The Giants have won eight of their past 10 games and are suddenly within three games of an NL Wild Card spot, but ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes in his latest 10 Degrees column that the team still plans to operate as a seller. The only real uncertainty surrounding team legend Madison Bumgarner, per the report, is where he’ll land.
“San Francisco’s recent success isn’t throwing a wrench in the team’s trade-Bumgarner-and-all-the-relievers plan,” writes Passan. The Giants, of course, have multiple intriguing bullpen pieces to market beyond Bumgarner. Will Smith is the top rental reliever available, while Sam Dyson is intriguing as a player who is both performing well and controlled through 2020. Southpaw Tony Watson should also draw interest, although as MLBTR detailed earlier this season, his contract isn’t nearly as affordable as some might think due to the large number of incentives he’s reached. He’s already at $8.5MM, and if Watson pitches in 14 more games this year, his salary will check in at a hefty $10.5MM.
Interestingly, at just about the same time Passan’s report hit the wire, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was presenting a less declarative stance — at least with the public. In an appearance on KNBR radio this morning (link via Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area), Zaidi suggested that he doesn’t take opportunities at the postseason for granted. “Every pennant race and every opportunity you have to get to the playoffs has a ton of value,” said Zaidi. “It has a ton of value to the fans and the organization, and we don’t take that lightly.”
Obviously, it behooves any baseball operations head to take such a tone when his club is even on the periphery of contending. The “never say never” adage probably applies to the current iteration of the Giants. For instance, it’s difficult to imagine them selling in an extreme scenario where they rattle off another 10 or 11 consecutive victories to surge past the .500 mark and into Wild Card position.
However, the outlook for a playoff berth still isn’t favorable. The Giants need to overtake five teams and then hold that ground. Even then, they’d be faced with a one-game playoff against a second Wild Card winner that is likely not quite as patched together as the San Francisco club. There’d be no guarantee of aligning their rotation so that Bumgarner could start a theoretical Wild Card game, either, as the Giants would merely need to focus on winning every game in a tightly contested race.
While it’s conceptually possible for the Giants to hold onto Bumgarner but still trade other pieces, that scenario feels like a stretch. It’s true that Bumgarner would be a lock to turn down a qualifying offer, thus assuring the Giants of at least a compensatory draft pick. That’s less true of Smith, though, and not even in the realm of possibility for Watson. Keeping Bumgarner but trading Smith and Watson wouldn’t be a wholehearted pursuit of a postseason bid, and keeping all their chips only to collapse in August represents a worst-case scenario — a massive missed opportunity to bolster an ailing farm system.
An August collapse is hardly out of the question either. Red-hot Alex Dickerson is riding a .455 BABIP since joining the Giants — a pace he cannot possibly sustain. In fact, over their current 10-3 stretch, the Giants have seven regulars whose average on balls in play is north of .350 — and that doesn’t even count Evan Longoria, who erupted for six home runs in 11 games after previously hitting seven in 72 contests before landing on the injured list.
It seems clear that the Giants have a better roster now than in April, when they were cycling through the likes of Connor Joe, Michael Reed, Mac Williamson and others in the outfield and receiving career-worst levels of performance from veterans Gerardo Parra and Yangervis Solarte. At the same time, the Giants would probably need another 39 wins to have a puncher’s chance at the second NL Wild Card spot, as that’d give them the same 85-win total with which the Twins sneaked into a one-game showdown in 2017. Reaching that level would mean a .582 winning percentage from here on out — a pace that only the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Dodgers and Braves have managed thus far.
The Giants would need this iteration of the club to play like a top-six team in all of baseball for a total period of three months in order to make a playoff run seem plausible, and it’s not only possible but likely that they’d need even more than that hypothetical total of 85 victories to actually land in the Wild Card game. Viewed through that lens, it’s not hard to see why the team isn’t rushing to change course after a two-week hot streak against mostly mediocre teams — even if it’s a bitter pill for fans to swallow. Zaidi’s comments do leave the door cracked in the case of another two weeks of .600-or-better play, and probably signify that deals won’t come early, but they surely do not signify a committed change to the club’s sell-side trajectory.