<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Normal 0 0 1 1245 7097 59 14 8715 11.1539 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> 0 0 0 </xml><![endif]-->
I've been waiting -- apparently in vain -- to hear rumors that the Giants will make a run at Angels' 1B (& occasional OF) Mark Trumbo. Trumbo would fill the Giants' most glaring immediate need: more offense. Trumbo is a right-handed power hitter with a whole lot of upside. After the Angels' acquired Pujols, Trumbo no longer has a natural position in the Angels' starting lineup, and if the Giants can offer a package of players that would fill a more immediate need for the Angels, all things being equal, the Angels ought to be willing to deal.
I concede that one of the Giants' most significant needs is for a SS, but it appears unlikely that the FO will make a move for one -- and even if they were inclined to do so, I'm not sure there are many trades that make sense at the SS position. However, given the fact that Trumbo can play 1B, LF or RF (the latter two positions admittedly not as well), and given the Angels' need of left-hand pitching (both SPs & experienced RPs) -- I suspect that a deal could be put together that would send either Jeremy Affeldt or Javier Lopez to the Angels, probably along with one or two prospects (Joe Panik, Francisco Paguero, basically anyone not named Gary Brown) in exchange for Trumbo.
The Giants would benefit from the addition of a young, high-upside offensive talent, while the Angels would benefit from the addition of a seasoned LH reliever (& one or two good prospects who project to play at the ML level, but are unlikely to become stars). The move also makes sense for the Angels because of the bottleneck created at 1B by the Pujols acquisition, which makes Trumbo an expendable asset (albeit a valuable one), if trading Trumbo would fill a more immediate need for the Angels.
The move makes sense for the Giants because, while both lefty relievers are excellent, the fact remains: both are lefty specialists (I believe the term is "loogy"). So while it's a nice luxury to have Affeldt & Lopez, we don't absolutely need both (particularly when this leaves the team weaker in an area where the team has genuine need). So trading Affeldt or Lopez to fill the more pressing need (offense) appears to me to be the logical move.
Whichever lefty is traded can be replaced in the bullpen by some combination of Dan Runzler, Barry Zito (who we all know won't be the 5th starter -- and since Zito can't be demoted to the minors, reality is what it is, he will remain on the roster, where he might be a decent lefty middle reliever, and maybe better than decent -- who knows what the role-change might do for Zito's psyche).
As for which reliever the Giants should prefer to part with, arguments can be made for & against Affeldt and Lopez. Affeldt has a hotter FB, and can close if Wilson goes down (obvious value). But since Affeldt is only under team control for the 2012 season (and should be more expensive to retain thereafter), this weighs in favor of trading Affeldt.
On the other hand, Lopez has been consistently outstanding against lefty hitters ever since the Giants acquired him in 2010. However, Lopez's FB velocity is, on average, about 5mph slower than Affeldt's, which partly explains why Affeldt is the better option at closer (if Wilson goes down, heaven forbid). [Lopez's average FB velocity in 2011 was 87.9; whereas Affeldt's average FB velocity was 93.1. As an odd side-note, in 2011 Affeldt threw his 2-seam FB at slightly higher (avg) velocity than his 4-seamer: 92.8 vs 93.2 (which I mention only because it strikes me as counterintuitive).] And while Lopez is consistently excellent against lefty hitters (presumably because of his deceptive delivery, above average control, and effective use of changes of speed), the same cannot be said of Lopez's efficacy against righty hitter. Against righty hitters Lopez is average at best (I suspect the reason for this is two-fold: 1) Lopez's relatively slow FB velocity, and 2) the fact that righty hitters have a far better view of Lopez's delivery, which likely negates the advantage of his deceptive delivery when viewed from the left-side batter's box). As a result, Lopez is not a viable option to close if Wilson goes down. One final relevant factor to weigh is the value of Lopez being under team control for two more years (vice one year for Affeldt), at a semi-reasonable rate (though not much cheaper than Affeldt). So projections regarding the number of availably lefty relievers after the 2012 & 2013 seasons (& their likely cost) would be relevant considerations in judging whether there is a major cost down-side to trading Lopez over the Affeldt.
Lacking projections regarding availability & cost of lefty relievers after 2012 -- and based solely on Affeldt's versatility & ability to close if Wilson goes down again -- I'd view Affeldt as the lefty the Giants should retain. And based on the fact that Lopez is under team control for two years (vice one), my gut tells me this would make Lopez slightly more attractive as trade-bait from the perspective of the Angels (and thus more likely to prompt the Angels to move Trumbo, assuming we can add one or two acceptable prospects to the deal -- and they'd need to be acceptable to the Giants just as much as the Angels, so obviously, Gary Brown should be off limits).
Looking back, I believe the Giants made a strategic error when they tied up a significant part of their remaining budget on two lefty relievers who fill similar needs, but who do nothing to fill the team's the most pressing need, which is obviously a quality middle of the order bat. With limited dollars to spend, the Giants should have opted to sign only Affeldt or Lopez, and then use the funds left over to bring in another bat. However, I don't view this mistake as irreversible because Affeldt & Lopez both represent valuable trade chips (particularly considering the paucity of quality lefty relievers available). As such, trading one or the other for a middle of the order bat should be feasible -- both in practical terms (i.e., other teams have need), and in financial terms (because trading Lopez would free up $4.25M in salary for each of 2012 & 2013; or if Affeldt is the one traded, his loss would free up $5M in salary for 2012). This is money that could be used in any number of ways, including: as part of the structure of a Trumbo deal; to make a run at one of the few available FA shortstops; improving the bench -- or heck, it could even be set aside and used to help extend Lincecum & Cain. But as things stand today, the Giants have better relief pitching than they arguably need, and they have significantly less offensive talent than they will need to contend. My parting thought deserves more than one sentence (and could be a post all by itself), but Giants ownership & the FO need to reflect seriously on whether they will be able to successfully extend Lincecum & Cain -- which is their stated goal, and why no further money is available for bats -- if they neglect to improve the Giants' offense to the level needed to make Lincecum & Cain actually WANT to sign extensions. As the lineup stands today, I am highly dubious that both can be extended. The Giants haven't yet given Lincecum of Cain sufficient reason to opt out of testing free agency, where both stand to make far -- FAR -- more than the Giants are likely to offer by way of extension. Right now -- here, today -- if I were either of them, I simply would not extend with the Giants because the Giants haven't yet shown a commitment to winning. Plain & simple. If I was
Cain, I'd play out my final year under contract and let the Giants compete with all the other teams for my FA talent. And if I was Lincecum, I'd extend only for the remainder of the team's control (the last two years of arbitration), and then I'd follow Cain toward the great, green pastures of free agency, where the big market teams shower premier pitchers with money, and where those same teams also support their pitchers with top-shelf batting orders. The Giants need to give these guys a reason to stay. Money alone won't do it -- and besides, it seems rather apparent that the Giants won't compete financially with the big guys -- so even in the money department, the Giants are second tier at best. Why on earth would a pitcher choose the 2012 Giants over free agency, genuine offensive support, and a HUGE paycheck? Tell me again, what are the Giants offering that these guys won't be able to get as free agents? As of today, the answer is (sadly) not much.
I welcome the thoughts of my fellow Giants fans. Thanks for your time.