According to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, the San Francisco Giants are already seeking starting pitching help prior to the trading deadline. Knobler reported that the Giants have shown some interest in Ricky Nolasco of the Miami Marlins and Bud Norris of the Houston Astros.
Nolasco would certainly help the Giants even though he's only 3-7 in 14 starts this year for the lowly Marlins. Despite Nolasco's record, his 3.80 ERA and 3.65 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)—an ERA estimator based on walk, strikeout and home run rates—would currently rank second among qualified starters in the San Francisco rotation.
Nolasco has struck out nearly 20 percent of the hitters he's faced this season while walking only 6 percent. His four-pitch arsenal includes a fastball that averages around 90 mph, a slider, a split and a curveball.
The biggest issue with Nolasco is that he's an impending free agent. If the Giants acquired him for prospects, they would only be getting a rental player. They also wouldn't be able to extend him a qualifying offer in order to get a compensation draft pick if he didn't re-sign in the offseason.
Norris would be a better fit for the Giants because they would control him for two more seasons via arbitration after 2013. Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito will likely hit the free-agent market after this season, so the Giants need to acquire pitching help for the future.
Zito has an option that will vest if he throws 200 innings, but he's on pace to fall 18 innings short. The Giants also have a $6.5 million club option on Ryan Vogelsong for next season.
That option looked like an easy call after Vogelsong went 27-16 with a 3.05 ERA over the past two seasons. He opened this year with a 7.19 ERA in nine starts before hitting the disabled list, which has made his option for next year a tougher decision.
Norris is 5-6 with a 3.47 ERA and 3.68 FIP through 14 starts. Like Nolasco, his ERA and FIP would currently rank second with the Giants. His strikeout rate is down more than 6 percent from 22.5 percent last year to 16.1 percent this season.
However, Norris has improved his ERA by cutting down on walks and home runs. He's cut his walk rate from 9.0 percent last year to 7.9 percent this season. After allowing 23 home runs in 168.1 innings in 2012, Norris has given up only six in 83 innings to begin 2013.
The 28-year-old Norris is also two years younger than Nolasco. He might benefit from the transition back to the National League if the Giants were to acquire him. A move from hitter-friendly Minute Made Park to the pitcher's paradise of AT&T Park might further boost Norris' numbers.
Norris predominantly relies on a fastball that averages 92.3 mph, a slider and a changeup. His slider is his best offering. According to FanGraphs, the slider has been worth nearly 45 runs for Norris thus far in his career.
If the Giants were to strike a deal for a starting pitcher, who would get bumped to the bullpen? Chad Gaudin has gone 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts since replacing Vogelsong in the rotation. As long as he keeps pitching well, it's hard to envision the Giants moving him back to the pen.
Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area recently reported that the Giants would move Tim Lincecum to the bullpen if they had an alternative in the rotation. Baggarly wrote:
"The Giants would turn Lincecum into a late-inning reliever 'in a heartbeat,' according to one club source, if they had another starting pitcher in the system ready to take his place in the rotation."
Lincecum has gone 14-21 with a 5.04 ERA and has just 17 quality starts in 46 attempts since the beginning of last year. He was dominant as a reliever out of the bullpen during the 2012 postseason. He allowed only three hits, two walks and one run while striking out 17 in 13 innings of work.
The Giants currently need right-handed help in the bullpen with Gaudin in the rotation now and setup man Santiago Casilla on the disabled list. Acquiring a starter to boost the rotation and moving Lincecum to the bullpen would fill two needs via one trade. They could also leave Lincecum in the rotation and move Gaudin back to the bullpen if he began to struggle as a starter.
The Giants have the third-worst rotation ERA in the National League at 4.79. The offense is second in the National League with a .272 batting average. It's no secret that this team needs starting pitching help more than anything else.
Norris would make the most sense in that regard. He's young, he would help the club during the next three pennant races, and he would immediately boost the team's playoff chances this year.
For the first time in a long time, the Giants' starting pitching is a question mark. Bud Norris would be a good answer for a struggling rotation.