Ah, the Major League Baseball All-Star break.
It marks the Show's midway point even though most teams have played 88 contests, which is seven past the actual hump in the 162-game slate.
Regardless, the breather in the figurative middle of the season means it's time for every club to take stock of the first half and decide what the modified plan of attack will be for the last three months.
More specifically, it's about time to decide whether you're a buyer or a seller.
To be or not to be...a contender.
For some, that's easier said than done.
For the San Francisco Giants, it's an especially tenuous time because the squad is obviously a contender in the National League West and the Wild Card.
As flawed as the team may be, nobody else in either race can claim to be running on all cylinders.
That generally means general manager Brian Sabean would be looking for shiny toys to shore up the roster.
Namely, a big bat.
The perception of San Francisco is that it's all pitch and no hit. In reality, the pitching hasn't been as good as its reputation, and the hitting hasn't been as bad.
The arms have still been excellent, but the sharp edge that both the rotation and bullpen began the year with has disappeared. Walks and sloppy innings have replaced it.
Meanwhile, the offense has been anemic, but the emergence of Aubrey Huff (.295/.384/.544 and 17 HR), Buster Posey (.350/.389/.569 and 7 HR in 137 AB), Andres Torres (.281/.378/.483 and 17 SB), and the steadying presence of Freddy Sanchez (.285/.348/.360) have given los Gigantes a solid quartet of contributors.
What's more, Buster and Franchez didn't join the lads until late May, whereas Torres spent most of April in a platoon before running away with a regular spot in the lineup.
That putrid smell wafting from the bats should smell a lot sweeter as those three pile up the PT.
Finally, the overdue trade of Bengie Molina to the Texas Rangers has allowed Posey to assume the catcher-of-the-future mantle. Consequently, Gerald Demp the Third no longer needs to jam up the works at first base.
With the kid behind the dish, it's opened up more playing time for first baseman Travis Ishikawa (.354/.394/.538 and 15 RBI in 65 AB), outfielder Pat Burrell (.286/.365/.484 and 5 HR in 91 AB), and outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
Nate the Great's been struggling of late at the plate (take that, Dr. Seuss) so his numbers won't blow your skirt up, but his fleet feet and cannon arm are large assets even when his bat goes limp.
Plus, he hadn't been seeing regular plate appearances so don't judge the 26-year-old too harshly.
Ultimately, jettisoning Big Money has created some semblance of consistency in manager Bruce Bochy's game of musical lineup cards, and the early returns have been promising.
Since the Molina trade on July 1, the Orange and Black has seen its runs-scored per at-bat jump to 0.18—San Francisco had registered a 0.12 R/AB from April through June. That's about a 50 percent hop.
Granted, the post-trade sample size of 11 games is quite small and eight of the contests came against the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals (two of the less impressive pitching staffs in the National League).
But it bears mentioning nonetheless, especially because the Gents were matched up with Ubaldo Jimenez (whom they roughed up) and Stephen Strasburg (whom they did not) for two of those 11.
Translation: there's reason to believe the Giant offense will continue to improve on the season's back slope, just as there is to believe the pitching will rediscover its April/May rhythm.
Nevertheless, trade rumors are very much driven by public perception.
As mentioned, that means the winds have been blowing whispers of San Francisco sniffing around lumber at various times.
Names like Prince Fielder and Corey Hart of the Brew Crew have been most frequent, but the Nats' Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham have surfaced, as have the Kansas City Royals' David DeJesus and Jose Guillen .
The two Royals could probably be acquired on the cheap, so I wouldn't necessarily be against either addition.
DeJesus is steady across the board, but not spectacular in any facet; plus, he's 30. Guillen is one-dimensional and 34—enough said.
So the asking price shouldn't be prohibitive. The problem is that, while neither would be too expensive, neither would be an emphatic upgrade.
Which begs the question, why insert another body into an already crowded outfield situation?
Depth is fine, but only if it doesn't cost a genuine prospect.
On the other hand, the remaining blips on the rumor radar—Dunn, Fielder, Hart, and Willingham—would all be considerable improvements. Each one would also cost an arm and a leg.
The snag here comes in two flavors of budgetary inefficiency.
Mr. Sunglasses at Night or Willingham would immediately become the best outfielder in Orange and Black, unless Huff plans to make this a yearlong renaissance. Unfortunately, the brass would be walking right into a nightmare:
—Check the links, both players are having career years, so SF would be buying high on both players. That's no bueno.
—Hart enjoys the protection of Fielder and another beast in Ryan Braun. Willingham has Dunn and dazzler Ryan Zimmerman to do the heavy-lifting. They'd be moving from third fiddle to first (or very close to it) as a Giant.
—Miller Park is a band box and Nationals Park has to be a better offensive yard than AT&T Park just because of the scalding D.C. summers. The deep alleys of the City's jewel and the heavy Bay Area air crush all newcomers holding a bat.
To me, that list screams bad ending to a bad beginning.
On the other hand, the two bigger fellas would require the Price-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named and would be short-term solutions.
Thankfully, Adam Dunn seems like a non-starter, because he's a free agent following 2010.
The Prince would be a slightly longer rental, since he hits the market following 2011, but who really cares?
The Burly Brewer is represented by a coprophagous (which is a fancy way of saying "s***-eating," so it should be more popular) insect that will DEFINITELY have his young lefty slugger in the free agent waters following the expiration of his current deal.
There's also this suspicious little home/away split in almost the exact same number of plate appearances: .275/.414/.544 with 12 HR at home vs. .256/.387/.445 with 8 HR on the road.
So the club would have to mortgage the future and part with one of the rotation studs for a guy who isn't necessarily a lock to solve its offensive woes? And who's gonna walk after a year and a half?
The Giants are most definitely contenders as MLB's second act opens, which means extra bullpen arms and bench help will probably join the roster.
But when it comes to the big-ticket items, San Francisco should walk away.