in Cleveland, splitting time at first with Victor Martinez.
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
Just a game behind the wild card-leading Rockies entering tonight's action, the San Francisco Giants have been a surprise playoff contender thanks to the major league's best pitching staff (3.74 runs allowed per game), but despite an offensive attack weaker than all but three teams in the major leagues (3.99 R/G, better than only the Royals, Mariners and Padres). The Giants were thus in obvious need of a bat, and they acquired one on Monday, sending lefty pitching prospect Scott Barnes to the Indians for first baseman Ryan Garko.
The 28-year-old Garko is no more than a league-average first baseman (his .285/.362/.464 line this season is just a tick above his career rates and a tick below the .276/.362/.483 line of the average major league first baseman), and in his short stints in the outfield corners this year has roamed the pastures like the former minor league catcher that he is. Still, as a first baseman, he's an upgrade on disappointing 25-year-old incumbent Travis Ishikawa (.269/.321/.411), at least with the bat. Garko has had an unprecedentedly fine season in the field, but isn't regarded as a strong defender, whereas Ishikawa is and has been even better than Garko with the leather this year.
So Garko is an upgrade, but only a marginal one. Using Baseball Prospectus's VORP, through nearly two-thirds of the season, Garko has been worth 10.6 runs above replacement to Ishikawa's 0.3. At roughly ten runs per win, that translates to an upgrade of about a half a win over the remainder of the season, assuming Garko doesn't give any of that back with his glove or his feet (Garko is one of the worst base runners in the major leagues).
The Giants had far bigger holes to fill at second base and shortstop, positions which thus far have combined for a .286 on-base percentage and .303 slugging percentage. They have found part of a solution to their middle-infield chasm in Juan Uribe (.280/.310/.431 on the season, .264/.309/.451 since getting regular playing time starting on June 26), but a trade for a middle infielder such as the Pirates Freddy Sanchez would still have helped them far more than Garko will. It's worth noting, however, that Garko is still several years from free agency and making less than a half a million dollars this year, whereas Sanchez comes with an $8 million option for 2010.
As for the pitcher they gave up, St. John's product Scott Barnes was a savvy 2008 pick who has been excelling in the high-A California League this season (12-3, 2.85 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 3.41 K/BB). A 21-year-old lefty, Barnes has received high marks for his mound presence and could move quickly toward Cleveland's decimated rotation. He's a great pickup for the Indians, but an expendable resource for the Giants, who already have 25-year-old Tim Lincecum and 24-year-old Matt Cain dominating the National League, may yet get something out of 26-year-old Jonathan Sanchez, and also have the game's top pitching prospect in Double-A in 19-year-old lefty Madison Bumgarner. Still, they've now cashed in that chip for only a minor upgrade. It will likely take more than Garko to put the Giants in the postseason.