The San Francisco Giants are hot. This is not a sentence anyone expected to write this season.
Just when everybody had settled in for another ride on the Oracle Park Struggle Bus — destination Tradesville — a seemingly destitute lineup exploded to life and rosy-eyed owners of panda and giraffe hats can reasonably talk about playoff position.
Except that it’s not reasonable. Consider this your much-needed splash of cold reality in the face: Even if the Giants win every game from now until the trade deadline, the reasonable course of action remains trading everything that’s not nailed down, getting younger wherever possible and replenishing a still-barren minor league system.
Those wild card spots can be tantalizing — particularly when you won a World Series from that starting point just a few years ago — and this run has undeniably brought San Francisco within striking distance. But striking distance shouldn’t outweigh the clear signs of decline up and down an aging roster.
The Giants were a season-worst-tying 12 games under .500 at 35-47 after a loss to Arizona on June 29, hitting under .225 as a team and scoring fewer than four runs per game. Since then they have been not only one of the best teams in baseball but also one of the highest-scoring (about double what they scored before this run).
What Trader-in-Chief Farhan Zaidi has to ask himself now, is which team are they, really?
The difference between the two options has been stark. Over slightly varying stretches of their last 12 or 13 games played, Kevin Pillar, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria are all hitting more than .100 points better than they had up to that point.
Longoria’s OPS over that span was more than double what it was over his first 71 games; Crawford’s production improvement is just as dramatic after a Monday to remember. The five oldest regulars in the lineup are hitting out of their minds — unsustainably so, one might say (particularly in the case of the now-injured Longoria).
It’s worth noting that some of the recent offensive output has come from the under-30 set — most notably Austin Slater and Alex Dickerson, but also Mike Yastrzemski. This, of course, is all the more reason to unload as much of the old guard as possible.
The Giants need not look far into their past to see how over-rating your own roster can hurt the organization. Back in 2016, the Giants played like even year magic was back on all the way up to All-Star week; out of the break, they went 22-38 before finishing 8-4, then beat the Mets in the NL Wild Card before falling to the Cubs in the NLDS.
Instead of recognizing the signs of decay, the Giants doubled down in the offseason — they made the ultimately disastrous Matt Duffy-for-Matt Moore trade and the even more catastrophic Mark Melancon signing, thinking they were just a player or two away from another deep playoff run.
More than those moves, though, they expected continued production from a group of veteran hitters where they should have expected decline. Belt, Crawford and Hunter Pence all fell apart in 2017, and the lack of organizational depth was all-too-apparent in the form of Christian Arroyo, Rider Jones and Mac Williamson.
That would be the first of what will likely become at least three straight losing seasons for the Giants. If their philosophy at this trade deadline mirrors that fateful offseason, that streak could easily stretch to five or six.
If teams around the league believe guys like Crawford or Belt or Pillar or, somehow, Longoria can help them in a playoff push, you should be able to get a decent prospect for them. If nobody around the league believes that, the Giants shouldn’t either — unload them for a bag of balls, as far as I’m concerned. It’s time to clear the decks.
The bullpen features some decent fringe trade assets in Tony Watson (a free agent after the season) and Sam Dyson (who hits the market the following offseason). There are a couple of guys who certainly have some value, though.
Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, both of whom are pending free agents, are arguably the most attractive starter and reliever available this month. Smith has been nearly perfect as a closer and has a WHIP of just 0.8, not to mention a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly seven.
There’s no need to list Bumgarner’s bona fides; we all know them. You may not know that he has an ERA of just 1.80 in his last four starts and has struck out 28 hitters in his last 28 innings. Opposing general managers know this, and it could make him a relatively hot commodity.
Which brings me to my prescription: Zaidi — a former Billy Beane acolyte — should offer Bumgarner and Smith to the Oakland A’s for either Franklin Barreto or Jorge Mateo. It’s the ultimate everybody-wins scenario.
The Giants get to add a legitimate top middle infield prospect, a position that’s lacking not only on their major league roster but also among the better youngsters in their system. Smith would likely be gone at season’s end regardless, and if Bumgarner really loves you, he can always come back.
The A’s bolster a rotation that could still use some top-end depth despite the addition of Homer Bailey, and add a lockdown lefty who has dramatically outperformed their own closer this season. The price is paid from a position where they sport an embarrassment of riches at the minor league level.
As for the consumers, I’ve never understood local interleague fan enmity. Why waste your sports hate on a team whose fate is usually irrelevant to yours? Save that venom for the Astros and Dodgers of the world.
If your old pal Bumgarner crosses the Bay, perhaps you can go see his next playoff start in person. Do yourself a favor, Giants fans, and root for the closest winning baseball team while your squad gets its act together — which, by the way, should happen a lot faster if they make this trade.
That’s the rub, really: This run of success is not the beginning of something; it is the death throes of a once-great group of postseason heroes. To have a new beginning, there has to be an ending.
The San Francisco Giants are hot. If they’re smart, that sentence won’t deter them from a deadline fire sale.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives in Berkeley with his wife, son and an aging Shih-Tzu/Schnauzer mix. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, 3p-7p every weekday evening alongside Damon Bruce and Ray Ratto. 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.