Barry Zito

Barry Zito continues his post-sabbatical dominance

Nobody wants to hear that a guy making $18 million per year needs a vacation, and nobody would argue suffering a foot sprain and rehabbing one’s way through the minor leagues would constitute a holiday either, but something sure seems different about Barry Zito. Besides his pants size. He’s still a flyball pitcher who’ll give up at least one home run per start, but after entering today’s game with 10 strikeouts and 12 walks, he walked no one and struck out 7 tonight. In 2010, Zito walked at least 1 guy in every one of his starts.

He looked so good tonight, after pitching 6 innings on short rest with a long rain delay tossed in the middle of his outing in Detroit (the kind of performance one had to imagine went over even better in the clubhouse than with the fans), that it’s tempting to wonder if we’re seeing a story of redemption that by the end of the year will stand up next to Ryan Vogelsong’s.

Zito was the main course story after Thursday night’s 2-1 win (with Pablo Sandoval’s 18-game hit streak and Eli Whiteside’s home run acting as the side dishes), and then the news got interesting. Not only had 25th man Bill Hall suffered a nasty gash on his shin caused by Jason Bartlett’s spikes, but…

1. The Giants held a closed door meeting that included all relevant management types, including Bill Neukom.

2. Brian Sabean told the beat writers that he’d be okay with trading for a “rental player” (I guess baseball teams “lease” guys signed to multiyear deals).

After four years of Zito struggling to maintain dominance for more than two or three starts at a time, it would be strange if the Giants decided after three very good Zito starts they’d feel comfortable dealing a starting pitcher for a rental or anyone else. Especially since Jonathan Sanchez has about as much trade value as my semi-new Honda Accord did a few years ago when I sideswiped one of the metal posts in the horrible labyrinth of a parking garage across the street from our apartment.

Early morning speculation time!

But the fact remains the Giants are woefully shallow in the middle infield, they just lost Hall for who knows how long (maybe forever, if they cut bait), and guys like J.J. Hardy, Michael Cuddyer and Jose Reyes are out there. Well, except for Reyes, since the Mets would surely demand multiple big leaguers and high-level prospects and he’d probably suffer a torn hamstring on the ensuing flight to his new team after getting traded.

If the Giants do make a trade for a non-catcher (tough to imagine them trading for an outfielder now, unless one of their current outfielders got dealt in the process), it will almost surely be a shortstop. All the second basemen available for rental are either on contending teams or squads the Giants hate (like Florida Marlin Omar Infante). Cuddyer can play second and his Twins are 8 games behind Cleveland, but the AL Central is hardly a powerful group and the Twins have won 2/3 of their games since June 1. If they still played in the Metrodome and fans stopped coming to the park I could see them selling off spare parts in the coming weeks, or even if they start losing between now and the 31st. But even with Cuddyer’s prorated $10MM+ salary, the Twins might ask too much for him at this point. And if the Giants are truly ready to deal now, really set on putting away the rest of the NL West as soon as possible, landing Cuddyer may not be feasible.

But since it’s 12:45 am and I already let the cat out of the bag on Twitter, here’s my completely ridiculous, 0.001% chance of happening prediction: the Giants trade for Hardy. The Orioles are rumored to be in talks to extend Hardy, but that’s a terrible franchise and until the extension’s official, it’s nothing but pre-deadline blather from their general manager probably intended to boost supposed demand for Hardy’s services. And Hardy’s already wearing black and orange this season. Check out the picture — if he became a Giant he wouldn’t even have to get new New Balances.

Because how it sounds right now is that the Giants are cautiously optimistic about Freddy Sanchez, and if that’s true they’d like nothing more than to install someone to Sanchez’s right who can hit a little. Because while Zito’s never enjoyed great run support since coming to San Francisco, they can’t expect him to keep winning 2-1 games … can they?


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