Giants G.M. may walk away from potentially-significant deals
Will he, or won't he?
In little over a week, we'll know if San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean pulled the trigger on a major trade-deadline deal (Jeff Keppinger is a nice pickup, but hardly "major").
The Giants' well-documented offensive woes aside, acquiring a Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence or Michael Cuddyer seems increasingly unlikely.
Any of several hurdles—a reluctance to part with prized prospects and competition for limited talent from deeper-pocketed suitors to name two—could keep the Giants on the sidelines.
If Sabean passes on high-stakes deals, how will the club be impacted in the near term? Here are five likely implications.
Manuel will wear home whites when the NLCS opens
Even with a midseason offensive boost, the Giants would be hard-pressed to earn home-field advantage for a possible National League Championship Series matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Erasing that large a deficit isn't inconceivable, but without significant offensive improvement, is it likely?
As things stand now, the NLDS would look familiar: Philadelphia vs. the NL Central winner, San Francisco vs. Atlanta (without Brooks (E-4) Conrad at 2B).
If the Phillies and Giants each advanced, the NLCS would open at Citizens Bank Park, as it did in 2010.
The Giants overcame the Phillies' home advantage a year ago. There's no reason that couldn't happen again.
Still, the prospect of facing Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels—plus Cliff Lee—with Games 6 and 7 in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park rather than roomy AT&T Park isn't exactly comforting.
Lincecum was a victim of total non-support vs. the Dodgers
Wednesday's 1-0 loss to the Dodgers wasn't catastrophic. Just another wasted quality start, this time from Tim Lincecum.
Reality, 2011 style: One mistake by a pitcher, good chance he'll get tagged for a loss.
Here's one for you. Without Googling, how many times have the Giants scored three or fewer runs in their first 100 games.
Thirty? Way low.
Forty? Still low.
Fifty? Getting warmer.
The answer is 59, including Friday's two-run output in a 4-2 loss to the Brewers in the opener of a three-game weekend series.
You might wonder if it's mere coincidence that Giants starter's pitch counts have been edging higher. It's commonplace these days for Giant starters to reach or exceed 100 pitches by the sixth inning, if not earlier. And that means more innings for the bullpen.
Are pitchers, knowing they need to keep opponent's run production down, nibbling instead of challenging the strike zone? They'd probably deny it.
We know the extra pitches are accumulating, both for the starting staff and the bullpen.
We don't yet know if, or how, that will catch up to any of them. But it bears watching.
A benefit of the Giants' laggard offense might be more opportunities for Belt
If no major acquisitions are made over the next week, San Francisco's own prospects will be called on to help boost the offense.
Promoting from within is novel for an organization that relied for years on grade-B free agents and midseason acquisitions to supplement Mr. Bonds. Prospects were used largely as trade fodder.
Knowing the Bonds Model wasn't sustainable, the organization has shifted its strategic focus to farm system development.
That philosophy, underscored by the pitcher-friendly dimensions of AT&T Park, guided the club's draft selections in the mid-2000s. The current pitching staff is evidence that the strategy worked and not only with high-round picks. Brian Wilson was a 24th-round pick in 2003.
What about position players?
The early success of Pablo Sandoval (a free agent signee in 2003) and Buster Posey (top pick in 2009) were good omens.
It's less clear how the latest youngsters will fare. The two Brandons, Belt and Crawford, are young and still raw.
After .352 and .335 seasons in San Jose and Fresno, Belt had little to prove. Crawford has proven he is major league ready, defensively. Offensively...we'll see.
After more than a half-season of the likes of Miguel Tejada, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Aaron Rowand, Andres Torres, etc, fans are ready for fresh faces like Belt, Crawford and perhaps fleet outfielder Gary Brown.
We'll soon enough know if they're prepared for the pressure of a pennant chase.
D-Back's Gibson is a difference-maker
Let's stipulate that sacrificing future talent for a quality bat would improve San Francisco's 2011 playoff prospects.
OK, I'll forego the political correctness. If the Giants land a serious offensive threat, forget about the NL West race; there wouldn't be one.
Without help, the Giants will have a slightly more difficult time winning the NL West—but the division title still is likely to remain in San Francisco.
The D-Backs can survive Drew's absence on offense, but they'll miss his defense. Willie Bloomquist, their next option, has played the position sparingly in his 10-year big league career, without distinction.
The rest of the West ranges from dreadful (Dodgers) to lackluster (Padres) to mediocre (Rockies).
San Francisco's vulnerabilities won't catch up to them until the postseason. Once there, however, watch out.
Atlanta has comparable pitching, slightly more offense and an inherent emotional edge against the Giants.
And if the Giants get past the Braves, there likely will be the Phillies.
I know, I know. The Phillies were awarded last year's title by acclamation before the playoffs even began. They're arrogant—perhaps a little too much so for their own good—and good pitching can control their offense.
But their pitching is awfully good, too. And the Giants, as currently constituted, would be hard-pressed to score runs against the gauntlet of Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt and Lee.
Rowand is likely to remain a Giant through 2012
Awkward as it is to say a day after he clubbed a home run in a pinch-hit appearance against the Brewers, Aaron Rowand is the perfect metaphor for the challenges facing Brian Sabean in trying to acquire offensive help.
Signed by the Giants to a five-year, $60 million deal coming off of a career year in 2007, Rowand has given San Francisco far less than they expected or needed.
Rowand's contract makes him close to impossible to move; his anemic bat suits him to a spot-starting, fill-in role.
He's not alone. Rowand (.241), Miguel Tejada (.242), Mark DeRosa (.162, 37 AB's), Andres Torres (.236), Pat Burrell (.233) and Aubrey Huff (.233) all have had subpar offensive seasons. Several have been unavailable due to injury.
That's what you get by depending on aging, past-their-prime veterans. And it's too many roster spots taken up by unproductive veterans eating significantly into payroll. What would motivate other clubs to take any of them in a trade?
Confronted by a similar situation, deep-pocketed clubs like the Yankees would've cut ties with a few of these guys, replaced them and moved on.
Sabean has indicated a willingness to acquire a highly paid "rental" this summer, even if means boosting club payroll. Still, he (and we) may be reminded of these dubious free agent signings for the remainder of 2011.