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Reyes = Repeat
A way for the Giants to repeat as World Champs

by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
June 21, 2011

Everyone has had a lot to say about what the Giants should do next since Buster Posey was lost for the season following his infamous home plate collision.  I guess it’s time for me to chime in.  The Giants have gone 12-12 since that day, along the way likely losing second baseman Freddy Sanchez for the year with a separated shoulder. 

Yet they remain, for now, atop the National League West, a mere half game ahead of Arizona.  Everyone from fans to pundits has declared the need for San Francisco to acquire a replacement for Posey behind the plate.  With career backup Eli Whiteside batting just .185 with a .515 OPS since the injury while serving as the primary catcher and Chris Stewart hitting .174/.457 as Whiteside’s backup, they aren’t wrong.

However, if the Giants are serious about repeating as World Series Champions, they’ll need to do more than just replace Posey’s glove behind the plate.  They’ll need to replace his bat; but you tell me where the Giants can find an available catcher who can hit half as well as Posey?  That kind of catcher just isn’t out there.  And while Whiteside’s defense and ball blocking ability aren’t the same caliber as you would usually demand out of your starting backstop, the club’s pitchers have sported a 3.16 ERA in June and are clearly comfortable delivering the ball to whomever is set up behind the dish.  

GM Brian Sabean and his staff have been doing their due diligence in response to the situation, scouting players around the leagues, both in the majors and the minors, without pressing the panic button.  As Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said recently, “[T]o panic shows a lack of confidence in the rest of the players.”  I commend Sabes for not rushing out to acquire an overpriced and overvalued replacement such as Ivan Rodriguez, whose name was bandied about relentlessly in the days following Posey’s gruesome injury. 

Nevertheless, and especially with Sanchez on the shelf as well, he’ll need to act relatively soon.  The Giants are fortunate to be playing in a weak NL West.  Arizona’s pitching too closely resembles San Diego’s of a year ago and is unlikely to hold up through the dog days of August and September.  The Dodgers are far too dysfunctional to make a run at it and the Padres have a gaping hole in their lineup where Adrian Gonzalez used to terrorize the NL West.  Colorado, on the other hand, is unlikely to remain a sub-.500 ballclub for long and could run away with the division if the Giants don’t do something to improve their struggling offense. 

Now is the time for Sabean to step up make the boldest move of his Giants tenure by acquiring Jose Reyes from the Mets.  An impending 28-year old free agent who looks to command a contract similar to the 7-year, $142 million deal signed by Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford, Reyes surely would not come cheap.  Mets GM Sandy Alderson is certain to drive a hard bargain for his star shortstop, if he can be persuaded to trade him at all.  And with New York playing near .500 ball (35-37) and only five games behind Atlanta in the Wild Card race, some speculate that the Mets will become buyers, not sellers.  I’m not buying it, but it could happen. 

Nevertheless, Sabean needs to do all he can to make this deal happen.  Rarely do teams have a chance to do what the Giants have a chance to do this season, which is to repeat as World Series Champions. 

Jose Reyes = Repeat.

Reyes, playing for the biggest contract of his life, is putting up MVP numbers atop the Mets lineup, batting a league leading .341 with a .902 OPS while also leading the league in hits (103), runs scored (54, tied with Ryan Braun) and triples (12) and ranking fourth in doubles (20).  He has as many stolen bases (26) as strikeouts and has grounded into just two double plays.  He is, in short, exactly what the Giants’ sputtering offense needs. 

Reyes’ acquisition would allow manager Bruce Bochy to move centerfielder Andres Torres further down the lineup where, relieved of the responsibility of leading off, the struggling Torres could relax, find his swing, and better utilize the power that saw him hit 16 home runs in 2010 and rank fourth in the league in doubles (43) despite missing two weeks in September. 

Bochy could also team Reyes up with the speedy Manny Burriss at the top of the lineup to bring a whole new dimension to the Giants’ offense: the running game.  The 26-year old Burriss, getting an extended chance to prove himself with Sanchez sidelined, would likely benefit from the experience of playing alongside one of the game’s most dynamic offensive players. 

Acquiring Reyes would further lessen the need to upgrade offensively at catcher by having gained offensively at shortstop, where the Giants are currently getting next to no production from guys like Miguel Tejada, Mike Fontenot, and Brandon Crawford.  Collectively, the Giants shortstops this season have recorded a slash line of just .212/.277/.322 and have driven in just 25 runs in 72 games. 

The 37-year old Tejada has been simply awful in the field (+/- rating of -7 in 241 innings) and at the plate (.539 OPS, the lowest of all qualified hitters in the NL) and has been effectively rendered irrelevant with Crawford having taken over at short and third baseman Pablo Sandoval having returned from a broken hamate bone.  Acquiring Reyes would allow the Giants to cut ties with Tejada, who clearly has lost what it takes to get it done at the big league level. 

The rookie Crawford, while stronger defensively (+3 in 181.2 innings) than both Tejada and Reyes (-3 in 612.1), has not been able to quell concerns about his bat despite making a splash with Giants fans by hitting a grand slam in his big league debut.  Since that initial performance that saw him join Bobby Bonds as the only Giants players to hit a salami in their first game, however, Crawford has hit just .191 with a .507 OPS in 21 games.  Reyes would represent a huge upgrade over anything the G-men have trotted out at shortstop this season. 

Reyes’ acquisition would also negate any need to overpay while acquiring another catcher.  George Kottaras’ name has been most recently tossed about the rumor mill, and with the Brewers backup backstop batting .294 in 34 plate appearances, he would likely represent an upgrade over both Whiteside and Stewart and could possibly be had in exchange for a promising, but low-level prospect.  It could also allow the Giants the leeway to give prospect Hector Sanchez a shot behind the dish.  Sanchez has hit .310/.375/.448 in 8 games for Triple-A Fresno since being promoted from Class-A San Jose, where the long-time favorite of mine was batting .301 with an .832 OPS in 42 games, including one stretch of 15 straight games with an RBI. 

Now as I mentioned before, acquiring Reyes would neither be easy nor inexpensive.  Alderson is a savvy veteran of the front office and would likely require a frontline starting pitcher and a top pitching prospect, as well as a possible replacement for Reyes at short.  And that’s just for starters.  I foresee this as a four-for-one deal that surely would improve the Mets in the long-term while helping the Giants capitalize on an increasingly shrinking window of opportunity. 

Let’s not forget that Tim Lincecum, owed $14 million this year, will once again be eligible for arbitration and a huge pay raise following this season while fellow ace Matt Cain will be eligible for free agency after the 2012 campaign, for which he’ll be paid over $15M.  Additionally, Sandoval will begin his odyssey through arbitration following the ’12 season and closer Brian Wilson will do so after making $8.5 million in 2013. 

Luckily, Aaron Rowand’s contract will be up after 2012 and the club needs only to pay Barry Zito a $7 million buyout after the 2013 season to be rid of him (too bad they still have to pay him $39 million for 2012 and 2013 combined).  Still, it will be quite a chore to keep this team intact beyond 2012, particularly the starting pitching.  Lincecum, Cain, and Zito are likely to pull down nearly $55 million all by themselves in 2013, leaving precious little room for Jonathan Sanchez, who will be arbitration eligible and due a hefty raise after making $4.8 million this season. He’ll be free agent eligible following the 2013 season. 

The 28-year old Sanchez has been an enigma for the Giants, impressing with his ability to miss bats (9.4 K/9 career) and get hitters out (.231 career opponent’s batting average).  He tossed a no-hitter in July of 2009, and then last season led the league with just 6.6 hits allowed per 9 innings pitched while also striking out over 200 batters (205) for the first time in his career.  At the same time, however, he also led the NL in walks with 96 in 193.1 innings and currently leads the league again with 53 in just 85 innings pitched. 

When he is on, he is among the best in baseball.  Even when he’s less than his best, he’s still one of the hardest to hit in the game.  Yet all those walks can be exasperating and have led to him constantly pitching out of trouble.  The associated high pitch counts also usually limit him to no more than five or six innings per start.  And those high stress innings will continue to take their toll on his shoulder, increasing the odds of incurring arm troubles down the line.  I submit that now is time to trade Sanchez while the getting’s good and I further submit that he would make a pretty nice centerpiece in a deal to acquire Reyes, as well. 

Trading Sanchez now is possible due in large part to the career resurgence of Ryan Vogelsong, who has put himself into contention for a spot on the All-Star roster after going 4-1 with a 1.92 ERA and .229 batting average against since replacing the injured Zito in the rotation back in late April.  A leading candidate for Comeback Player of All-Time, having been out of the majors since 2006 (including 3 years pitching in Japan), Vogelsong could easily be slotted in the two-spot currently occupied by Sanchez, while moving Sanchez would also open up a spot in the rotation for Zito, who has gone 3-0 with a 3.20 ERA on his current rehab assignment.  Zito is expected to make at least one more rehab start but must be activated by July 7. 

Zito is expected to return as a long reliever, but the Giants do have a double header set for June 28 in Chicago and have said in the past that they’d like to find opportunities to rest 21-year old sophomore pitcher Madison Bumgarner, so there is no rush to deal Sanchez to create a spot.

Nevertheless, the Giants could use Sanchez as the primary bait for Reyes and hardly miss a beat, and they could package him with top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler (6-2, 3.26 ERA, 10.1 K/9 for San Jose), Crawford, and another prospect such as outfielder Thomas Neal (.328/.389/.450 in 37 games at Fresno) to create a pretty tempting offer.  San Jose closer Heath Hembree (21 saves, 0.73 ERA in 24.2 IP with 44 K and 12 BB) and third baseman Chris Dominguez (.291 BA, .802 OPS and 11 HR) who were named to the Cal League All-Star team before each was recently promoted to Double-A Richmond, also might tempt Alderson.  Such a package would still leave the Giants organization stocked with a bevy of promising young arms (Eric Surkamp, Kelvin Marte, Jacob Dunnington, and Michael Kickham among others) and leave untouched the Giants’ top two hitting prospects (first baseman Brandon Belt and centerfielder Gary Brown). 

If Reyes ultimately ends up a rental player, leaving via free agency after the season, they still gain much needed financial flexibility to re-sign Lincecum and Cain.  If they can find a way to re-sign Reyes, then they end up with one of the games most electrifying players to team up with Posey, Sandoval, Belt, and Brown for years to come. 

Oh, and one other thing.  They’ll repeat.  Yup, I said it. Jose Reyes = Repeat.  This is a deal Brian Sabean needs to make.  How often do you have a chance to repeat as World Champs?  They still have the pitching and play in the right division to get to October but they’ll have a hard time duplicating last year’s success against this year’s Phillies pitching staff without improving their offense significantly.  Jose Reyes would be that significant upgrade. 

Jose Reyes = Repeat.


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at richard@baseballevolution.com.

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