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Ryan Vogelsong Ups His Odds

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Ryan Vogelsong's work Sunday was one of the best things that's happened for the Giants all year. It was a fascinating start. He hasn't regained all his velocity, throwing a high-80s fastball instead of 90 to 92. In fact, all his pitches have shown a noticeable drop in velocity. Just as he was ramping up in the first half of the year, as he's done the past two seasons, Vogelsong got injured, and he had to restart his year in August at spring training levels.

Does he need to get back to the low 90s with his fastball? Not necessarily. It's no guarantor of success; check how his velocity peaked down the stretch in 2012 in the midst of a terrible slump, then his sinker velo dipped ever so slightly in October, when he was masterful in four post-season starts. (Perhaps that's why he was masterful.)

Sunday's effort (highlights here) showed that he has regained the command and pitch mix that served so well in 2011 and most of 2012. Knock on wood for the rest of the season, but it feels almost certain he'll be back in 2014, which means one less hole the Giants need to fill.

The second best thing to happen to the Giants is Matt Cain's forearm contusion. First, because it apparently isn't too serious, and second, it's a forced vacation for Cain. Perhaps the 750 pitches, more or less, that he doesn't throw down the stretch this year will become the 750 pitches he needs to power through another off-season in 2014 or 2015. The soft tissues are finite. Save those bullets for when it matters again.

The Chad Gaudin injury, however, was not so fortuitous. It's less time to evaluate whether he can be a solid member of next year's rotation. It's certainly bad timing for Gaudin: another month or two of good-to-great starts, and he was poised to cash in what would probably be the best contract of his career. But the curse of the long reliever will continue to hang over his head. Perhaps he's not cut from starter cloth to hold up under the workload of a full season. GMs probably won't risk more than a guaranteed one-year deal to bring in Gaudin as a swingman this winter, or put him in the rotation with the depth to swap him back to the bullpen if needed.

Or perhaps this is the best-case scenario for the Giants, which would go something like this: they know Gaudin's injury was a fluke and are still prepared to sign him as a fifth starter next year, but the injury has scared off some or all of the competition. They come to a deal that won't look bad if, in spring training, a non-roster invitee or prospect (Surkamp? Kickham? Escobar?) dazzles to win a rotation job and knock Gaudin back to the bullpen.

With the Giants squarely among the bottom feeders now, they have extra incentive to go after free agents who are tendered qualifying offers. Glancing at the list, only AJ Burnett and Hidoki Kuroda seem obvious candidates among starting pitchers (perhaps Bronson Arroyo, too). But I have to think the Giants will be willing to shell out big bucks for one or two free agents. I'm a broken record on this, but I love Kuroda. He's in his late 30s, but his stuff remains sharp and he's thrived in the AL East the past couple years. Outbidding the Yankees, who will be desperate for rotation help next year, might be impossible. But take your best shot with a two year deal and see what happens.

If the season ended today, this would be my chart of rotation likelihood to start 2014:

100% In

95% In

In for the Right Price

In For a Reasonable One-Year Deal

Free Agents
Big Splash (especially if Lincecum doesn't return): Kuroda, Burnett
Medium Splash: Scott Feldman, Ervin Santana
If They're Healthy And/Or Rags Says He Can Fix 'Em: Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dan Haren, Wandy Rodriguez

Waiting In Fresno
Mike Kickham
Eric Surkamp
Edwin Escobar

Any names you'd add to the speculative mix? Free agent fixations? Under the radar prospects?

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