Bruce Bochy

Giants have many starting pitchers, should trade for one more

hank and tim

Photo courtesy @CSNAuthentic

“This is our rotation, what we have right now,” said Bruce Bochy. “We’re going to run with it.”

It was a totally vanilla postgame quote after another snoozer in San Diego (your home for boring baseball since 2008). There’s no reason for Bochy to let opposing clubs know they’re dying for a healthy starter with 10 days to go until the deadline, right? But it made headlines — OK, tweets — because Tim Hudson pitched only four innings in his return.

“I felt pretty good,” Hudson told reporters, with the tone and expression of a man finishing out his term at a cushy, minimum-security prison.

“It wasn’t exactly how I would’ve like to have felt, from a sharpness standpoint. Physically, all in all, things were OK.”

He felt “pretty good” and “OK” — which isn’t the same as “great” or even plain old “good” — and he wasn’t on his game on Monday night. Who could blame him? Hudson has to be exhausted, both mentally (his mom just underwent liver transplant surgery) and physically (he’s 40).

Andy Baggarly asked if he spent his time off (17 days) working on mechanics or resting: “It turned out to be more rest. I threw a simulated game before the break and a bullpen after the break.” Perhaps Hudson can shake off the rust and return to form, but Hudson hasn’t been a consistent foundation piece for the Giants’ rotation for almost a year now.

Less than two weeks remain until the non-waiver trade deadline, and the Giants have to figure out a way to keep the bullpen from getting completely worn out before the treacherous month of August is over, let alone September. Even Madison Bumgarner has found it nearly impossible to get through six innings lately.

Ken Rosenthal expanded on this idea in a recent column:

Another executive does not buy that theory, saying that the market may soften for lesser starters, but not top pitchers such as Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto. The same exec said that because almost all teams are flush with cash, they will not need to purge salaries at the last minute.

He also noted that the Giants are potential suitors for Zack Greinke if he opts out and doesn’t re-sign with the Dodgers. Which brings us to the big question going into the July 31 deadline:

Is this a Hunter Pence situation, a Jake Peavy situation, or a stand pat situation?

Going into next season, the Giants have four starting pitchers under contract: Bumgarner, Chris Heston, Matt Cain and Peavy. Cain’s future is anybody’s guess. He’s looked both really good and really hittable over his first three starts of 2015, and if you listen close you can hear his elbow ticking like an old clock in a library. Peavy is a nice fifth starter, a guy who can look unhittable through four or five innings, lull you to sleep, then suddenly throw a bucket of ice water on your face in the sixth inning once the leadoff guy gets on (which he usually does).

Is Beede the fifth starter next year, pushing Peavy, Cain and Heston up a notch? Seems awfully likely. Unless …

1. This is a Hunter Pence situation

This would entail trading top prospects (including Beede) for the closest they can get to a sure thing: a No. 2 starter they can (hopefully) re-sign to an extension.

Cole Hamels is under contract for a few more years, but the Phillies might be the craziest organization in the sport at the present time. There’s no way the Giants can count on this option, even though they fleeced Philadelphia a few years ago in the Pence deal.

The other top pitchers on that list are poised to hit the open market after this season. If I had to guess who the Giants might target out of that group, they’d probably love to lock up David Price for the next five years … but would happily take Jeff Samardzija (ERA is up to 4.08 this season and his velocity is down about 1 mph, but he’s still a good pitcher) off Chicago’s hands. Rosenthal notes that Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir both come with injury concerns. Regardless, Cueto won’t come cheap. Billy Beane would rather tender a qualifying offer to Kazmir, and get a draft pick when he signs somewhere else, than trade him to the mean ol’ Giants.

2. This is a Jake Peavy situation

Here’s where the Giants go after Mike Leake, although Dan Haren (who turns 35 in September) always seems pretty Giants-y, no matter where he is or how he’s throwing.

Leake has been the picture of decent his entire career. ERA just under 4.00, strikes out about six batters per nine innings, not all that exciting. But like Peavy last year, the Giants have some reasons to believe his value is much higher than his surface numbers would indicate.

— He’ll turn 28 in November. All of the other pitchers on Rosenthal’s list will be 30 or older next season.

— He was the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Giants may feel that the Bochy/Righetti/Gardner trio can get more out of Leake than the Reds ever could.

— He pitches at Great American Ballpark, which is like Coors Field if you traded altitude for lots of watery chili served on top of spaghetti. Leake’s career home ERA is 4.36 compared to 3.48 on the road; this year his home (5.46 ERA) and road (2.57) splits are wildly different. (In case you’re wondering, Leake is 4-0 with a 2.59 ERA at AT&T Park in 31.1 innings. Not that we should care about win-loss records, but the Giants surely remember the losses they suffered.)

— He gets a lot of ground balls (52.8% — 16th among qualified MLB starters) because he throws sinkers half the time. He doesn’t even throw four-seam fastballs anymore. The Giants like to let their infield do its thing, and Leake gets almost as many grounders as Hudson or Heston.

— He’s gone at least seven innings in nine of his 19 starts, and he’s pitched eight innings on five occasions. Bumgarner has pitched eight innings in four starts. Heston has done it twice (both were complete games). Hudson has done it once and Ryan Vogelsong (who looks pretty good so far as a reliever) hasn’t done it once.

— Of all of these pitchers, Leake might be the most undervalued, especially because he has Cueto as a teammate. If the Giants traded for him, one might say it’d be a real … steal.

YEEEEAAAAHHHHHHH!

So it’s settled. The Giants are going to trade for Leake and Aroldis Chapman, so plan for a parade down Market on Halloween or someday thereabouts. Or, they’ll just trade for Leake.

3. This is a stand pat situation

The Giants won’t move Angel Pagan out of center field, so what makes us think they’re going to sit Hudson for the rest of the year? He’s no good as a reliever, and he’s a beloved figure in that clubhouse who happens to be wrapping up an outstanding career. But if he’s just feeling “OK,” there’s no guarantee he’s healthy now or will stay that way.

If no one gets hurt between now and the deadline, the Giants could ride with the current rotation and hope all goes well, probably knowing that with this group they’d probably need some things to go their way just to finish as the second Wild Card.

We know Tim Lincecum might be done for the season after Monday’s news that he flew to Nashville to get an opinion on his hip(s) due to some sort of “degenerative” condition that supposedly isn’t career-threatening. Even without the hip stuff, Lincecum had no place on this staff with the way he was pitching. Cain, Peavy and Hudson have spent time on the DL already, but “right now” they’re all available. Vogelsong is a better pitcher than Hudson at this point, but he’s not exactly a guaranteed quality start these days either.

Do the Giants feel some urgency to get a pitcher they think would re-sign after calling AT&T Park home for a couple months? Or do they believe their current starters, most of whom haven’t shown any sort of ability to go seven-plus innings, will suddenly become ironmen? Things could change quickly in the next week or so. If they don’t, the bullpen better stay well-rested.

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