Of all the 2011 rotations we've examined to date, no team's starting five appears more locked in than that of the San Francisco Giants. Their current rotation has been both healthy and effective, and all five starters are under team control for at least two more years.
Last year's ace, Tim Lincecum, actually has the worst ERA (3.62) among Giants' starters, and his slight dip in velocity and decline in production is a little worrisome. Still, he's striking out more than a batter per inning, and should be fine if he's healthy. Lincecum will make $13MM next season and then will be eligible for arbitration twice more, as a Super Two. He'll be expensive by the time he hits free agency, but San Francisco is one team that can afford the cost.
Behind him, Matt Cain is locked up through 2012 on an affordable contract, and Barry Zito, while not quite as affordable, has at least been effective this year (3.56 ERA). He'll make $18.5MM in 2011 and is under contract through 2013. At the fourth spot in the rotation, Jonathan Sanchez has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He's enjoying a successful 2010 (3.47 ERA, 9.4 K/9) and will be in line for a solid raise next year, but since he's only earning $2.1MM this season, his price tag won't be exorbitant.
While the aforementioned four have been rotation mainstays for some time, the team's fifth starter, Madison Bumgarner is a newcomer. Having just turned 21 this month, the left-hander has already showed that he deserves a starting spot in 2011. In 11 starts this year, he's recorded a 3.20 ERA and displayed outstanding control (2.3 BB/9). Barring a setback or injury, Bumgarner figures to round out the club's 2011 rotation.
Just because the team's rotation appears set now, however, doesn't mean there won't be changes. While Sanchez has been the subject of a few trade rumors, it's unlikely any of San Francisco's starting pitchers will be dealt. But injuries are impossible to predict, and as we've seen in their dogged pursuit of outfield bats this summer, the Giants are a club that values depth.
The team's top pitching prospect, 2009 first-rounder Zach Wheeler, is still in A ball, meaning he's probably at least a year or two away yet. The Giants' higher levels of the minors aren't exactly flush with young major-league-ready arms, but players like Clayton Tanner and Henry Sosa could be ready to contribute at the big-league level next year, if they're needed. Neither prospect, of course, is in the same league as Bumgarner: the 22-year-old Tanner has seen his strikeout rate decline significantly at Double-A Richmond, and may need another year of minor-league seasoning, while Sosa, 25, has pitched primarily out of the bullpen for the first time this year at Triple-A Fresno.
With few viable insurance starters in the Giants' minor league system, the team could look to the free agent market this winter. They likely won't be targeting any elite pitchers or even mid-rotation starters, but one or two journeymen on minor league contracts could be useful if the club is bit by the injury bug in 2011. Until then, the Giants and their fans should enjoy a group of arms that may not come cheap, but has fewer question marks than virtually every rotation in the league.