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Sunday, July 19, 2015

What do the Giants do next?

It's been a roller coaster ride so far in 2015 for the Giants.  They haven't been fully healthy but have hung around the division and the wild card races all season.  Through the All Star break, they were an underwhelming but still competitive 46-43 and given they were missing Hunter Pence for nearly all of the first half and that Peavy and Cain hadn't really made appearances in the rotation until recently, playing over .500 baseball was an achievement.  The fact they weren't buried in the division race shows how much other guys stepped up to fill the void.

The Giants are now healthy (or getting pretty close to being there).  They just lost Andrew Susac to a DL stint but it shouldn't be an injury that keeps him out any longer than the 15 days.  Aoki and Susac could theoretically return around the same time.  And those are guys the Giants can't wait to have back.  It doesn't even take into account the nearing returns of Jeremy Affeldt and Tim Lincecum.

So what now?  The Giants proved they were a winning club without some of their horses.  But they weren't able to overtake the Dodgers who had their own problems within their rotation and they trail the Pirates and Cubs in the wildcard race with the Mets biting at their heels.  The trade deadline is less than 2 weeks away and the Cubs and Dodgers are both looking to make major impacts that will help them maintain their leads for the race to October.

So what can the Giants do and what WILL they do?  The Giants have been incredibly streaky this season, like Brandon Belt streaky.  They have had multiple long losing streaks offset by multiple long winning streaks.  They lost 7 in a row leading up to the All Star break before they swept the Phillies and then started off the 2nd half by sweeping the Diamondbacks (add it all up and it's a 6 game winning streak that, again, helps offset that previous 7 game losing streak).

So the Giants need to be more consistent.  How do they get more consistent?

The offense should be fine as long as everyone stays healthy from here on out.  Pence and Posey being in the line-up together is essential to making the line-up go.  Belt has been somewhat of a disappointment (or as much as a disappointment as a guy can be with an OPS over .800) but the other Brandon (Crawford) has been amazing.  A lot of guys have stepped up.  But even fully healthy this team probably needs something.

So what do they need?  The rotation is a patchwork.  There is Bumgarner that fronts the rotation. Then there is Chris "The Savior" Heston who has been nearly as good as Bumgarner (seriously, look it up).  And then there's a collection of guys that have not been consistent in the slightest.  Cain has been hot and cold since his return.  Peavy has been mostly good but Giants fans don't seem to have faith in him.  Then there's Hudson who just turned 40 and looks it.  He's having by far his worst season in the majors and the Giants will find out soon enough if he has anything left in the tank after a DL stint.  If not, Vogelsong lurks in the bullpen (while probably being pissed he's there) as will, eventually, the other enigma Tim Lincecum.  So the Giants will trade for a #2 starter right?

Probably not.  The Giants already have 7 rotation guys for 5 spots.  Bochy already has to soothe those egos.  You add in another element and that means 3 of your starters go to the phantom DL, get cut, or go to the bullpen.  Does any Giant fan see San Francisco actually cutting a Hudson, Vogelsong, or Lincecum?  No.  Of course not.  Besides, starting pitching is always in demand at the deadline and it's usually expensive to acquire.  I can't see the Giants making a move to bolster the rotation.  Not when Bumgarner and this collection of arms got them a World Series title last season.  And that was without Cain.  Verdict?  Giants pass on a starter.

The offense has been largely inconsistent.  Pagan is clearly playing hurt and/or with quickly declining abilities.  His defense has been very poor of late and he's become a singles hitter that doesn't walk. That's not a good combination for a leadoff guy or a 3 hitter, the two places Pagan has batted most this season.  So the Giants will probably acquire a CF to supplant Pagan and improve their inconsistent offense, right?

Not so much.  While the Giants have been linked to Cameron Maybin and Geraldo Parra, the Giants still are paying Angel 9M this season and are on the hook for 10M for his services next season. The good news is Pence is back and Aoki will be back soon so the Giants will likely platoon Pagan and Blanco when everyone is healthy.  Blanco is having a career year offensively and Pagan has really struggled against RHP.  Blanco is the superior defensive CF'er and it would make sense to platoon them as it'd give Pagan consistent rest.  But will they?  Pagan, by all accounts, has a sensitive ego. Would he accept a platoon role?  It will be interesting to see if that question is answered when Aoki is activated.  While there is a chance the Giants do try to improve their depth by acquiring another outfielder, it likely won't be someone that will steal AB's from the 4 outfielders on the roster not named Justin Maxwell.  Verdict? The Giants don't acquire a new starting outfielder.

The bullpen, usually a strength and a big reason for their 3 World Series rings, has not been as stout in 2015.  Casilla has generally gotten the job done as the closer but he has looked more shaky in the last few weeks.  Lefties have been crushing him all season.  It doesn't help that his primary set up man, Sergio Romo, is also getting shelled by lefties.  Javier Lopez is being all Javier Lopez-y but his counterpart Jeremy Affeldt looks like he's Aubrey Huff'ing this season.  With all the questions in the bullpen, does it make sense to acquire another relief arm?  Perhaps an elite one to close out the 9th inning?  There are a few out there, none more tantalizing than Reds Cuban closer Aroldis Chapman. However, the Giants strength in their farm system right now is relief pitching.  Would they put together a prospect package to acquire a reliever when they have cheap young talent on the rise?

Perhaps.  Brian Sabean has always been a believer in a solid bullpen.  He hasn't always had great bullpens in his tenure, but he's always tried to have great bullpens with elite closers.  From 1997-2014 Sabean has had Rod Beck, Robb Nen, and Brian Wilson as his 9th inning studs.  And bless his heart, he had great intentions with that Armando Benitez signing.  But he has also used non-traditional guys in the closer role, from Tim Worrell, Sergio Romo, Matt Herges, Tyler Walker, and currently Santiago Casilla.  He has some young guys that could be potential closers coming up in the form of Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, or even Josh Osich.  But it doesn't seem to be Sabean's M.O. to allow a rookie or young guy to be his closer until they've had time to acclimate as a middle or setup reliever.  In short, don't expect to see Strickland to be closing games for SF this season.  So what does it mean?  It means I think the Giants will take a page out of the Royals playbook from last season and try to shorten the game by strengthening the bullpen.  The Royals were oh so close to winning a World Series with a rotation filled with names like Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura, and Jeremy Guthrie.  They also had Big Game James but Shields had always been considered more as a strong #2 than a true #1.  But it was the Royals lockdown bullpen that helped them get by with a starting rotation that was hardly eye-popping.  The Giants may try to mimic that success.  Verdict? The Giants will make a move to acquire a top flight closer that will allow Casilla to move back to a set-up role and push Romo to the 7th.

There are 12 shopping days left and the Giants are within striking distance of the Dodgers and right in the heart of the wildcard races.  It's up to Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean to get the Giants the piece or pieces they think the team needs to help them overcome the curse of the odds.