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The Looming Inevitability of Free Agency

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The Giants are highly unlikely to win another World Series this year. That's not me talking, that's statistics and probability. The grilled salmon and avocado tacos I had for lunch are also talking, but never you mind.

Whatever the eventual outcome, the season has been scrumptious so far, with the Dodgers' implosion like an extra gob of seared pork belly adorning the banana-leaf-wrapped sticky rice of the three-way-tie for first in the NL West.

But I admit I've been thinking longer term this year. Whatever October has in store, the Giants will also have holes to fill this winter: two in the rotation and one, maybe two in the outfield, is my guess, and that's assuming there aren't major injury complications. (I'm also assuming Ryan Vogelsong comes back from his broken hand and pitches well enough for the team to pick up his super-reasonable $6.5 M option.)

To fill holes in 2014, the homegrown guys might not cut it. Gary Brown is utterly lost in Fresno. Roger Kieschnick and Francisco Peguero have some skills and nice AAA numbers, but neither seems a good bet to be a league-average starter next year. Raise your hand if you want an Opening Day 2014 outfield of Kieschnick, Angel Pagan, and Frankie Pegs.

Moundwise, we're likely to see one of the AAA pitching prospects get a big-league tryout while Vogelsong is on the shelf, but both Mike Kickham and Chris Heston would have to make big, fast leaps to become solid replacements for Lincecum and Zito in April 2014. (Wild card: Eric Surkamp, still recovering from Tommy John surgery.)

So what to do? One trick is to fill a few holes by creating one, like the Padres did with Mat Latos. Out went Latos, in came four ready or near-ready major leaguers: Edinson Volquez (warm body for the rotation), Yasmani Grandal (catcher), Yonder Alonso (first base) and Brad Boxberger (bullpen). The Giant equivalent would be a trade of Madison Bumgarner, and yeah, just shut your pie-hole right now. Besides, rebuilding is not in Brian Sabean's vocabulary. It's not even in the Indo-Sabeanic language family. It's as if he were from a nomadic tribe that forever wandered the inner Sahara in circles, and "rebuilding" was a way to describe a tsunami. It's a giant wave, Brian, that rises out of the ocean... You know, uh, the ocean? Big salty water?

The biggest veteran-for-prospect swap of the past five years has been Bengie Molina to Texas in 2010, and only because Buster Posey made him expendable. Also: Ray Durham for Darren Ford. Bold!

Trade from the farm? I don't think the Giants either are willing to give up their top pitching talent, all still at High-A or Low-A, or can actually procure solid major-league talent in return for anyone else. Don't expect another Charlie Culberson-for-Marco Scutaro laugher again.

That leaves free agency. There's occasional gold among the riverbed flakes of pyrite, and the Giants are as good as any team at finding it: Vogelsong, Gregor Blanco, Santiago Casilla, Pat Burrell. So far this year Chad Gaudin is making a case for himself, too. But if indeed Zito, Lincecum and Pence all walk this winter, and the left-field pop-gun platoon has worn itself thin, the Giants aren't going to leave all that uncertainty open to fulfillment by serendipity, plucky overachieving youth, and creative tradecraft.

There's going to be some free-agent muscle flexing, and that, as we all know, is not the Giant front office's strong suit. They know it, and have largely stayed out of it the past few years until this past winter's flurry of getting-the-band-back-together. Until the resigning of Affeldt, Casilla, Pagan and Scutaro, all to contracts of three years or more, you have to go back to December 2007 to find a player signing a fresh contract longer than two years with the Giants. I don't think they'll be able to resist this winter. There will be cash to spend. There will be holes to fill. There will be Scott Podsednik jokes and AJ Burnett rumors and could-Rags-fix-Ubaldo-Jimenez ruminations, and, let's hope, more than one sly Matt Morris reference, and... say, did you know Burnett is leading the National League in strikeouts?



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