Many doubted whether the San Francisco Giants made the right decision by holding onto most of their veterans at the Major League Baseball trade deadline — most notably Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith — and making a run at the National League Wild Card Game. Well, they missed the playoffs. But the Giants did something we see very little of in Major League Baseball today: take a leap of faith in themselves and go for it.
After a June 29 loss at home to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Giants fell to 35-47. Surprising? Not really. This was a ballclub struggling to score runs while getting hot and cold outings from their starting pitchers. The one bright spot was manager Bruce Bochy‘s bullpen. Smith, Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, Sam Coonrod, and Reyes Moronta were getting through innings, limiting damage, and giving their offense a chance to make a late-inning comeback.
Throughout the first half of the season, speculation and rumors swirled around Bumgarner and several Giants relievers being on the move before the trade deadline; it seemed like a foregone conclusion that this would happen. Then the Giants gave the baseball world something new to talk about: should they sell or make a run at the playoffs?
Winning 17 of their next 20 games after June 29, the Giants soared into the thick of the NL Wild Card race. Their offense was humming, their rotation was pitching with more consistency, and their bullpen remained a steady force. In a race that featured several mediocre-to-supar teams, the Giants appeared to have as good a chance as the field to be victorious, especially considering their recent hot streak.
Still, the Giants decided to do some wheeling and dealing, but they didn’t make any groundbreaking trades. Moving Melancon to the Atlanta Braves and Dyson to the Minnesota Twins, the Giants lost some reliable relievers, yes, but they felt they had the organizational pitching depth to withstand their losses. In essence, they took advantage of contenders wanting relievers by trading from their surplus of arms. Simultaneously, the Giants acquired second baseman Scooter Gennett from the Cincinnati Reds — although the veteran was released a few weeks later.
They held onto the big fish and decided to make a run at the playoffs in Bochy’s final year as skipper. Unfortunately for the Giants, a dent was put into their playoff aspirations when they began playing .500 ball and fell off a cliff the ensuing weeks.
Ultimately, the Giants missed the playoffs, finishing 77-85, which warranted third place in the NL West. Now Bumgarner and Smith are free agents, and general manager Farhan Zaidi is looking for a new manager. They’re also competing against the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and rising Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres in their division.
Naturally, people are going to say that the Giants should’ve been full-blown sellers at the trade deadline and that they were too impulsive and sentimental. While there’s some merit to that side of the spectrum, what significant difference would trading a soon-to-be free agent Bumgarner have made for the Giants?
Sure, they have an underwhelming farm system that needs bolstering, but dealing your co-franchise player for a couple of mid-level prospects — which is likely the most they could’ve received for Bumgarner, as he’s not as potent as he once was and is on an expiring contract — doesn’t advance the future. Neither does moving Smith for a couple minor-league relievers.
Hasn’t there been criticism of cellar-dwelling teams such as the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, and Seattle Mariners trading away veterans, essentially throwing in the towel on seasons? The Giants did the opposite. They stuck to their guns and took a chance.
Every year there’s a team or two who’s competitive and has a chance, while slim, to make the playoffs, but they take the easy road and sell at the trade deadline to beef up their farm system. The Giants didn’t give into the temptation, keping their core intact despite all the critics and factors working against them. That type of attitude is rare in MLB today.
Moving forward, it’s difficult to formulate a path to the playoffs for the Giants. They’re, at best, the third-best team in their division, and there are several playoff-caliber teams in the NL. They also have a core of players who have peaked such as Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Kevin Pillar. But health has been a pivotal issue for this group. At full force, they’re fundamentally sound, can perform at a plausible level, and invigorate some hope into their fan base.
On the hill, they have the veteran Jeff Samardzija, when healthy, Johnny Cueto, and the young Dereck Rodriguez. And who’s to say the Giants don’t re-sign Bumgarner and/or Smith? While it’s likely the two southpaws have robust free agencies, they have familiarly with the Bay Area and could continue to be instrumental pieces to the Giants moving forward.
The long-term implications of the Giants’ actions, or lack thereof, at the trade deadline aren’t ideal, but they also don’t signal the apocalypse. The Giants took a chance, and it didn’t work out. There’s nothing wrong with that. It should actually be admired.