When Madison Bumgarner went on the DL after his dirt biking accident in April, it seemed like plenty of doom and gloom was in store for the Giants. With a four-time All-Star-shaped hole left in the pitching lineup, the Giants were forced to insert former fifth round draft pick Ty Blach into the starting rotation. While Bumgarner’s absence only hurts the Giants, his injury has been given a silver lining: Blach’s stellar play so far this season.
In Blach’s six starts this season, he has had four games with at least seven innings pitched and has never given up more than two walks. Further, he has given up three or less earned runs in his last five games. His so-so 2-2 record is more a symptom of the Giants’ inability to score runs and the struggles of the bullpen as opposed to his own pitching performances. The batters have only scored more than two runs once in Blach’s six starts. A prime example of that is when he pitched seven shut-out innings against the Padres and ended up with a no decision as the Giants lost 5-2 in extras after Mark Melancon blew his second save. However, if Blach continues to pitch well, it gives the Giants the flexibility to keep from rushing Bumgarner back to the rotation.
Blach’s recent performances have also put pressure on the other Giants starters. No other starter has an ERA below 4.50 or more than four wins, yet they all combine for over $70 million on the Giants 2017 payroll. Matt Cain has a $21 million team option for next season and even though he is pitching better than he has in years, the front office may question if he is worth that significant of a price tag. Cain would become the second-highest paid player on the team if the Giants exercise that option while Blach is making a fraction of that kind of salary at just $536,500. One could even argue the lefty is out-pitching Cain this season.
Johnny Cueto may also be feeling some pressure as the 31-year-old is not having a particularly stellar season with a 4.50 ERA and a 4-3 record. Cueto can opt into another year on his deal worth $21 million in 2018, which he may do if he continues to have a down year and doesn’t think he will find a better deal anywhere else. Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Mark Melancon will all get significant salary increases in 2018, and Buster Posey will be the team’s highest paid player at $22 million, which would push the Giants’ payroll to at least $179 million for just 11 active players, including Cueto if he opts into another year.
With a cost-controlled asset like Blach pitching so well, the Giants may feel that bringing back Cain for so much money is simply not worth it and they would possibly consider not bringing back Cueto if he opts out of his contract. The Giants front office has shown a willingness to substitute proven veterans with cheaper assets in the past. Most recently they allowed two-time All-Star Pablo Sandival to sign with the Red Sox in 2014 on a five-year $90 million contract and replaced him with then Giant Matt Duffy, who was making just $509,000 at the time. In 2012 the Giants front office also bought out former Silver Slugger Aubrey Huffs $10 million contract and replaced him with Brandon Belt, saving the team almost $7 million. Huff was essentially just a pinch hitter at that point and Belt was showing a lot of promise as an everyday first baseman.
Recent moves like those may signal trouble for guys like Cain and Cueto come next season.