Lately, it hasn't appeared as though the Giants are competing. That frustrates a fan base, and it inspires what Sabean calls the "lunatic fringe" to start playing armchair GM, proposing uninformed and preposterous trades and roster moves.
I count myself among that fringe only so far as I have this blog as a forum to share my thoughts. But I always try to be careful to employ reason to my ideas rather than simply being reactionary and emotional. In doing so, I try and consider how the player feels about his slump, how torn the skipper is about managing his players, and how shrewd the GM must be in handling the roster. This keeps me from suggesting the Giants should trade the farm for Cliff Lee or "do whatever it takes" to get Giancarlo Stanton. While I don't know what it takes to acquire either of those players, I have a pretty good idea, and I'm smart enough to know that it's quite probable that neither deal is good for the Giants in the long run given the likely cost of acquiring those players. It's not entirely different than managing a check book. You need to decide what's practical and balance what you want with what you need.
Let's take a look at some key points of discussion that could merit a bit of perspective as the trade deadline nears:
GREGOR BLANCO: Blanco wasn't signed to be an everyday player. He wasn't signed to be a leadoff guy either. Most people view Blanco as a perfect platoon player or 4th outfielder. Angel Pagan's injury and the lack of a viable 4th outfielder has forced Blanco to start every day. Right now he's scuffling, going 5 for his last 38, which amounts to a .132 average, and only 9 stolen bases with 5 caught stealing. However, he also has 6 walks to his 9 strikeouts. The real problem here is that he only has 1 RBI over that span and only 27 on the season. He and Torres simply aren't driving in runs, but that's an epidemic that is plaguing the entire team. Blanco provides stellar defense at all three outfield positions, and until the Giants find an alternative, he and Hunter Pence are the best candidates start regularly. It's doubtful that Sabean will find 2 productive outfielders by the trade deadline, so Blanco is likely going to continue to start. Looking ahead to 2014, Blanco remains under team control at a moderate price. Pagan will be back, but Sabean would do well to find a run producing complement that hits lefties well. The Giants signed Jeff Francoeur and promoted Kensuke Tanaka, a veteran from Japan who was raking the ball in Triple-A. Both players will give Bochy some depth and hopefully some run production.
ANDRES TORRES: The Torres bashing is over the top. I'll be the first to admit that I felt, and still do feel, that Torres is no better than a 4th outfielder, like Blanco. His overall OPS is .665, which is unacceptable for a starting outfielder, but Torres wasn't signed to start everyday, nor was he signed to hit against right-handed pitchers. Against left-handed pitchers, Torres has an OPS of .775, which is exactly what the Giants hoped they would get. The problem has been his defense, as he is miscast in left field. Torres plays fine defense in center field, but he's had great difficulty taking angles and being in position for fly balls in left. Under no circumstances should Bochy ever be putting Torres in left field. His play in center is above average, and Blanco plays a better left field anyway. The other problem is the fact that Torres doesn't drive in runs. Like Blanco, Torres has only driven in 1 run in his last 10 games and a pitiful 19 RBIs in 73 games so far this season. This has to improve to justify his role on the roster. The Giants signing of Francoeur could signal the end of Torres' tenure with the Giants. Cole Gillespie was DFA'd, and Francoeur can't produce much less than Gillespie or Perez did. Plus, he brings far more power with a greater history of run production. Tanaka also can spell Blanco and Torres, although Tanaka hits left-handed and produced better numbers against righties.
ROGER KIESCHNICK, JUAN PEREZ, and GARY BROWN: Neither of these players are ready, and it's fair to wonder how excited the organization is about either Brown or Kieschnick as evidenced by the fact that they promoted career minor league journeyman Cole Gillespie instead. Gillespie has since been released and Brown is playing better, but he's still only hitting .244 with an uninspiring .304 OBP. His .240/.297/.413 line against right-handers means he still has a lot of adjustments to make. Lest you think he's raking against lefties and should replace Torres, his 11 RBIs, .264 average, and .329 OBP clearly show that he isn't. Perez has already demonstrated that he's an ideal late-inning defensive replacement who hasn't figured out how to hit major league pitching yet. Kieschnick went ice cold for awhile, hitting .181 in June after a torrid start. In his last 10 games, he's got a .720 OPS but no home runs and only 2 RBIs. Kieschnick isn't ready either, but if he made some adjustments and continues to hit better, he could earn a September call-up and play quite a bit if the Giants fall out of contention. In the meantime, Bochy will have Francoeur and Tanaka at his disposal to shake things up in the outfield.
HUNTER PENCE: Pence has gone cold (3 for 38), hitting only 0.79 over his last 10 games. With 43 total RBIs, he hasn't been the run producer he was down the stretch last year either. A lot of speculation has been made about whether the Giants should or would trade Pence at the deadline. Like Carlos Beltran when the Giants traded Zach Wheeler to the Mets for him in 2011, no team that acquires Pence will receive draft compensation if he leaves via free agency in 2014. Because of this risk and the millions he is still owed, teams would be reluctant to part with any real prospects in return unless they were desperate (i.e. a defending world champion team hell-bent on making the playoffs for a chance to repeat even after its best player goes down with a season-ending injury). Some fans and bloggers have speculated that the Giants could make a "qualifying offer" to Pence to buy themselves some stability in the outfield next year, and if Pence declines then they would at least get a high draft pick in return (although drafting doesn't seem to be working out for the Giants given their farm system ranking these days). Besides, Pence has become a fan-favorite, and he brings leadership and enthusiasm to the clubhouse. He'd love a long term deal, and he brings sorely needed right handed power to the lineup. The qualifying offer makes sense, and I just don't see a Pence trade as a viability right now.
MARCO SCUTARO: He's been pretty good defensively, and his plus bat has been invaluable. The problem with Scutaro - and everybody knew this when the Giants signed him - has been his health. Because of his veteran leadership and hitting prowess on an offensively-starved team, not to mention his cult status in SF now, I don't see the Giants parting with him. His age and health issues, combined with the fact that the heir apparent, Joe Panik, won't be Major League ready for another year or two, make trading Scutaro highly unlikely. The return wouldn't be worthwhile, and the Giants would be forced to troll waivers for a Burriss hybrid to tide them over until Panik proves he is (in)capable. They currently have Tanaka, Nick Noonan, and Tony Abreu for depth, but Scutaro is the preferred play. Both Pagan and Scutaro were good offseason moves for Sabean, Pagan's injury notwithstanding. They represented the best fits for the team at the right prices, and there weren't better alternatives in the farm system at the time.
PABLO SANDOVAL: Fans are complaining about his weight and his hacking, but none of that seemed to be an issue when he was hammering home runs off Justin Verlander. Sandoval gets a lot of rope when he produces, but he isn't producing right now. Sandoval is hitting .103 over his last 10 games, and he's got 3 walks to 11 strikeouts. His defense was equally abysmal until lately. Many have advocated trading Sandoval if the Giants have decided he isn't worth a long term deal.
Despite being a fan favorite, Sandoval might actually be the most tradable piece Sabean has. Pablo's contract and history of production are sure to fetch prospects in return. However, the only possible replacements in the minors are Adam Duvall or Chris Dominguez. Duvall is hitting .255/.322/.458 in Double-A Richmond, so he's nowhere near ready. Dominguez is starting for Triple-A Fresno, where he's got an .807 OPS and 10 home runs, but Brett Pill raked in the PCL too, so you really have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. Perhaps the Giants see what they have in Dominguez come September, but all signs point to seeing Sandoval back with the Giants in 2014. He's got one more year left on his contract, and at $8.5 million, he won't break the bank. if Sandoval can't crack his slump and really falls off the map (i.e. if his overall average slips to .250 or below) and the Giants fall out of contention, then Sandoval being dealt becomes a real possibility.
BRANDON CRAWFORD: His defense isn't as pristine as it can be, and h's 4 for his last 34, dropping his average to .264. Joaquin Arias' appendectomy means Bochy has even less depth, so Crawford won't be getting many days off to find his groove. However, he did manage to go 3 for 6 in the 16-inning marathon agains the Mets last night. His diving catch saved the game in the 11th inning. Sure, he booted the grounder to cost the Giants the game in the 16th, but I attribute that more to fatigue than a lack of skill. Crawford will come out of this slump, and his average will hover between .250 and .270, which is exactly what everyone was hoping for when the season started. If you thought he was going to hit .300 and start the All-Star game, then you were fooling yourself. Let's not be too hard on the kid. Plus, his sprained fingers surely have a lot to do with his struggles.
BRANDON BELT: Fans waiting for Belt to "break out" probably need to look at what Brandon Belt is - a 25 year-old first baseman in his third year who plays excellent defense and is currently hitting .256/.326/.433. He's already matched last year's home run total with 9. He was playing well enough for Bochy to try him out in the 3-hole against the Mets. This turned out to be an epic failure as Belt went 0 for 8 with a "platinum sombrero" (5 strikeouts). Naturally, Bochy plans to bat him third again tonight. The reality is that the Giants aren't going to trade a still-developing but productive young player who doesn't hit arbitration until 2015. Belt may never be an All-Star, but he's not the sole source of the Giants' problem.
THE ROTATION: Can and Bumgarner are pitching better. Zito seems to have leveled out. Gaudin is back, and whether he's part of the bullpen or the rotation next year, he's more valuable to the Giants than anything he would fetch in a trade. Lincecum's salary and struggles make him virtually impossible to trade whether he comes back next year or not. Plus, he pitched marvelously against the Mets last night, and he's looked much better over his last few starts. The starting prospects in the Giants' farm system are at least 2 years away, so the Giants will need to find some stopgaps in the offseason. Erik Surkamp will most likely find himself in the rotation next year, as will Vogelsong if he pitches well upon his return. Having the middle and back end of the rotation pitch like some teams' front end has been a luxury, and fans shouldn't expect that to be the norm. At least not right now. The Giants are going through a bit of a transition at this time. They parlayed Cain/Bumgarner/Lincecum into two World Series championships. I'm reluctant to say their pitching window is "closing" because it could be reopening just as quickly if the prospects develop. Cain and Bumgarner make that a possibility as long as Sabean can complement them with the right pieces, young and old. It's still possible that Sabean swings a deal for a starter, but he probably wants one he can control through next season. With some possibilities out of the mix, including Ricky Nolasco to the Dodgers, Sabean may not swing a deal at all if the rotation continues to pitch better like it has.
THE BULLPEN: Other than Lopez, the entire bullpen remains under team control next season. They've pitched better, Sandy Rosario in particular, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sabean adds to this group at the deadline. The organization values veteran leadership in the bullpen, and guys like Affeldt and Romo have struggled before only to rise to the occasion when it matters most. it would take an unbelievable offer for Sabean to trade members of the bullpen. Michael Kickham was recalled to serve as a long relief man, a role in which I think he could thrive, much like Gaudin did when he flamed out as a starter a few years ago. Heath Hembree has shown improvement. The Giants drafted a lot of pitchers the past two years who profile as relievers down the road. I don't expect much movement here at the deadline, unless Sabean chooses to add here.
So, to wrap up here - if the Giants can start winning more with the pieces they have, Sabean will be more open to aggressively adding pieces at the deadline to help put this team over the top. If they continue to flounder, the Sabean isn't going to mortgage the future on a lost season, knowing that this team is more than 1 or 2 additions away from being complete. Instead, he'll turn his attention towards building a better roster for 2014.