Win or lose, the Giants are looking good
We’re one-quarter of the way through the Major League season, and the Giants are in first place in the National League West.
First, let’s let Giants’ fans – of whom I am one – savor that for a moment or two.
Sure, it’s just a half-game over the uber-talented Padres, and two games on the injury-ravaged Dodgers, but first place is first place. And raise your hand if you thought this is how the standings would look on May 17.
But May 17 is not the important date for Farhan Zaidi and the Giants’ organization. The big day is July 30, the MLB trading deadline, as that is when the real decisions will need to be made.
Plan A: The Giants continue to ride their high-performing veterans for the next 11 weeks, remaining in the hunt for either the NL West title or a wild-card berth.
But given the fragile musculature of veterans and the certain uncertainty of bullpen performance, Zaidi must then – if postseason is the goal – upgrade the roster. That means either absorbing a big contract and/or giving up some of the young talent in the farm system, and detouring off the track of rebuilding the franchise from the bottom up.
And for a welcome change, there is young talent in the farm system, as Zaidi has shifted the emphasis from winning now to winning consistently with a steady stream of homegrown players. But how much, if any, of that young talent should be tossed into the trading hopper with two months to go in the season? And especially since those last two months could include injuries (more likely with the veterans the Giants rely on), slumps and unexpected surges from previously quiescent teams.
Then again, making the playoffs is never a guarantee, no matter what the predictions say, and if the brass ring is there, you pretty much have to reach for it – even if you risk falling off the carousel of improvement. After all, no one thought the Giants would win the three World Series they recently won, but they got hot at the right time and justified every trade of a youngster for a veteran.
Such moves don’t always work, of course, and that’s the risk Zaidi must take – or, more accurately, the decision he must make. For there is a …
Plan B: First, let’s step back and look at how Zaidi constructed the 2021 roster. The youngsters are still percolating in the minors, for the most part, and Zaidi picked up a bunch of veterans to fill out the major league team –many of them starting pitchers.
These starting pitchers all came cheap, and all on short contracts, meaning they are just the kind of players contending teams are looking for at the trade deadline. Of course, they have to be healthy and pitching well, but this is where Zaidi’s strategy shows best.
Let’s say, as is happening now, that four of the five veteran starters are throwing hard and getting outs. That means the Giants will likely be in contention, and Plan A comes into effect. But let’s say only two are doing much – that would mean the Giants will be out of the playoff hunt, but it would also mean those two cheap veterans are now worth a lot to contending teams. And if “a lot” can be transformed into more young talent to bolster the farm system and the future, well, “bingo” is a word that springs to mind.
In fact, many veterans might be available at that point, from Mike Yastrzemski to Mike Tauchman and even to Evan Longoria, and if enough youngsters arrive in return, the odds of one of the newcomers hitting it big go up.
Putting it all together, Zaidi has crafted a best-of-both-worlds situation. If the Giants are going as good on July 17 as they are on May 17, he’s got some minor league chips to throw into the pot. If they’re not, he’s got some veteran arms available to teams in desperate need of a pitching transfusion.
The only problem? Making the call in mid-July. What if the Giants are three games out of the last wild-card spot? Does Zaidi go all in? How about five games out? How about just hanging on to the last wildcard spot but with Brandon Belt and Kevin Gausman both out for the year with injuries?
That, of course, is why Zaidi gets the big bucks – but so far, he’s put himself, and the Giants, in position to take full advantage of success or failure. And really, it’s hard to ask for more.