The San Francisco Giants have fallen on tough times in the past week, losing six of their last seven games. Fortunately for the Giants, they had built a sizable lead in the NL West and are still ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers by six games.
During this recent skid, the Giants have had bouts of poor pitching from their starters and the bullpen. They also have had games where the bats were silenced or were unable to get a key hit. In addition, poor defense has hurt the Giants' efforts.
There is not one thing that can be pointed at that has caused the Giants' recent problems. However, there are some overriding concerns that become magnified when the team is losing.
With the trade deadline on the horizon, general manager Brian Sabean will be looking for areas where he can help bolster the team.
The first priority is at second base. Brandon Hicks had some big games and clutch hits early in the year. Hicks has power, with eight home runs and 22 RBI on the year.
However, Hicks' performance has declined dramatically of late. He has not homered since May 23 and has only two RBI in his last 20 games.
Even more troubling is that Hicks has now struck out 70 times in 187 at-bats, with several of those in situations where even a ground ball would have driven in a run.
Hicks' average is down to .176, with an OBP of .289 and OPS of .637. Defensively, he has been better than expected, but the Giants can no longer live with his complete lack of production.
Manager Bruce Bochy has also given Ehire Adrianza some opportunities, but he is proving that he is not ready to be in the majors.
In 63 at-bats, Adrianza is hitting only .190 with no home runs and four RBI. He has a soft .190 batting average to go along with an OBP of .235 and OPS of .458. Watching him at the plate, he is frequently overmatched.
Adrianza has also made too many mistakes defensively for a player that is supposed to be an outstanding defensive player.
The only reason Adrianza is on the team is because he is out of minor league options. The Giants are afraid another team will claim him if they expose him to waivers.
Joaquin Arias is another potential option, but he is often used at other positions or as a defensive replacement for Pablo Sandoval in the late innings. Arias is also not producing at this point.
In 79 at-bats, Arias is hitting only .177, with an OBP of .214 and OPS of .392. Arias has no home runs and seven RBI. However, at least Arias looks like he has a chance to hit the ball with authority, which can rarely be said about Adrianza.
Also, do not expect anything out of Marco Scutaro this season. If he ultimately does make it back, it will be a bonus, but at this point, he cannot be counted on.
With the NL West race beginning to tighten up, it will be up to Sabean to get a top-flight second baseman.
Daniel Murphy of the Mets is the perfect solution. Murphy is a very good offensive player and a solid, though unspectacular, defender. With the Mets currently eight games under .500, their playoff hopes are virtually nil.
In 281 at-bats, Murphy has five home runs, 26 RBI, 11 stolen bases and has scored 45 runs. His batting average is .299, with an OBP of .359 and OPS of .778.
Murphy is a solid, professional hitter and would be a huge upgrade for the Giants at second base. He is making $5.7 million this year, so if the Giants acquired him toward the end of July, they would be on the hook for roughly $2.5 million.
Murphy is arbitration eligible in 2015, so the Giants would have him under their control for another season. He does not become eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season.
Sabean may be able to pry Murphy away from the Mets by offering Adrianza plus a decent pitching prospect like Clayton Blackburn or Chris Stratton. This is a deal the Giants should make, even if it costs them a little bit more, as it will fill the huge void they have at second base.
The other potential acquisition at the trade deadline would be for a starting pitcher. However, this pitcher would need to be measurably better than either Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong.
One such pitcher who is available is Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs. He is making only $5.345 million this year, and like Murphy, he will be in his final year of arbitration eligibility in 2015.
Money will not be an issue for the Giants for the remainder of 2014, although it could be an issue for the Giants to sign him for the 2015 season and beyond.
However, Samardzija is not eligible to become a free agent until after next season, so this is not a rent-a-player scenario.
Samardzija has thrown 91 innings this season, allowing 81 hits and 26 walks while striking out 82. His ERA is 2.77, and he has a WHIP of 1.176. Both of these numbers are very good.
The Cubs will demand a king's ransom for Samardzija. Any deal would need to include the Giants' top pitching prospect Kyle Crick. In addition, the Cubs will likely want a couple more decent prospects in the deal.
If the Giants had to part with Crick and two other top prospects, such as catcher Andrew Susac and pitcher Martin Agosta, this is a deal they should do. Whenever you have a real chance to win now, it's something you must capitalize on. The Giants have that chance in 2014.
If Samardzija becomes a Giant, the resulting move would be Ryan Vogelsong or Tim Lincecum to the bullpen. If Lincecum is willing to make the move, that will benefit the team, but if not, the Giants should be perfectly fine moving Vogelsong.
Look for things to start heating up in July around the All-Star break as Sabean starts maneuvering to strengthen his team. A couple of stellar moves like acquiring Murphy and Samardzija could be the Giants' next ticket to the World Series.