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In a year that has seen the NFL and NBA deal with acrimonious labor negotiations, MLB is on the verge of ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement without the slightest bit of rancor. However, there has been one point of contention: the escalating bonuses being paid to those selected in the Rule IV amateur draft.

Thanks to unprecedented labor peace, baseball fans are unlikely to face a work stoppage next season.

Back in March, I identified mandatory slotting as one of the main topics to be addressed by the new CBA, so it’s not much of a surprise that the issue has momentarily held up the deal. According to Buster Olney, although some points still need to be ironed out, progress is being made on a compromise. In Olney’s report, he identifies the following elements:

  • Slots will be recommended, not mandatory. However, if teams go over their cumulative slot recommendation for signings made during the first 10 rounds, a tax will be applied.
  • If teams exceed their slot recommendation for a second time, they will also lose a high draft pick.
  • In exchange for this concession, draft compensation will no longer be tied to free agent classifications.

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The games played over the next week will determine the order in next June's Rule IV draft.

At the beginning of the month, it looked as if baseball had a pennant race problem. With the exception of first place in the AL West, every other playoff position was secured by at least a five game lead. Included among those “safe” teams were the Red Sox and Braves, who each enjoyed a nine game loss column advantage over their league’s fifth best team (Boston actually led the A.L. East by a game). Since then, however, both teams have suffered a September slide, breathing life into what had been shaping up as one of the most mundane pennant races in the wild card era.

Not every team can enjoy the thrill of a pennant race, but that doesn’t mean their games are meaningless. The Houston Astros have been an afterthought for most of the season, but with one more loss, the team will clinch the first pick in the 2012 Rule IV draft. Don’t expect champagne in the clubhouse, but if a Stephen Strasburg-type talent emerges, the team might be popping a few corks in the future.

Teams “Vying” for the Top Slots in the 2012 Draft

  W L PCT GA
Houston Astros 53 101 0.344  –
Minnesota Twins 59 94 0.386 6.5
Baltimore Orioles 64 90 0.416 11
Seattle Mariners 65 89 0.422 12
San Diego Padres 67 88 0.432 13.5
Kansas City Royals 68 87 0.439 14.5
Chicago Cubs 68 87 0.439 14.5
Pittsburgh Pirates 69 86 0.445 15.5

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Before embarking on a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, John Elway played a season in the Yankees’ farm system.

Thirty years ago today, the Yankees drafted a Hall of Famer, two-time champion, multiple-record holder, and iconic cultural figure. Unfortunately, the player they selected never appeared in a single major league game.

With the last pick in the second round of the 1981 June draft, the Yankees selected a 20-year old outfielder from Stanford named John Elway. In his sophomore season, Elway hit .361 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs, but his performance on the diamond paled in comparison to his exploits on the gridiron.

In addition to playing baseball, Elway also happened to be the starting quarterback for the Stanford Cardinal. During his second season leading the team, he racked up 27 touchdowns, 248 completions and 2,889 passing yards, all Pac-10 Conference records. For his efforts, Elway was named the conference player of the year.

The Yankees would be one of the few teams that I would have considered signing with this early in my college career.” – John Elway, quoted by AP, September 21, 1981

Because Elway had emerged as such a strong pro-football prospect, very few people even entertained the thought that he might actually play baseball. In some circles, the Yankees were ridiculed for wasting what was their first selection in the draft. However, when the quarterback/outfielder signed a minor league deal with the team in September (he had previously turned down a contract from the Royals after being drafted out of high school in 1979), the door was left opened to a baseball career.

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The Rule IV major league baseball draft used to be an afterthought, so it’s nice to see the process gaining more notoriety. One reason for the increased level of interest has been the proliferation of amateur baseball coverage. Once the exclusive domain of outlets like Baseball America, the field now includes a variety of respected observes, including Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein and countless others who specialize in keeping tabs on draft day prospects.

Before becoming a standout prep player in Florida, Dante Bichette Jr. starred in the Little League World Series.

Because more fans now have at least a cursory knowledge of the players being selected, it’s only natural that more attention would be paid to the draft. Sometimes, however, a small amount of knowledge can be even worse than ignorance.

As much as baseball would like to have its draft attain the same level of recognition as the NBA’s and NFL’s events, there are too many obstacles to overcome. For starters, even though more fans have heard of the names being chosen, very few have ever seen them play. What’s more, even the very best prospects are still ticketed for at least a year or two in the minors, which dilutes the event’s impact. Finally, unlike the NBA and NFL, actual games are being played at the same time, so when faced with watching their team or the draft, most fans probably opt for the former.

For all the reasons cited above, the baseball draft is really a different animal. However, that hasn’t stopped many from reacting to various selections in a similar manner to followers in the other sports. The Yankees’ selection of Dante Bichette Jr. with the 51st pick in last night’s supplementary round is a perfect example.

When it finally came time for the Yankees to make their first pick of the night, most people were expecting, or hoping, the team would take one of the more high profile names, like Josh Bell and Daniel Norris, who had fallen into their lap. However, when the relatively unknown Dante Bichette Jr. was announced, the initial reaction was disappointment followed by anger. With certitude, so many people who had never even heard of Bichette were now convinced the Yankees had made a poor selection.

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Once conducted in relative obscurity, the MLB Rule IV draft has gained increased exposure over the last few years. However, because even the best prospects usually don’t surface in the majors for at least a year or two after being signed, the interest level in baseball’s draft continues to pale in comparison to the events held by the NFL and NBA

Dave Roberts debuted with the Padres one day after being drafted.

There are exceptions to this rule, however. Since the draft process was instituted in 1965 (in various forms including secondary events held in June and additional rounds held in January), 20 players have jumped right from the amateur level into the big leagues, including 13 within 30 days of being selected. However, no one’s transition was quicker than Dave Roberts, who needed only one day to sign a contract and make his major league debut with the Padres in 1972 (interestingly, three of the major league’s four Dave Roberts have played in San Diego). 

Players Who Have Appeared in the Majors within 30 Days of Being Drafted

Draftees Team Drafted Debuted Days to Majors
Mike Adamson Phillies 6-Jun-67 1-Jul-67 25
Steve Dunning Indians 4-Jun-70 14-Jun-70 10
Pete Broberg Rangers 8-Jun-71 20-Jun-71 12
Rob Ellis Brewers 8-Jun-71 18-Jun-71 10
Burt Hooton Cubs 8-Jun-71 17-Jun-71 9
Dave Roberts Padres 6-Jun-72 7-Jun-72 1
Eddie Bane Twins 5-Jun-73 4-Jul-73 29
David Clyde Rangers 5-Jun-73 27-Jun-73 22
Dave Winfield Padres 5-Jun-73 19-Jun-73 14
Tim Conroy Athletics 6-Jun-78 23-Jun-78 17
Bob Horner Braves 6-Jun-78 16-Jun-78 10
Brian Milner Blue Jays 6-Jun-78 23-Jun-78 17
Mike Morgan Athletics 6-Jun-78 11-Jun-78 5

Note: Dick Ruthven was selected by the Phillies in the second phase of the January 1973 draft and debuted on opening day of that year.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

After 1978, teams started taking a more patient approach with their draftees. Since that time, only John Olerud and Xavier Nady have bypassed the minors and played a big league game in the same year in which they were drafted. Otherwise, only Pete Incaviglia, Jim Abbott, Darren Dreifort and, most recently, Mike Leake have played their first professional game in a big league uniform, although each of those players needed to wait until the following season.

As evident from the names above, a quick burst on the scene doesn’t necessarily translate into long-term success. In fact, in most of the cases, the early promotions seemed to be more a case of wishful thinking than prudent expectations. Nonetheless, even though the impact of baseball’s draft lacks the immediacy of other sports, it has still become a day of new hope for teams badly in need of a talent infusion.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

When the Pirates make the first selection in the 2011 MLB Rule V draft, Gerrit Cole is expected to be the name that is called. As many teams have learned in the past, however, making a selection is only the first step in the draft process.

Cole, a 20 year-old right hander from UCLA, should be well known to most Yankees fans because the young fire baller was the team’s 28th selection in the 2008 draft. Unfortunately for Brian Cashman, Cole eschewed the Yankees’ money and opted instead to go to college, making his loss a potential gain for Pittsburgh (or whatever team eventually drafts him).

Most Productive Active Players Drafted More than Once, Ranked by WAR

Player WAR Drafted Years Teams
Todd Helton 58.5 2x 1992, ’95 Padres, Rockies
Jason Giambi 53.1 2x 1989, ’92 Brewers, Athletics
J.D. Drew 46.9 3x 1994, ’97, ’98 Giants, Phillies, Cardinals
Tim Hudson 46.6 2x 1994, ’97 Athletics (2x)
Chase Utley 39.2 2x 1997, 2000 Dodgers, Phillies
Mark Teixeira 38 2x 1998, 2001 Red Sox, Rangers
Placido Polanco 34.7 2x 1993, ’94 White Sox, Cardinals
Barry Zito 31.8 3x 1996, ’98, ’99 Mariners, Rangers, Athletics
Michael Young 26 2x 1994, ’97 Orioles, Blue Jays
Cliff Lee 24 3x 1997, ’98, 2000 Marlins, Orioles, Expos

Source: Baseball-reference.com

If Cole eventually becomes the star that many predict, he won’t be the first Yankees’ draftee to spurn an offer and become a star for another team. Perhaps the most famous player to turn down the Yankees was Mark Prior, although among active players, Casey Blake has been the most productive. Otherwise, Daniel Bard is the only other notable player currently in the majors who was drafted, but not signed by the Yankees.

If [Drew] doesn’t agree to the numbers we have in mind, we won’t be able to sign him. I am not going to be a part of making the industry worse off financially than it is now.”– Phillies’ GM Bill Giles, Reading Eagle, June 4, 1997

Drew played in the independent league after refusing to sign with the Phillies.

Most of the time, the failure to sign a draft pick is the result of a club refusing to meet contract demands. The most famous case of a player sticking to his guns is J.D. Drew, who refused to sign with the Phillies for anything less than $10 million after being taken second overall in 1997 (Drew was also drafted by the Giants out of high school in 1994, but opted to attend college). At the time, bonuses for drafts picks were escalating, but Philadelphia GM Bill Giles refused to budge from his top offer of $3.1 million over four years. As a result, Scott Boras took his client to the independent St. Paul Saints, where Drew played for a year before being redrafted by the Cardinals in 1998. Although Drew didn’t get his $10 million asking price, the guaranteed $7 million deal more than doubled the Phillies’ best offer.

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Update: Minutes after this post was published, Law also released his top-100 prospect rankings. Angels’ outfield prospect Mike Trout topped the list, just ahead of 2010 draft wunderkind Bryce Harper and the Phillies’ Domonic Brown.

As for the Yankees, Jesus Montero ranked highest on the list at number four. According to Law, Montero’s ability to hit is without question (he invoked Frank Thomas as a comparison), but concerns about his defense as well as the durability of catchers his size remain. Also appearing in the top-100 were four other Yankees, most notably Manny Banuelos, who not only ranked 12th overall, but also fourth among pitchers. Despite his young age, Law stated that his advanced physical development means Banuelos isn’t far from helping the big league club. Perhaps, he will be the Yankees mystery fifth starter by midseason?

Also ranked in the top 100 were Gary Sanchez (68), Dellin Betances (73) and Andrew Brackman (88), while Austin Romine just missed the cut. Rounding out Law’s list of the Yankees’ top-10 prospects were Graham Stoneburner, Slade Heathcott, Hector Noesi and Adam Warren.

Keith Law’s latest MLB organization rankings have been posted at ESPN.com, and the Yankees find themselves inside the top-10. Law singled out the team’s catching depth, which includes Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez and Austine Romine. Law was also impressed with the development of Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman, both of whom made significant strides in their recovery from injury. Also mentioned were Manny Banuelos as well as a mystery player selected toward the end of last year’s draft. On Friday, Law intends to publish a profile on that player, so all readers with an ESPN insider account should mark it on their calendars.

Most Yankees fans are familiar with Jesus Montero, but fellow catching prospect Gary Sanchez is not that far behind.

Law’s high opinion of the Yankees’ farm system echoed Jonathan Mayo’s prospect rankings, which were unveiled at MLB.com on Tuesday.  The Yankees placed three prospects –Montero (9), Sanchez (32) and Banuelos (35) – on Mayo’s list of the game’s top-50 prospects, while Betances just missed the cut at 53. Like Law, Mayo also rated the Royals (six prospects) and Rays (four prospects) highly. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mets, Marlins, Brewers and A’s were the only four teams not represented.

Law’s and Mayo’s findings validate Brian Cashman’s strategy of paying almost as much attention to the minors as the major league roster. Even as the Yankees have been able to maintain a championship caliber team, Cashman has simultaneously gone about rebuilding and then fortifying the team’s farm system, which is why the general manager was so reticent to surrender a first round draft pick with the signing of Rafael Soriano. The strength of the farm also provides insight into why Cashman has been so patient this offseason. As Steve S. at TYU noted in his excellent recap of Cashman’s WFAN breakfast chat, the Yankees’ general manager believes Banuelos and Betances both have “Phil Hughes or better ceilings”, and all levels of the minors will feature legitimate prospects in their respective rotations. Cashman even relayed Gene Michael’s belief that David Phelps and Adam Warren could be better than Ivan Nova.

Although Mayo’s list is available in its entirety at MLB, Law’s work (which is probably the most exhaustive and informative in the field) remains behind ESPN’s pay wall. So, listed below is a brief and select summary of his conclusions.

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At the same time the Tampa Bay Rays have been dismantling their major league team, the organization has also been stockpiling draft picks. In addition to the team’s own first round selection (32nd overall), the Rays have amassed eight more early picks. As a result, GM Andrew Friedman and his staff will have the ability to select nine of the first 59 players taken in the draft, or over 15% of the best amateurs in the game.

On the surface, the Rays’ position seems very advantageous, all things considered of course. Although it’s a shame that the team wasn’t able to keep its core of quality players together, at least it has a strategy in place to replenish the organization with talent. However, building through the draft is no longer without its own financial concerns.

Rays’ 2011 Draft Position, Versus 2010 Actual Selections

Pick From For   2010 Selection Team Bonus (mn)
24 Red Sox C. Crawford   G. Brown Giants  $1.450
31 Yankees R. Soriano   J. O’Conner Rays  $1.025
32 Own NA   C. Culver Yankees  $0.954
38 Suppl. C. Crawford   N. Syndergaard Blue Jays  $0.600
41 Suppl. R. Soriano   A. Wojciechowski Blue Jays  $0.815
42 Suppl. G. Balfour   D. Vettleson Rays  $0.845
52 Suppl. J. Benoit   S. Allie  Pirates  $2.250
56 Suppl. R. Choate   J.  Bradley D’backs  $0.643
59 Suppl. B. Hawpe   J. Gyorko Padres  $0.614
          Total  $9.198

Source: perfectgame.org (Bonus data)

Based on last year’s signing bonuses, the nine comparable selections that the Rays have in 2011 would cost approximately $9 million. For a team like Tampa, that’s a significant obligation, especially when you consider that the eventual payoff, if it ever occurs, would not be until years down the road. Based on that reality, it’s much easier to see why the team traded Matt Garza (and his expected $6 million salary), although it does make you scratch your head even more at the signing of Kyle Farnsworth for $3.25 million. In any event, the Rays will likely have to tighten their belt to afford the bill that will come due after the June Rule IV draft.

Because of all the payroll that has already been shed, the Rays should be able to meet a $9 million price tag (as well as any additional cost from their subsequent picks). However, it should be noted that talent doesn’t always dictate the order of draft selections. That’s why, for example, Stetson Allie, who was selected by the Pirates with the 52nd pick, earned a signing bonus that was double that paid by the Yankees to Cito Culver with the 31st selection. In other words, the referenced $9 million price tag wouldn’t cover the best players in the draft, but instead those with the best combination of ability and sign-ability.

The draft is already a crapshoot, so making selections based on economic concerns adds yet another layer of uncertainty to the process. In a perfect world, the Rays would be able to use their nine first round selections on the very best players available, but what would that approach cost?

Bonus Figures for Selected 2010 MLB Draftees

Pick Team Player  Bonus
28 Dodgers Zach Lee  $5,250,000
39 Red Sox Anthony Ranaudo  $2,550,000
44 Tigers Nick Castellanos  $3,450,000
45 Rangers Luke Jackson  $1,557,000
48 Tigers Chance Ruffin  $1,150,000
50 Cardinals Tyrell Jenkins  $1,300,000
116 Nationals A.J. Cole  $2,000,000
145 Yankees Mason Williams  $1,450,000
184 Padres John Barbato  $1,400,000
    Total  $20,107,000

Note: If drafted in order,  all of the players above would have been available to a team with the same draft picks as the Rays will have in 2011.
Source: perfectgame.org

Again using last year’s draft as a proxy, a team with the same draft picks as the Rays will have in 2011 would have spent over $20 million had they chosen the best players available, as defined by signing bonuses. Granted, a higher signing bonus doesn’t necessarily mean a better player, but the illustration is clear: it can be very expensive to have nine first round picks.

According to many in the know, the 2011 draft is expected to be talent laden. That could work in the Rays’ advantage by allowing them to pass over players with higher bonus demands. On the other hand, it could wind up exposing the team to even higher costs (assuming bonuses are paid on precedent and talent instead of supply and demand). If the latter market exists, the Rays may be forced to forfeit some of the value implied by their high draft slots (a problem exacerbated by MLB’s rule against trading Rule IV picks).

Sometimes when we talk about the value of a draft pick, we forget that it also has an associated cost. When you consider the inherent risks involved, both in terms of player development and brand diminishment (i.e., losing for a prolonged period on the major league level), building through the draft is not necessarily a pain-free strategy. It has worked for the Rays in the past, but not before having to endure a decade of awful baseball. Although the payoff from accumulating draft picks was two division titles and an A.L. pennant, it could be argued that the team’s inability to increase revenues and attendance are still the result of its earlier, more lengthy struggles.

The Rays situation in Tampa is defined by many unique economic realities, not the least of which is its isolated location in St. Petersburg, but ultimately the franchise will need a longer period of sustained success before it can truly gain economic viability. If the Rays take a significant step back in their current rebuilding program, the patience of the fan base could eventually run out. The Rays don’t have much margin for error in that regard, so in more ways than one, the future of the franchise could be riding on the impact of the 2011 draft.

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Most of the news coverage emanating from MLB’s General Managers meetings in Orlando has centered on proposals for adding more teams to the playoffs, but another very significant topic has gone relatively unnoticed: expanding the Rule IV amateur draft to include international players like those from the Dominican Republic.

In the Dominican Republic, the game of baseball is so popular, even the lifestock can't help, but join the action (Photo: mopupduty.com).

As I suggested back in April, the Rule IV draft is as responsible for the decline in domestic talent as any other development in the sport. Not only do the restrictive bonds of the draft make playing baseball less appealing to American athletes, but it also significantly reduces the incentive for major league teams to cultivate young talent. The simple response to leveling the playing field between American and international athletes has been to propose extending the scope of Rule IV requirements. Instead, baseball should not only resist such a change, but go even further and eliminate the Rule IV draft altogether.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt wrote an interesting article about a growing investment opportunity in the Dominican Republic: young baseball players. Basically, individual investors (including professionals from across a wide spectrum of industries, including finance, politics, diplomacy and even major league baseball) have been establishing baseball academies in the Dominican Republic (video of one such establishment is presented below), much like major league teams have been doing for almost 30 years.

Schmidt’s reporting includes obligatory concern from MLB in the voice of Sandy Alderson, who before taking over as the Mets GM was in charge of overseeing baseball’s operations in the Dominican Republic, but the response seems rather transparent. After all, if private academies uncover players, it prevents major league teams from building an early relationship that can often lead to a favorable contract. Besides, the reason Sandy Alderson was working in the Dominican Republic was because major league baseball wasn’t exactly conducting itself in the most upstanding manner.

Also included in the report were objections from Indiana University professor David P. Fidler, who stated that the academies, which turn a profit by taking a percentage of bonuses given to their players, were basically “selling children”. Of course, that notion is absurd. The academies aren’t selling children. Instead, they are selling the talent that the academies helped develop. Again, it really isn’t any different from what the clubs have been doing for years. The only difference is the players now have an advocate with a direct incentive to negotiate as large a contract as possible.

Make no mistake about it. Not every academy is going to be reputable. Some players will likely be exploited. However, that’s always been the case. Ultimately, the number of opportunities provided to those without comparable alternatives well outweighs the potential for harm.

Coming full circle, one wonders if the impetus to expand the Rule IV draft stems from baseball’s desire to nip these private academies in the bud. If they aren’t able to negotiate large free agent bonuses, the economics of their business model becomes less compelling. In addition, the major league clubs would longer have to worry about bidding against each other for high profile talent. Instead, they could simply draft the international player and then exert the tremendous force of the reserve rules upon them. No longer free agents, how many young, impoverished players from Latin American will be able, much less willing, to sit out a year if they aren’t happy with the contract being offered?

Hopefully, the player’s union does not abandon their international brethren. Even though the current system does put American-born players at a disadvantage, evening the playing field shouldn’t be about two wrongs making a right. Instead, the MLBPA should be pushing for abolition of the draft altogether. Just think about how much private and team investment would take place in U.S. cities if there was economic advantage to finding and developing talent at such an early age.

The best way to reinvigorate the American athlete’s participation in baseball is to remove the restrictions. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen. Hopefully, baseball doesn’t compound its mistake at home by making the same one all around the world.

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Anyone surprised by Madison Bumgarner’s outstanding World Series start, which was the just latest contribution to an already strong postseason, probably wasn’t paying attention to the Giants down the stretch. In his five September starts, the young lefty pitched to a 1.13 ERA in 32 innings, including a sparkling 32:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In other words, despite being only a few months over the age of 21, Bumgarner was far from an unlikely World Series hero.

21 Club: Youngest Starters to Have a Scoreless Outing in the World Series

Pitcher Yr.Days Date G Team Opp IP H Gsc
Jim Palmer* 20.356 10/6/1966 2 BAL LAD 9 4 82
Madison Bumgarner* 21.091 10/31/2010 4 SFG TEX 8 3 80
Chief Bender* 21.158 10/10/1905 2 PHA NYG 9 4 85
Bret Saberhagen 21.199 10/27/1985 7 KCR STL 9 5 79
Wally Bunker* 21.256 10/8/1966 3 BAL LAD 9 6 80

*World Series debut
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The World Series is a long way from pitching in high school, but for Madison Bumgarner, the journey only took three years (Photo: Tom Priddy)

Bumgarner was drafted by the Giants out of South Caldwell High School (North Carolina) with the 10th selection in the 2007 amateur draft. By 2009, the talented lefty was widely regarded as a blue chip, ranking sixth and ninth respectively in Keith Law’s and Baseball America’s prospect lists for that year (also in the top-15 on both lists were Neftali Feliz and Buster Posey). However, concerns over his velocity during the 2009 season caused both Law and BA to drop Bumgarner in their rankings to 28 and 14, respectively.

In his preseason report, Law wrote, “Bumgarner took a big tumble this year when his velocity gradually declined the deeper he went into the season.  He was 88-93 mph early in the season but just 87-90 by midsummer”. Law also noted that his velocity could return as he gained arm strength and filled out his 6’4” frame, and that’s precisely what happened in 2010. According to fangraphs.com, the average velocity on Bumgarner’s fastball was 91.3mph, a significant improvement over the 89.2mph posting from his brief tenure with the Giants at the end of the 2009 season. In addition, Bumgarner’s slider dramatically increased from an average velocity of 78.1mph to 84.8mph, giving him separation from the curve and making the pitch hard to distinguish from his changeup. Gradually, the Giants’ lefty has been developing and refining a loaded arsenal of pitches that seemed to come together last night in the World Series.

The 2010 Giants have been portrayed as a team of misfits, but there is nothing second rate about their pitching. After all, a talent like Bumgarner is their number four starter (in both name and 2010 WAR), which pretty much explains the Giants’ strengths as a team. Having said that, winning hasn’t come easy. Far from it, in fact. Giants’ announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow have famously described the team’s style of play as “torture” because of the high number of close games in which they usually find themselves. As an illustration, Bumgarner went 2-2 in September, despite posting the sterling numbers mentioned previously. Clearly, scoring is not the Giants’ forte.

The World Series isn’t over, but it is still worth remembering that San Francisco was seven games behind in the loss column as late as August 28. If not for the Padres’ September swoon, the Giants could very well be home watching the postseason, so even if they wind up winning a ring, maintaining the status quo in 2011 should not be a given. With that in mind, the emergence of Bumgarner, and even Sanchez, who had pitched exceedingly well until his meltdown in the NLCS, makes you wonder how much torture the Giants’ organization will be willing to endure next season. With 2009 sixth round selection Zach Wheeler already showing promise (70 strikeouts in his first 58 2/3 professional innings), the Giants seem to have a lock on solid pitching for the foreseeable future, so perhaps the time has come for them to consider trading one of their aces for a much needed bat?

If the Giants were to put either Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum on the market, just about every team in baseball would be frothing at the mouth. The question for San Francisco, however, would be which of the two to trade? It might seem obscene to suggest, but the best candidate would probably be the freak. Not only would his more attractive name likely net a larger package in return, but Lincecum’s midseason struggles led to some whispers throughout the game about a loss of velocity. What’s more, when you consider Lincecum’s across the board decline in key peripherals, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Cain, who is actually one year younger, being the better pitcher over the long run. Finally, add in concern about Lincecum’s unorthodox mechanics and slight frame, as opposed to Cain’s text book delivery and solid 6’3”/245lb build, and the case seems very compelling.

One more factor to consider is economics. The Giants have $52 million locked up in Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand over the next two seasons, so salary relief is not an insignificant consideration. In 2011, Lincecum is scheduled to make $13 million, while Cain will pull down $7mn, which isn’t that onerous. In 2012, however, Lincecum enters his last season of arbitration eligibility, while Cain’s salary balloons to $15 million. As a result, it’s very easy to see the Giants saddled with a greater than $30 million price tag for both pitcher’s services. Combined with the amounts owed to Zito and Rowand, one wonders if that would be a tenable situation?

Unless their internal scouts feel strongly about one pitcher’s future over the other’s, the Giants’ best approach might be to see whom they could sign to a favorable long-term deal and then seek to trade the other. They could also wait another season to see how things shake out, but that wouldn’t help alleviate the team’s offensive woes. If the Giants traded from their strength and returned a stud position player, preferably one who plays up the middle, they’d be able to complement Buster Posey and have the beginnings of an all around core. Even though the 2010 postseason has seemed to prove otherwise, teams can not live by pitching alone. Trying to do so can be torture.

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