It’d be tempting to say Jeremy Affeldt got out just in time, but the reality is he just suffered his downward slide a year earlier than the rest. For the rest of the “core four” who stuck around for one more season, the 2016 season has been as difficult as any they’ve had while wearing orange and black.
There are six players on the Giants’ active roster who were on the first San Francisco title team, way back in 2010 when the team didn’t “sell out” every single game. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were rookies in 2010. They are the co-leaders of this team now. The rest aren’t faring nearly as well.
First, there’s the other 75% who Affeldt left behind. None of these three relievers have been an abject disaster this season, but it’s tough to get excited about the accomplishments of Santiago Casilla (tied for the NL lead in blown saves with six, including the infamous balk-off in San Diego and the 3-run homer with two outs he allowed on Sunday), Sergio Romo (nearly three months missed and 2.0 home runs allowed per nine innings) and Javier Lopez (5.52 FIP, 13 walks in 19.1 innings).
No we Cain’t
Then there’s Matt Cain, who of the remaining Giants with three World Series rings has been the most disappointing of all. Yesterday he breezed through four innings, leaving optimistic folks to wonder whether he might have regained the form that allowed him to pitch three consecutive quality starts in May before a hamstring injury shelved him for over a month.
Yesterday I was posted up at one of my favorite lunch spots, watching the game on one of the two TVs above the bar. The chef walked by on his way out to take a break, glanced at the TV and saw the Giants were up 4-0.
“Hey, no sweep!”
I warned him that the bases were loaded (I didn’t tell them Cain hit a guy and walked two more), with the obvious inference being that the Giants weren’t guaranteed to win this game.
I let him know it was the fifth inning, yet another reason to warn against overconfidence. The chef provided the best reason, however.
“I can’t believe Cain’s still in,” he said, before turning and leaving the restaurant.
Before he returned (actually, before five minutes elapsed), the Giants were down 6-4.
The obvious culprit yesterday was Bruce Bochy, who admitted afterward that he left Cain in the game longer than he should’ve. But thanks to another old friend in Jake Peavy, who lost his starting job due to poor performance, Cain is in the rotation … for now, anyway. And thanks in part to the lackluster collective performance from the three “core” relievers, Bochy has very little confidence in his bullpen to handle a five-inning mop job.
Bochy hopes Cain can go five each time, but in seven outings since returning from the disabled list he has averaged slightly less than 4 and 1/3 innings per start. With how things unraveled yesterday, one has to wonder how anyone can assume that’ll change anytime soon.
The era hasn’t ended … yet
There’s no use in calling out the Giants for being overly sentimental. Yes, they probably count on established veterans a year too long in many cases. But with the trade of Matt Duffy, it’s hard to say that the Giants haven’t turned a new leaf in dealing with their local folk heroes. Whether parting with a crowd favorite who’s in his 20s makes up for extensions handed out to veterans on the downside is another conversation (and has everything to do with how Matt Moore pitches). But we may see the Giants look to let go of players a year too early instead of a year too late in future seasons.
In the short term, there’s nothing the Giants can do but hope Bochy somehow rallies this once surprisingly good team into a serviceable one before they fall out of playoff contention entirely. Derek Law is a better pitcher than Casilla at this point, but Law is coming off a two shortened seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery. So Casilla probably keeps his job unless he blows his next opportunity as egregiously as he did on Sunday.
After a month-plus of .300 baseball (that’s winning percentage, not batting average), it’s hard to blame anyone for wondering if the Giants are free falling without a parachute. But who knows? Maybe this group — old guard included — can prove the doubters wrong like they have so many times during playoff series. How’s that for being positive? Anyone believe me?
$28.5 million is a lot of money
Looking past September and October, the question about what to do with about the old guard gets whittled down to one person. Romo, Lopez and Casilla are all free agents after this season. It would be an enormous surprise if any of those players stuck around in any capacity (unless you count Lopez potentially joining the army of ex-Giants at CSN Bay Area), especially since the most productive pitcher out of that trio threw a mini-temper tantrum when Bochy took the ball from him back in May.
What will the Giants do about Cain, who is guaranteed $21 million next season and either $21 million or a $7.5 million buyout in 2018?
This year was supposed to be different. Cain was a year removed from surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, and perhaps that would be enough time to get used to his “new” arm. Instead, Cain’s 2016 output has mirrored last year’s.
2015: 2-4, 5.79 ERA, 5.54 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, 10.5 H/9, 1.8 HR/9, 2.05 K/BB, .897 OPS
2016: 4-8, 5.81 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 1.55 WHIP, 10.6 H/9, 1.7 HR/9, 2.13 K/BB, .880 OPS
They could move him to the bullpen next year, but he’s been giving up well over a home run per nine innings since his perfect game in 2012 and his command isn’t the best. Plus, they might need to save a spot for future setup man Jeff Samardzija. (Just kidding! Well, sort of.)
Since the size of Cain’s extension inevitably brings up comparisons to Barry Zito, we can predict what the Giants will do next season. Zito took his first 21 starts of his pre-buyout season (2013) before being relieved of his starting duties after his ERA went past 5.00. Then Zito regained a spot in the rotation a few weeks later on 8/21/13, made three terrible starts, and didn’t see any action from Sept. 3 until Sept. 25, when he picked up his fifth and final win of the season with five decent innings against the Dodgers.
That doesn’t mean Cain will make his next scheduled start, which happens to be against the Dodgers. They could move Peavy back into the rotation, or select from any of several minor leaguers. Ty Blach is an obvious candidate — he leads the River Cats in innings, leads their starters in ERA at 3.49, and threw a 2-hit shutout on Aug. 10. He’s also on the 40-man roster, unlike the unquestioned top pitching prospect in their organization with Phil Bickford and Adalberto Mejia gone, Tyler Beede.
Beede is a darkhorse candidate since he’s still in Double-A, but if you ignore the walk rate he’s on quite the roll over his last four starts: 1.07 ERA, 5.0 H/9, 11.4 K/9, 4.6 BB/9. But would the Giants throw a 23-year-old with no PCL experience into a pennant race, let alone have him make his debut on Tuesday night in Los Angeles? The Giants’ horrible recent stretch has them looking for answers, both now and into the future, but Beede seems more like a long-term solution than a short-term bandaid to fix their problems with Cain.