On the surface, the SF Giants acquiring A.J. Pollock and Mark Mathias may not make a ton of sense. Pollock is 35 years old, is hitting .165 with a 44 wRC+ (100 is avg), and hasn't played anything but LF since 2022.
Great, another corner OF only who can't hit. Mathias is a 29-year-old utility bat who has never had more than 91 plate appearances at the MLB level. Another AAA player who won't see Oracle Park before he is DFA'd a week from now. All of these are accurate and legitimate concerns. However, when you zoom out just a little, you start to see the possible fruit this trade could bear.
Analyzing the SF Giants trade for A.J. Pollock and Mark Mathias
Pollock may be 35 and having the worst season of his career but it was just recently he was still a valuable player. In 2021, Pollock managed a 137 wRC+, 3.1 WAR, and solid defense in CF and LF with defensive runs saved of 1 and 3, respectively.
In 2022, his wRC+ dropped to 92 with a .4 WAR but he still managed 4 defensive runs saved in LF. So, heading into the 2023 season A.J. Pollock looked to be declining but could still be a useful player. Now, factor in the fact that he is a former All-Star, Gold Glove award winner, and World Series Champion and it makes sense why Seattle gave him a shot this season.
As for Mathias, he managed a 132 wRC+ and .7 WAR in just 91 plate appearances between two teams in 2022 and wasn't a liability defensively with 0 defensive runs saved.
This season he has an 80 wRC+ and -.4 WAR across 66 plate appearances and has provided -4 defensive runs saved at 2B. Ouch. Yet, he has maintained a .813 OPS in the minors in 2023 and has experience at 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and RF. So, the trade looks like it's making a touch more sense. Now, let us zoom out one final time to put the pieces of the puzzle together because none of this matters unless we know what the Giants are asking them to do.
The Giants did not acquire Pollock or Mathias as stalwarts of the diamond but rather as two more cogs in what has become a well-oiled machine. Pollock will be asked to play an acceptable corner outfield defensively and hit left-handed pitching.
We know that Pollock has been a plus defender in LF over the last two seasons and he has 4 defensive runs saved in LF this year. Furthermore, he has managed a 121 wRC+ vs LHP for his career and a 161 wRC+ last season. He's managed a 3 wRC+ vs LHP this season in only 80 PA. Pollock is 0-6 to start his Giants career but has hit 2 balls that had exit velocities higher than 95 MPH.
On the other hand, Mathias was acquired as middle infield depth. Something the Giants have sorely needed. Mathias' 80 wRC+ looks a ton better against the backdrop of the Giants having a 67 wRC+ from the 2B position this season. We have already seen Casey Schmitt, who has struggled mightily since his blazing start, get sent down in favor of a more steady Mathias. This has already led to an improvement. On 8/7, Mathias' first game as a Giant, he went 1-4 with a lead-extending 2 RBI single in the 9th.
In order to fully understand the trade we may need to stop viewing Pollock and Mathias as individual players. Instead, view them in light of what they will be asked to do and how they fit on the roster.
Pollock is a lefty masher with defensive capabilities in the corners who has been hurt for most of the year. Mathias is middle infield depth, providing a solid alternative to a struggling Schmitt. Most importantly, they were free. They cost the Giants nothing. It wouldn't exactly be the first time this front office has turned someone else's trash into treasure.
With all that being said, Pollock left Tuesday's game with tightness in his left side. The hope is that he can avoid the injured list and help fill a role for the Giants, but it could open up more playing time for Mathias or another Giants prospect.