Over the last five years, no team in baseball has been more successful than the San Francisco Giants, who have won two World Series. The Giants have done it in a strange way, winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012 while missing the playoffs entirely in 2011 and 2013. 2014 is another even-numbered years so Giants' fans expectations are high. Thus far this year, the Giants have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers were expected to win the NL west handily, but the Giants have put together the best record in the NL thus far. Somewhat amazingly, the Giants have managed to do this despite losing seven of their last eight games. The Giants, therefore, find themselves in a complex position. They have a real chance at winning the division, or at least making the post-season, but some of the team's weaknesses are becoming more evident.
Their front line starting pitching of Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson is as good as any in the league. Brandon Crawford has become one of the league's best shortstops and when healthy the offense is very productive. However, losing seven of the last eight games has shown the Giants are not unstoppable and that they have some very noticeable weaknesses, primarily at second base and in their pitching rotation. These are problems that will need to be addressed in order for the Giants to play deep into October in this even-numbered year.
Brandon Hicks won the starting second base job in spring training. as last year's second baseman Marco Scutaro is injured and likely out for the year. Hicks' OPS was a fantastic .851 in March and April, but fell to a very bad .549 in May and .493 thus far in June. This has meant that the Giants were getting All-Star level production from second base in March and April, but sub-replacement level from that position in May and June. The tri-Brandon infield experiment, with Hicks joining Crawford and Brandon Belt has probably run its course as Hicks is clearly over-exposed as a starting second baseman.
Improving slightly at second base, and relegating Hicks to the bench, either by bringing up prospect Joe Panik from Fresno or by going outside the organization, perhaps for Phillies' second baseman Chase Utley, will help the team. Hicks has been a valuable player, but he is no longer contributing. Upgrading at second is a natural thing for the Giants can do, if they can find the right player.
Improving the pitching staff is different. The two weakest starting pitchers in the rotation are Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Cain has had an ERA+ of 75, while Lincecum's has been 71 thus far in 2014. In more conventional terms Cain is 1-5 with a 4.67 ERA, while Lincecum is 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA. If the team is able to add a starting pitcher, it will be at the expense of one of these long time Giant stalwarts -- and it won't be Matt Cain. Cain is owed $60 million between 2015-2017 so cannot be moved. He has also been the better pitcher over the last few years.
Lincecum, however, is only under contract for another year and a half, but has been pretty bad over from 2012 to today. During this time he has an ERA of 4.77 and walked almost four batters per nine innings. He has also occasionally shown signs of his old self. He has averaged a strikeout an inning, was dominant coming out of the bullpen in the 2012 post-season and even threw a no-hitter last year. It is possible that some pitching coach somewhere thinks he can fix Lincecum and would like his team to get him. The Giants are unlikely to get much back for Lincecum, but a team might take his salary off their hands, and free up his spot in the rotation so that it can be upgraded.
The problem for the Giants is that Lincecum is enormously popular with the fans and one of the main faces of the franchise. Trading Timmy, as almost all Giants fan know him, would be a blow to the fan base, but it would also demonstrate the Giants are willing to be ruthless in order to win again. It is a tough call, but for the Giants it also means recognizing that time has passed since the Cain, Lincecum, Posey core helped the team win the championship in 2010. Recognizing that is probably essential for the team to win it all again.
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