Trading with San Francisco: A Giants' perspective.

THE NOB
HILL REPORT

 

*Covering the San Francisco Giants from
Top to Bottom*

 

If there’s
anything that 59-77 has taught us as loyal Giants fans, it’s that we play in
baseball’s weakest division, aren’t anywhere close to competitive in it, and
don’t appear to be on the verge of making any NL West noise in the next couple
years.  This will probably be our fourth
straight year in the 70s in wins, and while our farm system has made some real progress
the past year or two, the strength is in starting pitching, which means two
things: (1) hope they’re ready to rack up the no-decisions – if it weren’t for
Washington, we’d have the worst offense in the league . . . for the second year
in a row, and third out of four; and (2) we actually might have an opportunity
here to do something bold.

 

If new
managing general partner Bill Neukom doesn’t replace GM Brian Sabean this
winter (he’s under contract through 2009, with a club option for 2010), Sabean
probably has to know that he’ll be expected to do something aggressive to change
the team’s fortunes in order to keep his job.

 

Here’s one
assessment of the franchise’s big-picture assets, offensively:

 

* Outfielders
Aaron Rowand (age 31) and Fred Lewis (27) and Nate Schierholtz (24)

* Catcher
Buster Posey (21)

* Catcher-corner
infielder Pablo Sandoval (22)

* Corner
infielder Angel Villalona (18)

* Second
baseman Nick Noonan (19)

 

The rest is
pitching.  And there’s lots of it.  Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez,
and Brian Wilson on the big league staff. 
Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson, Henry Sosa, Jesse English, and others
on the farm.

 

And of
course, there’s Barry Zito, who is necessarily a big-picture asset because
we’re paying him $18.5 million next year, $18.5 million in 2010, $18.5 million
in 2011, $19 million in 2012, $20 million in 2013, and $7 million to dump him
from the payroll in 2014 (though if he somehow finds a way to earn 200 innings
of work in 2013 [or 400 in 2012-13, or 600 in 2011-13], his $18 million
contract for 2014 vests, too).  And he’s
got a full no-trade clause, though that’s sort of irrelevant because he might
be baseball’s most untradeable player right now.

 

If Sabean
wants to make a splash this winter – or let’s be honest: if a replacement comes
in and wants to immediately place his stamp on this thing – there’s one obvious
way to do this: Trade pitching to rework the look of this lineup, because
waiting on Posey, Villalona, and Noonan isn’t all that inviting.  Keep Lincecum, of course, but everyone else
is fair game.

 

Figuring
out who wants to get in on this will be easy. 
There’s no team out there who would turn down a chance to improve its
rotation.  I’m not dealing with the
Diamondbacks or Dodgers, despite their strength in young hitters, because I’m
not into the idea of facing Cain or Sanchez that many times every year while
trying to chase their teams. 

 

Can we get Atlanta to put Jason
Heyward in a package?  The Mets: Fernando
Martinez (after they emptied the farm for Johan Santana)?  St.
Louis: Colby Rasmus? 
Pittsburgh:
Andrew McCutchen?

 

Just as the
Twins were probably happy to get Santana out of the AL altogether, all things equal it would be
a good thing, if we’re going to move Cain in particular, to send him to the
other league. 

 

Looking at
the deepest systems in the AL, I’m ruling Oakland out, because
having Cain develop into a 20-game winner across the Bay as that team grows
around him would put him above the fold in the
Chronicle every
time he pitches, and that’s not happening. 

 

Tampa Bay? 
The Rays would have no interest, it would seem, in trading offense for
another starter when they have Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Edwin
Jackson, David Price, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jake
McGee on hand.  Frankly, Tampa Bay
might actually be our competition if we were to put Cain on the market, as any
team interested in our guy might have a chance to get with the Rays on one of
theirs, too.

 

The Red Sox
and Yankees will be interested, of course, and we need to get them involved, if
for no other reason to raise the stakes. 
But it’s doubtful Boston
would move Lars Anderson or Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jed Lowrie has probably made
himself virtually untouchable.  Bet we
could get New York
to part with Austin Jackson, but he alone isn’t going to remake our lineup, and
the Yankees’ strength on the farm is also in pitching.  Jesus Montero is a possibility, but where is
he going to fit if we have Posey behind the plate and Sandoval or Villalona at
first?  Does Robinson Cano fit,
considering he’s under contract for $27 million over the next three years (or
$54 million over the next five if his two club options are picked up)? 

 

Sure do
like the Rangers’ farm system.  They have
impact talent everywhere on the field. 
And let’s be honest: If Cain were to go star in Texas,
that’s more palatable from a P.R. standpoint here than if he were doing it in
the National League, or in Oakland, or on
national TV every week in New York or Boston.

 

First, remember
that Henry Schulman reported in the
Chronicle just before the trade deadline that
Texas covets
Sanchez and might have been dangling Hank Blalock in a possible deal for him in
July before Blalock had a physical setback. 
(And some blogger named Newberg wrote: “I have an unnatural partiality
to Sanchez, just like I always have for Oliver Perez” – maybe if the Rangers’
front office is that into Sanchez themselves, we can take advantage of that and
work talks on the 25-year-old, keeping the 23-year-old Cain off the table for
another deal.)

 

I’ll offer
Sanchez (he had an awful July [0-3, 8.57] and hasn’t pitched in three weeks due
to a shoulder thing, but he’s slated to start today) and ask for Chris Davis
and Elvis Andrus, and the Rangers will say no. 
They’ll probably try to turn the discussion to Cain and refuse to offer
Davis or Andrus, and we’ll say no.  And
that all assumes, of course, that this type of discussion didn’t already take
place more than a month ago, which is silly. 
Surely there’s already been plenty of groundwork laid.

 

Cain,
incidentally, is owed just $6.9 million over the next two years combined, has a
$6.25 million club option in 2011 (which could vest based on innings pitched or
games started or Cy Young finish, and which could also increase to as much as
$8.15 million based on the first two categories), and he’ll then have free
agency rights.  He’s a huge bargain and,
though he’s a lifetime 30-40 pitcher (a third of his starts have been
no-decisions even though he gets into the seventh inning on average), he’s
undoubtedly a potential number one.

 

But the
righthander’s also leading the major leagues in pitches thrown this year.  Not sure that that’s as much of a red flag as
Lincecum’s delivery, but it’s something to consider given his age.

 

As for
Sanchez, the lefthander has one more pre-arbitration season and then three more
years before he can be a free agent. 
He’s just 12-15, 4.92 in his career (8-9, 4.53 in 24 starts this year),
but he has as much upside as any young pitcher that the Rangers have gotten to
the big leagues this season, and he’s inexpensive.

 

Let’s look
at the young players worth targeting, but first, here’s a thought: Blalock
really looks out of rhythm right now, but maybe if he finds his stroke this
month we take a chance on him in the deal. 
We liked him at mid-season.  His
$6.2 million option for 2009 isn’t a payroll crusher, at he’ll still only be 27
when this season ends.  Rich Aurilia
comes off the books in a month, and there’s no sense in going forward with the
37-year-old at first base.  If Blalock
settles in here, maybe he can give this roster a solid veteran bat, hold things
down until Villalona arrives, and, if things go badly for the Giants in 2009,
his contract could be flippable at the deadline.  But first, he’s got to show something in
September.  He’s not in sync right now.

 

OK, I want
a shortstop and I want a center fielder, and that means I want Andrus and I
want Julio Borbon.  I want another
outfield bat that I can put in the lineup right away, and David Murphy is my
guy.  I’m certainly going to get a young
pitcher in the deal, even if it’s not my number one priority, and I’m asking
for Eric Hurley or Matt Harrison.

 

So that’s
my proposal to Texas:
Jonathan Sanchez for Andrus, Borbon, Murphy, and Hurley or Harrison.

 

The Rangers
will tell me that they won’t give that package up for Cain, let alone Sanchez.

 

Maybe they
counter with something like Joaquin Arias (impressive offensively since Ian
Kinsler got hurt, though I have my doubts as to whether his arm will ever play
at shortstop again) or Marcus Lemon, Marlon Byrd, and a couple local products,
Zach Phillips and Wes Littleton.

 

And we’ll
say no. 

 

We’ll
haggle over the shortstop, settle on Byrd (who has two arbitration years left)
rather than Borbon as a center field option, agree to make Blalock part of the
deal rather than Murphy, and we’ll grapple over what pitching we get back.

 

Maybe the
talks boil down to Hurley, Lemon, Byrd, and Blalock, which Texas offers for
Cain, to which we say absolutely not – but we’d do it for Sanchez.  The Rangers may “covet” Sanchez, but they
aren’t going to go that far.

 

So to do a
Cain deal, we need more back.

 

To do a
Sanchez deal, we need to improve our offer.

 

So then we
tell the Rangers that, to move Cain, they need to add Omar Poveda, whose
pedestrian-looking 4-4, 4.57 season belies the fact that, at age 20, he’s gone
3-1, 2.38 (30 hits and 18 walks in 41.2 innings, 44 strikeouts) in his last
seven starts in the hitter-friendly California League. 

 

And as far
as Sanchez is concerned, we don’t insist on Poveda and we reluctantly agree to
put 25-year-old righthander Sergio Romo in the deal.  The reliever has given up 13 runs (eight
earned: 3.43 ERA) on 14 hits and four walks in 21 big league innings, fanning
22.  In four minor league seasons, he’s
struck out 10 hitters per nine innings, with fewer hits plus walks allowed than
innings pitched.  He’s short, tends to
give up more flyballs than grounders, and has average stuff, but he gets guys
out – especially lefties, who are dealing with his changeup by hitting .107 in
the big leagues.

 

But we want
a catcher back.  Yeah, Posey is our
long-term answer, but Sandoval probably isn’t going to stay behind the plate,
Jackson Williams may never hit, and – hey – the Rangers have shown what a good
idea it is to stockpile catching prospects. 
We’ll take Manny Pina, who is so good defensively that if his bat plays
at all, he’ll be a big league backup. 
The 21-year-old is hitting .286 in Frisco and .270 for the season,
striking out just once every 10 times up.

 

We’ll also
drop Blalock from the deal.

 

So:

 

For Matt
Cain: Eric Hurley, Omar Poveda, Marcus Lemon, Marlon Byrd, and – if he shows
something in September – Hank Blalock. 
And ultimately, we probably hold out for Andrus instead of Lemon, and
might insist on Engel Beltre rather than Byrd.

 

For
Jonathan Sanchez and Sergio Romo: Eric Hurley, Marcus Lemon, Manny Pina, and
Marlon Byrd.

 

Quickly,
before I get out of here to settle in for Sanchez’s return to the mound this
afternoon, I know Giants fans probably haven’t had the pleasure of listening much
to the late Mark Holtz or current Rangers radio play-by-play man Eric Nadel,
but they are both candidates once again for the 2009 Ford C. Frick Award, and
you should vote for them.  Balloting begins
today at www.baseballhalloffame.org,
and you can vote up to once per day throughout the month.

 

Also, this
may be a Giants blog, but did you see that Dale Scott call at home plate Saturday
night in the Angels game against the Rangers? 
Maybe the worst I’ve ever seen.

You can read more from
Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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