The only thing saving the San Francisco Giants right now is the mediocrity of the rest of the National League West. The Giants enter play on Thursday in last place in the division with a record of 39-45.
In the tepid NL West, the Giants are only four games out of first place. They've lost nine out of their last 10 games, including three straight in Cincinnati. They were no-hit by Homer Bailey on Tuesday night, and they've gone 7-for-85 at the plate in the series against the Reds (h/t Alex Pavlovic, San Jose Mercury News.)
The Giants have been the worst team in baseball over a two-month stretch. They're 16-30 since May 14. It's not like this team is in some minor rut that they're certain to bust out of. They've been really bad for an extended period of time.
The lineup carried the team through the season's first two months, but the loss of leadoff man Angel Pagan has proved to be devastating. Pablo Sandoval went down shortly after Pagan. He's gone just 3-for-33 since coming back from the disabled list to drop his slash line to .264/.303/.384.
It isn't just Sandoval who is struggling. Brandon Crawford (0-for-21), Gregor Blanco (0-for-22) and Hunter Pence (2-for-25) are all mired in deep slumps too. Marco Scutaro has gone just 2-for-21 while battling mallet finger and a balky back.
Sandoval, Crawford, Blanco, Pence and Scutaro aren't going to slump for the rest of the year. The Giants' offense isn't this bad. However, given the team's long stretch of poor play, any moves that General Manager Brian Sabean makes at the deadline need to have an eye towards reloading for the 2014 season.
Pagan won't be back until September, if at all, but he will be back in 2014. Sandoval will enter the final season of his contract next year. He'll have all the incentive in the world to get into the best shape of his life in order to have a big season in his contract year.
If not for the mediocrity of the rest of the division, 2013 would be a lost cause for the Giants already. If they don't start playing better immediately, they're going to run out of time no matter how weak the rest of the division is.
With that in mind, Sabean needs to bolster this squad for the stretch run and for 2014. That means avoiding rental players such as Matt Garza and Ricky Nolasco. It also means he can buy and sell at the same time.
Tim Lincecum ($22 million) and Barry Zito ($20 million) will likely hit the free-agent market after the season. If Zito's option doesn't vest—he's on pace to fall 17 innings short—the Giants will have to pay him a $7 million buyout. Even with that buyout, the Giants will have $35 million to use to bolster the squad with Lincecum and Zito coming off the books.
Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area wrote on Wednesday that he believes the Giants will look for players who can help beyond 2013. Baggarly wrote:
Or at least someone who could plug in as an everyday player or rotation stalwart beyond this season. Alex Rios and Jake Peavy both fall into that category; they’re owed almost $27 million between the two of them next year. So, of all the names on the trade market, I can see the Giants trying to make a match there.
Peavy recently began throwing again after suffering a non-displaced rib fracture which has sidelined him since June 6. He put up a 3.37 ERA with 194 strikeouts against just 49 walks in 219 innings last year. His ERA has shot up to 4.30 through his first 11 starts this season, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved from 3.96 in 2012 to 4.40 in 2013.
The 32-year-old Peavy is in the first year of a two-year, $29 million contract. The biggest issue with acquiring him—besides the fairly large contract—is his injury history. He's currently on the disabled list with the aforementioned rib injury, and he made only 51 starts from 2009-2011 before returning to good health in 2012.
Rios, 32, is making $12.5 million this year and next. He's currently hitting .268/.325/.439 with 11 home runs. He was much better last season when he hit .304/.334/.516 with 25 home runs.
Rios would be a nice insurance policy in case impending free-agent outfielder Hunter Pence leaves over the winter. If the Giants can re-sign Pence, they'd enter 2014 with an outfield of Rios, Pagan and Pence, with Gregor Blanco moving back to the role he's best-suited for as a fourth outfielder.
Trading for Peavy and Rios would help the Giants stay afloat in 2013 while also improving the club for next year. Both players are expensive, and Peavy comes with an extensive injury history. Perhaps, the financial cost and the health risk posed by Peavy would keep the price in terms of the prospects going back to the White Sox low.
If the Giants didn't have to part with top prospects like Kyle Crick and Chris Stratton to acquire Peavy and Rios, acquiring those two players—as Baggarly suggested—would make a lot of sense.
Sabean needs to reload for 2014. That doesn't mean throwing in the towel on this season or selling off every valuable asset the Giants have. It means that if he does decide to buy, he needs to acquire players who can help beyond 2013.
The Giants' season isn't completely lost, but it's certainly headed that way given how the club has played during its recent 16-30 stretch. A blockbuster trade may not be enough to turn this team around.
Thus, the Giants need to use the trading deadline to reload for 2014. The team just hasn't clicked on all cylinders yet, and more than half of a season is already in the books. Right now, it just doesn't look like it's going to be the Giants' year.
With the right moves at the deadline, next year can be better than this season has been so far.