It's safe to say this second time around, that repeating as World Series Champions is easier said than done. Sure we basically brought back the exact same team, but if they don't perform at the same level, you're going to get a completely different result. That's what we're dealing with now.
The Giants have been struck by the Injury Bug, something that we haven't had to deal with much in the last couple years. We've been lucky.
We've also been struck by the Bad Pitching Demon and the Unable to Get Timely Hits Fairy. All of those things considered, the Giants are in this, and they can win this division again. There's just no question about it.
The NL West isn't weak-- no that wouldn't be the right word. It is suffering from a bizarre case of NFL-like parity brought on by severe under and overachieving by all 5 teams. The Giants/Snakes/Bastards are all underachieving, while the Rockpile and Madres are playing out of their gourds. Arizona seems to be the weirdest case of all. I mean, how do you underachieve in first place? Well they are-- led by underachieving pitching. That seems to be the common thread.
If you all thought the NL West would look like this around the all-star break, raise your hands. Stop lying. Put your arm down. Jerks...
But hey! The bright side is that the Giants are literally 3 games out of first place. It doesn't make sense I know. I've seen all the terrible baseball that you've seen, and yet, here we are, within one series of reclaiming our rightful position atop the NL West.
Sometimes, rather than stewing over losses, losing streaks, and Jeremy Affeldt appearances, we need to just take a deep breath of air, take a deep gulp of beer, and look at the goddamn standings for a while.
There are a lot of things that this team hasn't done very well this season, but there's still another half of baseball to be played, and moves to be made.
Dissecting Giant Needs via Trade
Do you listen to Marty Lurie on the weekends? You need to if you don't. He's like a kind, patient Grandfather/Psychotherapist for all of Giantsland. He lets everyone and anyone call up and say stupid things, and then he nicely tells them they're crazy and that they need to stop fantasizing about video game trades or talks them off ledges. My favorite part of his shows-- which simultaneously drives me nuts-- is when people say stuff like, "Let's trade Sandoval and Lincecum for Verlander" and absurd things like that. It makes me laugh. Anyway, let's identify our greatest needs here:
#1 STARTING PITCHER
This has to be our number one priority. I know Vogey is coming back soon, but he was absolutely awful this year, and he cannot be trusted. Lincecum is also unreliable and would be best served moving into a long relief role or late inning strikeout specialist. He did it last year in the playoffs and was very successful. Let's see if he can do it again. Also, adding a starter would give the Giants flexibility in the event that Vogey comes back in as badly as he went out.
Obviously this team has had trouble hitting sometimes, but starting pitching has been everything from bad, to atrocious this year, and you know it.
Assuming we add someone, the rotation (with Vogey back obviously) is Cain, Bum, New Guy, Zeets, Vogey, with Gaudin and Timmy in the pen. If Vogey sucks, they can move him to the pen, make up an injury, or figure something out, then bring back either Gaudin or Lincecum back from the pen. It makes sense to me.
The best part about adding a starter is that it immediately strengthens the bullpen.
Who to get? There are plenty of guys out there that have been spoken about: Ricky Nolasco, Bud Norris, Yovani Gallardo, etc.
You have to look at the future when making trades for the present, so which makes the most sense? Nolasco is an impending free agent, so to me, I don't want the risk. Gallardo really doesn't have great numbers this year and has struggled to be the beast that we've all seen him be. He's also the biggest name out there (aside from Cliff Lee, whom I won't bother discussing because it's not realistic) and Gallardo will have about $2.6MM remaining in 2013 salary at the July
trade deadline, and then is owed $11.25MM in 2014 and has a $13MM club
option with a $600K buyout for 2015.
To me, if we were to go after a Brewers pitcher, it should be Kyle Lohse, so is signed through 2015 with $7MM deferred until 2016-18). He has a lower ERA than Gallardo, and is from Chico. It's not a bad contract, and Lohse would benefit from playing in a pitcher's park for once in his life. That being said, he's getting a little long in the tooth (34) and the Brewers may prefer to keep him due to his decent contract. Another plus, is that he wouldn't take the type of prospects that a younger, sexier pitcher like Gallardo would.
Speaking of local guys (you knew it was coming), I want the Giants to get Bud Norris. Full disclosure is that I know him, and yeah, that makes me biased, but there's a good case to be made for the Budman.
He's 28, grew up a Giants fan in Novato, and has already admitted to the media that playing at home for the Giants would "be a dream come true".
Not only is he a good guy, but he's a hard worker, and all he wants to do is win. Oh yeah, and he's currently sporting a 3.35 ERA, lowest among any of the guys I've mentioned above.
In fact, if you threw out two bad outings against Oakland and Detroit, his ERA would be 2.33.
Obviously I have closely followed his career, and it's pretty clear to me that he's learned how to be a pitcher in his fourth full season in the bigs. He's cut down his walk rate, his HR rate, and has stayed away from the big inning more often-- something that killed a lot of decent starts in the past. Interestingly enough, his strikeout rate is way down this year-- something I consider to be a good thing, because he's been able to pitch more to contact, and gotten more outs that way, rather than trying to get hitters to chase his plus-slider or trying to blow a fastball by them.
Biased or not, it's clear to me that Norris is the best move for the Giants. He's in his prime, he's affordable (made $3MM this yr) and is arbitration eligible next year. If the Giants want to keep him then, I think they have a better chance to do that than with someone like Nolasco.
As I watch Mike Kickham get kicked around in Cincinnati right now, I can't stress enough that this move needs to be made immediately.
#2 CORNER OUTFIELDER
With Pagan out, we just have to assume we're going to go forward with Blanco manning CF for the most part, and that's fine, because he's as good a CF as there is in baseball. Unfortunately, this new found thinness in the OF has exposed a weak LF that had been covered up by makeup and Botox until Pagan's injury.
Jeff Francoeur is out there floating around, and I wouldn't mind him as a 4th OF, but as a starter, he's not the answer. He was hitting .208 in KC, and they just cut him loose. I would welcome him as a short-term addition as he's a great clubhouse guy with a great nickname and a great arm. I hear about "scrunched faces" in regard to his OF play, but despite a poor 2012 in the OF, he's basically rated as average this season based on regular fielding stats and some of the crazy advanced ones.
The guy the Giants need to get is Alex Rios, and it sounds like they're looking to do that-- as they've sent scouts to watch him the last couple weeks. He's owed some money (about $5.5MM the rest of this year, $12.5MM next year and $13.5MM in '15 with a $1MM buyout). So basically, the Giants can give up a little less if they're willing to pay a little more-- something that surprisingly they've said they're willing to do. In the end, it would be a $19MM gamble for a guy that's actually playing pretty well.
The only issue is that he's played a total of 1 game in his professional career in LF. But, considering he was a full time CF in '10 and '11 with the White Sox, he can handle LF just fine. For Christ's sake, the Giants played Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell there over the years. Alex Rios wouldn't be an issue-- especially with Blanco's amazing range playing next to him and Brandon Crawford playing in front of him.
In 6 career games in San Francisco, he has a .937 OPS.
Aside from Rios, there aren't a ton of OFs that jump out as being available and affordable to the Giants (ie. money not prospects), so this may drive up the price.
#3 RELIEF PITCHER
It may seem like we need a reliever badly, but if we take care of problem #1 and add an SP, we gain an automatic bullpen arm. Plus, there's the matter of Santiago Casilla returning soon. Casilla is more important to this team than anyone could have imagined, and with this knee cyst problem taken care of, maybe he'll be better than ever. These two "inside additions" could be enough to nurse the pen back to health-- that is if Affeldt and Romo settle down and stop scaring us.
Relievers are the easiest positions to add, because there are tons of dudes out there. They're also key positions, as we've learned from previous stretch runs.
There are 4 current or former closers that jump out as possibly being available: Glen Perkins (MIN), Bobby Parnell (NYM), Francisco Rodriguez (MIL), and John Axford (MIL).
While most of us want nothing to do with the artist formerly known as K-Rod and the Ax-Man, Axford has experienced a bit a of re-birth as of late as a middle reliever and totally hasn't sucked. Neither has K-Rod.
K-Rod has 6 saves in 17 innings with a 1.02 ERA and Axford has only allowed 5 ER in his last 23.2 IP. I know neither inspires confidence, but they're more affordable than these next two guys.
Perkins and Parnell are the two current closers that a lot of teams would love to have. Both are having good seasons, and both extremely affordable. Perkins just signed an extension with Minny last year, so I'd be surprised if he was traded, despite their lameness on the field. He's only due $7.5MM total over the next two years and has a friendly club option for 2016. Parnell on the other hand is under team control through 2015 season, as he just entered his first year of arby this season. Unfortunately, that makes Parnell a hot commodity and the Mets, who've said they intent to keep him, would have to be bowled over with an offer. Similar language surrounds the affordable Perkins, who the Twins would be better off keeping, unless they received a sweet deal.
That leaves guys like Steve Cishek (MIA), Matt Lindstrom (CHW), Jose Veras (HOU), or Jose Valverde (FA).
Oh yeah, there's also some guy out there named Brian Wilson who no one has seen hind nor hair of in months. I know he kinda burned his bridges here and he's a big distraction, but this is the time of year when he said he'd be ready. Just an intriguing thought.
This season is clearly not a wash, a lost cause, or anything else. This team is only 3 games out despite its obvious flaws and inconsistent play. But we're lucky enough to play in a weird division that's there for the taking. It's time for Sabes to make a couple of moves, and I believe I've outlined them above. Trade for Rios and eat his money, stick him in LF, then trade for Bud Norris. This allows two of the Gaudin/Lincecum/Vogelsong trio to strengthen the bullpen along with Santiago Casilla, and everyone lives happily ever after. Deal?