Thursday, June 27, 2013
Giants face tough decisions
By Buster Olney
Giants GM Brian Sabean had to be happy after making deals that improved his championship team.
The challenges for the San Francisco Giants before the trade deadline extend beyond what they lack, and need, in 2013 -- and they need a lot right now. They have won two World Series in the last three years because of strong pitching, but as of this morning, the Giants’ rank 19th among the 30 teams in ERA, with their rotation ranking 22nd.
The Giants are two games under .500 and 3 1/2 games behind first-place Arizona in the mud bog otherwise known as the NL West, and their rotation has to perform better in order for them to return to the playoffs.
But there is also a long-term concern. Barry Zito’s seven-year, $126 million deal expires after this season, and the Giants will need to replace him in the rotation. Tim Lincecum will be eligible for free agency, and while there’s no telling what he or the Giants will want this winter, it’s safe to assume he will not be making $22.5 million next year -- that’s his 2013 salary -- or that he’ll be back as a starting pitcher for San Francisco. As his velocity has declined, so has his strikeout rate, while his ERA has climbed.
When the Giants needed a fill-in starter, they turned to veteran journeyman Chad Gaudin, which gives you a clue about what’s available at the top of their minor league system. They will have to fill at least two spots in their rotation in 2014, and they have almost no internal options.
In recent seasons, San Francisco has dealt for veterans and then retained them on multiyear deals: Aubrey Huff, Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan, etc. So, as they search for starting pitchers, they might be looking for those who could stick around.
Ricky Nolasco, for example. The Marlins are aggressively trying to move the right-hander, who has a 3.68 ERA this season, and according to rival officials, they have suitors willing to take on the $6 million or so he is owed for the rest of this season. (The Rockies are not one of those teams; they had interest in Nolasco, but backed away after learning the Marlins wanted them to pay all of Nolasco’s salary.) The Dodgers are aggressively trying to land Nolasco, writes Mark Saxon, but the Giants have done a lot of background work on him as well.
Nolasco is 30 years old and will be eligible for free agency in the fall.
"Ricky knows it’s out of his control," said the pitcher’s agent, Matt Sosnick. “His assumption is that he’ll be playing for the Marlins, and if he does get traded, my sense is that he’d love to play as close as possible to where he grew up."
Nolasco was born and raised in Southern California.
Some would-be free agents don’t want to negotiate during a season before they hit the market. This is not the case with Nolasco, says Sosnick. "He’s open to anything, open to an extension from the Marlins or open to an extension to any team he gets traded to."
Nolasco is not a No. 1 type of starter, but he is steady and relatively durable -- a lot like Edwin Jackson, who signed a four-year deal with the Cubs before last season -- having made 31 or more starts in four of his past five seasons and 16 starts so far this year.
The good thing for the Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks -- who are all looking for starting pitching -- is that even if Nolasco goes to a division rival, there will be comparable pitchers available. Right now, there is no Cliff Lee-type talent on the market. If you miss out on Nolasco, you could get Matt Garza, who has allowed one run in his last 15 innings, or Scott Feldman.
But the Giants need somebody, soon. And they’ll need at least two somebodies for next season.
• The Pirates are tied for first place in the NL Central, and more remarkably, they are tied for the best record in the majors, after picking up their sixth consecutive victory. Pedro Alvarez has been at the forefront of the success.
From ESPN Stats and Info: After stumbling to start June (1-4), the Pirates have gone 13-5 since to help climb atop the NL Central. Pedro Alvarez has been their hottest hitter. Since June 7, Alvarez has batted .353/.421/.750 with 7 homers.
Alvarez has raised his batting average 43 points (.199 on June 5 to .242 through Wednesday) and has overcome his early-season struggles against pitches up in the zone, hitting .556 on such pitches since June 5.
Remember, the Pirates had the toughest early-season schedule in the majors, which means that they face lighter fare the rest of the way -- and their next nine games are against the Brewers, Phillies and Cubs.
• The Yankees now know they will be without Mark Teixeira for the rest of the season, and they will again be scanning the waiver wires and rosters of pre-deadline sellers in the weeks ahead. Aramis Ramirez figures to be the most prominent corner guy available for a deal before July 31.
However, Alex Rodriguez sucked up most of the available oxygen in the Bronx Wednesday, even when he wasn’t around. A-Rod is not playing, so in that vacuum, we are seeing the birth of many conspiracy theories. Somebody from Rodriguez’s camp told Wallace Matthews that the player thinks the Yankees are slowing his progress in order to collect insurance.
Now, think about that for a moment. The Yankees have one of the most famous brands in U.S. business, and Rodriguez’s rehabilitation from major offseason surgery has been detailed by the largest news outlets in the world. Would the Yankees love to get out from underneath the weight of the money owed to him in the last four-plus years of his deal? Sure. But this is not like somebody wearing a fake neck brace and living clandestinely on workman’s comp.
When Rodriguez is ready to play, the insurance company is going to know it, which is why the Yankees will bring him along in due time. They can delay his return by a day or two, if they want, but the idea that they would tuck him away without notice from the insurers is laughable.
The crack in this is that Rodriguez, who has demonstrated throughout his career that he craves attention, would be walking away from the spotlight to save something relatively meager, in the range of $8 million to $16 million -- the amount of money he would lose from a suspension, depending on whether he got nailed for 50 games or 100 games. Remember, this is a player who will make something close to $350 million in salary during the course of his career, by the time it is over.
• The Dodgers are driving back toward the top of the NL West. From ESPN Stats and Info: They’ve won a season-high five straight games. Yasiel Puig had his sixth game with three-plus hits Wednesday night, and Hanley Ramirez has been red-hot; he’s hit safely in nine straight games, batting .485/.528/.909 in that stretch with 4 homers.
From ESPN Stats and Info: How Dickey shut out the Rays.
In his complete game on Wednesday, R.A. Dickey needed just 93 pitches, the fewest by a Blue Jays pitcher in a complete game since A.J. Burnett in June of 2006. Dickey appeared to have greater effectiveness throwing his knuckleball for strikes. He threw 64 percent of pitches for strikes on Wednesday as compared to 51.3 percent through his first 16 starts of the seasons.
• This goes under the category of numbers that surprise you: Aramis Ramirez picked career hit No. 2,000 on his 347th homer. Which means he probably has a shot at 2,400 or so hits and 400 homers.