The San Francisco Giants are winning. Plain and simple. That being said, we are still in the infant stage of the 2013 season. The Giants have only played 38 games out of 162.
The reigning World Series champs enjoyed a relatively quiet offseason and spring training, as general manager Brian Sabean focused primarily on locking up existing players to multi-year deals. This strategy appears to be working, as the Giants currently sit atop the NL West, two games above the Arizona Diamondbacks.
However, these early weeks of the 2013 season have revealed the Giants do have areas of need moving forward. Some of these needs (starting pitching....dare I say it?) will require front-office attention as the playoff race begins.
Sabean has a history of shopping for players around the trade deadline. In 2012, he made pivotal moves that ultimately paid dividends to the tune of a World Series victory. Right fielder Hunter Pence and second baseman Marco Scutaro were welcome additions to the roster and became immediate leaders in the clubhouse.
Who will be the "blockbuster trade" for the Giants in 2013? Last season, the Giants needed a veteran presence in the infield and a spark plug in the outfield. Scutaro and Pence provided both.
In 2013, Sabean will perhaps go browsing the aisles for a starting pitcher.
The Giants' starting rotation has underwhelmed for the most part this season. While the core is improving, notching three consecutive winning decisions in their most recent series against the Atlanta Braves, they have struggled to eat up innings.
Pitcher Madison Bumgarner has been the team's most consistent man on the mound, posting a 2.18 ERA in eight starts. Opening Day starter Matt Cain appears to be back on track after a dismal start to the season, and perpetual anchor Barry Zito has posted respectable numbers thus far.
However, it isn't entirely realistic to assume Zito will continue his success. And while Bumgarner and Cain should finish the season strong, there are too many question marks remaining in the Giants' rotation. Ryan Vogelsong is suffering through a disastrous stretch that began during his last 10 starts of 2012 and has carried over into this season.
Baggerly's rationale? The Phillies have one of the highest payrolls in baseball. He writes:
"The Phillies’ $165 million payroll is the third largest in the game, after the Dodgers and Yankees, and they’re 15-18 with an aging roster that doesn’t look anywhere near firm enough to compete with the Braves and Nationals in the NL East. No, it’s not like they’re buried in the division already. But their minus-30 run differential is the third worst in the NL, behind the Marlins and Dodgers."
Okay, the idea might be a stretch, but the possible addition of another starting pitcher before the trade deadline is far less...far-fetched.
Securing a playoff-worthy starter by the trade deadline is not an easy task, making Baggerly's reasoning all the more valid. The Giants should target teams who find themselves out of contention by the All-Star break and are looking to reduce payroll.
Among the top 10 highest payrolls, the teams who could be on the verge of unloading upper-tier players include the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Red Sox pitching staff is performing well above what anyone expected going into the season—but who knows how long this can be sustained. The Phillies already have Cliff Lee and Chase Utley trade rumors flying around, and the Angels' decision to spend the big bucks on bats as opposed to pitching is nipping them in the bud.
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, there are plenty of starting pitchers who could find themselves on the trading block. Cliff Lee's name is featured on the list, as are former Cy Young winners David Price and R.A. Dickey.
"If none of those three former Cy Young winners ever reaches the trade market, though, there will be more quantity than quality. Without that top-of-the-rotation trio, there should still be a decent-sized number of available arms. A few slow-starting, big-market teams possess proven starters (i.e the Cubs, Blue Jays, and Angels) and that group, a mix of mostly mid-to-back-end guys plus veterans on the downside could be enhanced if a couple more name starters (most notably Josh Johnson and Matt Garza) can make it back from health issues to show they're ready to join the fray by June or July."
The Giants should proceed with caution in considering a trade for some of the names on this list. Potentially available pitchers such as Josh Johnson (0-1 with a 6.86 ERA) are risky investments to say the least.
The Chicago Cubs are an interesting possible trade partner. A team looking to rebuild, they could easily prioritize up-and-coming younger talent over more veteran workhorses. Pitcher Travis Wood is an enticing option: this season, he's 4-2 with a 2.03 ERA. Wood has youth (28) and enough MLB experience (four years) to merit trade deadline consideration.
Sabean is not afraid of trading for proven veterans with a track record (Carlos Beltran in 2011, Pence and Scutaro in 2012, etc) in exchange for potential young talent. While the Giants have needed to add a bat in the past, this year Sabean could very well repeat the pattern—but for a pitcher instead.
Another area of concern for the Giants moving forward comes out of left field...both figuratively and literally. Gregor Blanco is making a solid case for himself so far. He is currently batting a respectable .289 in 90 at-bats and has also performed well defensively.
Still, the Giants lack power at a historically powerful position. Sabean did sign outfielder Andres Torres in the offseason, but the new (and former) Giant does little to alleviate the problem. Furthermore, the Giants have more scheduled games at American League ballparks—causing the need for an extra hitter in the DH spot.
An outfielder who does not necessarily hit for average but adds power potential to the lineup would be an asset to San Francisco.
All this being said, the Giants are currently playing good baseball. The holes in their lineup are shrinking, especially if first baseman Brandon Belt and the bottom half of the batting order are able to break out.
Hopefully, the starting rotation will work through the kinks. Tim Lincecum dazzled in his May 12th start against the offensively potent Atlanta Braves. If Vogelsong can turn things around, the need for a fifth or sixth starter becomes less urgent.
If the problem persists, look for Sabean to make a trade before the deadline. The Marco Scutaro trade was truly the blockbuster move of 2012. Here's hoping lightning can strike twice for the G-men.