Help Needed

Jason Schmidt may be the best pitcher in baseball today, but behind him is a pitching staff that mirrors the batting lineup around Bonds: Role players, inconsistent and untrusted. It's easy to say the Giants pitching staff needs help, but who can be gotten, and for what price?

There's no controversy is saying the Giants need pitchers, except perhaps with the looniest of Lunatic Fringziens who still insist we need more hitting when the team is 4th in the league in runs scored and 13th in run allowed. But this year, even more so than last year, actually being able to get some pitching is at best a difficult prospect, and the Giants' particular team situation makes the whole deal even more tricky.

Coming into this trading season, there have been only three truly available starting pitchers on the market, and one of them, Freddy Garcia, has already been traded. The other two, Kris Benson and Kip Wells, both play for the Pirates. This market dearth is because of a few reasons, mostly that there just aren't that many starting pitchers coming into free agency next year, and that there are very few teams who are truly out of it at this point. Each division has at least 2 teams in the hunt, and many have three legitimate contenders and a couple of dark horses thrown in.

There's also been some talk surrounding other pitchers, but not much that should be listened to. Randy Johnson has legitimately been talked about, but between the fact that his pursuit of career achievements is a moneymaker for the strapped and struggling Diamondbacks, and that the Giants are in the same division, it's unlikely that RJ would go to San Francisco, even if he were to be traded. Miguel Batista of Toronto is going nowhere, despite insinuations that he might be part of a Blue Jay payroll trim. And while you can never count out the stupidity of the Brewers management, it seems more than unlikely that Ben Sheets would be going anywhere else.

Which brings up to Wells and Benson. Both are pitchers with undeniable talent, but who are underachieving on a bad team. There have been some comparison of both of them to Jason Schmidt, who never had an ERA under 4 with the Pirates and had a couple over 5. Certainly, that's premature, but it's not unbelievable to think either would perform better on a better team. Of course, it's a gamble when asking how much. Would they be #2 or #3 pitchers for a playoff team, or are they just younger, inconsistent back of the rotation fillers?

That kind of risk brings up the issue of cost. Normally, the underachieving nature of these players would bring the price in trade down, but instead the dearth of pitching is forcing the price up. And the Pirates, despite being on the receiving end of some terrible trades, are going to use this for all it's worth. They're waiting for the Johnson situation to resolve, so that either (if not both) the Red Sox or the Yankees will get in on the bidding. Aside from them and the Giants, there will be some serious bidding around the majors. Teams like Philly, Texas, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Houston may all be looking for help, and even some of the teams who have had rotations that are doing a bit of overachieving, like the Mets and Cardinals, may not be excluded from the bidding.

It's definitely a seller's market, which is going to raise the price that Pittsburgh will be asking for.

This brings up the second issue the Giants need to consider: Is this year's team worth selling the farm for?

I'm not in any way saying that the Giants are pretenders. They are definitely contenders, and probably one of the Top 4 teams in the NL. But there are a number of holes on this team, and patching one may not overcome other problems, should they get out of hand in the meantime. Do the Giants really want to sacrifice another top prospect for a midseason trade that could easily become a disappointment?

The Giants may not regret the Ponson trade so much now seeing that the two big names the Giants traded away are continuing to have problems, but there's only so many top prospects a team can trade away before losing a really good one. Sure, some fans say that it's worth it to win just 1 championship, but we all know that is the biggest lie a sports fan can tell. Championships are like potato chips; one is never enough. You get one, you want two more. And a trade this year may undercut the team's bright looking future.

You see, although the Giants are beginning to develop some actual hitting talent, the cream of the Giants' crop remains pitching. And the Giants have a lot. They have a couple of ace-like prospects in Matthew Cain and Merkin Valdez. They have some legitimate lefties in Noah Lowry and Patrick Misch. Then there's the young Craig Whitaker, who is impressing in his first real year of pro ball in Single-A ball. There's the reliever prospects like David Aardsma and Joe Bateman. And that doesn't include former flash in the pan Kevin Correia, sophomore major leaguer Jerome Williams, and soon to return from tommy john surgery Jesse Foppert. Obviously, not every one of these guys will make it. But chances are enough will to give the Giants an incredibly talented young and cheap staff for the rest of this decade.

Sure, when there's a surplus, one is tempted to sell, but you never know what you're going to get or lose with minor leaguers.

You see, although the Giants and their fans are all about Bonds, the farm system the Giants have in place promises a very different type of team when Bonds retires. Rather than have a team that features the greatest hitter of our time, the Giants will likely be featuring a young, hot rotation similar to the Cubs and Marlins of the last couple of years, and in a great pitcher's park. The depth the Giants have in their farm system likely means that the Giants can withstand busts and injuries that are inherent risks with these young players. And with the pitchers being cheap, the Giants can search out an offense mostly through free agency.

Essentially, this group of young pitchers will all but ensure that the Giants will not have to go through a rebuilding period sans Bonds. They'll just have to adjust to being a different team. But a trade of one of the top prospects (Cain or Valdez), or even one of the mid level guys like Misch or Lowry, undermines this entire premise, reducing our chances of being able to rely on young pitching.

Is that risk worth the already risky proposition of getting Benson or Wells and hoping they'll be a #2 pitcher?

As much as it pains me to say, and as much flak as I'll get from my fellow Giants fans, we may just have to rely on the guys we've got in our rotation. When they're performing, as they did during the winning streaks in June, the Giants can play with anyone. Tomko, Hermanson, Rueter and Williams have all been dominating at times this year. But, of course, other times they're simply extended batting practice. It may be ulcer inducing to take THAT risk in a playoff series, that these guys will step up rather than back down, but the Giants may not have any other choice. No pitcher or player would make a World Series title a slam dunk, but if the Giants play at the top of their potential instead of booting the easy outs and giving away runs and baserunners, the Giants can compete with anyone in either league (as they showed against Boston already).

But yes, I too would like to see some improvement on this team before the end of July. Just as long as the cost is not too high.

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