The Giants’ playoff odds continue to rise even as most of us still haven’t shook off all of Giants Baseball from July 2016 through May 2019. The big news is that there are at least ten teams interested in acquiring Will Smith (among them, the Braves, Astros, and Dodgers) while at least the Braves are still showing interest in Madison Bumgarner.
A healthy contingent of Giants fans want the team to be stripped for parts and the fans saddened by the act to be laughed out of public spaces, while another contingent wants the team to not do what most teams do and solely enrich team ownership for 5+ years while the team stacks 100-loss seasons. Of course, the national media thinks the Giants are a bad team and will always be a bad team unless they do exactly what the brilliant, smart, and endlessly successful teams have done and burn the team to the ground and lose 500+ games over the next five years.
So, there’s certainly tension as the 50-50 Giants make their way to the trade deadline. Not so much in the front office —
Farhan Zaidi on Madison Bumgarner with 10 day to go before the trade deadline: pic.twitter.com/abbhL3BSSa— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) July 21, 2019
— and that’s really the only place where it matters. Logically, if a team is doing well or still in the race, it doesn’t make much sense to remain focused on a preseason plan. Maybe to some it’s myopic to only focus on the current season, but it’s just as myopic to stick to somebody else’s plan. That’s what a Cubs or Astros level rebuild is: somebody else’s plan.
The Giants are one of the richest teams in baseball. They don’t have to be like the other teams. Buster Posey has virtually zero trade value at this point, so the idea that he should be traded if he can be traded is a weird hill to die on — it ignores that he’ll always have more value to the Giants than any other team (assuming, rightfully, that he’ll never again be an All-Star caliber player). Same goes for Brandon Crawford and now, sadly, Brandon Belt. Evan Longoria seemed set to play himself out of town if not this season than this offseason, but another injury has probably put him into the untradeable camp for the next couple of years, too.
Yeah, Will Smith is obviously the Giants’ greatest trade chip. He’ll be traded. That’s almost a certainty. Should the Giants continue to play well over the next week, that should only strengthen the team’s asking price. And closers should be fungible to some degree, even if they’re elite like Smith.
No Giant will bring back a greater return than Smith and no single player could bring back as good of a return. It doesn’t make much sense to package together multiple players to try to get what just Smith would bring back unless the thinking is that they’d make that package trade in addition to a Smith trade.
But then they’re gutting the bullpen, which might not be what they want to do. Still, bullpens are volatile year to year. Smith (and probably Tony Watson) will be a free agent after the year. Right now, his value to the Giants as a trade chip is the greatest it will ever be. Same goes for Tony Watson. Dyson, Moronta, and Gott certainly do have value, but their value to the Giants as members of the Giants is perhaps probably equal to what they might get in a trade, an act that would set back this year’s and probably next year’s team.
But what about Madison Bumgarner? Yeah, he’s a free agent at the end of the year, but what if they just held onto him, made him the qualifying offer, and attempted to sign him to a new deal? There’s a chance no team signs him with a qualifying offer tag, but if someone did, would the Giants be better off with that draft pick or could they find equivalent or better value now in a trade? Does that matter?
Would a compensation pick next year or a couple of Double-A relievers and maybe a 25-year old middle infielder this year be enough? Isn’t Bumgarner’s value to the Giants greater than any of those possibilities? Before you say no, consider that front offices have to deal with a lot of other things than what FanGraphs and various other spreadsheets tell them. Okay, well, not much beyond what spreadsheets tell them because the season ticketholder data and survey responses are no doubt contained within spreadsheets, too, but the point is a front office has to concern itself with not only how it’s going to build a competitive on field product but how it’s going to build a competitive product in the marketplace.
A winning team brings fans. That’s sort of the bottom line. Alex Dickerson, Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, Shaun Anderson, Tyler Beede, and Stephen Vogt are not the horses the Giants were counting on to start the year, even though in hiring Farhan Zaidi this offseason you could expect that nameless players in Giants uniforms would contribute to the next good Giants team. Is this not the next good Giants team?
The last time the Giants won 15 of 18 was in May-June of 2016. Then they went 4-5 before closing out that first half on a 21-7 run. We all know how that second half went down, but we’re already in the second half of this season. Maybe the Giants don’t quite have the same level of hitting and pitching they had in 2016, but what the 2019’s eight-game winning streak and 15-3 run supposes is, What if they do?
Then they’ll need Madison Bumgarner. They’ll need Will Smith, too, but if you’re talking about guarding against the possibility that this is all a mirage, then moving the key piece in the bullpen who might not even be useful to the team come September (again, if this is all really a mirage and they’re on the verge of going 5-21 again). But Bumgarner? Well, sure, the Giants could get prospects for him, but will those prospects be more valuable to a team trying to make it to the postseason, trying to maintain the spirits of season ticketholders, TV viewers, and players in the clubhouse?
The Bruce Bochy retirement storyline will continue beyond the trade deadline, and that storyline is important for team interest the rest of the way. The Bochy-Bumgarner pairing is entertaining and “red meat for the base”, and it might point to the strong possibility that Bumgarner won’t re-sign with the Giants in the offseason, because he won’t want to play for his next manager, which we all assume will be an iPad controlled remotely by Farhan Zaidi. This is also why I don’t think there’s a good chance of the “trade Bumgarner, re-sign him in the offseason” idea happening. First, it’s exceedingly rare that that actually happens — it’s more something that fans wishcast than something that ever materializes — and second, it’s just more likely that Bumgarner will want to move on after losing his skipper.
But we don’t really know what Zaidi’s plans are and a lot of what has been presumed has been a projection onto him of what every SABR person would do and what every recent World Series winner seems to have done. Although, on that last point, that’s not necessarily true. Don’t remember the Red Sox stripping their organization for parts. The Yankees and Dodgers have kept their teams competitive without salting the Earth, too. They have, of course, consistently infused their organizations with young, high-upside talent, and moving Will Smith will absolutely do that for the Giants this year to set them up for the years ahead.
Trading Madison Bumgarner isn’t a bad idea, but they’re not just going to do it to do it. Holding onto him isn’t a bad idea, either, and has its own merits — espirit de corps, nostalgia, the possibility of maintaining this improbable run by buoying the rotation, sending Bruce Bochy and this last chapter of the Giants’ championship era off into the sunset as it should go: with Madison Bumgarner riding a horse into the Sunset.