It's never too early for a GM's wheels to start turning.
The San Francisco Giants are off to a solid start. The starting rotation has demonstrated good form, in particular new acquisition Tim Hudson. The offense is finding ways to win, with first baseman Brandon Belt producing and center fielder Angel Pagan firing on all cylinders at the plate.
GM Brian Sabean added a few key pieces in the offseason to complement a lineup left largely intact from last season. The primary differences thus far: Mike Morse is the everyday left fielder, Hudson replaces Barry Zito in the starting rotation, Pagan is healthy and Belt appears to finally have harnessed his potential to become a power hitter.
With a record of 11-8 and early-season success against NL West division title favorite Los Angeles Dodgers, it's a little preemptive to start talking in-season trades. Sure, right fielder Hunter Pence is struggling at the plate (.181 batting average) and third baseman Pablo Sandoval is faring even worse (.171 batting average). Tim Lincecum has a swollen 6.43 ERA, with Ryan Vogelsong not far behind with a 5.40 ERA.
But assessing weaknesses now and taking player performance off these early goings is, well, preemptive. However, we can begin to look at the larger picture, as I'm sure Sabean is already doing.
Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Hudson are all performing well and are expected to continue to perform well. Lincecum's two-year contract comes with a full no-trade clause. Vogelsong is the lone option in the starting five to be traded, but the Giants appear to have faith in the late-blooming right-hander, and the addition of Hudson in the offseason was their move to bolster the rotation. Additionally, Vogelsong is coming off a brilliant start against the Dodgers, allowing just one run in six innings of work. His command was back in that game, as Vogey surrendered only two walks.
In terms of starting pitching, Sabean and the Giants will probably stay put.
It would also be surprising to deal any of the outfielders: Morse is the new "chosen one" in left field, Pence will get it together and is an essential component in the lineup, and Pagan is the first true leadoff hitter the Giants have had since Aaron Rowand...oh, wait.
The Giants have illustrated patience in developing the two Brandons: Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Why Sabean would deal them now just as they're both hitting their respective strides is beyond comprehension, at least at this stage of the season.
Sandoval is a question mark in the infield, as is the second base position in general. If or when Marco Scutaro returns will determine a lot. Henry Schulman at SFGate.com writes:
This is turning into a sadder story for the Giants by the day. Whenever we ask about him we get the same answer. He continues to do baseball work and conditioning in Arizona in hopes of calming his back issues. But he is not playing in extended-spring games.
A lot of folks are asking me about alternatives if Scutaro cannot come back this year. Remember, few trades are made this time of year. They are very rare, and a buyer would have to pay a very steep price.
Hopefully the Scutaro saga has a happier ending than what happened to Freddy Sanchez a few years back. If anything, this dilemma reveals a kink in the Giants lineup: They need depth off the bench. Joaquin Arias is a decent utility-man option and Brandon Hicks is promising, but neither can (currently, at least) match the production Scutaro would bring to the lineup.
And the Giants need a scarier pinch-hitting option off the bench, especially if they hope to contend. A Pat Burrell-type comes to mind.
Sandoval is another potential bargaining chip, but I still hesitate. Maybe it's my own personal fandom getting in the way, but watching a guy hit three home runs in a World Series game is just plain impressive. He has so much potential that the Giants have seen payoff before. It's just never been consistent production and, at a certain point, tough decisions need to be made. But I'm still holding off, especially considering the lack of alternatives at third base.
Baseball trades often come suddenly and out of the woodwork, so who knows what's going on in the mind of Sabean. The Giants GM is known for his patience, so Giants fans should expect to wait and see depending on how the season really begins to play out.