Reds Acquire Austin Slater

The Reds and Giants have swung a late night deal with just over three weeks to go until the trade deadline. Per an announcement from both clubs, the Reds have acquired outfielder Austin Slater from San Francisco in exchange for left-hander Alex Young. Cincinnati is also receiving cash considerations as part of the deal. The Giants optioned Young to Triple-A following the transaction.

Slater, 31, has been in the Giants organization for more than a decade. His professional career began when he was selected by the club out of Stanford in the eighth round of the 2014 draft, though he wouldn’t make his big league debut with the club until his age-24 season in 2017. Slater was largely a part-time player during his first few years in San Francisco, and he amassed just 544 plate appearances in the majors between 2017 and 2019. In that limited playing time, he posted a decent .254/.335/.368 slash line that was good for a 92 wRC+ while splitting time between all three outfield spots, first base, and even making brief cameos at both second and third base.

The shortened 2020 season saw Slater break out in a big way, as he posted an excellent 150 wRC+ for the Giants while appearing in 31 of the club’s 60 games that year while playing mostly right field and DH for the club. That offensive explosion earned Slater a larger role in the following years, and while most of his playing time still came against left-handed pitching he fashioned more of a proper platoon role for himself as opposed to the reserve outfield role he had been utilized in previously. Slater took to the increased responsibilities quite well, and between the 2020 and 2023 seasons the lefty masher hit a solid .259/.352/.421 (118 wRC+).

That line goes from solid to sensational when looking exclusively at his production against southpaws, against whom he mashed to the tune of a .285/.380/.486 line with a wRC+ of 141. That production against left-handed pitching was good for 17th-best in baseball during that four year period, on par with star hitters such as Jose Altuve and Xander Bogaerts.

While the Giants leaned heavily on Slater as a platoon partner for a primarily left-handed outfield featuring sluggers such as Mike Yastrzemski, Michael Conforto, and Joc Pederson during those years, Slater’s playing time was further cut down by injury woes. Since the start of the 2020 campaign, Slater has made seven trips to the injured list for groin, hamstring, wrist, and hand issues as well as multiple concussions. Slater also required elbow surgery last offseason to remove a bone spur and relieve nerve pain.

It’s possible that lengthy list of injury issues has helped to contribute to what has been a difficult 2024 season for the 31-year-old, as he’s hit just .200/.330/.244 in 112 trips to the plate this season surrounding a month-long stay on the IL due to a concussion earlier this year. Those struggles ultimately paved the way for youngsters Heliot Ramos and Luis Matos to squeeze Slater out of playing time in the Giants outfield, as Ramos has stepped up to become a regular fixture in center field while Matos serves as a righty complement off the bench for Yastrzemski and Conforto.

In acquiring Slater, the Reds are surely hoping they can coax some of that lefty-mashing ability he flashed in previous years out of him in order to make him a quality platoon partner for the club’s many left-handed hitting outfielders. Slater’s main competition for playing time in that role figures to be Stuart Fairchild, who has slashed a lackluster .224/.298/.347 (81 wRC+) in 189 trips to the plate this year. In the short term, however, both Fairchild and Slater figure to get plenty of reps alongside Will Benson and Spencer Steer in the club’s outfield mix thanks to the absences of Jake Fraley, TJ Friedl, and Nick Martini. Fraley is currently on the family medical emergency list and will likely return within a few days, but both Friedl and Martini are on the injured list and are facing potentially lengthy absences.

In exchange for parting ways with Slater, the Giants are receiving some left-handed bullpen help in the form of Young. Once a second-round pick by the Diamondbacks in the 2015 draft, the lefty made his big league debut back in 2019 and generally struggled at the major league level in a swing role with Arizona and Cleveland. That changed in 2022, when Young was acquired by San Francisco in a cash deal with the Guardians and began pitching in a short relief role full-time. The lefty performed quite well during his first stint with the Giants and posted a 2.39 ERA and 2.96 FIP across 26 1/3 innings of work before being non-tendered by San Francisco the following November.

Young eventually caught on with the Reds on a minor league deal prior to the 2023 season and has remained with the club ever since. He posted solid results in middle relief with the club last year, pitching to a 3.86 ERA despite a lackluster 4.99 FIP. While Young’s 21.2% strikeout rate and 8.5% walk rate were both perfectly solid, he allowed a whopping ten homers during his 53 2/3 innings of work with the Reds last year.

Young has spent most of the 2024 season at the Triple-A level for the Reds, although he’s posted impressive numbers both in his two scoreless innings at the big league level and in his larger body of work in the minors. In 23 appearances with the club’s affiliate in Louisville this year, Young has posted a sparkling 1.19 ERA while striking out a solid 25.3% of batters faced. Unfortunately, the lefty hasn’t been able to get much playing time in the majors with the Reds this year thanks to the club’s deep bullpen, which features each of Justin Wilson, Sam Moll, and Brent Suter as quality left-handed options.

That made Young expendable enough that the Reds were willing to part ways with him, and it’s easy to see how the lefty could impact a Giants bullpen that has leaned heavily on Erik Miller to act as a secondary lefty reliever behind high-leverage arm Taylor Rogers. Miller, a 26-year-old rookie with a 3.51 ERA and 4.49 FIP in 41 innings of work this year, features a much more pronounced platoon split than Young has in recent years, and the spacious outfield of Oracle Park should be a great fit for Young that helps to curtail his proclivity for giving up homers.

San Francisco is also sending cash to Cincinnati in the deal alongside Slater, a fact that could factor into the club’s final luxury tax calculation later this year. Prior to the swap, RosterResource indicated that the Giants have a luxury tax payroll of just under $254MM, or just over $3MM below the second threshold of the luxury tax. Slater is making $4MM this year, while Young is earning a salary of $1.16MM. Depending on the amount of cash the Giants are including in the deal, it’s possible that the trade provides the additional benefit of offering the club additional financial wiggle room below the second luxury tax threshold.

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Title: Reds Acquire Austin Slater
Author: Nick Deeds

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