Garko To San Francisco

The Giants finally ended their long pursuit of a first baseman, acquiring Ryan Garko from the San Francisco Giants, reportedly for LHP Scott Barnes. Garko is a clear upgrade and should boost the San Francisco offense, but the price is really steep for what Garko is.

As a 28-year-old right-handed first baseman with limited defensive value, Garko has to really mash in order to maintain his value. His entire value is wrapped up in his performance at the plate, but Garko’s bat is just good, not great. He has power, but isn’t a pure slugger. He makes solid contact, but doesn’t walk all that much. The total package has added up to a career .352 wOBA, which makes him a solidly above average bat, but when that’s the only thing you bring to the table, the overall value is just okay.

Garko’s been worth +4.0 wins over his 1,587 major league plate appearances, which makes his contributions thus far a little bit below average. At 28, he’s in his prime, but there doesn’t seem to be much upside beyond what he is now. ZIPS projects a .344 wOBA going forward, though that would jump with a move to the weaker National League. Overall, he’s probably a +2 win player.

He replaces Travis Ishikawa, who is certainly an inferior player to Garko, but not without his uses. Ishikawa’s a solid fielder, which helps make up a bit for his lack of offense, but Ishikawa shouldn’t be starting for a contending team. However, since he’s not a total black hole (+0.9 wins in 237 PA this year), this upgrade seems fairly minor. Especially over just two months, the upgrade from Ishikawa to Garko is in the fractions of a win.

To get that upgrade, the Giants had to part with Scott Barnes, a 21-year-old LHP who Baseball America rated their 9th best prospect before the season and has impressed with his performance in the hitter friendly Cal League this year. He’s a good command lefty with better stuff than your average good command lefty, and he was considered a 2nd-3rd round talent last year before falling the Giants in the 8th round of the draft. He’s not one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball, but he’s the kind of good arm that could turn into a quality pitcher down the road.

Barnes is a high price to pay for an average-ish first baseman like Garko. He is under club control for 3+ seasons after this one, but as an arbitration eligible player this winter, he’s about to stop being cheap, and he’s not the kind of player you want to be spending significant money on. The Giants will pitch this as more-than-a-rental, but finding a RH first baseman who can hit a little bit isn’t that difficult, and whether Garko will be worth much more than his arbitration salaries going forward is a real question.

This isn’t a terrible trade for San Francisco – they did improve their team, at least a bit, and they get back a player that they control past 2009, but they paid a premium for that upgrade, and Garko’s probably not going to be enough to put them over the top. This seems like going half way – giving up part of your future for a move not quite good enough to make the present much more interesting.

For the Indians, they get another look at Andy Marte and a nifty pitching prospect for a guy that is fairly easily replaced. Good move for Cleveland – not as big a fan of San Francisco’s end of this.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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