Off-Season Challenges Abound for the World Champion Giants: Part 1 – Starting Pitching

ball-in-gloveOn paper, the 2010-11 hot stove season looks warm and inviting to the San Francisco Giants front office. The starting rotation that dominated the 2010 playoffs looks to be locked up for several years, the closer is signed through 2012, and it appears the majority of the team’s outstanding bullpen will be re-signed. Key position spots already locked in for 2011 include catcher and second base.

What else was recently on paper? Well, the Atlanta Braves were favored to take the 2010 National League Division playoffs, the Phillies were locks to rampage their way through the National League Championship Series, and the Texas Rangers’ fearsome offensive (combined with the greatest pitcher in the history of human sports) was picked to totally dominate the World Series.

Other things that can be found on paper include the droppings in your parrot cage and several items related to personal hygiene. So let’s tip-toe away from all the paper and take a realistic three part look at the challenges facing the Giants ownership and front office in preparing for the 2011 season. That would involve: 1) starting pitching, 2) the bullpen, and 3) position players.

Starting pitching
Tim Lincecum– a two year contract for $23 million, 2010-11. Starting in Spring Training next year, the pressure will build big time for the Giants to re-sign Lincecum to a longer multi-year deal. If they do not, he will be the biggest free agent in the 2011 post-season market.

Matt Cain– a three year deal for $27.25 million, 2010-12. As a result of his incredible playoff performance Cain entered the top tier of National League pitchers: 3 starts, 2-0, 13 hits in 21.1 innings, 7 walks, 13 strike-outs, 0 earned runs/1 unearned run, a .94 WHIP. Cain’s recent performance, and his delivery and body type, make him a prime candidate to have his contract extended before the 2012 season.

Jonathan Sanchez– signed to a one year $2.1 million contract for 2010, arbitration-eligible. Look for the Giants to avoid even the hint of an arbitration hearing with Sanchez; he will sign a multi-year contract in the $4-5 million range as soon as the team can get it done.

Barry Zito– 3 years left on a 7 year, $126 million contract. Hard to believe Zito would want to stay with the Giants after being left off the 2010 post season rosters, but all parties know San Francisco would have to prepare, bake, and consume the majority of Zito’s remaining contract to move him. While the team could do a lot worse in a #5 starter (see Wellemeyer, Todd), it remains to be seen if it becomes a team chemistry issue. I personally hope Barry Zito stays and continues to contribute to this team.

Madison Bumgarner– made the MLB minimum of $400,000 after being called up from Triple A Fresno in June. Received a $2 million signing bonus after being drafted by the Giants in 2007. This is a magic moment for the Giants front office; Bumgarner should be signed to a two year deal in the $2+ million range to start the long term lock-up process. The lefty starter is good enough to have the potential to be the #1 or #2 starter on a large number of MLB teams.

Other options– Zack Wheeler, the #1 pick in the 2009 draft, had injury problems at Single A Augusta, going 3-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 58.2 innings. Doing much better at Augusta this year was Jorge Bucardo: 9-4, 2.21 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 95 strike-outs in 114 innings pitched. At AA Richmond, Clayton Tanner went 9-9 with a 3.68 ERA, and David Mixon was 11-7 with 112 SOs in 156.2 innings and a 1.19 WHIP. At Triple A Fresno, Henry Sosa did some starting and relieving, going 7-8, 4.07 ERA, and Eric Hacker was 16-8 with a 4.51 ERA.

So the minor leagues do not look like they will produce a viable starter in the next year or two. The Giants have discussed converting lefty reliever Dan Runzler (3-0, 3.02 ERA, 37 strike-outs in 32.2 innings) to a starting role, but this could just be positioning prior to contract talks with Jonathan Sanchez.

The San Francisco Giants’ starting pitching looks dazzling, and once Sanchez is locked up this staff should be play-off bound in 2011.

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