It’s my civic duty to remind the Giants that, yes, greed is good in baseball. Much as they’re interested these days in urban planning, farm-to-concession-stand gardening and booking the ballpark with everything from operas to religious revivals to AC/DC and Billy Joel gigs — oh, to see Hunter Pence belt out “Highway to Hell” in schoolboy shorts, beside Angus Young — they still happen to be a renowned sports franchise.
And while they’ve won three World Series in five seasons, they didn’t win any during their previous 52 years in town, meaning it’s perfectly fine to try and win a fourth this autumn and firmly stamp themselves as a dynasty. But to do so, the men in charge must acknowledge a harsh truth even as their injured souls return to activity and the boys feast on lousy competition.
These Giants, as constituted, aren’t good enough to repeat as champions.
Nor are they good enough to go far in the National League playoffs — not when the Dodgers are trying to place David Price or Johnny Cueto in a rotation with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw … not when the Nationals flaunt Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer and embarrassed the Giants in a recent sweep … not when the Cardinals are winning at a .634 clip … not when the Pirates look worldly serious for the first time since Barry Bonds was their skinny young star … and, astounding as this is, not when the Cubs keep summoning kids who are producing for wacky Joe Maddon.
Sure, the Giants can reach the postseason as their usual clever, resourceful, airtight selves, with a manager who should be measured by his own WAR metric — how many Wins Above Replacement is Bruce Bochy worth? The requisite cornerstones are there, too, in Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Pence and the rock stars on both sides of second base. Yet why should merely reaching the playoffs be the mission, as if it instantly opens pearly gates to more glory? Just because they aced the ultimate wild-card test last fall, winning a one-game scrum in Pittsburgh and marching on for weeks until Panda shook the Kansas City earth, doesn’t mean those steps are easily retraced.
No, they need help.
They need a robust No. 2 starter in the rotation, which would remove pressure from rookie sensation Chris Heston and let him settle in as a strong No. 3 arm in his maiden playoff voyage. That would allow Bochy to choose from whoever is best and healthiest among Matt Cain, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong when a No. 4 starter is needed.
They need a reliable closer, now that Santiago Casilla has been exposed as less-than-lockdown while Sergio Romo deals with a bum knee. If you say Hunter Strickland, I say October 2014.
They need a better defensive centerfielder than Angel Pagan, at least in the late innings, knowing that Pagan isn’t the same magician at 34.
They could use another catcher in case Andrew Susac isn’t healthy, which is vital in allowing Posey to periodically play first base and keep him rested enough to help this team with MVP-type offense. He provided that in the seventh inning Wednesday, his go-ahead, two-run double lifting Cain to a 7-1 victory over the Padres, who are almost as hapless as Arizona and Philadelphia clubs also involved in this Giants’ hot streak.
I understand that talk-show callers don’t scream much about the decision-makers, Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans, because these men own the equity and credibility that come with three trophies. I understand that a lot of people who’ve packed AT&T Park through the years — 374 consecutive sellouts and counting — wouldn’t be real upset about falling short, thrilled to have won three.
But when a team has a chance to win in the middle of a dynasty-like run and has demonstrated a championship formula, why not go for it again? The trade deadline is a week from Friday, and while the Giants once made a July deal for Pence, they typically eschew major trades and try to out-fox rivals by unearthing July pebbles who become October boulders — Marco Scutaro and David Ross, for two. The bosses are eyeing the A’s Ben Zobrist, the perfect Giant who can plug in anywhere, even inside the mascot suit and certainly in the outfield for Pagan relief. Zobrist isn’t going to be enough.
Baseball, now more than ever, is about dominant starters handing the ball to a rested bullpen and a kick-ass closer. In their heart of hearts, Sabean and Evans — a ’60s folkie group in the Haight? — want to see Cain completely overcome his elbow issues and return as the No. 2. Not only are they sentimentalists, he’s also the highest-paid Giant. While he was effective Wednesday in a big park against a weak lineup, Cain has been unreliable in his comeback so far and isn’t likely to show sustained excellence. Same goes for Peavy, whose passion is contagious — even when he tries to pull out his hair, as he did in Washington — but whose ability to stay healthy and consistent, as with Cain, is a crapshoot. Speaking of sentimentality, the Giants even embrace hope that Tim Lincecum, now saddled with two degenerative hips along with fading stuff in his slow and painful demise, can return and make a start fairly soon.
Sad to say, shelve that pipedream. Same with Tim Hudson, a good man who has dealt with personal adversity but is pitching like he’s 40 and done. We want both to have a warm, memorable twilight on the waterfront, but not at October’s expense.
So with the handful of good prospects they have — there are no Bumgarners or Poseys in the bunch, all the more reason to go for the jugular — the Giants must address as many issues as possible. And when anyone asks for Heston, say no.
No. 2 starter? Yes, chase Price and Cueto, both impending free agents. But teams that want to rent them may have more inviting kid packages to offer. So maybe Jeff Samardzija returns to the Bay. He refused to pay killer rent in San Francisco when he pitched for the A’s, preferring a five-star hotel, but as a free-agent-to-be himself, he can afford the Four Seasons and has pitched well recently in Chicago. Mike Leake, Jon Niese and Dan Haren are not postseason No. 2s.
Closer? Sure, trade for Aroldis Chapman and feel the breeze of his 105-mph heater. Craig Kimbrel is available, too. But before the Giants prioritize a closer, they must have the proper starting pitching to get to him.
A bench bat? Maybe Mike Morse returns.
You’ll know if the Giants truly want another trophy if they have a new front-line pitcher in eight days. “All these starts are crucial,” Bochy said of Cain. “We’re in the back half now. We’re not in a position where we can get a guy ready here.”
“It’s just getting back out there, getting back into a routine,” Cain said, “and giving these guys a real good chance to win.”
And if none of this works out in the dreaded odd-numbered year? Hey, the Giants are world-champion gardeners and concert promoters, no doubt.Bary BondsBuster PoseyDavid PriceHunter PenceJake PeavyJoe MaddonJohnny CuetoMadison BumgarnerMatt CainSan Francisco GiantsTim HudsonZack Greinke