Giant change of fortune for champs
They played 15 postseason games in 2010 and 16 in 2012. They sent nine players to the World Baseball Classic last spring, and six of them later suffered injuries. No one should be surprised that for the San Francisco Giants, the bill finally is coming due.
Still, it’s difficult to believe that the defending World Series champions are in last place in the NL West, 12 games under .500, 10 games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The math, as general manager Brian Sabean told San Francisco radio station KNBR last week, is “horrific,” and only getting worse.
So Sabean, according to major-league sources, now will do something that he has done very rarely since becoming the team’s GM since 1997 — entertain trade offers for veteran players at the non-waiver deadline.
Ideally, the Giants would like to keep three of their potential free agents — right fielder Hunter Pence, right-hander Tim Lincecum and left-handed reliever Javier Lopez. But at this point, club officials feel they must listen to any reasonable proposal, sources say.
Lopez, holding left-handed hitters to a .172 batting average and .466 OPS, probably is the most likely to go. He could appeal to Cleveland, Atlanta and a number of other clubs looking for lefty specialists.
Lincecum, who has struck out 10 or more in three of his past four starts, including a no-hitter, would be a more complicated transaction. He is highly popular in San Francisco and owed nearly $8 million of his $22 million salary.
Then there is Pence, who in some ways is the trickiest call of all. The Giants already need to find a left fielder for 2014, and center fielder Angel Pagan will be coming off surgery to repair a torn left hamstring. A void in right only would create additional problems.
The Giants acquired Pence from the Philadelphia Phillies at last year’s deadline for outfielder Nate Schierholtz, Double-A catcher Tommy Joseph and Single-A pitcher Seth Rosin. A good move it was, too, helping the team win its second World Series in three years.
If the Giants traded Pence, the value of the return would need to exceed a draft pick between the first and second rounds, the compensation they would receive if they made him a qualifying offer and he departed as a free agent.
The Giants should easily top that in a nearly barren offensive market, and they also might get a strong return if they suddenly make Lincecum available. The problem is, once a team trades a potential free agent, the chances of re-signing that player generally diminish.
In any case, the Giants need to consider all options.
As always, they entered the season operating with little margin for error. Then came the injuries. The crumbling of the rotation, which ranks 13th in the National League in ERA. The disintegration of the defense, which leads the NL in errors.
The bill finally has come due. Difficult decisions await.
ORIOLES: POISED FOR BIG MOVE?
It’s difficult to say for certain what the Orioles are trying to accomplish in the trade market, but one thing seems clear: Even after adding right-handed starter Scott Feldman and reliever Francisco Rodriguez, they want to do something big.
The Orioles’ targets, according to major-league sources, include Chicago White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Michael Young.
Will the Orioles get all of those players? Of course not. There is a decent chance they might not get any of them.
Owner Peter Angelos has been a stickler in the past on medical issues, and Peavy, 32, has a long history of injuries, including major shoulder surgery in 2010.
Morneau, 32, is a left-handed hitter with approximately $5 million left on his contract; the Orioles would prefer a right-handed bat at a lesser cost.
Young, 36, is a right-handed hitter, but has a full no-trade clause, and might prefer to return to the Rangers or join another club.
In any case, the Orioles’ aggression is notable. Sources say the team is even willing to move one of its top prospects, right-hander Dylan Bundy, for the right return.
Bundy, 20, underwent Tommy John surgery last month, but the success rate of pitchers recovering from the operation is quite good. The Chicago Cubs acquired right-hander Arodys Vizcaino from the Atlanta Braves last season just four months after he had the surgery. Vizcaino, 22, was the centerpiece of the package that the Cubs acquired for left-hander Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson.
What follows is speculation:
The Orioles wouldn’t trade Bundy straight-up for say, a year-plus of Peavy, but they might include him as part of a larger package in which they could get another player, perhaps second baseman Gordon Beckham, in return.
ANGELS OPEN FOR BUSINESS
So much for the Angels’ plans of winning the 2013 World Series behind right fielder Josh Hamilton and first baseman Albert Pujols. Hamilton is batting .220 with a .680 OPS, and Pujols could miss the rest of the season with a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot.
So, instead of planning a parade, the Angels are planning to sell, as first reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
Second baseman Howie Kendrick, shortstop Erick Aybar and left-handed reliever Scott Downs are among the available Angels, according to major-league sources.
The Angels have few options to replace Kendrick or Aybar after sending shortstop Jean Segura to Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke last July. But the idea, sources said, would be for one of the two to bring back a starting pitcher under multi-year control.
“It is the cost of starting pitching,” said one source who is familiar with the club’s thinking. “Some teams want major-league players now.”
The St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics are among the teams with the deepest reserves of young starting pitching.
The Cardinals would seem a good fit for Aybar, and the Kansas City Royals would make sense for Kendrick. But with both players signed long-term at reasonable salaries — Aybar through 2016, Kendrick through ’15 — the Angels would want heavy returns.
The Royals, by the way, are adjusting their trade strategy after winning six straight games to get back to .500. They are now unlikely to trade right-hander Ervin Santana; their thinking now is that they will do whatever is necessary to stay competitive, a source said.
Trading Santana obviously would weaken the club, but the Royals actually would be in decent position to replace him. Lefty Will Smith is at Triple A, and left-hander Danny Duffy and right-hander Felipe Paulino are close to returning from their respective Tommy John surgeries. Even more encouraging, the team’s two top pitching prospects, righties Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer, are progressing in the minors.
BASEBALL’S POWDER KEG: THE NL EAST
What a week of tension in the NL East.
Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard ripped the team’s handling of fellow reliever Drew Storen.
Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon told MLB.com that the team needs to make changes from “top to bottom.”
And Marlins hitting coach Tino Martinez resigned after players complained that he verbally abused them and Martinez acknowledged grabbing one player in anger.
The Martinez incident appears isolated, unrelated to the team’s play. But the Nationals and Phillies appear to be cracking due to their respective failures to meet expectations.
The managers of both teams are unlikely to return next season. And while both the Nationals’ Davey Johnson and Phillies’ Charlie Manuel are highly accomplished, a change might do each of their teams good.
Johnson, 70, lacks the energy that he had last season and seemed particularly deflated by general manager Mike Rizzo’s recent firing of hitting coach Rick Eckstein, sources said.
Manuel, 69, is in his ninth season with the Phillies, and the club simply might benefit from a new voice. Papelbon said in spring training that the Phils lacked leadership, and the team’s clubhouse is less unified than in the past, sources said.
AND ABOUT THE DIVISION LEADER …
The Braves are not without concerns, even after sweeping the Cardinals over the weekend to increase their lead to 8½ games in the NL East.
The loss of right-hander Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury is bad enough. But the Braves also are without two of their top pitching prospects, right-hander J.R. Graham and lefty Sean Gilmartin, both of whom have shoulder injuries. Their respective absences limited both the Braves’ options at the major-league level and the team’s ability to make trades.
Still, the Braves’ bullpen remains an absolute force, leading the NL in ERA despite season-ending injuries to two premier lefties, Jonny Venters and Erik O’Flaherty. The team is getting terrific work against left-handed hitters from lefty Luis Avilan and two righties, Jordan Walden and Anthony Varvaro.
Walden has re-emerged as an elite setup man after arriving from the Angels in an offseason trade for righty Tommy Hanson, who has a 5.15 ERA. Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said Walden is the only pitcher he has seen who makes the New York Mets’ David Wright look off-balance while hitting.
Usually, Uggla said, Wright is on everything.
AROUND THE HORN
*Right-hander Joe Kelly is one reason the Cardinals might not trade for a starter. Kelly has a 2.31 ERA in four starts this season, and his arm should be relatively fresh — he has pitched only 55 innings.
A year ago, he worked 187 innings, including the minors, majors and postseason. He’s 25 years old, he throws 95 mph, and he has the pedigree of a former third-round pick. Who’s to say that he won’t prove a solution the rest of the way?
*Braves third baseman Chris Johnson is batting .338 with an .844 OPS, but there’s a caveat to his success: he leads the majors with a .421 batting average on balls in play, well above the league average of .296.
Johnson’s high BABIP indicates that he is likely to regress at some point, but there also is this: He entered Sunday with the third highest line-drive percentage in the majors, behind only James Loney and Joe Mauer.
*The Nationals look like they need a starter — righty Taylor Jordan eventually will hit his innings limit and lefty Ross Detwiler is not coming back from his lower back strain anytime soon.
But, like most clubs, the Nats are less than impressed with the available talent on the market. They could continue going with righties Dan Haren and Ross Ohlendorf and turn to righty Nate Karns, if necessary. They do not want to part with any of their high-end young pitching — righty A.J. Cole and lefties Robbie Ray and Sammy Solis.