Barry Zito

3 ways Giants can get ‘creative’ with Zito and Vogelsong

Ryan Vogelsong has officially pitched his way out of temp status.

“It’s obvious Vogey isn’t going anywhere. He’ll go every fifth day. We might have to get creative here. Brian (Sabean) and I are talking about it,” Bruce Bochy said after the Giants’ 2-1 win over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. Unless Bochy was talking some newfangled Bartolo Colon-esque medical procedure where Barry Zito’s healthy ankle’s stem cells are injected into Buster Posey’s broken ankle, magically fixing the chosen one (who from that point on would wear high socks as a tribute to the source of said stem cells), there’s only a few things Bochy could have meant when he used the word “creative.” Let’s check out the possibilities:

1. Put Zito in the ‘pen

Pros: The rotation would go unchanged, and with Vogelsong’s shocking dominance over the last two months it’s impossible to argue the five best starting pitchers on the team are anybody other than Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Volgelsong. In leaving Zito off the postseason roster in 2010, the Giants showed they’re not overly worried about embarrassing him — maybe since his contract is the biggest embarrassment for the franchise since BALCO.

Cons: Making Zito’s new job title “Jonathan Sanchez Bad Outing Insurance” puts more pressure on him than ever before. If he’s a $126 million failure as a reliever, what do the Giants do? As long as he can provide mediocre-to-occasionally-brilliant innings, the Giants don’t want to release him. Then there’s the fact that Zito’s never really been a reliever and takes forever to warm up because his pitching style would best be described as “tantric.”

2. 6-man rotation

Pros: Zito gets a shot to prove he can bounce back as a starting pitcher after a string of bad luck and bad performances dating back to the last two months of the 2010 regular season. Lincecum is nearly unhittable throughout his career after five days rest. The Giants would be ahead of the curve, since every team will probably have a 6-man rotation by 2025.

Cons: Rust could become a factor for starters used to going more often. This move would annoy and emasculate Lincecum and Cain (especially every time they met up with the Phillies rotation in a park somewhere, sort of like when the Will Ferrell’s and Vince Vaughn’s news teams squared off in Anchorman), and Sanchez would certainly sulk a little. Bumgarner might look like he was sulking, but in reality he’d be fine either way.

3. Trade one of the existing starters

Pros: The Giants’ offense is in the bottom five of the league, and they have six legitimate starting pitchers if Zito comes back healthy and doesn’t continue his early season SO/BB ratio of 0.75. Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain are free agents in 2013, and Lincecum gets his big payday a year later. While it would be awesome if they did so, it’s tough to imagine the Giants will keep all three — especially with Zach Wheeler looking like a pretty darn good draft pick.

Cons: Trading Zito would be impossible. Vogelsong’s value has never been higher, but that’s not saying much for a 33-year-old journeyman. Sabean’s favorite target — the Pittsburgh Pirates — don’t really have anyone who makes sense to trade for (except MAYBE Andrew McCutchen or Neil Walker, but neither one of those guys catch or play shortstop … don’t even mention Ryan Doumit, who’s horrendous defensively and gets injured every other week). Since Cain was so incredible in the playoffs and he’s pretty much the Posey of the pitching staff emotionally, the Giants would want to trade Sanchez. And everyone who reads this site regularly knows how I feel about this option.

Giants Starting Rotation Now

Giants Starting Rotation (Post-Sanchez)

With one trade the Giants’ rotation would go from “embarrassment of riches” to “better than average.” Unless Sanchez brought the Giants the kind of dominant offensive player who barely even exists anymore, trading him would be a risky proposition.

Maybe “creative” simply means giving Zito PLENTY of time to rehab (like a full month). Enough time for either Vogelsong to falter, Zito to get rocked consistently in his rehab appearances or for one of the Giants’ current starters to need some time off. As an unabashed Giants fan I’m knocking on wood furiously as I type this, but in a 2011 season where it seems like they’re paying the baseball Gods back for such a healthy 2010, I wouldn’t blame the Giants for trying to keep as many viable arms around as possible.

As long as the Giants keep winning with an offense this bad, they might as well at least wait until the trade deadline to see which players are meant to stay for the long haul, and which ones aren’t. Like Vogelsong, Brandon Crawford, Manny Burriss and Nate Schierholtz all have opportunities to go from temp-to-perm themselves if they hit consistently. This Giants season hasn’t really gone according to plan in terms of the active roster and how games have been won, but they’re in first place in the NL West and have a 7-4 record against the Colorado Rockies, which is good news because mostly because they don’t have to play a bunch of series in Colorado late in the season, when they go into full humidor-modification Tulo-hits-2-HRs-every-game mode. The Giants are in a good position. It’s hard to blame Bochy and Sabean if at this point, “creative” just means leaning back and waiting to see what will happen next.

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