The San Francisco Giants are mired in a 9-21 slump dating back to June 20 with no real sign of getting the season back on track. Those whom the team rewarded for it win its second World Series in three years have all but failed them in 2013, and now is the time to prepare for the future—a task general manager Brian Sabean was not prepared for at the beginning of the season.
The only option for the Giants in order to avoid a rather substantial dip in future success is to become high-level sellers over the next five days before the trade deadline.
High-level sellers would look to put together trades involving the likes of Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence, two upcoming free agents, despite the fan support the two have accumulated over their time at AT&T Park.
Sabean arguably has one shot at rebuilding if he wants to quickly turn around what has now become a rather stale and unproductive group of players. Dealing those whose contracts expire at season’s end should become the first priority, despite the presumed initial plans of re-signing them.
Lincecum and Pence must be at the forefront of the Giants efforts to sell at the trade deadline. Those two players hold the most value at the moment, with Lincecum gaining traction following his recent no-hitter, and Pence boasting enough youth and talent to hold real trade value on the market.
Both players are in the final years of their contracts and should return some decent young players or prospects from a team looking to make a sprint towards the playoffs.
If Sabean and the Giants are not able or willing to depart with such valuable cornerstones of the franchise’s recent history, this team will risk losing a chance at acquiring quality young talent just for the price of players whom we can expect to remain marginally productive.
Sabean made it clear his intentions with Lincecum, as the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea reported, but that may change as the team digs a deeper and deeper hole in the NL West. As Sabean said in a radio interview with KNBR:
I expect Timmy to be in a Giant uniform...I find it hard to believe he’ll pitch elsewhere this year...We need him to get back in this thing.
Once Lincecum’s velocity went down, he was never the same pitcher and does not seem like he will ever return to being the dominant presence he once was. Pence, meanwhile, is unlikely to post the offensive numbers at AT&T Park necessary to command the big contract that he will seek.
It is best for the Giants to cut their losses rather than creating newer ones. Losing Pence and Lincecum at season’s end and getting nothing in return would be a giant loss for this franchise, and one that will set the ballclub back several years.
What should the Giants do at the trade deadline?
San Francisco could better absorb the losses of Pence and Lincecum if its farm system was stocked with major league-ready prospects. However, the trade of the highly touted Zack Wheeler, along with other deals that move minor-league prospects, have left the Giants without a safety net for two years now and risks the team's long-term stability and success.
What was formerly a farm system loaded with young pitching talent ready to step in is now led by so-called MLB-ready talent like Michael Kickham and Eric Surkamp. Neither pitching prospect has shown to be anything close to resembling MLB ready.
If Kickham and Surkamp are the best the Giants can offer in their farm system at the moment, then there should be little time wasted on winning now. At the rate the Giants are going, winning should not be as important as planning ahead and drawing a blueprint for a future hopefully stocked with an ample amount of prospects.
Can and will the Giants trade players like Lincecum and Pence at the deadline, though?
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Ann Killion thinks there is more to the situation than just trade value.
The reaction to the no-hitter confirmed a truth: Lincecum is one of the most beloved athletes in Bay Area history. He's up there in Montana territory. He might be the most loved Giant since Willie McCovey...Along the way, Lincecum has woven his way into the San Francisco culture, with a well-timed F-bomb, a dabbling in the area's favorite herb, a decided lack of ego and hubris...And then, just when the success seemed to have faded, the no-hitter. The joyous hug with Posey. The embrace of his team.
The Giants would be trading a player that exemplifies all that is San Francisco, doing so while AT&T Park continues to sell out every single night the team takes the field.
Trading Lincecum would risk losing the fan base, to some extent, and that may not be a path Sabean wants to go down, just or the sake of his job.
It is not like Sabean was unprepared for this day. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey are all locked up for the foreseeable future, and Kyle Crick seems to be a promising young prospect in Single-A San Jose. But despite dominant years by Bumgarner and Posey, the disappointments of Cain and Lincecum in 2013 indicate that the future of the Giants may not as fully stocked as it once was.
Trading Lincecum and Pence for high returns over the next week would set the team up for winning baseball in the near future, but it may also cost the Giants a lull in fan support at a time when stock in the Giants brand is at an all-time high.
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