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The Rule Of Thirds: Where The Giants Go From Here

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Before the Giants' weekend series in St. Louis, exactly 33 percent of the 2013 regular baseball season was done, finito, over, kaputski. And as every good baseball clichémonger knows, a team spends the first third of the season figuring out what it has; the second third making the necessary adjustments; and the final third sprinting to the finish, or scheduling tee times.

The formula has shifted a bit in recent years as more and more waiver-related deals are happening in August, but generally speaking, we're officially entering the "Who's Gonna Trade for Cliff Lee This Time?" phase of the schedule. 

So. Giants. They're in this thing, man. They've just gone through the worst stretch of starting pitching and defense seen by humanity since, well, pick any random stretch of Colorado Rockies baseball from 2012 -- and the Giants are still very much in this thing, if by "thing" we acknowledge that a 97-win team from the NL Central is likely to be the wild card. They might not be in anything in a few weeks, however, if their road work continues to suck and Tim Lincecum continues to sneeze his Lincecumosis pneumonia into Matt Cain's Gatorade cup and hitters continue to miss 40 games in a row without ever hitting the disabled list; but let's assume everyone in the NL West continues to tread divisional water. What adjustments would be in the offing to make a play for the brass ring?

I'm guessing not many. The way the team is constructed, and with the parlous state of the farm, the Giants will mainly dance with what brung 'em this year. The rotation is obviously Topic A. We can only hope Cain rights himself. I don't think we can hold the same hope for  Lincecum. Before Ryan Vogelsong's injury, I was advocating a swap of Chad Gaudin and Lincecum. Now Gaudin is plugging Vogelsong's spot in the rotation, and if he does it ably again and again, I can't see the Giants in any hurry to bring Mike Kickham back.

Can Gaudin do the rest of the year what he did Sunday in St. Louis? I have no idea. You don't either. Neither does Bruce Bochy or Dave Righetti or Brian Sabean. But I'll bet they're not counting on it. Another starting pitcher sure seems like a good idea, doesn't it?

Which, of course, brings us to Cliff Lee. Let's get this out of the way. He's got no-trade protection to 21 clubs per season, according to Cot's Contracts. Who knows if the Giants would be one. Pitcher's park, yes, but shitty weather. And if he's a redneck, there's a certain, um, cultural factor. That's not idle speculation. Jeremy Affeldt has admitted to being bigoted about San Francisco earlier in his career; no doubt others haven't broken through. This isn't to disparage Lee, I have no idea what's in his mind. I'm just saying, by way of hot-button hypothetical situation, don't assume he'll want to come here if the Giants try to trade for him.

And would they even try? If he becomes available, practically every other contending team would have better prospect packages to offer Philly. The Giants could offer a lot of salary relief, but here's what Lee is due, per Cot's:

2013:$25M, 2014:$25M, 2015:$25M, 2016:$27.5M club option ($12.5M buyout)

No thanks. Here's what I think will happen. Unless they can find a starter who is clearly better than their internal options and won't cost them prospects (good luck!), the Giants will keep mixing and matching from within -- more Gaudin, another go for Kickham, a debut for Chris Heston, and so on -- and hope Vogelsong can return in top form for the stretch run.

Meanwhile, they'll trade for a backup infielder, perhaps even someone accustomed to starting with a little right-handed pop. This, because the Scutaro/Sandoval health axis could continue to wobble, and Nick Noonan left his line drives up the middle in his pocket a few weeks ago; now they're all stuck in the lint screen of a clubhouse dryer in Toronto or Colorado.

If Heath Hembree is deemed unready for promotion and Santiago Casilla's return is either delayed or disappointing, a fresh bullpenner could be acquired. It might even be Brian Wilson, though one of the beat writers wrote the equivalent of "not bloody likely" in the past few days. (Sorry Hank/Baggs/Pavs, if you wrote it -- I can't find the reference at the moment.)

If the left-field platoon falters, a bigger hitter could come in a trade, but that's a long shot. Someone like Josh Willingham, making good money in a multi-year contract with a losing team, might be available, but I'm guessing the Giants won't be excited to give up prospects for a guy whose outfield defense gives back a chunk of his offensive value. Dingers, lots of walks, and strikeouts. It would bring us back to the days of Pat Burrell, without the panties flung onto the warning track. Still, if the Twins were willing to part with Willingham mainly for salary relief, it would give the Giants a power bat for this year and next -- good insurance in case the eight-year, $140 million Hunter Pence extension doesn't work out.

The prime directive this summer is to not raid the farm system. The Zach Wheeler trade didn't work out but was permissible at the time: One very good pitching prospect for the best hitter available. Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin and Nate Schierholtz for Hunter Pence didn't work out if you look only at Pence's stats with the Giants last year, but sorry, I got distracted by those crazy eyes, the sunflower seeds flying through the air, that flag whipping in the breeze and all those diamonds.

This year, though, no more. Package a couple middling prospects, OK, but no one from the top 5 or 10. Dangle money instead. This is the deal fans have made with the team: We, fans, buy the stupid merch and the $10 beer and watch the Comcastics to drive up ad rates, and you, team, use that extra cash to give teams salary relief instead of legitimate prospects in mid-season trades.

If the cash-back approach doesn't help, and chipping away around the edges of the roster doesn't work, and the current internal options don't work, so be it. It wouldn't be the worst thing for the Giants to be sellers at the trade deadline -- now there's a topic for a future post, eh? -- and regroup for 2014.


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