The Giants wouldn't have won last year's World Series without their formidable rotation, but manager Bruce Bochy said last month that Philadelphia – the team San Francisco defeated in the 2010 NLCS – has "the best staff in baseball." Whether you believe the best starting staff in the game belongs to the Phillies, the Giants or someone else, this much is certain: the last two NL Championship teams have built their rotations in noticeably different ways.
Giants GM Brian Sabean has relied primarily on the draft to build his rotation. He spent big ($126MM over seven years) on Barry Zito, but the rest of the team’s rotation is homegrown. About six months before Sabean signed Zito, he drafted Tim Lincecum tenth overall in the 2006 draft. The next year, the Giants made Madison Bumgarner their first round selection (tenth overall). Lincecum, Bumgarner and Zito join two other Giants draftees, Matt Cain (first round, 2002) and Jonathan Sanchez (27th round, 2004) in Bochy's rotation.
Bochy's counterpart, Charlie Manuel, will trot out an equally impressive rotation in 2011, but his starters arrived in Philadelphia because of GM Ruben Amaro Jr.'s knack for acquiring big-name starters in trades. Pat Gillick traded for Joe Blanton in 2008, before Amaro took over the Phillies and the new GM has picked up where his predecessor left off, acquiring Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt in a series of blockbusters.
The Phillies had to bid for Lee on the open market to lure him back to Philadelphia, but the initial swap was crucial for the Phillies, who signed Lee for less than the Yankees or Rangers were offering. Amaro isn't all about trades, though – Cole Hamels fills out the team's rotation and Kyle Kendrick, another Philadelphia draft pick, provides the club with depth.
I am not suggesting that the Phillies are all about trading or that the Giants are all about drafting. The Phillies used nine of their first 12 draft picks on pitchers last year, so they clearly see the value in drafting arms, even if they often seem to trade them away before long (they have dealt J.A. Happ, Gavin Floyd, Kyle Drabek and others for more established pitchers in recent years). Similarly, the Giants would no doubt consider acquiring starting pitching through trades or free agency. But for one year at least, baseball's two most impressive rotations have wildly different origins.