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Peavy, Susac, Escobar, and The Giants' Philosophy of Depth

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Jake Peavy, Cy Young Award winner! San Francisco Giant. We all hope he channels a little 2012 in his two-plus months with his new club. That was the last time he was both good and healthy.

He could go on a nice run, or he could give up five runs a game. (UPDATE: Here's a sabermetric look at the deal. Headline: Peavy might be a pretty good fit.) The only thing we know for sure about Peavy in a Giant uniform is he'll wear something other than 44 for the first time as a major leaguer. Practically speaking, the Giants only need him to be better than Yusmeiro Petit by a decent margin between now and the end of September.

As you also probably know by now, Matt Cain might not pitch again this year. As Grant just wrote, it might be a best-case scenario to have him back ready to rock next spring. And, somehow, if he does comes back strong this year, and everyone else in the rotation deserves to stay, it's a nice problem to have. It's called depth, which is the real subject of today's post.

Brian Sabean and the Giants have done a remarkable thing the past several years---or, you could argue, for Sabean's entire tenure. Except for the Matt Williams trade, he has never traded prime veterans to bring back depth. That's often because the Giants have been in pennant races. But even in the hopeless years of 2005-2008, Sabean didn't trade stars for prospects. There wasn't really a rebuild. Once in a while, he would pawn off a fading veteran (Ray Durham) and get back someone semi-interesting (Darren Ford). But it's some kind of organizational philosophy: Don't trade good older players.

It's actually worked for three reasons.

First, the Giants have rarely had great top-of-MLB farm systems, but they've had a great run of draft picks who built the two-World-Series-era clubs: Cain, Sandoval, Wilson (Brian, that is), Lincecum, Bumgarner, Crawford, Posey, Romo, Belt, plus the prospects who brought back in trade Sanchez (Freddy), Scutaro and Pence.

Second, they've been great dumpster divers (Torres, Vogelsong, Ross, Burrell, Blanco).

Third, they've stayed generally healthy. Lack of depth is easy to disguise when you've got health, and when Charlie Culberson nets you The Greatest Scutaro On Earth.

This year, the injuries have piled up. Some have been foreseeable, like Pagan, Scutaro and Cain (most starting pitchers should be considered injury candidates), some have not, like Belt's terrible luck with balls thrown in his general direction. The best homegrown replacement has been Joe Panik (which isn't saying much, although even with his terrible batting line -- 54 OPS+ -- people like Dave Flemming have said they've generally liked what they've seen). Before the year started, I was skeptical he'd even get a call-up.

But here he is, and why hello, here's Dan Uggla, and here's Tony Abreu, the rag-taggiest collection of second base replacements north of Fresno.

Perhaps Andrew Susac, the catcher who's hit well in the high minors the past couple years, will actually bring improvement as a replacement. He was called up today to replace Hector Sanchez. It won't take much to improve upon Sanchez's bat work, and it'll be interesting to see what happens if Susac has a nice week or two.

And now, the Giants' top-three prospect Edwin Escobar, whose year has been so bad at Triple-A he's made disbelievers out of most prospect watchers, is a Red Sock. So is Heath Hembree, whom I once expected to be at least a middle reliever (and closer-in-training) in the bigs by now. For a declining, 30-something pitcher, the Giants trade a 22-year-old starting pitcher in Triple A having his first bad full year in the pros, and a reliever who threw seven excellent innings in his first major league cup of coffee last September. Which means the Giants must have pitching depth in the minors, right?

This past off-season, the answer was an emphatic yes. But most of the big-name arms have either regressed (Escobar in particular) or treaded water (#1 prospect Kyle Crick, whose control problems one level up, in Double-A, have continued). Or worse: rising-star relief prospect Derek Law, who had an outside shot at making the big club out of spring training, had Tommy John surgery.

The Giants are as shallow an organization (depth-less?) as any time in the past eleven years that I've been blogging about them. They could still stay toe to toe with the Dodgers this year. Anything could happen.

But it doesn't look good. Belt and now Hector Sanchez are concussed, Scutaro is back on the DL, Pagan miht or might not return with vigor, Matt Cain has a bad elbow. They'll have to dig deeper into a stagnant farm system to fill more of their big-league holes---and outbid other teams with deeper systems. The win-now, veterans-over-prospects philosophy has never driven the organization into a years-long ditch (we're talking Pittsburgh/Kansas City/Cleveland ditches, which make '05-'08 look like a bunt single). I think Sabes & Co. have to be very careful this time.


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