Deadline Day

With the trade deadline looming today, it’s still not clear at all whether the Giants will be active. We’ve talked about this before; this could be a great opportunity to strengthen the club going forward, if the right deals are made. It sounds like Sabean is still very interested in finding partners for Javier Lopez and Hunter Pence. Apparently, Pence told the team last night that he’d be open to signing a contract with them in the offseason, even if he is traded today. I’ll tell you what, Pence is a class act… and even if you look at this game strictly from a business perspective, it’s hard not to want guys like that on your team.

Here’s my take on this whole ordeal. If Pence gets traded to a team like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, and goes on to play in or even win another World Series, his love for San Francisco will probably be the last thing on his mind. To put it simply, if the Giants trade him today, don’t expect Pence to be coming back in the offseason. If you trade him, you lose the qualifying offer with draft pick compensation (although he probably would accept the offer and the subject would be a moot point anyway). So, Sabean has some tough decisions to make. If he does swing a deal, he’d better be certain he’s got a realistic option in mind to help make up Pence’s production.

I’m not saying Pence won’t get traded, and he really could fetch us some nice pieces if he is. But I’ll be honest, after giving this a lot of thought lately, I’d rather hold onto him, make a qualifying offer when the season is over, and bring him back on a two or three year deal. He’s not a superstar, but the Giants need his 20-HR bat and diligent work ethic in their clubhouse.

Another note on the trade front. I had no idea the A’s were willing to move Grant Green! They swapped him for Alberto Callaspo last night, and I think the Angels came out with a nice middle infield prospect. I like Green a lot, and wouldn’t have been upset if the Giants threw Scutaro’s name over to Billy Beane… maybe he wouldn’t have been interested, but that would have been a nice swap for the Giants.

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It was quite a night for Giants pitching, at all levels of the organization. Here’s a quick rundown:

San Francisco – Barry Zito floundered in another road start, and it was reported that he had a closed-door meeting with Bruce Bochy after the game. If the Giants want to get any kind of momentum back in the second half, they’ll probably need to get Zito out of the rotation. Maybe they’re looking to move him to the bullpen for now, but I wouldn’t be shocked if his up and down career with the Giants is coming to a close.

Fresno – Eric Surkamp had an impressive start last night in AAA, going 7 strong with 5 K. He allowed only 3 hits and 1 ER, and walked only 1 batter. Outings like that definitely help build Surkamp’s case for rotation spot in San Francisco down the stretch.

Richmond – Ryan Vogelsong continued his rehab with a start in AA last night, where he looked very good. He opposed Anthony Ranaudo, one of the Red Sox’ top arms, and Vogey won the battle. He threw 5 shutout innings, allowed 5 hits, struck out 3 and surrendered only a single walk. The Giants need a healthy Vogelsong back in the rotation soon, and it sounds like he’s well on his way.

San Jose – Top prospect Kyle Crick took the ball last night after giving up 9 hits in his last outing. This time, he was back to his dominant ways. His line: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 11K. The 11 strikeouts are a season high for Crick, and possibly a career high too. His fastball was 95-96 according to Joe Ritzo, and was overpowering as always. Crick has now made 10 starts in San Jose, and I don’t think a promotion to Richmond is out of the question at this point.

Augusta – Kendry Flores made sure every level of full-season ball for the Giants had stellar starting pitching last night. The 21 year-old righty is having a very good season in Low-A, and tossed 7.1 shutout innings last night. He allowed 6 hits and struck out 7, without a walk.

That’s what I’d call a pretty impressive night of pitching… with the exception of Zito, of course. But these days, the major league Giants don’t really resemble a team.

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Writing on the Wall

The Giants split an old-fashioned double header last night with the Reds, dropping the first game in ugly fashion and gutting out a win in the night-cap. The split kept the Giants at 8 games under .500, but they lost a half-game in the standings to the division-leading Dodgers, who made a furious comeback last night in Toronto.

Game 1: Reds 9 Giants 3

Eric Surkamp made his first big league start in nearly two years after recovering from Tommy John surgery… it did not go well. Surkamp’s start was eerily similar to Mike Kickham’s against the Reds in Cincinnati earlier this month; after breezing through a 1-2-3 first inning, Surkamp could not locate his pitches, and the Reds teed off. Apparently somebody forgot to tell Votto, Cosart, Bruce and the rest of the Cincy hitters that AT&T Park is not a hitter-friendly stadium, because balls seem to leave the yard frequently whenever they’re in town. Ultimately, Surkamp was tagged for 9 hits and 7 runs in less than three innings of work. Yusmeiro Petit, who was called up with Surkamp to provide some bullpen relief, did just that, eating 5.1 IP and allowing 2 ER. I know it probably wouldn’t have been a popular decision among the fan base, but maybe Petit should’ve taken the start rather than rushing Surkamp up before he was ready. Either way, Petit’s efforts may have saved the night for Bruce Bochy, who needed all the bullpen help he could get in the second game.

Game 2: Giants 5 Reds 3

After two embarrassing losses to start the series, the Giants needed a win badly in the night game. Luckily, the offense came out hacking, posting 3 runs in the 1st and another in the 2nd. Sandoval and Pence had two hits apiece in this one, which was nice to see. The four early runs were enough to earn the win, although it didn’t come easy. Zito allowed three ER and couldn’t make it out of the 5th, but Bochy used five relievers to seal the win, including a 4-out save from Romo, who allowed a hit but recorded all four outs by way of the K. The win marked #1,500 for the skipper Bruce Bochy, who is building himself quite a lengthy list of accomplishments. Way to go, Skip!

A few thoughts here:

The Giants are 6.5 back of the Dodgers right now, with a week left until the trade deadline. That really isn’t a huge deficit, especially for how the Giants have played. But let’s be honest here, are the Giants really a good baseball team this year? To me, the eyeball test is sometimes a better indicator than any statistic on how a team is performing. They’ve been battling injuries and inconsistency most of the year. They’re still not scoring many runs. They’re not playing good defense. They don’t have three, let alone five reliable starting pitchers. They can’t beat anybody outside the NL West, and they haven’t proven they can compete on the road… they play nine games against the AL East alone in August.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are surging. They’ve won 22 of 27 and 9 straight on the road – and they’re doing this with a cooled-off Puig and almost entirely without Matt Kemp. To me, it’s pretty clear that one team is headed in one direction, while the other is headed in the complete opposite.

You’d have to think that Brian Sabean and his team know all of this much better than any of us, and I hope they use the trade deadline to make some tough decisions. There really isn’t one player out there who can transform the Giants into a contending team, but this certainly isn’t a time to completely sell the ranch either. The Giants are a proud franchise, but 8 games below .500 is a steep hill to climb. I think it was a mistake to publicly declare Lincecum safe at the deadline, but maybe they toss Romo’s name out there in the next couple days. Why not get some value for a few of these guys while we can? Yes, you’ll probably lose some casual fans in the process, but if the sellout streak at AT&T Park ends and the team is forced to lower ticket prices, allowing the die-hards to start attending more games again, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

The Giants have given its fan base so much to be thankful for in the past few years, so there really shouldn’t be too much complaining here. And if today marks the start of a historic resurrection and they end up playing their way back into the playoff race, I’ll gladly look like an idiot for saying all of this. But I just don’t see it happening this year. At this point, though, what takes place between now and July 31 is really anybody’s guess.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #12

#12: Mike Kickham – LHP, 24 yo, AAA: Kickham has had an interesting year, to say the least. After posting a 3.05 ERA in 27 starts at AA Richmond in 2012, he made a few spring training appearances this year and was assigned to Fresno for Opening Day. It was pretty well known that he or Chris Heston would get the first looks if the Giants needed a starter at some point. Kickham had mixed results in 10 starts. However, he’d found a pretty good groove in mid-May (when the Giants just happened to need a starter) and got the call when Chad Gaudin was placed on the DL. Kickham went right into the fire, making his ML debut in Oakland against the red-hot A’s. He didn’t do well, giving up 4 ER in only 2.2 IP. He’s been back and forth from Fresno and San Francisco ever since, losing all three of his starts at the major league level. Lately, Bochy’s called on him as a long reliever, and the Giants indicated they may give him a longer look out of the bullpen. In fairness to Kickham, however, all of his big league starts have been on the road… Oakland, LA, and Cincinnati.  That’s a pretty rough way to start your major league career. For that reason alone, I think he deserves a longer look (as a starter) in San Francisco.

Kickham was a 6th round draft pick out of Missouri State in 2010, so he certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. Oddly though, after a full season in Lo-A Augusta in 2011, the Giants promoted him straight to Richmond, skipping Hi-A San Jose in the process. That doesn’t happen very often, so maybe the org. thought his stuff was ready to play at a higher level. Coming into 2013, Kickham earned some mixed reviews on the prospect lists. MLB.com, for example, ranked him #12 in the Giants’ system, while I saw him slotted as high as 4th on a couple other sites. We’ve seen what he can offer at this point. Funky three-quarters delivery, low-90’s fastball, slider and curve with lots of movement, and a changeup he tosses in from time to time. His stuff can be live enough at times to do this, while at other times so flat it gets crushed by Mark Ellis. For a guy with swing-and-miss stuff, Kickham sure has gotten hit hard during his brief time in the bigs. In 18 IP, he’s given up 30 hits and 6 home runs. That’s really bad. But he’s also struck out 21 batters in those same 18 innings, so he’s definitely got the potential to be dynamic if he can harness his control.

I’ve written quite a bit more about Kickham than most other prospects on this list. Not because I think he’s any better or more interesting, but because he’s the only player on this list who has seen time at the big league level. We’ve all seen him play against the highest competition, so there’s a bit more to say about him.  He’s certainly still a work in progress, but here’s my take on him right now. If the Giants continue to sit in the cellar come August and September, Kickham needs to be in the rotation, auditioning for a job on the 2014 team. It’s pretty clear the Giants will be looking to fill some combination of Timmy, Zito and Vogey’s rotation spots, so there’s no reason Kickham shouldn’t be able to prove whether he belongs or not. The same can be said of Eric Surkamp if he’s healthy. Either way, I hope Kickham can figure out his control. He’s kind of a cool looking guy with his mullet and goggles, and I think he’d be a guy the fans could get behind. If he can’t find that control, however, he’s probably destined for a short career in the bullpen.

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