5 Starting Pitchers the SF Giants Can Pursue to Fix Struggling Rotation

Jason MartinezContributor IJune 13, 2013

5 Starting Pitchers the SF Giants Can Pursue to Fix Struggling Rotation

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    The 2012 San Francisco Giants were able to overcome the drastic decline of two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, winning their second World Series title in three seasons. But not only has Lincecum continued to struggle in 2013, whatever he has seems to be rubbing off on the rest of the staff.

    In 48 total starts (not including Cain's start on Thursday), Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito—four-fifths of last year's rotation—have combined on a 4.91 ERA in 48 starts. Only 42 percent of those have been quality starts while they've allowed five earned runs or more 31 percent of the time. So in a nutshell, that quartet has turned into the bad version of Tim Lincecum.  

    Current No. 5 starter, 30-year-old journeyman Chad Gaudin, has given the team back-to-back quality starts in place of Vogelsong, who is on the disabled list with a fractured hand that could keep him out of action for two more months. It's been a much-needed shot in the arm for a pitching staff that didn't appear to have much depth outside of the starting five. 

    But even if you think Gaudin can keep this up with any sort of regularity, it doesn't change the fact that the rest of the rotation is not pitching anywhere near the level necessary to win the NL West once again. General manager Brian Sabean has plenty of success adding position players and relievers to his 25-man roster at the trade deadline. For the first time in a while, he'll probably be looking for a starting pitcher. 

    Here are five starting pitchers that Sabean could try to acquire and what it might take to acquire them. 

Mark Buehrle, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    I recently identified Buehrle as a starting pitcher who could moved by the deadline based on his return to form over his last six starts (3.00 ERA, 39 IP, 34 H, 12 BB, 26 K). The 34-year-old lefty had allowed at least five earned runs in five of his first seven starts.

    If the Jays can't make a run to get back into playoff contention in the next month, Buehrle could be a prime target for a team like the Giants who seeks stability in the rotation.

    It's unlikely that they'd be willing to take on the remainder of his contract (approximately $4 million for remainder of 2013 season, $37 million total for 2014-2015). The more they pay, however, the lesser the prospect they'll have to give up in return. 

    With Lincecum and Zito coming off of the books after the season, they could probably afford to fill a spot with a solid veteran like Buehrle for about $12 million per season.

    If they can take on $28 million of the estimated $41 million, the Jays would probably be very happy to take back a back-of-the-rotation pitching prospect like Michael Kickham or reliever Heath Hembree, who has a 3.38 ERA and 14 saves for Triple-A Fresno.

Matt Garza, RHP, Chicago Cubs

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    Giving up nine runs and nine hits against the Reds in his last start, including three homers, can't do much for Garza's trade value. It could improve the Giants' chances to acquire him, though, since they might be unwilling to part with one of their top pitching prospects for a two-month rental. That didn't work so well the last time. Remember Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran.

    If the 29-year-old bounces back and runs off a string of quality starts over the next few weeks, just about every contender in baseball will be asking about Garza, who is one of the few capable front-line starters expected to be available at the trade deadline.

    And if Sabean feels Garza gives them the best chance to earn another playoff berth, he may be willing to include one of a few very good pitching prospects currently in the low minors. 

    That very good prospect would likely be one of Chris Stratton (3.77 ERA, 3.2 BB/9, 9.5 K/9 in 10 Low-A starts), the 20th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Kyle Crick (0.93 ERA in 3 High-A starts), the organization's No.1 ranked prospect coming into the season, or Clayton Blackburn (4.25 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, 10.4 K/9 in 12 High-A starts. Throw in one more mid-level prospect and the Giants could land Garza.  

Shaun Marcum, RHP, New York Mets

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    The overall numbers are ugly (0-7, 4.96 ERA) but Marcum has pitched much better than the win-loss record and ERA would indicate. In his last five starts, he's posted a 3.41 ERA with four walks and 33 strikeouts in 34.1 innings pitched.

    When healthy, the 31-year-old is capable of working deep into games and holding opponents to three earned runs or less on a consistent basis. He had won 61 percent of his decisions during his career coming into the season, so the 0-7 mark is foreign territory for Marcum

    The Mets are likely to make room for top prospect Zack Wheeler in the near future and possibly even Rafael Montero, who is dominating at Double-A. At 24-37 and nowhere near playoff contention, the Mets might even be willing to trade Marcum this month.

    In order to land the free-agent-to-be, the Giants won't have to give up a top prospect but a close-to-major-league-ready outfielder who could compete for playing time now might be enough. Roger Kieschnick (.904 OPS in 61 Triple-A games), and Francisco Peguero (.762 OPS in 38 Triple-A games), both projected fourth outfielders with a slight chance to be everyday players, would likely fall into that category. 

Ricky Nolasco, RHP, Miami Marlins

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    Things you never expected to hear in this lifetime: Ricky Nolasco is a better option than Tim Lincecum in the Giants rotation. But it's true.

    While Lincecum can't seem to string back-to-back solid outings together anymore, Nolasco has been "Mr. Consistency" for the Marlins, working at least six innings in 10 of 14 starts, not allowing more than four earned runs in 13 of his starts and allowing two earned runs or less seven times.

    He won't cost a ton in return and the return could be even less if the Giants took on the remainder of his $11.5 million salary in 2013. If the Giants offered two of their low-level minor league starters not named Blackburn, Crick or Stratton, a deal for Nolasco could probably get done.

    Lefty starters Ty Blach (2.70 ERA, 66.2 IP, 64 H, 6 BB, 57 K in High-A) and Edwin Escobar (3.23 ERA, 55.2 IP, 51 H, 14 BB, 73 K in High-A) could be intriguing enough names for the Marlins, although there could be several teams interested in Nolasco who have similar players they're willing to deal.        

Bud Norris, RHP, Houston Astros

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    Norris would be the most costly, but he would upgrade the pitching staff now and fill a void that will be left once Lincecum and Zito depart as free agents after the season. Under team control through the 2015 season, the Astros probably aren't in a hurry to trade the 28-year-old unless the price is right.

    General manager Jeff Luhnow also realizes that Norris' value could be at its peak with the season he's having  (3.47 ERA, five consecutive quality starts), so I'm sure he'll keep an open mind and not ask for an unreasonable return as the trade deadline approaches.

    The Giants would have to give up two very good prospects for Norris, though. If they offered Blackburn and Crick, in addition to Low-A pitcher Martin Agosta (2.19 ERA, 61.2 IP, 41 H, 25 BB, 81 K), Luhnow might not want to pass on the opportunity to add three quality arms to his farm system in exchange for one who'll hit free agency before they're ready for their next playoff run.