Trade Deadline Drama!

Happy Friday Giants’ fans. The team just enjoyed it’s first day off in quite some time, and now gets to play a few games on the road while the front office decides the fate of the roster. Should be an exciting week.

I am about to head out for two weeks of vacation, so I won’t be able to say much about the happenings (whatever they might be ) until well after the fact. So, let’s talk about the crossroads the Giants stand at today.

The great debate in Giants-world on the old-twitter machine has focused on whether the Giants should go for it or not. The thinking goes: why punt on this fantastic turn of events. Stand pat, or even “buy,” and see if this magic translates into a Wild Card Run.

There are nostalgic reasons for this. It’s Bochy’s last season. It might be one last time for Bumgarner and Posey, et al, to get a shot, together, at the World Series. It would be good times!

There are pragmatic reasons. While building for the future is prudent, attendance is way down, the Warriors are moving down the street, football is about to start, and everyone is going to forget about the Giants unless they start winning again.

Finally, there’s the “no-one-knows-what-tomorrow-may-bring” mentality, which argues that no one knows what tomorrow may bring. All you know is you have a shot at 2019. GO FOR IT and figure out 2020 when you get there.

On the other side of this debate is the reality that the Giants are stuck in long-term contract purgatory. They have an aging core that probably is not going to get better in the next few years. Their farm system is improving, but a lot of the talent is in the lower levels and still developing. And finally, the Giants have assets that other teams covet: CASH THAT ISH IN!

I understand and resonate with elements of both sides of this debate, but both sides fail to understand a couple of critical realities about our new Giants Wizard Farhan Zaidi.

Critical Reality Number 1: Farhan cares about one thing only, and that is the constant improvement of the Giants roster and system. This means that on any given day, or week, or season, he is evaluating moves based on that fact.

Now, I know what you are thinking, this is the mission of every executive. Yes, and no. What I am trying to say is Farhan does not think in binary, “do-I-buy-or-sell, categories. He evaluates every move by “do we get better.” Some moves help the Giants gets better now, and some moves help them get better in the long-term.

What this means is: he might keep Bumgarner, he might trade Will Smith for someone who can plug right into the starting rotation/lineup, he might flip Jeff Samardzija for financial flexible, and he might trade Sam Dyson for a prospect.

In other words he might do everything, or nothing, or some combination. And it won’t stop ever.

This is the significant difference from the previous regime. Now, this is not meant to disparage Brian Sabean and co. Dude build a winning team from 1997-2005 around a Super Star, and then built a 3 time champion after that. That is a serious resume.

But it was, in general, a more static approach to roster building. While successful in its time, it doesn’t quite work like that anymore.

Critical Reality Number 2: Because of Farhan’s approach it is entirely the team gets better for the final two months of 2019 and into the future. This will require some shrewd maneuvering, a little luck, and, likely, an unpopular move or two. And it’s also more likely that his moves benefit the 2020 Giants and beyond.

But the bottom line is it is time for Giants’ fans to leave behind static, binary thinking. That’s now how Farhan operates, and if you really want to follow along you’ll have to let that kind of thinking go.

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July…Deadline…Fork in the Road

Hello. It’s been a while. We’re back (hopefully) for the remainder of the season.

So, let’s recap, real quick.
The Giants were ok, then they were terrible, then they got good.

What is happening?!

We are now 100 games into the season, and the team is 50-50, and because the NL is quite mediocre after the Dodgers (sorry Braves), the Giants are VERY much in the thick of the NL wild card race. (2.5 games out to be factual).

So, what does this mean?

  1. One thing it means is that the veterans are playing like their normal selves for the most part. Evan Longoria was lighting the world on fire before getting hurt. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt, have not been lighting the world on fire, but they’ve been pretty good for a few weeks now! Jeff Samardzija might be the best starting pitcher on the team (no, not really, but he’s been good). Mark Melancon is a fully functioning relief pitcher again. This what you should always have been rooting for because this makes all of these guys suddenly trade-able (more on this later).
  2. One other thing it means is that all of Farhan Zaidi’s crazy roster churning has started to pay off. Some of us may have known that Austin Slater was always the answer (wink), but no one saw Alex Dickerson, Mike Yazstremski, Zack Green, etc, coming. I’m getting more and more excited about the guys who show up now because the one’s who have been coming recently are doing good things.

And then what does this mean for the trade deadline, the rest of the season, and the future?

  1. It might mean they don’t trade Madison Bumgarner. Frankly, I’d be a little surprised if it happened at this point. It always felt like an inevitability, but there is something to be said for keeping him, giving him the qualifying offer, and re-signing him or letting him go and recouping a draft pick. In other words, there is still a way to loose Bumgarner and get something back.
  2. It might mean the buy, sell, or buy and sell at the deadline. You know they are going to make moves, there’s no way Zaidi sits on his hands. It’s going to be an exciting next 9 days. Pay attention!
  3. The number of guys the Giants could move actually goes up. Again, Samardzija is an interesting case. He might not bring much back, but if the Giants can get out from under his contract (or any other of their albatross deals) they will, and Jeff pitching well helps a lot.

What should happen?

  1. Trade Bumgarner ONLY if someone backs up a Brinks truck and says: “take whatever you want.” They don’t NEED to trade him, let teams come, drive the price up, and if there’s something they like, go for it. But this trade should not happen under pressure.
  2. Trade Will Smith. Look, I like Will Smith. I will go to my grave believing Bochy should have kept him in in Game 4 of 2016 Cubs series. But, his trade value is pure gold, cash it in.
  3. Trade Sam Dyson. See point 2 but even more so. The Giants bullpen has been a huge strength, and that was just reinforced by the Mets series, but I think the Giants can move Melancon to the 9th, Moronta to Dyson’s spot, bump some other guys around and still have a bullpen they can compete with.
  4. Trade Samardzija only if someone takes on all the money.

As fun as this team is right now, and believe me I’ve indulged the Bochy-riding-off-into-the-sunset-with-one-more-playoff-run fantasy, but it feels a bit like fools gold.

The offense has been better, but it’s still not great, and a far cry from the Dodgers/Astros/Twins/Yankees/A’s/Red Sox world.

The starting pitching is fine, but it’s not dominant, and it doesn’t feel sustainable.

The bullpen is great, but that’s where they can get better for the future, by trading away some of their weapons.

The one thing, though, that is awesome is that the Giants are going to be interesting for the next couple of months. And that, really, is all we could have asked for coming in to this season.

Weird

If we are all honest enough to look deep into our souls, we know that the 2019 Giants were never going to be competitive. I know this is rich coming from me, since I’ve written a bit about how the 2019 Giants could be competitive.

But, in many ways, this was always set up to be a year of transition…

  • From the previous regime (Evans/Sabean) to the new (Long live Farhan!)
  • From a hall-of-fame-manager to whoever comes next
  • From the championship core to the next championship core (knock on wood)

Which means that a careful watching of this season is less about wins and losses and how-many-games-back-are-we, and more about evaluating the current state of affairs and figuring out who will get to come along on the next ride.

In particular, there are a handful of assets you know Farhan is hoping to trade as soon as possible. This list includes:

  • Madison Bumgarner (sad face emoji)
  • Brandon Belt
  • Joe Panik
  • Any other pitcher
  • Brandon Crawford
  • Any other hitter not named Posey

[I truly believe the only guy not on the possible trade list is Buster Posey, although if he were come to the team and say: “Trade me to the Braves,” then I’m sure that could happen.]

All of which leads me to the weirdness. If Farhan is sitting up in his booth grinding his teeth into a fine sand, it’s not because the team is 15-20 and seemingly alternates between the inability to pitch and hit at all the wrong times, it’s because of the players mentioned on that list above.

  • Bumgarner: Madison has had a few good starts, and there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over his lowered velocity (not the first time that has happened in his career, btw). But, he’s also been quite good at other times. I don’t have any expectation that he is going to challenge for the NL Cy Young Award, but I do believe we’ll see him come around and his trade value go right back up.
  • Belt: Belt is continually and perpetually weird. This will go down as his defining characteristic as a player. I would love for him to be traded to a Colorado or an Arizona or a Milwaukee or a Philly, or anywhere that is not AT&T/Oracle, just to see what he would do there. If he does end up somewhere like that and he rakes, there are going to be so many pissed-off Giants fans, but I’ll be smiling because he is a good hitter and he deserves better results.
  • Finally, Joe Panik: He’s the greatest enigma on this team to me in many ways. I don’t know if it was the injuries earlier in his career. I don’t know if the analytics have chewed him up and spit him out. Maybe his game just isn’t suited for this era. But how is he hitting .208/.277/.307?? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

This is what makes Farhan Zaidi’s life complicated. When do you trade these guys? How do you get any semblance of value for them? How long do you give them to turn things around before simply cutting bait? It’s a maddening game of trade-value roulette, but it is the one thing that is making this season the least bit interesting.

Fixing the Offense (Mission Impossible)

Quick review: the Giants went 4 and 3 this week. They actually won a series for the first time this year. And, they are 4 games out of first place (the first place Padres mind you…awesomely bad week for the Dodgers…haha).

There were a variety of positive signs: the Kevin Pillar trade looks pretty darn great so far. Don’t expect him to hit 4 bombs every week, but he can play, and really any kind of offense from him is a bonus to his defense. Speaking of that, the outfield is SO much better than the last couple of years. So much better.

Tyler Austin looks good so far and survived an injury scare, so we’ll continue to see him which is good news. The Giants are going to be creative in their usage with him. We’ve seen Belt in LF a bit and they will sub Austin out early and get Parra in there for the late innings. All of that seems smart to me.

Derek Rodriguez had a very nice bounce back start this week. Let’s chalk up his bad first inning against the Rays to opening day nerves. Jeff Samardzija has looked like an asset so far this season (no home runs given up yet!). And Madison Bumgarner is fine, everyone cool it.

But, there is context. There is always context. The Giants took 3 of 4 from the Colorado Rockies who are off to a historically, comically bad start. They also were missing two key lineup ingredients for this 4-game series. So, on the one hand, good on the Giants for taking the series from a struggling club. On the other hand, it sure wasn’t easy.

And now the Giants head out on the road, off to the east coast for over a week. In some ways this could be good for the bats. New hitting environments, better hitting environments, and the first time they’ll be away from the west coast.

However, they will be facing some teams with strong pitching (Nationals, Pirates), and then up to Toronto where they haven’t been in a while. It’s a weird trip, and this just doesn’t feel like a team that does well with weirdness.

At this early stage in the season, it’s hard to know what to make of the Giants. They can clearly pitch and their defense is improved. It feels like they should be better than 7-10.

But the the offense is offensive, and the question continues to be: is there any hope for improvement? It sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like they should be worse than 7-10.

The only hope, for now, is to tweak with the lineup, so here we go, a couple of fixes:

  • The big suggestion is to drop Steven Duggar back. At times, he’s looked like the Giants best player. And yet, there is no escaping the fact that he has struck out 23 times and only walked twice. That’s bad, and that’s especially bad at the top of the order. There’s clearly a ton of potential there, but he, and the team, would be better served stashing him lower in the order so that he can learn major league pitching.
  • The other big problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that there is no sun around which the other planets orbit. It’s so difficult to create a cohesive and dynamic lineup without an anchor.

Having said that, here’s my humble suggestion.

  1. Panik/Solarte
  2. Posey
  3. Belt
  4. Austin
  5. Longoria
  6. Crawford
  7. Pillar
  8. Duggar

There’s nothing particularly radical or amazing about this lineup, but it does two things, in my mind. It takes the pressure off Duggar, and it moves Posey out of the middle of the lineup.

[I know there’s debate around the two hitter these days. Some argue that this is the prime place to put your best power bat. Others like some speed there (not so much for stealing bases, but to not clog the base-paths, a potential problem with Posey). I like the relative balance, the OBP (such as it is) at the top of the lineup, rather than spread around, and then you have 4 guys who can run into a pitch in the 3-7 spots.]

There is no perfect solution as of right now. The fascinating thing, if you can call it that, will be watching how this team tries to squeeze 5 runs out of this lineup night in and night out.

Happy day off Giants, good luck on the east coast!

Here We Go (More of the Same)

So, the Giants are 3-7, have scored a run in the first third of a game exactly one times, and have cracked the old five-run barrier once. They also ditched one of their opening day outfielders less than a week into the season and made a trade for Kevin Pillar (not against the trade, fyi).**

None of that is meant to be panicky or definitive proof that this team is going to suck just as much as the last two years, but all of that is meant to be some kind of proof that this team is going to suck just as much as the last two years.

The Giants are one bullpen meltdown away from being 4-6, and taking a series from the league-pummeling LA Dodgers (how annoyingly good is that team right now). But even, then, 4-6 doesn’t ring with confidence and good vibes.

The offense has been the ultimate perpetrator of the suckiness. A couple of thoughts about that…

  1. On the positive side, Brandon Belt looks great, Steven Duggar has been all we could hope so far, and it’s a miracle that Buster Posey is even playing right now given his offseason surgery. If he finds any kind of groove, that’s 3 pretty good hitters to build around.
  2. One the negative side, the outfield, overall, has been just as bad as everyone feared, Joe Panik looked so good in the spring, but is still struggling to get anything going, and the ultimate issue with this team is that everyone is horribly miscast. Posey is no longer a clean up hitter. Brandon Belt should never be the best hitter in any lineup. Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria can still contribute to winning teams, but as the 7th and 8th best hitters in those lineups.

There’s been a lot of frustration among some fans with Farhan Zaidi. The perception is that he has “done nothing” to make the team better. This is a profound misunderstanding of what he has been doing, which is making this team much deeper and more flexible. That will pay off over the course of the season.

Yes, Michael Reed and Conor Joe are not inspiring acquisitions (especially coming off the Bryce Harper letdown), but they are actually good moves within the larger context of the previous paragraph.

The Giants 40 man roster today is as good as it has been in a while.

The problem is that this team lacks elite talent in the lineup. The problem with the 2019 Giants isn’t Joe Panik, per se, it is Joe Panik in a lineup where the best hitter (by far) is Brandon Belt.


Which leads us to a brief thought exercise involving outfielders from contending teams. The Houston Astros were widely favored to win the World Series coming into the year. Imagine the Giants with George Springer and Michael Brantley in the lineup:

  • Steven Duggar RF
  • George Springer CF
  • Buster Posey C
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Michael Brantley LF
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Joe Panik 2B

That lineup is not going to be better than the 2019 Astros lineup, but all of a sudden it gets a lot easier to see a way towards competitive baseball.

The Red Sox are the defending champions, so imagine this:

  • Mookie Betts RF
  • Steven Duggar CF
  • Buster Posey C
  • JD Martinez LF
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Joe Panik 2B

This lineup is the one that gets me the most excited. That team would score some runs and be a lot of fun to watch.

Finally, I know Giants’ fans are not going to like this, but we have to do it since the Dodgers have been in the World Series the last two years against the other teams we’ve highlighted here:

  • Steve Duggar CF
  • AJ Pollock LF
  • Buster Posey C
  • Cody Bellinger RF
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Joe Panik 2B

Now, the point of this is not to say the Giants should acquire any of these players. We’re not playing fantasy baseball here. Nor is the point to criticize the Reed/Joe/Pillar acquisitions.

I’m trying to illustrate two things:

  1. The Giants severely lack elite hitting talent, especially in the outfield. (Some of the better hitters on the three teams mentioned above are in the infield!).
  2. If this current squad had two elite talents in the outfield, the infield makes a whole lot more sense.

So what does any of this mean going forward? For one it illustrates just how big of a job Farhan Zaidi has. The Giants may have these kinds of talents coming in Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos, but they are 1-3 years away, and none of these core infield guys will probably be here when they arrive.

Second, it means that if the Giants are going to compete in 2019/2020 they need some miracles, namely Buster Posey’s return to an elite, middle of the order hitter. This would truly be a miracle. I love Buster so, so much, but to expect an over-30 catcher, coming off hip surgery, to turn back into his 2012 MVP self is asking way, way too much.

Third, Brandon Belt must continue to hit and stay healthy. Again, this feels like a pipe dream but it’s our only hope (help us obi wan).

That’s all I got for this week. The tribute to Bruce Bochy on Friday was great and it’s going to be all the feels this year saying goodbye. More on this in a future post!

The Giants are home all week, Bumgarner goes twice, and this is as good a chance as any to assert themselves!


**Right after composing this post the news came out that the Giants have acquired Tyler Austin. Tyler Austin is a very powerful, right handed hitter from the Twins organization who will probably strike out a ton and frustrate many fans, but who will also hit a few tape measure shots towards the Coke bottle. He is not a help to the defense, but this is partly why Duggar/Pillar makes sense. To the point of this article: Austin provides the Giants with some desperately needed power potential, but he is far from “an elite talent.” If you want to get crazy, here’s to hoping that Tyler Austin has a Khris Davis like transformation by switching leagues and playing more consistently.

 

2019, Here We Go!

For the past three months I’ve been waiting to write something about the Giants. But then life would happen, or a flurry of tiny little moves would happen and I’d have to spend several hours doing research just to figure out who was involved, and then there was the Bryce Harper waiting game.

It was a lot and it was nothing all at the same time.

So, let’s go back and look at what I wrote in November. After the hiring of Farhan Zaidi, I said there were three options: Punt, Retool, Rebuild. An interesting debate could be had as to which thing Farhan has actually done as we get ready for the 2019 season to kick off in a few days.

  1. Punt. By almost any definition, Farhan has not punted. He went hard after Bryce Harper. He shopped Madison Bumgarner. He’s made about 10,000,000,000 moves. He probably made another one while I was writing this post. But, from the perspective that Bumgarner, Posey, Belt, Crawford, Longoria, Melancon, and even Panik and Will Smith are still around, one could argue this is a punt. The Giants have too much money tied up into too many guys over the next few years. Farhan’s hands are tied, this year just needs to get over (and really 2020) so we can get on with it.
  2. Retool. This is actually what has happened for the most part. As mentioned above, the core of this team is still around. And as several of the players have noted this Spring, if that core is healthy it’s still not that old/far removed from being good. Yes, they are older, but compared to the early-to-mid 2000s Giants that trotted out many players between the ages of 37 and 45 (we see you Randy Johnson), this is not exactly an over the hill crew. The constant roster church from spots 15-40 has been about creating a depth the Giants have sorely needed.
  3. Rebuild. This is definitely not what happened, and you can’t blame Farhan and all of baseball for not blowing this team up (who, really, is taking Jeff Samardzija at this point), but at the same time, the Giants are being rebuilt in Farhan’s image. Which is to say the Dodgers image, which is to say the Rays image, which is to say the A’s image. That may not sit well with Giants fans, but that is what is happening.

So what? Does this mean anything for 2019? And the real question: can this team be good?

Here’s where I have something controversial to say. In a way, this team feels like 2010. The SIGNIFICANT difference is that this team does not have a young cadre of stud starting pitchers the way that that team did.

But, what made the 2010 Giants good was that they had a distinct competitive advantage in one area of the game (that starting pitching), and they figured out how to make the rest work. How did they do that? With a solid (if torturous) bullpen. A stud in the middle of the batting order. A relatively mistake free defense. And some hits on a bunch of random players.

It’s different this time around in many ways, but I do think the Giants 2019 bullpen gives them a distinct competitive advantage. MLB.com ranks the Giants as 10th, which is one nod of affirmation. I believe they will end up higher once the season shakes out. Bullpens are notoriously volatile and one year’s dominance can change quickly (see the Milwaukee Brewers). I am predicting a top 5 bullpen for the Giants.

Which, along with a starting rotation that now goes 7 or 8 deep, a defense that doesn’t make mistakes, and (this is the KEY) a collection of savvy veterans who STAY HEALTHY, I am predicting a surprise run at the division.

The most likely scenario is that the team competes for a few months, runs out of gas/health, and Farhan starts trading anything of value.

This is the blessing and curse of being a fan this year. The better these players perform the more likely they are to turn into tradable assets. If you really love Madison Bumgarner and want him to be around for a while, you might want him to suck this year. Blessing and curse.

If nothing else, the Giants are interesting again. Learning Farhan’s process is interesting. Seeing if this team can compete is interesting. Seeing what they will do if they can’t compete is interesting.

Oh, and don’t forget, this year is our last go around with Bruce Bochy.

Here we go 2019…Go Giants!

Winter (Meetings) Are Coming…

The Winter Meeting promise to be a busy time where we will really be able to gauge what our new Giants’ overlord Farhan is up to. For now, though, today’s post will be an interaction with Andrew Baggarly tweets.

1.

Not much to add to here, but this sort of sets up the rest of the post so here we go…

2.

One of the hot rumors, or at least as close to hot as we’ve gotten so far, was that the Giants would non-tender Joe Panik and dip into what is a fairly deep free agent pool at the second base position. However, they kept sweet Joe in the fold, signing him to a one-year, $3.8 million contract.

I love Joe Panik, but he has not materialized as an everyday player the way it once appeared back in 2014-2015 when he burst on the scene and helped the Giants win a World Series. He followed that up with an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove, but has had a hard time staying on the field.

In particular, it seems like he hasn’t been the same since getting hit in the head back in 2016, which totally makes sense but is incredibly sad.

Baggs suggest that keeping Panik may set up a future trade. Once all the FAs are off the board, someone with a need may come calling. I wonder, though, if the Giants will try to find a platoon parter (hello Jonathan Schoop) and limit Panik’s usage, or even try him out at some other positions and use him as a super utility player.

3.

The other big non-tender news comes here. First, Gorkys damn near led the team in home runs last year, which says way more about the Giants than about Gorkys. You can seemingly pick 15-homer-a-year outfielders off of trees these days, so he is the definition of expendable.

Second, the big story is moving on (finally) from Hunter Strickland. On the surface this is an odd move: he was a decent closer in the first half of 2018, and one of the few Giants’ pitchers with good velocity.

BUT, he was a hot head, caused all sorts of chaos, and never turned that velocity into the type of dominance that deserved investment. He was the ultimate tease, and I’m glad he will be someone else’s problem.

4.

Yeah, not happening.

5.

Finally, here’s a bit of front office news. J.P Ricciardi is someone I respect, even though he tried to fleece Brian Sabean for Tim Lincecum at one point (also, Tim Kawakami gets a lot of stuff right, but he really blew this one).

I don’t know that I trust J.P. to run a team, but his thinking could be a good foil to Farhan. Ricciardi seems more aggressive and so maybe they bring a nice balance to each other. Anyway, I think it would be a good get for the Giants and another move away from the Bobby Evans era.

Thank you Andrew Baggarly for being awesome, and next week’s post should have some interesting stuff to chew on as the meetings get started!