The problem in picking a place to improve is…well, picking a place to improve. The most obvious place for improvement is the bullpen, especially after the debacle in Colorado on Sunday. But some fans, who are advocating improving other areas of the team, are pointing out that the game in Colorado that the Giants lost after going into the 9th inning with a lead, and that in 44 instances. What they fail to note is that the Giants didn't always hold those leads before winning. The bullpen as a whole has 18 blown saves, 3rd in the Majors behind Cincinnati and Cleveland. Of those 18 blown saves, 7 belong to Matt Herges, which is tied for 2nd in the majors. The Giants also convert only 58% of their Save Opportunities, 5th worst in the majors. But the fact is, there are no A-list closers available. The guy thought to be the best available, Eddie Guardado, has a Save Percentage just slightly over Herges' (77% to 74%). And the only other closer thought to be available has stats very similar to Herges' before the Colorado trip began. Both might be help, but neither would lights out kind of guys.
So, what about other areas of the team? None have holes that are readily apparent. In the rotation, who would one replace? Rueter's been shakier than usual, but when he's be on, he's been better than in the past (remember the 8 innings of 3 hit ball in Cincy?). Plus, Woody is the veteran of the staff. Tomko's been an obvious scapegoat, but in his 4 starts since coming off of the DL, he's been light's out. He's had one bad inning, and taking that out, that's 28.1 innings giving up only 4 runs on 25 hits and 7 walks, and his ERA is in freefall right now. Can you really throw out that kind of potential? Hermanson isn't the sexiest name on the rotation, but he does have the 2nd lowest ERA in the starting 5, and is still capable of quality starts. And then there's Williams, who's gone through some rough spots in his sophomore year, but you can't throw away his talent in his 2nd year. And similar arguments can be made in trying to fill holes on offense: none of the non-Bonds starters are superstars, but all of them have the potential to perform well, and in some cases, they are.
Still, the Giants are looking for improvements, and as the deadline gets closer, the options are becoming more clear. So here's the teams the Giants might deal with:
SEATTLE – Actually, the Giants have already been dealing with Seattle. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that John Olerud was headed to the Giants in a trade for J.T. Snow. This on it's own makes no sense. Olerud is the same player as J.T. in terms of offense, but without the defense and 7 times as much in terms of contract. This move would only make sense if there was someone else involved, and the rumbling is that the other player would've been closer Eddie Guardado. Guardado is by far the best possible closer on the market, and would fit the Giants well. The deal was completed. So what happened? Pudget Sound native Olerud vetoed the deal with his no trade clause.
Olerud has since been cut, and the M's have no other salary albatrosses that would encourage them to drop Guardado for little more than a salary dump. Even though the trade is dead, this deal is significant in sending a lot of messages:
A) The Giants are very interested in Guardado.
B) The Giants are very unwilling to unload Pedro Feliz, who the Mariners were very interested in. Even for the best fit out there, the Giants weren't going to just give him away. Other teams will have taken note, and if they want Feliz, they know they'll have to make sweeter offers.
C) The Giants are not afraid to give Feliz a starting job.
Guardado is still a possible target for the Giants, and a deal with the Mariners is not out of the question. The question is, who else would be involved now.
PITTSBURGH – The name mentioned most often to move into the starting rotation is Kris Benson. Benson is an incredibly talented pitcher, but his production has been low on a losing team. Then again, so was Schmidt's before being traded. Benson's production might keep his trade value low. The Pirates also have, low and behold, their own closer, Jose Mesa, who has been having a renaissance of his career. Then there's the question as to what the Pirates want. Most notably, they want major league ready corner infielders and possibly a center fielder. Pedro Feliz is an obvious piece of bait here, and Jason Ellison, having a fine year in AAA, may help as well. This seems like the best fit, but there are hang-ups. For one, there's the Giants' demonstrated unwillingness to trade Feliz. Perhaps a combination of closer and starter would help loosen that. There's also the fact that the Giants will have no shortage of young pitchers vying for rotation spots the next few years. Do the Giants want to take a risk on Benson beyond this season when they have several pitchers who may be better? And the Giants have a history with ‘Joe Table.' Are the Giants willing to revisit that less than happy past?
MONTREAL - The Expos are desperate to unload Orlando Cabrera, and though a lot of teams need shortstops in some way or another, most have other needs that are more pressing, or are interested in other options (like the Cubs and their inquiries into the released Rich Aurilia). The Giants are one of these teams. Though Deivi Cruz has been performing, I don't think many are expecting it to continue, and fewer want to count on it. Neifi Perez has been an unqualified failure, and the Pedro Feliz experiment there seems to be on hiatus. So even though Cabrera is slumping, or possibly reverting to his old self after one solitary career year, it's hard to say the Giants couldn't use him. But with offense not being a priority, it's unlikely this deal alone could happen. That's not to say there aren't other Expo players the Giants may be interested in. The most notable is Zach Day, a goofy looking kid who's having a good year outside of Puerto Rico. He is young and just entering his arbitration years, so the ever-rebuilding Expos may not want to let him go. But these are the Expos. There's also Livan Hernandez, who is on the block, but is expensive and, of course, not lacking in a checkered history with the Giants, and the long shot, young Chad Cordero, who is starting to show the potential of becoming a closer himself, but he's also unlikely to be traded, and might be too young to throw into a playoff race right away.
DETROIT – The Tigers have the perennial trade deadline reliever, Ugueth Urbina. But Urbina is not exactly the ideal closer, and even on last year's World Series team, he stepped in as a set-up man, not a closer. His performance is much like Herges' this year. But Urbina is pretty much the 2nd best reliever openly on the market, behind Guardado, and the Giants may not be able to afford to be picky. Also, it should be noted that ESPN's Peter Gammons once brought up Mike Maroth's name in connection with the Giants. While Gammons is increasingly a guy to be ignored, particularly in the realm of rumors, and while Maroth is an unlikely guy for Detroit to trade, it's hard not to see Maroth's one hit shutout against the Yankees and pause to at least consider the possibility.
NEW YORK YANKEES – That's right. The Yanks wouldn't be the lone partners in this deal, though. The Pinstripes are desperate for some starting pitching, and they want Randy Johnson. However, Brian Cashman has said openly that the depleted Yankees farm system would not be able to offer enough for a blockbuster trade. This wasn't an attempt to shoot down the trade possibility, but a broadcasting of need for a third party to get involved. Obviously, the Giants won't be pulling a starter out of the Yankees' hat, and one of their overpriced position players are just as unlikely. But the Giants may try to make a play for one of the Yankees' two set up men, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantril, by providing prospects to the D-Backs for Randy Johnson. And then there's the possibility of getting Johnson out of the NL West. But then, would getting rid of RJ really be a good thing? After all, the Giants usually seem to handle him, and he could be the one Diamondback who could be a spoiler in the NL West race. With a tight division, losing a guy who can hurt the Dodgers and Padres might just backfire.
In the end, knowing Sabean, a trade could very well not include any of these teams. But as the deadline approaches, these are the teams to keep an eye on. But one final possible trade partner:
NO ONE – This year, more than any other year in recent history, is a year of incredible parity. No one is overpowering, and few teams are truly deep, particularly in pitching. St. Louis is the #1 team in the National League for now, but does anyone expect their pitching to hold up? The Cubs rotation is scary, but has yet to actually function in one piece. Los Angeles has been just as streaky as San Francisco, and no team in the NL East has a better record than the 3rd place team in the West, the Padres. And as for those Pads, well, their pitching and offense also has holes. While it's very intimidating to consider going into the playoffs counting on what the Giants have got, no other team is very sure with their pieces, either. When Tomko, Hermanson, Rueter, F-Rod and Herges pitch as they are able to, they are nearly unbeatable. The Giants may consider that there are no attainable pieces any better or more consistent than what they already have got, and may just trust Felipe Alou and Dave Righetti to have them ready down the stretch and into October.
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