By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
With the All-Star Break coming to a close, it’s time for the Giants to take stock of where they are and where they’re going this year.
Where the Giants are is last place, 17 1/2 games back of the Dodgers with a 41-48 record that is the third-worst record in the National League. They’re only 5 1/2 games back of the second wild card spot, however, and the team entered the break on a roll, having won seven of their last nine games due to a seemingly revitalized offense.
Still, with Farhan Zaidi trying to rebuild the organization, the Giants are widely expected to be sellers as the trade deadline approaches. Their biggest trade chips are all on the pitching side, with ace Madison Bumgarner and All-Star closer Will Smith being two of the premier names on the market. But some of their other relievers, like Sam Dyson and Tony Watson, are also available.
“When you’re looking at making a trade, trading away from a position of strength to maybe fill an area that maybe helps you in the present or short-term future, a lot of that equation is whether you have the depth within your organization to back fill,” Zaidi said on Sunday. “Looking at our Triple-A team, there’s a lot of guys playing well. That may make it easier to make a baseball move off the major league roster, because we could fill it and keep us competitive in 2019.”
Trading Bumgarner — or, in a less likely scenario, being able to deal Jeff Samardzija and at least some of his salary — would create a hole in the rotation. The two most likely candidates to fill it are familiar to Giants fans: both Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez were in the rotation for almost all of 2018 and have been on the big league team this year.
Rodriguez and Suarez have had up-and-down years in 2019, both with the Giants and with Triple-A Sacramento. Rodriguez, who is expected to start one game of the Giants’ upcoming doubleheader in Colorado, would seem to have the inside track on the job, though a spurt of consistency from Suarez may well get him the nod if Rodriguez falters. Ty Blach, experiencing similar struggles this year in Sacramento, is also a familiar possibility.
Another option — and an especially intriguing one — is Conner Menez. Menez, a 6-foot-3, 24-year-old left-hander from Hollister, started the year at Double-A Richmond, where he pitched 59 2/3 innings in 11 starts with 70 strikeouts and a 2.72 ERA, earning him a promotion to Sacramento.
With the River Cats, Menez has appeared in six games (five starts, though in the other game, he came in after the team used an opener in the first inning) and pitched 29 2/3 innings with a 4.25 ERA. His strikeout numbers have been eye-popping, though, with 46 punchouts in that span. If he can get his walks under control — he’s walked 16 with Sacramento, which is too many — then Menez is a viable option for the big league rotation.
Perhaps most interestingly, Menez gets swingthroughs on his fastball due to the deception in his delivery, not unlike Bumgarner, who he could potentially replace this year.
On the bullpen front, should Smith get traded, the Giants have stashed a multitude of options to replace him in the high minors. Giants fans have already seen Sam Coonrod and Williams Jerez for brief stints in the majors this year, and since they are both on the 40-man roster, calling them up would be simple. Injured Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen, who will have to restart his rehab assignment after experiencing a setback, also figures to return to the roster at some point this year.
There are also impressive performances coming from players who are not on the 40-man. Fernando Abad, the veteran reliever who has spent major league time with the Astros, Nationals, A’s, Twins and Red Sox, is currently serving as Sacramento’s closer. In 31 1/3 innings, Abad has struck out 38 and walked just three, and he has a 2.30 ERA to show for his efforts.
The breakout star of the River Cats bullpen, though, has been left-hander Sam Selman.
Originally in the Kansas City Royals organization, Selman’s bugaboo was walks; he describes himself as having “funky mechanics” that made it hard to repeat his delivery. San Francisco signed him to a minor league deal this offseason after he overhauled those mechanics, and in 33 innings at Sacramento, he has a 1.64 ERA, and has walked nine while striking out 54.
Other possibilities for the major league bullpen who are having nice years in the minors — but are longshots — include Steven Okert, the lefty who was up and down with the Giants from 2016 through 2018; Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous pitcher who had a disastrous couple of appearances in the majors this year; and Tyler Rogers, a submariner who has always gotten excellent minor league results, but who the team has never seemed to believe in.
There are a couple other, more remote, possibilities to be traded. If the Giants deal Pablo Sandoval, they might call up Zach Green, a Sacramento native who plays third and first base and has hit 22 homers this year in just 194 at bats. If they find a taker for an outfielder, like Kevin Pillar, then it’s safe to expect Steven Duggar to return to the major league roster.
The Giants, with 73 games to go and needing 33 to get manager Bruce Bochy to 2,000 wins, begin the second half on Friday at Milwaukee.