A strange set of tendencies and roster circumstances could lead the SF Giants and Tampa Bay Rays to make a trade involving Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier.
We asked our Twitter followers who SF Giants fans wanted to see a potential trade fit piece about. The poll winner was Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. While we already had making a Joe Musgrove trade in the pipeline, we made sure to circle back to our followers’ top pick.
Kiermaier has been the best defensive outfielder in baseball for some time and has continued to produce value even when his bat has stalled. However, the Rays ownership group is always looking to cut corners financially. With the team’s depth in the outfield, Tampa Bay brass would probably be interested in moving on to dedicate resources elsewhere.
Kiermaier has $26 million left on his contract over the next three years. Most, if not all, teams will be hesitant to take on Kiermaier’s $11.5 million salary in 2021, $12 million salary in 2022, and $2.5 million buyout out of a $13.5 million club option for 2023. That means they might have to get creative.
On the surface, Kiermaier would fit perfectly on the Giants roster. While Mauricio Dubón emerged as a great defensive center fielder in 2020, his significant platoon splits have continued in the major leagues. Against southpaws, Dubón is hitting a robust .311/.363/.500 while his performance drops to a much more mediocre .259/.311/.370 line against same-side pitching.
Furthermore, as great as Mike Yastrzemski has been over the past two seasons, his defense in right field has left something to be desired. Bringing in an elite defender like Kevin Kiermaier would allow manager Gabe Kapler to deploy one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Late in games when the Giants have the lead, Kiermaier could slot into center, Dubón could shift to right, and Yaz could move to left.
Still, the guaranteed money in Kiermaier’s contract will keep him from being a hotly desired target. The fact is, the Giants outfield could be set as is, adding a luxury at that contract just won’t be appealing.
That’s where Brandon Belt comes in.
The Giants first baseman had a career-year in 2020 and even received a ninth-place vote for the National League Most Valuable Player award. However, Belt was not the only Giants first baseman to tear up the competition in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf both posted an OPS well north of .800 as well.
In comparison to Belt’s $16 million salary in 2021, Flores and Ruf will combine to make less than $5 million next season. Moving Belt would save money and, looking ahead, Ruf and Flores are both under team control into 2022. Belt is a free agent after next season.
The Rays most obvious holes this season were at first base and designated hitter. Their primary first baseman, Ji-Man Choi had an unexceptional .741 OPS and would cost the Rays roughly $2 million next season unless he’s traded or non-tendered. Their primary DH, Yoshi Tstusogo, had a mediocre .708 OPS and hit just .197. Needless to say, Belt could be a huge upgrade at either spot.
If Tampa could swap Kiermaier for Belt, they would do it in a heartbeat. Not only was Belt the superior player in 2020 at a larger position of need, but Kiermaier has another $10 million in guaranteed salary over the life of his contract. It would both help their team immediately and save them money going forward.
Of course, the Giants would be less interested. Again, Kiermaier would be a costly luxury on his own. Sacrificing one of the team’s best hitters would not be easy. Zaidi may be willing to part with Belt, but they’ll need to see a strong return to do it. By taking on Tampa’s most undesirable contract though, the Rays might be willing to part with some prospects from their farm system to make a deal.
Belt does have a 10-team no-trade clause, but the details have not been reported. If he left the Rays on his short-list then he could veto a trade. Even if he could though, the chance to play for a World Series team that plays quite a few games in Camden Yards, Fenway Park, and Yankee Stadium would seem like a great scenario for Belt, especially heading into a contract year.
The Rays are to middle infielders what the SF Giants organization is to outfielders right now. Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames are a very good combination up the middle, but more are on the way. Three of the Rays four top prospects are middle infielders and most consensus rankings place Xavier Edwards as the lowest of that group. Still, he grades as a 50 future-value player and would immediately rank among the Giants top four prospects on par with outfielder Heliot Ramos.
Edwards does not have much pop and might struggle to hit five home runs a season. However, he does everything else extremely well. A switch-hitter who sprays the ball to all fields, Edwards is a career .328 minor-league hitter with plus-plus speed (34 steals in 2019). His arm is probably too fringe to stick at shortstop, but he has all the tools to be an elite defensive second baseman or center fielder.
Vidal Brujan is a higher-upside middle infielder that would be a great get too, but the Rays would probably value ceiling most. Edwards has performed better than Brujan, but is further from the major leagues and lacks Brujan’s power potential.
The Giants would probably prefer to get a top-tier pitching prospect, but following Brandon McKay’s shoulder surgery, Tampa might be less willing to part with someone like Brent Honeywell. Prep-righty Nick Bitsko (45 future-value) was the Rays first-round pick in this year’s draft and Taylor Walls (40+) is a lower-upside, but nearly big-league ready infielder that could be centerpieces as well.
Michael Plassmeyer (40) ranks as a pitchability lefty with an elite ability to avoid walks. He lacks velocity or elite stuff but might be able to stick as a back-end starter. If not, he seems well suited to be a long-reliever/opener that can be effective for 80-120 innings a year. The Rays are producing a number of pitchers like that so they’d probably prefer to throw in someone like him. However, Kevin Padlo and Paul Campbell could fit as secondary pieces too.
If the Giants added $4 million in cash, both teams would have the exact same 2021 salary commitments as they do currently. In fact, by freeing up the Rays to move on from Choi, it could actually enable a couple of million dollars in savings. The Giants real price would be in 2022 and beyond.
After next season, San Francisco would still owe Kevin Kiermaier $14.5 million, while Belt would clear off Tampa’s balance sheet. The Rays would essentially be trading Edwards and Plassmeyer for an upgrade at first base and that flexibility. Given their ownership’s insistence on maintaining a cheap payroll and the strength of their big-league roster and farm system, that’s actually quite foreseeable. The Giants on the other hand, would add another top-100 prospect and a player that can contribute to their big-league roster from a position of strength.
Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier would be an exciting to see player center field at Oracle Park. However, given his contract situation, the SF Giants would need another enticement to bring him in. The Rays need at first base and excess of prospect depth could create the perfect storm of circumstances to send Brandon Belt to the AL East for Kiermaier and an intriguing prospect package.