The San Francisco Giants are off to a strong start for the 2014 season, sitting at 22-13. Their record, is good for first in the NL West, and is also tied for the best record in the National League. The success is due in large part to much improved offense and a strong bullpen.
Led by an emerging Brandon Belt (.266/.316/.516 with 9 HRs), new addition Michael Morse (.294/.33/.587 with 8 HRs) and Buster Posey (.291/.376/.500 with 7 HRs) the team is currently third in the majors in homeruns (42) and tenth in runs (144) and slugging (.404).
The bullpen has been just as, if not more, effective. Closer Sergio Romo is a perfect 10/10 in save opportunities with a 1.49 BAA and a .70 WHIP. He and the guys setting him up have a combined 1.81 ERA, .202 BAA and .96 WHIP, all bests in the majors among bullpens. They also happen to be tied for second for wins (10, five of which belong to Jean “The Pitching Machine” Machi).
These two strengths have more than made up for any flaws the Giants have – biggest of which on the Concern-O-Meter is starting pitching.
The Giants starters are averaging less than 6 IP per start. At that rate, that excellent bullpen (made up of more than a few older guys) is going to wear down quickly. The biggest offenders have been Ryan Vogelsong (5 1/3 IP/start) and Tim Lincecum (5 IP/start).
(Yes, Vogelsong is coming off a fantastic outing in LA last night, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t look into the following options)
In order to protect the bullpen and strengthen the starting rotation, here are two trade targets for the Giants.
1. Jeff Samardzija, SP (R), Chicago Cubs
Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs is a consistent pitcher capable of throwing deep into games. Over the last two seasons (his only full seasons as a starting pitcher), he averaged over 6 1/3 IP/start, and reached 213 2/3 last season. He is also capable of striking out batters, with a career 8.5 K/9 (9.1 over the last two seasons). He would make a very strong addition to the starting rotation, replacing either Lincecum or Vogelsong. Samardzija will also not be a free agent until 2016, giving the Giants an extra year of control) albeit an arbitration year).
As we’ve seen over the last few years, the Cubs are willing to shop their starting pitchers in return for minor league talent. In 2012, the Cubs traded away starting pitchers Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm to the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves, respectively. In 2013, they traded starting pitchers Scott Feldman and Matt Garza to the Baltimore Orioles and the Rangers, again respectively. In return for all of these arms, the Cubs acquired eight minor league players, five pros and a lot of cash. What’s to say the Giants couldn’t do the same?
The Cubs have a lot of talent in their farm system (seven players are listed in the top 100) but only two of them are pitchers. They also have a very weak bullpen. There is also no real catching prospect for the Chicago Cubs. If the Giants can scrape together a deal that includes one of their young starters, a near-ready bullpen arm and a catcher, this seems like something the Cubs would do.
2. James Shields, SP (R), Kansas City Royals
James Shields, currently of the Kansas City Royals is another interesting trade target for the Giants to consider. Shields is a career 3.76 ERA pitcher with and averages 228 innings pitched per year. The kind of stability his arm – he hasn’t made less than 31 starts since his rookie year – would bring to the Giants starting rotation would be invaluable, and that league-leading bullpen would have more rest to stay league-leading. Like Samardzija, Shields also brings strikeouts, averaging 7.7 K/9 over his nine year career.
Kanasas City will likely be hard-pressed to part with their ace pitcher as it is, especially if they plan on making a run at the playoffs like they did in 2013. But, if they start to fall behind (and with their current offensive woes – 22nd in runs, 23rd in RBIs, 20th in OBP – they likely will) then shopping their stud pitcher in his contract year might be a worthwhile endeavor. The Royals also have Kyle Zimmer, the 23rd overall prospect, ready to make his Major League Debut this year.
Beyond Zimmer, though, the Royals don’t have many pitchers ready until 2016. Again, with their depth at the position on the minors, the Giants could build a package around a young stud arm, maybe including a young second basemen to takeover for the aging Omar Infante.
3. Jed Lowrie, SS, Oakland Athletics
This one is different than the above, because it addresses a non-pitching issue that the Giants have. Who is their second baseman? Brandon Hicks has been filling in admirably, but he is not the answer long term. Joaquin Arias is a proven back-up, but nothing more. Ehire Adrianza is a slightly lesser version of Arias.
Jed Lowrie, in his first full season (before 2013, he didn’t break 400 Abs), slashed .290/.344/.446 with 15 homeruns. That is right in line with, if not better, than what Marco Scuatro provided in 2013.
Lowrie is a natural shortstop, but with Crawford, the Giants would shift him into their everyday second base role. He could bat second or seventh in the lineup, and would very nearly complete the Giants lineup from 1-8.
I’m not entirely sure what the A’s would want in return – they have a solid major league team and a strong farm system – so this might be more of a stretch in terms of the teams lining up for a trade, but it’s still a target I would be looking into if I were running the show.
Suggested Trade: You tell me.
All of the above are targets that this writer thinks are worth exploring. They aren’t cheap targets, but if it’s the difference between a championship and watching the dodgers in October, well, it’s one worth taking.
October 2014 SF Giants Postseason Lineup