If you’ve been following along, the Giants have not been a great team this year nor have they been terrible. Last summer, Andrew Baggarly reported that in the midst of an historically awful year, the Giants would consider moving anyone in the right deal besides Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. A couple of weeks ago, I reported the same thing.
Earlier today, the wonderful Alex Pavlovic posted an interview with President and CEO Larry Baer about the team’s plans a week out from the trade deadline (it’s good and thorough and you should read it), and in it he dropped in this direct quote:
... should they sell a few veterans for prospects, breaking up a club that has shown no ability to play consistent baseball or stray too far north of .500?
Baer eliminated one possibility.
“Selling is just something that hasn’t been done by us, so I don’t foresee it,” he said.
That’s not to say the Giants will be buying, either.... The Giants have spent nine months trying to stay under the competitive balance tax and a recent trade told you all you need to know. The front office attached a decent pitching prospect to Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin just to dip back under the tax line of $197 million.
Which got me thinking: why do the Giants only deal in absolutes?
The opposite of adding players is not a total rebuild. Has the team never heard of a haircut?
To put it another way: my cat had fleas recently, and our options were to aggressively treat the problem with chemicals, fur combing, vacuuming, and constant sheet drying or just putting a collar on our beloved fur baby, combing her fur every so often, and, like, setting out a bowl of dish soap to catch any hopping fleas from the floor (do not search YouTube for these videos). As you can see, that’s constellation of actions/solutions.
Hmm, you know what? I’m sorry. I could’ve boiled this down to a single sentence and I didn’t. Here’s that sentence anyway: our choices were taking the cat to the vet for an immediate fix or treating the problem ourselves over a long period of time.
The Giants have decided to let the fleas slowly consume them while they treat the problem internally.
Somehow, the team is convinced that if they show even the slightest hint of “a rebuild” that the fans will stop showing up. Thing is, they’ve already stopped showing up.
Somehow, the team is convinced that the fans are right: it’s better to lose with familiar faces than lose with new ones. Thing is, the last World Series was four years ago. The Yankees are the most successful team in the history of the sport and you’d never see them debase their roster with pointless nostalgia.
Somehow, the team has convinced itself that it can’t sell the idea that they’re good at what they do. The Giants lost 98 games a year ago and they publicly and privately made a flurry of moves to triage the problem. Lo and behold, trading for Longoria and McCutchen while revamping the coaching staff led to a 51-50 team. The Giants were 38-63 at this point a year ago. They are better in large part because of what they did in the offseason. For some reason, they’re unwilling to push that idea.
Now, somehow, the idea of trading Andrew McCutchen — who’s been with the team for all of 4 months — will destabilize the fan base? Moving Tony Watson or Will Smith (not even both!) for players who can help next season is something the team president can’t foresee?
The Giants have offered the following value proposition: your favorite players wearing your favorite uniform playing out the string.
Yes, sports owners have programmed the brains of sports fans to accept the power of a salary cap and how frugality is “just sound business sense”, even if that thinking undermines the very notion of being a fan. You like Brandon Belt and Buster Posey because they are good and because they’ve won.
The competitive balance tax is a bit more complicated than people realize, but they accept it far more easily than the idea of trading away a familiar face or two. Both share the same premise: a little bit of pain now to spare pain over the long haul. I’m not even advocating for a Madison Bumgarner deal, here. Andrew McCutchen is a fun and talented player and I love that he’s on the Giants.
But the Giants just publicly floated the strong possibility that they won’t be re-signing him.
Staying under the tax line will also have other roster-building implications, including increased international spending and a much higher compensatory draft pick if they put the qualifying offer on a player like Andrew McCutchen.
And, look, that’s some degree of speculation from Pavlovic, but it’s in an article where he interviewed Larry Baer and his company is a Giants stakeholder. NBC Sports Bay and KNBR have to be considered part of the team’s public relations arm.
So, you’ve got fans programmed to accept that an arbitrary financial restriction is Actually Good, so that means if you do nothing at the trade deadline to get better, you get to fall back on that excuse. Fine.
But this isn’t about trading Bumgarner or Brandon Belt or something drastic. This is supposed to be under the umbrella of “getting better”. The Giants can’t get better this year because they’re unwilling to exceed a financial threshold and they’re gambling that the fans will be more okay with that than they will with a trade that better sets them up for next year.
All of this is because the people who send letters to the front office, buy tickets, and go to the park are probably saying stuff like, “If they ever traded Madison Bumgarner I would burn all my Giants gear in front of their offices” or “Hunter Pence’s smile may or may not have sent my cancer into remission and if you cut or include the remaining amount of money on his contract in a deal I will die of cancer and it will be your fault” and the Giants are hearing these things and thinking, “Yep, we’ve gotta keep this together forever.”
You can’t say the Giants don’t want to win, mainly because there’s very little evidence that they haven’t been trying but also because a losing franchise won’t help with their land development scheme. But the Giants are basically saying they won’t try to get better this year in preparation for next year.
So, the lesson here is that you, me, and our keyboards need to go out to the yard more, write more letters or something, and really make it clear to the front office that WE GET IT. You can trade a few dudes to limit the pain. Most Giants fans would rather they win than be familiar, and that’s not even a reasonable contrast to make. A few of the most valuable players the Giants could move had no part in the nostalgia.
Maybe if the Giants stopped slapping the #ForeverGiant tag on every player to come through the organization then the fanbase would be psychologically mature enough (in the team’s view) to handle a couple of trades.
But marketing usually dictates what happens with entertainment properties. What we’re witnessing here is calcified decision-making born of a long track record of success. While this curiously-motivated inaction at the deadline probably won’t kill the Giants over the next few years (remember the 2013 deadline?), it won’t do anything to help them — the exact opposite idea they’re trying to sell.