NEW YORK -- Giants executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean affirmed that the team is striving to acquire a reliever by the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline who will upgrade the bullpen significantly, not just incrementally.
"I don't know how things are going to shake out," Sabean said.
And that's due partly to uncertainties involving which players are actually available or clubs that fit as trading partners.
But Sabean expressed a preference for obtaining a high-volume strikeout reliever. Moreover, unlike previous years, Sabean didn't rule out trading players currently on the active Major League roster. Nor will he refuse to consider acquiring a player who's eligible for free agency after this season.
Most of all, the Giants want somebody good.
"The real dilemma is how you upgrade," Sabean said. "It has to be meaningful and it can't just be a body."
He also said, "It's not just going to be the average Joe coming in here. We're thinking it's going to be a meaningful piece."
So maybe the stale rumors regarding San Francisco's interest in Yankees lefty reliever Andrew Miller aren't that ridiculous. The Giants could get a better look at Miller during their three-game Interleague series against the Yanks starting Friday.
Whoever the Giants get, if they get anyone, could help their bullpen become more strikeout-oriented. They won their three World Series by relying on strike-throwers such as Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and the since-retired Jeremy Affeldt. Romo and Lopez remain valued members of the bullpen, but the relievers' average velocity has inched upward, particularly with the likes of Derek Law, Josh Osich and Hunter Strickland beginning to establish themselves.
"We got away for a long time with a lot of 'contact' relievers," Sabean said. "But the game's kind of changed. That wouldn't preclude you from getting [another pitch-to-contact specialist]. But ... you'd want somebody who can really get through an inning."
Last Saturday's 7-6, 10-inning loss at San Diego, in which closer Santiago Casilla blew his fifth save in 26 chances, may have disturbed San Francisco's decision-makers more than they care to admit -- and thus hardened the team's resolve to deepen the bullpen.
Sabean sounded as if he were describing that defeat when he said, "Having gone through what we have when we won [championships], the thing you have to do late in the season, especially the playoffs, is win the games you're supposed to win. If you end up letting a game get away, it can cost you in the standings, how you want to finish to get to the playoffs, or, in fact, it can cost you the playoff series."
Relief pitching isn't San Francisco's lone need. Though the club is striving to remain optimistic about right fielder Hunter Pence's return from a right hamstring injury, it might revisit acquiring a corner outfielder to bolster the lineup -- not just for the stretch drive, but also for next year, since outfielders Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco will become free agents after this season.
That's why the Reds' Jay Bruce seemed like such a fit for the Giants, who are known to have inquired about him. Not only has Bruce's production risen across the board, but his contract includes a $13 million club option with a $1 million buyout for 2017.
Optimism surrounding the recoveries of second baseman Joe Panik (concussion) and third baseman Matt Duffy (left Achilles) probably has halted any search for an infielder that San Francisco might have launched.
The Giants could put more energy into trade talks if Pence, Panik or Duffy falters in some way.
"In the National League, you can't go this long with those three guys out of the lineup," Sabean said. "We'd have a hard time having any continuity, on a consistency basis, to score runs because where they hit in the order."
San Francisco might also consider acquiring a starter, given Jake Peavy's fluctuating fortunes and Matt Cain's struggle to regain effectiveness. But from all indications, bolstering the rotation isn't the Giants' top priority.
A final concern: No matter who the Giants might covet, they must weigh whether he's worth the additional expenditure the team would have to commit to the competitive balance tax, more commonly known as the luxury tax, based on his salary.
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.