So here comes Mike Leake, a pun waiting for a quipster, a righthander who either will fix a leak in the Giants rotation or, perhaps, cause one. He has been anything but drippy lately, winning his last four starts for the Cincinnati Reds and yielding only two earned runs in his last 30 innings. Now put him in AT&T, the most expansive park west of Yellowstone, and he has a chance to help.
But he is no David Price.
And he is no Cole Hamels.
In that regard, there was a small reason for consolation, I suppose. Inside their office bunker, where several baseball minds gathered to talk trade and eat pizza, the Giants’ decision-makers were relieved that the team “Down South” hadn’t landed Hamels or Price, either. The two hottest tickets of Trade Deadline 2015 were safely ensconced in the American League, in Texas and Toronto, nowhere near Chavez Ravine.
The Dodgers had struck out, ha ha.
But so had Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans.
Someone will have to explain, then, why this can be considered a victory in any way for the Giants. They failed to land the big rotation arm needed to win a fourth World Series banner in six years. They are banking on the overburdened Madison Bumgarner, hoping rookie Chris Heston doesn’t succumb to newfound postseason pressure and praying that Jake Peavy’s aging body parts don’t fall off. Now they have Leake, who, unlike Hamels and Price, never has pitched in a World Series or a league championship series. You may remember his only postseason appearance, three years ago against the Giants, who ripped him for five runs and six hits in the National League divisional series.
It’s a gamble. And it’s not the ideal way to repeat a mission that carries the added significance of legacy. Winning three in five years would be a dynasty if not for the even-number funk. Repeating would stamp these Giants as an all-time team, one that defied the common rationale that no franchise should win multiple times in an era when revenue-sharing creates parity.
Oh, I’d never put anything past them, having watched seemingly ordinary teams enjoy out-of-body experiences in October. Last autumn, I walked out of the ballpark in Los Angeles after the Dodgers had blown out the Giants in the division clincher and said to a colleague, “Damn, the Bochys sure aren’t going anywhere this year.” Clearly, there is a magnificence about them when the red, white and blue bunting hangs, and, assuming they do reach the playoffs, they won’t be easy to vanquish.
Yet they won’t be heading down the stretch as championship favorites, not after missing out on the two aces, either of whom would have solidified the rotation and teamed with Bumgarner for the 1-2 supercombo all but required these days. What, do they plan on using MadBum for another 52 2/3 innings this postseason? I don’t care how many trees he chops in the Carolina backwoods. They still could wear him down to the point of diminished performance, if not shorten or jeopardize his career with wear and tear. Like any serious team, the Giants need longer outings from their starters or they’ll burn out the bullpen, which has had its own issues in closing games, one reason fans are still embracing hope that Craig Kimbrel arrives from San Diego.
Several teams look better after a flurry of maneuvers. The Dodgers don’t have Hamels or Price, but they did flush out a rotation headed by the ultimate 1-2 punch — Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke — with the self-avowed hater of all things San Francisco, right-hander Mat Latos. Giggle if you like, but Latos has been excellent the last two months, with a 1.80 ERA in his last three starts. We don’t need any more hatred in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, not when fans have been murdered and paralyzed. But Latos will add spice. And Alex Wood, a gifted lefty also acquired in a landmark 13-player deal, is capable of a breakthrough autumn in a rotation racked by injuries.
Compare the rotations.
The Giants counter with chemistry, championship savvy, an organizational pride in loyalty and high character. The Dodgers are lacking in that area, as a hideously expensive team that throws money at players with no regard for cohesion or camaraderie. They also have a manager, Don Mattingly, who would be outstrategized by the Giants if Bruce Bochy was on one of his now-famous walks down the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. But one of these years, the Dodgers will break through.
And if not them, maybe the National League’s best team will be Pittsburgh, which acquired slugger Aramis Ramirez and reliever Joakim Soria. Or St. Louis, which keeps winning through injuries and a hacking scandal. Or the Nationals, if Jonathan Papelbon behaves and locks down leads.
The Giants were in on Hamels, then Price. In both cases, they didn’t want to give up valued pieces. At some point or another, every member of the cherished homegrown infield was demanded, and while some might sacrifice Brandon Belt, that can’t happen until we know if Andrew Susac, who certainly has looked and played the part, can be a competent two-way catcher when Buster Posey is playing first base. Could the Giants have sacrificed Susac? Sure. I would have relinquished him and prized pitching prospect Tyler Beede in a deal for Hamels, who would remain in the rotation three more years as a vintage Giants property.
Price? As a rental, he would have been worth the three-month rate, knowing he might like it here well enough to sign a long-term deal in the offseason. That price will be above $200 million, much higher than the $76 million owed Hamels. For Leake, an impending free agent, the Giants gave up a pair of prospects, power-hitting infielder Adam Duvall and pitcher Keury Mella.
Should the Giants win another NL pennant, they might face a Series rematch against a Kansas City team that did add a front-line starter in Johnny Cueto, along with Billy Beane fire-sale piece Ben Zobrist. Or maybe they’ll see the Blue Jays, who went balls-out in landing Price and Troy Tulowitzki. Or the Astros, who acquired Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers.
You sensed Bochy wanted one of the hot tickets badly. The previous day, he gushed, “I do know it’s not a case of ‘This is the group we’re going with.’ Now you’re talking major — a front-line starter or a position player … those talks are happening right now. I wouldn’t rule that out.”
Now, we can.