Giants acquire Tyler Austin from Twins

April 9th, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants surprised many by starting newcomers Michael Reed and Connor Joe at the corner spots of their outfield on Opening Day.

Less than two weeks later, neither remains on the big league roster.

With Reed having already been designated for assignment after just four games, Joe was DFA'd on Monday after the Giants acquired first baseman/outfielder from the Twins in exchange for Minor League outfielder Malique Ziegler.

Austin, 27, went 1-for-4 in two games with Minnesota this year before being designated for assignment. A power-hitting right-handed bat, Austin batted .230 with a .767 OPS in 69 games between the Yankees and Twins last season. His 17 home runs in just 244 at-bats were one more than Evan Longoria, who led the Giants in homers last year.

"He's going to provide some punch," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Nice right-handed bat that we need, I think that's fair to say. We're looking for a little more punch there. He will provide that."

Austin is expected to draw plenty of playing time against left-handers, as he has a .952 OPS with 12 homers against them in 126 at-bats in the Majors. After flying from Atlanta to San Francisco on Monday morning, Austin started at first base Monday against Padres lefty Eric Lauer, with Brandon Belt shifting to left field.

Though Austin has played outfield in the past, he has not started in left field in the Majors since 2016, as the Twins used him primarily at first base and designated hitter after acquiring him from the Yankees as part of the Lance Lynn trade last year. Bochy said Austin will temporarily play first base until he gets reacquainted with the outfield.

"I haven't played much outfield in the last couple of years, but I'm open to going back there and learning how to get that feeling back," Austin said. "Most of my games played over the last couple years played have been at DH or first base. But like I said, I'm open to whatever position they want to put me in."

Austin struck out in 35.4 percent of his plate appearances last year, but the Giants are willing to live with that flaw given their lineup's dire need for power. San Francisco's hitters have produced just six home runs through the club's first 10 games. Only the Indians (4) and Tigers (3) have hit fewer.

"Strikeouts are kind of up everywhere," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "You're going to face a lot of specialized pitching. Usually power is going to come with some of that, and power is a big need of ours right now. I think that kind of comes with the territory when you're talking about this kind of power."

The Giants' decision to cut Joe comes two days after the 26-year-old collected his first Major League hit. They could try to trade Joe, but if they are unable to strike a deal, he'll have to be offered back to the Dodgers, since he is a Rule 5 Draft pick.

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

Joe received a longer look with the Giants than Reed, who was outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento last week. Reed elected free agency before re-signing with the Giants on a Minor League deal. 

"It's partly a roster need issue," Zaidi said. "When you have a Rule 5 guy or an out-of-options guy, you kind of need one of three things to keep the situation live. You need either immediate performance and immediate returns; you need your team playing well, where you can buy that player a little bit more time; or if you're in a full rebuilding mode and you're willing to kind of work your way through that, that's another scenario. Unfortunately, none of those applied in this case. 

"You'll always have to ask if Connor had gotten three or four more balls to drop in and he was 5-for-15 instead of 1-for-15, are you looking at him differently? Or if we were firing on more cylinders offensively, would we be in this situation? ... I've seen people refer to this as the 'Connor Joe experiment,' which sounds all well and good, but he's not an experiment. He's a real person who worked his [butt] off to get here. We're really excited to get Tyler Austin, we think he's going to help us, but there's always a little disappointment when you bring in a player and hope he's able to hit his stride and can be a long-term piece and it doesn't work out."