Sports blogs the way they were meant to be

Sign In

Tanaka Or Not Tanaka, The Giants Still Have A Prospect Problem

Vote 0 Votes
Catching up over the holidays, I listened to the Baseball America podcast about NL West top prospects, and it made me want to revisit my mid-December "Happy Tanaka" post.

I'll explain, but first to refresh your memory, I argued that signing Masahiro Tanaka, which I acknowledge is extremely improbable, would free the Giants to trade another starting pitcher and fill major holes in their prospect pipeline. The biggest return would come from trading Madison Bumgarner, which is painful even as a theoretical exercise, but again, I invite you to imagine the return. (As a conversation starter, I conjured up Kolten Wong, Oscar Tavares, and more from St. Louis; yes, I understand St. Louis doesn't need a young starting pitcher and wouldn't do this deal. It was just my way of setting the bar, rightly or wrongly, for a certain level of young talent.)

My point wasn't that Giants need to trade Madison Bumgarner; it was to show how their lack of position prospects in the upper minors soon could be a big problem, and to propose one potential remedy.

So, back to the podcast: The conversation between the two Baseball America staffers was structured as a draft. They excluded each NL West team's top prospect, then went back and forth, picking seven or eight players each. Perhaps they went to nine or ten. Here's the bad news: Of the 15 to 20 players chosen between the two guys, the only Giant prospect was Edwin Escobar. And he was practically an afterthought, in what seemed like a last-minute concession of pity that, hey, we should probably take at least one from the Giants. Kyle Crick would have gone earlier, of course, but even then, the BA guys acknowledged that other teams' #2 or #3 prospects might be more enticing than Crick.

BA's not the ne plus ultra of prospect evaluation. John Sickels was fairly high on the Giants' system recently. But BA's exercise was depressing. I think it's clear that the chances of the farm system helping the big club soon are slim. Heath Hembree should be a bullpen contributor this year, and Escobar is a candidate for emergency rotation help. Some say the under-the-radar Derek Law could be in the big-league bullpen this year, too. That's about it. The young pitchers in A ball (and Escobar, who finished 2013 in AA) could help in 2015 or 2016, but the laws of nature and soft-tissue health will work against the chances of more than a couple of those guys ever having an impact.

Without the strong top end of the farm system, depth becomes a big problem, just like last year. You thought Angel Pagan's absence was a killer, imagine if Hunter Pence goes down for any length of time. (On the pitching side, Eric Surkamp's banishment hurts near-term rotation depth; Grant summed it up well last week.)

Is the positional depth problem worth making a bold move to fix? If the bold move can be an obvious win for the Giants, I say yes. And a win doesn't mean getting Mike Trout plus prospects, as someone suggested in the previous post's comments. Let's make a clear-eyed assessment of Madison Bumgarner: He's a staff ace, he's a potential Cy Young winner if he maintains his stuff while improving his command. He's got an insanely affordable contract. He's manly and dry-witted and adorable. But he's not as valuable as Trout, who is two years younger and in a slightly alternate universe has already won two MVPs.  

If you don't want to trade Bumgarner, fine. At least do this exercise: By 2015, or even earlier, the Giants will need good position players to step into significant roles in one outfield spot, and perhaps second and third base. Those players almost assuredly won't come from their current high minors. The Giants also have some of the game's highest payroll obligations in the next few years, so they're unlikely to keep piling on expensive contracts. Their strength in trade chips is the young pitching, but Crick is the only blue-chipper, and far enough away that he wouldn't return top positional major-league ready talent, as the BA podcast made clear.

Put on your Sabes shades, flip open your RAZR phone, and figure it out. On your marks, get set, go.

blog comments powered by Disqus



Header photo courtesy of Flickr user eviltomthai under a Creative Commons license.