Since the Barry Bonds era came to a close, the San Francisco Giants have been winning games because of top-notch starting pitching.
However, this season, it's been different. San Francisco's rotation has been horrendous, and the bullpen is falling apart. Surprisingly, the Giants are 35-31 and right in the thick of things in the NL West, but if they don't make improvements soon, they'll fall behind.
Who could help the Giants stay in the playoff picture? Here are three players the Giants should target at the 2013 MLB trade deadline.
Starting pitching has brought the Giants down this year, and they need an answer. Bud Norris could be that answer.
Norris would be a great fit in San Francisco. He boasts a stellar 3.47 ERA this season, which would rank second among all Giants pitchers. Norris isn't striking out a ton of batters and has let opponents hit .321 on balls in play, but he hasn't given up a ton of runs.
Norris has kept the ball in the park (his HR/FB rate is a glistening 6.1 percent), and if he was obtained by the Giants, he would almost never give up a home run. According to ESPN's Park Factors, Houston's Minute Maid Park has been the home of the second-most home runs this year.
And AT&T Park? Only three parks have been subject to less home runs.
Norris' career K/9 rate is 8.49, and opponents' career batting average on balls in play (BABIP) off of him is .306. His K/9 rate this season is 6.18, and opponents' BABIP is .321.
If Norris' BABIP and K/9 rate were up to par with his career averages, he would be even better. His ERA is solid, and he's been Houston's best pitcher. Norris' 1.5 WAR leads Houston's pitchers, and he's definitely helped carry the rotation.
However, if the Astros want to contend, they're not going to do it with Norris leading the way. Houston is open to trading Norris, and the Giants have solid pitching prospects. If they parted with a good minor league pitcher and another lesser-known prospect, the Astros would likely accept the deal.
Ty Blach would be a good fit. He's in Single-A, and he is 7-2 with a 2.70 ERA. Blach is a solid pitcher, but he will take some time to blossom and develop.
The Astros aren't going to contend for a few years, so adding a solid prospect to the talent-packed farm system wouldn't be a bad idea. The Astros have arguably the best farm system in the MLB, and stockpiling more talented arms would be a great plan of action.
If they gave up Norris, they could do that.
Norris isn't an exceptional player, so the Astros won't ask for too much for him. However, he could help the Giants for a long time. Norris is arbitration-eligible after 2013, and he would be in the rotation until at least 2015 (when he would become a free agent).
There's no question that the Giants need to add a starter, and Norris is a great fit. He can keep the ball in the park, and if he can strike out more batters, he'll be dominant.
The Giants don't need Norris to be dominant, but if he can keep stranding runners (74 percent of runners that reach are stranded on base) and winning games, he'll definitely help the team.
San Francisco's starting pitching has been terrible, but the bullpen is on the verge of collapsing as well.
Its 3.04 ERA (which ranks sixth in the MLB) suggests otherwise, but the bullpen has struggled lately. With an injury to Santiago Casilla and the departure of Chad Gaudin to the rotation, the Giants need right-handed relief pitching.
Steve Cishek, who currently resides with the 20-46 Miami Marlins, would be a great option for the Giants.
His 3.86 ERA isn't anything to drool over, but his 2.81 career ERA suggests that he can shut down opposing batters. Cishek's career HR/FB rate is a glistening 5.9 percent, but this year, it's an inflated 13 percent.
If he can keep the ball in the park, he'll be dominant. Sergio Romo is the closer right now, and Jeremy Affeldt has assumed the job of setup man, but Cishek would do a great job compensating for the loss of Gaudin.
The Giants felt Gaudin's absence against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, June 12. Starter Barry Zito left with the Giants trailing 6-4, and Jose Mijares came in. He surrendered a two-run single.
Ramon Ramirez and Sandy Rosario combined to cough up four more runs, including two home runs. San Francisco's offense brought home four runs, but the horrendous pitching cost the Giants a chance at winning. The Giants ended up losing, 12-8.
If Cishek was on the team, he could have stepped in and helped the Giants win. If Cishek had contributed an inning or two, the Giants could have handed a late-inning lead to Affeldt and Romo.
The Giants lack depth in the bullpen, and adding Cishek would be a great way to solve that problem. Even when Casilla returns, the Giants will need some help. Cishek isn't an inning-eater, but he can help out in crucial situations earlier in games.
Cishek is holding opponents to a mere .210 batting average, but he's currently on a losing team. Pitching for a winning team in a big ballpark would be great for him, and it could allow him to be even more effective.
Cishek isn't the closer of the future for the struggling Marlins, so the Giants wouldn't have to unload the farm to get him. The Giants have good, young pitching prospects, and the rebuilding Marlins would likely agree to a deal involving a decent pitching prospect.
Because he hasn't been dominant and because the Giants have prospects the Marlins can stockpile in the minors, the Giants will be able to make a trade for Cishek. He's been written off because he plays for arguably the MLB's worst team, but he would get the recognition he deserves with the defending champions.
With Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito on the verge of becoming free agents, the Giants need a good long-term starter.
Twenty-four-year-old Jose Quintana is a great option for the Giants. Quintana currently resides on the south side of Chicago with the White Sox, and he's done a good job there. He currently boasts a 3.86 ERA, which would rank second among San Francisco's starters.
Quintana is holding opponents to a .244 batting average, and he's inducing weak contact. His K/9 rate is 6.43, but batters are hitting just .266 on balls in play. That shows that there has been some luck involved, but it also shows that opponents haven't been hitting the ball well off of Quintana.
The southpaw has let opponents hit 10 home runs off of him, but he plays in a hitter-friendly park. According to ESPN Park Factors, U.S. Cellular has been the ninth-best park for hitting home runs, which never helps a pitcher.
AT&T Park is 28th on that list. If Quintana played in San Francisco, his 10.5 percent HR/FB rate would likely decrease.
He doesn't overpower batters, but he forces weak contact. Quintana isn't afraid to pitch inside, and he can jam batters. Over his two-year major league career, he has induced a ground ball in a whopping 45.5 percent of his at-bats.
Quintana hasn't allowed more than four earned runs in any start this year, and he has only thrown 37.7 percent of his pitches for balls. He can hit 94 mph with his fastball, and he can throw it inside to jam hitters. Even if Quintana makes location mistakes, he would be bailed out by AT&T Park.
The White Sox are 8.5 games behind the mighty Detroit Tigers, and they're likely going to let go of some key pieces. Jake Peavy could be dealt at the deadline, but Quintana is younger and has had a better year.
The Giants have some depth in their farm system, and the White Sox are looking for some future starters. San Francisco won't part with Kyle Crick or Clayton Blackburn, but it has enough depth to make a deal happen.
San Francisco traded Conor Gillaspie, who wasn't doing anything with the Giants, to Chicago this offseason. Gillaspie is among the team leaders in batting average, and he has a respectable 0.8 WAR in just 166 at-bats.
If the Giants gave up an outfielder, such as Cole Gillespie or Francisco Peguero, in addition to a stellar pitcher, there's a good chance the White Sox would agree. Quintana isn't an ace, but the Giants don't need an ace. However, they have some prospects with high ceilings.
Chicago has a dominant pitching prospect in Erik Johnson, but it lacks pitching depth in the farm. The Giants could replenish that depth by giving up someone like Blach while also letting go of another Gillespie-like player, which would be a fair deal.
Quintana isn't an ace, but he has the consistency the Giants need. In addition, if the Giants traded for him, he'd be with the team for a long time. Quintana is underrated, and the last-place White Sox can afford to trade him to boost their offense and add more depth to the farm system.