is probably designated hitter. Still, Austin is a young player with legitimate offensive potential and five remaining years of team control.
So, why was he available in the first place?
It turns out, the reason he was on the waiver wire has more to do with a roster crunch than his actual skill set. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had this to say while talking with reporters (via TwinCities.com):
“Truthfully, I really do wish that we had the opportunity and at-bats for Tyler because I believe in him. I believe in him as a person and a player. He’s a quality, quality right-handed hitter who I think can clearly hit major-league pitching and if we had the opportunity for him here in those at-bats, I think we would have seen that.”
It looked like Austin might have a shot at the starting job in Minnesota this season following the retirement of Joe Mauer. Instead, the front office took advantage of other opportunities in free agency.
When the Tampa Bay Rays non-tendered C.J Cron following a career year, the Twins moved quickly to claim him off waivers, eventually signing him to a modest $4.8 million salary.
Cron and Austin have similar skill sets as right-handed power hitters with limited defensive value. Cron has a more impressive track record of success at the MLB level, including a 30-homer season in 2018.
Even after adding Cron to the mix, the Twins could have still used Austin as their primary designated hitter. Instead, they added free agent Nelson Cruz and his 360 career home runs.
At that point, Austin became expandable.
More often than not, players on the waiver-wire carry limited value. That may not be the case with Austin, given how the Giants roster is currently constructed. He has a chance to find a role thanks to his offensive upside. The issue will be finding him a spot defensively.
Ideally, he would slide into a platoon role in left field with Gerardo Parra. However, there’s this:
He made his first start in a Giants uniform on Monday at first base. That could continue in the short-term, with Brandon Belt shifting to left field, but it won’t be a permanent solution. Sooner or later, Austin is going to find himself on the outfield grass.
Want your voice heard? Join the Around The Foghorn team!
Still, regardless of his defensive shortcomings, Austin is not your average waiver pickup. He has the type of potential teams are willing to bet on. And it looks like the Giants are sitting down to the blackjack table.