Major League Baseball teams have one week to decide if they’ll be buyers or sellers, whether they can still contend for a playoff spot or relent and look to the future.
For some teams this is an easy decision. They are hopelessly out of the pennant race and saddled with overpriced players either approaching free agency or with one year of club control left. They are the sellers.
Other teams are smack in the middle of races, if not for divisional titles, then certainly for wild card positions. They are the buyers.
Then there are the teams in the middle, the ones who aren’t quite sure who they are or what they might be capable of. The San Francisco Giants top that list.
Should they stay or should they go?
From the depths of the National League, the Giants have experienced an renaissance over the last three weeks. They are not catching the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West – no one is – but they are now a viable candidate for a wild card.
And because they are suddenly immersed, the Giants have had to reconsider an approach that seemed pretty much agreed upon on Memorial Day. No longer in good conscious can they break up their team, which would mean Madison Bumgarner is probably going nowhere.
On Tuesday night, a boisterous, loving crowd assembled at Oracle Park in San Francisco to see what some believe may be Bumgarner’s final start for the Giants. Afterall, he helped lead the franchise to three World Series titles. You want to give a guy like that a proper sendoff. And the fans did with standing ovations, placards and chants.
Bumgarner’s name has been connected to trades to just about every contender, most notably the New York Yankees, who are looking for rotation depth to support their Murderer’s Row lineup.
“I don’t give two (expletives) about it,” said Bumgarner on Tuesday. “It’s all noise. We know what we have to do, and we’re showing that. I think that’s the most important thing.
“You can’t let any of the talk or speculation affect how you feel or how you’re going to come out and play.”
This is called a conundrum. How can the Giants justify trading their veteran ace at this point of the season? To do so would send a terrible message to their rallying team and the fans who still believe in it?
The Giants are blistering hot. They’ve won 17 of their last 20 games since June 30 and have four walk-off victories in their last six games, all in extra innings, for the first time since 1958. On Tuesday, they beat the Cubs 5-4 in 13 innings on Pablo Sandoval’s home run.
Thanks to this stretch, they have climbed to just two games back in the wild-card race (52-50) trailing three teams.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who is retiring after the season. “It’s incredible. One night after another. I can’t even explain it.”
Bumgarner is not the only trade chip the Giants thought they had. Reliever Will Smith is a hot commodity and perhaps so are Sandoval and veteran third baseman Evan Longoria. It will be up to Farhan Zaidi, San Francisco’s president of baseball operations, to decide what to do.
“If you trade Bumgarner now, this clubhouse will go ballistic. And so will the fanbase. How can you possibly justify it,” an unidentified player told USA Today. “I mean, what more do we have to do?’’
Over this last six starts, Bumgarner has a 2.00 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 36 innings and an opposing batting average of .221. Over the season, he is 5-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 22 starts with 134 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings and a WHIP of 1.17.
“He’s the greatest pitcher I ever played with,” Sandoval told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Before Bumgarner and the Giants accelerated, the club likely understood it might be able to get only mid-range prospects in return for the lefthander because he will be a free agent after the season.
Now, the Giants could ask for much more, realizing how important Bumgarner at the top of his game could be to a trading partner’s aspiration to win the World Series.
The Giants do not want to trade Bumgarner. He is as important to the identity of their franchise as Clayton Kershaw is to the Dodgers. But one would assume if Bumgarner wants to be traded, the Giants will try to comply.
If he’s dealt, he will need to waive his no-trade clause to one of eight contenders on his no-trade list — the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Phillies. And why wouldn’t he? If he has a great postseason, imagine how much his value will increase in free agency.
“I don’t care about that, nobody in here cares about that,” said Bumgarner. “We’re trying to win games. We are winning games. That’s all that matters. The other stuff is just noise.
“I think this is a dangerous team, I really do,” said Bumgarner. “This is a special place to me. It always will be.”