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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.