New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, an impending free agent, is precisely the sort of pricey rental player that Giants general manager Brian Sabean has ruled out in the past.
Sabean isn't ruling them out now.
"No, you have to be more open-minded because of the situation we're in," Sabean said before Barry Zito twirled the Giants to a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday. "But you'd have to be pretty damn sure that, quote (unquote), rental player was a difference maker."
In the meantime, the Giants keep pitching and winning. Zito paired a snapping curveball with well-placed fastballs to complete eight innings without walking a batter -- something he hadn't done since 2007 -- and the Giants split a series with the always nagging Padres.
Eli Whiteside hit a solo home run, Pablo Sandoval extended his hitting streak to 18 games, and Zito made the meager haul stand up for the Giants' 50th victory -- a mark they hadn't reached before the All-Star break since 2003, when they finished 100-61.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy praised Zito, who drew a standing ovation in his first start at AT&T Park since April 10.
"It's nice to have a healthy Zito throwing the ball well, and we do rely on pitching," Bochy said. "At the same time, we need to get this offense going."
Beltran and the Mets arrive at AT&T Park on Friday to begin a three-game series that will carry both clubs into the break. Bochy added Beltran
There's no guarantee the Giants will get a bat like Beltran to address their limp offense, or even a minor upgrade. But Sabean said he and his staff recently began to make contact with trade targets, having conversations with an estimated 15 teams to gauge their willingness to deal.
"The responses back have been really slow or guarded," Sabean said. "That's the standings. People are still trying to figure out what's in their best interests."
Would it be in the Giants' best interests, finally, to part with a major league starter? Sabean did not sound eager to part with a pitcher such as Jonathan Sanchez. But in a departure from his past proclamations, he didn't rule it out, either.
"I don't know that yet," Sabean said. "That would have to be really discussed at a lot of levels internally. Because you have to have definitive fallback positions to withstand the loss of somebody."
The other great unanswered question is whether ownership would approve any major additions to a club-record $120 million payroll that already represents nearly a 25 percent boost from last year. In Beltran's case, the Giants might avoid stripping the farm system of their best prospects if they relieve the Mets of the nearly $10 million still owed to him this season.
Sabean acknowledged his job is much tougher than it was at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline a year ago, even though the 2010 club wasn't in such a privileged position atop the N.L. West. That's how difficult it is to acquire hitting talent.
"I don't know how many actual premium choices there will be," he said. "It might be a late-breaking year, a last 48-hour sort of thing."
Brian Wilson allowed an infield hit in the ninth before recording the save and ending a snappy two-hour, 14-minute game.
Ryan Ludwick's home run in the seventh inning was the only blemish on Zito's record. He struck out seven and twice stranded runners that reached third base.
It marked just the seventh time in Zito's career that he completed eight innings and didn't walk a batter. He'd done it just two other times as a Giant, both in 2007 -- his first season with the club.
"Just focusing on things below my neck and trying to make the best pitches I can," Zito said. "It was great to give these fans what they're looking for. They're great fans."
The next question: Will the fans continue to cheer low-scoring games deep into October? Or will Sabean find a remedy for that?
"As crazy as it sounds, this group might be good enough to make it to the finish line," Sabean said. "But we know Arizona is for real, and there's a lot of baseball being played in our division."
For more on the Giants, see Andrew Baggarly's Extra Baggs blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/extrabaggs.