The New York Yankees agreed to trade reliever Adam Ottavino, pitching prospect Frank German, and $850,000 cash to the Boston Red Sox for cash or a player to be named later on Monday. The rare deal between the AL East rivals is almost entirely a cost-cutting measure for the Yankees, who are treating the luxury-tax line like a hard cap. Boston, for their part, acquire an intriguing reliever and an intriguing prospect.
SF Giants fans should be quite familiar with this type of trade after the team acquired prospect Will Wilson from the Los Angeles Angels alongside Zack Cozart, who was later released by the team. The Giants, spending less than usual amidst a rebuild, decided to use some of their payroll to acquire an additional prospect without giving up anything. Yet, in a similar situation this offseason, where were the Giants in the Ottavino talks?
Why didn’t the SF Giants acquire Adam Ottavino from the Yankees?
The most glaring gap between the Ottavino and Cozart trades are the prospects. Wilson was a first-round pick less than a year prior to the trade. German was a fourth-round selection in 2018 who has been effective, but far from dominant in the lower minors. An intriguing pitcher with an upper-90s fastball, German would have been a welcome addition to the Giants farm, but probably would not have ranked among the team’s top 30 prospects. Wilson is a consensus top 15 prospect in the Giants system, with many ranking him among the top 10.
However, the gap between Ottavino and Cozart is stark as well. Boston will pay Ottavino about $2.5 million less than the Giants paid Cozart and the once elite reliever has a real chance to contribute in 2021, something not true of Cozart last offseason. On the surface, Ottavino was bad in 2020. He finished the season with a 5.89 ERA across 18.1 innings of work, but he actually posted impressive peripherals in line with his career numbers.
Ottavino struck out 12.3 batters per nine innings (K/9) against 4.4 walks per nine (BB/9). From 2018-19, when he completed 144 innings with a 2.19 ERA, he generated 12.5 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9. His 3.52 FIP in 2020 suggested that he suffered from a large amount of bad luck. For a Giants team that has only upgraded their bullpen around the margins, Ottavino had the potential to be the big-time arm that group needed.
The Giants probably will not be playoff contenders in 2021, but a bounce-back season by Ottavino would have given them another piece to shop him at the trade deadline to acquire even more long-term pieces. Instead, they have surrendered those opportunities to the Red Sox.
While it is possible the Giants were involved in the bidding for Ottavino, it’s hard to believe they made a competitive offer. Given the heated rivalry between Boston and New York, if the Giants made a matching offer, the Yankees would have happily sent Ottavino across the country instead of setting up their division rival.
For the Red Sox, the deal has no downside. Even if Ottavino fails to deliver, German gives their farm system another shot at developing a premium arm. Even if both German and Ottavino fall flat, the cost was nothing but money that was not going to be spent anyway. This could have been the Giants. They are once again well below their payroll levels of years past. Acquiring Ottavino would not have prevented them from making another sizable addition in free agency.
SF Giants ownership was consistently willing to spend like the big-market team it is during the dynastic run through the early 2010s. However, fans have reason to be concerned that might be a thing of the past. While the Giants are far from a competitive window, when the true test will come, passing on a low-risk deal like the Adam Ottavino trade is another potential sign that top-market spending is a thing of the past.