The San Francisco Giants need help, and they need it fast.
With the July 31 trade deadline around the corner, the Giants are looking to right the ship and start the second half of the season with a stability and consistency that has eluded them all season.
The Giants are in second place in the National League West, primarily because of the weakness of the other four teams in the division. Three games back from Arizona, the Giants are not in a bad place to make a run at the Diamondbacks. But the injury-depleted lineup and disappointing rotation will need a shot in the arm if the Giants want to make an impact through July and August.
The most important issue the Giants must address is their starting pitching. Whether it has been shocking inconsistency from their aces or rocky outings from their middle relievers, pitching woes have put undue strain on the Giants’ lineup since day one.
And the lineup has been unable to compensate. Lately, the players who have taken the field look more like the Fresno Grizzlies starters than everyday major leaguers.
Last week the Giants took the Padres to extras with a lineup missing its leadoff through cleanup hitters. With Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval and Marco Scutaro on the disabled list and Buster Posey taking one of his regular days of rest, the Giants trotted out a starting lineup that included backup third baseman Joaquin Arias, backup catcher Hector Sanchez and recent call-ups Tony Abreu and Juan Perez.
Despite the return of Scutaro and Posey, the Giants scored only eight runs last week in dropping a four-game series to the Marlins—the worst team in baseball. The Giants were ice-cold with runners in scoring position.
Manager Bruce Bochy has made it clear that he is happy with his position players. Indeed—when the full starting lineup is healthy—there is no arguing that Blanco-Scutaro-Sandoval-Posey-Pence packs quite the punch. However, the inexperience of the bench has been a detriment to the Giants in close games. And with the state of the Giants pitching, close games are in abundance.
Assuming the starting lineup is more-or-less set, the major issue the Giants need to address is pitching. Four of five members of the rotation that started the season have been rocked for huge innings in important games. With Vogelsong on the disabled list for another few weeks, the Giants have looked to converted reliever Chad Gaudin to become the fifth starter.
Addressing the gap in the starting rotation may be the easiest way to get relief to the bullpen. With another starting pitcher—and Vogelsong’s return from the disabled list—the Giants would be free to move Gaudin or even Lincecum into long relief.
Now that Santiago Casilla is on the disabled list and Jeremy Affeldt is struggling (with five earned runs in the month of June after giving up only one in May), the Giants sorely need a consistent set-up man. Jean Machi and Jose Mijares have been pushed—probably too much—to play that role, but with limited success.
Gaudin and Lincecum both fit the bill. Either has the arm strength to go long innings if a starting pitcher gets knocked out early. Both have the experience. Gaudin has spent most of his career in the bullpen, and Lincecum was flawless in the 2012 postseason—allowing one run on three hits in five relief appearances.
Lincecum has stated that he is open to the possibility of a move. With one more starting pitcher in the rotation, Bochy would have the flexibility to move either Lincecum or Gaudin as he saw fit. Making either available for long relief would take some of the pressure of converted closer Sergio Romo—a much cheaper if slightly less effective fix than looking to purchase a closer.
The Giants have a number of options available in terms of starting pitching. Miami Marlin Ricky Nolasco is a Southern California native who has made it clear he will not be returning to Florida. The right-hander is 4-7 with a 3.68 ERA this season, and he is a perfect 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA in San Francisco. Nolasco is more than open to the idea of pitching in AT&T Park, telling Marlins beat writers, “I like everything about this place.”
Along with Nolasco, the Giants have also been reported to be looking into Astros right-hander Bud Norris. Another solid starting pitcher on a team that will be selling at the deadline, Norris boasts a 3.64 ERA in a very hitter-friendly park. Norris, a Northern California native, told FOX Sports that it would be “a dream come true for me to play for my childhood team.” And Norris would be fairly affordable for the Giants, too. He’s making $3 million this year and $1 million after the trade deadline.
Other starting pitching options include the Cubs’ Scott Feldman, who will likely be a hot commodity with his 2.82 ERA, and the Yankees’ Phil Hughes. The Yankees have an abundance of starting pitching, and as the worst starter on the team, Hughes could be the first to go. Despite his 4.80 ERA, Hughes boasts a high strikeout-to-walk ratio. His major weakness has been giving up home runs, which may be less of a problem in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.
In a perfect world, the Giants would be able to afford a long reliever and a veteran bat off the bench. But they may not have to if they can shake up their rotation with the right starting pitcher, taking some pressure off the bullpen and the starting lineup.
Through the dog days of summer, it may be money better spent.