At the start of July, the San Francisco Giants were 44-40, in a virtual tie with the 43-39 Dodgers. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.
As LA got hot and went 10-4 to close the first half, the Giants went 6-8. That put them four games back heading into the break — and if that was all that had happened, this might be a very different article.
Even before the Manny Machado trade, the Dodgers were already a staggering 37-17 since falling a season-low 10 games under .500 in mid-May. A four-game deficit at the All-Star break is hardly insurmountable, but the prospect of the Giants hunting down their rivals and sneaking into the playoffs seems a much longer shot than it did just a week ago.
There are three different avenues for the Giants to take at this point: (1) Go all in, make a trade deadline addition and do everything they can to #BeatLA; (2) Bag it altogether, sell hard at the deadline and enter a rebuilding phase; or (3) Stay the course in hopes that improving health and better second-half efforts keep them in contention.
That decision may very well be determined by how they play in the next three series. Out of the break, the Giants face an A’s team that is 21-6 in the last month. Then it’s up to Seattle for two against the 58-39 Mariners, followed by a three-gamer with a Brewers team that stumbled into the break but still has an NL-high 55 wins.
If the Giants manage to hang within three or four games of the Dodgers over that stretch, Option 1 seems legit. The problem becomes: What can the Giants add? The offense is typically power-starved, but it’s hard to see where they could put a newcomer. The outfield is overcrowded with Andrew McCutchen locked in, Gorkys Hernandez and Steven Duggar demanding more time, and Hunter Pence taking up a roster spot. How can you add to the infield when Alen Hanson and Pablo Sandoval don’t even have regular positions?
Starting pitching? The Giants have limited assets in their farm system, so it would be difficult for them to put together a package that returns a high-level starter. They have also maintained that they won’t go above the luxury tax threshold in any deal — and without unloading one of their albatross contracts (Jeff Samardzija or Pence) they’re probably too close to that line to improve significantly.
Given all of that, it’s hard to see the Giants pulling off a trade for a front-line starter like Jacob deGrom. What about Mike Fiers, Tyson Ross and Old Man River (aka Cole Hamels)? Would any of them improve the team enough to justify sacrificing one of San Francisco’s few worthwhile prospects? Probably not.
The best long-term outcome for the franchise might be a rough start to the second half. With a thin farm system and an aging, mediocre big-league roster, that could put San Francisco in range for Option 2.
The Giants have young guys worth seeing every day — from the fresh-faced Steven Duggar to the surprising Alen Hanson — and potentially tradable veterans posting career years.
Madison Bumgarner probably has the most value, but it’s awfully hard to see the Giants moving him. Brandon Belt is a high-level defensive first-baseman with an .862 OPS, and Brandon Crawford is blasting the ball all over the park and defending at a Gold Glove level. Evan Longoria or Andrew McCutchen might even fit in with a contender.
Then there’s Buster Posey. It’s hard to advocate for trading the face of the franchise. He’s a former MVP who is still reasonably productive and calls as good a game as anybody in baseball, but those qualities are exactly what make him attractive to contending teams.
Posey is 31, looking at a fourth consecutive season of declining power and playing fewer games with each passing year. Beloved as he may be, the drafting of Joey Bart drastically diminished Buster’s on-field value to a franchise whose next playoff appearance may very well come with Bart on the roster. Could Posey be more valuable to the Giants as a trade piece than as an aging backstop?
The Posey Problem illustrates the difficulty of Option 2, though. After an offseason where the Giants doubled down on aging talent in an attempt to squeeze another playoff run out of their World Series-winning core, moving veterans would be an admission of failure.
It would also decimate the Giants’ gate appeal, but that’s a short-sighted take. Remember the end of the Bonds era? It involved four consecutive seasons where the franchise won between 71 and 75 games. It’s a common theme for teams across sports who hang on to bygone eras for too long. They cling for dear life to players who brought past glory, and are ill-prepared for life after that greatness.
Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly where the Giants are headed. Given the difficulty of a major trade deadline addition and the distasteful nature of selling off fan favorites for parts, Option 3 seems the most likely approach — and it is also the worst; a middle-of-the-road, non-decision option when decisiveness is badly needed.
The Giants have been just good enough, and just injured enough, to sell themselves on the longshot of getting their principles healthy and riding hot hands to a playoff berth. If they stand pat and fail, San Francisco puts itself in the worst possible position — thin farm system, thin major league team, limited avenues for improvement.
Andrew McCutchen will come off of the books at the end of the season, but the Giants payroll will still be one of the highest in the league. They have been consistently mentioned as a potential landing spot for Bryce Harper, but that’s a lot of eggs in one basket. If they miss on Harper, they will once again be looking at 30-and-over free agents whose best production is likely behind them.
That, or they’ll have to kickstart a rebuild in the offseason, when the trade chips that a contender might overpay for now will likely diminish in value. The simple fact is that the longer you wait to enter your rebuild phase, the worse it will be.
It’s decision time for the San Francisco Giants — and what they choose to do in the next two weeks will reverberate years into the franchise’s future. Let’s just hope they have the intestinal fortitude to pick a side, because the clock has run out on playing the middle.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.