San Francisco Giants: Revisiting the Zack Wheeler-for-Carlos Beltran trade

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets throws to a Washington Nationals batter in the first inning at Nationals Park on September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets throws to a Washington Nationals batter in the first inning at Nationals Park on September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco Giants made a number of win-now moves at the trade deadline during their championship window.

Many of the San Francisco Giants trade deadline deals wound up paying huge dividends down the stretch, with names like Javier Lopez, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence, and Jake Peavy immediately jumping to mind.

However, the move to acquire Carlos Beltran in 2011 is one that did not work out quite as well as the others, since the San Francisco Giants fell short of the postseason that year.

To acquire the power-hitting outfielder from the New York Mets, the Giants had to give up prized pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. That was a bitter pill to swallow since Wheeler was ranked as the No. 55 prospect in baseball at the start of the 2011 season, according to Baseball America.

It was a lot to give up, especially considering Beltran was strictly rental. His contract was set to expire at the end of 2011, and the feeling was that he was not likely to stay with the San Francisco Giants beyond that season.

It has now been eight years since that trade, and the merits of it are still debated.

Was it a good move by the San Francisco Giants?

On paper, absolutely.

Beltran performed well following the trade, posting a .323/.369/.551 line with 20 extra-base hits in 179 plate appearances.

Wheeler is now set to hit the free-agent market for the first time his career this offseason, and that could mean the end of his tenure with the Mets.

The 29-year-old has posted solid numbers since debuting in 2013. In 734.1 career innings, he’s gone 44-37 with a 3.80 ERA. Unfortunately, he has battled several injury issues, including shoulder and elbow ailments, as well as inconsistency on the field.

Given this information, the trade still represents a good attempt by the San Francisco Giants front office to make one final push into the playoffs. The 2011 season was a difficult one due to the gruesome injuries sustained by Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez would never return to the field after separating his shoulder diving for a ball at second base.

The Giants finished the season with an 86-76 record, which was eight games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West.

During that season, they struggled to get meaningful offensive production from just about every position. The injuries to both Posey and Sanchez created huge holes on offense. Only Beltran and Pablo Sandoval were true threats with the bat down the stretch.

Sandoval enjoyed a nice rebound season in 2011, posting a .909 OPS after a tumultuous 2010 campaign.

However, the 2011 San Francisco Giants were never going to beat opponents with their offense. We can copy and paste that last sentence for just about every Giants team during the championship run.

Rather, they were going to beat you with excellent pitching and defense. Those teams tend to do well in the playoffs, as opposing teams usually have very little margin for error.

The 2011 rotation might have been the best one in recent years with Madison Bumgarner (3.21 ERA), Matt Cain (2.88 ERA), and Tim Lincecum (2.74 ERA) all in their prime. A case can be made that the 2011 season is the only time that occurred.

The Giants also got a surprise performance in the return of Ryan Vogelsong. Prior to 2011, Vogelsong had not pitched in the majors since 2006. That five-year gap did not slow him down one bit, as he recorded a 2.71 ERA while pitching his way onto the National League All-Star team.

The bullpen was equally strong. The foundation of the relief corps was built around the Core Four of Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Santiago Casilla.

An argument could be made that this version of the bullpen should be identified as the Core Five, with Brian Wilson posting a 3.11 ERA to go along with 36 saves while earning an All-Star nod.

Manager Bruce Bochy knew how to set these arms up for success. If the Giants had a lead late in the game, the bullpen was proven and capable of holding that lead. With a pitching staff like that, opposing teams would need to score early in games because scoring opportunities were usually few and far in between later on.

The decision to acquire Beltran was built around the premise of giving the Giants lineup just enough offense to make it into the playoffs. If they could do that, the pitching staff was capable of carrying the team the rest of the way.

Championship windows open and close so quickly that teams sometimes have to make difficult decisions, and trading away Wheeler was just that.

Even though the team was not able to sneak its way into the postseason, acquiring Beltran is still a move that makes sense at the time. Wheeler’s career with the Mets could be coming to a close, and he has established himself as a quality pitcher.

ATF's Final Top 30 Prospects Update (Nos. 20-11). Next

Trading away a prospect like Wheeler is part of the risk of competing, and if the San Francisco Giants had squeaked into the playoffs that year, the reward may have been substantially higher.