ORACLE PARK — The San Francisco Giants are still in the trade market. Maybe. Kind of. Sort of. What kind of trade, though, is still a question, and one that even president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi had difficulty answering directly in nearly 25 minutes with loacl media before Sunday’s series finale with the New York Mets.
The big takeaway: The Giants’ recent play, winning 14 of their last 17, has unquestionably changed the calculus headed into the final 10 days before the trading deadline, but has not changed the front office’s goals.
Zaidi is still listening to offers on several big pieces, but he’s not out actively shopping those pieces. What Zaidi called a “fundamentally different” roster has the ingredients to overachieve and make the end of the year special for outgoing manager Bruce Bochy. The Giants want to win now, certainly, but not at the expense of the future. That’s why Zaidi is still taking calls on Madison Bumgarner.
“It’s just very difficult at this point to speak in black and white terms. It’s a delicate balance,” Zaidi said. “We’re clearly in a period of transition in this organization. When you can manage a transition and continue to compete and continue to keep a fan base that’s as loyal as this energized and excited about the team, that’s obviously the perfect scenario. If we could achieve that, it would be a perfect outcome.”
Over the last week, rumors have been circulating as to Zaidi’s mindset, specifically whether he had a trade worked out for ace Bumgarner a month ago (“completely false,” he said), whether they’ve pulled back from Bumgarner discussions (“I don’t know what we’d be pulling back from, because we have not been the aggressors in any of those conversations”) or whether the Giants are definitely selling. He characterized Sunday’s flurry of moves that brought up Zach Green and Conner Menez as moves not just for the future, but for the present.
“We’ve never had internal meetings or conversations about having decided a firm direction,” Zaidi said. “We’re continuing to play out this month with how the team’s playing, seeing what the market will yield for certain guys. That’s the most honest, transparent answer that I can give.”
San Francisco was last in the National League West as late as July 15, but since the loud arrival of Alex Dickerson — announced with a grand slam in his first game — San Francisco has gone 18-8, and crept into third place in the West and within two and a half games of a wild card spot.
“It doesn’t paint us into a corner, where maybe we feel that pressure of, ‘Hey, we really have to reload for the next five years,’ because we have a real investment for what’s going on right here, right now,” Zaidi said. In short, the Giants now have options. They can deal Bumgarner or relievers from a position of strength to build up their minor leagues, they can sell some prospects to get a marginal piece to help them now or they can stand pat, and await the return of Johnny Cueto to add to a rotation anchored by Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija (whose contract is too hefty to move) and likely three talented rookies.
Granted, the recent run is only a one-month sample size, but the addition of Dickerson catalyzed a series of roster moves that started with the trade for Kevin Pillar and included the call-ups of Tyler Beede and Shaun Anderson, the return of Austin Slater and the insertion of Mike Yastrzemski into the starting lineup, creating a consistent group of four outfielders when the Giants had rolled through more than a dozen in spring training.
During the 25-game stretch leading into Sunday, the Giants had averaged 6.15 runs per game (they’d averaged 3.82 in the previous 73 games) and hit .273 as a team (compared to .223 previously), and jumped from the No. 28 team in basball in terms runs-per-game up to No. 20.
“I would feel a little bit more compelled by the sample size argument if we had had the same 25 guys all year, but the team is fundamentally different,” Zaidi said. “The roster is different. That’s why I don’t think you can just look at this team’s run differential and make an assessment of our quote-unquote true talent level … I think one of the reasons we put a lot of credence into our recent play is that the composition of the team is very different from what it was.”
That’s why, when Bumgarner said this week that he didn’t “give a shit” about trade rumors, and was focused only on winning for the Giants, Zaidi quietly applauded.
“I wish I could say I don’t care about the trade rumors, and even use some of the colorful language he did,” Zaidi said. “That’s a nice way to be able to address all that stuff. I think it’s great, because having a team of very motivated guys that want to win and can clear out the distractions is important. Obviously, the guys here take their cues from him, so I thought it was great.”
Bumgarner made five starts, and posted a 1.55 ERA with 34 strikeouts to five walks, averaging six innings per start — easily his best stretch of the season, if not his career. Naturally, teams in contention want starting pitching — especially a World Series MVP who’s pitching at his best. Teams have been inquiring about Bumgarner, but they have been since the offseason.
“I haven’t changed my phone number or taken the phone off the ringer,” Zaidi said. “You still take those calls, and it’s helpful to know what other teams are thinking and who other teams are interested in. I’m having conversations with other GMs every day. That is not an indication of what we’ll do, or even if we’ll do anything, but that’s our job at this time of year, is to understand the landscape, what options might be out there.”
Zaidi is also figuring into his calculations the fact that it’s Bochy’s final season. The numbers-centered Zaidi and the old-school Bochy had a talk about the very-unquantifiable chemistry that’s developed in the Giants locker room on Friday, something Zaidi is sensitive to after moving Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra earlier in the year.
“We went through this with Parra and Solarte and [Eric] Kratz earlier in the season, very popular, veteran guys that we had to move on from,” Zaidi said, addressing the possible move of Bumgarner. “It was disappointing for those guys to see guys that they liked and had been in the trenches with go, but I think they understand that. I think these players kind of see our moves through that lens now. This is all about trying to get better, and we’re actually on the same page about trying to get better. We’re trying to make this team as strong as possible for the last two months.”
Moves made at the deadline could do something to affect that chemistry, particularly with how deeply Bochy is loved, and the fact that he’s 25 wins away from 2,000 with 63 games to go — including Sunday — before he calls it a career.
“This kind of entire ecosystem is really conducive to a team maybe even over-achieving, and making a run, because I don’t think it’s just about Boch,” Zaidi said. “It’s about the player sentiment for him, and I think this team coming together over the course of the last month and a half or so has been as much about their motivation to something for him as anything else.”
Paying respect to Bochy, plus the chance to contend now and the team chemistry that’s made it possible would all be upset by trading Bumgarner, a pillar of the Giants’ three World Series teams, even if it means netting the club a haul of prospects who could help remake the system for years to come. What could happen is the Giants deal from their overstocked bullpen — the third-best in baseball — which has helped them win 21 of 31 one-run games this season. They could give up depth in an area most contenders need help, and not impact their chances. All of that goes into Zaidi’s calculations.
“I keep reading how the mindset is changing, but for us, it’s been the same mission all along, which is to try to put ourselves in contention to win this year,” Zaidi said. “Boch, his staff, the players have done an amazing job of that. Right now, we’re just taking it day to day, and if we continue to play well, obviously that will color things in a certain way. The bottom line is we’re excited about how we’re playing … We’ve said a few times the last week, the present is important to us. The ability to compete this year and keep the fans engaged and excited is important to us. Boch being here for his final season is a huge part of that.”