At the trading deadline, there are three important things to do. And this isn’t a majority rules situation, where two out of three ain’t bad. Many people, who complain, on sports talk shows and internet message boards, take one or more parts of this process for granted. A GM who does this is usually an ex-GM before long.
The first decision is to decide what you need, and what you want, and what you neither need nor want. A big part of this hinges on the decision of whether or not the team is legitimately in a playoff hunt. Commonly, teams who are in the playoff hunt become buyers, teams looking for major league help right now. The teams who aren’t become the sellers, the teams who are looking to unload people who can’t help them now in hopes of finding the future. For the Giants, deciding what we are this season is easy. 11 games up with two months to go puts us rather solidly in the playoff hunt.
Deciding what we need and what we want is more difficult, though. The Giants are an uncommonly balanced team, and the cries for help are often varied and unfocused.
The first thing that comes to mind is pitching. The Giants have been decimated by injuries. Truly decimated. We’ve lost two key relievers to injuries, one for the season, and every one of our opening day starters has missed time due to injury, from Kurt Ainsworth’s broken shoulder blade which may keep him out the rest of the season to Jason Schmidt’s tendonitis in his elbow. We started the season with two back up options in Fresno (after dealing Livan Hernandez to Montreal to make room for the third option, Ainsworth), and had an emergency starter in the bullpen in Jim Brower. Now the two Fresno kids are up in the majors, one of them in an inconsistent manner, we’ve had two emergency starters from the bullpen (Brower and Chad Zerbe), and we’ve had other terribly unready prospects from AAA and even AA come up to help out. The Giants have started 11 different starters this season. That’s a testament to how injury prone we’ve been.
However, as many injuries as we’ve had, is pitching such a concern? Amazingly enough, with the injuries and bouts of inconsistency, the Giants currently own the fourth best ERA in the league. Our starters rank 4th. The bullpen, shaky for some time in late May and June, has turned it around and been more consistent. Worrell remains one of the most effective, if unintimidating, closers in the league. The one deal the Giants have made, reliever Matt Herges, has done very well since coming from the Padres, doing some key setup work. His acquisition deepens a bullpen for a starting staff where youth and stamina are big questions. Meanwhile, Brower has pitched excellently in four of five starts, dead-arm victim Damian Moss has put together back to back quality starts, beating Schilling in one, and Foppert was impressive, matching a career high in strikeouts in only six innings in his first start back from Fresno. Match that with awesome starts from Schmidt and surprise rookie Jerome Williams, and a consistent Rueter, and add the stellar defense, and the only teams that have allowed less runs this year are Los Angeles, someone, and someone.
So that brings us to the position players, both offensively and defensively. A quick scan of the stat sheet allows us to throw a few names out right away. Barry Bonds, of course. Marquis Grissom has been excellent for us as well, as has Ray Durham. J.T. Snow’s injuries have caused him to miss starts, but when he’s been around he’s produced and produced in the clutch. Andres Galarraga and Pedro Feliz have produced very well in back up roles. Rich Aurilia had a tough first half, but not an overly tough one, and he’s started the second half hot enough to be named NL Player of the week. Santiago is still in the top class of NL catchers, and Torrealba is a standout young player who picks up his pitcher with his incredible defense. And even Marvin Benard and Neifi Perez and produced from the bench.
That leaves us with Jose Cruz Jr. and Edgardo Alfonzo. Alfonzo’s production has been undeniably weak all year. At least Aurilia stayed over .250; Alfonzo never once broke it. His power has also been a bit of a disappointment, and his defense, while stellar, has suffered as well, as he’s among the team leaders in errors. He was warming up, until a sprained finger sidelined him for a few games. Cruz’s situation is different. He started the season awfully hot, then went Stone Cold, and then has gotten pretty hot again, pulling the average back up to the .260 mark. He’s hurt the most with runners on, though, batting under .200 in those situations. However, Cruz is absolutely the most stunning defender right field at Pacific Bell Park has ever seen, and he’s still second on the team in home runs, despite that awful slump. Neither of these players are easy to consider benching or replacing. Cruz has endeared himself to the fans with his defense, and Alfonzo is simply getting paid too much to sit for long periods of time.
And, though the overall impression has been frustration in our often appalling inability to get runners home, we are still fifth in the league in both runs scored and batting average, and 4th in On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage and OBP. That’s not bad, considering one of the spots ahead of us is the obligatory Rockies due to Coors field.
Looking at these numbers, it’s difficult to tell what the bigger hole is. None of the teams ahead of us in pitching is ahead of us in hitting. One way to look at this is to say we have no needs, so anything that helps is an upgrade. Another is to say that any changes could well be downgrades. To go back to our original terms, I don’t think we ‘need’ anything. This team is remarkably well-rounded, has proven they’re winners, and should make the playoffs and be very competitive as is. What we ‘want’ is a different story. Those may be the tweaks, the minor adjustments people feel we need, often not unanimously. Let me say this here, I’m a big believer in team chemistry. I believe if you take out a good player who’s performed just because you think someone is better, you can often demoralize a team and single out the newcomer. The Giants have a strong rapport in the clubhouse this year, stronger than most year, I’d say. We should be careful not to break that up.
If anything, I’d say our biggest desire should be at the starting pitching. This is due partially to the fragile state of our rotation, and the fact our only likely playoff opponents will be Atlanta, who is a better hitting team than pitching. (It’s impossible to judge the N.L. Central race, nor the wild card. All the teams involved are seriously flawed.) And all the pitchers obviously know how fragile and inconsistent they’ve been at times, and would understand such a move isn’t a move out of a lack of confidence, but a move made out of a need for insurance.
So, now that we have our needs (none) and wants (starting pitching) in order, we can move to the second part of the trading deadline dance: finding someone to get. With the limited desires, we can focus on starting pitchers who are available. Those who are available are on the ‘Seller’ teams mentioned before, and are usually expensive pitchers or those who are expected to leave via free agency.
Unfortunately, the races across the majors are pretty open, so finding a trading partner is difficult. And this year, the options at starting pitcher are short. Four names in particular come up regularly: The White Sox’s Bartolo Colon, The Orioles’ Sidney Ponson, The Expo’s Vazquez, and the Pirates’ Kris Benson. No other teams have starting pitchers who are real candidates to be traded.
These four all have issues in trades. The White Sox are not out of the playoff hunt at all, being only four games behind the surprising Royals coming into this weekend. They were already buyers earlier this summer, getting Carl Everett and Roberto Alomar early in the trade season, as well. Are they going to be sellers? In a year where the Sox hosted the All-Star game and are contending for the first time in years, the trading of Colon is unlikely. The Orioles are far out of it, as usual, but Ponson is a valued player to Baltimore. He’s often stated he wants to stay in Baltimore, and Baltimore seems to be of like mind, offering him a contract extension last week. His value is as high as ever after beating Clemens this past week at Yankee stadium, but it looks like the Orioles are intending to hold onto him to build around.
Vazquez is on a Montreal team that, as always, is not far out of competitiveness, but not far from hopelessness either. However, MLB is looking to give the Expos a permanent home next season, and it appears the only options are staying in Montreal or moving to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Vazquez is not a free agent at the end of the year, only due expensive arbitration, and the Expos may feel that having as many quality latin players in Puerto Rico is important. Benson, meanwhile, is on a Pittsburgh team that appears to be willing to sell for as little as possible, as they did with Lofton and Ramirez to the Cubs earlier this week. He’s the least talented of the four young pitchers, but he would be added depth, certainly. The Pirates seem more focused on trading away Brian Giles and Jason Kendall, but a Benson trade may not be out of the question.
This brings us to third phase of Deadline GM-ing: Making a deal. Now that we’ve identified who we want, it’s time to find out the price both in trade and in salary. This is the most difficult for anyone to predict, from fans to us writers, because we’re often one sided and honestly believe that Marvin Benard and Tony Torcato are enough to get a guy like Colon from the Sox. They’re not. What’s worse is that the Giants have as little to offer as ever. The top of the minor league system is depleted, and some of the young kids have really struggled this year. Three of these four players are on teams who don’t seem willing to give them up at first. We’d have to blow them away with an offer.
And that brings up an important thing to remember in being a GM: Don’t fill a hole by digging a new one. Trading away Cruz to get a pitcher, for instance, opens a hold in right field that Marvin can’t fill. Trading away one of our young pitchers like Williams or Foppert to get a new pitcher is simply upgrading (or downgrading) for that one spot. It does nothing to affect the depth of the rotation, where our problem really lies. And, most importantly, we must be careful not to give away the future just to win now. There’s no telling who will do what as a major leaguer, obviously, but trading away a team’s entire crop of young players can be suicide. Especially since the players we get back are often ‘rent-a-players’ who leave at the end of the season. We’ve been lucky with Sabean, who’s traded away exactly one minor leaguer who’s had serviceable time in the majors since ’97, that being Keith Foulke. Will that keep up?
So, with all that in mind, the GM must look at who we can get, where they might fit on our team, and how much it will take to get them. And then they must decide to pull the trigger and make the deal.
Or….not. At the end of all this, remember that sometimes the best move is no move at all. This team has survived incredible adversity to be a dominating first place team. It’s can’t be all that bad to dance with the boys that brought you to the dance.
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