I want you to imagine a world where the Giants traded Madison Bumgarner in July. Everything else is the same — the team was on a big winning streak before the deadline, and then after the deadline they collapsed — but now Farhan waved one heck of a white flag instead of the quasi-contending the team settled on.
THE KNOWLEDGEABLE PROSPECT HOARDING GIANTS FAN: Welcome to Prospectville, baby! Now the Giants have a new B-grade prospect in AA, and a toolsy late first round pick who hasn’t put it together yet, AND a live arm who just got out of short-season ball!
Yes, and proud we are of all of them.
But for now, I want you to think about the major league team. Remember, everything is exactly the same, except instead of Bumgarner, the Giants have Andy Suarez in the rotation. In this scenario, instead of Bumgarner pitching a bad game in Colorado that the Giants win and then a brilliant game against the Phillies that the Giants win, it’s Suarez who gets lit up at Coors only to watch his team come back, and then he rebounds with a strong outing against the Phillies in another win.
Other than those two games, the Hypothetical Giants have been unwatchable.
What do you think people would be saying? What do you think the reaction would be? How would this play in Peoria, Arizona, which is not particularly close to Scottsdale by the standards of cities in the Phoenix metro area, but still presumably contains several Giants fans?
You already know, but I’ll tell you anyway: The Giants would look like quitters.
THE KNOWLEDGEABLE PROSPECT HOARDING GIANTS FAN: Who cares about that? That toolsy late first round pick has a 15% chance to become a star! That’s 15% more than we had last month. Get ten of those guys, and we’ve got a 150% chance at a star, baby!
In a vacuum, that’s not wrong. The Giants need talent for better teams in the future, and selling Bumgarner would have been one way of getting that.
But they also need to give fans a reason to watch them right now. And they need to give fans reason to think that they’ll also be worth watching in the future, and that they’re an organization that cares about winning and putting a good product on the field, and that going to Oracle Park for a game isn’t a waste of both time and money.
And imagine the headlines if, hot on the heels of an incredible July vaulting them back into the race, the Giants traded Bumgarner and then immediately lost a bunch of games.
SCHULMAN: In wake of Bumgarner trade, Giants swept by Nationals
CROWLEY: Post-Bumgarner trade tailspin continues as Giants lose fourth straight
BAGGARLY: After a listless sweep at the hands of Washington, Giants players feel abandoned by front office
PAVLOVIC: Grumbling inside Giants clubhouse reaches fever pitch after Nationals sweep (slideshow)
BRISBEE: The Giants were always going to lose again, but boy does it look bad right now
SF EXAMINER: Giants losing streak looks bad, but there are factors beyond Bumgarner, says handsome genius freelance sportswriter
RATTO: The Giants are losing again, probably because of your many character flaws
KAWAKAMI: Warriors season is right around the corner!
It would have been bad baseball and bad PR, and as much as you think the PR aspect of that doesn’t matter, well, to anyone who runs a business, I promise you it does. Take the Astros, the team we’d all like the Giants to emulate. In 2007, they drew 3 million fans to see a team with a 73-89 record. In 2017, when they were the best team in baseball and won the World Series, they drew 2.4 million fans. It wasn’t until last year that attendance rebounded to pre-teardown levels.
Giants ownership cannot and will not allow that to happen here, and they’re right to avoid it. Part of avoiding it is giving people a reason to come out to the park. Even with the declining attendance this year, avoiding that Astros-esque collapse — and considering that they won the World Series and rebounded, that 10-year collapse and rebound cycle is the best case scenario for tanking-related attendance collapses — is imperative, not just for their wallets, but for the Giants in general.
If your franchise is bad for years and you tear it down, well, that makes sense. You’ll lose some viewers, but the smart Sports Knowers will be on your side, saying that you had no choice. If your franchise is bad for years and then they’re suddenly good for two months and then you tear it down, that’s a different story. You’re taking the fun and excitement that people felt over the course of the winning streak and telling them, “That’s worthless.”
Why even watch baseball if the team does that? What’s fun or exciting there? What part of that is worth your time or money?
Why didn’t the Giants trade Bumgarner at the end of July? They couldn’t. They couldn’t lose the clubhouse, they couldn’t lose the fanbase, they couldn’t lose the media, and they couldn’t lose their ace. They almost certainly won’t make the playoffs this year. But at least there will be one part of the team that’s worth your time and money.