The San Francisco Giants walked away from the 2012 non-waiver trade deadline in pretty good shape. With the extra-base power of Hunter Pence in the everyday line-up, and the solid-hitting Marco Scutaro in the infield mix, the Giants have assembled an offense that will challenge the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League West title.
The quality starting pitching a contending team needs to go deep into the post season has been in place at AT&T Park for several years.
But what didn't happen at the trade deadline, and what might have been, reveals much about the limitations that continue to hold the franchise back.
The Giants faced the non-waiver deadline with a very familiar shopping list: hitting, more hitting (and did I mention hitting?).
Sure, the bullpen was getting ragged around the edges thanks to the pre-season loss of closer Brian Wilson and 8th inning fastballer Santiago Casilla stumbling to fill Wilson's role, but the Giants were winning. And Manager Bruce Bochy came to Giants the from the San Diego Padres in 2007 with a reputation as master and commander of all things bullpen.
Then came an eight game nightmare from July 22nd through July 30th in which San Francisco went 2-6, including being swept by the Dodgers in a three game series at AT&T Park. The Giants were out-scored 40-26 in those games and all of a sudden getting additional hitting felt more like survival than simply improving the offense.
And what a rocky road that turned out to be. Giants' General Manager Brian Sabean suggested discussions with the Phillies about right fielder Hunter Pence started somewhere around the All Star break. As the deadline loomed, the two teams squabbled over which Giants player from the 25 man roster would be part of the deal. It finally got done with just hours to spare when the Phillies finally accepted Nate Schierholtz as part of the deal.
The Aging and Expensive Alfonso Soriano
San Francisco also talked to the Cubs about the aging and expensive Alfonso Soriano. Either Soriano rejected a proposed trade to the Giants or he simply told the Cubs not to bother taking Sabean's calls-- either way he was not about to play half his games in the Giants' hitter-unfriendly ballpark.
No doubt the $36m Soriano will be getting in 2013-14, and the $9m still owed him in 2012, must have been a major talking point between the two teams.
There's little doubt the Cubs were willing to put copious amounts of mustard on Soriano's contract and ingest a large portion of it, but they found no takers by the July 31st deadline. With the August 31st deadline fast approaching it will be fun to watch Alfonso Soriano get repackaged and sail through waivers faster than a Farmer John's hot dog through Vin Scully's digestive tract.
Then we'll see if Cubs President Theo Epstein has the magic to make Soriano disappear from the South Side and reappear... where?... LA?
The AT&T Park Effect
One thing stands out here. While we don't know exactly why Alfonso Soriano put the Giants in his "no fly" zone it's logical to speculate that The AT&T Park Effect cost the Giants yet another power hitter (and Soriano already rejected a trade to San Francisco last season). This is likely the latest example of the team's ongoing and largely unsuccessful battle to attract hitters to their China Basin location.
Simply put, many Major League hitters do not want to play in San Francisco because the ballpark is built for pitchers to succeed and hitters to fail. Agents and their hitting clients know that when it's time to renew a contract or enter free agency, The AT&T Effect will end up costing that hitter money.
Meanwhile the Giants have done everything they can to downplay The Effect over the years in order to avoid a negative media image of AT&T Park. And the last thing the front office wants is for Giant fans to get all worked up about their beautiful ballpark costing the team quality players.
But if you saw the names of the top shelf MLB hitters who have crossed the Giants off their wish lists over the past 12 years it would melt your garlic fries.
The Bullpen Wars
On deadline day MLBTV had the Giants and a mystery club arm wrestling over who would get closer Jonathan Broxton from Kansas City. The Cincinnati Reds turned out to be the surprise winner in the Broxton derby, and the Giants ended up going 0 for 2 in bullpen additions by also losing Seattle's Brandon League to the Dodgers.
Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy didn't miss a beat. He reconfigured his faltering bullpen, pulling Santiago Casilla from the closer role and creating a floating three way 8th/9th inning tag-team of Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez.
The addition of lefty Jose Mijares (2.56ERA/1.26 WHIP) on waivers from Kansas City allows the durable Affeldt to focus on the 9th inning.
Two potential problems may yet haunt the bullpen. Because of the physical and mental stress of trying to be the closer for the past three months, Casilla may not be ready to resume his role as a 7th/8th inning strikeout guy; and the Giants need him.
The other issue is much more familiar to Giant fans: newly acquired reliever Mijares is apparently a disciple of the Pablo Sandoval see-it/eat-it buffet diet and his conditioning and weight will have to be closely monitored.
The next 16 games will be a critical test of San Francisco's reformed offense and bullpen. There are six games with losing teams (3-Rockies, 3-Padres), and a whopping ten games with very good teams (3-Nationals, 3-Dodgers, 4-Braves).
The good news is that Buster Posey is putting on a hitting master class at the plate almost every day and Pablo Sandoval will rejoin the San Francisco line-up in the next week. This is a batting order that will score a large number of runs over the next seven weeks. Now only the bullpen poses a question mark.