It seems so simple. The Giants have strong starting pitching, but have problems scoring runs. Ergo, trade a starter for a slugger.
But it’s not going to happen.
For openers, there’s only one starter who could or would be traded. Nobody would take Barry Zito and his contract. Matt Morris is pitching well, but his future is limited because of age. When clubs call about Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, Giants general manager Brian Sabean hangs up.
That leaves Noah Lowry, who has pitched well as one of the Giants’ top four starters. But no club would be likely to give up a top slugger for Lowry, who’s a No. 3 or No. 4 starter on a good staff.
That would also go against Sabean’s basic belief that you build with pitching. He has only once traded an established starter, Russ Ortiz, but that trade was apparentlydictated by economics.
Otherwise Sabean has traded marginal young pitchers. That backfired on him when he traded Joe Nathan — and Jeremy Accardo is pitching well in relief for Toronto — but most of the pitchers he has traded did not pan out elsewhere. One of those pitchers, Ryan Vogelsong, went in the July 2001 trade that netted Jason Schmidt.
Meanwhile, he has concentrated on drafting pitchers high in the annual draft; Cain (2002) and Lincecum (2006) were both the Giants’ top picks in the years they were drafted.
Cain and Lincecum, both 22 when the season started, are a unique combination in the Giants’ San Francisco history because they’re so good at such a young age. You have to go back roughly a quarter-century to get a similar combination in Juan Marichal, who was 22 when he came up in 1960, and Gaylord Perry, 23 when he made his debut two years later. Though Marichal was an accomplished pitcher from the day he arrived, Perry didn’t really get there until his third season, when Bob Shaw taught him how to throw the spitter.
Marichal and Perry are in the Hall of Fame. Will Cain and/or Lincecum get there eventually? That probably depends on whether they can stay healthy because they both have that type of ability.
Meanwhile, Giants fans have to readjust their thinking to see a team built around pitching. Historically, the San Francisco team has been built around power, from Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, all Hall of Fame players, to Barry Bonds.
It’s amazing, in fact, how few consistently outstanding pitchers they’ve had since Marichal and Perry, who was traded disastrously for Sam McDowell before the 1972 season.
There have been some brief successes. Jack Sanford won 24 games when the Giants won the pennant in 1962. Mike McCormick won the Cy Young Award in 1967. Mike Krukow won 20 games in 1986. Rick Reuschel won 19 games in 1988, 17 the next year when the Giants won the pennant. Billy Swift won 21 games in 1993.
But there has been so little consistent success that it’s hard to pick the Giants’ top five in their San Francisco history. Marichal and Perry are obvious choices. I’d put Schmidt in as a distant third. But after them, who?
Some day, maybe we’ll be able to say Cain and Lincecum. Meanwhile, Giants fans have to learn to appreciate those 2-0 and 3-1 games. No slugger is on the way.
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