I know what you must be thinking after reading that headline.
How can Jonathan Sanchez, a starting pitcher who was just placed on the disabled list and was leading the league in walks, be the key to the success of the defending world champion San Francisco Giants in the second half?
I will be the first to admit that I do not believe Sanchez's pitching will be a crucial factor in ushering the Giants back into the playoffs. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and perhaps even the resurgent (if only temporarily) Barry Zito could cover that task if need be.
In fact, the best way that Sanchez could actually help this team win the NL West would be to return from the DL and pitch very well in a couple of starts. Those starts, coupled with his potential and past success (a no-hitter and a dominant performance against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS), could very well make Sanchez pretty decent trade bait.
Even though Sanchez has struggled more than he (or Giants fans) had hoped, he still has a respectable 3.81 ERA with 92 K's in 89.2 innings and a .212 BAA (batting average against). Unfortunately, those statistics do not include his 59 BBs, 1.42 WHIP or his general state of uncontrolled wildness.
Still, there are a few issues here. If Sanchez does manage to do well, which is fairly likely if he takes the time to recover from biceps tendinitis, what team would want him? And, even if the Giants found a buyer who has a hitter, would GM Brian Sabean really be willing to let Sanchez go?
First, if Giants management really is looking for another bat, they are going to obtain it temporarily in the form of a catcher. They have outfielders and infielders who, for better or worse, are going to stay where they are because of injuries to Mark DeRosa, Freddy Sanchez, and Mike Fontenot. The catching tandem of Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart, though more than adequate defensively and surprisingly effective on offense in recent games, cannot replace the production of Buster Posey.
That means that the team needs to find a buyer who needs a starting pitcher and has a marketable catcher they are willing to trade. In that case, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like only the Cincinnati Reds would actually fit the criteria.
The Reds, at 42-41, are three games back in the NL Central and are a run-producing machine with almost 400 runs scored (good for third in all of baseball). This team can hit. However, pitching is the issue as the team's staff ranks 21st in WHIP and 23rd in ERA. In fact, the lowest ERA among their starters belongs to the youngster Mike Leake at 3.89. Jonathan Sanchez's ERA beats that.
While there's no doubt that Sanchez would help this team (even when he's wild, he doesn't really give up runs), would the Reds be willing to trade one of their better hitters?
To put it briefly, yes. Hernandez is 35 years old and already splits time with Ryan Hanigan. The Reds also have some good catching prospects in their system and Hanigan is signed long-term. The Giants could utilize Hernandez for a while; maybe even having him split time with Posey next season to give Posey some time away from the dish. It could work.
That takes us to our largest obstacle, however: Brian Sabean.
The last time Sabean made a move similar to this one, in which he traded an established but relatively young pitcher for a bat (a catcher, in fact) it was a disaster. Yes, I'm talking about Joe Nathan for A.J. Pierzynski in 2003. Oh, and another young pitcher named Francisco Liriano who has been a pretty solid starter. That went well.
In short (too late), Sabean has no reason to believe he needs to give up a pitcher for some offense. After all, last year he was able to sign some random guys for relatively little and they helped the Giants win the World Series—no pitching sacrifices required. So what if the Giants have one of the worst offenses in all of baseball? They certainly have one of the best pitching staffs and great pitching beats great hitting in a seven-game series almost every time.
The bottom line is that Giants fans want to make a trade for a bat, Giants management probably won't do it and the Giants will keep winning close games without scoring too much. They have a good catching prospect in the system in Hector Sanchez and everyone knows how much Sabean loves home-grown talent.
So, regardless of Jonathan Sanchez's performance in the second half or Barry Zito's resurgence as an effective starting pitcher, no one will be moved. A few tweaks here or there are all you are going to see. Who knows? It may be just enough.