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What to do with Jonathan Sanchez?

You know, it's been a good long while since there's been on ol' timey rotation controversy. Unless you really got riled up about the Hennessey v. Correia knife fights of the past few years, or the Russ Ortiz shenanigans from 2007, the rotation has been pretty stable since Lincecum's virgin birth call-up from the minor leagues.

Jonathan Sanchez starts tonight, and while it hasn't been officially labeled as a make-or-break start, it's not not a make-or-break start. Sanchez has been good for about only four or five innings all season; he's made it past the sixth inning only once in 12 starts. He's still getting hitters to swing and miss, but he just walked you while you were reading this sentence, and he's about to do it again. Sanchez is allowing too many baserunners, and he's not so unhittable that he can get away with it.

The problem is, though, that there isn't an obvious replacement. The candidates, after the jump:

  • Joe Martinez is in rookie ball, rehabbing from his injuries. Even if he were at full strength, there isn't much reason to think he'd be much better than Sanchez right now. Martinez only has two innings above AA, and while he had a fine season for Connecticut last season, he didn't miss a whole lot of bats. That doesn't mean he'll never be a major league pitcher, of course, but it doesn't bode well for short-term success, which is what the Giants would want if they're getting Sanchez out of the rotation.
  • Kevin Pucetas is doing well, and he'd be the likeliest choice to come up if the Giants could clear a roster spot for him. At the risk of revealing my secret strikeout fetish, I'll note that Pucteas isn't striking out AAA batters, which makes me skeptical of his ability to hold down an ERA under 5.00 in the majors.
  • Billy Sadler is walking five hitters for every nine innings he pitches in AAA. A franchise that would replace a control-challenged pitcher in the rotation with Sadler, who hasn't even been a starter for more than a couple months in his professional career, is a poorly managed franchise. That's being polite.
  • Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner are fresh-faced young pups who have little business being in the conversation, except they keep pitching so danged well. If I had to choose one for an immediate call-up, it'd be Alderson, but I couldn't explain why. He's a little older than Bumgarner, but just by a few months. They've both shown great control, but Alderson's has remained ridiculous since moving up to AA; Bumgarner's control has just been really good. Both are used to a six-man rotation, though, so I'm not too keen on the idea of just tossing them into a major league rotation
  • Ramon Ortiz is a VWKHTW, and he's doing some good work as Fresno's swingman, but he's still seven years removed from his last above-average season.

For the Giants to remove Sanchez from the rotation, there would have to be a pretty compelling solution in place. Moving from "bad" to "nearly, but not quite, as bad" doesn't seem like it's worth interrupting Sanchez's development, even though I use that term loosely. The only way the Giants have a good shot at moving from "bad" to "pretty danged ok" is by rushing Alderson and Bumgarner, and that's a plan with a ton of potential snags. The A's tried something similar with Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill this season, and while they've both shown promise, they've both allowed a billion baserunners. I don't want to watch Alderson or Bumgarner struggle through 30-pitch second innings right now.

Then there's the idea of what to do with Sanchez. In what situation would it make sense to bring the anti-Maddux in as a reliever? Certainly not a close game -- the Giants have plenty of relievers doing well, so there shouldn't be any temptation to try Sanchez with a one-, two-, or even three-run lead. So the Giants would be forced to treat Sanchez like a Rule 5 pick, putting a cone around his neck so he doesn't chew at the wound. The Giants still have an option on Sanchez, but unless he were completely on board with the idea that he needs to clear his mind in the minors, that seems like a one-way ticket to a sulking, confidence-free project.

No easy solutions here, so I'd be willing to give Sanchez a few more starts unless he pitches even worse than he has in his four- and five-inning masterpieces. Hopefully he starts by shutting down the vaunted A's lineup tonight. In the meantime, I'll just forget about the shiny objects Sanchez could have brought back in trade this offseason, and how much better the team would be right now if Kevin Correia were the fifth starter.