Up until a few weeks ago, one of the focal talking points of the 2019 baseball season was who would trade for Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith from the San Francisco Giants at the trade deadline. With their expiring contracts and a franchise that feels ready to accept the need to rebuild, it was just assumed they would move two of their valuable assets in order to prepare for the future. That is, until an out-of-the-blue hot streak got them within a couple of games of the National League Wild Card. Suddenly, 2019 did not seem so lost to the Giant’s personnel, who have all but forgotten the trade talks in place just a few weeks ago. While this method of thinking is surely preferable to the fans, is it really the best thing for the franchise in the long term?
The Giants are not set up for long-term success. Their farm system lacks any serious prospects, and they have not shown much prowess in free-agency over the last couple years. Although they are significantly more talented than tanking teams such as the Marlins or the Orioles, their conflict on the direction in which to take the franchise is costing them. They have been stuck in playoff-less mediocrity for the last few seasons, and the front office has shown little proof of any sort of exit strategy.
What is worse than the Giant’s lack of planning is their misplaced belief in this 2019 squad. Despite recent success, this team is still far from looking like a true contender. While their hot streak momentarily put them within striking distance of the postseason, it is nothing more than a mirage. While they are currently two games over .500 on the year, their Pythagorean Win-Loss says they should actually be seven games under it. Their lineup has been boosted by over-performing players who are sure to come back to Earth in the next few weeks. Their starting pitching has Madison Bumgarner, but then four other arms who are having significantly below average seasons. Their bullpen has been stellar, but that is of little consequence on a team that will rarely have a lead late in the game. This team simply does not have the pieces to truly contend for anything significant at the moment.
It makes sense that the Giants are reluctant to trade. Their long-time, 3 time World Champion manager Bruce Bochy has announced that this year will be his final at the helm. it would be a Hollywood ending to send him off with a miraculous playoff appearance that nobody expected. Why finish his great career by trading one of his favorite players when you don’t have to?
The answer is that they DO have to. This year was always meant to be a transition year. They trade off some of their valuable assets, build up their farm system, make a few prudent moves in free agency and are back to competing in the next couple years, ideally right when their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are beginning to decline and relinquish their hold on the National League West. By ignoring this plan, they are setting themselves back at least a year. Maybe longer, since they are not likely to resign Bumgarner or Smith, leaving them with less value to trade.
By not selling this year at the deadline, the Giants are putting themselves in a trap. If they don’t at least augment their farm system this year, they will have to completely tank. They won’t have anything to trade for prospects, and will be forced to rebuild completely through the draft. That process takes significantly longer, and is less likely to succeed. The fans surely do not want to watch the team give up this year, especially when its this close, but the alternative is an even longer wait for a good team to root for in the future. For the Giants, the moves are going to hurt, but that does not mean that they aren’t the moves that need to be made.