By TED SILLANPAA
The San Francisco Giants filled their needs just as time expired and the trade deadline arrived on Monday. They havent played well since the All-Star break, but they still have the same players and pitchers who led them to a charmed start to this season and an .800 winning percentage through May and June.
It’s really hard to improve on the players in San Francisco’s everyday lineup, their starting rotation and even in the much maligned bullpen. Well, realistically, it’s hard for the Giants to have added much more than lefthand reliever Will Smith, third baseman Eduardo Nunez and starting pitcher Matt Moore. Fans, obviously, were hoping the club could shake Mike Trout free from the Los Angeles Angels while accepting Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox for a couple of minor leaguers. Fans always want more better players when their team is slumping. General managers live and work in the real world.
The reality is that the Giants need their guys to play at the higher level they achieved at early in the season. If they do that, they’ll win the NL West and be on their way to a fourth world championship in seven seasons.
It is amusing to consider that pitcher Jeff Samardzjia’s still one of the most talented third starters in baseball, but that his recent struggles and 9-7 record so stressed fans that many online cheered the addition of Moore to give the Giants’ a true “big three” at the top of the rotation. In early June, the Giants top three starters all seemed headed to the All-Star Game. Their luck changed. Stuff happened. That’s all.
Johnny Cueto lost a couple of games. Madison Bumgarner gave up a run and lost 1-0. Moore arrives to displace, most likely, Jake Peavy in the rotation. Matt Cain pitched five no-hit innings in his first win in quite some time on Sunday. The organization has lots of money invested in Cain so Peavy is about to learn he has an injury that will put him on the disabled list until rosters expand on September 1. As poorly as Samardzjia has pitched since late June, the club really only needed one starter for the back end of the rotation. They got him and, given that he’s just two years off Tommy John surgery, Moore’s going to get better. He’ll get stronger and he’ll benefit from pitcher at AT&T Park.
General manager Bobby Evans went to great lengths to say that they acquired Nunez from the Twins solely to play a utility role. He leads baseball in stolen bases. His 12 home runs stand out on the Giants’ roster. He can play shortstop, third base and second base. The Giants aren’t messing with Brandon Crawford, so Evans was sending a “Don’t worry! He’s not here to take your job,” message to third baseman Matt Duffy and second baseman Joe Panik. Any professional athlete who gets such public assurance that his job is safe is most certainly on the trading block. I predicted Panik would be traded, with Nunez moving in at second base, in a story last week explaining that the best young Giants are all in the big leagues. Regardless, Duffy was the key to getting Tampa Bay to giving up Moore. One of the most popular Giants is gone — to play shortstop for the Rays. Fans didn’t know that Evans knew it would take a big leaguer to get the starting pitcher the Giants needed.
The best deal of all might be the acquisition of Nunez because it set up the swap of Duffy to obtain Moore. The most surprising trade sent former first round draft pick pitcher Phil Bickford and big league-ready catcher Andrew Susac to the Milwaukee Brewers for 6-foot-5, 280-pound lefty reliever Will Smith. He’s coming off a knee injury, but fills the most Giants’ most glaring need. Smith can fill the role that southpaw Jeremy Affeldt vacated when he retired. The giant Giants’ reliever is a lefty who can pitch two innings to bridge to the set-up men or handle facing a lefthand hitter with the game on the line in the ninth inning.
The Giants’ bullpen has been unfairly criticized. It got younger when they let Yusmeiro Petit go and lost Affeldt to retirement. Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez are aging and can’t be expected to be as sharp as often as they were when they starred in all three World Series title runs. Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearrin and Derek Law are going to take those key roles sooner rather than later. Sure, lefty Joel Osich struggled this year after starring a year ago, but the organization has young bullpen talent. And, now, they have Will Smith to do what Affeldt did when he was among the most unsung of San Francisco World Series heroes.
The Giants seemed to make a real run at Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder Jay Bruce, but they got healthy Hunter Pence back in right fielder. Angel Pagan has hit well even during the slump. They certainly weren’t going to give up on center fielder Denard Spann after signing him to a rich free agent contract. The July slide made calling for “an outfield bat” became trendy to folks who might not have considered that three solid veteran outfielders would’ve meant the Giants had to clear out the farm system, trade Duffy, probably deal a young reliever and then bench Pagan or Spann to make room for Bruce.
The notion that the Giants’ primary rivals improved greatly overlooks that the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Washington Nationals and others simply had more holes to fill. And, the deadline came and went without any of the rivals filling every need. The Giants, however, filled all their needs and are finally healthy for the final two months.
Fans will miss the popular Duffy and groan when they learn that Moore isn’t ready to be confused for Sandy Koufax yet. It’ll take awhile to realize that Nunez is the third baseman the fans will insist the Giants need to replace Duffy. Ideally, Smith will make an immediate impact. The club gave up much talent for him and fans will give him very little margin for error.
The Giants do need the bench to settle in and contribute. Conor Gillaspie will have to keep hitting and accept a bigger role defensively at third base. Outfielders Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker will have to find consistency. One has to emerge as a big league platoon player. Williamson gets the first chance with Parker in Class AAA. Gregor Blanco has to do what he’s done — over achieve late in the season — throughout his entire Giants career. Ideally, infielder Ramiro Pena slides through waivers and winds up back in San Francisco. Even needing improved bench play, the Giants know they can address the need before the August 31 waiver trade deadline. Trades can be made once players clear waivers. That’s exactly how 2010 postseason hero Cody Ross got to San Francisco.
The Giants filled their three most pressing needs. The rest is up to Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and the young stars who lit the fuse on the explosive start to this season. Their gang of rivals don’t have the luxury of saying they filled all their needs or to turn to a still relatively youthful group of stars to finish strong and get the postseason berth.