Brian Sabean

Giants reportedly scouting David Price

‘Tis the season … for rumors about David Price (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times):

The Cardinals have been watching the Rays closely recently, the Giants and Dodgers (whom many around baseball consider the favorites for Price) at times. The Braves, especially after Gavin Floyd’s injury, seem like a possibility, and maybe there’s a surprise candidate, such as the Marlins, who also were scouting Price on Friday. Among other AL teams, the Angels, A’s and Indians seem likely candidates.

The Giants would love to add Price for reasons that are obvious. Sabean could stick him at or near the top of the team’s rotation and kick back. His ERA has increased in each of the past two years, but that could be misleading since he’s registered a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.05, 3.03 and 3.03 over the past three seasons. The way he’s attacking hitters has changed slightly, as displayed by his MLB-leading 16 homers allowed and 10.23 SO/BB ratio.

Breaking news: Price, 28, is one of the best starters in the game.

He’s also left-handed, and Sabean certainly seems like a guy who’s probably annoyed by the current right-handedness of the rotation.

Why the Giants may be playing the role of Price-blockers

It doesn’t cost much to send scouts to games to show interest in a player. I’m not sure if guys wear hats that say “SCOUT” on them, but everyone always seems to know when they’re in attendance and watching the top trade candidates ply their trade.

The Giants sent Pat Burrell to watch Jeff Samardzija, for goodness sake.

Sabean could surprise us and make a deal for Price, but boy-oh-boy does that seem unlikely. Price is making $14 million, then should get “$17 million to $20 million” next year in arbitration, according to Topkin (and common sense). Then he’s a free agent.

The Giants are currently spending about $58 million on starting pitchers this season. The shakiest starter of the bunch is Matt Cain, taking into account recent production and durability. Cain also happens to be the most expensive guy of the group.

With MLB’s sixth-highest payroll and a ton of money already scheduled for 2015 (and that’s before the Giants figure out who’ll play third base), dealing for Price would be almost as surprising as Sabean shaving his goatee and starring in commercials for iPhone 6.

In this case, we can be pretty sure that the Giants are pushing Price’s … err … price northward in order to make life harder on all those National League contenders listed in the second paragraph of this post. And, let’s face it: Price is probably going to the Dodgers, for no other reasons than he seems like a Dodger (pretty danged expensive; manicured Matt Kemp-like beard; semi-frequent displays of petulance; could exit the prime of his career at any moment).

My sense is the Giants would rather trade for Samardzija (who, like Price, can become a free agent after the 2015 season), since he’s cheaper and he’s thrown over 400 fewer innings than Price. But whether or not the Giants decide to gut their farm system for a pitcher who wants Cain money after next season has a lot to do with what they get out of Cain between now and the trade deadline.

Cain starts tonight against the Padres. He’s an incredibly popular player, so many fans won’t want to hear this … but there has to be a lot of concern within the organization about his health and/or effectiveness. He looked fantastic in his June 7 start, the first after coming off the DL. In the two starts since, Cain has pitched 10 innings while allowing 12 runs (11 earned), 13 hits, six walks and two home runs.

None of his three DL stints over the last calendar year have been due to elbow or shoulder trouble, but something seems to be amiss. Chiefly, his increased home run rate is a trend that looks like it might be here to stay. Before his perfect game, Cain allowed 0.73 homers per nine innings — a nice rate for anyone, particularly for a fly ball pitcher. Since “Perfect Cain,” he has allowed 1.21 HR/9, including 1.55 HR/9 this season.

Cain is guaranteed $67.5 million over the next three-plus seasons, so he’s here to stay. And if he goes back to being the pitcher they paid for, the Giants will probably turn their attention to the bench or possibly another power bullpen arm near the end of July.

The latter is probably what’ll happen anyway. The Giants don’t want to spend much more on second base than they already have to with Marco Scutaro collecting checks (and the realization that Scutaro is almost certainly done as an everyday player is probably why they called up Joe Panik earlier than planned). So if a payroll bump were to occur, it would probably serve the purpose of putting out a fire in the rotation.

“If we reduce it what we’ve seen (while losing) the last eight out of nine games, the pitching’s leaked oil. The starters’ ERA is almost six. The bullpen’s ERA is five and a half,” said Sabean in a KNBR interview on Thursday.

Madison Bumgarner’s start yesterday could be the start of a collective bounce-back effort, but the rotation will be Sabean’s primary concern over the next five weeks. That being said, the Price is probably wrong here.

(Sorry for that last line, but in return I promise there will be no Panik puns — I promise.)

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