Halfway To What?

Last we posted, we explored some options for the Giants as the trade deadline nears. Suddenly, at the halfway point in the season the Giants find themselves at a crossroads.

To The Left: The Giants can look at the world today and say this: as bad as we’ve been, as injured as our roster has become, even after being no-hit by a guy named Homer (who happens to be on my fantasy team: very conflicted emotions about that)…despite all that, we are only 3 GAMES OUT OF FIRST PLACE!

What kind of crazy world is this???? The way the Giants have hit, pitched, ran the bases, and caught the ball…the way they have accumulated a -31 run differential…they SHOULD be in last place (where they haven’t been since 2007).

But, they are also three game out of first place. There is hope. All is not lost. Let’s make some trades, let’s get Vogey back, let’s bolster the pen, let’s hope Pablo and a few other guys get hot…we can still win this thing.

That’s one way the Giants can look at the world.

To The Right: The Giants can look at the world this morning and say, hey, it’s been a good run, no one thought we’d win 2 titles in 3 years, but it’s time to retool. We don’t need Bud Norris, or Ricky Nolasco, or Joba Chamberlain, not at the expense of the few decent prospects we actually have.

The Giants can say, instead, let’s trade Timmy, let’s move Pence, let’s shop everybody (with the exceptions of Buster, Matt, and Madison) and see if we can’t restock the farm system, clear some salary, and get after this thing again next year.

The Path Ahead: I’ll be honest, there’s a big part of me that wouldn’t protest to waving the white flag and restocking the system. I don’t like the idea of giving up on a season, but this roster is only engineered properly if the team is healthy. Moreover, this team is designed to win close games, riding the strong backs and arms of its rotation. It is my belief that the rotation, as it is currently constructed, is not able to do what it did from 2009-2012 (see this insightful post from Giants OC).

I think expecting everything to magically fall into place for a stretch run is wishful thinking.

But 3 GAMES!

And that’s why there won’t be any dumping. As long as there is a sliver of hope, they’re going to ride this thing out and try to find some magic.

I really hope I have to swallow my words, but I think the brass will mortgage the future to try to salvage what might be a lost cause.

(-SB)

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Targets

The trade deadline is 6.5 weeks away, so we have a while to go before the rumor mill really heats us, but it’s never too early to speculate, debate, and hope for something magical to happen by July 31.

A couple of things we know about the Giants so far

  1. They are doing ok at scoring the runs
  2. They are not doing so well at preventing the runs, especially in terms of pitching, and especially those pitchers called upon to start the baseball games
  3. They have many injuries

Points 1 and 3 related because at the beginning of the year it seemed a slam dunk that the Giants would be in the market for an outfielder by this time of the year. All love and respect to Gregor “White Shark” Blanco and Andre Torres, but that duo was never going to really cut it as a corner outfield platoon.

Josh Willingham, Jeff Francoeur (gasp), even Raul Ibanez…these are the kinds of names we all expected to be debating.

But, now that seems wide open. The Giants could maybe use an infielder, or first basemen (pushing Belt to left), or they could do nothing as their offense seems to be holding its own despite lacking some key pieces.

Meanwhile, everything one can read online indicates that if there is a pitcher rumored to be available the Giants have asked about them. As of right now, there are 5 names that keep surfacing…here’s my quick and dirty take on each (in no particular order).

  1. Cliff Lee. We’ve discussed Clifford here before, and if he is available he is the best pitcher to be had for 2013. Taking Lee will be expensive (both in prospects and in money), but a third championship in 4 years makes it worthwhile. Also, the Giants have a history of trading with the Phillies (see Pence, Hunter), which may or may not be a good thing. What acquiring Lee means: the Giants are ALL in, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are gone at the end of the year, and the Giants better win it all.
  2. Ricky Nolasco. I would have to believe that Nolasco would be the cheapest of these five arms to acquire. Also, you are dealing with the Marlins who haven’t made a sound baseball decision in quite some time, a track record that Brian Sabean has exploited with organizations before (see Pirates, Pittsburg; Schmidt, Jason; and Morris, Matt). Nolasco has always been very talented, maddeningly inconsistent, and very unlucky. He’s also pitched well at AT&T. What acquiring Nolasco means: the Giants felt they could get a good deal and bolster their rotation for the present without mortgaging the future.
  3. BudNorris.  Norris is the “ace” of Houston Astros, a strikeout machine, and a young guy who allows too many men to reach base. In all likelihood he will not be around (due to free agency) when the Astros are able to be good again, so it makes sense for the ‘stros to cash in and get some (more) prospects who could help them in 2-3 years when they expect to be competitive again. Norris would be somewhere in the middle of the expense chart, probably requiring one of the Giants’ top pitching prospects. What acquiring Norris means: the Giants are willing to spend a little more to get a guy who helps not only now, but also for the next couple of years. They believe a move to a better pitchers’ park, a better team culture, and life under the watchful eye of Dave Righetti will allow Norris to reach his full potential.
  4. Josh JohnsonJohnson was, seemingly, as important a piece in the blockbuster Blue Jay-Marlins trade over the winter as anyone else. As dynamic as Jose Reyes is atop a lineup, Johnson gave the Jays a power arm/ace pitcher that the team sorely lacked as it attempted to compete in baseball’s toughest division. Johnson, though, always comes with a significant disclaimer: he has rarely been healthy. When healthy he’s been as good as anyone in baseball (and his last few starts seem to show that he is close to that form again). Should he continue to pitch well over the next couple of weeks, and should the Blue Jays continue to languish, I imagine the demand for Johnson will skyrocket and his price will be close to that of Cliff Lee. Johnson is a free agent at the end of the year so this will be a showcase for him…if he pitches a team into the playoffs and on to the World Series he will cash in significantly. What acquiring Johnson means: it means the Giants lost out on Cliff Lee. It means, again, they are ALL in and willing pay big for a rental pitcher who almost assuredly will not be around in 2014. It also means the Giants have some level of confidence in his ability to stay healthy for the remainder of the season.
  5. Matt GarzaGarza is Johnson lite. He has a similar profile to Johnson, but all things being equal, if they are both on top of their game Johnson is the better pitcher. That said, one thing Garza does bring to the table, that only Lee can match, is the experience and resume of post-season success. Garza was the best pitcher for the Rays in the 2008 post-season and he backed that up in subsequent years. Garza, who hasn’t been pitching well since returning from injury, will also be a rental/audition as he will be a free agent this offseason. Garza, though, is from Fresno and might be interested in sticking around if things go well in San Fran. What acquiring Garza means: Garza is the middle ground of these options, representing the line between going all in for 2013 and thinking about the future. The Giants’ probably don’t have to give up their prime prospects to get him, but they also are thinking about the present and acquiring an arm that most likely won’t help them beyond this year.

What Should the Giants do? If I had to pull the trigger today I’d go for Bud Norris as he represents help now and into the future. In a couple more weeks, though, a win-now move might be more appealing. I think Lee is a bold move, but too expensive and he will be expensive for years to come. Johnson is too brittle, Nolasco too unpredictable. Matt Garza intrigues me, but in many ways he is having the worst year of anyone on this list, and what the Giants don’t need is another middling pitcher trying to regain his old glory.

I also like Josh Willingham, but that’s another post for another day.

(-SB)