Somewhere out there, there's a team about to turn into Next Year's San Francisco Giants.
And by that, we don't mean a team that's looking to lead the league in fortuitous waiver claims, scrap-heap excavations or most playings of "Don't Stop Believin'."
By that, of course, we can only mean one thing:
Yes, to qualify as the winner of Rumblings and Grumblings' thrilling Next Year's Giants competition, a team would need to have massive quantities of the commodity that led this year's Giants to the parade floats -- young, upwardly mobile starting pitching.
Just so you understand the ground rules here, we're not rating which teams project to have the best rotations, period, next season. We're looking for staffs that most resemble the Giants -- owners of the most high-end YOUNG starters who might be ready to explode next year. OK, got that? Great.
We've spent this week surveying a bunch of astute baseball minds on which teams best fit that model. And now here they are -- the five teams most capable of becoming Next Year's Giants.
1. OAKLAND A'S
The Giants sure don't have to look far to find their mirror image -- just right across the old Bay Bridge. In Oakland, the A's have a group that didn't just lead the league in ERA, but led in starting-pitcher ERA by 36 percentage points.
Here, though, is the stat that really opened our eyes. The A's got 82 quality starts in 2010 from pitchers 26 and under. No other team in the big leagues had more than 65.
"They'd top my list in both leagues," said one scout, "with Cahill at the forefront, because their guys have the highest upside. If they can stay afloat in that division, that's the team with the best chance to duplicate what the Giants did. Plus, they have a closer, in [Andrew] Bailey, who equates to Brian Wilson."
Everybody loves Cahill. ("That guy's just a winner," said one AL executive.) Anderson has a top-of-the-rotation arm if he can stay healthy. Gonzalez "has electric stuff," said one scout. And Braden is "a stabilizer." So if these guys stay healthy, watch out for this team.
ODDS OF ACHIEVING GIANT-HOOD
Even after trading for David DeJesus on Wednesday, the A's clearly need to work on an offense that finished next-to-last in the league in homers and scored 124 fewer runs than Texas. But the good news is, with a staff like this (and with Rakuten Golden Eagles ace Hisashi Iwakuma on the way), they clearly won't need to score eight runs a game.
2. TAMPA BAY RAYS
We wrestled with whether the Rays should qualify for this competition, since they did win the AL East this year. So they wouldn't exactly be a surprise if they won again next year. But we're including them for two reasons:
One, no team -- even Oakland -- can match the depth of their upper-echelon young arms. And two, with Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena hitting the exit ramps, they figure to go only as far as their pitching takes them next season.
The Rays got more wins (61) from starters 27 and under this year than any team in either league. They have a bona fide rotation centerpiece in Price, who has already established he's Cy Young material. Behind him, Davis, Garza and Hellickson, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, all have top-of-the-rotation stuff.
Meanwhile, Niemann was eighth in the AL in ERA when he strained his shoulder in August. Somewhere over the horizon, they can call on Matt Moore, who has led the minor leagues in strikeouts in two straight seasons. And we didn't even include James Shields, because he'll be older than our arbitrary cutoff age of 28 next year. (Why 28? Because the Giants' group of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner will all be 28 or younger. That's why.)
ODDS OF ACHIEVING GIANT-HOOD
They won't have the same cast of offensive characters next year. But anybody who writes off the Rays is making a huge mistake, just based on this rotation alone.
"I think Oakland's rotation probably has the higher upside," said one scout. "But for pure stuff, you could put Tampa Bay ahead of them because their fourth and fifth [starters] are so good."
3. CINCINNATI REDS
Here's another team that made it to the Octoberfest this year. But it was impossible to leave the Reds out of this discussion because no team in the National League has a deeper pool of big-time young arms.
What the Reds lack, though, is somebody who could turn into the next Lincecum. Cueto, Volquez and Bailey all have spectacular arms -- "but I don't think anyone has got the kind of pitch-ability, to go with the stuff, that Lincecum has," said one scout. "I can't say Cueto or Volquez have it. Bailey has that kind of stuff, but he's never shown the ability to 'pitch.' So maybe the closest guy is Wood, but he doesn't have Lincecum-type stuff."
What the Reds do have, however, are lots and lots of young arms that have already proven they can pitch in the big leagues. Every pitcher on this list has a winning record over the past two years. Volquez, Bailey and Wood all have racked up better than 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. And the underrated Wood had the fifth-best WHIP (1.08) in the league among pitchers with at least 100 innings this year.
ODDS OF ACHIEVING GIANT-HOOD
Add a veteran presence in Bronson Arroyo and the most productive offense in the league, and this is one dangerous team. The only downside, said one scout, is "they do not have a No. 1 starter, unless they put Aroldis Chapman in the rotation. And even then, while he's got No. 1 starter stuff, whether he could pitch to that level as a starter, I don't know."
4. FLORIDA MARLINS
Any rotation that starts with a legit No. 1 like Johnson has to make this list.
"He's a true No. 1 power potential dominator," said one NL scout. "My question is about the rest of the rotation, which is still real inconsistent."
Nolasco has swing-and-miss stuff, but we heard questions about his "focus" and "competitiveness." No one is too sure what to make of Volstad, who had such a bizarre ride on the roller coaster this year that the Marlins went 4-13 in his first-half starts and (after a brief minor league tuneup) 10-3 in his second-half starts. Ditto Sanchez, who allowed one earned run or none in 11 of his 32 starts but had a 4.82 ERA over the final month and a half. And Sanabia has his fans, but only as a back-of-the-rotation type.
ODDS OF ACHIEVING GIANT-HOOD
The word we heard over and over about these guys was "consistency." Unfortunately, that talk was accompanied by two other words: "lack of." If Nolasco, Volstad and Sanchez ever achieve a higher level of dependability, this is an October rotation waiting to happen. If not, it'll be more of the same. The Marlins did lead the league in quality starts by pitchers 27 or younger, with 78. But this picture would look a lot better if the enigmatic Andrew Miller ever got his act together.
5. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Only the A's got more quality starts this year by pitchers 26 or younger than the Blue Jays (65) did. Morrow threw a 17-strikeout one-hitter and would have led the league in strikeout ratio (10.95 per 9 IP) if the Jays hadn't shut him down on Labor Day. Romero would have gone 14-7, with a 3.25 ERA, if he hadn't allowed 17 runs in five innings in his last two starts before the All-Star break. Cecil won 15 games in a breakout year. And Drabek, the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, should make an impact at some point next season.
Most Quality Starts By Pitchers 27 Or Younger
So this group's only issue, much like the Reds, is that "there's no clear-cut No. 1," said one scout. Romero is viewed as an excellent No. 2. That's probably Drabek's upside, too. Cecil tops out as a No. 3. And while Morrow "can dominate, I wouldn't put him ahead of a Price or a Cahill," the same scout said.
ODDS OF ACHIEVING GIANT-HOOD
This is a rotation on the rise and a team building around young players. But this is also a staff that's been dragged down by health issues. And -- stop us if you've heard this before -- it's a lot tougher to sneak into October when you play in the AL East than it is in the NL West. Put the Blue Jays in any other division in baseball, and they'd have all the makings of a Next Year's Giants kind of team. Put them in the AL East, and all we can say is: Lots of luck to you.
Ready to Rumble
• Zack exchange: Are the Royals serious about trading Zack Greinke? Well, they're serious about listening. But according to clubs that have spoken with them, they're telling bidders up front that (A) they would need to "win" the deal, (B) they would have to get the kind of four-for-one haul the Rangers got for Mark Teixeira to pull the trigger, (C) they need a bunch of "front-line, winning, quality players" in return, and (D) at least one of those players has to be a pitcher capable of turning into the next Zack Greinke in a couple of years. So unless a team like Texas were to lose Cliff Lee and decide it needs to trade for Greinke at all costs, we're betting this doesn't happen -- not this winter, anyway.
• More Greinke: Clubs that checked in on Greinke have also come away with the impression he wouldn't approve a deal to ANY major-market East Coast team (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets). But an official of one team says Greinke "would at least think about the L.A. clubs" if the Dodgers or Angels were to wade into this mix.
Finally, one AL exec who has seen a lot of Greinke says the fact that his ERA almost doubled this year (from 2.16 to 4.17) has zero effect on how attractive he'd be to a contender: "I think he'd pitch better on a winning club. As the year wore on, I thought he got disinterested. He just kind of cruised. Then Tampa Bay came in there at the end of the year, and he dialed it up and stuck it right up their tails."
• Deep in the wallets of Texas: One baseball man with knowledge of the Rangers' massive new TV deal says people are overestimating the impact that contract will have on their ability to bring back Cliff Lee.
For one thing, the new deal doesn't kick in until 2015, when Lee would be in the fifth season of his next contract.
For another, Rumblings was told, the new Rangers ownership has already used a large chunk of the upcoming TV money, which it collected up front as a signing bonus, to help finance its purchase of the franchise.
And, finally, the Rangers are about to lose their status as a revenue-sharing taker, which was allowing them to collect $8 million to $15 million a year.
So the bottom line is that this TV deal is not going to be worth an extra $80 million a season, as some people have speculated, and will have only minimal impact initially. Which means the Rangers still have to decide if it's a sane business decision to outbid the Yankees in years and dollars on a player the Yankees seem determined to sign. We wish them luck on that.
• Wild thing: It's looking more and more likely that baseball is going to add a second wild-card team in each league and have those two wild cards duke it out after the season for the right to move on to the division series. But you probably won't see that happen until 2012.
And in the meantime, the big battle could be over whether that wild-card survivor round should be a dramatic, one-game October Madness win-or-go-home game, or whether it should be stretched out to a best-of-three.
Every indication is that the players are dug in on two-out-of-three. But there's a mixed camp on the clubs' side. Let's just say it didn't go unnoticed that the team that had to wait around longest between rounds lost EVERY postseason series this year.
So there's already grumbling about the thought of the two teams with the best record in each league having to kill time in October while the wild cards play it off. If the idea of that wild-card round is to reward teams for finishing first, that's an issue that needs to be addressed.
• The retiring type: In a recent column in the New York Post, the always-creative Joel Sherman tried to help the Yankees with their Derek Jeter negotiation crisis. The answer, Sherman suggested, might be some sort of post-playing personal-services deal that would pay Jeter for, say, 25 years following his playing career.
Great idea. But early indications are that the Yankees aren't interested. When Jeter's deal gets done one of these weeks, says one baseball man who spoke with them, it will be "a baseball contract. Period."
• Not Werth it: Here's one Phillies source on the odds of his team finding a way to keep Jayson Werth: "No chance. None. Zero." In the end, it might not even be the annual dollars that will force the Phillies to move on. It's their unwillingness to go beyond three or four years for a player who will turn 32 next May.
So where might the Phillies turn? Reports of their interest in guys like Magglio Ordonez, Pat Burrell and Andruw Jones appear highly exaggerated. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. continues to talk up Ben Francisco, at least in a potential platoon with Domonic Brown -- or with Ross Gload if they decide Brown isn't ready. But the Phillies would still shop for another right-handed-hitting outfield bat. One name we've heard a lot: Jeff Francoeur, who has told friends he'd love to play for Charlie Manuel.
• More Phillie phodder: The free agent the Phillies have been most aggressive about trying to re-sign isn't Werth. It's right-hander Jose Contreras, who struck out 57 in 56 2/3 innings in his first full season in the bullpen.
Amaro wouldn't confirm that, but did say: "We've made contact with 40 free agents, predominantly bullpen guys." He also said: "Left-handed relief is a priority for us."
• Gone fishing: The Marlins continue to try to get Dan Uggla signed long-term. But teams that have kicked the tires on dealing for Uggla report they came away with distinct signals that if these talks continue to stall, at some point the Marlins will turn their attention to shopping their second baseman.
"So if he really wants to be there," said one NL exec, "he'd better not wait too long, or his butt will get moved."
Stat of the week
Of Tim Lincecum's four postseason wins this year, three came against Cy Young winners -- one against Roy Halladay, two against Cliff Lee.
So how many other pitchers have ever beaten former Cy Youngs three times in the same postseason? That would be two. And you'd never guess which two:
• Livan Hernandez of the 1997 Marlins -- won a duel with Maddux in the NLCS, then beat Orel Hershiser twice in the World Series.
Yep. Sterling Hitchcock and Livan Hernandez. Who knew?
Late-nighter of the week
• From Jimmy Kimmel, on what it meant to San Francisco to see the Giants win a World Series:
"To celebrate, Giants fans had a riot back home in San Francisco. They overturned Priuses. They were throwing bottles of biodynamically farmed zinfandel, building huge clean-burning bonfires out of old 'Design Within Reach' catalogs. It was a mess. There hasn't been a riot like this in San Francisco since HBO announced 'Sex and the City' was going off the air."
Best tweets of the postseason
• From the always-entertaining @UmpJoeWest, authored by a mystery man identifying himself only as "Not Ump Joe West," as Game 4 of the NLCS was unfolding:
"If you're wondering why ump Wally Bell is calling everything a strike tonight, it's b/c we have dinner plans in an hour"
• And, from Late Show tweeting genius @EricStangel, during the pregame festivities before Game 3 of the Twins-Yankees ALDS:
"Awkward moment in the Bronx -- During introductions Brian Cashman handed Carl Pavano his weekly Yankees paycheck"
Headliner of the postseason
This just in from those A-Rod fans at the legendary parody site, TheOnion.com:
A-ROD FINALLY LEADS RANGERS TO WORLD SERIES
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.